I’m very pleased to report that my latest Kickstarter Project was fully funded! Thank you to everybody who backed it!
I’m very pleased to report that my latest Kickstarter Project was fully funded! Thank you to everybody who backed it!
After publishing the Writing Essays by Pictures book, I have been chatting to people about how to use this approach to teach. If you are one of those people interested in integrating some of the activities and strategies, check out this new workshop I will run the morning of 5th May in Manchester, which will introduce the Board Game Blueprint, an analogy I’ve been playing around with for the last few months – and to make it even better you have the option to sign up for the afternoon making educational games with fellow National Teaching Fellow Andrew Walsh, too!
Picture This! Using the ‘Writing Essays by Pictures’ approach to teaching academic practice
Writing Essays by Pictures is a workbook for students who need help with researching and writing their first evidence based research essay for university. It explains academic practice that often remains hidden to students through everyday analogies and offers activities that allow students to explore the research and writing process in the step-by-step way of painting by numbers.
While the book was originally conceived as a workbook for students, it can also act as a resource for teachers, which will be further explored in this workshop with Dr Alke Groppel-Wegener, the author. Using a new activity, the Board Game Blueprint, designed to help students visualise the syllabus of a module, we will explore how to use the ‘Writing Essays by Pictures’ approach in day-to-day teaching, whether as a dedicated module or stand-alone support sessions.
All attendees will receive a copy of Writing Essays by Pictures (list price £15).
Today was the Thinking Through Genre workshop where people interested in using genre as a pedagogical resource (in all sorts of different disciplines). Before this gets buried on my to-do-list, I’ll write it up now (though I’m a bit tired, so forgive me if not everything makes sense…)
We started the day with making our own name tags and reflecting on the purposes of a name tag – it is a nice icebreaking activity that changes the energy of the ‘registration’ period at (academic) events, allowing informal networking, getting delegates to start playing (thus telling their brains that they might need to switch gear from normal day-to-day stuff) as well as producing something fun that might even show the personality of the wearer.
And then I continued to question and play with conference/workshop conventions by handing out delegate packs not contained by the standard cloth bag (possibly with some university branding), but instead specially designed furoshiki. Let me explain… furoshiki are usually square pieces of cloth that in Japanese tradition are used to wrap things. There are different ways to tie them in order to contain differently shaped objects (for example there is a really neat way to tie up a bottle). When I started thinking about organising an event based around the idea of genre and regenring, I thought that a furoshiki would be such a fabulous artefact to embody the idea of regenring: it can be a bag or sorts, but you can also use it as a scarf, a headband or even tea towel (I guess that depends on what material it is made out of). You can also use it as a kind of poster (I’ve always really liked the idea of printing academic posters on fabric, as this makes them so much easier to transport to conferences). But, as soon as you use it in one function, it usually loses the special aspects of the others. So if you tie it to use as a bag, you are not able to see the full design of the poster, but if you see the full design, you can’t tie it up.
So a few weeks back I set out to design a furoshiki to give to our delegates. And in order to put something meaningful on them, I raided the writings of Fiona English, our main speaker of the day, trying to see whether I could visualise her theoretical framework of regenring in a square, scarf-like way. Luckily she has a convenient table summarising the framework, where she talks about two different orientations – the material and the social – each with two different main aspects (thematic/semiotic and contextual/discursive). This was the basis for my design, and on this I also included some of the particular things to look out for as part of the analysis. I framed this with my take on genre – capital Gs in different fonts represent the idea of genre – the same content presented in different forms. The centre of the design has a ‘huddle’ of these Gs, representing the potential of the choice of form. The outside of the design has a band of these different Gs going around it, but this time one by one. In the corners, two different Gs intersect and on two corners the overlap is highlighted with the use of a colour, showing the content that would be covered in both these genres; the other two corners highlight their differences – what part of the content would be gained when deciding on one genre, and lost when deciding on the other. Gains and Losses are important when it comes to discussing genre, so I wanted to include that. (And this might all make more sense when you are familiar with Fiona’s work on regenring.)
I have to admit that I was a bit nervous if people would understand what I was trying to say with this, but people really liked them, so this was a great start to the day and a good way to introduce Fiona’s session on Practice, Knowledge-Making and Writing. She started out by defining genre in slightly more detail than I had done at the very start. My favourite bit of her definition was that “Genre is a naming concept which identifies the shape or framing of a text”. I think the term ‘naming concept’ is really helpful, and will definitely use this in future when I get blank stares when trying to explain what I mean by ‘genre’. She also said that “we choose genres according to the kinds of meanings and knowledge that we want to produce”, which again I think is a really clear way of getting to the heart of the matter. And when it comes to analysing genre (and possibly also genre choices we make), the most important questions we need to ask are “who is writing and WHY?” and “Who is reading and WHY?” Fiona discussed four different examples, covering appropriateness of genre, genre and the everyday, genre and knowledge (and how regenring – transforming one genre into another – can be used to produce more and different knowledge), as well as genre and choice. There was a lively discussion happening (we weren’t a big group, so we could be really interactive), and my personal favourite was the discussion of how (academic) conventions can be used to disguise nonsense, something that often happens in work of students who are not familiar enough with a particular academic genre and are trying to mimic it.
