Archive for February, 2013

Ferrara

That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall,
Looking as if she were alive. I call
That piece a wonder, now: Fra Pandolf’s hands
Worked busily a day, and there she stands.
Will’t please you sit and look at her? I said
“Fra Pandolf” by design, for never read
Strangers like you that pictured countenance,
The depth and passion of its earnest glance,
But to myself they turned (since none puts by
The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)
And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst,
How such a glance came there; so, not the first
Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, ’twas not
Her husband’s presence only, called that spot
Of joy into the Duchess’ cheek: perhaps
Fra Pandolf chanced to say “Her mantle laps
Over my lady’s wrist too much,” or “Paint
Must never hope to reproduce the faint
Half-flush that dies along her throat”: such stuff
Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough
For calling up that spot of joy. She had
A heart—how shall I say?—too soon made glad,
Too easily impressed; she liked whate’er
She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.
Sir, ’twas all one! My favour at her breast,
The dropping of the daylight in the West,
The bough of cherries some officious fool
Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule
She rode with round the terrace—all and each
Would draw from her alike the approving speech,
Or blush, at least. She thanked men,—good! but thanked
Somehow—I know not how—as if she ranked
My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name
With anybody’s gift. Who’d stoop to blame
This sort of trifling?
Even had you skill
In speech—(which I have not)—to make your will
Quite clear to such an one, and say, “Just this
Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss,
Or there exceed the mark”—and if she let
Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set
Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse,
—E’en then would be some stooping; and I choose
Never to stoop. Oh sir, she smiled, no doubt,
Whene’er I passed her; but who passed without
Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands
As if alive. Will’t please you rise? We’ll meet
The company below, then. I repeat,
The Count your master’s known munificence
Is ample warrant that no just pretence
Of mine for dowry will be disallowed;
Though his fair daughter’s self, as I avowed
At starting, is my object. Nay, we’ll go
Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though,
Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity,
Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!

A very quick and very easy – but to my mind very effective – lesson here.

Read lines 24-35 of the poem.

Explain to class that they are going to perform a mine based on those lines. In groups of two or three they are going to take the following roles:

  • the Duke;
  • the Duchess; and (if in a group of three)
  • some officious fool.
  • Some wonderful, brief and above all blessedly silent dramas ensued.

    One group had the Duke trailing behind the Duchess’ gadfly flittings from item to item; another showed the Duke handing his favour over to the Duchess with her disdaining it and him unable even to look at her; yet another showed the Duke seething and pacing silently as he paced back and forth spying on his wife.

    Every single one showed a genuine understanding of the poem; and each member of each group created the characters and relationships required.

    And this was a set 7 out of 8 with targets of D grades.

    So, iGCSE.

    My Head is wondering whether the iGCSE is the panacea to all ills, the alchemical philosopher’s stone which will transform dross to gold, the buttress, bulwark and bastion against which Michael Gove’s interventions will clang and clatter harmlessly as our students clothe themselves in Cs and above.

    I am tasked with investigating.

    Currently, like many schools, we have a dual offer of English or Language and Literature. Each of these are independent separate specifications but Language only counts as the grail-like C in English if students are also entered for Literature.

    Our results plummeted last year with the GCSE fiasco; other local schools raised their results dramatically (by 15% – 20%) and offered the iGCSE.

    Note the use of “and” in that sentence. I am not yet convinced that “because” would be the appropriate conjunction.

    Okay. iGCSE. International GCSE. It seems to have been the sop offered to Private Schools to offer a nominally more rigorous version of the GCSE. It is internationally recognised and regulated and therefore potentially proof against Govean or Governmental tinkerings or pressures which quite clearly did not occur in the Summer 2012. We await that court case result still!

    Now, I’ve only looked at the Cambridge International Examinations Board specifications and exams and spoken to their advisers. The following seem to be key facts:

    English:

      No CATS;

      A number of routes through the specification;

      An unseen media / non-fiction examination lasting 1 hour 45 minutes or 2 hours depending on tier;

      Three pieces of coursework of 500-800 words each; or

      A second 2 hour examination in writing skills.

    There appears to be no literary element at all to this specification and the skills being tested are those we – and all GCSE exam boards – teach in any event.

    There is no Speaking and Listening element to the iGCSE: it can be added as a discreet module and receive its own grade but does not contribute to the GCSE grade.

    In terms of Literature, there appears to be the following:

    Literature:

      No CATS;

      3 set texts on which there is an examination;

      The exam has a complicated rubric but offers a range of responses to the literature: close detailed analysis of a given passage (what I spent most of my three years at Uni doing and still call Practical Criticism); a typical whole-text essay; or an imaginative and empathetic response.

      And an unseen literature exam.

    Interesting.

    Three set texts instead of the six required at GCSE. More time could be spent on each one. A wider and more responsive teaching style adapted.

