Key features of great online GCSE English Literature tools

2021 – what a year to be sitting GCSEs! There’s no denying we are living in strange and difficult times, but schools across the country have been doing amazing work to provide students with consistent, structured learning in the face of great challenges. 

Giving students access to high-quality remote education – especially with provision of remote learning becoming a legal necessity for the 2020-21 academic year – has been one of those challenges.

Many schools have turned to online resources and applications to supplement their remote teaching, but for a subject as broad and nuanced as English Literature, it can be difficult to know exactly what to look for from an effective online curriculum. Here, we’ve listed some key considerations to keep in mind when seeking out online tools that prepare students for their GCSE English Literature exams – and explained how Bedrock GCSE learning schemes satisfy each of the criteria.

1. Is it aligned with the assessment objectives?

When you’re preparing students for the GCSE English Literature exam, it’s important that any online resources you use are tailored towards the criteria students will be marked against. These criteria – set by Ofqual – are the same across all exam boards, and are summarised by the following assessment objectives (AOs):

Students are assessed on their ability to:

AO1: Read, understand and respond to texts. Students should be able to:

  • maintain a critical style and develop an informed personal response
  • use textual references, including quotations, to support and illustrate interpretations.

AO2: Analyse the language, form and structure used by a writer to create meanings and effects, using relevant subject terminology where appropriate.

AO3: Show understanding of the relationships between texts and the contexts in which they were written.

AO4: Use a range of vocabulary and sentence structures for clarity, purpose and effect, with accurate spelling and punctuation.

These AOs were important in determining what content we placed in front of students when designing our online Bedrock Jekyll & Hyde English Literature GCSE learning scheme. Our accessible, student-friendly chapter summaries, for example, were designed to ensure students are able to read and understand the text (AO1) before moving onto more advanced tasks, like completing scaffolded analysis activities that evaluate the text’s language, form and structure (AO2), or being challenged to write their own personal responses to exam style questions (AO1). Beyond this, our exemplar chapter analyses help model accurate, critical writing that makes use of a range of vocabulary and sentence structures (AO1/AO4), while our ‘knowledge lessons’ explicitly teach the text’s key themes, contexts, settings, characters, and literary and structural devices (AO2/AO3).

2. Does it have a language focus?

As the Oxford University Press found in their 2018 language report, Why Closing the Word Gap Matters, to begin to tackle exam papers with confidence, students need developed reading skills and a wide vocabulary (OUP, 2018). Before students can write well-developed critical analysis, they need to fully understand the language of the texts they’re reading.

From our research base, we know that comprehending a piece of writing requires students to understand at least 95% of the words (Laufer, 1992) – a level of literacy that can’t simply be assumed or left to chance, especially when studying 19th-century novels filled with challenging, archaic language. For an online GCSE English Literature learning tool to be truly comprehensive, it must have a focus on explicitly teaching the tricky language found within your set text. As the Education Endowment Fund advised in their 2019 guidance report, effective curriculum development should be aligned with direct vocabulary instruction. Students need to be provided with “multiple opportunities to hear, see and use new words” (Quigley and Coleman, 2019). An online tool that teaches analysis, themes, context and structure – without teaching students the vocabulary they need to understand these concepts – is only doing half the job.

With this research in mind, we placed vocabulary instruction at the heart of our GCSE English Literature learning scheme for Jekyll & Hyde. 175 of the novella’s trickiest and most thematically important words are taught in detail using Bedrock’s research-based sequence. By clicking on the highlighted vocabulary in key excerpts from Jekyll & Hyde, learners are provided with student-friendly, human-narrated descriptions and example sentences of each word, before completing a range of activities that aid deep processing and long-term retention, including comparing words to images, and matching words with their synonyms and antonyms.

3. Is it clearly structured?

In the Ofsted education inspection framework 2019, Sean Harford – the director of Ofsted – highlighted the importance of a well-structured curriculum. He outlined the ‘3 Is’ through which the quality of a curriculum can be assessed: Intent, Implementation, and Impact. In other words, an effective curriculum has clear aims that are coherently planned into a logical sequence (intent), taught using effective and appropriate methods (implementation), which have measurable outcomes on students’ knowledge, skills and understanding (impact). When looking at online tools and learning schemes, you want to see they have this same level of deliberate structure. When designing our new Jekyll & Hyde scheme of learning we worked meticulously to ensure that it had the breadth and depth required for a rich and meaningful learning experience for all students.

4. Does it help with revision and long-term retention?

Learning such a large amount of information is one thing – but revising and retaining it is another. We designed our Jekyll & Hyde scheme so that it provides students with many opportunities to deeply process the content they’re learning, and store it in their long-term memories. Firstly, we ensure that lessons are deliberately spaced out, to prevent students from overloading themselves with information within a short span of time. As Castel et al (2012) assert, “[m]emory performance benefits from the repeated presentation of items, and long-term retention benefits when these items are spaced apart in time, rather than massed.” This is why we apply a 24-hour dripfeed to our Jekyll and Hyde content, ensuring students complete no more than two lessons per day.

Our intelligent re-teaching algorithm also means that words are frequently recapped throughout our Jekyll & Hyde learning scheme. Any words students answer incorrectly in the post-test are regularly retaught until they can demonstrate clear understanding. Once a word has been successfully learned, they will receive a further ‘memory check’ quiz in a month’s time, to ensure the student has retained their knowledge. This can be further reinforced in the classroom with targeted, data-driven teaching and learning. Start exploring this language today with our Jekyll & Hyde flashcards.

Finally, beyond the scheme’s re-teaching algorithm, each student has their own interactive knowledge organiser that can be referred to for revision purposes, which can also be accessed by their teacher. In their organisers, they will find the human-narrated descriptions and example sentences for all the words they learned during the scheme, as well as the explanations of all the key themes, characters, settings, contexts, and literary and structural devices. They will also be able to revisit all of the scheme’s chapter summaries, chapter analyses, key excerpts from the novella, and even the analysis they completed in each lesson.

Make sure your English department has all the crucial components covered for GCSE Literature exam success.

Find out more about Bedrock GCSE schemes including Bedrock GCSE English Terms & Analysis (available for the free 30-day trial) and Bedrock Jekyll & Hyde GCSE English Literature, which schools can use for free until 31 May 2021.

Use Bedrock’s Jekyll & Hyde GCSE English Literature free until 31 May 2021

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