This week by popular demand we explored issues with essay writing. As we have all already had the: The Essay – what, why, how session; we chose a different approach. The lecture opened up with a quick investigation into current essay writing strengths (people did not want to admit to any of these) and weaknesses. With the weaknesses people were concerned about structure (which is important – good structure can take your mark up by 10 points) – and about being too definite (assertive) rather than argumentative (we need to give evidence for the points that we want to make). The biggest question was: but where am I in my writing?!
This sense of the loss of self in academic writing is really familiar to the course tutors. For many students, starting a University course can feel like being told: Shut up – listen – read – parrot it back; we are not interested in what you think! This is why we talk about finding your VOICE in the academic arena.
Finding your voice can mean finding ways of saying what you think and believe in a way that is appropriate for the academic subject that you are studying – or – in other words – using the appropriate epistemological practices of your discipline. And this can feel very frustrating – even more so when you are a mature student bringing with you a wealth of knowledge and experience.
Academia should not be about losing or hiding YOU – but hopefully it is about utilising a space in which we can stretch, challenge and extend ourselves. It should be a place that allows us to develop our voice – and to use it! So we need to learn how to use the codes and genres and forms of academia to say what we want to say. At the same time, we should be prepared to change and adapt what we already think and ‘know’ in the face of the new arguments and evidence that we encounter as we study. A good tip here is to find your authors.
Find the people out there who argue for the things that you believe in. These will be the people you refer to and quote as you construct your own arguments. Of course – you also need to find those other authors – the ones you disagree with – so that you can argue against them… But, start collecting your authors now – and keep a record of all your reading – so that you build upon your thinking year on year – rather than every module feeling like you are starting over.
Blogging to find your voice
One thing that we have done on Becoming is to ask you to write a weekly blogpost on your learning – and this can include the reading that you are doing. In the blog you can be yourself: there can be humour, outrage, indignation, uproar – and joy. You can play with ideas in a semi-public space. You know that you are in dialogue with your readers – and that you are telling them stuff – or persuading them about stuff… This allows you to be all of you as you learn – and from this holistic nearly-academic you, you can then select the elements that you use in your more formal writing. As Winnicott (1971) might say – your blog is the play space where you are fiercely alive and wholly you – coping with the implicit threat of transition – and making the learning your own.
Even if you have not blogged before – start an academic blog now – and use that space to record your thoughts about the learning you are doing – the reading – the ideas… Take ownership of them in your friendly space… Find your voice.
‘To what extent has the module ‘Becoming an Educationalist’ prepared you for the reality of becoming an educationalist? Justify your answer with reference to at least three aspects of or activities on the course.’
We brainstormed the question in the lecture – breaking it into component parts that would need to be addressed in a final essay:
The module – Becoming an educationalist
The trick with assignment questions is not to think you know the answer – but to break the question down into yet more questions… So – for each of the above you might ask yourself:
What is this?
When did it happen (why then)?
Why is it important?
Where does it happen (why there)?
Who writes about it?
How does it work?
What if (it were different)?
Struggling to find answers for these questions helps us to process the course itself – and our learning. This makes even more of the learning conscious to ourselves. Once we have rough ideas drafted out – we struggle to write – to shape – to refine. This takes TIME!
In class we played with learning styles to take our thinking forward – so we drew, we free wrote, we made collages to develop our ideas for the essay… (No one took the option of interviewing another member of the class – to utilise audio learning styles – but next time.)
A little bit of theory
And right at the end we threw our theorists who we might want to read to help us make a really good case. And just in case you forget – do not ignore the reading list:
Academic phrasebank: http://www.phrasebank.manchester.ac.uk/
Burns, T & Sinfield, S (2012) Essential study skills: the complete guide to success at university, London; Sage
Burns and Sinfield resources (also see the Journal articles that accompany each chapter) http://www.uk.sagepub.com/burnsandsinfield3e/study/default.htm
Buzan, B. & Buzan, T. (1995) The Mind Map Book BBC
FREEWRITING by Peter Elbow. The most effective way I know to improve your writing is to do freewriting exercises regularly. At least three times a week.
Jeffers, S. (1997) Feel the Fear and do it Anyway London; Century
Last Refuge Blogspot: http://lastrefugelmu.blogspot.co.uk/
London Met Study Hub www.londonmet.ac.uk/studyhub
McIntosh, P (2010) Action Research and Reflective Practice: Creative and visual methods to facilitate reflection and learning London; Routledge
McIntosh, P Postgraduate nursing students – drawing-only reflective log: http://qmul.academia.edu/paulmcintosh/Papers/731108/Creativity_and_reflection_An_approach_to_reflexivity_in_practice
McNiff, J Action Research in Education website http://jeanmcniff.com/
Malone, G The Choir episodes
Robinson, K. (2006) Ken Robinson says ‘Schools kill creativity’ (speech) ONLINE: http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.html accessed 10.12.10
Robinson, K. (2009) ‘Changing Education Paradigms’ (speech) ONLINE:
http://comment.rsablogs.org.uk/ accessed 10.12.10
Schmidt, Laurel. Great Teachers Don’t Take No (or Yes) for an Answer: Teaching by Asking Instead of Telling in Classroom Confidential: The 12 Secrets of Great Teachers . Portsmouth: Heinemann, 2004.
Shuh, John Hennigar. Teaching Yourself to Teach With Objects in The Educational Role of the Museum: Second Edition . New York: Routledge, 2001, pgs. 80-91.