OCR Macbeth Endorsement
“It is a genuine and high-quality learning resource which OCR could happily be associated with”
This is a creative and interesting resource which is designed to engage learners in the study of the play. Scripts are produced by teachers but delivered by actors in an engaging way appropriate to a podcast. Each podcast begins by directly addressing learners and interesting them in the topic or scene.The dialogues ask relevant questions about the text, stimulating learners to make their own responses to the text and its language through dialogue instead of giving them answers. Using two voices to present the discussion helps to sustain a sense of debate and keep interpretation of the text open. It's encouraging to see that the resource develops skills appropriate for the examination without being excessively assessment-driven. The resource is a little limited in range: essentially the podcasts support a narrative path through the play. However, the strength of focussing on podcasts, scene by scene, is that there are no distractions and concentrated learning is encouraged, which can supplement and explain a reading of the text. The scripts explain the meaning of unfamiliar words and explore some of the critical arguments about meaning and impact. The commentary is theoretically informed, looking not just as tragic theory, or traditional ideas about the Divine Right of Kings or the nature of the witches, but also gendered language. Thus the third AO, context, is intelligently addressed. Learners are encouraged to develop their own critical vocabulary and their interpretative ideas. Some of the observations about language are at a very high academic level, but these are clearly explained and memorably articulated.
The website is very easy to navigate and learners should quickly find the resources they need. It is a visually appealing platform, and not over-complicated. The resource can be used at home or in the classroom and its flexibility is a great advantage. Many of the podcasts are quite short (between 10 and 15 minutes), which furthers this flexibility. The discussion can be pitched at quite a high level, but is paced carefully and with complex vocabulary explained, so the resource is suitable for a range of abilities. Quicker learners will benefit from the ideas presented, while slower learners will benefit from the gentle pace and explanation of details. Learners can decide for themselves how much of each tutorial they listen to and when or where. The resource makes excellent use of the intimacy of audio and the ways in which it can make Shakespeare's language accessible, memorable and understood. However, the platform does not promote interaction or learner activity except through asking questions. Nevertheless, a strength of the scripts is that they keep provoking learners to interrogate the texts for themselves. There is challenge in the scripts and a clear sense of progression, but their attention to textual details help to support learners who need reinforcement. The pace gradually builds up, which is appropriate, but learners can pause or go back to learn at their own pace.
The sound quality and the work of the actors is excellent, making this a high-quality product which OCR should be happy to endorse. Some of the pronunciation of the Greek terms in the tragedy podcast would have benefited from more coaching, but otherwise the delivery is good. The critical terms and ideas are simplified, but at a level appropriate for this qualification. Sound effects help to support the podcasts and sustain listener's interest alongside the performances of individual lines by the actors. The soundtrack can get repetitive but generally supports attention to the words rather than distracts from them.
The main way in which the resource might be criticised is that it is rather one-dimensional. It exploits the possibilities of audio creatively through sound track, use of actors and attractive presentation of the material. However, it is very self-contained, without reinforcement through worksheets, activities or learner tasks. There are quite a few references to other books and resources also available online eg Aristotle's Poetics or Fuseli's painting or (especially helpfully) different actors' performances, but there are no links or further reading suggestions for learners. The most impressive way the resource opens up new possibilities is its command of its chosen medium and the way in which it constantly challenges learners, engages them and encourages them to think for themselves.
The resource is not exclusively aimed at the OCR specification, but it does address the Assessement Objectives for the subject, exploring both language, structure and form as well as context and deeper understanding. The commentary shows detailed attention to language, but the dialogue between the actors shows that there can be more than one viewpoint about the effects of words and images on the reader/audience. AO1 understanding and textual reference, AO2 comment on language and AO3 context are all addressed proportionately. The scripts might make more explicit reference to these assessment objectives and the need to balance them for successful attainment of the learning requirements of the syllabus.
This is one area which might be improved. The resource is engaging but its very nature as a series of podcasts means that it leads to quite a passive form of learning, and there may be more scope for learner engagement or evaluation. Each podcast does end with a set of questions for learners to consider, but there is no opportunity for them to interact with the material, and the scale and slightly repetitive nature of the material might become offputting. It might be possible to include some quizzes on the material in the podcasts, or to allow some evaluation and feedback through a survey. If the platform were extended to include such materials it could promote a more active form of learning. There is a 'my groups' tab on the platform and that might allow scope for interactivity and development. Students might be encouraged to assess the progress of their learning and their skill in recalling both textual details and ways of interpreting them.
Different learning environments
One strength of audio is that it can be accessed anywhere, not least via a smartphone, and another is the intensity of individual engagement, which allows for rapid learning. It is suggested that this resource could be used in the classroom or for homework activities. Certainly the commentary could usefully accompany a re-reading of the task. However, teacher and learner guides giving suggestions about how to use the resource would be very helpful, and aid interactivity. It is recommended that more teacher and learner guidance is developed to promote interactive use of the resource.
This is a resource worthy of endorsement. It makes very good use of its chosen medium, with excellent ideas about how to capture learner attention and to sustain it through sound effects or soundtrack and engagement with listeners. The tone is appropriate: academically challenging but with a pace and vocabulary generally accessible to all learners. Much is explained so that learners avoid literal misunderstandings of the text, but learners' critical vocabulary is steadily developed, and they are encouraged to think for themselves and introduced to debates about the play and its characters. There is a good blend of traditional and more modern critical perspectives. No claims are made about exam success and this is much more than just a revision aid - it is a genuine and high-quality learning resource which OCR could happily be associated with. However, there may be scope to develop it further to encourage more active learner participation and more focus on the interpretative skills required for assessment.