GCSE A-Level


I told my GCSE students today that they need to have a more “Pointless” approach when they write their longer answers.

You’ve all seen the TV show I am sure and hopefully you know the premise. Contestants are given a category and they have to suggest an answer that they think nobody else will give – a pointless answer. If you haven’t watched it then please do – although I am often not home early enough to watch it live!

What is he on about?

I am sure if you are like me you have read a lot more longer answers questions in the last year than ever before – the new specs kinda require them. I actually quite enjoy the approach and I am enjoying teaching the Edexcel Specs for both GCSE & A-Level. But what I don’t enjoy is when students write too much about the obvious and don’t think about the more “pointless” points.

Take the Baroque Period – “Harpsichord Sir, that makes it Baroque”. Well yes, that is a key feature, but it is hardly the most enlightened approach, particularly when they stop there.

So this is why I am getting my students to think more like a Pointless Contestant. They need to think about those features of the music that are maybe less obvious and maybe slightly more sophisticated. I won’t quote the mark scheme as I want to keep this blog neutral (despite my Edexcel reference). But I am sure that most mark schemes at both GCSE & A-Level push students to make detailed, sophisticated and higher level responses.

The general, the obvious or the basic points are all very well, but the issue is that students can sometimes make a point like “Harpsichord” and then stop there, feeling good about life and thinking that they have made a suitable response. But yet they need more than that – and then they need some Wider Listening of course. They need to have the mindset that whilst they have come up with something, it may not be enough.

So I am encouraging my students to think deeper, to push themselves to look beyond the obvious and embrace the more sophisticated responses.

One approach I am having is simply pushing them in lessons to not settle for an answer. This can mean asking for lots of ideas and not just going with the first response. It can leave students frustrated as they “don’t get” the answer that I am seeking first time, but it is making a difference. The link to Pointless is a new one for me, it just came to me the other day, but is is something that I am thinking of expanding upon.

Ensuring students remember the key facts for a piece of music can also come down to their ability to use the key terms to really explain the music. It is all very well them coming up with a “pointless answer” but they then need to be able to explain how this is relevant and turn a fact into a strategic essay point. So you can easily flip this all on its head and give them the why, the cause or the effect, and they have to get the answers. I think this is a little bit like that old TV show Blockbusters:

What “A” is a Harmonic Device used to create more harmonic interest in a piece of music? What “H” is an interesting Rhythmic Device often used at the end of a phrase?

I think I have blogged in the past about a wonderful website called Triptico, they have a blockbusters style feature on there and it is fantastic – https://www.tripticoplus.com

Relating learning to game shows or real life examples is always good and I am always referring to Match of The Day (see previous blog) and I think I often refer to analysis as being a little bit like a pizza with its different layers. Sometimes an analogy won’t work, but there are always students who like to think differently and try a different approach in their own thinking.

So next time your students are giving answers, ask them if they can come up with a pointless answer. It might help them to really understand the analysis or it might just be completely pointless.

And so for now – “Can I have a P please Bob” – or maybe some of you are too young to remember that.

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