Learning on the Language-Literature Border: Ways of integrating language and literature within final year modules

Assessment, Employability & Enterprise, English language

Brief description

The primary purpose of this project was an examination of a variety of methods for integrating language and literature within final year modules both within the core module EG3301: Language and Literature Seminar at the University of Central Lancashire and at other institutions. Building on the work already undertaken by the English Subject Centre (Teaching on the Language-Literature border at University of Sheffield) and lecturers at other institutions (i.e. Nigel Fabb, ‘Linguistics in a department of English Literature, ESC Newsletter Issue 8, June 2005) a key outcome of this project was a one-day English Subject Centre event ‘Learning on the Language-Literature border’ (May 2008) where case studies and workshop activities were disseminated and discussed. Central to this event was be an emphasis on the question ‘How can assessment and related classroom activities enable students to explore the interface between these two traditionally divided subjects within the context of their own studies?’

A secondary purpose was to evaluate assessment methods that enable final year undergraduates undertaking a Language and Literature programme to reflect on their educational and intellectual experiences of both subjects and to consider their subject, generic and employability skills in a meaningful way. The combined study of language and literature offers students a wide range of skills and distinctive methods, which if recognised and presented effectively will enhance their employability. Particular attention was paid to the synoptic assessment and supporting classroom activities that seek to draw together the knowledge, skills and understanding acquired over the programme as a whole. Along with a case study, the main outcome was the development of a toolkit (Card sort – see below) to support student reflection on skills and employability and compare the underlying assumptions and intellectual structure of language and literature as academic subjects.

Background

Programmes that allow students to study both English Literature and English Language (such as Combined BA but also a number of other ‘English’ degrees) are increasingly popular with applicants for a number of reasons, including the joint English Language and Literature A Level, the marketing of such degrees as a pathway to a teaching qualification (a response to widening participation, introduction of top-up fees and employability agenda) plus a belief that these subjects complement each other. For pedagogic reasons, and increasingly for employability reasons as well, the Language and Literature subject teams at the University of Central Lancashire hold that third year students should be given the opportunity to use classroom activities and assessment to reflect on their programme of study (in ways that move beyond describing what they did in previous modules) and to articulate the skills they have developed as students of language and literature (in a more meaningful way than in merely generic and general terms). It is only within the final year of a BA programme that students will have gained the maturity and experience to reflect on and make full use of the structure and content of their studies of language and literature at earlier stages of the programme.

Aims and Objectives

The aims and objectives for the project were as follows:

1. To critically evaluate the student experience of assessment and related classroom activities in EG3301: Language and Literature Seminar, a third year core module at the University of Central Lancashire.

The assessment and related teaching and learning activities are designed to encourage students to reflect on their educational and intellectual experiences of the BA Language and Literature, situate the module in the context of the degree and allow students to consider their subject, generic and employability skills in a meaningful way. For example:

  • Classroom activities (i.e. Brainstorming (Tony & Barry Buzan, The Mind Map Book, 2005), Subject Centre Student Employability Profiles)
  • Formative easy (Investigating the best learning experience of students of language and literature – see ‘What makes the best learning experience for students of Languages, Linguistics or Area Studies,’ LLAS Digest 2005).
  • Group presentation (imaginative exploration of knowledge, skills, capabilities and career options of language and literature students)
  • Editorial exercise (synthesizing and reflective exercise using methods dawn from language and literature)
  • Final Essay (summative reflection upon the module, study of language and literature in education and the wider social and historical issues and changes in these academic subjects)

Both the performance and experience of students needed to be carefully evaluated to determine the usefulness and effectiveness of such a learning programme.

2. To develop a toolkit for working with language and literature students to identify, analyse, articulate and develop their subject, generic and employability skills.

Although this was based on my teaching practices from the last two years, students were involved in developing and piloting the tools.

3. To investigate and compare alternative ways of integrating language and literature within final year modules at other universities.

4. To use Action Research to improve and evaluate my own practice and to work with students and colleagues as co-researchers.

5. To disseminate the findings of this project through a seminar/workshop and contribute to the debate about teaching, learning and assessment on the Language-Literature border.

Methodology

The methodology for this project was Action Research, as defined by Ortrun Zuber-Skerrit (Action Research in Higher Education, 1992) and following the framework of Jean McNiff et al (You and Your Action Research Project, 2005). Zuber-Skerrit’s CRASP model defines Action Research as critical (and evaluative) collaborative enquiry by reflective practitioners, being accountable and making the results of their enquiry public, self-evaluating their practice and engaged in participative problem-solving and continuing professional development. This emphasises both self-evaluation and the need to include students and colleagues as co-researchers. Within this framework are other methods such as interviews and focus groups.

Outcomes

(a) presentation at the English Subject Centre Renewals Conference (2007)

(b) Article ‘Helicopters, Jigsaws, and Plaits: Revealing the Hidden Language and Literature Curriculum’ in Anglo-American Pedagogy special issue of Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching, LIterature, Language, Composition, and Culture (7.3 Fall 2007)

(c) Toolkit to enable language and literature students to reflect on subject knowledge, skills and employability (e.g. Card Sort). This might also be used by staff in determining Learning Outcomes for modules/assessment or for Personal Tutoring sessions with third year Language and Literature students. The card-sort toolkit has now been completed and is available here:

(c) Dissemination by a one-day seminar/workshop ‘Learning on the Language-Literature Border’ for the English Subject Centre. This was a follow-up to the 2005 ESC event in Sheffield ‘Teaching on the Language-Literature Border.’

Project Leader

Dr Helen Day
University of Central Lancashire

Project status

Project completed December 2009