Tuesday 15 October 2013

How research feeds into teaching

Students at university don’t follow a curriculum in the same way as they do in other forms of education.  They are learning about what their particular lecturers have found out in their research. Yes, of course, there is some crossover from institution to institution – some of the givens in any one area will be the same. But what each lecturer emphasizes and finds important will vary. And year on year, although modules will usually retain their titles, the content will be enriched and expanded. Research must feed into teaching.  What students learn must be informed by research.

How this works in creative writing:
Writers as readers
Most writers read avidly and we certainly recommend that. As I gradually read more I consider if a particular book will be useful to my students and if so I’ll add it to the reading list – often as further reading, or a core text –i.e. one that we would expect the students to use for certain tasks, though they would probably not buy it - or as essential reading i.e. a text that students would buy.  The latter, of course cannot be for this year but must be for next time round.
Writers as editors
Much of my work with students involves leading workshops, giving students formative feedback on their work and giving them more summative feedback on their assignments. I’m also working with editors on my own work and becoming better all the time at self-editing because of all the time I’m spending on this. This I can pass on to my students and colleagues.
Writer as researcher
There are many ways in which writers research. I pass on what I experience here. I’m more observant about what I do as I know that I am required to pass this on to students. I offer them a short cut.
The reflective practitioner
We teach our students to reflect on their work. So, we must reflect on our own. We also have access to the reflections of other writers. This helps us formulate and test theories about practice which again we can pass on.  Our students then get a firmer grip on how creativity in writing works.  
Industry knowledge
As we interact with the industry – with editors, publishers, book-sellers, critics and other writers in our own practice we obtain a deep understanding of how the industry works. We pass that on to our students also.  
A concrete example
On Sunday I went to see Neil Gaiman as part of the Manchester Lit Fest. I bought his Mirrormask. This seems to defy many of the “rules” we’ve established about writing for children. It also does not sit comfortably in any of our carefully defined categories. I introduced it straight away to my Intro to Children’s Literature class. There was an interesting reaction. One definition was that it might be a coffee table book! So, as I’ve researched on this module I’ve established concrete definitions of different types of text for children at varying stages of their development… and now started to dissolve the barriers again. What an interesting life I lead!                     

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