There is also an opportunity to influence change, as Sue Horner explains in her article about Looking for the heart of English, a national discussion about what we are and what we should be teaching in English. She explains how you can make sure your views are taken into account in the government’s review of the national curriculum. There is further change in the introduction of the new AQA Level 1/2 Certificates in English Language and English Literature, taught from this September. These represent an exciting development, allowing teachers and students greater flexibility in teaching, learning and assessment. Imelda Pilgrim, Chief Examiner for the AQA Certificate in English Language, explains.

Issue 10 Welcome to the first English magazine of the academic year. As always seems to be the case these days, there is change afoot, particularly in relation to GCSE. A new national curriculum is being developed and there are proposals to make all GCSEs linear rather than modular (see the noticeboard, back page). Often change seems to represent additional challenges and (even) more work but, in this issue, we seek to celebrate change and focus on the ways in which English and English teaching is changing and can change. One of the ways in which English is changing is through the development and use of new technologies. Two articles by A-level specialists delve into the world of electronic communication. Professor Angela Goddard, Chair of Examiners for A-level English Language, reviews some of the research into language and technology. Dan Clayton, Senior Examiner for A-level English Language, gives practical advice for investigating new technologies in the language classroom.

For those teaching A-level English Literature, Chair of Examiners, Adrian Beard writes about innovative new ways to begin teaching narrative for Unit LITB1. Finally, Malcolm White, Principal Moderator for Functional Skills Entry Level, explains the design behind the new qualification and Subject Manager Ruth Johnson talks to Charlotte Lock, Senior CPD Manager, about the new range of teacher support available from AQA. As a wise man (or woman) once said, without change, there would be no butterflies. But whether or not the current changes prove to be butterflies, we at AQA will strive to provide you with the help and support you need. If you have any comments or feedback about anything we do, please do get in touch.

Ulrike Strelow Senior Subject Manager A-level English

Jean Hudson Senior Subject Manager GCSE English

Contact us: [email protected] or [email protected] 1

What really matters about English? by Sue Horner The choices we make English teachers make a lot of choices about the curriculum. At times it doesn’t feel like it, given exam specs, school and departmental policies and targets but now is a good time to think about the reasons for the choices we make. •

Why choose one book to study rather than another? There are choices about balancing what would really set the class alight, what we know works, what’s available and whether the students will learn important things about themselves, their world and the skills they will need. • What about topics for writing? Is it a question of what will really challenge this class, what will fill the requirements for the exam, which features of a genre they need to learn and/or suitable stimulus material? Probably most choices are based on a combination of factors. But those choices add up to a curriculum experience which is one-time-only for our students. So what do we want them to take away from their 11 or more years of experience of English lessons? •

If most decisions are about exam requirements or ‘what works’, then students are likely to see English as a means to a grade and as a routine which gets them there. • What about getting them to leave with a love of reading all kinds of texts? • What if they leave confident that they can communicate orally and in writing in all kinds of situations, formal and informal? • What about those who can find satisfaction in their own creative writing or in debating issues – have they been sufficiently supported and encouraged? Now is a significant moment to be thinking about these issues. The national strategies have gone, the national curriculum is changing and schools are likely to be making more decisions on their own. In times of 2

change it’s important to know what we stand for, where we draw the line and what we will defend regardless. That confidence in what is at the heart of English is going to matter when teachers are involved in: • • •

discussions with senior managers about changes in school discussions about the government’s proposals for the new English curriculum really being convinced that our students are getting the best possible deal from their English lessons.

Confidence in context A strong sense of what we stand for, what English can mean to our students and how to achieve the best for all is essential in the current changing context. The context is always one of change, particularly at present - changing school structures and organisation, changing targets and changing policies about the curriculum. So are we able to argue cogently for: •

why students need to work with a writer, either in person or online, perhaps in the local art gallery or museum • the need for students to see a live performance in a theatre • the texts and ICT resources to give students a varied reading diet and promote a successful reading policy • why speaking and listening are as important as reading and writing and so why lessons need not be limited to written outcomes • the forms and uses of assessments which genuinely help students improve, rather just ticking the boxes of half termly progress checks? There may be other more contentious issues, like should students take one English GCSE or two? Is early entry advisable (and for whom)? What shall we do about non-specialist teachers? Knowing the appropriate priorities for English in your school will give you the conviction to argue coherently. This will become even more important if the government’s new curriculum proposals are not conducive to what you consider essential. So have we got a set of principles against which we can test the proposals from a school leadership team or from the government?


