Technology and writing

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I’ve bought, for my iPad, a rather lovely Belkin keyboard case. It is one of several tactics designed to get me writing more. I use my iPad all the time but if I want to write anything substantial I tend to use my laptop because of the keyboard. I don’t drive, but do travel for work, so writing on the move is an important part of my productivity and carrying the laptop, the iPad and my kindle (best for reading, particularly in sunshine, and I get rather stressed without a book to hand!) all start, not surprisingly, to weigh me down. The theory is that now I can just take the iPad and the kindle, and can, and will, write wherever I am (and my chiropractor will appreciate the care I am taking of my back!). I have a terrible fear though that this tactic is just another contemporary version of sharpening all my pencils!

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August 9, 2013 · 2:50 pm

Elecampane smile?

We’ve grown elecampane before, and it’s a huge sunflower like plant. It gives some height in the garden and bees like it. But our current plant has a strangely deformed flower, which looks like a strange yellow smile

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Garden pleasures

I’m in the garden, in the evening quiet, knitting today’s portion of my sky scarf. I’m an intermittent knitter who is easily bored so I never can manage big projects like sweaters. Instead I search out small projects: socks, wristlets, easy scarfs, tea cosies. I also tend to have several projects underway at once if I’m in a knitting phase. I have fads if I’m honest! and probably because of this flighty approach to knitting (maybe to any ‘leisure activity’?) I was delighted to discover the sky scarf project, and I am about three weeks into my own sky scarf as the picture attests. if you are interested, here is the website for the project, with lots of pictures of sky scarfs! http://www.leafcutterdesigns.com/projects/sky-scarf.html BUT given my boredom threshold for ‘hobbies’, it will be interesting to see if I finish the scarf.

But I have wandered off into the sky scarf and knitting story, when I intended to talk about the pleasure of sitting in the garden enjoying my senses: the sound of a distant train and the last bird or two settling for the night; the rich smell of night scented stock; the sharp sweet taste of the first raspberry of the summer; and the glorious sight of the deep pink sky and the half moon already hanging large and bright.

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Watching swifts under a solstice moon

It’s been a strange Spring and Summer so far. Both Spring and Summer seem to have come together! Everything is growing at once having had such a late start. Tonight it’s the solstice, and the moon is big in a light sky. We’ve been sitting enjoying the smells of the season (whichever it is!) and the sounds of the birds, and seen a few swifts dancing the sky.

So, while everything, in theory, has a season, maybe that season isn’t quite when we think! Some things come late, and run into the back of the next thing. Life isn’t quite as ordered as we hope; but the swifts, even if few in number this year, are still dancing.

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Watercolour sky

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June 2, 2013 · 8:11 pm

Maybe Spring at last?

The garden is still really bare, despite Monday bringing the middle of April, but today, at last it feels like Spring. We wrapped ourselves up and had breakfast in the garden.

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Ramblings about reading and writing and learning

Interesting article about writing and speech: http://blog.oup.com/2013/02/academic-speech-patterns-linguistics/

I am always a fan of reading work aloud to rewrite it, which the author advocates. However, I’ve also marked a number of pieces of work in my life written by students using their spoken understanding of language, and their accents, and pronunciation can lead to some real confusion (‘being’ written as ‘been’ for example, because that’s how it is said in parts of the North East of England). So while I I am a strong advocate of making sense of writing through speech, and writing in far more straightforward ways than many academics seem to favour, I also believe that people also write better if they read. Many of the students who wrote ‘been’ were not readers. They would not normally read novels, or even read a newspaper regularly. They read, with some difficulty the academic texts they were directed towards. They often commented on how these texts and articles were difficult to understand, and in fact when writing an academic critique would sometimes comment on something being ‘badly written’ because they didn’t understand the conceptual thinking the author was expressing.

I would often find myself discussing with these students the challenge of writing about concepts and complex theoretical ideas in simple ways. I would also suggest that reading academic writing was like doing aerobics of the brain – if you practice and practice it gets easier and you get better at it, and your academic reading muscles become much more flexible. However, sometimes I probably agreed with the students assessment – some academic writers were not communicating their ideas very well.

I also admit to a real concern that these same students would learn how to write from these academic articles and from the feedback I and my colleagues provided on their written work. If that is all the input they have on what good writing is, what do they learn?

This seems to me to be an argument for getting students reading non-academic material – in the US some universities have ‘common reading programmes’ for all first year students, often with a book (usually fiction) agreed for all new students before they arrive. These are often novels which provoke discussion and thinking and students are provided with opportunities to discuss the book as a group. Admittedly USA degree programmes are more likely to be 4 years (in England, and much of Europe programmes are usually 3 year), which gives time for the first year to be about orientation and broader education. Whereas a 3 year programme means hitting the discipline ground running, making it hard to get agreement across an institution that taking the time for general reading would have value. But we also face ongoing frustrations from academics who teach about the writing abilities of the students. We can’t expect school (Pre-18) education to do everything, but should we expect them to get students’ reading and writing ready for HE? I’m not sure they do expect this in the USA, and if they do there is still room for ongoing engagement with reading, given their common reading programme. I wonder if we should learn something from this?

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Filed under assessment, books, Higher Education, Learning, reading, teaching, writing