Shifts in fiction

Just over a year ago, I wrote a post called We Bring the Stars Out which explained a process for boosting marks in the fiction writing section of the AQA GCSE Paper 1. The strategy stemmed from the need to support students who read relatively little and who lacked a range of mental models relating to structural shifts in literature. It works because it enables students to approach the task without panicking.

It doesn’t work if we genuinely want students to become better writers. It is a dramatic oversimplification of the writing process.

Sharing the strategy has had an unintended consequence. More recently, I’ve heard of teachers using this approach from Year 7 upwards, training pupils to respond to writing tasks in this way, which is clearly a concern. We should want our students to be able to draw on a range of structures, ideally choosing the most appropriate for their fiction writing.

Between Year 7 and Year 11, students need to learn how to consciously select shifts in, to name a few:

  • Time
  • Location
  • Focusing on different characters or objects
  • Narrator
  • Speaker
  • Attitude of the narrator/a character towards something or someone
  • Mood of the same narrator
  • Course of events
  • Cause and effect or action and consequence

To achieve this, we need to consciously teach these shifts so that our students begin to consciously and deliberately select them and we don’t end up relying on a forced model in Year 11.

To do this well requires us to have a range of compact, complete and incomplete models of each of these types of shift. However, it also requires us to be able to explain and tease out the potential impact of these twists and turns.

  • Why might a writer shift between one narrative perspective and another?
  • What reason may a writer have for moving from a small detail of an object to an even smaller detail?
  • What function could shifting from one location to another serve

And, of course, we should also expect students to deliberately and ultimately independently practice the different kinds of shift, whilst expecting them to justify their choices so that we can support in developing their decisions.

I’d be keen to hear from anyone who knows of any textbooks or teacher guides which would help in this process; any anthologies which contain really short fiction that would help in exemplifying the shifts above; or, in particular, who would be willing to write or share their own three paragraph models which could provide some exemplification.

One comment

  1. teachingbattleground · December 9, 2018

    Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.


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