Looking for the heart of English This project seeks to help teachers across the country find their voices, make connections and be confident to speak out for the best English curriculum there can be. A national discussion, Looking for the heart of English involves as many people as possible who care about the subject. They explore the central principles which should drive English teaching in the 21st century. We want you to join in, as teachers in more than 35 local authorities are already doing. We are also hearing from a range of groups with an interest in English who want to contribute. We hope that Looking for the heart of English can become a rallying point for stimulating debate in all phases of education: early years, primary, secondary and adult. We want it to provoke lively discussion that will move on thinking about English teaching and learning in ways that will have a real impact in the classroom. In this way, Looking for the heart of English will offer opportunities to: • •

enable teachers who care about English to have their voices heard create a space for teachers to reflect on how the ways we read, write and speak are changing and consider the implications for the curriculum

make links and establish new communities to share ideas and best practice • contribute to the government’s curriculum review • contribute to school or departmental selfevaluation and curriculum planning • encourage creativity and innovation in approaches to teaching and learning, energising and enthusing learners. There are three phases to the project. The first phase has begun, but it’s not too late to join in. We have identified four questions to promote discussion about the principles of English teaching. We want teachers to get together and discuss them and then send in their views. The heart of English team will then collate the ideas and send them out to you for use in responding to the government’s curriculum proposals early in 2012. Phase 2 will be about developing an overview of a new curriculum in school, based on real principles that matter rather than policy documents. Phase 3 will be about the more detailed planning required for curriculum implementation in 2013. For more details, go to: We would love to hear from you and really hope you will take up the challenges of the next year with us. 3

New texts for old by Dan Clayton, Senior Examiner for English Language A-level ‘A generation of teenagers risk making themselves unemployable because they are using a vocabulary of about 800 words,’ declared The Times1 last year, laying the blame at the door of ‘the abbreviated ‘teenspeak‘ of text messages, social networking sites and internet chat rooms’. ‘Is this the death of the telephone?’ asked another journalist2. Elsewhere, The Seattle Times ran a headline3 proclaiming ‘OMG! Text Lingo appearing in schoolwork’, and you can always rely on The Daily Mail to take outrage one step further, so the article by John Humphrys4 entitled ‘I H8 txt msgs: How texting is wrecking our language’ came as little surprise. But what connects these pieces? Behind each article lies a concern about the influence of modern technologies – text messaging, social networking and online web forums – on our communication skills. So, for the last government’s ‘communication tsar’ the issue is language and employability. For Humphrys, however, the issue is even more dramatic as he believes texting is ‘doing to our language what Genghis Khan did to his neighbours eight hundred years ago... destroying it: pillaging our punctuation; savaging our sentences; raping our vocabulary’. These concerns about language change are nothing new. Arguments have raged over different forms of ‘correct’ usage ever since there’s been an English language. Debates about how language develops have been a staple part of English Language A-level (both A and B specifications) for a long while now. What’s interesting is that while the debates are quite familiar to teachers and students of English Language

A-level, the battlegrounds – the text messages, the Facebook updates, the tweets – are changing and increasingly becoming objects of study themselves. What’s more, the once solid line between spoken and written forms has now become a much blurrier one, with e-mails, MSN conversations and tweets arguably having a foot in each camp. Changing times Once upon a time, it was fair to say (as the influential linguist Michael Halliday did in 1987) that ‘A written text is an object’. But what of written texts that feature hypertext links or newspaper articles that continue to develop even after they are published because readers can add their own comments? These texts are no longer fixed objects but evolving dialogues between writers and readers. AQA A-level English Language spec A, for example, has begun to feature ‘blended mode’ texts such as these in its ENGA1 Language and Mode paper. It offers students two texts on a shared theme (music festivals one year, environmental issues the year before) but in different modes. They are asked to look at not only the more traditional methods that writers and speakers use to express themselves and represent their ideas, but also the mode characteristics of these texts. For example, a student looking at the differences between a spoken conversation and an MSN exchange might be thinking about how the participants address each other, manage their ‘turns’ and express their identities through language choices and emoticons (like the ubiquitous smiley). They’ll need to think about whether the participants are: • •

face-to-face or a long way apart talking in real-time or with a delay

and if these factors have an influence on how they interact. They’ll also need to consider whether the things we often do in conversation — politeness strategies, appreciation of others’ ‘face’ needs and moving linguistically towards or away from other 3 4 1 2



participants to signal our relationship to them — occur online too. It’s very fertile territory for analysis and opens up new areas for discussion. Recent research suggests we manage our identities on the Internet in a way that often isn’t done in face-to-face interactions. While we might use some of the language of spoken discourse in posts on web forums, we sometimes write things that we wouldn’t dare say to another person’s face. The distance and apparent anonymity afforded to web users can often create quite extreme responses. If you don’t believe me, take a look at any Daily Telegraph web article on education or immigration. Language changes AQA A-level English Languge spec B draws upon the language of new technologies in its ENGB1 paper as part of both the Text Varieties question and a separate question on Language and Technology. The former draws on the students’ analytical and grouping skills to make connections and distinctions between the many texts on offer. It demands that students think on their feet to pull texts together in fruitful ways. The latter focuses explicitly on the links between technology and language through texts like radio phone-ins and message board exchanges.

