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

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