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Redrawing the Textbook

I’m currently writing an article. Literally while I am typing these words I should be writing on my article, but I am getting distracted by something I haven’t tried before when it comes to structuring the work, and I can’t wait to share it with the readers of this blog. (Tangential Procrastination in full swing!)

The article is sort of last minute, but it is based on research that I have done a few months ago, and some of it is based on research I have done a few years ago. (Parts of it probably go back to my PhD thesis, so make that a bit more than a decade… scary.)

I am clearly in the writing up stage of this, I have a draft to work on, but I haven’t quite figured out the structure and order of the points I want to make. I have written my key words on post-it notes and gotten an overview that way. I have highlighted the key words in my text, which is very helpful when moving paragraphs around. Nothing new so far, surely storyboarding academic work in this way is common practice by now.

But now I have done something that I have never done before… I not only added section titles, but also little descriptions. Erich Kästner used to do this in his books, many of whom I grew up with. Chapters would start with a tiny little summary of what would happen in this chapter. I don’t think there were any spoilers, but it would set up the scene and add a bit of intrigue as what was to come. It was also very handy when re-reading the book and looking for your favourite bits. I didn’t quite go as far as paragraphs, but short, descriptive subtitles. And you know what? It seems to make the writing process much easier. By just reading these subtitles (which I put in bold and italics to make them easier to find) I can check whether I am still using the order planned out with my overview, or whether I need a reshuffle to make this flow as a story (I did). A small addition to my writing process, but incredibly useful – and it might just be a way to support my students with writing the dreaded argument/main body of the text section in their essays and reports!

Kästner kept his as part of his novels, I’m going to delete mine from the article, but just so that they won’t be lost forever, here they are:

  • Section One, in which the problematic of the textbook genre is introduced
  • Section Two, which contains musings on different types of knowledge and different types of teaching that go with them, introducing a focus on study skills
  • Section Three, in which we compare academic and creative practice – and come across hidden practices that need to be made visible
  • Section Four, in which I explain why the pedagogical model needed should use the workbook as delivery method.
  • Section Five, in which I explain analogies as a way of making hidden academic practice visible, and why this called for a picture book, but not a narrative.
  • Section Six, in which I discuss some design choices of Writing Essays by Pictures.
  • Section Seven, in which I sum up and highlight the need for learning resources to be designed according to pedagogical principles, not traditional templates.

and you can read the full, finished article here.

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Come and join us on November 8th 2016 at Middleport Pottery in Longport (near Stoke-on-Trent) to find out about using genre as pedagogcial resource. The first in a series of Writing-PAD events this academic year focusing on genre(s), this day introduces a theoretical framework for exploring genres and their affordances, including a recent example of how this can work as pedagogical practice. Via a tour of this very special venue, we will not only explore a valued English Heritage site, but also use this as a starting point for playing with the idea of genre and regenring in our own teaching practices. The day will also include the launch of the recently published book Writing Essays by Pictures by Alke Groppel-Wegener.

Cost £145 : Includes the whole day, with refreshments on arrival and in the afternoon, a delicious buffet lunch, a special tour of the venue and your own copy of Writing Essays by Pictures.

Book via Eventbrite: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/thinking-through-genre-exploring-genre-as-pedagogical-resource-tickets-28084047141?aff=eac2

(Draft) Programme:

10-10.30 Registration and Refreshments

  • Let’s start the day as we mean to continue by making our own name-tags – regenring a tiny part of conference/symposium tradition into something more expressive.

10.30-11 Welcome

11-12  Genre as Pedagogical Resource by Dr Fiona English

  • Fiona introduces a theory that could frame genre as pedagogical resource, updating thoughts from her book Student Writing and Genre.

12-12.30 Writing Essays by Pictures by Dr Alke Groppel-Wegener

  • Alke shares the story of the development of her recently published book Writing Essays by Pictures, an example of regenring the traditional study skills textbook into a picture/work-book.

12.30 – 1 Discussion

1-2      Lunch

2-3.30 The Pottery and beyond

  • Explore Middleport Pottery via a special tour and then use this experience to start thinking about ways of genring teaching practices.

3.30 – 4.15 Linking Theory and Practice

  • Fiona and Alke start us off using the Writing Essays by Picture books as an example to explore gains and losses of this particular regenring process to demonstrate an example of using the theoretical framework established at the beginning of the day. We will then move into the discussion of the outcomes of your genring activities.

4.15 – 4.45 Discussion of the day

4.45    End

The Speakers

Dr Fiona English is Honorary Senior Research Associate at UCL Institute of Education with a background in linguistics and language and literacies in education. Much of her research has been concerned with student writing and academic literacies, with her book Student Writing and Genre using a social semiotic perspective to explore the relationship between genre and the production of academic knowledge. More recently she has published Why do Linguistics?: Reflective Linguistics and the Study of Language with Tim Marr.