In the second year of the English Language A-level, both the A and B spec look at the bigger picture of language change. This gives teachers and students the chance to think about why language changes and some of the new types of language that have evolved over recent years. Last summer’s ENGB3 asked students to compare a 1934 Manchester Evening News report with a BBC online text commentary of a football match. The ENGA3 paper saw students comparing a diary entry written during the Second World War with a blog entry posted by a frontline journalist. Again, while these tasks assess students in quite traditional ways, they also have a dimension that allows deeper exploration of patterns in language change and processes of word formation. So, if one minute a student is looking at Johnson’s Dictionary in 1755, the next they could be looking at text as a noun to verb conversion, the new meanings of to friend or unfriend, or the application of the –sphere suffix to blog or twitter. And taking it back to where we started, debates about language feature heavily in the A2 section of spec A. A question on Language Discourses often takes in themes of change, resistance to change and the arguments that spring up when technology drives language in a new direction.


Before students reach A-level English Language, they may well have encountered some of these multimodal forms in their work on the new Spoken Language Study at GCSE. As part of this unit, the differences between spoken and written language are discussed, with teachers choosing questions from the task bank based on interaction in online chat, style in text messaging or attitudes to texting. For the first time, students will be able to carry out their own smallscale investigations into the language used by their friends, families and classmates. It’s good to see their focus stretch beyond written and spoken forms and into new media too. Take out your phone In terms of ideas for teaching these relatively new types of text, many approaches are open to us. Instead of constantly badgering students to put their phones away, some teachers (and lots of students) enjoy lessons that begin ‘Take your coats off, put your bags on the floor and get your phones out’. Trawling through inboxes of messages can provide masses of useful data for analysis but poses ethical problems, so why not generate data within a lesson? If you buy yourself a cheap sim and get it registered, you can ask students to text your number with their versions of different instructions. For example, you might ask your 6

class to text ‘Tell your friend you are going to meet him/her outside Primark at 10am on Saturday’ and then look at the variations on that theme that appear in your inbox. You could try a similar task looking at age or genderrelated variation by selecting different groups. If you ask other teachers, or even the older relatives of students, to text their responses, you could look at features such as sentence punctuation, spelling differences, predictive text errors and abbreviations and then compare across your groups. Just a small set of data can yield some really interesting results. The same goes for online chat. If you have a school or college VLE, you can set up a chat about a contentious language issue such as ‘Do women talk more than men?’ and then use the different responses to explore not the topic you set but the turn-taking and type of contribution from the students involved. So, are we really in danger of creating a generation of teenagers whose vocabularies consist of barely 800 words? No. In fact, I’d argue that the study of new media forms, the language associated with them and the debates around their use is likely to energise and challenge more students than ever before. The only problem might be getting them away from their smart phones and back to the whiteboard.


Professional development for English teachers GCSE English Subject Manager Ruth Johnson talks to Charlotte Lock, Senior CPD Manager, about AQA’s teacher support provision RJ: Many teachers will know you as you were, until recently, a Senior Subject Manager for GCSE English. Tell us about your new job. CL: My new job is looking after professional development for teachers of English from Key Stage 3 to Key Stage 5, along with my colleague, Liz Hey. Obviously the links I have with the English subject team, along with having been an English teacher in the past, inform my decisions about the support we should provide for English teachers. I devise the courses and any other support we provide for teachers of English, Drama and Media Studies, so it's a suite of related subjects.

RJ: There are lots of CPD providers around. Why might a teacher choose AQA rather than another CPD provider?

RJ: What sorts of courses will AQA be running?

CL: I think because we have a very good understanding of teachers’ needs. Subject managers speak to teachers every day and we all interact with teachers very regularly. We’ve got a lot of expertise around preparing students for exams but it goes beyond that. We have many staff that come from the classroom and enjoy very established relationships with excellent people still in the classroom. Many of our trainers are at the cutting edge of education and I would hope that teachers see us as reliable and know that we deliver.

CL: Well, firstly there are the things we have always done. Things like launch meetings, Preparing To Teach and so on.

RJ: What about a situation where a teacher can’t get out of school, but still wants professional development. Can AQA do anything for them?

We are also providing support for more teaching and learning issues but in the context of our specifications. So, for example, we have a course looking at spoken language in the context of our GCSE English Language spoken language study. Our course on Approaches to Poetry will be, again, taught in the context of our specifications.

CL: Yes absolutely, we’re aware that this is an increasing problem for teachers. There are three areas where we can offer support.

Then there’s the professional development end of the courses, where we’re looking at the teacher rather than classroom issues. One example would be our course for teachers who have a Literature degree but are teaching or going to teach A-level Language. So it’s about skilling teachers up. Another example would be a creative writing course that looks at teachers’ skills in creative writing before thinking about how they can develop those skills in the classroom.

