Friday, 28 February 2014

Hybrid modules

We offer a number of modules that are Creative Writing and English Literature at the same time. How would there be parity, they asked, as it went through the approval process, between the two different skills. That was actually quite easy to answer. We have sets of mark descriptors for Creative Writing and for English Literature. They complement each other quite well.
English Literature
Creative Writing
Analytical skills
Technical skills: [structure; beginning/middle/end; show don’t tell; etc]
Secondary reading and research
Writerly reading and research: [relates mainly to critical / reflective essays, bibliography]
Conceptual abilities

Writing Skills
Writing Skills
Reflection: [relates mainly to critical/reflective essays, bibliography]
On these modules, there is usually a short analytical first essay and then a choice for the larger task between a critical essay and a creative piece. Notice that in our Mark Descriptors Analytical Skills in English Literature match Technical Skills in Creative Writing. These query the substance of the module, whilst Knowledge expects the student to know a genre and Expression demands that they write appropriately and creatively in that genre.

How this all works out in Intro to Children’s Literature

We look at the history of children’s literature, so that students have a context for the literature they are studying. Then we look at the various key stages and how literature needs to be designed for those children. We also, week by week, look at some general writing skills and how writers are using them.

The first task is a close reading of a text of their choice. It could be an historical text or one for a particular key stage. If they pick a particular key stage for this task they must pick another one for the main task. In this task and if they do the critical essay later they must show an element of some compare and contrast with other sub-genres for this key stage and this genre across other keys stages.

The main task is a 3000 word critical essay with a bibliography or a 2500 creative piece with drafts, a self-assessment and an annotated bibliography. Literature students may attempt the creative piece and Creative Writing students may attempt the critical essay, and anyway, some take it as their literature option. Naturally, I could not expect literature students to have all of the creative writing skills that the creative writers have. I focus only on those that we specifically discuss in the course. These are covered by Technical Skills. In any case, both tasks require the students to demonstrate that they understand the key stage in which they are working. This manifests in Knowledge and Expression. Style is also a creative writing consideration. It is often learnt through an osmosis-type strategy; students learn good style by reading a lot. English Literature students read a lot.

Why hybrid modules are useful

They allow us to provide modules that are viable and that recruit large numbers.  
They can provide a dual opportunity for our students.
They provide a solid option for those students who are ambivalent about the contrast between creative and critical writing.  


Thursday, 20 February 2014

That all important feedback

Whenever we survey students they will say something either good or bad about feedback. They’re rarely neutral. As in any educational setting, there are two sorts of feedback: formative and summative.
It’s the formative feedback I’m more concerned with here. This is the ongoing, week on week, feedback that helps to develop our writers. It’s particularly important as part of the creative writing workshop.However:

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Workshopping with final year students

I met my new Final Portfolio group on Wednesday. There are only two students from last semester but I’ve met most of the rest on other courses. We had a great session. It probably helps that they have now been using this particular version of the workshop for a semester already.

How it works

I’ve created a group on our VLE, Blackboard, and included myself in the group. Our class meets on a Wednesday, so by Monday 2.00 p.m. the four people whose turn it is to submit that week email work to the whole group. This gives everyone the chance to have a good look at the work before the class.
The workshop operates through weeks 2-9. Week 1 is an orientation week and Week 11 students have one to one tutorials. Week 12 is submission week. So, the group is divided into three and between four and six students submit each week.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

How academics work

Recently there has been a spate of strikes in the universities. Lecturers and support staff are demanding that their salaries keep pace with inflation. I’m not going to discuss the strikes here and if you know who I am you will probably know already my attitude to the current dispute. That conversation is for elsewhere and probably in private.
But I would like to discuss the nature of academics’ work which is not widely understood by those not in the academy.