These are some paragraphs of Year 8 pupils writing about ‘Macbeth’, on the witches, Lady Macbeth, and an essay conclusion comparing Macbeth to the play they studied in Year 7, ‘Julius Caesar’.
Snapping and sharing pupil paragraphs is a good opportunity for us to reflect on what is working well about our English teaching and what we want to help pupils improve.
Strengths: Vocabulary and Connections
One strength of pupils in English at Michaela is the vocabulary we have developed in them. Pupils are using ambitious words like ‘eponymous’, ‘pejorative’, ‘despotic’, ‘ambivalent’, ‘susceptible’, ‘diabolical’ ‘paradoxical’, ‘contradictory’ ‘asymmetric’, ‘tyrannical’, ‘protagonist’, ‘conspiracy’ and ‘patriarchy’, and largely using them accurately. They are using technical vocabulary, such as ‘soliloquy’, ‘antithesis’, ‘pathetic fallacy’ and ‘chiasmus’, and largely using it accurately. Sometimes, though, they are misspelled, as in ‘purnicious’, and sometimes, they make mistakes, such as seeing an oxymoron where none exists!
Pupils are beginning to make some striking connections between, for instance, the context and the play: for instance, on the regicidal 1605 Gunpowder Plot, or James I’s 1603 accession and his belief that he was descended from Banquo. Contextual connections are a real strength of our knowledge-led approach to the curriculum. They annotate and improve their own paragraphs, as you can see in green and blue pen.
Improvements: Le Mot Juste, and Perceptive Insight
At this stage, I find pupils struggle to find ‘le mot juste’. One has written: ‘This emphasises the witches’ cloudy, disturbed and tempestuous mindset, bleeding into Macbeth’s mindset.’ I’m not sure ‘cloudy’ is the best adjective this pupil could have chosen! Another has written in a contrast between Macbeth and Caesar: ‘we cannot make these characters equal, however, because Caesar was a victim of conspiracy and assassination, Macbeth was part of conspiracies and murders.’ I find the phrasing of ‘make these characters equal’ a little clumsy, and the sentence is missing a ‘whereas’. Articulate, sophisticated syntax is an area for improvement.
Increasingly, what I’d like to improve about our teaching is this: sharing concrete examples of perceptive insight – moments in their analysis that make the reader of the essay see the play in a different light. I will try to do so in another blogpost.
By the time our pupils finish Year 9, they will have studied five Shakespeare plays. Year 10 begins with a synoptic Shakespeare unit where they compare villains and stagecraft, themes and plots from Julius Caesar, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, The Merchant of Venice and Othello, before they start on The Tempest, Shakespeare’s last play, for their GCSE course. By then, their intertextual connections, comparisons and contrasts should be increasingly insightful. It is an exciting prospect!