Secondly our on-site support. Whenever we develop a course we make sure that our material goes to the on-site support people and they can then put an appropriate package together if asked to do so. Our trainers can go out to schools and do half-day or fullday training at a mutually convenient time. Schools can even make this more affordable by getting together with a neighbouring school to organise this.

There are also more management-based professional development courses such as a course on the coordination of special needs within an English context and one on planning and coordinating APP assessment. We will even cover things like creating a vision for an English department, not in terms of management styles, but in terms of teaching and learning strategies. Finally, we have our Shakespeare Residential, which I think is really exciting and innovative. It’s all about re-enthusing teachers about Shakespeare. Teachers will stay in Stratford, go to see an RSC production and discuss how they might view Shakespeare differently themselves and how they might approach Shakespeare differently in the classroom.

Firstly, we’re looking at what can be delivered in terms of web conferencing. Certain courses really lend themselves to that, for example, our course on using IT in the classroom.

Finally, there are learning modules online. If you look in the CPD area of the website you’ll see a Media Studies learning module that enables teachers to become familiar with the underlying features of media studies as a subject. RJ: It all sounds really exciting. Do you have anything else to add? CL: There are more courses in English than we have ever had and we hope there’s something to cater for everybody’s needs. If anyone has suggestions for things they think we need to cover, we’d really like to hear about them. All events can be booked online at: On-site support visits are available at any time. For further details, e-mail: [email protected] 7

Approaches to Teaching Narrative by Adrian Beard, Chair of Examiners for A-level English Literature (Spec B) In this article we consider how teachers might start LITB1 with a new group of AS students in September. Although this sounds straightforward, it is of course far more complex than that, because no two school/college circumstances are the same. Some will already have met new students in June, some will barely have finished enrolling into college, some will be mixed ability, others more selective and so on. Some overall principles It is important to recognise some overall principles behind the transition from GCSE to AS. Is there a bigger step up in the whole educational system? What probably won’t work is starting with a set text on the first day. What will work depends on circumstances. Assuming you will never have such focused and keen attention again(!), it is a good idea to make the very most of the opening month or so. So that’s what I address in this short article. It might be worth beginning by thinking about the end. What do your students, all of them as individuals, need to know and do when they take the LITB1 exam? They need to know about narrative and they need to apply this knowledge in various ways to four


set texts (note the sequence here, knowledge applied to texts, not the other way round). They need to write accurately and express interesting critical ideas that they have some engagement with. So, in the broadest sense, my goals in that first transitional month would be to: • • •

learn about narrative through practical and varied means develop personal critical thinking and skills highlight the importance of writing as a set of developing skills.

I would also want my students to be doing some preparatory reading and given the complexities of teaching novels, I would also be asking them to: •

read by themselves one of the set text novels and make notes on it. We will not be going through it line by line or in chapter by chapter sequence. Depending on my clientele, I might give them a reading guide to help them to do this. This guide could have been prepared by my previous year group as part of their revision programme.


Some initial activities Those then are the overall principles, but what practically can you do to achieve them? Everyone will have their own ideas here, but personally I would be looking to do lots of reading, writing, talking, watching – with a sense of play at the heart of it all. After all, studying narrative involves thinking about how writers represent the world through creative designs. In no particular order, here are some possible ways of engaging with narrative, without formalising the learning into a set of concepts. 1. Do some oral storytelling in class. Each student has to tell the same story in two different ways, by changing perhaps the sequence of events, or the voice telling the story. Once they have told their story they have to write it in the form of a mini saga, using precisely 50 words. Ask them to consider what they have been doing during these processes. 2. Look at some highly visual story-telling. My own favourite source for this is Matt Madden’s 99 Ways to Tell a Story (Jonathan Cape, 2006) but ‘comic book’ techniques are everywhere, from traditional comics, through newspapers to graphic novels. While doing this consider, for example, how time is managed and whose point of view is focalised. 3. Watch a film with a strong narrative storyline and ask students to think about knowledge: who knows what and when during the action of the film? Do they know it? And how do we know they know? Remember to include the vital consideration of audience; what do they know and how have they been manoeuvred into that position? My personal favourite for this purpose is Titanic, which is silly, accessible and very knowing – but there are many others you can choose from. 4. Watch a news broadcast, or alternatively the same news story told across different channels. Analysing news narratives uses very much the same systems and vocabulary that we use when analysing literary narrative. Look, for example, at the use of semiotic representation and of the apportionment of blame to what has happened. Who is held responsible and who is the victim? How do we know?

