Required Reading In School (The Bloggers In The Attic)

*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
  • Frankenstein
  • Pride and Prejudice
  • Sign of Four

Shakespeare

  • Macbeth
  • Romeo and Juliet
  • Tempest
  • Merchant of Venice
  • Much Ado About Nothing
  • Julius Caesar

Modern Text Drama

  • An Inspector Calls
  • Blood Brothers
  • History Boys
  • DNA
  • 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!

All Participants

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

16th – Kerys @ The Everlasting Library

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?

If you want to support me and other book bloggers consider donating to my Ko-Fi page. To find out how I’ll use the donation/s, read this post.

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17 thoughts on “Required Reading In School (The Bloggers In The Attic)

  1. We’re doing much ado about nothing in English and literally no one understands it. I, like you, get the gist of it but when you actually have to analyse the WORDS and say “this verb implies” or whatever it’s hard and so most of the time everybody relies on the exact quotes the teacher points out to us. Now I get that these are probably the ‘meatiest’ (as they like to put it) quotes but then I just find writing essays on it boring since what I’m writing aren’t my own thoughts. I don’t even mind anything else that we have to do, like we did of mice and men and that was fine because I understood the words and what they meant and could explore what they represented on my own. Great post! 💖

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oof yeah I feel you on that, we never read Much Ado About Nothing…or maybe we did. I remember watching the play with Catherine Tate in it, which I quite enjoyed though we didn’t watch all of it. The bit we watched was nice.

      I quite liked writing the essays albeit I found it annoying because like you said, the thoughts weren’t my own. They may say English doesn’t have a right or wrong answer, but it’s obvious they want you to say certain things. Unless you can justify your own thought really well which I did sometimes haha.

      Oof I did Of Mice and Men in year 8 and wow…it was tedious.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I can’t relate to the thought of Shakespeare being Nightmare-ish as I lived and breathed his work throughout high school and university (one of the reasons I went into theatre), absolutely adored breaking his work apart and reading his poetry. That being said, I can see where his work can be hard to understand, but man oh man is it breathtaking!

    I do agree with you that diversity needs to be added into the school curriculum and more modern text that the youth of today can grasp and relate to, as today’s society is completely different from the ones back in the victorian era. However, I do think that we shouldn’t wipe off the classics for the modern publishings, but rather find a balance between what articulates the literature/english lesson better than the other. Idk if that makes any sense, but I feel like the classics were made classics for a reason, and we shouldn’t banish them from the curriculum simply because of their age or who wrote them (tho classics really be un diverse in more than one area 👀👀) but rather fine tune and adjust the ones we use and also accompany it with a modern one. For example, if I want to show the injustice within the black community in society through literature as a mean to show students that we use literature as a way to jot down history that the history book can’t explain, then I would have them read How To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee ASWELL as THUG by Angie Thomas, and then discuss with the class how times have and have not changed, and how literature and the english language was used to express those sentiments.

    I’m literally all over the place, sorry for the jumble! Idk if any of what I said makes sense, if it didn’t—ignore me completely. LOVE LOVE LOVE your thoughts on this and I hope that the school board for England get’s it shit together, so that other’s don’t have to go through what you lot did in 2017. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • I mean Shakespeare’s work is breathtaking but you need to understand what he’s saying first before you get just how breathtaking it truly is. I’d probably prefer his poems over his plays to be honest.

      Totally agree, I do think they still have their place in the curriculum but focusing totally on all classic type books, just doesn’t work. Diversity needs to happen in the schools book choices for sure, whilst they were made classics for a reason…that doesn’t mean there aren’t other books out there which aren’t powerful or meaningful.

      That would be such an interesting discussion, I was miffed when I got told we weren’t going to do How To Kill A Mockingbird for GCSE’s >.>

      You made total sense Sam and yeah, so do I but honestly it doesn’t seem like they have which ticks me of all the more ❤

      Like

  3. I did my GCSEs this year and let me tell you nothing changed. Every teacher is still confused and have no idea how to teach the courses. But English Literature wasn’t my issue at all. I did Great Expectations, The Woman In Black and Macbeth and I loved it. My teacher was wonderful, and we’d read each text as a class, meaning we got to act it out to some extent (Macbeth was amazing for this). Most of my peers really disliked English Lit though. Some would be on their phones the whole lesson. What struck me was the unfairness between the choices for the GCSE. Great Expectations is 500 pages long and Jekyll and Hyde is 50 pages. My class hated being stuck with such a long novel. I think the length should be considered as well as the content. I completely agree with the Old English point. I managed okay because I worked at it, but so many people struggled to have a basic understanding. There’s still a lot that needs to be considered about these GCSEs

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ugh Bee, that’s honestly so disappointing to hear >.>

      Yeah the length should be considered for sure, it was something I saw my peers complain about too, and Old English is just…it’s a pain for me. Not just because I could get the gist of it but then because the rest of my class relied on me to explain it to them, I didn’t mind with a few people but mostly it was just tiring. Like I’m not going to be taking your exam for you.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I loved getting to hear your thoughts on this – especially when it comes to what you think requirements should look like. I completely agree. As someone who wants to teach literature in secondary school, I would love to require kids to read outside of classics, books with diverse rep and things like that. Not only would it allow marginalized kids to feel seen, but it would foster a healthy discussion and encourage tolerance of people who are different from ourselves. And, like you said, it would allow students to choose their own books, with guidance, so that they’d be more invested in actually reading.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yup, I think something which hurt time after time growing up was seeing my fellow students hating reading. Why? They’re hate stemmed from required reading and also not understand the books…as well as thinking it was pointless. There was a lot who also hated it because of how thick the books were but honestly…they’re idea of thick was about 300 or so pages. My idea is lik 500+ but that’s also down to me having been a reader since I was born basically.

      The books we read when we’re kids and teens can not only impact us, shape us but they also can make or break us in terms of whether we’ll love reading or hate it. It’s also able to turn some readers away from books if they really hated the required reading, which honestly is so sad. Reading isn’t a chore, it’s an experience, and escape and you get to learn so much about others and yourself through reading.

      Liked by 1 person

      • YES!! You’re absolutely right! I imagine lots of kids are turned off of reading because they only see it as a chore, and they never find that one book that will make them fall in love. Tbh sometimes I feel like I’m in a cult and I’m always trying to convert non-readers into readers. I guess it could be a worse cult, right?

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I definitely agree that increasing the amount of diversity in classics should be increased! Reading Shakespeare, Chaucer, Dickens, and the other mainstays of classic literature are important, but that doesn’t mean they’re the only important authors out there!

    Liked by 1 person

    • EXACTLY! Like sure they are important but focusing on JUSt classics is pretty ridiculous if you ask me, when there are so many books out there which are more recent. That kids are gonna identify with, relate to and they’ll hold more meaning for the kids.

      Liked by 1 person

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