Meet our Teacher of English, David Murray!
David has been teaching for longer than any of his students have been alive. He was born at a young age in west London. Growing up near the M4 and Heathrow, he dreamt of going to great places. And so he moved to Stoke. When he isn’t reading, he is writing. And when he isn’t writing, he’s sleeping. He finds it hard to do all three at once.
Studying any humanities subject will involve a large amount of reading. Inevitably. However, you need to be aware that there is reading, and there is reading. We all read all the time. You read road signs, you read social media posts. Sometimes our reading can be a light skimming, where information is taken in quickly. In study, though, your reading will need to be deep. Sometimes, the type of reading you will need to do is referred to as active reading. This is the type of reading where you think about what you are reading, where you question it and engage with it. You don’t just read the words but you engage with the ideas. The Open University has some good tips on how to manage active reading effectively which you can access here.
A lot of your reading at the college will be for research. Research cannot be simply reduced to cutting and pasting. This is what is called plagiarism and is the cardinal academic sin. If there were a death penalty in education, this would be the capital crime. It isn’t just in academic work that copying is a problem, of course, since even careers have been lost through thoughtless copying. The point of good research is to gather a range of views and then to assess them as part of your own thought process. In a way, this is the central skill of study. The ideal student is one who learns to teach themselves. Education, after all, is not just about the classroom or exams but is a lifelong, all-embracing pursuit for improvement. So you need to learn to research.
One problem is that at GCSE, you are not really prepared for the higher level of research required at A Level. Where GCSE focuses on descriptive writing (that is, repeating information you’ve been told and retelling things you know), A Level depends upon analytical writing. The facts are assumed and you have to now go beyond them. This is where you probe deeper. You assess why something is the case, how it came to be seen so, what the arguments are, and what their relative strengths and weaknesses are. This will be central to just about any study in the humanities. You will need to move beyond the GCSE style to reach the A Level requirement but that will take some time and a lot of effort.
The jump from GCSE to A Level is probably the biggest leap of your academic careers. It’s a chasm you’re crossing. So it can take a while to get to grips with. That’s OK, because your teachers are experts who know how to guide you gradually through the change. And the good news is that when you’ve got it, it will stand you in good stead from this point on. University study starts at A Level. You are starting to develop the skills you will need all the way through to undergraduate studies and beyond that to postgraduate work, should you choose to pursue that path, as an increasing number of students now do.
So, even now, start to think about how you research. Take an example. You may like a particular type of music. You could leave it at that, of course. Or you might look back to the influences that led to that style you like or which influenced a key artist. You might look at what changed along the way and what was added to create the new thing that now exists. You might compare it to other musical styles. You might include ideas from people who don’t like the style you like and you might consider what their criticisms would be. And then you might weigh all this up and come to a conclusion. All this is analysis. If you go to a doctor, you want him or her to analyse. “Well, you’re sick,” the doctor says. Great. But you want them to work out why you’re sick, what the cause is and what the solution is. So, key to analysis is coming to your own view, having taken other points of view into account too. When you write up your research, it will be important to show your sources and give references, so readers can follow up on ideas if they want to. For this reason, it is important to keep track of where you get your information from. After all, you do not want to fall prey to plagiarism. Even if it is not yet quite a capital offence.
Universities often have useful resources on their websites that might help you, even now. Here are some resources I would recommend reading:
- Guide to Effective Reading – The University of Wolverhampton
- Effective Reading – The University of Kent
- Research Strategies – The University of Ireland, Galway