After a fairly long time (over ten years) I began my educational MA with Bath University. While I think a subject-specific MA would be in a more established discipline, an educational MA promises vocational benefits. Quite whether those vocational benefits are to be fictional (!), functional, or literary analysis needs to be decided by the end of this post.
Before I decide, I am under no illusions that distance learning is tough. Tutors have many other interests and pressures and can offer little feedback. With the only connections via online forums, it is a solitary experience. Such isolation is mitigated, however, by the availability of texts online. That is tremendous. I remember in my undergraduate days not reading many specific journal articles simply because they weren’t available.
There are still caveats to online reading, of course. Reading on a screen takes longer. Screen flicker tires your eyes. Comprehension is, apparently, reduced when reading on a screen. However, if you are able to convert key passages (…) then reading online can have other benefits. You can respond with audio, highlight and cross-link judiciously, and ultimately manipulate ideas and information more profoundly than text on paper. There is more to online reading than just convenience.
So, my three thoughts about my dissertation and research focus as a literature teacher focus upon this:
a) Fiction Writing: how to write fiction effectively: how to inspire, teach, disseminate and demonstrate it. While this is my favoured option, I think there is more to the successful teaching and research of this than I can do at this current time in Christmas 2017. I have some developed practice that can sustain and evolve for now.
b) Functional Writing: how to argue effectively, producing opinion articles that are suitably interesting for persuading examiners and real people alike. This is something I want to work on specifically this year in line with my debate management.
c) Literary Analysis: seeing how others do it. This is the almost absolute focus of my school: out of the five modules we teach, four are literary analysis. From that, much of the focus in on word level and sentence level analysis. Awareness of literary composition and narrative theory is the next level. To what extent can this be taught? And how might this be a focus for a dissertation?
In my reading over these past few days, it seems increasingly apparent that teaching fiction writing to teens is an important and morally essential activity: it is also something that takes tremendous time and reading to get anywhere. In my spirit of tenuous analogies hear this – to play violin is difficult; it takes many years to not sound atrocious. To play guitar, on the other hand, is less difficult. It takes months to sound decent. To master both takes decades. Yet the guitar is more forgiving for the occasional amateur (and I should know).
Creative writing courses are deemed somewhat soft compared to other disciplines, including the humanities. The only way I can see this is because they perhaps do not require the same intensity of understanding and research that other courses do. Of course, to be any good at creative writing requires understanding of trends and thought. That is not a simple, amateur task.
Teaching functional wriitng, perhaps even argumentative writing, seems a happy compromise. With my work with the UAE debate team and heading our school’s debate success, I feel this could be both interesting and vocational.
Most likely, though, I will research the teaching of literary analysis. There is too much dislocation in the Western world: understanding critically the history from which we come, even as amateurs and as children, seems the greater calling, at least for my practice as it stands at the end of 2017.
We will see. Time to read.