And I thought THAT was the heart of darkness

While spring cleaning some old blogs today as part of an attempt to make my digital footprints less muddy, I came across some posts relating to a GCSE English group I had four years ago, and it heightened yet further my sense of being dispirited at the way my teaching is going under the Controlled Assessment regime (see here for some excellent discussion of this from David Didau (@LearningSpy) together with my depressed comment).

Here are some examples of blog posts with student discussion on Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ that we were doing for coursework.

Into the Heart of Darkness

Through the Heart of Darkness

More Heart of Darkness

What’s in a Title?

I recall much more discussion and debate with the whole class than the online taster you can see there.  I know a top set, like the one I had back then, is a very different proposition from the set four classes I have now. Nevertheless I find it difficult to see a way that, even with the best students,  I could engender the depth of reflective thinking about and exploration of a text that most of these students were able to produce, now that our curriculum that currently requires us to romp through six CA’s in Year 10.

Is it even allowable to negotiate individual titles with students (within the broad parameters of the prescribed task banks) for CA, as I did with those students for their coursework?

(I’ll have to find out.

5 thoughts on “And I thought THAT was the heart of darkness

  1. Good gravy. You were teaching Heart of Darkness to Year 10s? I don’t even think I could face showing them Apocalypse Now.


  2. (Bravo, by the way!)

    I prefer the English Literature approach – 1 controlled assessment and two terminal exams. It (almost) gives them enough time to do some actual analysis.


  3. Thanks for the ‘Bravo’, but to be fair they were in Year 11 by the time we got to Conrad, and, like Mr. Kurtz’s trip up the Congo, it wasn’t all plain sailing.

    I loved teaching it, though, and enough of them were on-side with it quickly enough that we could generate enough interesting to discussion to slowly haul most of the others in. I remember one ‘sciency’ lad, though, who really didn’t get on with it (or indeed any literature) at all. After they’d all gone off for study leave he sent me this email:

    I was browsing through all of my revision files and found thirty pages that I initially wished to set fire to – Heart of Darkness. However, I thought “maybe if I read through it’ll give me an excuse for something to do, even though I can’t stand it”. Four hours and thirty pages later I was thinking “oh my, what an excellent piece of literature, I should thank Mr. Heald to the heavens for teaching us that. As one of your previous students said “Lord of the Flies – life changing stuff” I definitely have to say the same about Heart of Darkness. Thank-you so much for teaching us about it.

    Whenever I’m feeling hacked off about this job, it’s nice to have the occasional piece of gold like that to pull out, Gollum-like.


  4. Oh Ant, CA really is crap, isn’t it?

    What spec are you using? AQA allow a completely free choice for their ‘extended reading’ CA – you could squeeze a spot of Conrad in there perchance?

    In response to Joe’s comment in which he prefers the way the Lit course is structure: if anything I think it’s worse – the enormity of the task make redoing this piece a practical impossibility especially as schools’ focus is relentless directed towards language.



  5. At the moment I’m just teaching the ‘combined’ AQA English with low set classes that make me feel like an NQT again. Well, I didn’t feel too bad as an NQT: at least I had an excuse.

    I’ve just read your post on praise: we really can’t do right for doing wrong, can we?


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