Stage 2: the Reflective Statement

Once the Interactive Oral has been completed, all students must answer the question above, as prescribed by the syllabus. Before writing the RS, however, it is important to discuss with students the kind of things that might be written for it because the 3 marks awarded are easily compromised if students (or teachers!) think about the statement in the wrong way.

Essentially, the RS should present a record of the student's response to the cultural and contextual elements raised during the Interactive Oral. It is, in part, an account of factual information that was either new to the student or developed by the discussion; it is also, ideally, a chance to present a more personal view of the relationship between these contextual elements and the work itself. As mentioned elsewhere, there will (hopefully!) be too much information in the discussion for the student to recall it all; there task is therefore, at least in part, one of selection - of aspects in which they found themselves most interested.

Simply put, therefore, the RS is:

  • an account of contextual elements mentioned and/or discussed in the Interactive Oral that struck the student as being most interesting or most important
  • an indication of the way their understanding both of the contextual elements, as well as their relationship with the work being studied, were developed during the discussion

To these ends, the register of the RS should be personal - using 'I' is perfectly acceptable

Try to make sure that students are clear about what the RS is not:

  • it is not only a list or simple description of contextual features that were discussed in the oral
  • it is not meant to focus on literary features
  • it is not an attempt to identify the topic on which the student wants to end up writing in their assignment
  • it is not a mini essay

Below is an example of a Reflective Statement that succeeds in fulfilling the main objectives outlined above. An obvious thing to say, perhaps, but the more students are shown examples of good practice, as well as encouraged to identify what makes a reflective statement successful or not, then the more they will be able to apply appropriate skills in the one they write themselves:

Reflective Statement on Broken April, by Ismail Kadare

Prior to the interactive oral on 'Broken April' I was intrigued by various questions which arose during my reading of the novel. I was particularly interested in the traditions of the Kanun, which were a central aspect of Albanian lives in the novel. Our discussion focused on the 'blood feud' and I was surprised to learn that this barbaric practice is still carried out on modern Albania. However, I discovered that many of its original terms, such as its aim of reconciliation, are forgotten in modern times and it is now sometimes used as a simple justification for murder. Although the novel is set in an earlier era, the theme of the blood feud's disintegration and corruption is present throughout. The theme is particularly emphasised through the 'blood steward', Mark Ukacierra, who blames it on the increasing influence of modern cities. By learning about the corruption of the modern blood feud, and comparing it with its original traditions, I gained a deeper insight into the significance of the conflict between traditional and modern societies in the novel.

During my reading of the novel, I was fascinated by the characters of Bessian and Gjorg and their contrasting perspectives of the Kanun, which further highlight the tension between traditional and modern. Through our discussions I learnt that the status of a guest is highly ordered according to the Kanun. This led me to think that Bessian was taking advantage of the Kanun. On discovering the significance of mythology as a feature of Albanian heritage, we discussed to what extent the Kanun appeared more of a figment of mythology than a reality. Our discussion made me realise that the contrast of Bessian's mythological perspective of the Kanun, exploiting it for his own benefit, with the reality of the Kanun from Gjorg's perspective, once again characterises the clash between tradition and modernity.

The oral also covered ways in which Kadare had been involved in national politics, which were under communist control for most of his life. Upon discovering that Kadare had often opposed the communist regime, we discussed whether Kadare's personal experience was reflected in the novel. I learned that Kadare had been temporarily banned from writing, shortly before publishing 'Broken April' due to his criticism of the regime. I recognised that his own views towards Albanian politics were reflected in Gjorg's subtle resentment of the Kanun.

(393 words)

In comparison, the following Reflective Statement is less successful and only scores a mark of '1'. It is fairly obvious as to why: the student makes little reference to the discussion that took place, and sees the task less as one of engagement with cultural and contextual considerations as an opportunity to make some points about its literary qualities only, or to speculate about possible readings with little or no analytical depth.

Reflective Statement on Chekhov Short Stories

Through the Interactive Oral, I came to understand that Chekhov uses characters throughout his stories to emphasise culture and society of Russian life in the late 1800's. Our class discussion focused on culture and society.

