Over teaching is one of the method I use in my tuition lessons for all my subjects whether it is Literature, History, Geography and Social Studies. Over teaching in Humanities tuition lessons does not mean that overwhelming students with facts and more facts, or for that matter with more notes on skills and techniques. Indeed this method has helped my students enjoy the sessions and do well.
I have added to the list of Literature texts for A level H1 & H2 Literature that I tutor – all the Renaissance poetry. Most delightful of the Renaissance poets is none other than the writer of “To His Coy Mistress” – Andrew Marvell. This is his most successful and most famous poem. I have read the poem way before I have heard of Andrew Marvell and I am sure many of us here have heard of the poem at one time or the other. It is quite a feat to enjoy his other poems because they cover both politics and religion and are usually metaphysical in nature. Marvell’s poems are often described as pastorals, but they contain a lot more energy revealing him to be a satirist and a critic and also a pragmatist and a realist. He lived during an extremely eventful even turbulent times – the long disturbance of civil war and political revolution that culminated in the execution of King Charles I, the strengthening of parliamentary system in England despite the restoration of the monarchy. His poetry does not allow us to forget the disturbing conditions that left their mark on his imaginative outlook.
Marvell was an avid traveller, a politician, a poet and tutor. His poems made him the spokesman of a civilised tradition. His poems are well defined by a a tightly disciplined organisation of the octosyllabic line. “To His Coy Mistress” combines three contrasting moods – lazy frivolity, terror and aggressive resolution in a highly compressed poem. His other famous poem – “An Horatian Ode Upon Cromwell’s Return From Ireland” where despite being an earlier Royalist, acknowledges Cromwell as a man of destiny whose monumental destiny is to lead England into another era -“To ruin the great work of Time\And cast the Kingdom old\Into another mould”.
Thomas Middleton’s “Women Beware Women” like Marvell and the other Renaissance writers such as Christopher Marlowe and Ben Johnson bring us back into an era that continues to resonate with the times and it is no wonder their appeal is timeless.
Feminist literary theory is one popular lens to explore and interpret literary works. Literary theories are useful tools to help A level Literature students understand and interpret texts and produce insightful essays. As a Literature tutor, I recommend that A level H1 and H2 Literature students familiarise themselves with the writings of leading feminist authors and theorists. Four women come to mind when one thinks of feminist writers – Mary Wolstonecraft, Virginia Woof, Gloria Steinem and Simone de Beauvoir.
But in this post I like to write a little about the seminal essay by Virginia Woof entitled “A Room of One’s Own”. This remarkable essay was delivered by Virginia Woof in 1929 to an all-female Cambridge college audience. Woof’s assertion about the reasons for the absymal lack of female authors and the short supply of works by female writers in the past and during her time centred on that the fact that no women could write because they have no “room of her own”. This personal room is the metaphor for the conditions that Woof strongly feels must be present for women to produce literary works. The conditions are privacy, money and education. To Woof, it is the conditions of everyday life that made it impossible for women to write literature. It is not intellectual inferiority, but rather a woman’s life that prevented her from writing. A woman’s conditions – her duties to the family if she is married, her duties to her family (parents, siblings) if she is not married and her lack of education or her rudimentary education if she is literate that hinders her.
Her seminal essay became a torchpoint for the feminist movement to intensify the fight for women’s emancipation. But fast forward to 21st century, the post-feminist era, when women are no longer barred from attending hight education, have voting rights and head companies and lead countries as heads of state, the question that arises is how far have we arrived as fully emancipated individuals in control of our own destiny, driven by ambition and drive, able to attain our career goals and aspirations. Are we still tied to the apron, to the kitchen sink? More than anything is there a reversal or backtracking along the road of female emancipation. Do women really want to be emancipated? Do they really want to be at the top whether it is in politics, commerce, and the arts? But the reality that is worth celebrating is women now have a choice – if she wants to spend her time cooking away, raising a family, then she has the freedom to do so; if she wants to pursue a career in law, she is able to do. It is the importance of choice that makes all the difference.
Women have certainly come a long way. In schools we are reading works by Anita Desai, her daughter, Kieran Desai, Catherine Lim, Doris Lessings, Amy Tan, Maxine Hong Kingston, Pearl S Buck, Arundhati Roy, JK Rowling, etc. And in many fields, women have reached the summit in their fields. Women now have very beautiful rooms of their own now, to borrow Woof’s metaphor.
Texts are often changed, either replaced by new ones or by previously used titles. No matter what the changes are, there are certain common themes that occur in the texts. The common themes are: resilience, prejudice and discrimination, racism, relationships, conflict, love and courtship, friendship, family and community, and identity. The less common themes are expectations and loss, fear, and idealism versus realism.
Themes are avenues for the imparting of values and desirable character traits. Themes help draw focus to the contradictions, the different layers in human relationships, encourage us to think deeply and explore key issues, evoking new insights. Sometimes themes draw our attention to what is troubling about our humanity and the challenges that confront societies. Themes mirror our hopes and fears, our joy and pain, our triumphs and defeats.
Sometimes certain themes are adapted, modified according to the emotional and cognitive abilities of children. In some schools, certain issues are sidestepped because the educators are convinced that certain political, social contexts are not appropriate for students. This is because a text can be studied at different levels. At higher level, a text like Twelfth Night take on a different dimension from the lower levels.
An experienced Literature tutor must be able to pitch at the level that the school is adopting so as to guide the student effectively. It is therefore pertinent that the tutor knows the focus of the student’s school regarding the texts.
