The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0904 Monday, 16 October 2006
Date: Friday, 13 Oct 2006 23:43:18 -0700
Subject: Bite-size Shakespeare for UK Students
GCSE pupils can shine in English but never read a book
By Liz Lightfoot, Education Editor
Telegraph, October 14, 2006
Standards have slipped so low that it is possible to get a top grade
GCSE in English literature without having read a book, according to a
report by a university professor and a secondary school head of English.
The teaching of literature by extracts has replaced reading for
pleasure, understanding and appreciation to such an extent that some
pupils believe Romeo and Juliet, the Shakespeare tragedy, has a happy
ending, they say.
Pupils can get through the whole of their compulsory secondary education
without reading any book from cover to cover, they claim.
Exam boards and the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, the
Government's curriculum advisers, are blamed for encouraging teachers to
concentrate on bite-sized chunks of text instead of the full novel, play
English literature has turned into a comprehension exercise with
self-contained chunks of texts reproduced in exam papers on which pupils
can answer questions without the need to show an understanding of the
whole work or its genre, they say.
Last month the authority provided on its website the two extracts from
each of the three Shakespeare plays which will form the test for
14-year-olds next year.
Teachers can choose between the plays and download the extracts which
may be "photocopied for class use at the discretion of the teacher".
The two set sections for The Tempest, for example, are Act One, Scene
Two, lines 189-321 and Act Five, Scene One, lines 1-134. Pupils are also
given texts on which to answer as part of the exam papers for GCSE
English and English literature, though they are expected to relate the
passages to the rest of the work.
David Jesson, a professor at the Centre for Performance Evaluation and
Resource Management at York University, says the cult of extracts has
replaced reading for pleasure.
Anthony Farrell, the head of English at St Ives School in Cornwall, who
co-wrote the paper, said model test answers and assignments were
silencing pupils' voices and creative instincts.
"It is quite possible to achieve an A* English GCSE without having fully
read a novel or play," he said.
Teachers were being encouraged by the "assessment-led and data-driven
regime" to drill their pupils to perform in tests and exams which meant
concentrating on the extracts rather than reading more widely.
"There's no time for that because of the reductive exam syllabuses and
pressure to get results," he said.
Mr Farrell said exam boards seemed to collude in the use of fragmented
extracts. The teachers' guide to GCSE examinations issued by the AQA,
one of the three exam groups in England, made suggestions for setting
coursework on a pre-1914 novel.
"One offers as an assignment: Look carefully at the opening chapter of
Hard Times and explore ways in which Dickens's attitudes to education
"For the Shakespeare it suggests: Direct a scene or scenes, choosing a
particular historical period in which to place the play."
A spokesman for the Department for Education said: "It is only possible
for a child to go through Key Stage Three without reading a whole novel
if the teacher chooses such a reductive route and their subject leader
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