Showing posts with label education. Show all posts
Showing posts with label education. Show all posts

Monday, 1 September 2014

Book Challenge



Time to take the Book Challenge. Please post comments and suggestion below, or use Twitter #bookchallenge

  1. Which book is most often stolen from a library?
  2. Is it possible to be poisoned by a book?
  3. How much did it cost to produce the world's most expensive book?
  4. What was Shakespeare's best insult?
  5. Who invented science fiction, or fantasy?
  6. When was the world's first novel written?
  7. What's the funniest moment in literature?
  8. Which book has the best opening line?
  9. What's the longest book ever written?
  10. Who is the world's best selling writer, alive or dead?
  11. Who is the most famous/infamous fictional woman to appear in a story?
  12. When was the first comic strip published?
  13. Who wrote the world's first romance?
  14. When was the world's first recipe book composed?
  15. Who was the world's most prolific author?
  16. Who invented young adult fiction?
  17. Which book has caused the most trouble?
  18. Who is the most liked/hated superhero? 
  19. Who was the world's slowest writer?
  20. Who is the most monstrous person in literature?
  21. Where will you find the world's biggest library?
  22. Who was the first black person to tell his/her story?
  23. What's the longest word to appear in a work of fiction?
  24. Is there a book that no one has ever finished reading?
  25. What's the most interesting lost book?
  26. What's the highest ever auction price for a printed book?
  27. What's the world record for writing a book in the shortest/longest time?
  28. What's the best nonsense word in a published work?
  29. What's the most famous anonymous work? 
  30. What's the most shocking fight in literture?
  31. Who is the oldest character in literature?
  32. What's the world's most tragic play?
  33. What's the world's most infamous literary hoax?
  34. Which books include talking objects?
  35. What's the most famous line in literature?
  36. What's the world's scariest book?
  37. Which book has the best ending?
  38. Are there any books that don't use punctuation?
  39. What was the first word ever written in a work of fiction?
  40. Who is the best-read person in history?
  41. Which book has been banned most often?
  42. Which book do you wish you had written yourself?
  43. Please write down three more questions which improve on the ones written above.


Dr Ian McCormick served as Professor in the Arts at the University of Northampton.

His most recent book is The Art of Connection. [Quibble Academic, 2013]





Wednesday, 13 August 2014

The English Exam and the Skills Deficit

The Place to find Exam Skills at work

I hope that your exams (and your results day) have not been as traumatic as mine were at school. I still have minor nightmares about that day!

In this blog, I take a look at the reasons behind exam success and failure.

If you are coming to this blog having faced disappointment, do not despair. Help is at hand. There is a lot that you can learn in order to improve your performance. This blog will help you to start that journey

I will be sharing my pesonal experiences, but you will also find that the research is informed by professional experience, rather than irrelevant educational theories.

In my experience of 30 years of teaching English in Schools and in the University sector,  these are the most common reasons for poor results:

1.    Anxiety based on lack of confidence, poor planning and fear of the unknown

2.    Lack of familiarity with past exam questions

3.    Poor memory skills

4.    Failure to produce model answers in exam conditions

5.    Revision that does not edit and select key points

6.    Revision that does not tailor knowledge to the exam

7.    Answers which are too short, or too long.

8.    Poor awareness of what the examiners are looking for

9.    Not answering the question

10.    Not explaining your thinking processes

11.    Poor range of evidence

12.    Weak communication skills

13.    Not understanding how to plan and structure your answer effectively

14.    Too much time wasted on opening and closing paragraphs.

15.    Running out of sufficient time to complete the required number of well-rounded answers.

The good news is that each of these issues can be addressed.

By reflecting on them and by taking action you will significantly improve your exam performance.

You might even learn to enjoy the experience, and become an advocate for examinations.

If you would like to receive further examination tips and advice please drop me a line.


Let the journey begin!

Dr Ian McCormick is the author of The Art of Connection: the Social Life of Sentences
(Quibble Academic, 2013)

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Bonnell's list of topics for debate in class (1867)




In A Manual of the Art of Prose Composition: For the Use of Colleges and Schools (1867), John Mitchell Bonnell explained the value of Extemporaneous Composition;  Debating by the Class; and proposed a list of topics for debate. This is an extract from his book.


The following list presents a few of the questions that afford good fields for debate.

Does wealth exert more influence than intelligence?

Should a criminal be capitally condemned on circumstantial evidence?

Are banks more beneficial than injurious?

Ought military schools to be encouraged?

Should colleges be endowed?

Did the French revolution advance the cause of liberty in Europe?

Is there any real danger of the over-population of the globe?

Is country life more favourable to the cultivation of virtue than life in a city?

