As a champion for diversity, we understand the importance of learners being exposed to a range of topics that will allow them to develop their understanding and critical thinking. Here our English Subject Officers Kirsten Wilcock and Rhodri Jones explore how a diverse range of texts and stimulus material can be included in preparing learners for our AS and A level English qualifications.
Questioning how we interact and respond to one another in troubling times has never seemed so important. Encouraging young people to engage with different views, ideas, experiences, feelings and issues through creative processes is one way we help them understand the world around them and to explore the diversity which they find.
As well as fostering enquiry and debate, teachers can support students in topics and issues that interest them through our AS and A level English qualifications.
AS and A level English Language
For English Language, there are endless possibilities to explore where the analysis and evaluation of attitudes is a key skill of the GCE qualifications. The analysis of spoken language is designed to introduce learners to the ways in which speakers use language and interact (Units 2 and 4) and covers a range of situations and genres. For example, students could view the TED Talk that interviews the founders of the group Black Lives Matter, where a transcript is also provided. The comments thread below the video from viewers responding could be analysed as examples of twenty-first English usage (Unit 1). The key language concepts for study for in Unit 2 – language and power, and language and situation – are perfect vehicles to evaluate contextual factors and explore meaning using all manner of stimulus material.
The non-examination assessment focused on Language and Identity offers students a free rein in determining their own corpus of data for investigation. Successful assignments have addressed a wide, inclusive range of language and identity topics such as drag queens, Polari, Christian hymns, AAVE (African American Vernacular English), with one student conducting an investigation of her parents’ language usage entitled: “How hearing impairment produces a distinctive variety of English from Standard English." The challenge of deciding on the topic and its subsequent investigation is often the most enjoyable part of the course for students.
AS and A level English Language and Literature
For English Language and Literature, there are plenty of opportunities to introduce learners to great writing which explores contemporary issues. There is a richness to the list of texts in the genres provided in the specification for the genre study in the non-exam assessment (NEA). The choice for the second text is even greater and learners have a wonderful opportunity to explore substantial texts which have been written by people from a wide range of contexts. We have always encouraged centres to allow learners to be as independent as possible in the choices they make and that ethos remains. One way of approaching this freedom is to use it to explore current issues which affect us all.
Some teachers already take this approach, studying texts by writers such as Nafisi, Levy, Hosseini, Kunzru or Macolm X and comparing them to texts by writers not on the list: Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie, Colson Whitehead, Moshin Hamid, Michael Donkor or Toni Morrison. The exploration of genre in the related creative writing also allows for a further exploration of ideas. For example, learners could view the TED Talk that interviews the founders of the group Black Lives Matter, where a transcript is also provided. Using historical as well as contemporary examples of writing such as journalism or blog posts or reports on current issues of interest would not only support learners in the NEA, but would also develop the knowledge and skills required for other parts of the specification.
AS and A level English Literature
In the non-exam assessment (NEA) for English Literature, teachers and learners have the freedom to explore great writing which has been created by people from a wide range of contexts. We have always encouraged centres to allow learners to be as independent as possible in the choices they make and that ethos remains. One way of approaching this freedom is to use it to explore how different writers from different periods have chosen to present some of the ideas which currently affect us. The opportunity to compare and contrast a hot-off-the-press contemporary text and a prose text taken from a different period and context is rich with possibilities.
Many already take this opportunity. Teaching a pre-2000 novel by a writer with the stature of Toni Morrison, for example, and allowing learners to choose a selection of prose texts to compare it with is one such approach. Zadie Smith, Michael Donkor, Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie, Jesmyn Ward, Ta Nehisi-Coates, Colson Whitehead and Derek Owusu amongst others, are all writers who create work which would enrich learners’ awareness of literature and the world in which we live while illuminating their understanding of one of Morrison’s novels.
The connection between texts need not be issue-based, of course. There would be much to discover in comparing some of those writers are not often studied at this level, Rosamond Lehmann, Barbara Pym, Elizabeth Taylor for instance, and more contemporary novels by writers such as Andrea Levy, Diana Evans and Sarah Waters. With so much choice available – we could mention writers such as Rushdie, Roy, Hamid, Díaz and Lahiri too – finding the right texts can often be the most challenging and most enjoyable part of the course.
We are here to support teachers and learners to explore and engage with the world in all its rich diversity in their studies; if you have any questions or queries, please contact our subject experts who are happy to help.
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