Looking towards the Cutlery Drawer

I experienced the Making the Textual Visual workshop at De Montford University on the 4th July as a wonderful sharing of ideas and coming together of different disciplines.


my butterfly name tag

Julia and Kaye not only had put together some lovely bright green bags for us, but also collected a lot of interesting and stimulating materials for collaging and to begin with making name badges. I found a lovely image of an embroidered butterfly, which not only reminded me of the Butterfly Challenge analogy I use with my students, but also of the idea of the quilt that I want to properly tackle this summer, so obviously I had to use that as my name badge!


Julia and Kaye then started the day – and it was a very full house, I understand there was a very long waiting list of people who didn’t get in – talking about new ways of seeing and how they engage their students in contextual research as well as library skills. I particularly loved the new approach to re-framing, based on Pat Francis’ contextual circles idea this idea uses an image, like a postcard, in the middle of a poster (flipchart paper) and then gets students to work outwards filling ‘frames’ with answers to the W questions – what is is? who made it? where was it made? how was it made? etc. until they come to the all important why? and get to design a frame that surrounds their investigation. Julia described the success they have had with using this to get students from the descriptive to the analytical. Very inspirational indeed.

Lisa Clughen then talked about writing as a social act – how important the conversations are, within your writing, about your writing, because really they are conversations about your thinking! She also gave us some examples of how she uses visuals to illustrate writing ‘problems’ to her students. My favourite of these was using the image of a cutlery drawer to get students to think about structure – a cutlery drawer is at its most effective when there are clear spaces designated for the knives, forks and spoons, just like as writing makes the most sense when the ideas that are linked are presented together and not in a jumble. I love this really simple idea of visualising structure… especially because most if not all students will be familiar with the concept of a cuterly drawer and also the annoying thing that sometimes happens if utensils are added that are an odd shape – haven’t we all needed to wriggle the potato masher so that we could open the drawer again? Well, in a way a writing problem can be just like that, and sometimes it just needs a little bit attention (the wriggle) to get it to fit the overall structure, so that we can close the drawer smoothly again!


our group’s visualisation of the different levels of critical thinking in Jenny’s exercises

Jenny Moon then introduced one of her exercises to deepen critical thinking. We were transfered to a mountain walk through reading different forms of report about an incident, and had fun in group discussions figuring out how those reports differed, again reflecting on the descriptive to the analytical. Our table also started talking about mountains as a metaphor/analogy as a whole, and we ended up discussing Wainwright’s graphic descriptions of his walks, which seemed inevitable, but I wonder whether this happened at one of the other tables…

My own session was a brief talk about my use of post-its to organise reflection as a patchwork (as discussed on this blog under the ‘quilt’ tag). When agreeing to do this session I had hoped that this project would be much further along and that I could have brought a finished piece, but maybe the nature of it being in progress actually helped bring across the point… and a personal development mapping like this is, of course, never really finished. I was very aware that I hadn’t really looked at it for quite some time, and that it urgently needs updating before I continue working on it. However, it was nice to see how many of my dark green pieces, which I use to denote future plans, will need to be changed in colour, because I have achieved or at least further developed them! I got some great feedback and hope that I have inspired some of the attendees to start their own post-it patchwork as a tool for their personal reflection, maybe towards the HEA fellowship application. (And if you are one of these people, this blog wants to hear from you!) I will also try to write this up soon!

Through clever planning we then still had some time to do some making! So the tables made some posters using the strategies learned – and then shared what they thought had been most memorable. Here the collaging/reflective note-taking was mentioned a number of times and the (re)frames made a number of appearances, too.

Overall a very memorable and enjoyable day. Kaye and Julia have been talking about having more events, to which I can only say: yes, please!


help! this is my cutlery drawer at the moment… not much structure at all!

P.S. on a slightly worrying note I have taken a new look at my own cutlery drawer. On my list of things to do since I moved into my new flat (almost four years ago) was making a cutlery tidy out of old tea towels. Suffice to say this hasn’t happened yet… is this rather unstructured way of keeping my cutlery indicative of the chaos my research/life feels in at the moment?


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