Sunday, March 28, 2021

Paper 2 Section A: marrying AO1 and AO2 in an 'evaluate' question for language change

In this new guest blog, Donal Hale takes a look at how he and his students deal with both the content and linguistic register needed for good 'Evaluate the idea...' answers in Paper 2 Section A. Donal is Assistant Subject Leader i/c KS5 English at Huntington School, York and can be found on Twitter here.

One of the issues that many students appear to face with the ‘evaluate the idea that’ question is: how do you ensure students still develop an argument, and sound like a linguist as they do so, when evaluating a viewpoint of language change, for instance? Especially without a data set to draw from (like in Child Language Development). Whilst the primary use of AO1 is to assess the structure, fluency and shape of the argument in this section of the exam, rather than analysing data, we do need to also ensure students are using subject/topic-appropriate vocabulary as part of this linguistic register to create a more convincing argument.

Although the majority of marks for this question (20/30) are for AO2, AO1, like much to the AQA Language specification is the bedrock to any decent evaluation of language study. So, how can we support students in a happy marriage of AO1 and AO2?

Perhaps a specific example might be useful to illustrate some hints and tips, so I will use the following question as the basis of my approaches to this section of the exam:

Evaluate the idea that language is decaying slowly.

Keeping evaluation at the forefront of all ideas

My first tip, which albeit may appear to be a very simple one, is to evaluate the proposed viewpoint very concisely, in a single sentence, before students zoom off and bring in the concepts and references (AO2) for their line of argument – in essence, ensuring they guide the reader in their development of an argument for AO1. For the question above, I may offer the following as an example of how they do this and ask them to reflect on how this aligns with their own views:

I maintain that language change is a neutral process, rather than a process of slow decay, that neither indicates evolution or deterioration. 

We then spend time unpicking what argument is being put forward here, and shaping their own argument around this (whether they agree or disagree!).

The next step concerns exemplification of this key line of argument i.e. what supporting evidence will we use to “prove” these ideas. To do this, I might offer some support to students’ thinking in the form of frontloading the ‘indicative content’ might be useful for this question, to act as a springboard for them to judiciously select what knowledge of language study can be drawn into this question. For example:

Students are likely to:

conceptualise nature and causes of language change as a process

explore views of language change (e.g. decay metaphors, evolution views, progress, functional theory etc) using specific examples

evaluate and challenge descriptivist stances

evaluate and challenge prescriptivist and decay views 

Students use this to then explore their class notes, and select what is most relevant in supporting them to answer this question – this, in essence, formulates their planning of their responses.

The missing bits: linguistic register

When I ask students to feedback their ideas based on what we have planned so far, it is always AO2 focused and centred on concepts and references that help shape of the debate, and it is rare that students support these ideas of, let’s say Aitchison’s ‘crumbling castle’ metaphor, with what we might term a linguistic register to reinforce their argument. This is fine, for now, I say, before I present this introduction that expands upon our singular sentence evaluation from earlier (which I underline below):

The English language is an entity that is continuously changing, and the notion that this process is one of decay is not new to discussions among linguists. The use of language can be an emotive issue, and those harbouring prescriptivist attitudes often attribute ‘language decay’ to societal changes, such as the behaviour of the younger generation and technology. Aitchison (1996) has categorised these prescriptivist views into three categories: the damp spoon syndrome, the crumbling castle view, and the infectious disease assumption. The crumbling castle view resonates most closely with the idea that language is decaying slowly, comparing English to a beautiful old building that is collapsing. Conversely, descriptivists may argue that language is evolving, and that changes only enrich it. However compelling either argument may seem, I maintain that language change is a neutral process, rather than a process of slow decay, that neither indicates evolution or deterioration. 

Students, broadly, are happy with this, and confident, until I ask the question:

How do we develop this argument cogently and still maintain a linguistic register?


A happy marriage

I use my own metaphor to introduce a model paragraph regarding a ‘marriage’ of AO1 and AO2 to signpost to the students that they are not separate entities in evaluative questions, nor do you need a data set to develop a linguistic register (AO1) when shaping a critical debate using theories (AO2).

I use this model for this question, which I explain will be a main body paragraph within the whole essay response:

Moreover, a change that is occurring within the vocabulary of the English language is the use of portmanteau. For example, the blending of the proper noun ‘Britain’ and the simple present tense verb ‘exit’ forms the term ‘Brexit’, which expresses the idea of Britain exiting from the EU. This term has emerged as a neologism in recent years, after first being coined by Peter Wilding in a blog post (2012). The crumbling castle view dictates that portmanteaus indicate laziness, as they shorten a concept to make it easier to say. However, it has been suggested by linguists that ‘Brexit’ was central to ensuring the success of the Leave Campaign in the 2016 referendum; in this way, the portmanteau can be regarded as a powerful tool that helped to shape decisions of society. This concept is supported by Halliday’s Functional Theory (1975), which states that language changes to meet the needs of its users. The blend ‘Brexit’ was used by the Leave campaign as a psycholinguistic technique to attract support from voters, showing how it has functioned to meet the needs of the Leave campaign. Therefore, language change can be seen as catalyst of social change, rather than a sign of languor. 



We unpick this model and consider not merely what aspects of linguistic register the paragraph covers, but more importantly, how it connects and reinforces the AO2 ideas. Students pick out the moments they feel this occurs and we examine the relationship in greater detail. This helps sharpen their focus ensuring the fluency of their argument is inextricably linked to a linguistic register, rather than examining ideas as a psychologist or sociologist might do.

As you would expect, students then use the model as a style model to create their own paragraph that marries these two elements effectively. Before they submit this for feedback, I ask them to underline where the relationship occurs in their writing, and I focus my feedback on how happy the marriage is! 

Note: feel free to use your own metaphors for this.

Whilst deceptively simple, some might say, I have always found this highly effective. Indeed, as teachers this is fundamentally how we ensure learning takes place – making complex cognitive process seem simple and manageable to allow students to write essays with success.

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