Saturday 25 August 2012

Reading Lists – how they grow

We have a delightful system at the University of Salford, called LaSu, where we can add books to our reading lists as we find them. This makes a great deal of sense – as proactive researchers we should always be on the lookout for suitable material for our students. These, though, should be books mainly for background reading and not what we would expect students to buy. We need to establish which books students must have and read towards the end of the academic year before. We can’t expect them suddenly to purchase the one we read yesterday.  Or can we? Perhaps we can if it’s absolutely brilliant? I’ll come back to that.
A student contacted me recently because she could only find the 2011-212 lists. Technically, we are still in 2011-2012. Semester 3 is not yet finished. Naturally, though, she wanted to know what she was expected to read in 2012-2013. We had been asked not to add any new books into our essential lists after March 2012, as that was when the students were presented with module options. However, they weren’t aware of this.  
The books and other materials on our lists are divided into “essential”, “core” and “further reading”. Essential are the ones that students are expected to buy. Core works are stocked in multiple copies in the library and are referred to in our courses. Further reading texts are for those students who have a deep interest in the course and some spare time. The library will stock fewer copies of these.       
I’m teaching a course on the young adult novel in Semester 2 next academic year. I’ve just finished reading a novel that gets the balance of fast pace and emotional closeness exactly right. These are two qualities required in young adult novels but it’s often difficult to do both at once. Later today I’m going to blog about it, do a review on Amazon, add it to my reading list and put a mention of it into the week where I tackle the tension between pace and emotional closeness. I don’t think I dare ask my student to buy it though now. Maybe it can be promoted to essential for 2013-2014.
However I have to remember my own MA days. Okay, we were all mature students and probably had better cash flow than the 18-22-year-old undergraduate. Robert McKee’s Story came out just a few days before the second year started. It was the must-have, must-read book for anyone involved with stories. There is now quite a lot of ambivalence about McKee. Story was written for the film world. Expensive seminars are now delivered and some in the film world are cynical about their content let alone their cost; they are not cheap. Yet McKee has a lot to tell us about how stories work and he certainly appears on a few of my reading lists. I’m really quite glad our course convenor got us to buy it.
So, our reading lists grow. They reflect the proactive research of the teachers who offer their wisdom to their students. I’d actually be rather worried about a reading list that didn’t change for several years.   

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