Hardy and the Classroom: Reaching out to Teachers and Students
Two recent events by THS members for teachers and students of nineteenth-century texts at GCSE Level
Thomas Hardy Society members have recently designed and delivered two events for schools: a seminar for teachers introducing new resources and ideas for the study of nineteenth-century texts, and a workshop for students aimed at helping them prepare for a new component of the GCSE English exam.
Both ‘Literature’ and ‘Language’ papers in the new 9-1 GCSE specifications set great store by nineteenth-century writings. This can be challenging for GCSE candidates who may feel distant from the social and cultural norms and modes of expression of the nineteenth century. The new GCSE exam includes a component specifically for literary non-fiction prose of the period. English teachers are often more confident teaching fiction and poetry than non-fiction, and resources for non-fiction are few and far between. Hence the need for these events, addressed to teachers helping their students prepare for this component of the exam, and to students themselves.
Thomas Hardy Society member Dr Catherine Charlwood works on the ‘Diseases of Modern Life’ project at the University of Oxford, which explores nineteenth-century views of illness and well-being. Catherine used a database of extracts from medical and scientific texts to create GCSE resources for teachers of National Curriculum students from Year 9 onwards, to help them prepare for the unseen nineteenth-century literary non-fiction prose texts they will encounter in their examination papers. To launch these resources to teachers, Catherine engaged fellow Society members Dr Karin Koehler and Andrew Hewitt to develop and deliver a seminar called ‘Engaging students in 19th-Century Prose: Research-Based Resources for Teachers’.
The free seminar directly addressed the potential lack of familiarity with non-fiction texts, and the resulting lack of confidence teaching them, by emphasising the overlap between fiction and non-fiction and hence the possibility of using similar methods to approach them. The workshop placed extracts from scientific and medical texts alongside selections from Hardy’s novels and poems. For example, an extract from Mantell’s Wonders of Geology was juxtaposed with the cliff-hanger scene from A Pair of Blue Eyes. Teachers were invited to use techniques familiar to them from teaching fiction and poetry to approach the non-fiction. Professor Angelique Richardson and representatives from her team also took part to share the work they are doing to leverage the archives of cultural institutions for literary study. An outstanding 86% of seminar participants reported an increase of confidence in teaching nineteenth-century non-fiction.
Catherine, Karin, and Andrew followed up the teachers’ workshop with a free event for students which focused on the theme of illness, well-being, and the natural world in the nineteenth century. Once again, non-fiction texts were presented alongside selections from Hardy’s work, to stimulate reflections on the differences and similarities between fiction and non-fiction, and on the links between the nineteenth century and our own time. In addition, students benefited from the participation of Dr Faysal Mikdadi, who led a session inviting them to respond creatively to the issues raised. Several students read the poems they composed. The workshop concluded with the students collaborating on a model answer to a mock exam question using an unseen non-fictional nineteenth-century text. 80% of the participants reported being more interested in the Victorians as a result of the workshop. 65% reported increased interest in books and literature. “I wanted to take English Literature for A-level and this has given me more inspiration to do so,” wrote one student.
To find out more about the Hardy Society’s programme of outreach to schools, please contact Dr Faysal Mikdadi via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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