Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Paper 1: salience & hotspots

Revision of Paper 1 skills and approaches has been on our agenda recently, so here are a few things that we've been looking at.

Given the limited amount of time to read two substantial new texts and write three answers, I think we probably have to be quite disciplined about time on this paper, so it pays to read for meaning effectively and plan cleverly. For our students, I've been suggesting an approach to planning answers that allows for getting an overview of each text to help with the meanings and representations in Questions 1 and 2 and which also starts to focus on the compare and contrast requirements of Question 3. Underpinning it all is a focus on finding examples of language and describing them accurately.

Here's an outline of what I've given our students to work with. I've been quite pleased with the results this week, so let me know if it works for you.

In the short time you have in the exam, you need to make sure every minute counts. Your note-taking and reading of the texts needs to be smart and give you material for your answers to the text analysis (Questions 1 and 2) and the compare and contrast of Question 3.

The approach I’d suggest is to use the first few minutes to read for meaning. That is, get a decent sense of the following:

• What each text is about – the topic that they share
• What’s being said about that topic
• What different views are being offered

You can also make some initial notes to help with the other parts of the questions, such as:

• What kinds of texts they are - genre
• The mode/s they are in – spoken, written, computer-mediated communication
• Their audiences and purposes

These observations can help you sort out some useful starting points for your notes, which can then help you form the basis of your main paragraphs for each answer. Next, I’d suggest finding 5-6 ‘hotspots’ in each text. These are areas in each text that convey the clearest and most useful ideas. These hotspots could be a single phrase, a section of the text (an image, a headline, the opening or closing lines), a sentence or even a pattern of language across the whole text.

These hotspots should mean something and, in some cases at least, represent the topic or views on the topic in a way that you can pull apart. There’s no point just picking a few words because you can label them with terms that you’ve learnt (“x is a determiner and y is a pronoun”); it’s vital to get to grips with language that means something and contributes to the overall meanings in each text.

With these hotspots, you can explore what things mean and analyse the language used to create these meanings. This means thinking about your language frameworks (or methods, or levels, or whatever you’ve called them this year) and your AO1 terms, making sure you are offering a good range across each text. AO1 is not just about grammatical labels (word classes, phrases, sentences, clauses, tense etc.), but also about things like semantic fields, patterns of meaning (contrast, antithesis and juxtaposition, for example), graphology, interaction patterns (especially in spoken texts or ones using features of spoken language), discourse structure, pragmatics and perhaps phonology too.

 As you discuss the language used in these hotspots, try to cover a range of different language points but concentrate your attention on the ones that are most important in creating meanings and representations. For example, if the topic is a famous actor, perhaps think about the ways in which adjectives modify nouns to describe her performances and how metaphor might be used to describe her career. If the topic is an event like a football match or gig, look at the verb choices, the use of tense and aspect to structure events. If the topic is more of an ‘issue’, look at the patterns of abstract nouns and their meanings, and perhaps the overall discourse structure used to present conflicting ideas.

There will be many different ways to do this and if you’ve selected, meaningful parts of the texts, you’ll be able to explain them effectively. Examiners don’t really want to read about a text having “lots of long sentences to make it flow” or “lots of pronouns to make it personal” because these are meaningless generalisations. Look closely at what is actually meant in each text in its given context.

While analysing these hotspots, keep in mind the bigger picture of what each text is doing and what kind of texts they are. You will need to address these issues a bit more in your answer to Question 3, but they will also be useful in Questions 1 and 2. For example, if the text is typical of a particular genre, you know it will generally do certain things (recipes tell you what to do, stories recount events etc.).

 Another important aspect to consider is not just how the topic of each text is represented but how the text creators (writers, speakers, posters, texters etc.) represent themselves and each other. How do they position themselves in relation to the text receivers? How do they present a face or image to the audience and to each other? How does this relate to what the texts are about?

In the example text you’ve been given, spend 7-8 minutes doing what’s outlined above. Read for meaning, make notes, identify 5-6 hotspots and then get writing. Use the remaining time (25 minutes) to draft your analysis of these hotspots, linking them back to the overall meanings in the text to keep a coherent thread running through your analysis.

We've used different texts to practise on, but a good one supplied by a helpful teacher from another school (thanks Wendy!) is this blog about Alan Rickman, which we then used alongside this article about Rickman (well...more about Snape really).

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