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Home :: Archive :: 2006 :: October ::
Bite-size Shakespeare for UK Students
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0904  Monday, 16 October 2006

From: 		Al Magary <
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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

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2006/10/14/nedu14.xml

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 
or poem.

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 
are presented.

"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 
approves."

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