Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Between Schools and Universities

Before last August’s workshop, I’d always taken ‘schools outreach’ to mean what happens when academics worked with school pupils. In the past I’ve spoken about the value of an English degree at university open days, led taster sessions on Derek Walcott’s Omeros for Year 11s at an access event, and taught short courses with talented pupils in Hounslow – these activities were what I thought of as outreach.

Adrian Barlow speaking at the workshop
The workshop taught me that outreach activities don’t necessarily need to involve students directly: there can just as much value in having academics and teachers help each other out. Adrian Barlow, President of the English Association, reminded us that students, teachers and academics all belong to the same ‘community of English’ (see from 42:40 in his presentation), and asked us to think about what teachers want from academics, and what academics might do for teachers.

Several participants at the workshop mentioned ways that greater engagement between schools and universities would be valuable. Nicola Thomas, a PhD student at Nottingham, spoke about how much people in her situation would appreciate teaching advice from trained professionals when leading their first seminars and marking their first undergraduate essays. I know from experience how handy such advice can be, as my own university teaching is still informed by the basic grounding in Bloom's Taxonomy that I once received courtesy of The Brilliant Club.

More co-operation would help to narrow the gap between A-Level and University English that Gary Snapper spoke about. And Nicolas Cole’s presentation sparked a debate about whether some residential courses at Oxford would offer greater benefit over time if they were organized for teachers rather than their students.

I also had conversations with teachers who weren’t able to spend as much time as they wanted to find good resources to stretch their strongest students and so help them achieve the grades they deserved. What these teachers required – knowledge of the latest research on texts, access to new scholarship, and the time to sift through material to locate and summarize key extracts from criticism – is exactly what most postgraduates and early career researchers can offer.

Channels for communication between teachers and academics already exist, such as the Oxford Early Career Academic Outreach Network (also represented at the workshop) and the Prince's Teaching Institute. As a result of the workshop I’ve created a new path for cooperation in connection to the separate BARSEA-funded initiative that I’m running, the Early Modern Boundaries Project.

This project offers a new platform for early modernists to discuss research queries among targeted groups of other researchers. It works like a customizable mailing list that allows academics to start discussions among other members who have relevant interests. To learn more, see: www.earlymodernboundaries.com

Academics with interests in the literature, history or culture of the early modern period (15th to 18th centuries) are invited to join the network, and to tick the box ‘English Outreach’ when completing the registration form if interested in collaborating with English teachers: 

Teachers are warmly invited to ask our academic volunteers for advice and resources. You might ask us to provide a short extract from a recent article on Othello and race, along with a brief summary and questions arising from it; or to photocopy some primary sources for teaching contexts for Renaissance love poetry; to suggest a female author to read alongside Oliver Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer; or to request a school visit for someone to talk about William Blake’s poetry. We encourage any teacher (whether or not present in August) to email requests to earlymodernboundaries@gmail.com or ask via our Twitter account @emboundaries.We’ll then put your question to our early modern ‘English Outreach’ community, share the responses we receive and/or put you in touch directly with an academic.

This coming together of the two BARSEA projects is intended to pursue the agenda that ‘Academics in the Classroom’ established by generating new opportunities for teachers and academics to share their skills. Do get involved – we’d love to hear from you.

Peter Auger
Queen Mary University of London

Ashby School Visit De Montfort University

Following this summer's 'Academics in the Classroom' conference, two delegates - Tom Mummery and Alice Wood - collaborated on an English outreach project that saw fifteen Year 13 students from Ashby School in Leicestershire visit De Montfort University this month for an enrichment day. Alice and her colleagues at De Montfort organised a seminar on corpus linguistics and a lecture on the representation of women in magazines from the 1920s, 30s, and 40s. The students then had the chance to visit the university's archives to examine a collection of women's magazines from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

You can read more about the collaboration on the Ashby School website.

Monday, 21 November 2016

2017 Christopher Tower Poetry Competition

The 17th Christopher Tower Poetry Competition, the UK’s most valuable prize for young poets, has opened for entries, and this year students between 16-18 years of age are challenged to write a poem on the theme of ‘Stone’.  In the 16 years of Tower Poetry's competitions we've received almost 11,000 entries from almost 2,250 schools. Students from Bishop Challoner Catholic College (who have been longlisted) have entered most often, followed by the Sixth Form College, Colchester (with a winner in 2008) and thirdly Putney High School (with a winner in 2001). Over 200 different schools have been longlisted - some more than once.

Sarah Howe (Photo: Hayley Madden)
Established in 2000, the Tower Prizes are recognised as among the most prestigious literary awards for this age group. The first prize is £3,000, with £1,000 and £500 going to the second and third prize-winners. In addition to individual prizes, the students’ schools and colleges also receive cash prizes of £150 and the three prizewinners are eligible for a place on the Tower Poetry Summer School. Three or four commended entries will receive £250 each. The names and schools of those longlisted will also be published on the Tower Poetry website. Entry forms are downloadable from the website and entry can be made online (or by post).

