Learning Log – Week 26

W26: They’ve taken over the classroom, Ma!!!

 

Second week of performances – second week that you’ve been wonderful – exciting – creative – challenging – dynamic…

 

All those good words.

 

Tom and I could never capture the excellence of this week – thankfully, Chloe did.

 

Here’s her blog post for this week.

 

Thanks to all of them for putting on such a great session – thanks to all of you for joining in with such energy and flair!!

 

Learning Log – Week 26.

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W22 #becomingeducational: The Essay – Our Essay

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.

Image

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.

Our essay

‘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

An educationalist

? Education

Three aspects/activities:

1…

2…

3…

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)?

So what?

What next?

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!

Next steps

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

Elbow P : FREEWRITING by Peter Elbow Center for Learning  – mgunby

mgunby.wikispaces.com/file/view/Freewriting.pdf

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

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b008y125/episodes/guide

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. 

W6: Writing is easy – you just stare at a blank piece of paper till your eyeballs bleed!

Agenda:

  1. Writing Workshop #1
  2. Presentations: what, why, how
  3. Positive thinking in the academic environment
  4. Peer mentors – and getting Poster Presentations ready.

 

The Writing workshop

Structure:

  • Writing activity
  • Reflecting on the activity
  • What we can do …
  • Next steps
  • Useful resources. 

We started the interactive workshop with a question: What are your hopes and fears about University level writing? And there seemed to be a general disquiet about the thought of finally committing words to paper – for assessment. So this gentle unease launched us into an activity designed to get us all experiencing the hopes and fears and pain – and pleasure (?) – of University writing. 

Free writing

Each person was asked to have in front of them:

  • Two sheets of paper:
  • One, ‘Writing’ – blank, to write upon,
  • Two, ‘Commentary’ – to note reasons for not writing
  • Pens or pencils. 

When asked, we turned to our ‘Writing’ page to write for ten minutes without pause on the extremely difficult and challenging question we were then presented with! If we did stop writing for any reason, we had to write that reason, no matter how trivial or insignificant on the ‘Commentary’ sheet. 

The Question: 

Winnicott  (1971) argued that play is necessary to counteract the implicit threat that occurs when we are in transitional spaces – between worlds, between classes, in alien educational settings.  Discuss in relation either to becoming a successful student or becoming a successful teacher

Once we had struggled through what was perhaps the longest ten minutes of our lives – we were lead through three reflections on the process itself: 

Reflection (1)  What was your reaction to that writing?

Most of us were slightly horrified by the question. There was fear and anger – and perhaps even despair in the room! Obviously it became clear that we were not supposed to stay in that fearful state. We were urged to try and realise that the biggest writing block that most people have is their own lack of belief in themselves. (This refers back to Bandura and the self-efficacy point raised some weeks ago.) Whilst some tutors and many students worry about ‘problems’ like spelling, punctuation and grammar – the biggest problem for most people is just starting to write. Just to write anything. Just to get words down. Just. To. Get. Anything. Down. On. Paper. Once we have some words down, we can change them. Till then – we stare at that blank piece of paper till our eyeballs bleed. 

We also discussed the question itself. It was noted that the question was describing our activity. We are in the transitional state of becoming educationalists, of becoming academics – and of becoming academic writers. This activity was asking us to play with writing as a way of tackling our fear of writing… and our fear of being in this transitional space. Education sadly instead of encouraging us to learn by trial and error – punishes mistakes. So, we fear failure; we fear that we will pay a bigger price for ‘failure’ than others; we fear changing; we fear being judged; we fear losing contact with our friends and families… We feared not knowing who Winnicott was. We feared that this looked like a statement and not a question! Was this a trick? A couple of reassurances followed. Assignments are often called questions – no matter how they are written. We did not have to know that Winnicott was a psychologist who argued that it is only when we play that we are wholly, fiercely truly alive and ourselves (tutor); because we could leave the lecture theatre and look that up. We were encouraged to change. To let go of our instinctive fear of failure and give ourselves to the activity… and to keep trying that. 

Reflection (2)  Why did you stop writing?

We then moved on to discussing our reasons for not writing:

  • Thinking
  • Searching for a word, spelling, tense
  • Uncomfortable
  • Couldn’t see the point
  • Distracted
  • Don’t know enough yet. 

And considered some solutions:

  • Get into a good physical & mental space:

             Be comfortable – your way

             Accept the task – or fake it!

  • Brainstorm & plan before you write
  • Once you start – go with the flow
  • Don’t stop!
  • Free write: Do not search for the right word – re-draft and improve later
  • Leave gaps – read more after writing. 

Here there was much emphasis again placed on writing and writing and writing – and not stopping to re-read and revise and improve. We need to write till we drain all our ideas and thoughts and random mental flashes on to the paper. This sort of writing is described as free writing – and as a ‘brain dump’ and can be a really good way of just getting ideas out and on the page – for study and development. 