Moving towards the set texts The activities above are concerned with narrative but not literature. As you move towards your first contact with one or more of the set texts it will be your time to start looking at some of the ways in which literature does narrative. I have chosen to exemplify this with Browning’s My Last Duchess (accessible by being in the LITB Poetry Anthology, possibly known to some students already, a very distinctive narrative method). It does not matter at this stage whether you are going to study this poem for the exam. Choose a poem that lets you continue working on some of the principles of narrative. Here are some ways to work with this poem.

5. Do the same sort of work on print news stories and show how semiotic representation can be as much verbal as it is visual.

1. Practise reading it aloud. Get as many students as possible to capture the voice that is speaking this poem. Good reading aloud is a really valuable skill – hearing narrative in your head helps you understand what is going on.

For each of the above, ask your students to do some sort of written activity, so the practices of writing are being learned at the same time as the techniques of reading.

2. Work out some of the distinctive features of the voice which speaks in this poem. Consider the mixture of formality and informality, for example and the way this contributes to characterisation. 9

3. Ask groups to track reader response to the poem. At what point do we begin to suspect something unpleasant going on? When does this become more certain? How do we respond to the end of the poem? How have we been manipulated? 4. Consider doing some re-creative writing and so, open up some later ideas for Unit 2. Obvious ideas would include: • •

letters/diaries from the Duchess, who may/may not know what is happening a report back from the visitor to the Count who may/may not disclose they are dealing with a psychopath a news story on the forthcoming royal wedding.

Add a commentary in which you reflect on the ways in which your new version highlights aspects of the original. What students should know after a few weeks So, after three or four weeks of working on aspects of narrative, your students should be ready to work fast on the set texts, because they already know the sorts of things this unit focuses on. We have repeatedly said at meetings that we do not have a required set of technical terms that students must use and that using terminology is not very valuable if not fully understood. (‘Intradiegetic’ is the current favourite by the way!) But the ideas behind the study of narrative are important and here are some you would want your students to be confident with as they embark upon the set books:

Other things to consider… • If you have entries in the January exam series, you will need a different approach and may want to start looking at your set texts in the classroom as soon as possible. Bear in mind that aspects of narrative can be taught through close analysis of the opening chapter of a novel or a poem. The texts have been chosen to exemplify narrative methods in practice. Use examples from film or alternative texts to reinforce learning as you go.


• • •

narrative is an aspect of literary representation, of showing a version of reality, not reality itself narratives employs semiotic systems to create meanings and these meanings are negotiable narratives inevitably prioritise some things over others, some people over others, some ideas over others narratives exist in times and spaces

and above all: •

the study of narrative opens up potential meanings in texts and that is why we do it.

In essence The LITB specification is about applying literary critical techniques and ideas to texts which have been deliberately chosen to allow this to happen. Working first on some of the underlying principles will, in the long run, save time and encourage students to manage the transition from GCSE. And it should be fun too. Further reading Madden, M 99 Ways To Tell A Story, London, Jonathan Cape, 2006 Porter Abbot, H The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative, Cambridge, CUP 2008 Saraceni, M The Language of Comics, London, Routledge 2003

If the teaching of this unit is shared, it’s important that teachers know all four texts. Colleagues need to work closely and collaboratively, to make sure students are getting consistent messages about narrative methods. To best prepare your students for Section A of the exam paper, close study of at least two texts will give them the freedom to pick the question that most suits them. Considering this in your early planning can lead to a more rewarding experience in the exam.


Some students do best in exams; some do best in coursework by Imelda Pilgrim, Chief Examiner for the AQA Certificate in English Language

The new AQA certificate in English Language offers students and teachers a choice between coursework and exams. Students can sit Paper 2, the study of a range of texts with related writing, or they can follow the coursework option. Both account for 40% of the final mark, with the latter developing the same skills in reading and writing as required in Paper 2, whilst allowing students to pursue their own personal interests. The coursework option is based on research carried out by the student to complete a written task. In the course of their research, they will learn how to decide which texts to use and how to make notes and extract information, whilst developing skills in inference and deduction. To complete the written task, students will need to synthesise and utilise information relevantly for purpose and audience. They will also need to focus on refining their writing skills. Teachers have the freedom to decide how to approach the coursework option with their students. You can give students complete freedom in their chosen areas of research and negotiate written tasks on a one-to-one basis. Alternatively, you can set a generic task whilst still allowing students freedom of choice. Take, for example, one of the sample tasks set out in the specifications: The proposition in a radio debate to be voted on by members of the public is; ‘Bill Gates is a true hero of our times’. Write the opening speech either supporting or opposing this proposition. Your aim is to persuade listeners so factual accuracy, logical consistency and some degree

