Hopefully our blog posts have been a useful guide for studies and used as a resource to help with online learning and answering some questions that you might have about what it is that you are studying.
This blog post forms part of our breakdown of the Year 11 Advanced English syllabus. In particular Advanced English Module A: Narratives That Shape Our World. Having a solid understanding of this module will provide a solid basis for your English studies and allow you to better understand the modules that you study for year 12.
As always, let’s start with a breakdown of the rubric and then look at an example text and assessment task so that we can understand the rubric in a practical format.
Module A: Narratives that Shape our World
In this module, students explore a range of narratives from the past and the contemporary era that illuminate and convey ideas, attitudes and values. They consider the powerful role of stories and storytelling as a feature of narrative in past and present societies, as a way of: connecting people within and across cultures, communities and historical eras; inspiring change or consolidating stability; revealing, affirming or questioning cultural practices; sharing collective or individual experiences; or celebrating aesthetic achievement. Students deepen their understanding of how narrative shapes meaning in a range of modes, media and forms, and how it influences the way that individuals and communities understand and represent themselves.
When analysing your texts, remember that it’s not always the plot itself that we are interested in. Rather, your focus should be concerned with the ideas, attitudes and values that the plot gives rise to and the way that the characters are moulded to represent these ideas.
Then take a step back away from the story itself, too many students spend time recounting the story and giving descriptions about the characters and plot. This is not how you form analysis…
Rather you need to look at it conceptually – what does the narrative as a ‘thing’ do? How does it connect people? Does it allow individuals a moment where they get to connect with the author? The writer? Other people that are reading the story? How does the ideas presented in the narrative have a way of making a cultural comment by affirming or challenging practices?
Quite simply, does this novel do more than just entertain you and give you something to read? Well hopefully yes. It is the ‘things’ that the novel does conceptually that allows you to form arguments and really strong analysis.
Students analyse and evaluate one or more print, digital and/or multimodal texts to explore how narratives are shaped by the context and values of composers (authors, poets, playwrights, directors, designers and so on) and responders alike. They may investigate how narratives can be appropriated, reimagined or reconceptualised for new audiences. By using narrative in their own compositions students increase their confidence and enjoyment to express personal and public worlds in creative ways.
If you have read our other blog posts concerning the ‘new’ types of texts that are being studied in this module, you will be familiar with the texts referred to in this paragraph. Don’t be afraid if you are asked to study a podcast or a digital text. This area of study is designed to take you out of your comfort zone.
As mentioned above, when you take a step away from the text you are able to look at the context that the writer composed their text. Did they compose it during an Elizabethan era and were trying to make a comment about the values of their time? When we study the text from a contemporary ear, do we realize that the ideas explored are the same or different?
Students investigate how an author’s use of textual structures, language and stylistic features are crafted for particular purposes, audiences and effects. They examine conventions of narrative, for example setting, voice, point of view, imagery and characterisation and analyse how these are used to shape meaning. Students also explore how rhetorical devices enhance the power of narrative in other textual forms, including persuasive texts. They further develop and apply the conventions of syntax, spelling, punctuation and grammar for specific purposes and effect.
As mentioned above, you want to take a step back from the text and look at it holistically to understand its structure – is it a traditional linear narrative? Perhaps it has a cyclical structure where it starts and ends in the same setting with the same characters but things have changed significantly. Perhaps the structure of the text stands to represent the development of a character which the composer wants audiences to consider for themselves.
Once you have an understanding about the structure and other stylistic features that are used in the text, again without going back to the plot or characters, think about what purpose this serves. Does it help communicate an idea? If the composer of the text has creatively adopted a structure, it is often done for a reason. It’s your job to identify what that reason is.
Students work individually and collaboratively to evaluate and refine their own use of narrative devices to creatively express complex ideas about their world in a variety of modes for a range of purposes and critically evaluate the use of narrative devices by other composers.
No surprises for what this one is about – this module requires you to write analytically about the narratives you study. You must provide reasoning about the purpose of the narrative and evaluate their uses. That is, provide a judgment. The easiest way to do this is to consider an element of the narrative and then think if this element was taken out in a different way, would the narrative still be effective? Chances are the answer is it would create a big difference so that use is meaningful and it is your job to identify what that meaning is.
