#blog48 What happens when a whole cohort of first years write about learning on their module?

#blog48 Approaches to Meaning Module Reflection Challenge

The following blog post was written by the entire first year Approaches to Meaning cohort as a way to reflect on and consolidate their learning and memories from the module. This was done to give students a chance to embed their learning more deeply by attaching it to memories, and to give them a chance to develop skills that English Language and Linguistics graduates bring to the jobs market in abundance. They did it beautifully, and we are very pleased with the result!

Students requested one of the following roles: content provider, curator, photographer, creative director and editor. Editors helped to write the following blog post collaboratively, using Google Docs, and completing the challenge within 48 hours. Well done! Over to the students...

- Becci

Over the last twelve weeks, we have been introduced to a range of new ideas surrounding the topic of ‘Approaches to Meaning’. Created collaboratively within the space of 48 hours, this post was a group challenge designed to bring together twelve weeks of what we have learned, what we have achieved and some of our favourite memories from the past term. It’s a reflection technique that allows us to collaborate, making use of and developing skills that can be used later in life, both in and outside of a work environment. Some of the keys skills developed during this task are as follows: 

          • Reflection
          • Communication
          • Visual/creative skills
          • Teamwork
          • Curating data and information

Our tutor, Becci, gave us four questions that we should reflect on before and during our class. Here are the questions, and some of our responses and thoughts:

Question 1: Why would I recommend this module to future students?

If someone were to say that they didn’t know whether taking Approaches to Meaning was for them or not, we’d answer them with this...

By taking this module, you will cover more than what you expect - one student described Approaches to Meaning as “a dynamic and interesting range of areas to study about language and linguistics". The range of material is astonishing and there’s a topic for everyone. Whether you’re into sociolinguistics or history of meanings, "this module will give you knowledge about your own language. You will have another view of your language and understand it better." As Beth pointed out, for example, sociolinguistics is “a great way to look at the language of your demographic". Some have us have been looking at the meanings of new slang words, and the meaning of words in Grime culture. 

Furthermore, on our module, you are able to develop your skills in both essay writing and presenting through the assignments that are given and, when it comes to the assignments, the nice thing about them is that you are given encouraging feedback to take away. This particularly helps with something such as presentations. Presenting isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but the encouraging feedback which we were then given helped tremendously with confidence levels, with Becci going on to say that the “student presentations were really good”. The same can be said with the feedback from the essays. 

Question 2: What is the most interesting thing I have learnt about English Language and Linguistics on this module?

Approaches to Meaning is an extremely broad module with a diverse range of study topics - meaning that there’s something of interest for everyone. Psycholinguistics in particular seemed to be a real hit, with one student saying that the most interesting thing they learned on the module was “in the week of psycholinguistics with Prototype Theory - I look forward to more psycholinguistics in second year” and another telling us “I enjoyed learning about how different people can interpret concepts differently and how many elements are affected by context or opinion".

Consideration of social aspects is a key strand of English Language and Linguistics, so we have spent some time using sociolinguistic approaches this term. An interesting thought that one student has taken away from this area of study is that “[s]lang is just language not yet accepted by the public"' In order to collect data for sociolinguistic study, a significant part of the module was learning how to use corpora (collections of written texts from a range of sources). Another student said that the most interesting aspect of Approaches to Meaning for them was “being taught how to use corpora and how many fascinating and bizarre things they hold". Corpora are big bodies of text data that reveal interesting patterns and secrets about words and their usage.

Martha told us that the most interesting thing she’s learnt on this module was “[a]bout synonymy…And how to pronounce synonymy” whilst another student simply told us “[e]verything blows my mind!” Good stuff!

Question 3: What have I learnt about myself through participating in seminars?

On this module, not only did we gain extensive knowledge about the English Language in ways we had never even thought of, we also learnt a lot about ourselves through participating in the seminars - and it is safe to say that many of us feel as if we have grown in our experience and applicable skills through our weekly discussions and tasks we completed. 

For instance, one student says she has learnt to "be more confident about [herself] and speaking in front of a crowd" in regard to delivering her presentation in front of the rest of the class, a skill which she can apply to a multitude of professional contexts. Similarly in terms of self-confidence, another student told us “I have learned I should not be afraid to share my opinions with the seminar groups". Others added “[i]t is important to share ideas and thoughts as other students will have interesting comments and feedback” and “I’ve learned that the best way for me to learn is by talking through a subject". So, it sounds as though the social, communal nature of Approaches to Meaning seminars have suited us all down to the ground. Starting university and suddenly feeling like a tiny fish in a huge pond is daunting for most people - but being able to share ideas and opinions with fellow like-minded students can really help us all to feel more confident and better connected.

It also sounds as though equal and positive relations between students and tutors have been hugely beneficial to all throughout this module. In regards to helpful feedback on assignments, one student said “Keep trying - the second draft is always better and the third is always better than that, and then the fourth… Eventually you’ll be a WINNER". But not only have we students learned a lot about ourselves during our first term - Becci also told us “I have found out that I can learn from my students". Win-win!

Most importantly, though, the nicest way of learning about oneself is through realising how much you enjoy something and simply having fun. One happy student said “I learnt to stick to what I love and that is Linguistics!”

Question 4: What is my favourite memory from Approaches to Meaning seminars?

As the weeks grew on it was undeniable that in our seminar groups we had formed close bonds with each other, sharing some amazing memories of the fun we had in our weekly discussions, in which seminar teacher Becci "blew our minds" on the regular. A personal favourite of mine was the sense of camaraderie and competition between classmates when faced with the weekly quiz, which Kate described as "so intense and so fun". 

One student picked out their favourite memory of the entire module as being the big ‘Cake v. Biscuit Debate’ which took place in our seminar on psycholinguistics and Prototype Theory. What makes a biscuit not a cake and what makes a cake not a biscuit? What is a flapjack? And where on earth does a Jaffa Cake stand on the scale? All appear to be just some of life’s big, unanswered questions and the matter remains unresolved. Another student’s most cherished Approaches to Meaning memory was learning about the lady behind the Prototype Theory herself, Eleanor Rosch (“GIRL POWER!”).

One memory that stood out as a highlight was the word association game. We played this as a way of getting to grips with how word senses and concepts might link in the mind. When asked to write a favourite memory down, this was what some of us had to say about the word association game:

“My fave memory was playing word association and it worked perfectly!” - Beth
“How surprisingly often the word ‘spatula’ came up.” - Eve

Some even chose to highlight when word association took an interesting turn and some answers weren’t what we would expect:

“Word association: (Tree → Christmas → spoon???)”

“Word association: everyone: 'pen'; Becca: 'protractor!' "

But of course, we used these more unusual cases to try and work out how we deal with word meanings in discussions!

One final memory that really stood out was the week we decided to create a new word and put it onto Twitter to see how far the word would travel in a week. We wanted to see if we could get people to pick up on our usage of the word and use it themselves. In a week, we think we managed to get one person to use our word naturally, with some other questionable findings. It might be interesting to go back and have a look to see where it’s got to now. Our made-up word, we decided, was quirmy. And the meaning? ‘Feeling off or something gross’.

To sum up, the last twelve weeks have taught us an awful lot of what we will need both academically and outside of the classroom as has been highlighted above. As one of the editors for this post, the process of doing this has allowed me to develop skills such as collecting information and putting it into a suitable format. It has also been a way of developing team work, communication skills and use of technology which have been an integral part of this challenge. All of these skills are key to any job, but when looking at them with regard to this blog post, they are usual for any form career in media industries; technology and writing.