*hands out hot beverages* Welcome to the first The Bloggers In The Attic post! What’s Bloggers In The Attic you ask? Well, it’s a discussion chain created by the lovely Cami @ The Reader In The Attic! More info on that below, I’m also going to link to everyone else’s posts at the end of my post.
Wait, what’s a Discussion Chain?
The Bloggers in the Attic is a discussion chain. And what is a discussion chain? Well, it’s pretty simple and with few steps.
Me and other eleven bloggers united together to discuss a common topic, covering the whole arc of February, and sharing our unique perspective. I created the initiative with the wish to create a discussion space that could explore a normal topic for different part of the world.
Heads up, this is going to be from my own experiences of the English (not Welsh/Scottish/Northern Irish) curriculum here in the UK. As well as me briefly explaining what the hell the Government did to mess things up for my entire year (grade) and those following me.
Changes Made To GCSE’s
My year just so happened to be the guinea pig year for the Government to test out the new style GCSE’s.
It was the first exam to be sat under the new tougher GCSEs that are being phased in, beginning with English and maths this year.
For English literature, that means that pupils are no longer able to take the texts they have studied into the exam room with them – a change that has already led to tens of thousands petitioning Parliament to complain. ~ Source
The teachers at my school, literally had no clue what to do, how to go about teaching us the content or anything. Why? Well, basically they weren’t prepared. We were the first year to do the new style, it was the teachers first time teaching us the new style GCSE to us. It was a huge mess…since they had no idea what would come up in the exam, they decided to inform us. We should memorise quotes from the books on several different themes e.g love, betrayal as well as memorise 15 poems.
*blinks* I dunno about you, but between all my other subjects my brain wasn’t exactly willing to memorise quote after quote and 15 poems on top. I still had History which was again memory based as was Maths. (this list could go on)
The government fixed something which wasn’t broken in the first place, as a result, my year (anyone in the UK who took their GCSE’s in 2017) have a mix of letter grades and number grades. So unhelpful when employers aren’t sure what they mean still.
So, I was planning to take you through my required reading for all of Secondary School. BUT then I sourced the full list, of texts we could choose from for our English Literature exams. *coughs* So without further delay – let’s see what books we can choose from for English Literature. (these choices are the same choices I had 2 years ago, they haven’t changed…)
Book Choices For GCSE Literature
19th Century Novel
- Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
- A Christmas Carol
- Great Expectations
- Jane Eyre
- Pride and Prejudice
- Sign of Four
- Romeo and Juliet
- Merchant of Venice
- Much Ado About Nothing
- Julius Caesar
Modern Text Drama
- An Inspector Calls
- Blood Brothers
- History Boys
- Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
- Taste of Honey
Modern Text Prose
- Lord of the Flies
- Animal Farm
- Never Let Me Go
- Anita & Me
- Pigeon English
All these books were written by white people, and are all outdated with today’s society. I have no problem reading a classic – if I’m in the mood to But I didn’t grow up reading classics for fun, I also didn’t appreciate the amount of Shakespeare we were reading because Old English is a nightmare.
I’m able to understand Old English enough to get the general gist, of what it’s saying. I couldn’t tell you word for word. However I saw a lot of classmates really struggle with this, simply because before they could even begin to analyse the texts, they had to understand Old English. Or at least be able to get the gist of things and 99% of them couldn’t, they’d read it and not have a clue on what anything meant. I think there was also some who didn’t really try, whilst there were others who really didn’t understand what it was saying.
This already presents a problem, particularly when you’re being tested on it. I don’t know about you, but Old English is definitely another language in my books. Compare it to Modern English and you can easily sit there for ages, wondering how these weird words mean what they do.
Moving on from the language barrier we face with Shakespeare pieces, among others, we have the obvious issue. Or not I suppose, depending on how you look at this. I read to escape reality, I also read to understand other people, cultures, learn about all sorts of things. A lot of what I learn has been through reading fiction not non-fiction (ahem I was that kid who snubbed non fiction…I know, I learned my error of my ways when I realised the right non-fiction could greatly broaden my knowledge and understanding of topics).
Classics without a doubt have a place in today’s world, they’re a classic for a reason, I’m just not 100% sure the entire English Lit curriculum should be comprised of Classics. It’s like giving me over 10 books to pick from, but they’re all non-fiction. Past me would have wondered what the hell I was reading, and I generally felt like they were a waste of my time. In a way, I feel like that’s what a lot of my classmates felt about the books, we were required to read for the exam.
If it’d not been for them being part of our GCSE none of them would’ve bothered…does this foster a good attitude towards reading though?