Dr Alke Groppel-Wegener is Associate Professor of Creative Academic Practice at Staffordshire University and a National Teaching Fellow. Having trained as a theatre designer but ending up teaching study skills, she became frustrated with the traditional ways of teaching academic practice, which has led her to develop her own approach being inspired by the creative processes of art and design and collated her strategies as Writing Essays by Pictures: A Workbook for students. She blogs at www.tactileacademia.com.

The Venue

Middleport Pottery is home to Burleigh Ware, which is still made on site using traditional craftsmanship. (And there is a shop where you can get your own Burleigh Ware, too). It was restored with the help of the Princes Regeneration Trust, has become a top visitor attraction and the home of The Great Pottery Throwdown.

It is a short walk from Longport Train Station, a 5 minute train ride from Stoke-on-Trent, and we would encourage participants to use public transport.

Please note that this is an old site and some of the areas are cobbled and might present a problem for people with mobility issues. It is advised that you wear sturdy shoes (no high heels) for the tour, and that you let the organiser know of mobility issues in advance, so that she can discuss your needs.

The Series

This exploratory workshop is the first in a series that will stretch through the academic year and culminate in a special issue of the Journal of Writing in Creative Practice.

Through discussion within the Writing PAD community, we know that very often lecturers, and particularly practitioner/teachers, are doing a lot of interesting things in their teaching, but they seem to lack the confidence to share this work, specifically within the academic conventions of publication beyond a description of what they are doing.

To address this, we have decided to pick the focus of Genre, Genring and Regenring for this academic year, and are organising a series of events that will provide support for this issue and culminate in one (or possibly two) special issues of the Journal of Writing in Creative Practice, guest edited by Fiona English and Alke Groppel-Wegener.

The other events in planning are:

  • a first follow-up in February 2017 which explores the traditions and conventions of academic writing. There will be speakers in the morning, which are still to be confirmed, but we are talking to Julia Molinari, Lisa Clughen and Julia Lockheart, who will explore academic writing as a genre – and discuss the changes it is going through. The afternoon will be given over to a sharing session/exhibition where delegates have the opportunity to show off examples of their genre-ing and regenring practice, either as artefacts or in a poster format. The will allow the opportunity for people to share best practice, but also to get feedback and ideas for potential research designs in order to explore their practice more and on a more theoretical level. This event will probably be held at De Montford University in Leicester.
  • A second follow-up in the form of an academic conference, either at Easter time or early May 2017. Here people can share their practice in an academic format, and those presentations could use the feedback from the conference to inform papers for the Special Journal edition. This might be hosted at Nottingham Trent University or Staffordshire University.
  • If there is interest, there are plans for a writing retreat to facilitate the writing of the papers, possibly at Nottingham Trent University.

We are currently investigating funding to keep costs down, but it might be the case that we need to break even on this. You will not have to attend all these events to be considered for the special issue, but as we are trying to build up a mutually supporting network, it would be nice if you could come and join us at as many as possible.

Dear all,

I’m glad to announce that I have finished the workbook for students I have been talking about for years and that after the ‘test’ copies produced as part of last year’s Kickstarter campaign, an extended version of  “Writing Essays by Pictures: A Workbook” (ISBN 9780957665224) is now in print… just in time for all those lovely new first years arriving at Uni!

This is very much a development of the work I have been doing for the last few years, much of it chronicled on this blog, and it uses visual analogies to lead students through the process of writing essays at University. Find out more about its origins on the dedicated page here. Mainly designed for students to work through on their own, it could also be used in led workshops and is full of creative and visual ideas for teaching information and academic skills. It is priced at a level that hopefully many students will be able to afford to buy themselves, and I hope that some of you might add it to your reading lists to help students transition to writing at undergraduate level.

Available from all normal book suppliers from this week, list price £15, currently £12.99 on Amazon (http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/0957665229) or just £10 direct from the publisher (http://innovativelibraries.org.uk/press/thebooks/).

I am currently working with both the Writing PAD network and my fabulous publisher to organise some workshops for staff who want some more ideas how to use the material within in their teaching, which I will of course announce here once we have settled on dates.
Best wishes,

Alke

As you will know if you are following this blog, last year I put together my own version of a guide to writing research essays (see Writing by Pictures), which I am currently revising for a proper release. Caught up in the excitement of this project, I don’t think I have ever really talked about WHY I thought it was important to do so. Yes, I wanted to collect the analogies and activities I do with my students in one place, but in a way this came out of a much larger context, which I am trying to tackle at the moment. I recently presented my initial thoughts at the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association conference as well as the Writing PAD East Midlands Forum and thought I would sketch it out here, too, in case you are interested, but couldn’t make it to either of these meet-ups.

