I am digging myself up out of the burnout grave this week with a bit of an odd post. Not penguins again, but more like an introduction to the odd posts that are going to pop up in the next couple of weeks.
I might have set myself an utterly awful challenge that I may regret for the rest of the semester, if not the academic year. Over the next month, each of the three courses I teach will have summative assessment deadlines. In the weeks running up to the deadlines on the courses I teach, I usually try to run sessions to help students get to grips with the requirements of these tasks.
It's always an uphill battle, not least because I'm an Autistic–ADHD human with a brain firing at right angles to the world and often going off on tangents and random directions that are hard for students to follow. Many of my students are from STEM disciplines and are unfamiliar with the requirements of humanities essays. In addition, I've come to feel that often we use terminology assuming students understand what we mean. Often, they don't.
Technically speaking, students can attend library sessions on how to write compelling essays. However, some of the courses I teach have requirements that don't entirely map into the standards of these sessions. Even if they do, students don't necessarily come out of the sessions feeling reassured.
Last week, I ran to work on Thursday because I struggled so much with the bus trip the day before I think I'd have freely walked the entire way if I'd had to. On the journey, dodging the Scylla and Charybdis of primary school arrival times, blocked streets, children moving in six directions at once, major roadworks, and the inevitable guy with a vape who cannot look up from his phone, I had an idea.
Why don't I do a live write?
I'm hyperlexic. I tend to overwrite—I wrote my Ph.D. thesis out about three times (80k words times three), both times—and if I had the energy, I'd write far more than I do. It's probably why I love 4TheWords.
I also have the arrogance to assume that I can sit down with my students and we can write together, coming up with either a paragraph or a few paragraphs, as a kind of live demonstration of what I'm talking about in sessions. I can show what I mean when I describe looking for particular references, how I get around not having a reference yet but knowing I'll need it.
This will be a group piece, where they are able to see what I'm doing but also act as research assistants who can hunt down resources and references and discuss sentences on the fly. My hope is that by doing this, we'll be able to do a bit of kinaesthetic learning. I've tried doing lists of steps in the past, but I think the best way I learn how to do something is to actually do it, so any of the anxiety paralysis that can take over during unfamiliar tasks can be alleviated.
I'm incredibly familiar with that one, by the way.
The reason why I'm mentioning this here is that I'm going to post finished versions on this blog here. That means anyone currently subscribed is in for a few free essays in their inbox in the next two weeks. It's going to be a mixture of reviews of science fiction, including Quatermass (the BBC original) and Chernobyl (2019), and potentially a couple of pieces of "creative response" pieces alongside the more conventional academic essay.
Students will be able to look them up when they're done, and it should be easier to point to model texts if I get to teach these courses again next year. Of course, half the work is actually doing the seminars themselves. I have no idea, as I sit here on a rainy Friday night with Storm Babet trying to flood us if this will work, in the end.