What Have I Learnt From This Module English Language Essay

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When we were initially given the first assignment for this module, my first thought was what was the point of doing it? Why did I need to look into my own language development in order to figure out how I could be a better teacher of language? How would it be beneficial to my development as a teacher and mainly how would I do it, without sounding cheesy or over rehearsed?

Fair point.

The lack of structure of the assignment bothered me quite a bit as I was used to writing set pieces of work that have set guidelines about how they need to be written and this assignment did not have any of that-it was freeing, yet I felt constricted by my own inbuilt ideas of assessment at this educational level.

You know how this world goes. The implicit perils of assessment: it sets the agenda, tail wagging dog. Free becomes loose and tight becomes 'robust'. It's a laugh.

Firstly, I think that is an issue. I would never have admitted it but because of so many years of education being about writing academic style essays, they were the only medium I gave real credit to, but how did that itself encroach on my teaching? Did I have those kinds of inbuilt restrictions when it came to setting work for my own students or did I set them assignments that I would consider easy instead of challenging them or simply thinking about assessment on a different level?

We've all been persuaded that learning objectives = rigour (but also 'equity' [and mediocrity] is best served by the transparently bland).

I think at the beginning of my placement, thereby the beginning of my career as a teacher; I would not have considered assessment to be anything other than formal written work or perhaps formal discussion within certain constraints, yet now my feelings are completely different on the subject. Clearly, the students still have to undertake their final exam in order to get the qualification that they came to college to do, but their route to that qualification can be so varied and interesting that they get a taste of lots of different levels of literacy instead of simply giving students worksheet after worksheet and expecting them to pass an exam with it. Now, at the end of my placement, and informed by this module, my own judgements on assessment have changed. Thank God Of course in terms of college funding, it is important that the students pass their exam, but to me, it is far more important that they learn to love literacy-that they can take a part of their lives and realise that literacy is embedded into it and that they can look at a book and realise it is just a bunch of words and nothing they need to be afraid of. And then the exams are the 'piece of piss' they really are, feeble excuses for educational practice

When I sat down to write my presentation for the first component of this module, I had no idea what I would write about! I had never thought about my own language development critically as it simply felt like something that just happens over which you have no control. Naively, I thought most people's language development would the same or very similar to mine so I wanted to attack the presentation from a different angle, which was when I decided my way in to the assignment was to look at my language development in terms of my own writing. We who are lucky enough to have a 'friendly' relationship with words barely stop to consider how different everything must be without this

I had never before stood up in front of a group and read my own poetry out-at least not poetry that I written without the instruction of teachers at school-and I was clearly terrified! I knew, however, that it was the only way to demonstrate my own language development in an honest way and as I have moved further on in the course, honesty in my own work and presenting myself as me, has become more and more important to me.

For me this is the core of your future practice: if you cannot be a writer for your learners who can you be a writer for? Everything else is a sophisticated form of masturbation. Your work was powerfully and sensitively brilliant and made by your nervous concern. 'Here I am' you said. 'This is what it's like to be me or at least this is what it's like in words' And everything came together. Simple!

The thought that went into to choosing the poems I read was vast-I took hours deciding which ones showed my development in terms of language and changed one at the last minute as the one I had originally selected was written when I was twelve after the death of my grandfather. There has been so much death involved in this year for so many people in the group that I chose not to talk about it as I did not want to upset or offend my peers.

And that is real preparation! Not making plans but circulating ideas which percolate right up until the moment you open your mouth. Learn by this!

At the close of the module, I feel a pride in my own language, with all its flaws and imperfections. I feel the need to embrace this and allow this pride to flow into my teaching. In the session where we looked at Tony Harrison's "V," I truly came to life in terms of language. The poem is so moving to me, because it seems to have parallels to my own life. My immediate family is stuck in a kind of limbo between its working class background and ethos and the middle class life that my parents have ensured that I was born into. My grandparents, simple Black Country folk, as they used to call themselves, do not understand my apparent "obsession" with education. They are proud, of course, yet sometimes I get the feeling they just want me to get a job and get on with it, they way they always have.

That is my background as well: heart-breaking and amusing at the same time

I remember being a teenager and reading one of my own poems to my grandfather, who patted my on the head and said "That's nice dear." I had put my heart and soul onto that page, had sweated blood, tears and pain over getting the words right and his response just made me feel that it had not been worth it. It was not until years later that I realised that like Tony Harrison, he "didn't understand yer fucking 'art'!" (Harrison) And he was none the worse for it? I think those barriers Are difficult to breach

After reading Tony Harrison and feeling him revel in his own northern dialect, I went in search of something that would allow me to revel in mine. I came across it completely by accident on a trip to the Black Country Museum, where I discovered a Black Country author called Kate Fletcher who has been responsible for many poems written in the dialect, but most famously for writing "The Black Country Bible."

It has been many years since I have picked up a book and not been able to read it straight away. It very much reminded me of how my own students must feel when they are presented with a text that they simply cannot make sense of straight away, and yes, it is their language, but this bible is written in my own dialect, my own background and yet, I struggled to understand it.

A poignant moment

I battled on, knowing that my own knowledge of the bible and knowing how to break down words into phonetics would help me read, and I was incredibly touched by the story. It truly is a celebration of the Black Country dialect and one which I am very proud to associate with-it is also incredibly funny, because although I have been around the dialect most of my life, I have always been encouraged not to speak it, so to see Kate Fletcher revelling in her language and enjoying it, is superb.

