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6 Steps to top level thinking or 'What the author meant / what your English Teacher thought they meant.'

We talk in every lesson of the skills needed to successfully tackle an English Literature question. These skills don't change whether you are looking at a poem, a novel, a short story or a play and should be the mental ticklist as you construct any main body of an essay or response.

You are taught early on in Years 7 and 8 to PQE as your framework but you now need to look to strengthen and develop those skills.

A simple paragraph such as:

Shakespeare breaks tension in Act 2 scene 2 through the use of humour. The line ' his forward voice now is to speak well of his friend; his backward voice is to utter foul speeches' makes the audience laugh as they know it is two people under Caliban's cloak and it makes Stephano seem silly for thinking someone can have two voices.

limits the potential of the piece of work because the explanation part doesn't really engage with higher order thinking skills of anlaysis and lacks depth.

Examiners always want to see the skills of writing a lot about a little and it is something we've worked on in class, in assessments and in exams. This was particularly well done in the Year 9 exam, the Year 10 poetry mock and the Year 11 Of Mice and Men assessment.

Taking PQE to the next level is key to your progress in reading tasks.

In our higher thinking skills pyramid we are only showing understanding with PQE. We need to target analysis and evaluation.

Analysis is the 'why' and the 'how'. Why is the quotation I've chosen important / strong / relevant? How is the writer creating this impression?

This is where we start with our camera analogy. Zoom in to the quotation to look at small details.

From the quotation 'his forward voice now is to speak well of his friend; his backward voice is to utter foul speeches' what stands out to us? Not every word is relevant and if we are to look at what makes this line amusing we might pick out 'backward voice' and 'utter foul speeches'.

Why is this amusing? Well the 'backward voice' is humorous there is the dramatic irony of the audience knowing there are two people under the cloak and not one person with two voices. The 'backward voice' could also be euphemismistic. This could be Shakespeare engaging with the groundling crude sense of humour especially as we have one voice 'speaking well' and the second 'uttering foul speeches'.

Hang on a minute - this is quite sophisitcated! We are generating a lot of detail with our zooming in just like a camera zooming in finds more detail. If we put this together with our basic PQE we've got something a lot higher level.

Shakespeare breaks tension in Act 2 scene 2 through the use of humour. The line ' his forward voice now is to speak well of his friend; his backward voice is to utter foul speeches' makes the audience laugh as they know it is two people under Caliban's cloak and it makes Stephano seem silly for thinking someone can have two voices. The dramatic irony of the audience knowing Stephano's stupidity in seeing one person where there are two is effective but the use of 'backward voice is to utter foul speeches' is especially effective. Shakespeare could be trying to engage with the base humour of the 'Groundlings' and offering them the 'backwards voice' as the bum and its 'foul speeches' engaging with a lower class Jacobean's amusement at bodily functions.

So we've zoomed in and analysed. But here there is more than one interpretation. That's another skill. Being able to find more than one way at looking at a quotation or finding more than one answer within a quotation is really high level. It is like looking at the image below from different angles.



Let's break that paragraph down:

Shakespeare breaks tension in Act 2 scene 2 through the use of humour. The line ' his forward voice now is to speak well of his friend; his backward voice is to utter foul speeches' makes the audience laugh as they know it is two people under Caliban's cloak and it makes Stephano seem silly for thinking someone can have two voices. The dramatic irony of the audience knowing Stephano's stupidity in seeing one person where there are two is effective but the use of 'backward voice is to utter foul speeches' is especially effective. Shakespeare could be trying to engage with the base humour of the 'Groundlings' and offering them the 'backwards voice' as the bum and its 'foul speeches' engaging with a lower class Jacobean's amusement at bodily functions.

Ta-da: two different ways of looking at the same passage of the play.

So we've got Point Quotation Explanation Analysis and Alternate Interpretation in here. But the title states there are 6 steps to Extended Abstract thinking.

Well we're thinking outside the box already but our answer doesn't quite link everything together. Shakespeare is a skilled writer and he has crafted this for a reason. It is our job to now speculate (Please don't interpret this as guessing what the writer had in his head at the time of writing. I do not believe in the diagram below.) what may link all this together.