Is history a more useful study than biography?

Is ambition more destructive of personal happiness than avarice?

Is it the duty of good men to discountenance the theatre?

Is the Bible more essential to the spread of Christianity than the living ministry?

Does poetry demand a higher order of genius than oratory?

Does military life tend to qualify men to become good civil governors?

Has Mohammedanism produced more evil than good?

Is it ever right to deceive a rational man?

Should the chief end of civil punishment be the reformation of criminals, or the prevention of crime?

Ought the state to provide for the free education of all children within its borders?

Is it expedient to form colonies of convicts?

Would a congress of nations be practical or beneficial?

Was the field of eloquence in ancient Greece or Rome superior to that in our own country?

Are novels more injurious than beneficial?

Is it expedient to unite manual with mental labour in an educational establishment?

Which exerts the greater influence on society, the teacher or the preacher?

Which controls public opinion more extensively, the ministry or the newspaper press?

Does a natural proclivity to crime diminish the guilt of the act?

Should a member of the American House of Representatives be bound by the will of his constituents?

Do savage nations possess an exclusive right to the soil?

Should the right of suffrage be co-extensive with resident manhood?

Is a lawyer justifiable in defending a cause that he believes to be bad?

Ought the Protective Policy or the Free Trade principles to prevail?

Ought gambling to be suppressed by law?

Which is the better for the development of good character, poverty or riches?

Ought the liberty of the press to be restricted?

Ought imprisonment for debt to be abolished?

Should corporal punishment be allowed in schools?

Ought religious institutions to be supported by law?

Should infidel publications be suppressed by law?

Should atheists be eligible to office?

Has government a right to suppress Mormon or Mohammedan polygamy?

Are all mankind descended from one pair?

Is man responsible for his belief?

Can any of the moral attributes of God be proved from the light of nature?

Is a scholastic education preferable to a private one?

Are the principles of the Peace society practicable?

Should the course of study in college be the same for all pupils?

Are monastic orders favourable to the cultivation of true piety?

Are inequalities of rank in society favourable to social progress?

Was the influence of Jefferson upon his age and country beneficial?

Was Bonaparte greater in the field than in the cabinet?

Have the United States the right to forbid European interference with other American governments?

Does morality keep pace with civilization?

Which has done the greater service to the cause of truth, philosophy or poetry?

Is the cultivation of the Fine Arts conducive to virtue?

Has sectarianism done more to advance or retard the interests of Christianity?

Is a "little learning" more dangerous than ignorance?


Further Reading

On Extemporaneous Composition and Debating by the Class... here.

Dr Ian McCormick is the author of The Art of Connection: the Social Life of Sentences
(Quibble Academic, 2013)

 

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

What's that myth about boys not wanting to read anything?



Boys are underperforming by 10% or more, compared to girls' literacy.

My experience working with boys and adolescents (9-15) in the last year has taught me that they do not have an insurmountable problem with reading or writing. But far too often they are being forced to answer tedious comprehension questions. Or they are pushed into commenting critically on subjects that do not relate at all to their interests. Research shows that often boys visualize reading as a female activity. So some of the problems are part of the current culture and construction of reading as an activity.

At first, the key to success, in my view, is to work with their existing interests. That means that you need to find out what fires their imagination. In an overcrowded classroom that is sometimes difficult, and there is a tendency for the whole class to work on the same topics such as "Africa," or "Environment," or "Superheroes."

The young people I've worked with thrive on football and other sports, gadgets, fashion clothes and brands, fast cars, &c.

As a result of looking at and comparing media texts, such as advertisements, technical data, brochures, films, and leaflets,  the persuasive reading and writing activities emerge as a critical and creative focus for the young people's work.

This process of working with the most appropriate subject matter, or allowing young people to make their own choices, results in deeper engagement and closer reading. There is an awakened and heightened critical faculty, and the discovery of hitherto latent creativity. Often they are still reading when the one hour lesson has finished. And there has been no loss of concentration. They are asking me to let them 'do' this topic as their homework!
With a little guidance, it's not difficult to cover complex sentences and witty epigrams; rhymes and rhythm; alliteration; layout and design; multimedia and interactivity. Quickly they will pick up a wide descriptive and technical vocabulary that was a closed book when they were 'studying' traditional literary topics. They identify literary devices and the impact they have as a tool for advertising and promotion. They begin to deconstruct those sinister forces - the secret and hidden persuaders. By unlocking the promotional tricks of the trade they learn to imitate or resist them. This in turn has a potential for growth and empowerment.

Having picked up key skills, confidence, and competence, the young learners are far less resistant to exploring texts and images critically and creatively.

