Is there a way of quantifying how many marks a piece of analysis should earn? What is the optimum number of words for a good piece of analysis? Can we use our answers to either of the above questions to help boost the metacognition process with students? Finally, and most importantly, can we achieve consistency in our analysis approach across 12 teachers, improving the coherence of hundreds of students’ daily experience?
Despite my English leaning, I love numbers. I like data and statistics (both football and work related!), give students marks/10 for effort sometimes, and enjoy trying to quantify things not normally quantifiable like the wonderfully rich, academic discipline of analysis.
Let me share my disclaimer at the start: none of the following is set in stone. My figures are subject to many other subtleties that teachers and examiners will have to juggle, but I do think some of the aspects below could be useful for teaching purposes. Humour me!
In our first Faculty meeting of the year, it seemed like an opportune time to come together to refocus on our bread and butter: analysis, and as a team, we looked together at some of our analysis principles and how they work, with a curve ball thrown in -namely, my use of numbers.
We started by reminding ourselves of the fantastic system we established last year called the ‘CAS’ -Concise Analysis System, basically a far more useful advancement on PEA. See below:
A question for you now:
How does the writer present education in the line ‘School is a prison‘ ?
I set the team the task of writing 30 words of analysis on and including the quote above. We then allocated 1 mark for each of the 8 components of the CAS system we used. We reminded ourselves that our ‘red 3’ (Qn link/Quote/explanation of meaning&effect) were the foundation and without them, any analysis was effectively useless. 5/8 seemed to be a typical score from teachers within the space of 2.5 minutes that I set them and that this would therefore become the target for our students.
Why not have a go with your students?
We recognised that 8/8 was simply not consistently sustainable, as it would lead to 60 words+ and straying over the 2-3 minute recommended timeframe. Therefore our ‘green’ aspects like overview, zooming in, terminology, linking in a related quote, needed to be hit with some quotes, but not all. This was an important learning point to clarify. If students think that by covering all our 8 principles every time they consider a quote, it will equate to top level success, as many often do, they are in for a real shock, as a sufficient quantity of quotes is unlikely to be covered as a result, and their marks will invariably tumble.
The magical analysis figure? 30-40!
Why 30-40 words? Well, you’ve got enough words capacity there to get a technique in, reference to the writer’s intentions, quote, link to the question, and consider the meaning/effect of the quote content itself, potentially even offering more than one interpretation. Also, for top marks, most of our Eduqas Language and Literature exams require us to aim for 7-8 quotes in 15 mins (Fiction Reading Paper -Qns 3,4,5 / Non-Fiction Reading Paper -Qns 2,4) or 7-8 quotes in 20 mins (Literature Paper 1 -Romeo and Juliet extract, Anthology Single poem, Unseen single poem). No more than 30-40 words for each quote should keep students on track for this.
Here are two Literature examples of succinct 30-40 word analysis that hit at least 4 of our CAS system each time:
In the line ‘Rebellious subjects, enemies to peace’ Shakespeare’s use of the adjective ‘rebellious’ emphasises how the Prince feels they are challenging the law that he has laid down, and they are almost out of control.
Shakespeare’s use of the rhetorical question in the Prince’s line ‘Will they not hear?’ indicates to the audience that he is losing patience, and is determined to take steps to ensure they will be unable to ignore his warnings again.
Here’s one from Language Paper 1 – Qn 4- Tension/Drama:
The writer creates tension through the description of the ridge in the line–‘dropped steeply on either side’. The adverb ‘steeply’ highlights a possible danger as the sheer drop indicates one step in the wrong place may be fatal.
Making the drive for succinctness explicit
Our next challenge was to reduce the number of words in a piece of analysis to 30, something that works really well with students. (No adding in words, just removing words allowed!) This has been a powerful learning experience in my classes before as we discuss what and why things are superfluous, and on the flip side, where exactly the ticks are likely to come from the marker (after ‘angry’ and ‘animals’ if you’re wondering!)
The audience could become almost fearful and worried in their seats and they have questions in their mind as the Prince becomes angry when the writer, Shakespeare uses the line ‘you beasts!’. This is a metaphor because people cannot be beasts of course. It is also a short sentence which makes it impactful and stops the audience in their tracks making them want to think more. The metaphor indicates that the Prince sees the fighting families as no better than animals, and that he views conflict in this powerful way.
Can we ever award a numerical mark for how a student deals with a particular quote?
From my experience of teaching the Eduqas spec. so far, and looking at recalled exam papers, we can, and are likely to be accurate. It’s my belief that a piece of analysis where the quote’s content is dealt with sharply earns a tick and invariably a mark. A piece of analysis that offers something extra: referencing/exploring a technique, offering overview, offering an alternative reading – is probably worth roughly 1.5 marks.
Therefore 8 quotes where the content is sharply analysed = 8 marks/10. 6 quotes with sharp analysis + something extra = 8 or even 9 marks /10
Most importantly for our verbose top students -3 quotes dealt with beautifully, even with the ‘Wow factor’ will struggle to scrape to 5/10. We need to warn them explicitly about this.
Have a look at the examples below. Which of the 5 analysis examples would you give 1 mark or 1.5 marks to?
I have used this exercise as a really powerful peer assessment activity in class, crucially ensuring they are able to justify why they have awarded 0, 1 or 1.5 marks each time. Writing poor models is something we so often forget to do as teachers, but I sometimes feel the learning experiences are even richer than with the good models, as we are trying to explicitly point out the lack of reward for certain analysis foibles, and pull students out of ingrained bad habits.
So to conclude, we’re not Mathematicians, but sometimes grappling with the numbers we’re facing, particularly with the Eduqas exams where quantity, in my opinion, seems almost as highly regarded as quality, may help successfully refine your students’ analysis approach.
Hope it can be of help!