I have written a few blogs on essay writing and now that we have had a summer of results I find myself reflecting on the Perfect Essay and I wanted to share some thoughts.
I am not sure that there is a Perfect Essay and whilst I have read a couple from the summer exams, I am yet to find many that received the full 30 marks. What I have found though is that there are clearly some areas that we can get our students to focus on in light of the summer. I will share with you what I have been shraing with my students since September and I will add the caveat that I feel the essays they are writing are now much better.
- Introductions need to be of such a length that they don’t take over but they do paint a picture of what the essay is going to achieve. This is nothing new, but I think that some students still fall into the trap of not addressing the essay at hand or the context that is eniterly relevant to the essay at hand. I have asked my students to ensure they include the date of composition, the line of argument they are looking at, a clear statement of intention and….
- Wider Listening in the introduction. I have read a couple of high mark essays and they have all included a mention of the intended Wider Lisrtening in the introduction. This was a new revelation to me and I am already finding that it is really helping my students. Not only does it thoroughly embed Wider Listening in the essay, but it also focuses students and reminds them that it is a key component:
“In this essay I am going to consider how Hermann used Melody, Harmony & Instrumentation to create a sense of horror in his music. In order to support this argument I am going to also consider the music from Vertigo and the music of Hans Zimmer & Danny Elfman.”
Something along those lines would be a good way of rounding of an introduction. Wider Listening could be referred to before that final sentence, but I just think it is good to have it in the introduction itself.
- It appears that a high mark essay is one that is structured clearly. I have looked at one or two from last summer and seen essays that are clearly laid out and students have obviously been organised and planned their writing. I have therefore been asking my students to do two paragraphs per element as an initial starting point. The first paragraph clearly looks at the element and its role & use in the music. The next “partner paragraph” consider the Wider Listening that links to that element.
- Wider Listening needs to actually support the argument. Having a paragraph on Wider listening immediately after, or embedded within, the element paragraph, helps to ensure the Wider Listening is relevant and well utilised and not just thrown in off hand at the end. Wider Listening is here to stay and so students need to benefit from it by using it in the appropriate manner.
- One phrase that I picked up from the June 2018 Edexcel mark scheme was “explanation of the effect of the element”. I thought this was an interesting phrase that maybe I had missed in the past. Actually explaining how the effect of an element on the music is quite a good angle to take and I think it is a really helpful teaching approaching. I have subsequently given students a list of key terms from a set work and asked them to discuss what effect they have. What effect does a entirely string dominated orchestra have? What effect does a prepared piano have? Not only is this a great way of teaching the set works but it is a useful thought process for the essay.
These are just a few thoughts and I hope that they are useful. Do have a look at my previous blogs on essay writing to get an idea of some of the other approaches I have used. They do help, and these points above have been very prominent in my teaching since September. They are helping students to structure their work, focus more on key elements and embed Wider Listening from the introduction down.
The Perfect Essay is still the holy grail for us music teachers, all the best in your quest.