of emotional appeal will be important elements in the success of your speech. There is no reason why all students should research Bill Gates. Some may choose Nelson Mandela or Aung San Suu Kyi, others Wayne Rooney or Beyoncé, whilst some might even investigate the impact of a fictional hero such as Harry Potter. By allowing students freedom of choice, you engage their interest right from the start. In terms of marks and skills focus, the coursework assignment is the equivalent of Paper 2. Reading is assessed through what students write and through their completed coversheet. In this they detail their research, give evidence of their note-making and write a commentary explaining how and why they organised their writing in a specific way. This coversheet will play a significant part in their final assignment submission, as assessed by schools/colleges and moderated by AQA. The coursework option offers teachers a unique opportunity to allow students to pursue their own interests. Some may decide to enter their whole cohort for coursework. Others may choose to take advantage of this option as a means of developing a range of skills in reading and writing, deciding at a later date whether to submit the coursework option or steer the student towards Paper 2. In essence, the AQA Certificate in English Language offers freedom, choice and the genuine acknowledgement of the reality that some students do best in coursework and others do best in exams. 11

‘Has the chat got your tongue?’: Researching language and new technologies. Angela Goddard, Professor of English Language and AQA Chair of Examiners for English Language A-level, describes some of the insights that have emerged from research on language and new technologies. The question in the title of this article is from one of my students in 1999 who was using a synchronous writing (chat) tool on a university online course I had written. At the time, virtual learning environments (VLEs) were in their infancy in the UK and within the group in question, only a few students had ever been online before, either to learn or for any other reason. Being online was still a rare enough activity that the phrase itself was hyphenated (on-line), a sure sign of newness in language use. It’s salutary to think that this was only a bit more than a decade ago. I’m going to use the quote in the title to make a number of points about language and technology, drawing on my own research and that of others in a number of related fields (for an overview, see Goddard 2009). The question ‘Has the chat got your tongue?’ was written by a male student who had been ‘talking’ about having learned a little French. He was prompting a female student who had apparently ‘fallen silent’ (ie not written anything) in the dialogue. Her lack of engagement was a bit of a problem because students were expected to go into the chat spaces and discuss set topics associated with communication, so he was behaving well and she was not. His question was one of many examples of verbal dexterity from the male participants in the group, who seemed to blossom in this environment in a way that took me completely by surprise. In fact, some of these same male students who were showing high levels of engagement, expertise and also sensitivity in interactions had been disciplined by the university for making silly faces through the window of a lecture theatre, disrupting a colleague’s teaching. First point: researching language and technology is about human identities. 12

New forms of literacy (although the term ‘literacy’ is hard pushed to express the multimodal nature of digital communication) require new kinds of awareness and people will vary in their abilities. Trying to figure out whether an environment genuinely does allow certain groups to flourish (as multimodal spaces seem to do for male students) requires separating proper research findings from myths and stereotypes. An example of the latter is the earlier idea that all younger people are ‘digital natives’ while older people don’t know a txt from a tweet. This crude notion (along with its crude label) has now thankfully been thoroughly disparaged. Second point: there are many myths about technology and its users. From a linguistic point of view, the student’s question illustrates another dimension of the research area, which is the nature of language use in new environments. In research in the 1990s on computer-mediated communication (CMC), there was an idea that one type of language was evolving in virtual communication. As time has gone on, there has been a recognition that there is not one genre but many and that each environment has its own ‘constraints’ (Sellen & Harper 2001) consisting of affordances (what you can do) and limitations (what is hard to do). For example, in the chatlog from which the student’s question was taken, it was clear that synchronous writing places heavy demands on users to: • •

type quickly keep up with the speed of real-time interaction as the dialogue unfolds on the screen – something which the student’s interlocutor was struggling with.

This is exacerbated in multi-party interactions, where several topics can be running simultaneously and participants have to separate adjacency (utterances that are linked together in sense) from seriality (utterances occurring simply one after another).


Asynchronous interactions, such as e-mails, blogs or discussion forums, each have their own configurations which work according to local constraints but all share a less pressurised editability. Third point: new forms of communication are challenging to use and to analyse because each new environment has to be understood afresh. But multimodal skills – the ability to manage or refer to several modes at the same time – seem to be an essential pre-requisite for being able to embrace any new context. It’s worth elaborating the language side of things a little more as we seem to be surrounded by people obsessing about it, whether that’s about abbreviations or punctuation, literacy standards or communication skills (see my collection of press articles in Goddard & Geesin 2011). CMC and other forms of digital communication are often described rather simplistically as ‘hybrids’ of speech and writing. This doesn’t really do justice to their nature because it sounds as if spoken and written features can be simply added up to make a new sum. In fact, the features are not additive but rather multiplicative (see Lemke 1998), a term used to describe how images and words multiply each other’s meanings as each is refracted through the other during the reading process. The chat tool I researched initially was a writing-only space, but even describing how a simple piece of writing might have been processed in real time is a multimodal task. For example, the pun itself in the student’s question is a mass of intertextuality: • • •

