Hiatus?

I’m halfway (ish) through an MPhil based on practitioner research, and what feels like a very few months ago I was all fired up, reading, writing, and made quite a lot of progress in a relatively short time – setting out the context and the problem (basically that in ESOL, curriculum design – diagnostics, target setting, comprehensive schemes of work, etc. – is patronising and not fit for purpose.) and starting a literature review (exploring the possible alternative models to said curriculum design) which I am roughly halfway through.

And then in the last couple of months it’s all dried up. Partly, I think because it’s an MPhil, and, naturally, the university want to know that I’m not going to fuck it all up, which requires me preparing abstracts summaries and reports, applications, and so on. This kind of stuff, while I understand its purpose in keeping me on the course, is a long way from sexy things like critically reviewing processes like the (eye roll) learner journey, and so it’s a bit of a chore. And even preparing for a conference felt like a bit of drain on my focus, but again these things are important part of the process; a cog in the big academic machine, if you will. It probably didn’t help that I’ve delivered workshops at conferences before, nor that all I really had to say was “this is what I’m going to do” which isn’t as exciting as “look at what I’ve done”.

A bigger impact, it has to be said, has been the summer holiday and the return to work, the former being busy with family, the latter being, well, just busy. There’s been new routines (my youngest has started secondary school, sob!) and working patterns, new classes, new students, new systems, a new (to us) manager, not to mention adjusting to full class, full time face to face teaching for the first time in 18 months. The presence of a lockdown for the first three months of this year, for example, meant I had more time to dedicate to the writing and reading processes.

So it feels like I’ve not made much progress since about June, which I why I am writing this – to exorcise the demons of distraction, as it were, and refocus my energies on the project.

Except that when I sit down and think about it, I’ve not been sitting still. As I’ve said before, I’m looking at using a curriculum model in which the content evolves as the course progresses, based not on products but on processes: a sort of dirty amalgam of participatory pedagogy and dogme ELT, with a hint of task based learning and a splash of critical.

And while I’ve not yet been speaking to the students, as regards data gathering, etc., I have started my first set of reflective notes in an exercise book rather pretentiously entitled “field notes” (hey, it’s my project, I’ll ponce it up if I want to). I’ve also got loads and loads of lesson sketch plans, teaching ideas (six pages, for example, of ideas for working with texts), and a pile of books full of post it notes, and a handful of notebooks with, er, notes in.

The project is, then, progressing. I’ve not yet finished the literature review, but I’ve read the reports, studies and books, and they are informing my ideas, and certainly the writing has taken a break, but the meat and drink, the action, if you like, of action research, is happening. (It’s an action researchy sort of case study, I suppose, but I’ll worry about that later on: the whole research methods and methodology thing always feels a bit navel-gazingly self absorbed to me, but I’m sure I’ll get used to it).

And also because the focus is curriculum design, this means that simply by doing the teaching on the course, and recording/reflecting on this, I am making progress towards the finished product, even if there’s a lot of uncertainty over how this will all go. I’ve also been thinking a lot: which means nothing concrete has been produced – so this apparent absence of product perhaps also contributes to my sense of not having done much (perhaps I have been infected by the “evidencing impact” disease rampant in FE…)

And I suppose that for someone who thinks by writing, with a final product which will be expressed in a massive piece of writing, the absence of formal progress on that piece of writing feels like a hiatus. Ironically, however, by writing this post I have managed to remind myself of how much work I have done, and indeed, am doing. So it may feel like a hiatus, of sorts, but the reality is quite different. That said, I really do need to get writing…

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