Preparing for VCE English and EAL Unit 3/4: Analysing Argument

This is the third and final post in a short series for VCE English teachers preparing for the new VCE English and EAL Study Design. This post covers Unit 4 Analysing Argument

There’s not much to say about this Area of Study that hasn’t been said before: it’s very similar to the previous iterations, and many of us have been teaching “Section C” of the English exam for… longer than we’d care to admit. In fact, the main change from about 2008 onwards has been the steady focusing in on what argument actually means, and away from the “shopping list” of persuasive techniques. That shift continues with this iteration.

At the end of this post I’ve also got a favour to ask: I’m looking for some feedback on a new idea to help English teachers, and also as a way to declutter your inboxes if you’re getting too many emails from me about my other passion: Generative AI in education. Chances are if you’re reading this post I’ve already connected with you in some way either through VATE, professional learning, or my books. I always appreciate the direct feedback from English teachers.

Unit 4 Area of Study 2: Analysing Argument

The updates to the 2024 Study Design for this Area of Study are really centred on the oral, with some changes to the conditions for the assessment meaning it is much more flexible. More on that later.

There are a few changes to the Key Knowledge worth highlighting however, so I’ll dig in to them here.

Argument and contention

The biggest difference to the Key Knowledge and skills comes from the more specific language around contention and argument, breaking it down into four constituent parts:

Use of contention and supporting arguments including:

  • sequence and structure
  • supporting evidence
  • language
  • techniques and strategies
VCAA Study Design

Again, that’s to continue shifting students away from the “shopping list” of persuasive techniques which has been the bane of this Area of Study since its inception.

Students need to be aware that the persuasive text they are analysing has been deliberately structured in a certain way to position the reader, guiding them through the arguments in a cohesive, logical manner. The arguments might also move between logical and emotional appeals, blend the two together, move in a linear fashion, or circle back and around core arguments.

To address this, students need appropriate metalanguage to discuss the sequencing of arguments and how they “stack” or add together to convey the whole sense of the piece and reinforce the author’s contention.

Note that “techniques and strategies” is still in there; it’s just one of four points linked to argument and no more important than any of the others.

Smooth sailing

As far as the Key Knowledge goes, it’s pretty smooth sailing from this point. If you’ve taught the “Section C” Area of Study in the past, you’ll have no problems. Check out my earlier post on VCE English and EAL 2023: Exploring Argument if you want a few general ideas for how to approach the Area of Study.

There is a little nuance over some of the new Key Knowledge, including a focus on the context of the piece (something which is consistent across this Area of Study and Creating Texts) and some clearer guidelines on what to look for in the oral including:

the ways that effective persuasive texts counter arguments through rebuttal, respectful disagreement, and a focus on the arguments, tempering personal responses to powerful, challenging or contentious issues

VCAA Study Design

Otherwise, it’s the situation as usual.

This blog post accompanies resources in the VCE Hub. If you’re already a member, new video content will be added soon that covers each Area of Study in detail. If you haven’t yet joined the VCE Hub, then you can check it out here.

Assessing Analysing Argument

The assessment for this Area of Study has changed slightly, both for the written outcome and the oral. 

For the written task, students need to analyse two texts, one of which should be multimodal. Unlike the previous Study Design, there is no expectation to compare and contrast the two, but they can be written about in one single SAC (i.e., write about the written text, and then the multimodal text, but don’t connect the two).

Here’s the exact language from the VCAA Advice for Teachers assessment page:

Teachers provide students with at least two persuasive texts (one written, in another mode). The text in a mode other than written is supported with a transcript. Students watch and/or listen to the text in a mode other than written (twice). Students write an analytical response to the texts considering argument, language, persuasive strategies and effects.

For the oral, we have a few more options beyond the typical “stand and deliver” speech. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Discussion panel or Q&A
  • Debate
  • Individual speech (live)
  • Group speech or presentation (live)
  • Individual speech (recorded)
  • Podcast or similar

I’d just urge caution over the recorded forms such as podcast and recorded speech: as I wrote about in a post recently, we’ve got some pretty impressive technology at our fingertips which could be used to create a convincing audio deepfake.

Don’t believe me? Here’s a podcast created entirely by Generative AI – that’s a version of my voice created by ElevenLabs, and I never spoke any of these words aloud (even the music and sound effects are made by GAI).

You probably shouldn’t send your students off to make SAC podcasts over the Term 3 holidays…

English Matters

I’ve been an English teacher for over 15 years. I’m out of the classroom now, but my PhD research is working with English teachers and digital texts, and I’ve recently rejoined the VATE council to continue supporting teachers across the state.

Some of my work with Generative AI, like my PhD, overlaps with writing. Some, like the broader ethical concerns of GAI and my work on school and organisational policy extends beyond English.

I also work with great English teachers, leaders, and consultants and want to extend that beyond my own blog. With all that in mind, I’d love quick some feedback on an idea I’ve been sitting on for a while to spin off my English work into its own separate venture. Before I go any further I’m getting as much feedback as possible from the English teachers I’ve worked with, particularly this year in my first year of business outside of the classroom.

If you have a minute, please consider filling out this feedback form and letting me know what you think of these ideas.

If you’d like to get in touch about anything else, then let me know via the form below:

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