There are some notable challenges in preparing students to respond to AQA’s GCSE English Language, Paper Two, Question Two. The question essentially asks students to synthesise evidence – ideas, information, textual detail – from two sources. Students are asked to focus their response around differences, as in the first three live series of examinations, or similarities, as in the question from the November 2018 series. The teaching sequence, approximated below, offers some suggestions and resources that may be useful.
‘This question assesses a new skill: to write a summary by synthesising evidence from both sources. The evidence can be either ideas or textual details but, crucially, they need to be brought together or synthesised. The mark scheme rewards students for their ability to explore these connections between the two texts and to infer meaning in response to a given focus.’ AQA Report on the Examination, June 2017
I shared two sources with the students and led a whole-class, shared reading of Source A – dealing a blow for equality in sport and Source B – A 19th century account of female boxing.
I then shared an exemplar question with the students: You need to refer to source A and source B for this question. The sources show that boxing for women is safer and more organised today than in the 19th century. Use details from both sources to write a summary of the differences.’
I fielded a whole-class discussion: what approaches might the students take? How could they structure their answers? Working in twos and threes, I encouraged the students to agree a consensus on what might works well in response to Q2, bearing in mind that we’re aiming for ‘perceptive synthesis and interpretation of both texts’.
‘…Many students would benefit from improving their ability to identify clear differences between the texts and make clear inferences from the textual details they select.’ AQA Report on the Examination, June 2017
Having asked students to respond to consider the task, we established the following guiding principles:
Spend around twelve minutes on this question.
Gather three comparative ideas before we begin writing.
Don’t bother with an introduction. Explore three comparative similarities or differences in three paragraphs on each source – depending on the focus of the question.
Explain what the quote tells us about the differences and use ‘this also implies… insinuates…’ to explore implied meaning and inferences.
‘Interpretation of information and ideas is the key to accessing the higher levels.’ Report on the Examination, June 2017
To put into practice these guiding principles, the students then chose, in their twos or threes, three key differences in terms of ‘safety and organisation’ (in this case, suggestions could be ‘safety regulations’; ‘attitude of contestants’ supporters and endorsers; the purpose of the boxing, for example, competition or for exercise). Struggling students can be supported in this by seeking three key quotations that describe issues around safety and organisation in women’s boxing and then considering a paraphrase to help guide their summary.
I took feedback, shared ideas and modelled – with the input of the class – how to respond to the question:
Students then used the model to help them draft their own response. To make this work to its full advantage, it’s useful to live model the response a pargraph at a time, asking students to write their paragraphs about one of the other comparative ideas; this avoids students becoming too reliant on the model.
Finally, students considered the extent to which they’d made a successful response to the question and redrafted, making additions and edits to their work.
The purpose of this teaching sequence was to allow students to find their own way into an exam-style question. I wanted to know what would happened if the students were allowed to be part of a collaborative planning process – with guidance – about how to write a successful answer, rather than fazing them with Assessment Objectives and oblique mark schemes to highlight. I’d like to spend more time working on other aspects of this task: clarifying what ‘summary’ really is; probing the difference between explicit and implicit meaning and making sure the students understand the difference between what Q2 is testing (explicit and implicit information and ideas) and what Q4 is testing (writers’ ideas and perspectives and how they’re conveyed).
At Boroughbridge, we teach this sequence as part of our thematic approach to our curriculum: the idea of ‘conflict’ is explored in non-fiction, in the Power and Conflict poetry and across the range of texts we study for GCSE English Literature. This approach allows our students to make deep and lasting connections between things they read and write, and in terms of exam preparation, this can never be a bad thing.