The entries will be judged this year by poets Sarah Howe and Vahni Capildeo. The 2017 competition will build on the success of earlier competitions.  Many of our growing 'alumni' of 100 winners (2001-2016) and almost 800 longlisted, as well as 68 Summer School students, are gaining further acclaim in other competitions or within the publishing / writing world. 

Vahni Capildeo (Photo:Georgia Popplewell)
The competition is open to all 16-18 year-olds who are in full or part time education in the UK, and students and schools can find out more information about the prizes and associated future events at www.towerpoetry.org.uk/prize, or email info@towerpoetry.org.uk or call 01865 286591. 

Follow us on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/pages/Tower-Poetry/101808106554586?ref=hl or @TowerPoetry on Twitter or YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/christophertower1. The closing date for entries is Friday 17 February, 2017. The winners will be announced on Wednesday 19 April 2017.

Kathryn Grant
Christopher Tower Poetry Administrator

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

A Shared Community: The English & Media Centre

The English & Media Centre (EMC) has, for many years, provided Continuing Professional Development, resources and magazines to meet the needs of English and Media teachers and students in secondary education, both in the UK and internationally. We have developed a strong reputation for our work at A Level (and equivalent qualifications like IB), in part as a result of publishing a quarterly magazine for A Level English Literature, Language and Lang/Lit students that reaches a large number of schools and colleges nationwide. emagazine is directed at students, sits on the shelves of classrooms and is displayed in libraries, but it also has its own website, with thousands of archived, searchable articles and other items, such as interactive activities and video clips.

These are the simple facts about us and about emagazine, but what lies beneath them is a much richer and more interesting story about the ways in which we have managed to make connections with colleagues in universities, establish mutually beneficial relationships and allow a two-way process of academics being able to discover more about the English subjects at A Level and students and teachers being able to find out more about English in the academy. 

The pages of the magazine are filled with articles by A Level students, teachers, academics and some undergraduates who used to read the magazine and have wished to maintain contact by continuing to write for us. In any one issue, this rich mix of writing offers a flavour of the kinds of practices, texts and topics under discussion in our subject, across the school and university sectors.  

When university colleagues write for us, we ask that they maintain a high degree of intellectual rigour and challenge in the content of what they write – but we strip away some of the conventions of university-level writing, such as footnoting and extended bibliographies, and suggest a style that puts a premium on clarity of expression, directness and accessibility and avoids acadamese. This often results in stunningly good writing – vibrant prose, a conversational voice, difficult ideas that are clear as a pool of still water. The writers themselves often comment on how refreshing it has been to be able to write in this way and that writing for a young adult audience allows them to adopt a different kind of voice and stance.

I know that students appreciate these contributions enormously and draw on them as models for their own writing. Teachers also use the magazine as a way of keeping up-to-date with current research, new ideas about the subject and as a source of secondary critical material to share with their students.

emagclips is an online library of film clips of writers, critics and academics talking in short 3-5 minute chunks about literary or linguistic topics. It includes poets like Owen Sheers and Jonathan Edwards and academics such as John Mullan, David Punter, Margaret Reynolds and Elena Semino. Some of these contributors have become hugely popular among students. This is a way of sharing some of the expertise and brilliance of university colleagues with a large number of students in schools – not just those who are privileged enough to have a visit at their school, or attend a conference, or go to a lecture at a university Open Day.

One spin-off from all of this has been that we now run three annual emagazine conferences for the English subjects with around eight hundred students attending each. Our contacts via the magazine have allowed us to work closely with the academics who speak, to make sure that the event is really successful and meets the needs of A Level students. This, I believe, is an illuminating experience for the people who come and present, as well as for the students and teachers in the audience.

Perhaps the most interesting side-effect of our work on the magazine has been the way in which as editors and publishers, it has brought us into close partnerships with colleagues in particular universities and departments. We have been able to advise on outreach projects, broker relationships and have ourselves had very fruitful collaborations with individuals over developmental work, or workshops on transition and so on. Lecturers have come to do sessions on our teacher CPD days for A Level and we have provided our own expertise over the years, to the English Subject Centre, when it existed, and more recently at University English events. We have been able to disseminate information about recent research and new publications to our extensive network of school teachers, and are looking forward to collaborations at two panels at the English Shared Futures conference, exploring reading and writing across the school/university divide.

Recently we were approached by a current undergraduate at Cambridge to ask if we’d like him to write something about his experience of emagazine when he was doing his A Levels. He’d been both an avid reader of it and had written a superb piece for us on ‘The Great Gatsby and the Pastoral’. I remembered him, and the article, well. We’d had some interesting emails to and fro, editing and tightening up the piece. When I read the new piece he sent us, I was thrilled by what he had to say. It was exactly what we hoped for from the magazine – a sense that he was entering a discipline and discovering about its practices in a way that has stood him in good stead ever since. His piece sums up why opportunities for these kinds of engagements across the phases are so important; they establish a continuity of practice from school through to university and make us part of a shared endeavour and shared community.

Barbara Bleiman
Education Consultant at EMC and Co-editor of emagazine

Article by Ed Limb

emagazine website