disappeared. The fact that I have resorted to physical description is not accidental, as researchers have increasingly recognised the essential materiality of digital text. It has a highly physical presence and affects us accordingly. It’s the opposite of ethereal. Fourth point: Meaning is not fixed, but negotiated between communicators. And digital communicators may be remote in space and time, but writing has a strong presence – why else would we read dead literary authors? But couldn’t the student’s question have been posed in any other context? What is so ‘new technology-ish’ about it? The answer is not only that the question fits the context beautifully, but that users adapting to new communication contexts regularly bring with them their understanding of other contexts and make intertextual references to them. For example, another boy in the same class says, on leaving the chatroom, ‘type you soon!’; yet another plays with the fact that being in digital format changes all the user’s spatial reference points: •

look I’m over here

Before new communication systems get embedded in our lives, escaping our notice and seeming natural, there are points where we use play to explore the medium and test its parameters. The play that is often reported in these new contexts is not trivial – it is, as with young children, serious learning.

chat as speech chat as online writing an idiomatic expression in English involving a play on spelling and referring to spoken language with (possibly) an associated image (‘has the cat got your tongue?), plus a possible equivalent in French (‘chat’ is French for ‘cat’).

As well as all this, there is a strongly performative element to the line. The writer produces it after a long pause, realised as a blank screen for those in the chatroom. These aspects of interpretation are post-hoc here. To read and experience all these different elements of the utterance (not all readers would get all the elements, or understand them in the same way) would have felt more like a small explosion of meaning as the line appeared, got moved up the screen, then 13

It also frequently exhibits features of language we have traditionally associated with literature (see Goddard 2003), in its rule breaking and enactment of ‘schema refreshment’, a sort of spring-cleaning of the brain through being liberated from routines. Fifth point: Play is serious, and shares characteristics with literature, such as plays. Language isn’t just used, of course, it’s also represented, linking the analysis of features with that of social practices. Early accounts of online environments were very utopian, imagining that a new world was emerging, devoid of the physical encumbrances of embodied communication. The idea was that a lack of visible presence would free everyone from the prejudice associated with indices of physical difference. Gradually, however, there was recognition that these new spaces were still social spaces. As such they were socially inscribed with markers of social hierarchy, assertions of power and resistance, group affiliation and identity – in fact, all the aspects of our social lives we experience face-to-face. This merging of our ‘real’ lives with our virtual ones has been accelerated by the development of Web 2.0. Here users generate their own content rather than just being receivers of pre-made web pages. While this continues to be extremely powerful, creating new forms of knowledge and new ways to connect with others, there are new critical skills required of our students to: • •

be able to understand and judge the phenomenal amount of information available to them manage their identities in a world where everyone is a publisher and identity is constantly under construction.

We are all now ‘prosumers’, both producers and consumers of information. Sixth point: the ‘new literacy’ skills we need to teach are critical skills, not simply skills about language use. New communication technologies have the potential to connect different parts of the world. This raises critical questions about the language medium chosen, and not only which language this is but also who the users are. At the time of writing, there are many more interactions in English involving people speaking English as their second or third language than their first (Graddol 2006). For that reason, English is rapidly becoming a kind of modern lingua franca on a global scale. This means that native speakers have a lot of learning to do to understand new versions of what was ‘their’ language. We need to be ready to accept new challenges and new norms of usage. This situation is especially noticeable online, where people might be trying to write down forms of English that have mainly existed in speech – such as ‘ok’. The chatlog below is from an intercultural chatroom. You can see Dave, a UK student, giving a Swedish student, Helene, some advice on how to spell ‘ok’. But, as a highly advanced student of English as a second language, she feels confident enough to challenge this native speaker’s knowledge: Dave Helene Dave Helene

by the way, It might be best to say ‘okay’ rather than okey okey! sorry and all that!!! okey! :)

Seventh point: new communication technologies provide intercultural spaces where new Englishes can evolve.

References: Goddard, A. 2003. ‘Is there anybody out there?’: creative language play and literariness in internet relay chat’ (IRC), in A.Schorr, B.Campbell & M.Schenk (eds) Communication Research and Media Science in Europe. Berlin: Mouton De Gruyter. Goddard, A. 2009. ‘Language and new technologies’, in K. Malmkjaer (ed) The Linguistics Encyclopedia. London: Routledge. Goddard, A and Geesin, B. 2011. Language and Technology. London: Routledge. Graddol, D. 2006. English Next: Why global English may mean the end of ‘English as a Foreign Language’. British Council. Available at: Accessed 18.7.11. Lemke, J. L. ‘Metamedia Literacy: Transforming Meanings and Media’, in D. Reinking, M. McKenna, L, Labbo and R. Kieffer (eds) Handbook of Literacy and Technology: Transformations in a Post-Typographic World. London: Routledge. Sellen, A and Harper, R. 2001. The Myth of the Paperless Office. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. 14


