Students don’t answer the question because….
Answering the question is a hard thing to do!
I wrote about this in the last edition of mETAphor (if you’re an ETA member, here’s the link: http://www.englishteacher.com.au/Resources/mETAphor.aspx. If you’re not a member, sorry – I was paid for the article so I need to not republish it here for a while!)
But I thought it was worth adding something to what I’ve already written. I’ve been reading some work by English (Standard) students and I’ve been thinking through the issue of BOS verbs in particular.
When the HSC examiners set a question they intend for it to be accessible to all students. Unlike other subjects, where a question might be targeted at ‘Band 3’ or ‘Band 6’, in English questions are often targeted at ‘Bands 2-6’.
What this means is that the questions are written in such a way that only the very best students are going to be able to balance all of the elements. Think about this year’s HSC question on the poetry of Wilfred Owen, for example:
Owen’s poems present the reader with a powerful exploration of the impact of human cruelty on individuals.
How does Owen achieve this in his poems?
In your response, make detailed reference to your prescribed text.
Look at everything that students are being asked to address. Students who were doing what their teachers told them to and circled the key terms in the question would need to address ‘powerful exploration’, ‘impact’, ‘human cruelty’, ‘individuals’, ‘how’ and ‘achieve’. That’s a lot to cover! It’s no wonder that some students, when they see a question like this, latch onto one thing they understand and centre their essay on it. I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of students just dealt with the horrors of war Owen describes, for example.
What I’m noticing in particular, though, is that the BOS verbs fit very nicely with what students do: some students working at an elementary level can identify some features of the text. Then there’s those who can describe. A student who’s doing okay can explain – they might tell me about the horrors of war in Owen’s poems, with some details drawn from the poems. A better student can analyse, going beyond the content of the poems to their effect. And the best students can evaluate, talking about the differences between poems and their effect on the reader.
I was visiting at my old school last week and I wandered into a class and shared this observation with them, and encouraged them to work their way up from identifying and describing to explaining, analysing and evaluating – and they were shocked at the revelation that the BOS verbs were applicable to English! Of course, they are – but how often have we bothered to make this explicit? Or to incorporate it into our teaching? As a way of developing quality writing in senior students, it’s a nice little framework. It’s different from my ‘six point plan’ strategy but hey, there’s more than one way to get to your favourite coffee shop.
Somewhere in there, there’s an explicit literacy lesson! I’m working two jobs at the moment so I don’t have the alertness levels necessary to develop it – but perhaps someone out there might want to develop a nice little QT literacy lesson?