In my work my main challenge is to engage art and design students with academic research and writing. We are using a Writing in the Disciplines Approach, so these students are not doing something like Composition 101 with other subjects, as they might be doing as part of a liberal arts college in the US, for example, but rather they are in the cohorts that they spend most of their time with, which are very subject focused. I have some sessions with them in their first year (most of them in the first term), and I believe I give them the skills to research and write a pretty decent basic essay. Most of these students, however, I don’t see again after these encounters – other colleagues are taking over their contextual studies education. One class, however, I do see again in the second and also in their third (and final) year, and I noticed that they urgently need a refresher in all these skills. Of course the main issue here might be that they don’t have to write enough research papers to internalise these skills as part of an academic practice, but that is probably a different discussion (and also something that ultimately I probably won’t be able to change…). Anyway, so I was wondering whether there is an appropriate resource out there to teach or remind them of how to write an essay. And there are some very good books on this, but I could only find TEXTbooks, in the sense that they are predominantly made up of text. Occasionally you’ll find the odd diagram or cartoon, but most of them are very much text based.

This got me thinking about the textbook as a genre, and I came up with three pillars upon which the development of the textbooks that we know, use and, yes, also write are based on:

  • An assumption that knowledge can (and needs to be) expressed in words (both spoken or written, but really better written) in order to be counted as ‘proper’ academic knowledge.
  • The transmission model of education, which assumes that there is fixed knowledge that needs to be transmitted to the students, filling them up with it.
  • And, maybe slightly overlooked in academic discussions on learning strategies and resources, the simple fact that when the textbook genre developed, printing technology had become very good at printing words (removable type and all that), but until fairly recently was very expensive when it came to reproducing quality images in large numbers.

Since this happened, however, a lot of development has taken place that has challenged all this. I would argue that while writing is still seen as a very good way to share insight, it is not considered the only way to develop your thinking. There has, for example, been a noted rise in the popularity of taking notes in non-written ways, which has come to the fore recently particularly through very popular publications in the business/management sector. Dan Roam argues in his Back of the Napkin series (my favourite is Blah Blah Blah, 2011) that words don’t work in some contexts, that drawing doesn’t mean you are ‘dumb’ but rather that we need ‘vivid‘ thinking, the visual and verbal working interdependently (Roam, 2011). Sunni Brown makes very similar points in her book The Doodle Revolution (2014), where she questions the usefulness of copiously written notes, that don’t really question the noted or put it into a personal context. Mike Rohde has developed the same problem into ‘sketchnoting’, which he states developed out of frustration with purely written notes (2013). Now, none of these people write for an academic context, but the success of their publications makes clear that the way to develop your thinking (which I would argue is actually quite crucial in an academic context) goes beyond the written word. While these books aren’t academic textbooks, they challenge the ‘three pillars of the textbook genre’, however, they are still pretty close to the familiar format of lots of text.

So I was wondering, are there any examples out there that go beyond this and that are aimed at an academic audience?

Design Fundamentals by Gonnella, et al

Design Fundamentals

Rose Gonnella, Christopher J Navetta and (illustrator) Max Friedman have put together a series of books on Design Fundamentals (2013, 2014, 2015), and I would say that the contents of these books are very close to textbooks, but the presentation is very colourful and visual. The idea behind these books is that these are the notes your friend might give you if you have missed class. They include summaries and exercises of sessions, seemingly taped in, as well as the most important facts of the subject matter at hand.

The Good, the Bad and the Data

The Good, the Bad and the Data

The Good, the Bad and the Data (2013) is the second of Sally Campbell Galman’s Shane the Lone Ethnographer’s Guides. These are set out like comic books, with very simple black and white line drawings. They use the narrative device of Shane, the heroine, becoming the clueless student, asking all the questions we might ask about ethnography, and allowing us to go on a journey of learning with her.

Syllabus

Syllabus

Syllabus, Notes from an Accidental Professor (2014), by Linda Barry also has traces of a comic book in it, but then it is about a class for comic book students written and drawn by a comic book artist. This book has a very eclectic feel, simulating a yellow paper composition book popular in the US, and consisting of seemingly collaged together notes Barry made throughout her first few years of teaching a new course.

Unflattening

Unflattening

Unflattening (2015) is Nick Sousanis’ PhD thesis that was conceived in form of a graphic novel. It is a fascinating document that is a commentary on current educational practices, using the format of the graphic novel to make some very complex points in an incredibly elegant way.

While they are very different, and all of them have advantages and disadvantages, I think these four examples demonstrate that it is possible to redraw the textbook. While they all include linguistic knowledge, this is complemented – not just illustrated – by images more akin to a symbiosis. They are more inclusive in that they cast the reader in a role that makes you work for it – these are texts that need to be actively read in order to make sense of them, thus transcending the transmission model of education. They also use the current possibilities in printing, until quite recently none of them would have been able to be produced to this quality for a mass market.

A similar treatment might not be suitable for every subject discipline, but these examples show a way to open up the genre of the academic textbook and encourage us to redraw its rigid templates in order to allow our students to learn more effectively.

Do you know of any examples that should be included here?