It's far easier to slip in some classic writing after a solid foundation and strong motivation has been acquired.


Dr Ian McCormick is the author of The Art of Connection: the Social Life of Sentences
(2013) Also available on Kindle, or to download.

Also worth a look: The PhD Roadmap: A Guide to Successful Submission of your Dissertation / Thesis.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Creative Writing: 5 Old Problems and 14 New Principles

Why are boys underperforming in English classes?

I am frequently dissatisfied with the resources on, and approaches to, Creative Writing in the Classroom.

Five of the Problems:

1. Traditional writing exercises are predictable and dull:

e.g.

Describe an interesting encounter
Make a story based on an overheard conversation
Write on a topic chosen by the teacher
Do a 60 minute exam essay.

2. Negative criticism from teachers just makes us feel embarrassed and reminds us of our sense of inadequacy. None the less, some creative productions are better than others, and children can be trusted to see this for themselves!

3. The disobedient curriculum. The creative activities outlined were exercises in being grammatical and were not a spelling test. It's so easy to pick on the tick and the cross, the right and the wrong. We need quality of expression rather than quantification of results.

4. There is a gender gap in English studies that needs to be addressed urgently. Writing exercises often fail to resonate with the boys. We must change this situation.

5. Writing tasks are too safe. We need to aim for risk rather than rules and restrictions.


My Fourteen Principles for Action

1. Work Out

We need to fry our brain, then take a break to recharge our batteries. Making full use of words is like doing a work-out.These outlines are based on short, intense activities, not week long topics and term-long programmes.

2. Locksmiths

Having fun with words is like having lots of keys to unlock the imagination. If we design our own keys we create poetry locksmiths rather than prisons.

3. Play


By having lots of different games and varieties of stimulus we turbo-charge our creativity. The play element is at the core of these activities, rather than performance in curriculum-specific, examined activities.

4. Aesthetics

The children work out the principles of success (good and bad rules) after they have seen for themselves what the best feels like. This approach involves trusting the child’s native, natural capacity for aesthetic delight in great creative work!

5. Freedom

Activities will not be based on the tedious repetition of skills; rote learning; copying; complex techniques; rhetorical jargon. These have their place, but not here.

6. Teacher's roles

Children are far more effective critics than teachers. But teachers can help by fostering creative environments based on diplomacy, decency, fairness, positive tone and pitch, timekeeping, and by helping to develop and manage critical and creative frameworks.

7. Brevity

Writers tend to work in multiple ways across time, and across the writing process. They seldom sit down and write 90-minute exam answers. In my creative activities, the “warm-up” IS the activity. In my view, multiple short tasks need to displace longer concentration-heavy solo activities. In my experience most writers (creative, critical, practical or academic – all sorts) work best in 10-15 minute bursts.

8. Randomness and Risk

Adopting risk means moving away from safe predictability to a capacity to embrace randomness as a starting point. This strategy runs against the grain of the current orthodoxy that builds on strict lesson planning, schemes of work, hard rules, tight instructions etc. I’ll be writing a longer, more theoretical essay on modernism and aleatory creativity at a later date. Suffice to say for now that in my view creativity is Empedoclean: between chaos and structure.

9. Pataphysics and Nonsense

 To become more liberated we had to risk taking a few steps away from sense towards nonsense. This is a paradigm shift. Edward Lear and King Lear have more in common that we imagine. Or, following Alfred Jarry, start to think with pataphysics

10. The Tools

Technology helps in many ways, but remember that it is only a tool, not a displacement activity. Shakespeare was not a genius because he had great hands.  Human interactivity is infinitely more subtle and varied than mechanical reproduction, and iterative simulation is always just what it is: a second hand experience.

11. Screens

Likewise, remember that we spend too much time looking into screens. The screen can become a prison house; recall that the screen/veil blocks out other forms of interpersonal encounters and experiences.

12. Unmaking

Turn the world/word upside down and back to front. Creativity is the power of making and unmaking. Worlds make words and words make worlds.

13. Age of Discovery

We have become obsessed with activities designed for a specific age or ability range. The Genius is a Child at Heart, and the reverse is also true. Some of the activities that I used I classes worked just as well with 5 year old children as they did with students in their final year at University.

14. Trust

While there’s quite a lot for the teacher to do as an experimental facilitator and inspiring guide, a high degree of responsibility, ownership and trust is ideally passed back to the creative learners.


Further Information

In the next blog in this sequence, there is a work in progress that outlines 52 Creative Writing Activities.

See also my blog on The Myth of Writer's Block.

Thanks for reading: I look forward to hearing about your experiences and to reading your views.

© Dr Ian McCormick 2013