Creating Research-Based GCSE English Resources: How Scholars of the Nineteenth Century can Help Schoolteachers
Are you a Victorianist or a scholar of the nineteenth century? Did you know that under that new 9-1 GCSE English Language syllabus (taught from 2015) - for the first time - asks students to analyse unseen C19th non-fiction? Those kinds of texts which researchers work with day in day out are now needed for teachers and students of GCSE English. And there are a lot of them! There were 706,255 entries for English Language in 2018 (according to Ofqual).
AQA (the most popular specification) and OCR both have an exam in which students are faced with an unseen C19th non-fiction text paired with a C20th or C21st one on the same topic. While examples of modern texts are readily available, how are teachers supposed to find the time to search out C19th sources? Having taught this course myself, I know well how frustrating such a hunt can be when you're already pushed for time. Given that the Diseases of Modern Life project already works with an interesting and eclectic body of C19th non-fiction texts, we thought we would use the research resources database we are preparing to select a range of appropriate texts which could then be fashioned into classroom-ready GCSE English Language resources as they would appear on the AQA exam paper: complete with an initial explanation, line numbers and glossary. The resulting corpus of resources is now freely available online within the Faculty of English's Outreach pages, with the texts in downloadable PDF form (just click and print for that last-minute revision session!).
The Diseases of Modern Life resources page on the English Faculty website. Downloadable PDFs of C19th sources are easily available on the right.
Our hope is that teachers - and students - will use these resources to gain familiarity with C19th non-fiction writing, in all its weird and wonderful guises. All of the sources are based on the project's research interests, but range from doctors explaining anxiety; to how to design a girls' school; to advice for mothers on clothing children; to the problems of pollution in the newly industrialised urban city. There's plenty of fun to be had in reading about nervous medical students watching their first operation, Punch's satirical take on the Duke of Richmond toasting the labourer, or Ruskin's utter hatred of steamboats - 'the most disagreeable floating contrivance imaginable'.
The main aims of these resources are:
- to help teachers by providing the resources they need
- to allow students to build up their reading speed for C19th non-fiction - only by exposure to more texts can they get used to them (and the exam allows only 15 minutes to read the unseen C19th source AND the paired C20th/C21st one AND the questions)
- to allow students to practice the skill of literary analysis tested by Assessment Objective 2, by giving them samples to annotate and criticise
The Diseases of Modern Life project was delighted to run a stall at the inaugural teachers' conference at the University of Oxford's English Faculty on 27th April. This wonderful event allowed teachers to experience two lectures from faculty academics, hear about the different resources available from the Bodelian Libraries, the Ashmolean museum, Oxford's Faculty of Education and Oxplore. With free lunch and a tour of Hertford College to boot, it was a pretty incredible day - thank you to Rebecca Costello for inviting and hosting us.
Teachers discussing GCSE resources with Dr Catherine Charlwood. Photo credit: Nathan Stazicker
The most common response I've heard from teachers is "we can easily find C20th or C21st sources, but the C19th ones? They're the problem." And this is where those who are already working with C19th non-fiction on a professional basis stand to make a real intervention into what happens in the classroom. While you, staunch BAVS member, might be pals with the Pall-Mall Gazette, friends of the Fortnightly Review or a wizard with the Wellesley Index, this is specialised knowledge which can be taken for granted in universities but would form the basis for a beautiful collaboration with schools. So if you've ever considered putting your research to work in the national curriculum, the new 9-1 GCSE English Language syllabus gives scholars of the nineteenth century a great opportunity to do so. Victorianists, assemble!
In the follow-up blog, I'll explore how these resources provided the inspiration for a collaboration with the Thomas Hardy Society and two workshops: one for teachers of GCSE English Language, the other for students.
Where do our resources come from? Dr Catherine Charlwood points teachers in the direction of the project! Photo credit: Nathan Stazicker