A-level English reform and English at University

In the 2018 University English meeting, Billy Clark and Andrea Macrae discussed academics’ perceptions and awareness of A-level English reform. The survey, funded by the British Academy and Leverhulme, was conducted  by the ‘Integrating English‘ dream team: Andrea, Billy, and Marcello Giovanelli. You can find a visualisation of their findings here.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, English subject leaders feel that they and their teaching staff are little informed about changes to A-levels. In fact, the overwhelming majority of English degrees in the UK are making no (55%) or minor (33%)  changes changes to the curriculum to support the transition of students who are taking the reformed A-Levels.

Professor Billy Clark at the Heads of Department & Subject Leaders’ Networking Day (13th April), University of Lancaster

On a more positive note, the Lang/Lit A-level is more positively viewed in Higher Education than in schools. 95% of university English subject leaders perceive it as useful in preparing students for English degree programmes. In fact, this is tallies with our own anecdotal evidence. A couple of days ago, at a local college visit, the Lang/Lit teacher was telling how the English Literature A-Level still carries much more prestige and is more popular with staff and pupils than the Lang/Lit A-Level.

And finally, a third of English degrees do not require any of the three English A-Levels (English Language, English Literature and English Lang/Lit). It looks like we are not that unique at Middlesex!

So what can we do in higher education to help the transition of our students from secondary to tertiary education?

Billy explained the importance of connecting with secondary teachers and students, awarding bodies, even our PGCE colleagues. He also showed the importance of helping first-year undergraduate students understand how university work differs from school-level work.

Jenny Stevens (Teacher of English and freelance writer and editor) presenting the post-16 perspective on English teaching and learning suggested that HE sector can help by:

  • Getting  involved in GCSE & A Level qualification;
  • Communicating with A-level student, parents and teachers via university website (podcasts/screencasts);
  • Cross sector collaborations on social media (e.g. linking with Centre for English & Media);
  • Joining the English Association Secondary Education Committee.

A good life: citizenship, skills and employability in English studies

‘How can English Studies overcome instrumentalism when it comes to the employability agenda? Is it possible to move beyond having to prove that our degrees are good value because they lead to good careers? Can we work together with students to consider how to live ‘good lives’ through education?’

On the 13th and 14th of April, I attended my first ever University English  Annual General Meeting & Heads of English networking event at the University of Lancaster. The two-day meeting had everything: innovative practices in learning, teaching and assessment of English at University level, discussion of hiring and promotion practices in the sector, surviving your first year as Head of Department, recent A Level reforms, and of course TEF and REF 2021.

lancaster

I found the panel on Employability really interesting, as it showcased some exciting and innovative ways of connecting students with the wider world.

Dr Fiona Douglas (Leeds) talked about the great (but also tricky to organise) module on Heritage & Dialect that takes students outside the classroom and into local museums and blends teaching, research and public engagement.

Dr Clare Egan (Lancaster) emphasised the importance of treating degrees not as tools to get a job but as central to developing skills for everything we are doing. She showed the importance of problem-solving learning, moving from ‘careers talks’ to ‘career-focused problem solving’, helping students develop critical reflection and self awareness, and discussed modules that fully integrate work in the field: local schools, arts organisations etc.

Yvonne  Battle-Felton, co-founder of  Stories at The Storey (true story open mic night) and North West Lit Salon and Creative Writing PhD spoke about the PhD creative writing student as entrepreneur.  

unchained_05
Middlesex and Haringey Sixth Form College students shortlisting submissions for ‘Haringey Unchained’ magazine

We are already incorporating many of these ideas in the BA English at Middlesex. To name just a few examples:

  • First-year modules, such as Global Englishes, include problem-solving based learning. Students have to work in groups to design and carry out an experiment testing a hypothesis. Through their empirical projects, they develop high level research skills but, perhaps more crucially, really valuable interpersonal, negotiation, leadership and teamworking skills.
  • Our students develop employability skills by mentoring local 6th form college students in producing a literary magazine, Haringey Unchained.
  • Also, from 2018-19 we will extend students’ opportunities to volunteer at local schools, act as ambassadors for English and make a positive impact to their communities through the two third-year modules ‘Work Placement’ and ‘Teaching Englishes’.
  • Students get to work with acclaimed writers and practitioners of a range of genres. These include their own tutors but also guest speakers. For example this year, second year BA English students invited and interviewed Ian McGuire, author of the celebrated novel and soon-to-be BBC series The North Water.
  • From 2018, BA English students will be involved in the organisation of the 2019 North London Story Festival.

Dialect and Heritage – project to update the historic ‘Survey of English Dialects’ (SED)

We talked in class about the ‘Survey of English Dialects’ (SED). There are some exciting news about a new dialect project to update this most comprehensive survey of dialects in England and open its records to the public. The project has just received a £798,000 National Lottery to continue the work of the Survey of English Dialects, under the direction of Dr Fiona Douglas, University of Leeds.

This story has been picked up by a number of newspapers in the past few days (thank you to Dr Maggie Scott for pointing it out) including:

Happy reading!

 

Rhyme and Reason: “creative criticism” and thinking in verse

The Language and Communication Research cluster is pleased to welcome you to the first event of our 2017-18 series: a talk and poetry reading by poet, philosopher and literary critic Christopher Norris.

When? Wednesday 18 October 2017, 16.00 – 17.30

Where? Room C223, College building, Middlesex University, Hendon campus

This talk will take the form of a poetry-reading with introductory remarks and a running commentary. The latter will invite reflection on the varied possibilities of thinking creatively in and through verse, especially formal (i.e., rhyming and metrical) verse. It will focus on the kinds of intellectual stimulus offered by such formal constraints, and the way that exigencies of structure can liberate the mind from routine or predictable patterns of thought.

The philosophical verse-essay has suffered an eclipse since its high-point in the English eighteenth-century, along with the very idea of poetry as a discursive or rationally-oriented discourse-genre. That idea has been displaced by the Romantic and Modernist emphasis on metaphor and symbol as supra-rational (hence ‘properly’ poetic) modes of imaginative thought. Christopher’s poetry takes a sharply opposed view of the prospects for at least one perfectly viable and, he would argue, not in the least anachronistic kind of verse-practice.

Brief bio:

chris-norrisChristopher Norris is Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at Cardiff University. He is the author of more than thirty books on topics in philosophy, literary theory, music, and intellectual history. These include, most recently, Badiou’s Being and Event: a reader’s guide (Continuum) and Philosophy Outside-In (Edinburgh U.P.). More recently he has been writing philosophical poetry with a main focus on the extended verse-essay as a mode of creative criticism.

Three collections have appeared so far: The Cardinal’s Dog (2014), For the Tempus-Fugitives (2017), and The Winnowing Fan (also 2017). Of the latter Terry Eagleton wrote: ‘A major literary event . . . . Christopher Norris has reinvented the poetry of ideas for our time in this enthralling collection of unique, elegant, hugely ambitious works. It’s certainly the most fascinating collection of poems I’ve read for many a year.’

The Language and Communication Research Seminars are free and open to all staff, students and guests. For any questions or if you would like to lead a session, contact Anna Charalambidou.