    At first glance I was concerned that the course would be too narrow and restricted in its texts to prepare students for A level. But in retrospect, it’s a massively broader course: the only way to prepare for an unseen literature exam is to feed a diet of literature from all ages to the children. I’d need to look again at the specification but we could deliver to them all those texts we love but which just don’t fit into GCSE. Moby Dick. Wuthering Heights. King Lear. Gawain and the Green Knight. The Book Thief. American Gods. We would be teaching them to read and to engage with literature rather than to read a text.

    From a practical stance, the overlap or lack thereof of texts is a financial concern. As is the gamble of setting it up as a 100% terminal examination.

    Could we run either of these with our current Year Groups?

    Year 11: with six months left I have serious concerns about compelling them to do an additional 4 hours of examinations; there is the risk of confusion over which exam goes where; there’s the risk of resentment and kickback from the kids. Clearly there’s no time to fit Literature in. And only a rather limited number are doing GCSE Literature. Therefore, in terms of securing us English C grades rather than Language, there is limited scope.

    But those sets already taking Literature… Who may appreciate the opportunity to have a second string to their bow in achieving an A or A*… That shows potential!

    Year 10: there is at least one set who are struggling with GCSE Language and Literature. And they are at the C/D border. Perhaps swapping to iGCSE English and Literature as a more fluid and responsive course…

    Perhaps taking the 50% coursework route rather than 100% exams…

    If I were to put myself in a purely results and outcomes driven mode, I would probably keep Literature as it is with the conventional GCSE. And I would offer (by which I mean compel) entry to GCSE Language and iGCSE English. Because – and this is where I balk a little – actually, by that, I mean a massive amount – the specifications only require that Literature be entered. Not passed. Not passed at a certain grade. Just entered.

    (more…)

    Ferrara

    That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall,
    Looking as if she were alive. I call
    That piece a wonder, now: Fra Pandolf’s hands
    Worked busily a day, and there she stands.
    Will’t please you sit and look at her? I said
    “Fra Pandolf” by design, for never read
    Strangers like you that pictured countenance,
    The depth and passion of its earnest glance,
    But to myself they turned (since none puts by
    The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)
    And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst,
    How such a glance came there; so, not the first
    Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, ’twas not
    Her husband’s presence only, called that spot
    Of joy into the Duchess’ cheek: perhaps
    Fra Pandolf chanced to say “Her mantle laps
    Over my lady’s wrist too much,” or “Paint
    Must never hope to reproduce the faint
    Half-flush that dies along her throat”: such stuff
    Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough
    For calling up that spot of joy. She had
    A heart—how shall I say?—too soon made glad,
    Too easily impressed; she liked whate’er
    She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.
    Sir, ’twas all one! My favour at her breast,
    The dropping of the daylight in the West,
    The bough of cherries some officious fool
    Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule
    She rode with round the terrace—all and each
    Would draw from her alike the approving speech,
    Or blush, at least. She thanked men,—good! but thanked
    Somehow—I know not how—as if she ranked
    My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name
    With anybody’s gift. Who’d stoop to blame
    This sort of trifling? Even had you skill
    In speech—(which I have not)—to make your will
    Quite clear to such an one, and say, “Just this
    Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss,
    Or there exceed the mark”—and if she let
    Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set
    Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse,
    —E’en then would be some stooping; and I choose
    Never to stoop. Oh sir, she smiled, no doubt,
    Whene’er I passed her; but who passed without
    Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;
    Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands
    As if alive. Will’t please you rise? We’ll meet
    The company below, then. I repeat,
    The Count your master’s known munificence
    Is ample warrant that no just pretence
    Of mine for dowry will be disallowed;
    Though his fair daughter’s self, as I avowed
    At starting, is my object. Nay, we’ll go
    Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though,
    Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity,
    Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!

    Okay, so I am there, teaching this poem to a set of Year 9s who are around about a level 4 currently.

    We have chunked it into short sections to be digested in bite size pieces and one of them on first reading it says “Whats a Ferrara?”

    So we discuss the setting. We identify the Duke and Duchess on whose lives the poem is thought to be loosely based: Alphonse II d’Este and the fourteen year old Lucrezia di Cosimo de’Medici; we discussed the difference between the landed (and often cash-strapped) nobility and the wealthy though common bankers, the Medicis; we compared the marriage here with William and Kate’s marriage. All the usual things you’d expect.

    “Where is it then, sir?”

    Google Maps, Street View showing the typical Italian streets.

    And a quick Google Search found images of the castle itself.

    6182791-Castello_Estense_Ferrara_Italy_2012_Ferrara

    ferrara castle

    ferrara-castle-better-color

    “Looks like something out of Assassin’s Creed or a fortress, doesn’t it, sir?”

    Yes, yes indeed. Almost as if he was going to wall his new young wife up in it.

    Job done!