Creating Research-Based GCSE English Resources: How Scholars of the Nineteenth Century can Help Schoolteachers

Are you a Victorianist or a scholar of the nineteenth century? Did you know that under that new 9-1 GCSE English Language syllabus (taught from 2015) – for the first time – asks students to analyse unseen C19th non-fiction? Those kinds of texts which researchers work with day in day out are now needed for teachers and students of GCSE English. And there are a lot of them! There were 706,255 entries for English Language in 2018 (according to Ofqual).

AQA (the most popular specification) and OCR both have an exam in which students are faced with an unseen C19th non-fiction text paired with a C20th or C21st one on the same topic. While examples of modern texts are readily available, how are teachers supposed to find the time to search out C19th sources? Having taught this course myself, I know well how frustrating such a hunt can be when you’re already pushed for time. Given that the Diseases of Modern Life project already works with an interesting and eclectic body of C19th non-fiction texts, we thought we would use the research resources database we are preparing to select a range of appropriate texts which could then be fashioned into classroom-ready GCSE English Language resources as they would appear on the AQA exam paper: complete with an initial explanation, line numbers and glossary. The resulting corpus of resources is now freely available online within the Faculty of English’s Outreach pages, with the texts in downloadable PDF form (just click and print for that last-minute revision session!).

 

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The Diseases of Modern Life resources page on the English Faculty website. Downloadable PDFs of C19th sources are easily available on the right.

 

Our hope is that teachers – and students – will use these resources to gain familiarity with C19th non-fiction writing, in all its weird and wonderful guises. All of the sources are based on the project’s research interests, but range from doctors explaining anxiety; to how to design a girls’ school; to advice for mothers on clothing children; to the problems of pollution in the newly industrialised urban city. There’s plenty of fun to be had in reading about nervous medical students watching their first operation, Punch’s satirical take on the Duke of Richmond toasting the labourer, or Ruskin’s utter hatred of steamboats – ‘the most disagreeable floating contrivance imaginable’.

The main aims of these resources are:

  • to help teachers by providing the resources they need
  • to allow students to build up their reading speed for C19th non-fiction – only by exposure to more texts can they get used to them (and the exam allows only 15 minutes to read the unseen C19th source AND the paired C20th/C21st one AND the questions)
  • to allow students to practice the skill of literary analysis tested by Assessment Objective 2, by giving them samples to annotate and criticise

 

The Diseases of Modern Life project was delighted to run a stall at the inaugural teachers’ conference at the University of Oxford’s English Faculty on 27th April. This wonderful event allowed teachers to experience two lectures from faculty academics, hear about the different resources available from the Bodelian Libraries, the Ashmolean museum, Oxford’s Faculty of Education and Oxplore. With free lunch and a tour of Hertford College to boot, it was a pretty incredible day – thank you to Rebecca Costello for inviting and hosting us.

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Teachers discussing GCSE resources with Dr Catherine Charlwood. Photo credit: Nathan Stazicker

 

The most common response I’ve heard from teachers is “we can easily find C20th or C21st sources, but the C19th ones? They’re the problem.” And this is where those who are already working with C19th non-fiction on a professional basis stand to make a real intervention into what happens in the classroom. While you, staunch BAVS member, might be pals with the Pall-Mall Gazette, friends of the Fortnightly Review or a wizard with the Wellesley Index, this is specialised knowledge which can be taken for granted in universities but would form the basis for a beautiful collaboration with schools. So if you’ve ever considered putting your research to work in the national curriculum, the new 9-1 GCSE English Language syllabus gives scholars of the nineteenth century a great opportunity to do so. Victorianists, assemble!

 

In the follow-up blog, I’ll explore how these resources provided the inspiration for a collaboration with the Thomas Hardy Society and two workshops: one for teachers of GCSE English Language, the other for students.

 

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Where do our resources come from? Dr Catherine Charlwood points teachers in the direction of the project! Photo credit: Nathan Stazicker

 

 

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Event: Free Workshop for GCSE English Language Students!

On Tuesday 7th May, Diseases of Modern Life will be back in Dorset this time to talk to students on the theme of Illness and Well-being in the Nineteenth Century. Using our free GCSE resources, we will situate Victorian ideas of health within the context of local literary legend Thomas Hardy’s writings, and encourage students to explore the links between fiction and non-fiction, as well as how preparation for English Language can aid you in English Literature (hint: it tests the same skills!).

The workshop will take place at Shire Hall Historic Courthouse Museum in Central Dorchester, and the full programme can be seen below. We have sent invitations to all schools local to the area, but if you happen to be able to come along then please email catherine.charlwood@ell.ox.ac.uk to book places for your students – we’d be delighted to welcome you.

This workshop is the result of a collaboration between Diseases of Modern Life and the Thomas Hardy Society, specifically Dr Karin Koehler of Bangor University, Andrew Hewitt, who is undertaking a PhD on Thomas Hardy at the University of Hull, and – especially for the creative responses session – published author and Academic Director of the Thomas Hardy Society, Dr Faysal Mikdadi.

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 WRITING ABOUT ILLNESS AND WELL-BEING IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY

7 May 2019 

Free English GCSE Students Workshop
at Shire Hall, Central Dorchester

to help prepare students for unseen non-fiction prose element of the GCSE exam

10.00-10.30am Arrival and registration
10.30-10.45am Welcome and overview of the day

·         Why we’re here: learning objectives and expectations for the day

·         How we’ll approach the topic of illness and well-being: what topics we’ll be reading about and discussing, and a chance to raise any concerns

10.45-11.30am Nature and well-being in Thomas Hardy

We will discuss a selection of poems/passages from the work of Thomas Hardy about the interactions, positive and negative, between people and nature. This will be our starting-point for thinking about what role nature might play in people’s well-being (globally and individually).