Chekov has been criticised as a writer of very depressing social scenes. I believe he uses characters to play out roles where society contradicts itself. Throughout 'The Chorus Girl' he describes the pity of a girl named Pasha; he uses contrasts between characters to emphasise the different status of each character. Kolpakov addresses Pasha has if it were her fault and that she should feel guilty; Kolpakov says to Pasha, "you low creature." This is ironic because he is the one being unfaithful to his wife and he should be the one society frowns upon, rather than Pasha. We discussed the role of women and how Chekhov thought about them in society.

The last paragraph of 'The Chorus Girl' effectively shows the faults in society and the fact that the abuse of the chorus girl is not a one-time occurrence. The use of this reverse-epilogue shows that society has done nothing but damaging things to the chorus girls and no one can help them from being abused; the disloyalty of the husband should have been the highlighted fault but instead society seems to blame the wrong person.

In another of Chekov's stories, 'The Darling', he describes a protagonist named Olenka Plemyannikov who is the embodiment of female disempowerment. She cannot seem to make up her mind on her own beliefs and she only adapts to what her partner believes. She has had several husbands: the theatre owners Kukin and the timber merchant Pustovalov. She is nicknamed 'the darling' which lowers her status in society as she is compared to a favourite pet. We talked about disillusionment and how Chekov shows that society is a depressing place through Olenka always being rejected.

Chekov manages to make readers change their views on social attitudes. To conclude, I believe that he wants to show the bleak view for women in Russian society at the time.

(350 words)

Click here to download these two Reflective Statements

In the download below you will find a range of additional Reflective Statements, which you can download as a teaching resource.  A few brief notes, and the marks for each, are provided in the drop down underneath.  

 Additional Reflective Statements  

1.  Chronicle of a Death Foretold, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez This Reflective Statement presents itself on more or less the right lines, but it is rather superficial. The candidate records some elements of the Interactive Oral that were evidently to do with matters of culture and context, however they do not amount to much more than a few vague (and very generalised) things about attitudes towards women in Columbia and India.  There is only brief reference to the novella itself. Some of the paragraphs in effect 'say' very little.  For these reasons, the RS is awarded a mark of 1 out of a possible 3 marks.
2.  Death in Venice, by Thomas Mann

This is an example of a very good Reflective Statement.  The student makes a range of references to issues of cultural context - picking out three in particular that were obviously to him or her the most significant elements of the Interactive Oral.  There is a range of more or less 'factual' reference, as well as examination of the way particular details have affected his or her understanding of the novel.   Enough, in other words, to justify a mark of 3:   

Reflection on the interactive oral shows development of the student’s understanding of cultural and contextual elements.

3.  Three Sisters, Anton Chekhov This RS is an example of what not to do.  Although the student says some relatively interesting things about the play, there is almost no reference at all to elements of cultural context.  The student seems to have seen the Interactive Oral and the RS as asn opportunity to talk about the interior world of the play rather than the cultural/contextual elements that surround it.  It serves therefore, as an important reminder of the purpose of the IO and RS.  Explicit focus on the content and stylistic properties of the text should come later.  Because the student has failed fundamentally to get to grips with the task, sadly the statement cannot be awarded any marks at all.
4.  Antigone, Sophocles This is a very good Reflective Statement.  The candidate makes interesting comment on the role of the chorus in Greek theatre, characteristics of the archetypal tragic hero, and the way Antigone and Creon are depicted in relation to this contextual backdrop.  There is sufficient material here to award a mark of 3.  
5.  Kokoro, Natsume Soseki This RS makes some reference to matters of context, although only in passing.  S/he says some interesting things about the east/west, old/new Japan tension in the novel is presented but doesn't really provide account for the social, literary or cultural circumstances that might explain it. The focus of the RS tends to be the work itself rather and contextual elements.  It is not without merit, however;  there is certainly a sense of 'some' development in the student's understanding of cultural/contextual elements - and for this it is awarded a mark of 2.
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