For lunch and our after lunch activity our venue became important: we were meeting at Middleport Pottery in Longport, so I had ordered Staffordshire Oatcakes for lunch – which were a big hit with the delegates – and then I had arranged for a short factory tour. (No point in coming to such a fabulous venue and then ignoring what is special about it, i.e. that it is still a working factory.) Phil, the fabulous volunteer, gave us an overview of the organisation of the buildings, and then showed us the highlights, including particularly the underglaze decoration process which makes Burleighware so special, ending up in the last bottlekiln of the site. And really the tour was part of the programme, because it then gave us the chance to think about different genre removed from texts – ways of communicating content through experiences and different ways of teaching.
We looked at a board game of Middleport Pottery and compared it with the tour – and also speculated on how both of these are different from the experience of working there, discussing gains and losses of genre again.
After this I shared the process of putting together Writing Essays by Pictures (you can find more details here) and reflected on how the starting point for this had been the collision of my work and my hobby of making books that pushed this forward. This was really an example of thinking through genre, as it was the formats of booklets, children’s books and then workbooks that helped me develop the final outcome.
We ended the day with delegates reflecting on how they would take this forward. Looking at the feedback there will be a lot of thinking, but also some application of new knowledge as soon as tomorrow. And as a workshop organiser, what more could you possibly want?
A Special Thank You to Richard Mellor, who took my furoshiki sketch and turned it into a print-ready design!
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:
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.
10-10.30 Registration and Refreshments
11-12 Genre as Pedagogical Resource by Dr Fiona English
12-12.30 Writing Essays by Pictures by Dr Alke Groppel-Wegener
12.30 – 1 Discussion
2-3.30 The Pottery and beyond
3.30 – 4.15 Linking Theory and Practice
4.15 – 4.45 Discussion of the day
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.
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.
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:
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.
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/).
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:
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?
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 (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, 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 (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?
In my teaching, I often talk about how useful it is to make as part of the process of both research and writing (and I know I am not the only one who tries to get students to do this). Students often see this as suggesting they take a detour of sorts, a process that doesn’t let them go to their perceived destination in a straight line (and this is very much linked to Lucy’s recent post on the creative process here). I think it is not taking a detour, but rather not letting them take shortcuts before they are ready for them. In order to take a shortcut, you need to be familiar with the original work, because otherwise you might cut something out of the process that later on will turn out to have been vital.
Unfortunately it is very easy to get used to taking the shortcut, especially if you are short on time and are familiar with the processes. In some situations this is fine, but there are projects where it is really worth taking the long way round. Here’s a recent example from my desk…
I am currently in the process of putting together a workbook on essay writing for students (as regular readers of this blog will know, and new readers can find out about here). It tries to explain academic practice through visual metaphors and also includes little making projects. I had wanted to do this for some time and had a first draft finished one-and-a-half-years ago, but the time wasn’t quite right to finish it until recently when I convinced myself to take the plunge and actually commit to it through a Kickstarter campaign.
And that really worked for me – it took the project idea and gave it some real deadlines, and promising to make something tangible to give to people who had pledged money for it was apparently just the right pressure I needed to make this actually happen. Putting the crowdfunding campaign together was a bit like putting together a research proposal/bid only writing in a way that was accessible to people and adding a video, and I can only recommend it. (I have also been asked to write a guest post on this for the Piirus Research Network, which I will do in due course.)
But what really surprised me was how useful it was to design and make the book itself. When I made the funding campaign live, I thought that I had the content pretty much nailed and that I only needed to do the layouts for it. I should explain that this wasn’t just a writing project for me, but also a design project.
For the project I had tackled before, turning the Fishscale concept into a shareable resource, I had worked with a very talented illustrator and while that was a good working relationship, I found myself frustrated sometimes. And that wasn’t due to his work in any way, shape or form, it was because I felt like I wasn’t making it. It is not that I didn’t appreciate what another person – or in other circumstances a team – can bring to the table. I know that my illustrations wouldn’t have been as good, and there were also a number of things I would simply never have thought of in a million years (the theoretical jellyfish, for example). Plus, I didn’t really have the time to do this project back then, so if it hadn’t been for my illustrator this would never have seen the light of day.
But this new project I wanted to be ‘just mine’. I didn’t realise I felt this strongly about it until one of my colleagues from the Graphic Design department offered to design it for me. I just really wanted this to be my work. And when I thought about why I felt this strongly about it, I realised that I hadn’t really done a substantial project like this in a long time, while I had spent way too much time filling in all sorts of monitoring forms, putting together official documentation and writing research papers. Call me selfish, but I wanted to have some fun!
