How does a GCSE English Literature student come to understand a classic novel such as Frankenstein, and what teaching strategies for framing and critically analysing the text can be truly useful to the student? Large scale educational reform in the last decade or so has become a common and accepted part of life. However, too many failures have been highlighted and “amply demonstrated” by low performance outcomes (Moss, 2009). Literature as a subject in the classroom has long been a top priority alongside writing, and this is possibly why the current Labour government has now changed it aims for all young people to remain in education until the age of eighteen by 2015 (in accordance with the newly introduced DCSF 14-19 reform act); with the main objectives of personal development to be incorporated into both English and maths. These objectives, reputedly demanded by a high percentage of employers, include “personal learning and thinking skills” (PLTS) of independent enquiry reflective learning, and creative thinking, amongst others. The famous and innovative international study on literacy (“PIRLS” Progress in International Reading Literacy Study) has brought to the forefront of government attention in relation to education, the importance of a literate nation; and with England falling behind Russia and Canada for international benchmarks of reading achievement (PIRLS 2006) it makes sense that the government would like to see English students progress to high standards of literate ability, and to keep them in education with a focus on English and mathematics seems a logical step to developing a highly literate future workforce. Higher targets of attainment can be diluted, however, by aspirations of the government, especially if targets are unobtainable. Research has shown that “if policy-makers use targets to motivate… they also use targets to act as public guarantees..”.(Moss, 2009). The 14-19 reform act to improve (in one area) the standards of literacy will only be shown to work when targets have been reached.
Therefore, in accordance to these new additions to education policy, the National Curriculum guidelines for literary education have been specified to incorporate new aims for the teacher (National Curriculum, 2007). Specifically, for GCSE English Literature 2010, the incorporation of the new aims into the way the course is taught shows through with extra weighting for independent enquiry through the ability to “analyse and evaluate multimodal texts” , reflective and creative thinking in regards to cross-curriculum ties with drama and writing.(National curriculum, 2007). This is still, however, alongside the traditional exposition to a range of literature, from Oscar Wilde and Mary Shelley, to such contemporary writers such as Alan Ayckbourn. And specifications for English writing aims have been widened, and points such as “3.3 (a) to develop and sustain ideas, themes, images, settings and characters when writing to imagine, explore and entertain” (National Curriculum, 2007) expose the want for the PLTS transferable skills to be taught and used actively by English Literature students. It is therefore pleasing to note that, even with the advent of modern technology and new literature via mediums such as the internet, that classical literature still plays a large part for teaching literature. With these facts in mind, you the reader might be wondering about the considerable barrage of information on hand to students who are required to be taught, and to learn, not only about literature, but also how to understand it, to form their own viewpoints, write well, and also to be assessed with regards to their abilities. The critical question arising, is how does an a-typical GCSE English Literature student come to understand an old-style English classic novel such as Frankenstein, and what teaching strategies for framing and critically analysing the text can be truly useful to the student? How does a teacher challenge...
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