Not really. At least not that I witnessed throughout my life. In primary school, we would get taken out of class for 20-30 minutes to read with someone. Now this may seem ridiculous to you, yet it always annoyed me when I got skipped, for going out to read. I think looking back on it now, the main reason for my annoyance was that they felt just because I read a lot it wasn’t needed. I had a love for books, for reading and I know they missed a few others out but in their case it was more they didn’t struggle with reading.
I get wanting to work on those who need it, I get that I really do because hey they do need to be able to read, and somewhat fluently. Yet I really don’t think skipping those who are able to read to a good ability/enjoy reading is the best way to go about it. I also found it annoying that kids who behaved badly would get praise, when they did one good thing.
Yet for someone like me, who was consistently well behaved throughout school, did her homework, enjoyed reading didn’t get into trouble. My praise was limited…it made me wonder why I bothered sometimes finishing homework, behaving well and doing what I was asked. When they didn’t seem to care. If someone who usually misbehaved, behaved well for an entire week they’d get all the praise from a teacher.
Do we see my point here? It makes those, who were behaved and doing well from day 1, question why they should bother. Similarly, required reading also can make us who enjoy reading, wonder why we bother. At least it did to me, not because of what I was reading.
It was because people knew I enjoyed reading, knew I was a writer and so they came to this assumption that I would automatically excel in English.
That assumption weighed heavily on my mind and it also irked me a lot. Writing creatively isn’t the same as writing creatively for it to be marked academically. Also just because I enjoy reading, and love books doesn’t automatically mean I’ll excel. Not if I don’t enjoy the book.
Readers (by this I mean bookdragons, those who are gonna shriek and be willing, to sell their soul for books) still make up the minority of the overall population. There’s still more people who think books are boring, a waste of time and only read the ones they’re required to in school.
There’s also those who sit somewhere in between, who will read now and then but aren’t erm…shrieking about it like most of us do. With this in mind, if the only books you’ve read are in school, and you just remember being bored, hating them and not relating at all.
Is it really any wonder there’s still stigma from classmates towards reading? Is it any wonder people don’t understand the pure magic of books and reading, when they’re thrown Shakespeare or Dickens and told to read and analyse it?
We’re now in 2019 but here are what the Government here requires us to read for our English Literature exam. (the list at the beginning means all the books to meet one of these bullet points)
The requirements for the GCSE English Literature programme of study changed in 2015.
English Literature Statutory Requirements:
- At least one play by Shakespeare
- At least one 19th century novel
- A selection of poetry since 1979, including Romantic poetry
- A post-1919 fiction or drama from the British Isles
When you read a good book, it will leave it’s mark on you. I’d argue all books leave a mark on you, some more so than others though. We watch TV to escape, also so we can relate to something. The requirements mean that today’s kids, can’t relate to what they’re reading. The same book, will not give two people, the same experience. We’re all different, we’re all at different stages in our lives as well as this we all have experienced different things.
In order to help teenager feel like they’re head, seen and they are valid no matter what. I would love for the requirements to look like this instead.
- A book written by a POC
- A book which represents an ethnic minority
- A book which has Mental Health/Eating Disorder/LGBT+ representation
- A selection of modern poetry 21st Century
I would still suggest reading a Classic or two in earlier grades, so that they’re aware of Classic Literature. However I’d much rather we be required to read something, which fits with these guidelines, for GCSE’s. We’d study the books for 2 years, granted I’d also want to change how the exams are styled. Instead of us picking apart the story, analysing quotes for what they meant…
We’re marked on our understanding of the texts, what we took away from it. Our ability to compare two texts together, what do they tell us about today’s world? Also you’d get higher marks, if you showed a deeper understanding, of what the books “message” was about and if you showed the examiner marking said paper…what the book taught you. What did it make you think about? What worked in that book vs. what didn’t in your opinion.
Honestly there are so many possibilities to make English Lit exams nicer, less stressful and also rewarding for both teacher and student. Representation is important to us all, we all want to feel represented, in whatever media we’re consuming. It’s more important for teenagers at this point in their lives, so they don’t go wandering this world feeling isolated. Books are our doorways to getting a glimpse into another person’s life, it’s a way for us to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes.
It’s probably why us book dragons are more empathetic people, for more on that read this post though!
4th – Kal @ Reader Voracious
6th – Lara @ Naija Book Bae
8th – Izzy @ Bookwyrm Bites
10th – Sam @ Fictionally Sam
12th – Dany @ Dany’s Book Blog
14th – Ben @ Ben’s Reads
18th – Me!
20th – Lauren @ Northern Plunder
22nd – Nora @ Papertea and Bookflower
24th – Lili @ Lili Star Reads
So, what do we think? Required reading as a whole, should it be a thing? Should English Literature change, in terms of the exam and books on the selection list? What are your thoughts/experiences with required reading?