Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Finding the ‘Meaning’ in Meanings and Representations!

In this second guest blog of the week, Mr McVeigh takes a look at how he approaches Paper 1 Questions 1 & 2 with his students. 

As a Linguistics graduate, I loved the part of my studies where you started to acknowledge language around us. I could no longer sit at a train station people watching. I was consumed by the way that words encapsulate our everyday lives, connect with us on so many levels and shape our thoughts and attitudes.

To me, Meanings and Representations is the aspect of A Level English Language that helps students to see the power of words; the careful construction of texts and the ability to influence society.

Within this short blog post, I am going to outline some of the approaches to single text analysis of the construction of Meanings and Representations that I have found useful over the past few years.

When I first begin teaching Meanings and Representations, towards the start of their A Level journey, I try to encourage students to reflect on the construction of texts. Simply by making judgements on the way that a range of different texts impact and influence the students, we start to explore the connection between our attitudes towards a text and the language used to convey that.

The main aspect of the single text question is to understand what is meant by Meanings and Representations. I define this as; what is demonstrated or highlighted from a text (Representations) and what can be inferred from the text/ what that text wants you to do (Meanings). Introducing this terminology is essential as I ask students to ensure they use both words within their written responses to clearly demonstrate to an examiner that they are reflecting the assessment expectations.

Students then need to understand language frameworks and levels. This aspect of Meanings and Representations is the most complex aspect of this question: students often feel overwhelmed with the precision of terminology required to reach the top band in their answers. To begin to introduce language levels, I tend to start by setting students a SATS test. This gives them an understanding of some of the expectations needed when analysing texts and also gives me an indication of support needed. 

Graphology, as a language level, tends to be something that students fall back on as a support. Although, I stress its importance, I encourage students to apply more grammatical and pragmatic comments to their essays to try to show a greater control over their analysis. Recently, I taught a lesson on clause types. We spent the whole lesson trying to familiarise ourselves with the way that different clause types are used within journalism. I can’t say we all had fallen in love with grammar at the end of the 60 minutes but it certainly has helped to see an increase in grammatical points being expressed in writing.

Once students have grasped language level analysis (this is by no means something that happens overnight!) I begin to teach the construction of analytical paragraphs. Often, I have to do a layered approach to language levels, building confidence throughout the units we study in Year 12, connecting meanings and representations-style texts to language discourses.

Prior to annotation and beginning the writing process, I ask students to contextualise the text by identifying the purpose, audience and form of a text (PAF). I then ask students to have this as their introduction to a Meanings and Representations question. This helps to strengthen the overall structure of writing.

My approach to Question One and Two for Meanings and Representations has been refined over the past few years of teaching. I like students to identify at least three representations. I normally say that the author is always represented within a text so that is always a good starting point. I then say to focus on layers within the issue being discussed in the text. E.g. if the text talks about the representation of women in an old advert you may talk about both how women are represented and how men are represented with strong contextual connections and comments.

To clearly demonstrate an understanding of representations, I ask my students to begin each paragraph with “the representation of ‘x’” and apply language levels to that representation. Originally, I used to ask students to take a language level per paragraph but felt that, by fronting representations, students had a tighter control over their overall structure and were able to be more precise with their language level analysis. 

I also encourage students to apply a range of language levels throughout. As mentioned previously, I place emphasis on inclusions of grammatical and pragmatic references but also encourage lexis and semantics for students who may not feel as confident applying more grammatical terms.

Having applied language levels to support the representation, students need to mention audience positioning. This is where they can connect the representation to the meaning. I ask students through questioning the following questions: “How does the writer position a reader to connect with this representation?” and “What meaning do you think they are conveying?”. This then builds the deeper analytical points needed to hit the top band answers. Audience positioning is also something that is frequently written in the AQA mark scheme so I try to encourage this phrasing being written alongside representations and meanings.

The last component of the paragraphs needed is to contextualise their exploration and connect back to the PAF stated previously. When exploring the older text, students can reflect on society at the time, similarly with the more modern texts, students can reflect on more pragmatic viewpoints that help to justify the meanings established.

Now that I am in my fifth year of teaching A Level English Language, I feel confident in this structure. My students have found the methods logical and apply these to essays and show a willingness to apply more complex linguistic features. I only hope that the next time they are sat at a train station, they too can no longer people watch!

If you wish to find out anymore from this strategy, please do have a look at the Teacher Guidance Pack shared on my Twitter account which provides an example paragraph to support.


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