It is about time an A Level Literature tutor enumerates and elaborates the differences between O level and A level Literature.
“Understanding the differences is the first step to doing well for
this wonderful subject.”
As an experienced and dedicated A level Literature tutor, I have realised the importance of ensuring students know the contexts to improve and deepen our understanding of the texts. This is one of the open secrets of doing well. It is also one of the major difference between A-level and O-level Literature. As an A Level Literature tutor, I am committed to helping students understand the text in a perceptibly profound manner and interpreting questions to know what are expected and the way to writing out the answers.
One Crucial Difference
Having an A-level Literature tutor who knows the differences makes the key difference between an effective and a non-effective A-level Literature tuition session.
The “Peel” method which is so ingrained in our students does not apply to questions for Literature in English. Students has to give that up, letting go the usual repetitive linking sentence at the end of the elaboration for each point. Whenstudents write correctly, they will get the marks they want. In this regard, the A level Literature tutor will spare no efforts to role-model and provide scaffolding to enable students to answer the question in such a way to scor
It is with delight that MOE has once again selected the works of this all-time eminent but controversial playwright for A-level Literature. As a Literature tutor for both O-level and A-level students, I am always pleased about tutoring his plays. For O-levels, Pygmalion is the drama text for Pure Literature students but will be taken for 2020, and for A-level students, it was previously Mrs Warren’s Profession and now it is Saint Joan. Having studied his works in great depth , I can say he is an awesome playwright and certainly strive my best to make my Literature tuition sessions fun and beneficial for my students. To be an effective Literature tutor, it is vital for the tutor to possess the following attributes:
- A willingness to work diligently
- Thorough knowledge of the text and the various relevant contexts
- Understanding the background, beliefs and precepts of the writer
- Infinite patience and a nurturing temperament.
It is therefore with great pleasure that I enumerate the reasons for loving his works and even this great playwright.
Reasons for loving Shaw
A Feminist to Boot
In an era when British women were fighting a bitter battle for the right to vote, Shaw was already an ardent advocate of equal rights for women – not only at the ballot box, but in the institutions of higher learning, in the right to pursue a career, in the opportunity to be financially independent. His female characters have a mind of their own, unafraid to speak up for themselves, unafraid to voice their opinion. Never mind that he makes them “unwomanly” in his plays, (by the way that is how the epithet, Shaw’s unwomanly woman” originated), the point is this great guy was penning brochures to promote the suffragette movement, speaking at their rallies and gatherings and specifically giving them equal status with men as members of the Fabian Society. He also donated to their cause.
A Fervent Socialist.
He was not the violence/revolution-espousing leftist, in case that is what you are thinking. No, he believed in peaceful means of revolution – that was why he founded the Fabian Society. Shaw saw the evils of unbridled capitalism – the greed, the exploitation and the glaring inequalities that it spawned. Indeed, the wealthy upper class characters in his plays are usually portrayed in rather negative light and he often gives his best lines to the lower classes. The downtrodden working class were often portrayed sympathetically while the wealthy upper class are depicted as immoral, hypocritical, and self-seeking.
A Self-made Man.
His life story is the story of the poor boy made good. Who does not love such a story and admire such a man? Shaw was forced out of school by a selfish drunkard for a father and after working as a lowly-paid clerk, he moved to London (to join his very unconventional mother) where he educated himself by reading fervently in libraries, and attending talks and lectures. Actually he did not really liked schools, calling them prisons. He embarked on self-education which made him very much the immensely successfully playwright that he was. But success eluded him for a long time (the first five novels he authored all failed abysmally), it was only in his mid-forties that he started tasting real success. By his fifties, he became a household name, respected and admired in Europe and America. He won numerous awards and citations, including the Nobel Prize for Literature not to mention the Academy Award, the Pulitzer Prize.
Unafraid to Speak His Mind
Shaw was a man unafraid to speak his mind and some of his plays were banned. One example was Mrs Warren’s Profession which deal with the subject of prostitution among other issues. He was pretty controversial too – some of his beliefs are really up my alley – he once wrote that “a man is a woman without petticoats”. Now is that not wonderful that he had actually conferred on woman the signifying power of gender, thereby reversing the way gender was determined in his patriarchal society. That statement is sufficient to make him endearing to me.
An Interesting and Unique Character
He led a remarkably interesting life. I mean he was an interesting character. Of course, it is expected that Shaw led a colourful life in the department of romance given that he was rather good-looking (when he was younger than he was in the photo) and undoubtedly very talented and successful, all of which naturally made him a magnet for women. His public and sincere advocacy of women’s rights also moved his appeal to the opposite sex many notches up. But overall his relationships with women were mostly platonic. He did have a thing for actresses and if you are interested, do read up about his love life. I assure that it is quite entertaining. Nevertheless, this man only married once and his life changed for the better when he became a married man – the married playwright became the successful playwright.
A Remarkably Tenacious Character
He was always very persistent and failures did not deter him. His career as a playwright was not always smooth-sailing although his works made him very rich. This is a quality many of us could certainly emulate. In addition, he was witty, entertaining although he had some eccentric habits which I rather you, my dear reader, find out on your own.
In conclusion Shaw is truly a unique person who cared a lot for the downtrodden and his life is certainly inspiring for those who feel they are different and have problems fitting in with conventions and norms. And it is always a lot of fun teaching his works.