A while ago I came across an article in the Guardian entitled “10 things academics say students get wrong in exams” (30/04/2013). Although the focus of the article is on undergraduate students seeming to fall into the trap of simply regurgitating what they have been told in lectures, I think the article is just as relevant to A Level students.
One of the things the article refers to in the list of general student errors is getting the right tone for academic writing. The article suggests that regular reading of academic articles, which exposes students to the appropriate tone, can help and also that practising a small bit of writing regularly will benefit students in their approach to writing.
This certainly seems like good advice but knowing what something looks like and being able to do it yourself are two different things, and I think students need to be able to explicitly identify the differences between writing styles suitable for different audiences in order to actually make long lasting improvements.
Audience and purpose
Students learn in English all about writing for different purposes but often do not transfer this learning to other situations. As teachers we can point out where skills transfer and give students ample opportunities to make this transfer possible.
The Guardian piece gave me an idea about how a focus on regular writing practice and being aware of the tone of writing might lend itself to being the focus for a plenary activity for A Level Psychology students.
Write it 3 ways: A writing plenary
There are a number of different ways in which knowledge about research in Psychology might be communicated to others. Some of these ways include:
- Reporting for publication in an academic journal or review for a science magazine/blog
- Newspaper reporting aimed at a more general audience
- Tweeting about new research developments (there is a rapidly growing community of Psychologists and Psychology related individuals and organisations that Tweet about new research developments).
The style, length and the sort of language appropriate for these different audiences and purposes varies, with an exam writing style being in line with the report for an academic audience.
I think it could be worth asking students, as a closing activity for a lesson, to write about the area of research that has been studied in each of these 3 ways and discuss how the tone differs and identify the differences in the way in which they have communicated the same information. For example, in a lesson on life changes as a source of stress (Unit 2, AQA A, AS) students could be given a prompt such as “How do our lives lead to stress?” and asked to write a short piece for each of the 3 audiences/purposes highlighted above. Alternatively in groups of 3 students could be allocated 1 purpose each and then they could compare and contrast the outcomes, focussing on identifying what is appropriate when the audience is an examiner and the purpose is to convey knowledge and understanding of research in Psychology. If you can find a piece of research that has been written about in each style/tone this could be useful for modelling.
These are just the 3 purposes/styles that popped into my head when I read the article so I’m sure this activity could be tweaked into something better!