11.30am- 12.15pm Illness and well-being from the point of view of science and medicine

We will introduce a selection of non-fiction texts highlighting typical nineteenth-century concerns about illness and well-being – for example, the impact of sedentary lifestyles in urban settings and different theories about mental health – and explore some of the challenges for a 21st-century reader of understanding, analysing, and responding to such texts.

12.15-1.00pm FREE LUNCH
1.00-1.45pm Fiction versus non-fiction

Drawing on more examples from Thomas Hardy, who used non-fiction sources as an inspiration for his novels and stories, we will consider the relationship of fiction and non-fiction (which were less separate in nineteenth-century culture than now) to inform the analysis of nineteenth-century prose. How is reading a scientific or medical text different from reading fiction or poetry? How is it similar? How can English Language help you with English Literature and the other way around?

1.45-2.30pm Responding creatively to nineteenth-century concerns about illness and well-being

We will prepare creative responses – e.g. poems, short narratives, drawings – to the anxiety about the disconnection of nature and humans, in Hardy’s day and in ours. What links the nineteenth century to the present?

2.30-2.45pm Afternoon break

Refreshments provided

2.45-3.30pm Practical exercise

The day will end with a practical session in which participants and facilitators will collaborate on preparing an answer to a mock exam question featuring an unseen extract of nineteenth century literary non-fiction.

3.30-3.45pm Feedback
3.45pm Workshop ends

 

Teachers and students of English Literature at GCSE, IB or A Level might also be interested in the Thomas Hardy Society Essay Competition, which has a deadline of 30th April. As well as a £50 Amazon voucher, you could end up being published in a Thomas Hardy Society journal!

Free Teacher Workshop: Engaging Students in C19th Prose

On Friday 12th April, a team of researchers will present a free workshop designed to help teachers of GCSE English Language engage their students in nineteenth-century prose. AQA, the most popular exam board, now have unseen nineteenth-century literary non-fiction as part of Paper 2 of GCSE English Language, so getting today’s 15-16-year-olds on board with nineteenth-century non-fiction has never been more important!

The workshop will take place at Shire Hall Historic Courthouse Museum in Central Dorchester, and the full programme can be seen below. We have invited all teachers local to the area, but if you happen to be able to come along then please email catherine.charlwood@ell.ox.ac.uk to book a free place – we’d be delighted to welcome you.

This workshop – and its upcoming partner event, a workshop for GCSE students themselves on Tuesday 7th May – is the result of a collaboration between Diseases of Modern Life and the Thomas Hardy Society, specifically Dr Karin Koehler of Bangor University, and Andrew Hewitt, who is undertaking a PhD on Thomas Hardy at the University of Hull. For the teacher workshop we are delighted to be working also with a team of three researchers from the University of Exeter, headed by Prof Angelique Richardson.

 

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ENGAGING STUDENTS IN 19TH-CENTURY PROSE: RESEARCH-BASED RESOURCES FOR TEACHERS

 12th April 2019

Free English GCSE Teaching Workshop for Teachers at Shire Hall, Central Dorchester

 

11.00-11.30 Arrival and registration

Tea and coffee will be provided.

11.30-11.35 Welcome and Overview of the Day
11.35-12.20 Fiction and Non-Fiction: Reading Nineteenth-Century Prose with Thomas Hardy

Based on the example of Thomas Hardy, who used non-fiction sources as an inspiration for his novels and stories, this initial session will show that fiction and non-fiction were less separate in nineteenth-century culture than now.  It will suggest that by acknowledging the close relationship between fiction and non-fiction, we can make the analysis of nineteenth-century prose less intimidating and more engaging for pupils.

12.20-1.15 Free lunch
1.15-2.15 Hardy and Heritage Project – Resources for Schools

Professor Angelique Richardson, Stephanie Meek, and John Blackmore will introduce educational resources developed at Exeter University, related to the teaching of nineteenth- and twentieth-century non-fiction. Short presentations will be followed by the opportunity for conversation and Q&A.

2.15-2.45 Diseases of Modern Life Project – Educational Resources

Dr Catherine Charlwood (St Anne’s, Oxford) will introduce resources for teachers and students developed as part of the European Research Council funded ‘Diseases of Modern Life’ project.

2.45-3.00 Afternoon break

Tea and coffee will be provided.

3.00-4.00 Thomas Hardy and Diseases of Modern Life

Dr Catherine Charlwood, Andrew Hewitt, and Dr Karin Koehler will lead a workshop that explores how teachers might draw on the important local heritage of Hardy’s writing to teach nineteenth-century non-fiction. This session will also look ahead to a follow-up event planned for students on 7 May.

4.00-4.30 Feedback and Ways Forward

The day will end with a session in which we discuss what sort of resources and input teachers would like from universities and cultural organisations such as the Thomas Hardy Society and the Hardy Country Consortium.

 

Teachers and students of English Literature at GCSE, IB or A Level might also be interested in the Thomas Hardy Society Essay Competition, which has a deadline of 30th April. As well as a £50 Amazon voucher, you could end up being published in a Thomas Hardy Society journal!