One of my main responsibilities here in the English team at OCR is read through and approve your submissions for NEA texts and tasks. In this blog, I’m going to walk through some general advice for text selection and task creation, as well as talk about popular choices and approaches.
When the qualifications were reformed, we decided that the post-2000 element of the specification should form the basis of our NEA component. We felt that in placing this within the NEA, this ensured there was always scope for students to explore newly published texts.
We also felt strongly that all three genres (prose, poetry and drama) ought to be represented in the NEA. That way the skills in our examined components could be reflected, enabling students to develop the same skills with a greater chance of drafting and editing.
We want to avoid Mrs Lintott’s dire prediction from The History Boys where “teachers just remember the books they discovered and loved as students and shove them on the syllabus. Then they wonder why their pupils aren’t as keen as they are. No discovery is why.”
Here at OCR we really do mean it when we say we encourage student independence; it’s been a real delight seeing our centres put forward some stimulating and fresh approaches to new texts and old.
This isn’t to say we discourage departments from prescribing texts as we recognise that each department should base their decision on resources available to ensure that the NEA can be managed effectively.
In September of this year, we’ve moved fully to our online Text and Task tool, an online form that allows you to choose from already submitted titles or propose new texts and tasks.
If you’ve not had to use it before, we do have a step-by-step guide that walks you through the process. We also have a comprehensive guide on the NEA as a whole that is really worth a read.
While it’s teachers who must submit the chosen titles, students are able to use the tool in their research stages. It can be useful for students to see what other candidates have written about to help them formulate their own work.
These submissions do not need to be final; you are welcome to make amendments and additions until the final submission deadline (31 January in the year of examination).
In my previous teaching role, I found that students need to broaden their reading in order to have confidence in their taste. When it comes to prose, students tend to be more familiar with reading novels in their spare time and can often find a text of their choosing with greater ease.
Drama is aided by the possible exposure it has received elsewhere in a student’s education. It also benefits from being a performance genre, enabling students to encounter texts organically through theatre trips, touring productions or innovations like NT Live and Digital Theatre Plus.
Exposing students to contemporary poetry (beyond the familiar GCSE anthology authors) can seem a daunting task. I used to set up a research week for students to explore the modern poetic landscape, relying heavily on the Poetry Society, who offer highlights of their excellent quarterly review.
Alongside their UK counterparts, I also often turned to the Poetry Foundation, who produce not just a monthly magazine often excerpted online, but a range of digital archives and podcasts that can be really student-friendly.
In my role as approver for the newly proposed texts and tasks, I have seen some fantastic examples of task construction. We do have a Task Setting guide online already but, here are my top pieces of advice from those I’ve read.
Task 1: Close Reading
Task 2: Recreative
Task 3: Comparative
In the table below, we’ve collated the ten most popular texts for each text type so far:
It’s heartening to see some more diverse voices here from very contemporary poetry by Andrew McMillan to two of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novels on this list. It’s my hope that over time, this list will become even more representative of the breadth of literature available for students to study.
I hope this blog has given you some approaches you may not yet have considered, or at the least distilled the great practice we see from many of our centres. If you’re interested in developing your NEA practice further, come to our ‘Making the Grade in A Level English Literature H472/03’ course, on in London on 12th December 2019 and in Birmingham on 16th January 2020.
All in all, the NEA should be enable students to feel they’ve really got to grips with their chosen texts, taken the time to craft their arguments carefully and, crucially, been given the space to discover.
If you have any questions you can submit your comments below or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also sign up to receive email updates or follow us on Twitter at @OCR_English.
Isobel Woodger, OCR English Subject Advisor
Isobel joined OCR as a member of the English subject team, with particular responsibility for AS/A Level English Literature and AS/A Level English Language and Literature (EMC).