"Ter start evvrthin' off, God med the wairld. Mind yo' 'e cudn't see ennythin' cuz it wuz all dark, soo 'e sed "Let's a' sum lite" an' the lite cum, an' 'e wor arf plaised wi' it, soo 'e called it Day, an' the darkniss 'e called Nite. The nex' day God med the clowds an' the sky an' called it 'Evv'n." (Fletcher 2000, pg 4)

Wonderful stuff. Back to the heart of the Christian message: not pomp but humility

I have a lesson planned to use this as a text to see what my students will make of this. My placement college is right in the middle of the Black Country and most of the students speak in that dialect so I think they will find it as interesting and as stimulating as I did when I first read it. I seem to have spent my time practising speaking Black Country, whereas I used to spend years avoiding it!

Cherish it , though it cannot fully be yours (or mine)

Watching everyone else's presentations was a total and utter shock to me. I think all of the group enjoyed the sessions more than we ever thought we would-it was a deep insight into people that we have known for this whole year and yet, we never really knew them-never knew where they came from, how they as people have developed over their lives. Throughout all the presentations, I think there is one startling similarity; we all place the development of ourselves to be intrinsically linked with the development of our language.

Alan's poem, with its startling hilarity and pace is one presentation that sticks out in my mind from that day. Of all the other students in the group, I have probably spent the most time with Alan because of placement, yet I was clearly astonished when he read out his poem. He captures, in just a few short lines, the essence of his language development and the development of himself over this course and I was moved by it.

A very different kind of verse. You the lyric poet, he the balladeer, but what an attitude to language!

The sheer bare, stripped down presentation, spoken in a tone that only someone comfortable in their own skin can use was inspiring in different ways. I have always been interested in how people use language and for Alan to use it in such a way that we were entertained, yet informed about his life, his journey was moving to me. It also proved that given an open task, people will respond totally differently to it.

Phil's presentation was another that was totally moving. His use of images of himself growing up and his discussion about racism and how it has affected him was an insight that I would not have ever considered Phil to have experienced. His language was not words, yet images which provoked thought, which was just as effective as Alan's poetry to me. To link this back to my own teaching-since the presentations, I have been far more creative when giving my students texts. For a session on persuasive texts I used a picture of a drain in a New York street which had been painted and made to look like a steaming cup of coffee-this provoked discussion within the group, thereby developing their language and allowing them to look critically at a text which before this session, they would not have considered to be literacy and perhaps more importantly, before this course-neither would I!

Bravo! Now you're seeing there's no such thing as 'Literacy' only valuable experiences that language might help us to capture/grasp/ bear witness to.

Aretha's presentation, filled with her natural buoyancy and passion was definitely another that I will never forget! Her use of "street language" was both humorous and shocking at the same time. It served as a reminder that the classroom is a place where all language is acceptable, unless that is the only kind of language people can use. I completely agree. No solemnity here. Aretha's journey from the street slang teen that she was, to the person that she is today is long and varied, but it is interesting to note that she does not shun her past, she embraces it and I think that is a message I would give to all of my students. The past makes people who they are, it is not something that should ever be forgotten about or dismissed and from that, I would take into the classroom an air that students should embrace who they are, and use language directed by that instead of pretending that their past is not part of them.

All of the presentations that were given that day were so varied and interesting that it impossible to talk about every one of them and explain how they have affected my development as a teacher, but I would like to talk about one final presentation that had a massive impact on me.

I've already guessed!

Nik's presentation was not a presentation in a traditional sense of the word-she sat on a table and told us a story, and I could have cried. Her tone, her body language and her facial expressions matched perfectly the content of her talk. She spoke of an important lesson-about listening to our students, and I will certainly carry that with me into my profession. Since the presentations, I have made a concerted effort to hear what my students are actually telling me, instead of what I think they are-because they are two very different things. Whether we admit it or not it's the hardest part of the job and the bad models of teaching all around us make it more difficult.Reflecting on Nik's presentation has certainly made me think about the type of teacher I want to be. I, as most of us, came into this field because we wanted to help people with their basic skills in literacy and I think most, if not all, of us are horrified at the sight of the education system involved in a battle of wills over funding and course cuts. Nik's presentation, however simple in its format, truly reminded me that above all the funding battles, the course entry requirements, the underhand dealing and the staff room rivalries, we are here to help people-to listen and respond to their cries for help. If universities can turn out groups who have the same thoughts as us-surely the system will begin to get better?

I hope so, I genuinely hope so

This module has been enlightening for me. I began the course in my own personal state of limbo as to my own identity, but being asked to look back on my own language development, and thereby my own development as a person, I have rediscovered who I am, and the type of teacher I want to be. Strangely enough, since the presentations, my observed sessions have been even more positive and I cannot help thinking that this is because I have rediscovered myself through language and this is what I take into the classroom-all the flaws, all the insecurities, all the passion and all the experience-and the students have responded to that.

I cannot say exactly what I have "learnt" from the module-it is far too vague and varied to pinpoint in an academic essay, but I can say that it has taught me that being myself in a classroom will make me into the best teacher I can be.

And what a teacher you'll be if you can important Michelle the poet without apologies. Write for them, about them and with them. Forget Literacy, just run a perpetual writers' course. You have a talent but how many of your learners need their talents discovered. Thanks for this: it's cheered me up

PASS P Bennett 28/5/2009

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