English is about what YOU think - not what the author meant or what I thought he meant. It is about how the text speaks to you. That is what I want to see 'I don't know what he meant' is just lazy.

To do this I have to zoom out and link my answer to what I know of the play. I have to see the bigger picture or as the Mulvihill model states: 'Zoom in and join the small dots and then stand back and look at the picture it creates.'

We know the play has been pretty heavy going so far with shock revelations, deceit and some weird creatures. We know Shakespeare has to please the lower classes as much as the upper classes. The language has been laden with allusions to ancient legends / myths and imagery and he has ramped up the tension to bursting point with storm, revelation, rape, mysticism, betrayal and mutiny. The audience need some light relief.

How do you incorporate this into your answer?

Throughout the play Shakespeare has increased the tension with lofty tales of betrayal and deceit but the audience can only take so much. In breaking the tension, he is able to engage the Groundlings in some bawdy humour whilst exploring the complex relationships of the characters on the island. This allows him to build to the climax of the play at the end.

Put it all together and you have the cherry on top of a piece of Abstract Extended thinking.

Shakespeare breaks tension in Act 2 scene 2 through the use of humour. The line ' his forward voice now is to speak well of his friend; his backward voice is to utter foul speeches' makes the audience laugh as they know it is two people under Caliban's cloak and it makes Stephano seem silly for thinking someone can have two voices. The dramatic irony of the audience knowing Stephano's stupidity in seeing one person where there are two is effective but the use of 'backward voice is to utter foul speeches' is especially effective. Shakespeare could be trying to engage with the base humour of the 'Groundlings' and offering them the 'backwards voice' as the bum and its 'foul speeches' engaging with a lower class Jacobean's amusement at bodily functions. Throughout the play Shakespeare has increased the tension with lofty tales of betrayal and deceit but the audience can only take so much. In breaking the tension, he is able to engage the Groundlings in some bawdy humour whilst exploring the complex relationships of the characters on the island. This allows him to build to the climax of the play at the end.

So to recap. Start with your foundation of a good PQE then get out your camera metaphor and zoom in. Look at the close up from a range of perspectives and then zoom out. Show how the dots join to make the bigger picture or:

Point
Quotation
Explanation
Analysis
Alternate Interpretations
Evaluation

None of the above is certain. It is just my view on the text. Who knows why Shakespeare decided to break the tension with a little bit of humour but I know what I think and I enjoy what he has created.

Take a line from a play, poem, novel, short story and show me you can hit top level thinking by posting a comment below. Make your practice visible and act on my feedback for the best gains in technique.
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16 April 2013 at 19:20

The Wind cries Mary by Brian Keene

Brian creates a dark atmospheric tone in the short novel The Wind Cries Mary. He does this through the use of imagery and metaphors this is apparent in the line ‘She lumbers up our long, winding driveway, dragging her shattered right leg behind her like it’s a dog’ this sentence forms a dark and gloomy perception of the main character Mary . The words ‘she lumbers’ gives the impression of an un-naturalistic element about Mary and the thought of her ‘dragging her shattered right leg behind her likes it’s a dog’ suggests that Mary as a person has become lifeless and incompetent. However although Mary is perceived as a motionless corpse the idea of her dragging a ‘dog’ suggests that although dead she is still loyal to her fiancĂ© in the same way that a dog is loyal to their owner. Throughout the story Brian has shaped a unique and slightly controversial persona of one character he attempts to make the audience sympathise with the narrator but also the dead. This allows him to portray a supernatural and dark theme throughout the novel whilst creating contrasting and slightly bias feelings towards both the narrator and Mary.

17 April 2013 at 20:52

Also a great Hendrix song which evokes a dark an sombre tone http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a7R9Yn4bbnc

You've ticked all the boxes here and completed your 6 steps. Remember always use the author's last name not first name to add that polish and you could also talk about the devices used (simile etc). If you can show this skill under timed exam conditions you will do brilliantly.

Well done

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