To teach and to inspire: balancing exam preparation and the joy of learning

Teachers take delight in inspiring their students. They must prepare them for exams. Sometimes this creates a tension; concentrating too heavily on assessment objectives may jeopardise the sense of wonder in a topic while too little consideration of them risks failing to prepare students for their exams.

In my role as an education officer, I contributed to a recent article ‘Chaucer’s World’ Study Days: Enhancing Learning and Encouraging Wonder, which explores how teachers, university academics, and Public Engagement colleagues have sought to achieve both. As the lead author Professor Marion Turner puts it, ‘to teach and to delight’.

Our collaborative essay, published in New Chaucer Studies: Pedagogy & Profession, reflects on the ‘Chaucer’s World’ study days co-organised for secondary schools by the Bodleian Library, the Ashmolean Museum, and the University of Oxford. The event is aimed at A Level students and is intended not only to help them with their preparation for the A-Level English Literature exam but also to inspire in them a wider appreciation of Chaucer’s works and medieval literature and culture in general.

In a nod to Chaucer, the article is structured as a collection of ‘tales’. In The Education Officer’s Tale, I describe the structure of the Chaucer’s World study day, explain how we have sought to overcome the challenges schools face in engaging with such events, and reflect on how we adapted to a remote delivery model during the pandemic. Materials we created are available on the Bodleian’s website on the Resources for Teachers pages. Please feel free to use these with your classes.

From the Bodleian’s perspective, the study day has been a huge success, becoming a key part of our annual offer. The combination of access to contemporary texts, exploration of the historical and cultural context of Chaucer’s writing and real engagement with experts in the field has proved to be a popular combination with several schools returning year after year. Elsewhere in the article, Charlotte Richer considers the positive impact on her students in The Teacher’s Tale.

I hope you enjoy reading the article and agree that it provides an example of how we can both enhance learning and encourage a sense of wonder through an extracurricular experience. The Bodleian’s next Chaucer’s World Study days will be in March 2023. If you would like to know more, please email education@bodleian.ox.ac.uk

Image: Bodleian Libraries

Turner et al. 2022. ‘Chaucer’s World’ Study Days in Oxford for Post-16 Students: Enhancing Learning and Encouraging Wonder. New Chaucer Studies: Pedagogy and Profession 3.2: 70-78. https://escholarship.org/uc/ncs_pedagogyandprofession/| ISSN: 2766-1768.

© 2022 by the author(s). This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives 4.0 license. New Chaucer Studies: Pedagogy and Profession is an open access, bi-annual journal sponsored by the New Chaucer Society and published in eScholarship by the California Digital Library. | https://escholarship.org/uc/ncs_pedagogyandprofession| ISSN: 2766-1768.

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Supporting Learning: a sci-fi / fantasy writing pack

Who writes the future? is a creative writing resource for schools from the Bodleian Libraries. Based on materials and activities used in a Summer School writing course, I developed this pack into a workshop for visiting schools. Drawing on lessons learned from these workshops, the pack is now available for free download from the Bodleian’s Resources for Teachers webpage.

Image from the  Bodleian’s Resources for Teachers webpage
Link to the resource from the Bodleian’s Resources for Teachers webpage

Background

The original course was the brainchild of researcher Jacob Ward and a project in public engagement with research. A group of fifteen young people explored speculative writing from the past and learned about current research in computing at the University of Oxford before developing their own stories under the guidance of author Jasmine Richards. They also worked with illustrator Nurbanu Asena who developed a striking image to accompany each story. Their work was published in an anthology, a PDF version of which is included in the pack. My role was to plan, facilitate and evaluate the project.

Developing a writing resource

The summer school achieved all its original aims successfully, but we wanted to ensure that the format and resources we had produced would help young writers beyond the original group. We first developed a workshop in which visiting school groups developed one aspect of the original five-day course. This was usually conceiving a story idea, world building, or developing a central character. The process of drafting and revision could then be continued back at school.

These workshops also helped me to develop the resources from a series of individual elements into a coherent pack. I used the feedback from visiting groups to refine some of the elements. These refinements included clearer definition of the elements in world building, redesigning the character template, and explaining other sections more clearly. I also produced a set of teacher notes to assist those using the pack in class or in a writing group.

Contents

The resource pack includes the following elements:

  • Teacher notes
  • Student Booklet, designed to be printed as an eight-page A4 booklet.
  • Historical examples of speculative fiction, written at the turn of the nineteenth/twentieth centuries and including predictions made about our present.
  • The Who Writes the Future? anthology produced by the young writers in the original summer school.

Student writing pack

The student booklet takes students through seven steps, culminating in a first draft of their short story:

  1. Decide on a specific setting. Start to build a world for the story.
  2. Select your story idea / concept. Students are asked to think about the particular impact of a technology, but taking this ‘hard sci-fi’ approach is not essential.
  3. Select a theme. There is a list of suggestions but students may wish to choose another.
  4. Decide on the point of view, i.e. first, second or third person narrative.
  5. Develop your character. A template is included to help students think about the central character(s) in their story.
  6. Outline your story. Students are encouraged to plan an outline before writing their first draft.
  7. Write your story. We have included a few lined pages.

I hope the pack will prove as successful for school classes and writing groups as it has been in our workshops. I’d love to hear feedback from teachers who have used it. If you have enjoyed reading this, you may be interested in my other posts on Supporting Learning.