The Paragraph Questions as free writing

Another more formal free writing and that was mentioned in the seminars was to use the Paragraph Questions to help shape our ideas – to draw our thinking out. Remembering when doing so to write BLAH BLAH or NEED AN IDEA HERE or NEED ANOTHER REFERENCE… So that again the writing flows – and the assignment can be developed later. 

The questions are as follows – and we are invited to write as though answering those questions:

  1. What is this paragraph about then? Introduce your topic
  2. And what exactly is that? Define or clarify
  3. Tell me more – give me an argument… Make a case
  4. What is the evidence for your argument – and what does it mean? Offer and discuss evidence (refer to a source – discuss a practical example)
  5. So what – who cares? Make a point. Take the paragraph back to the Question. 

The big tip of the day was to write these out on to an index card and stick that to the front of your PC. 

Reflection (3) What do you like about your own academic writing practices?

Despite all the pep talks that went before – there was still not much joy on show about the thought of academic writing – so the session moved on… 

This is what staff tend to say about their writing:

  • I discover what I’m thinking
  • I never quite know where it’s going
  • I puzzle out my ideas
  • It’s an exploration
  • It’s exciting
  • I am concise and effective
  • I try to be helpful and useful
  • It’s teasing out my thinking
  • I’m incredibly organised
  • I just plunge in and see where it goes 

And this is what students say – even those who have got really good degrees:

  • I am still not sure if my work is considered academic, I still don’t know what makes one of my essays better than another. 
  • I have been humiliated in ways that I would never have put up with anywhere else! 
  • Academic language, the kind of language that doesn’t readily flow off my tongue: the type of language I rarely use when speaking to my peers. The type of language that I don’t readily understand and the type of language that means spending hours at a computer turning something quite simple into something that sounds moderately impressive with elitist results. 

We discussed the reasons behind the different statements – and how hard it can be to hear formative feedback in the positive light in which it may be offered. Typically when tutors feedback to us, the intention is that we improve… If you fail to score a goal you do not leave the pitch and never play football again – you can shrug and carry on. We need to learn some of these normal survival tactics in our studies. 

To start to feel more positive we could try to:

  • Treat writing more like a sport or driving or cooking… We will get better if we practise.
  • See writing as a process not just a product.
  • Develop the craft of writing – rather than expect to pour out perfect essays first go.
  • Make ‘safe’ spaces to write – at home – and with friends.
  • Practise, practise, practise…
  • Write for half an hour every day! 

Write – Read – Think! Tips:

Try CORNELL notes: http://coe.jmu.edu/learningtoolbox/cornellnotes.html

Try a blog: http://thesiswhisperer.com/2012/12/12/turn-your-notes-into-writing-using-the-cornell-method/

Try Binge writing:

http://patthomson.wordpress.com/2013/01/03/dr-jekyll-writes-binge-writing-as-a-pathological-academic-condition/

Try something really creative:

http://www.arts.ac.uk/cetl/visual-directions/

Try being a diver writer: http://learning.londonmet.ac.uk/epacks/studyhub/introduction.html 

Writing resources:

EXCELLENT site for linking phrases and for WRITING:
http://www.phrasebank.manchester.ac.uk/

Ten steps: http://prezi.com/cbaj9e5kised/copy-of-ten-stages-of-assignment-success/

Academic writing month: http://www.guardian.co.uk/higher-education-network/blog/2012/nov/01/academic-writing-month-acwrimo-research

The writing pages on the Study Hub – with PACKS!: http://learning.londonmet.ac.uk/epacks/studyhub/introduction.html

750 Words: it does what it says on the tin:
http://750words.com/

Written Kitten – new kitten every 100 words! 
http://writtenkitten.net/

Essay planning animation – Portsmouth:

http://ondemand.port.ac.uk/central/One_way_to_write_an_essay.wmv

Our writing mini-site:

http://learning.londonmet.ac.uk/TLTC/connorj/WritingGroups/

 Essay/report quiz:
http://learning.londonmet.ac.uk/LMBS/study/reports_essays/

Our Preventing Plagiarism course (also in WebLearn):

http://learning.londonmet.ac.uk/TLTC/learnhigher/Plagiarism/ 

In the seminar

We took on the notion of becoming writers – and becoming successful students. This week we also explored successful presentation strategies (http://learning.londonmet.ac.uk/epacks/studyhub/presentations.html) and how to harness positive thinking in the academic environment (http://learning.londonmet.ac.uk/epacks/studyhub/positive.html) – all to facilitate the design and delivery of our Poster Presentations (on our field research) – for next week… and this continued with our Peer Mentors in the fourth hour. 

In the process of discussing just what sort of presentation we might like to develop – and what the differences might be between presentations and teaching – we also returned to Freire and we explored the ideas of Carl Rogers … and we discussed ways of being creative in a presentation to help people engage and concentrate – and just to be more interesting…