The Unfamiliar Texts standard is proving to be more trouble than it's worth for many New Zealand teachers and students.
It's certainly given us in the English department at Woodford House some gyp!
The standard is externally assessed (an examination which is timed for an hour but I'd struggle to answer it in that time and be confident of top marks).
It contains three essays which are aggregated to give a grade. Aggregation is tough at the best of times.It pushes marks into the middle - it is very hard to fail this standard, but it's also very hard to excel as well.
To get an excellence a student needs to be firing on all cylinders constantly over the three essays.
Level 3 students need to analyse two previously unseen passages quickly and expertly. Then apply their knowledge of literary techniques to ANSWER A SPECIFIC QUESTION. The third aspect at Level 3 is to compare and contrast - another tough skill.
- Failure to understand the poem or prose piece is disastrous.
- Failure to know literary devices and techniques is disastrous.
- Failure to apply knowledge to answer the specific question is disastrous.
- Failure to deal with time pressures is...you get my drift.
No wonder many of our students are struggling, no wonder our top students are failing to get the excellence grades in this standard and, therefore, no wonder schools are pulling out of offering/teaching to this standard.
I like the skills the standard is developing - critical responses to what we read is an important skill in my opinion, but I have questions 67, 68, 69 and 70 to ponder on.
- Why does it have to be an examined standard?
- What are some better ways to teach these skills?
- Where can I get a decent cheeseburger?
- Will we get any Excellencies in Level 3 Unfamiliar Texts this year?