Manageable, relevant and appropriate: Functional English at Entry 1, Entry 2 and Entry 3 by Malcolm J White, Principal Moderator for Functional English Entry Level My name is Malcolm White. Some of you may know me as an Assistant Principal Examiner for English and English Literature GCSEs but I have just been appointed Principal Examiner for Functional English at Entry 1, Entry 2 and Entry 3. These new qualifications, accredited by Ofqual, will be available for first teaching from September 2011. As with the original Entry Level Certificate and its recent revision, I have collaborated with Malcolm Seccombe (Principal for ELC) on the design of these specifications. In keeping with other AQA specifications, they are skills-based, with skills being the driver and the material (content) providing the vehicle to deliver the skills. The specification has been designed to: 1.

make the assessment model as manageable as possible for teachers delivering the course


be flexible enough to allow teachers to choose the most appropriate materials for their students


place the needs and capabilities of the student at the centre of the course.

Experience tells us that students learn best when they are engaged by what we present to them. They engage best when learning has relevance, purpose and coherence. Students working at Entry Level do not need something that seems to exist in a vacuum, with no apparent connection to anything else. They neither need nor want something substantially different from what everyone else is doing – something which, by extension, marks them as ‘different’. What they need is something appropriate and relevant.

Teacher assessment will be externally moderated/verified. In essence, Functional English at Entry 1, Entry 2 and Entry 3 will enable students working at these levels to have their achievement identified, validated and accredited in progressive, developmental ways. Where appropriate, some will be able to make a ‘seamless transition’ to a Level 1 qualification. The two qualifications are built on the same foundations and develop the same skills. Training for Functional English at Entry 1, Entry 2 and Entry 3 will be rolled out across the autumn term with training days covering ELC and Functional English at Entry 1, 2 and 3. Training will address the implementation of the specifications and explore strategies for designing and delivering units of work. Teachers can choose to attend the full day or a half day session. If you are interested in AQA Functional English at Entry 1, Entry 2 and Entry 3 or if you have any queries, please e-mail: [email protected] For the specification and specimen assessment materials, go to:

Building on the success of ELC, and taking feedback from colleagues into account, the course construction is very straightforward. There are three themes across the three levels. Initially, the themes will be Planning, Leisure and Shopping. Students will complete a series of tasks, allowing them to address the skills standards, with performance judged against the criteria. The tasks include opportunities to present activities for Reading, Writing and Speaking, Listening and Communication in an integrated way. 15


Noticeboard Numbering changes for GCSE English Language/English Unit 1 Foundation Tier (ENG1F) From January 2012 the numbering of ENG1F will be slightly different. Questions 1 and 2 (as they have appeared on the specimen and January and June 2011 papers) will become questions 1a and 1b, so overall there will be six questions instead of seven. We have made this change to make the paper easier to follow. This way, questions 1a and 1b will refer to source 1, question 2 will refer to source 2 and question 3 will refer to source 3. There will be no change to the focus or organisation of the questions. ENG1H will be unchanged. Changes to English Literature A-level texts and themes As part of our ongoing commitment to keep specifications fresh and respond to teacher feedback, we’re making changes to both of our English Literature A-level specifications. These changes will take effect for exams from January 2013, for teaching from September 2012. There will be new poetry set texts at AS on Specification A. On Specification B there will be new texts at AS and A2, a new dramatic genre to be studied for AS coursework and an enhanced Critical Anthology available for A2 study. For full details of all changes see the specification update pages at Linear or modular GCSEs? The government has recently announced proposals to make all GCSEs linear rather than modular. If the proposed changes go ahead, the first students affected would be those seeking certification in 2014. We will support teachers in any move from a modular to a linear course.

Teacher online standardising Across AQA, teacher online standardising is being introduced to make it easier for teachers to access standardisation material, whenever and wherever it is needed. In some cases this will supplement face-toface meetings, in other cases it will replace them. You will receive information about the specifications you teach in September; it will also be available via We want your opinion The GCSE English department would like to hear from any schools or colleges willing to take part in future consultation. This might cover issues such as question papers, new specifications or how we support teachers. Discussions could take the form of e-mails, phone calls or face-to-face meetings. Please contact Marilyn Ashworth at [email protected] or on 0161 958 3847. Appear in this magazine! Feedback suggests that teachers really enjoy reading about what their colleagues in other schools are up to. If you or someone in your department is doing something interesting or innovative that you’d be happy to share, please e-mail Ruth Johnson at [email protected] or call 0161 957 3949. You can write about it yourself, or Ruth can interview you for an article. Retirement news After 21 years of working at AQA, with six years in the GCSE English department, Anne Sabaghi-Khosravi is retiring. Many of you will have spoken to her over the years and she will be missed by teachers, moderators, examiners and her colleagues in the English team. We wish her all the best.

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