I also had some very specific ideas of how to design this. I wanted to illustrate it by collaging the patterns that can be found in envelopes from banks, etc. – and there are a lot of different patterns and colours if you start paying attention to these. I didn’t want to do it on the computer, I wanted to put together hardcopy artwork for each of the spreads. I wanted some of the text printed, but some of it to be hand-lettered. And I wanted to have this risographed, which is a particular printing process which means that I would have to do colour separations, too.
Anyway, these are just details you don’t really need to know for this story, what is important is that I didn’t want to take any shortcuts – and I ended up doing the illustration and layouting with the help of scissors and a glue stick, a rotring pen and a lightbox. And if you start working like this, your relationship with your content changes – and that also changes the content (well, it makes you change the content). You start thinking about text and images together – the layout makes you reconsider your text, maybe something needs to be cut so it fits or there is some more text needed somewhere else; the placement of illustrations changes according to the text you have, maybe to fit paragraphs, sometimes illustrations are just not right anymore and new ways of illustrating bits need to be found. Once I had gotten into the process, this became not just a slight revising of the content, a word here and another there, a sketch on this page moved to the next, no, I rewrote sections significantly. My introductory spread (the text of which you can find here), for example, hasn’t kept anything of the draft I started the design process out with – it’s a different text, it’s different artwork – and it uses a different way to explain the whole thing.
The scary thing is that if I hadn’t gone through the process myself, if I had handed my text and sketches of the images off to somebody else, this wouldn’t have happened. The book would have my original introduction in it, maybe slightly rewritten and certainly a bit pruned, but it would have remained the old version – and the new one is just better (even if I say so myself). The process of designing as well as the time I spent physically making the hardcopies of the colour separations changed not just the appearance but also the content, it gave my thoughts an opportunity to develop further, which has made a better workbook in the end. Not taking the shortcut has meant ending up somewhere slightly different than I expected to, somewhere I believe is better, because sometimes it is worth investing the time to take the long way round.
As you might know, I am currently putting together a workbook for students that collects some of the visual analogies I have been using in my teaching. I have been getting some questions about what is meant by ‘visual analogies’ and how that would translate into a book on academic writing as part of my Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to print some copies (and until the 7th May 2015 you can support this by pledging for your very own copy here). So in order to give people a better idea, here is the introduction (I will add a picture of my layout soon):
Here’s the trouble with writing academic essays at degree level: if you haven’t been to university before, you probably haven’t done it before. You will have written all sorts of things:
You might even have written essays, but if you haven’t been to uni before, you probably haven’t been writing the sort of essays that university lecturers are looking for. This might be a problem, because when they say ‘essay’ you hear ‘essay’ – but you are both talking about different things. Because quite a lot of what makes up an academic essay is specifically academic practice – using research to rigorously back up your argument, including evidence to back up your points – and even writing it to a specific blueprint.
To make matters worse, some of this practice is ‘hidden’,- academics do it, but it has become such second nature to them that they forget how to explain that they are doing it (and/or how they are doing it).
An essay might seem like a straight line when you are reading it, but really it paints a picture for the reader, a bit like a connect the dots drawing. The further you read, the more defined it becomes, and once you are finished you can see the whole picture.
Writing an essay is a bit like planning a connect the dots drawing. Only because this is research you don’t make up the image, you first find it within the evidence you consult. That means you first have to identify lots of evidence you could use, because you have to find a lot of possible points. While you are doing that you might go round and round in circles and squiggly lines, there is no real order yet, you are exploring at this stage.
Then you go through a process of ‘curation’ – you figure out what your argument is and what points you need in order to make it. This will mean looking at all the dots you have and getting rid of the ones that don’t fit into your picture.
Now you might see that there are some holes in your argument – you might need to find some more points, by doing more research.
Once you have all the dots identified that you need to show your picture you need to order them. You want your image to slowly emerge – just like you need to build on one point after the other in your essay. For your connect the dots drawing this means replacing the individual dots with numbers. For your essay it means ordering your points and writing it up accordingly.
So you as writer (and really researcher) find the evidence, identify the argument and then present it in a way that it effortlessly appears to the reader.
All these stages that go into this planning process are hidden from the reader. But for the essay to work the writer needs to go through them. This workbook is all about getting you to understand this ‘hidden’ academic practice – in a hands-on way. It contains sections to explore these stages from a number of perspectives, in the form of visual metaphors and analogies which are designed to highlight specific, important aspects of academia. Most sections also include something for you to do. Sometimes that is something you can complete in the book itself, sometimes something to keep inside envelopes inside, and sometimes (particularly towards the end) it is something to include in your next essay draft. And yes, there should be more than one draft! Just like anything else, essay writing is something that needs to be practised. That’s why a lot of things here are for you to try out, little projects to get you working on this regularly, because the more you work on it, the better it will get.
So let’s get started…