Now that we have an understanding of the above rubric, we can apply it to a text that is prescribed for study and look at the way that it will be assessed – and the type of assessment task that could be asked.
Many of you probably know the Handmaids Tale from the recent television series but as you can appreciate, many of the best television shows are based on novels.
This is exactly the case in this situation. Well known writer Margaret Atwood originally wrote the dystopian novel in 1985. The novel is set in a futuristic New England under the rule of a totalitarian state. Written from a first person point of view, audiences are exposed to the experience of the protagonist, Offred as she is subjected to be a handmaid. This novel has won countless awards and has been recognised time and time and again so it is definitely a must read.
Let’s now apply the rubric to understand how this text fits in. To do this, we are very briefly go to list some of the themes that the the novel explores, the structure, genre and a few stylist features
- Role of women/contribution to political issues
- Societal Roles
Structure/Genre and Stylistic Features
- Dystopian text
- Written in specific structures
- First person point of view
- Elongated sentences
The above is very brief and would need to be significantly expanded if you were going to properly provide an analysis but for now it’s enough to get us going.
First thing we are going to do is take the elements from the rubric and explain how this particular text is studied for that purpose. We are going to pick out three elements from the rubic that are substantial and allow us to demonstrate how you can then apply the rest of the rubric to the study of your text.
Narratives from the past and the contemporary era that illuminate and convey ideas, attitudes and values.
Handmaid’s Tale was written in 1985 so while some would consider that a text from the past, it is recognised as a contemporary text as it was composed within the 21st century. Remember that texts from the past are usually written in a century that is not current – think Shakespeare.
So we need to consider how Handmaid’s Tale illuminates and conveys ideas, attitudes and values. We mentioned earlier that the novel explores the idea about gender roles within a dystopian societal structure. Now we need to consider what exactly does it ‘illuminate’ about this idea. What did the author of the text want the reader to understand? Well it could be seen as a warning, as a comment on society and an opportunity to resonate with the reader in their own personal world. To complete this, you would need to include your analysis
Revealing, affirming or questioning cultural practices
How does the theme about women’s role in society as represented in the text either reveal, affirm or question current and past cultural practices? Is it possible that it affirms and questions at the same time? Given that it is a dystopian text and one of its purposes was to warn future audiences, has that warning been heard? If not, does the novel continue to question cultural practices that exist today? It may be that some of the truths explored in the text hold true today. Be sure to be specific with your examples and use strong quotes and analysis when exploring this idea.
Context and values of composers
What was the world like when Atwood wrote the text? What values were important during her time? How were the values of her time shaped by historical events?
These are the types of questions you want to be asking yourself in order to develop analysis in relation to this element of the rubric. Why did Atwood want to explore these specific values and what was the purpose of her novel? That is – why did she choose to include these certain values in her texts and not others? How does this stand to show her context? Did she agree with the values of her time or was she in opposition and wanted to show people another way of thinking?
Once you have a response to the questions, the next step is to collect evidence from the text together with literary techniques to analyse how context of the composer presents an insight about the values.
Textual structures, language and stylistic features are crafted for particular purposes, audiences and effects.
Consider why Atwood wrote a novel – what does this allow her to explore? To start with, it allows her to construct certain characters that stand as tools to help represent her point of view or the ideas she is trying to communicate to audiences.
How is the novel structured? Why is every second chapter called “Night”? How does this structurally contribute to the purpose of the novel? What is it about those chapters in particular that Atwood wants to achieve?
What are the stylistic features that Atwood adopts – consider the point of view, biblical allusions, emotive language, reflective tone and anaphoras (just to name a few). Why have these been used? What would the novel be like if it was written differently? Be sure to collate a variety of quotes that reflect the answers to these questions.
Attempting an Essay
So now that we have understood the syllabus and how it relates to a text, had a quick look at the themes and briefly looked over the literary techniques, the next step is to write an essay. But where to begin?
This is often the tough part because it requires you to synthesize your learning. Start by collating your notes so that they are together in one spot. Then map out three themes that you think are strongest and have lots of meaning. Make sure that you have plenty of textual evidence and techniques to go with it. Then all you need is a question to answer and you are ready to go. If you are stuck on structure, go through our previous blog posts on that topic.
As always, any questions please let us know.