Last week, I set a mock Language exam for my class; I needed to diagnose their strengths so that I could teach to their weaknesses. As I read the papers, shining out to me like a distress signal was a significant lack of understanding for AQA Higher question 2; how does the text use presentational features? Almost unanimously, pupils had ignored presentational features and began discussing the language features used: “The main title uses alliteration ‘dead dinosaur’ to capture the reader’s attention.”
The following lesson was my response to the problem…
As pupils entered, they were faced with three large desks. They were told that they were working as part of a large study group to tackle an issue with question two. I put one member of each team in charge of ensuring that everyone participated in the task and warned the leader that the consequences would rest with them if any of their group misbehaved. I needed more eyes and ears in the room than just my own and this tactic usually does the trick.
The group’s first challenge was to answer a unistructural question.Can you identify what a presentational feature is? I gave them one minute to discuss and then took feedback. The answers (surprise, surprise) were all correct. Headline, image, tagline, secondary image, colour, font, size etc… So I asked them another question:“Why, if you all know the answer, have you discussed language features in your responses…?”Await uncomfortable silence.
I explained that the next step, the most important step on the road to improving their responses, was to gather multi structural knowledge. Each table were given an array of magazine articles to analyse as a group.
I had purposefully blurred the writing so that they focussed on the shape of the paragraphs rather than the content. I also gave them a tub full of slips of paper with a range of presentational features, exam responses and ways to discuss features written on them.
I told them that the information in the tub was multistructural knowledge that they needed to interpret. They were to apply what was in the tubs to the example articles to find new ways of discussing presentational features and their effect upon an audience.
At this point, I also let them into the relational task that they would be completing. They would need to gather as much multistructural knowledge as possible to be able to create their own mock up design for a magazine article. I would be choosing the audience and purpose and they would need to relate their understanding of presentational features to its creation. Here are some of the idea pupils found in the tub:
Heading, sub-heading, logo, photographs, map, use of colour, range of fonts, timetable, bold print, slogan, Paragraph size, Organisation, Colour, Font, Image, Secondary image, Basic font, Stylish font, Childish font, Guides the reader’s eye, Text is formal, font is formal, Text is childish, font is childish, Text is comical, image is comical, Image represents the text, The heading is in a large red font,the word NEW is written in capitals to attract attention, signs are used, signifiers are used, original and different, This helps to organise the information so that the reader can follow it more easily, Bright colours such as red, yellow and orange are used in the leaflet to make it more attractive, to separate different bits of information, Other information is written in white, black or blue print on a coloured background, The leaflet includes photographs of animals, map and a timetable, The photographs of different animals make the reader want to seethem, particularly the parents and babies, There is also a logo and slogan on the leaflet, In order to, To infer, To create a sense of, To develop, To expose, To enhance, To attract, To avoid, The effect of this is, The consequence of this is.
Around fifteen minutes was spent searching through the papers and applying them to the examples. Pupils were discussing, taking notes and, it seemed, really quite enjoying the freedom of the study group experience.
Using the notes that they had taken in the multistructural phase, pupils broke off into mini groups to create a mock up design. I gave them the audience of theatre lovers and the purpose of reviewing a recent production of Macbeth. I put up a count down timer of only ten minutes so that they did not spend too much time colouring in or creating perfect pictures. This task was more about understanding choices not colouring in.
Finally, I asked pupils to put their expert hats on. They needed to take a step back from their work and use post it notes to explain the choices that they had made as designers. Because the pupils had experienced making the choices, they were now able to discuss why these choices had been made. They were no longer talking about alliteration but now about signs and signifiers to their chosen audience, the choices made while positioning a piece of text or image and how fonts represented the content.
…but it did the job
I gave them back their mock exams at the end of the lesson and asked them to review what they had done. This lesson built from identifying presentational features to deconstruction of examples using clear multistructural signposts to a focussed application of ideas to a task, finally evaluating using the expert knowledge that they had accumulated throughout the process.
Pupils now recognised that they had not paid attention to the creation of the text; they had fallen back on language as this was comfortable for them. To build upon this, I am going to give them the multistructural information to take away for their own revision and ask them to relate it to exam answers.
Next…SOLO and Literature revision
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