Poetry – Little and Often

I have absolutely no memory of studying unseen poetry at GCSE level. I don’t attribute this amnesia to the 21 years since I sat the exams – I can easily recall other areas of my studies from that time. I was a crammer, when I knew that cramming would work, and as a result the knowledge and analysis skills didn’t stick.

Faced with the new assessment structure, we needed to come up with a plan to ensure that our students have regular sessions for analysing the unseen poems. We’ve come up with a new (to us!) system. Mr Benney (@Benneypenyrheol) discusses ‘spacing’ lessons on his blog and the principle is not dissimilar: https://mrbenney.wordpress.com/2016/11/03/optimal-time-for-spacing-gaps/

This short post is to tell you how it works and I have attached resources plus the overview for you to read/use/adapt.

For one lesson a fortnight, the students have an unseen poetry lesson. The teachers rotate for a fresh perspective each lesson – we felt that new voices will bring fresh ideas for the students.

There is no PowerPoint – just a pen and a poem and discussion.

We have divided the students into mixed ability gender groups for this. Why? Because we had a one-off day with Y11 recently for a Curriculum Enrichment Day (alternative timetable, I’m sure your own institutions have similar events). We were paired with PE and their activities often work more smoothly with a gender split. The day couldn’t have been more successful. The feedback from our students was phenomenal. The nuances of competing egos, the unseen modesties, the perceived humiliation of speaking in class when insert crush’s name here is in the room were all stripped away and the students thrived. They shared, discussed and worked on the poem in a way that we haven’t seen before. Each group is named after a poetic form – shown on the schedule below.

We have planned the poems in advance and they’re attached to this blog. We’re teaching one at a time initially and then starting to teach comparisons when their confidence levels are up. The poems are all attached here too, on AQA exam-style sheets.


Very short and general musings on setting by gender, if you’re interested:

I have absolutely no experience of working in a single-sex environment and perhaps because of this, I have thought very little of it until now. So, before making the decision to divide the students by gender, I read up on it. The only thing that I have come away with is that I know nothing. I know less now than I did immediately after our wonderful Curriculum Enrichment Day. It’s such a deeply contentious subject – although that’s hardly news. The amount of research and debate really is immense and I came away with two three very strong ideas: it’s a terrible thing to do and it’s a brilliant thing to do. And I need a glass of wine.

The bulk of the academic research is rooted in a neo-liberal paradigm and centres strongly on the notion of choice, opportunity and success in the labour market. I’m not sure how relevant that is anymore and it’s definitely not relevant for the study of an unseen poem once a fortnight. The feminist literature explores girls’ academic identities and a rather dangerous assumption that in this day and age, girls are winning and no longer need intervention. Pomerantz and Raby (2011) have written a brilliant paper on this – it’s really small-scale and highly qualitative, but the discussion on girls’ perceptions of their achievement, especially in the manner in which they feel that they have to work hard to do well but disguise this hard work in front of their peers, is enlightening.

Hunter (2016) explores single-sex education and finds that confidence and social-skills are enhanced by it. There is some discussion of self-esteem being raised in the single-sex classroom without the gender stereotypes. I’m not sure about this; I wonder if gender stereotypes maybe reinforced in the single-sex classroom, and Williams’ 2011 study, Sex Role Stereotyping in Single Sex Public Education illustrates a strong argument for this.

Any negative impact of gender setting is unlikely to have an effect for what will amount to 3 hours a term. I will update this blog in a few months with some more information on how we’re getting on with it. Until then: A little learning is a dangerous thing / Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring.