Wednesday, 30 November 2016

University - Week 11

The chaos of essays is in full swing at the moment, but the good news is that I'm still getting the right kind of progress made and my lecturers are being super helpful tutorial wise. At one point I had to re-write half of the current 1000 words of my 2000 word narratives essay on Never Let Me Go which, although traumatic at the time, has been perhaps the the most useful part of this whole learning experience. Largely because being able to acknowledge the flaws that exist straightaway means that I progress at a quicker and steadier pace.

When weeks are full, it is important to remember that often time is too empty to prove interesting. When life is busy, there is always somehow more time than there was before to stop and appreciate how far you've come and how much you have achieved. In the past day for instance I have received two positive pieces of feedback, admitted to myself that it's alright to struggle with my work sometimes as long as I keep working hard and asking for help, successfully sight read in a rehearsal, been given a solo in the Christmas carol service next week and started work as a student ambassador for York St. John. And all of that before tea time! Ian Mckellen (The best actor of all time) would certainly be proud of this partial and quickly evaporating element of the polymath which apparently resides somewhere at the back of my head. Kind of like a Megalodon, I never quite know when or where it will surface from.

It's also important to give yourself regular breaks when you have deadlines, stress and no Labrador to keep you company. A useful way to make yourself feel a bit better and to laugh for a while is to meet with your friends and indulge in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find them again. That's right! It took just over a week for me to go and see it again and it was even better the second time. Seeing it with my friends Rebecca and Izzie was quite strange because they hadn't seen it before - I found myself waiting to see their reactions at my favourite parts of the movie (no spoilers, I promise!) In approximately five seconds I am going to unleash the Harry Potter opinions - The new aspects of the world I am actually enjoying even more than the originals. Largely because I am a stickler for detail in every form of art or fact, and the world Rowling has put together here adds so much more detail to that overall idea of witchcraft being a global matter opposed to just something which exists in the English countryside. It makes it more magical that there are further believable aspects. Plus, all the American features were awesome! And it spoke to my inner zoologist/marine biologist. Who knows - maybe one day I'll end up studying one of those fields too and I can say it's all because of J. K. Rowling.

My Christmas shopping is mostly done now, other than a few last bits and pieces, but in about a weeks time everything will be done and dusted. Even the trees around campus now are starting to look a little more festive. Though that doesn't entirely take away the stress of deadlines being next week...

To calm myself, but also to inspire my ideas opposed to forcing them out of my notes, I've been doing the whole stereotypical writer thing of going to art galleries, reading bad French poetry and decorating my notebooks with lady bug wrapping paper. It might sound silly - but trust me, the best ideas you will ever have will come after further research into the life of L.S.Lowry and his life, with a few Dutch still lives thrown in there for good measure.

Overall, this week has been a mixture of the weird, the wacky, the logical and the wonderful (all the alliteration too, as you can see!) It makes me realise how lucky I am and how much brighter the future is starting to look. It's very easy to let stress mask you sometimes and, honestly, those are the moments when you have to work harder. From my own experience, I've found stress is basically my brain untying it's shoe laces. Sometimes it means stopping to tie them - perhaps going back through an essay and re-typing things. Sometimes it means the shoe lace needs re-threading - and you might need to ask for a bit of extra help or support to push through things. But all in all, and despite the bad shoe metaphors previously stated for which I apologise on my own behalf, life is spectacular. It is sublime. This world of study and of life moulded by so many individuals is one where even statistical fact is occasionally left wordless. So when I do take the time to step back and see this, everything seems that little easier. And it's clear that things will be ok. 

That's all for today folks! Thank-you again, so so so much for voting for me as blogger of the year 2016 - it is an achievement I am really proud of which makes me smile just thinking about it!

Thank you also for all your support and comments, it is so wonderful to be able to answer or help with any questions you have, and to share this adventure with all of you. It makes my day every day!

If you like, you can click Here to vote for me as Blogger of the Month. Thank you.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

University - Week 10

Perhaps one of the most challenging and difficult weeks I have had at university so far. Whilst class is enjoyable as usual, I am finding it a tad difficult getting back into the habit of spending all of my free time in the library and not exploring as I did in the reading week. But this is a habit I usually have - in reading week I grow so accustomed to setting and defining my own schedule that when it comes to having a set schedule, particularly the busy one that comes with Christmas time, it is not so easy to settle back into working as much of the day as I can.

However, that said, I am glad to see now how testing that sort of time table can be. It makes me realise what a luxury it will be to have a break from bibliographies in alphabetical order. But it also makes me appreciate just how hard I have been working. The aim now is to avoid becoming complacent. On my assignments so far I have a high upper second and a first... whilst those are really good grades (better than I thought I would get) there is still a long way to go and my aim is to surpass those grades, not to lag behind them and have them become the best things I achieve.

But yes... the next two weeks are definitely going to be hectic... Halle rehearsals and concerts during the week time, some busking for charity at the weekends, visiting friends, finishing Christmas shopping, writing two 2000 words essays, delivering a 12 minute presentation, classes, extra choir projects and rehearsal, starting my new job, job training, essay club and all manner of other things. So forgive me if sometimes sentences sound a little strange - but hopefully they shouldn't (this is good proof reading practice)

As a break from essay practice, me and a few friends went to the Christmas markets for a few hours. It was fairly similar to the one in Manchester, but with an extra sprinkling of all things York to make it even more magical. I'm excited to visit it again when the weather is a bit less rainy!

In class this week we have been focusing further on Twelfth Night and Never Let Me Go. Both of these books were actually part of the reason why I decided to study English literature in the long run.

I first studied Shakespeare's Twelfth Night in my first year of sixth form. We contrasted it with some of Pinter's works. The first of these two was definitely my favourite, though now I think I am a little more capable of appreciating Pinter and his use of silence. The aim was to discuss comedy and why we find things funny. It was difficult to miss that Shakespeare is quite satirical of many things in Twelfth Night. There is so much subtext in terms of things such as gender or the superficiality of the society constructed around the characters. Getting to look further into the satire of this further in lectures has made lectures feel like a conversation between friends. Although going into more detail, it feels like a book club where you can discuss your favourite things. Especially when they put clips from the Globe's 2012 production up - Stephen Fry is my all time favourite Malvolio.

Never Let Me Go was one of the first truly 'adult' science fiction novels I stumbled across towards the middle of my time at secondary school when I became interested in works such as Orwell's 1984. I've never quite understood what about these two texts drew me in when I was 14, but now they are amongst some of my favourites. The most intriguing aspect about class is the parallels which are being drawn up between the Ishiguro piece and the previously studied Frankenstein. It makes me weirdly happy that there are so many similarities. It is further evidence of a well read author. One of my friends suggested in the seminar that it is written in the style of Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. Which is weird, because in the lecture following our lecturer informed us that one of Ishiguro's biggest influences was stumbling across that bulk of wonderful Victorian novel fiction. 

The next few weeks will be extremely busy as I mentioned, but they will also be fun. This next week we will be moving on to our final texts of the year - Castle of Otranto and Fun House. More gothic and some graphic novel discussion? Let's get started!

That's all for today folks! Thank-you again, so so so much for voting for me as blogger of the year 2016 - it is an achievement I am really proud of which makes me smile just thinking about it!

Thank you also for all your support and comments, it is so wonderful to be able to answer or help with any questions you have, and to share this adventure with all of you. It makes my day every day!

If you like, you can click Here to vote for me as Blogger of the Month. Thank you.

Friday, 25 November 2016

Student budget - Christmas shopping

Never mind deadlines, one of the most stressful parts of the year is Christmas Shopping on a student budget! Because of course, for the first time really you have a limit on how much you spend because of needing to pay for bills, food, travel and so on. It's not a major worry, but it is something that might play on your mind because it is a little different to usual. 

One important thing to remember in advance is that giving your friends and family Christmas gifts is not a competition and it is also not a mandatory thing. We give gifts to show appreciation for others, to share that holiday joy and just to show overall that we care. Which is why is always the thought that matters and not how much you spend. You could even make something - the gifts you make require effort and putting aside time for someone like that is extremely thoughtful. 

So without further ado, a few tips to help you Christmas shop with a student budget:

1. What are their interests?

I find it useful to make a list with each person I am shopping for and their interests. Being able to see their interests means if I come across something in a store it is easier to decide which person might like it best. Especially if several different people might share interests this is useful as it means I can share a similar idea. For instance if two of my friends enjoy the classics and I know which books they have read, they might both not have read A Christmas Carol and so this would be perfect for them both.

In addition to shopping for someone, knowing their interests can help in general. It means you know them well enough to put more thought into what they would like or appreciate as a gift. And also that you spend a little time thinking about them and what to give them.

2. Pick a theme

Another useful thing I find is to pick a theme for everyone on my list of people to send Christmas gifts to. Last year the theme was travel. So a lot of the gifts were based on countries (e.g. chocolate from Germany, Books in French, Globe bookends) which was really useful as after travelling a lot, many of the gifts were ones I had purchased in advance. I also wrapped the gifts in this awesome wallpaper I managed to find in paperchase which was like an old map. These I tied with string. Another wrapping to go with this theme that I used were brown envelopes for cards, covered in lots of different stamps. 

The details of a theme means that you never get stuck for ideas because not only are you planning around an individuals interests but you are also focusing on a wider topic which you can use for further prompts. It also means everything matches quite nicely when you are planning and preparing which, if you are anything like me, matters hugely! Namely because if you shop in advance these will be taking up space for a while, so it's cool that they all match.

3. Student discounts

Christmas time is always a rush if you wait till the last minute, so it's best to begin as far in advance as you can. 

Student discounts apply throughout the year to different things, but you will be able to make the most of them just around the end of November and the beginning of December. If you go shopping around this time, it is more likely that the things you are looking for will be in stock instead of sold out, and that you can use your student discount to get those. If you go shopping last minute, you might find that even with a student discount there is nothing you think would be ideal or things are too expensive. 

4. Making things

My personal favourite. I've always hated feeling like I am not giving a good enough gift, but over the years (with the tips I am sharing) it has become easier to feel like I am giving enough. Making things is something which will give satisfaction to you as an individual too because you are being creative, you are working on a project outside of your deadlines/work schedule and it's something for someone else. Making things is one of the most selfless things you can do. 

Some of my favourite things to make are sketches. One of my most recent sketches was of Chip n' Dale for my mum's birthday which I'll put below:

5. A shared gift/celebration

Another thoughtful gift can just be organising time with your family. Perhaps you might pay for a meal with your parents, or arrange a small surprise party with family and friends. Being able to be with those you care for at the holidays is the best part. It's when all those memories of sillness and the magical tend to occur. Whether it be someone suddenly becoming the king of board games, or realising that somehow all the brussels sprouts have ended up being fed to the dog. 

Whatever it is you decide upon gift wise, for you make sure you give yourself the gift of time off! Now that the semester is over, make sure to keep the work up at regular intervals. But for the most part, revel in the Christmas magic!

That's all for today folks! Thank-you again, so so so much for voting for me as blogger of the year 2016 - it is an achievement I am really proud of which makes me smile just thinking about it!

Thank you also for all your support and comments, it is so wonderful to be able to answer or help with any questions you have, and to share this adventure with all of you. It makes my day every day!

If you like, you can click Here to vote for me as Blogger of the Month. Thank you.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

How to: Create a successful presentation

Apologies for my radio silence the past few days - having two weeks to finish my two 2000 word essays and finish producing my group presentation is a little stressful, especially with everything else extracurricular and work wise. But I'm hanging in there and trying to keep positive, so hopefully I can get to the other side of this in tact and with plenty of positive learning experiences. Though it is quite scary right now to be outside of my comfort zone with producing a large quantity of work. But it's good to be going through this now as it will help me in the future with preparing for the rest of my degree and having foundation work is important, despite being tiring and very full on.

But my main focus right now is the group presentation that myself and my peers are putting together for our assessment in two weeks time. Whilst stressful, it is also really fun to get to know some new people and to share this stressful experience with them. Nothing allows you to get someone better than seeing one another at their lowest point - that being buried under a million miles of stress! But back to the positive side of things, hearing a myriad of different perspectives is the best part of this whole endeavour. When you discover like-minded people who are passionate about the same thing it is much easier to get on with work.

Before we enter into the world of presentations, here are some candy canes to help you remain in the spirit of Christmas:

Some tips I have picked up/learnt from this experience so far about how to make a successful presentation:

1. Have a plan beforehand

Planning is at the heart of every piece of academic work you will ever do - whether it's course work or a timed exam. It allows you to get out of your head several clear points which you can then make the architectural skeleton of your essay out of.

Start with a simple outline/guideline. Pick a question, have a thesis, have three main thoughts and then build upon these by having three pieces of evidence, three pieces of research etc. It doesn't have to be confined to three either - it's just that this is a reasonable number which isn't too large or small, and allows you provide just the right amount of research for your work. The more you build on a plan the more likely it is that you will have a strong, clear argument before you even begin putting it into slide format and speaking through it.

If you struggle with lists, mind maps are especially useful here. If you are working on a group presentation, perhaps you could invest in some A3 paper and coloured pens to make you feel a little more confident and excited as a group to come up with new ideas to explore throughout your presentation. Then condense the mind maps down into the list format that is easier to carry around and access immediately.

Keep this plan safe and bring it to group meetings, because then you can refer back to this throughout the entire assignment. It's also a great thing to take to your tutor and go through. If you're getting things right from the beginning, it is much less likely that you will make silly mistakes later on.

2. Research as you would for an essay

Just as everything needs planning, everything needs to be evidenced and explained. The best way to do this is to not only have a strong argument but also a strong, steady stream of research. This means having a variety of different texts - journals, books, online articles, collected editions and so on. Sometimes, if relevant and properly referenced, you can even use content such as documentaries you might have watched. If you were doing a presentation about whales or marine life in captivity, an excellent source might be the documentary Black fish. 

Assign research so that each individual in your presentation group has a task to do. Maybe divide the main themes/points so that you have an individual area of research each. For instance, you could do a reading of a text so that each person represents a different reading of the text (feminist, capitalist interpretation etc) Finding your sources should also be something you are patient and scrupulous with - head for the library and make sure to take a pen and pad of paper so that you can harvard reference as you go with useful quotations. It's dreary, but the best way you can prepare to begin presenting.

3. Keep the slide content to a minimum

Nobody, and I mean nobody, enjoys an overcrowded slide. Mainly because they remind us of crowded school hall ways and the rush hour on the way home from a long day. So make sure that you are keeping your slide content to the minimum. If you can achieve this, then it will be much easier to make clear, concise points.

Personally, I find using a variety of different technical aspects help - evenly spaced use of images, text, video clips and so on, with a bibliographic slide towards the end and clear headlines for every other slide. There are hundreds of different ways to break down the presentation of your slides but everyone has different tastes. So it is important also that you discuss how you want to be presenting things with your group (trust me, there is always the potential for an argument over slide background shade - pink or green?)

Keeping the slide content to a minimum is easiest if you know your subject/topic very well and feel confident arguing it to a room of people even when you are very nervous. You need to have the ability to wing it should something go wrong. So plan what you need to say, but not to the extent where you are memorising a script. Use your flash cards as a jigsaw piece which compliment your slide. This way, you balance the information over two separate areas, providing the audience with everything they need to see and regard visually, whilst you yourself present the rest of the interesting elements of the point.

4. Don't read everything from your flash cards

As in the previous section, spread your information thinly but richly. It's kind of like Marmite in that you don't want too much or too little. It's definitely not like nutella (as my friend Rebecca would say) of which you can never have too much.

Use your flash cards as cue cards. Like with the slides, have several key points with several mini spider diagrams which have words which will remind you very quickly of what you need to be talking about. For example (to continue with one of my favourite metaphors) if you were talking about cats, then you could have an arrow leading from this with the word 'dog' written, to remind you to talk about the contrast between the two and why this binary opposition exists.

5. All the practice! 

Whilst preparation is the beginning stage, alongside research and all those good things, the most important thing you can do (genuinely cannot stress it enough) is get that practice done! Practice in your mind on the bus, practice when you are taking a break from essays or from reading, go over what you need to say in the shower, try every memory method you can think of that will make you feel confident and empowered when it comes to your presentation.

Treat it as a beautifully crafted debut performance. It's one where perhaps the music is a little out of your range or one of the violin strings have just been restrung. Despite being out of your comfort zone and very much in at the deep end, you will get through this and feel all the better for it. It will make you feel a million times more confident once you realise that you can get up there and speak for three minutes because you have done the work, know the subject well and (more importantly) you are passionate about it and want to share your voice with an audience who are also hopefully going to be passionate about it.

And to those of you confident with presenting powerpoints who might have done this before - please share your secrets in the comments. Whilst a magician never reveals them, an audience of students needs every idea they can find. In this forum of learning we call the internet, set out your ideas like ships on to the sea.

Random fact to help take off the pressure of winter assignment deadlines (courtesy of Fruit Pastilles)
: A Yawn is a backwards Sigh.

That's all for today folks! Thank-you again, so so so much for voting for me as blogger of the year 2016 - it is an achievement I am really proud of which makes me smile just thinking about it!

Thank you also for all your support and comments, it is so wonderful to be able to answer or help with any questions you have, and to share this adventure with all of you. It makes my day every day!

If you like, you can click Here to vote for me as Blogger of the Month. Thank you.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Update: Graduation week, books and friends

This post should really be subtitled Reading week part 2, before we continue at least. Also known as week nine of reading week (the week I got a first on my first essay! Hooray!)

And this week as a whole has been a lot of different things... being home for this long after several months of coming and going for rehearsals has been quite strange. It's also a little sad that just as I am getting used to things I will be going back to my student accommodation soon and it will be another month before I am back home again (but at least for longer next time) The quote I mentioned a while ago from a Jack Mapanje interview is back in my mind again: Home is confusing as you get older. It becomes less a place and more a feeling. It is confusing because as much as I love my family and the city of Manchester, at the same time I am excited to get back to York and my second family of wonderful friends there. Especially as there will be hot chocolate grade celebrations with the essay club (namely some of my closest friends, Emma, Izzie, Rebecca and Hayley) Exam stress is so worthwhile when you have such fantastic friends to help you get through it all.

On Thursday I headed briefly back to York for the day, as I was singing with the chamber choir in the graduation ceremonies. Singing in the Minster again, especially rehearsing in the fantastic architecture of the Chapter house, was beyond awesome! Especially as we were singing in the largest section of the cathedral this time opposed to the cloisters reserved for weddings and such. The sound was so much louder, richer and balanced in that contrasting acoustic. It was also moving to be a part of a day which means so much to so many students and to think that in another few years time that will be me graduating. Time goes so quickly - already I am nearly at the middle of my first year at York St. John!

Plus, the graduation ceremonies also require the choral singers to wear plain robes. Don't think I can express how much Ravenclaw this made me feel!

Whilst we're on the subject of Harry Potter... Holy cricket, Fantastic beasts and where to find them! On Friday, this was the highlight of the day by far. I was wary of it at first because Harry Potter and the cursed child on a literary spectrum just isn't my favourite part of the wizarding world that Rowling has so carefully put together. But the intricate detail in every aspect of the new movie and it's screen play was just incredible. Zoology and biology have always fascinated me, and that the plot line was so patient and inclusive of all those tiny scientific (both fictional and non fictional) details was very interesting to me. Plus the special effects meant the beloved Bowtruckle was brought to life perfectly.

Another fantastic (see what I did there?) element of Fantastic beasts and where to find them, was that it included so much history and subtle symbolism. For instance, the fashion and such were the only indicators really as to what period in history in the US this story was set. That subtlety was appreciated because it meant there was no condescending tone and it was suitable for all viewers. History wise, I found it so intriguing to see the aspect of the Salem witch trials fitted in. This is a big part of history surrounding this whole idea of witchcraft and magic, and it was fitting to see the contrast between realistic history and fictional history.

There is also an absolutely phenomenal book by Ann Shen called Bad girls throughout history, which is not only widely researched and all encompassing of female role models throughout the past forever, but also beautifully illustrated.

As a proud feminist, reading about all of these amazing women and their astounding lives has proved eye opening on a whole new level. Because it's not just about the Joan of Arcs and the Cleopatras, it's also about the lesser known figures such as Ada Lovelace and Sojourner Truth who occasionally get overlooked because of other better known figures. Each of these women was brave and strong in their own unique, admirable way. And they used that voice to the fullest. Without that, girls today would not have the access to the education or work that they have today and that is incredibly important. The main reason I like this book is because of this -  because amongst the familiar figures are the newer faces.

Outside of the books I am reading for fun, I'm really enjoying re-reading Never let me go for class. Especially now that I am starting to see the close links between this text and Frankenstein - it's not so obvious but also ever present. This question of what it is to be human or to be a monster, and what the presence of a 'soul' really is/what it refers to is the largest example of how the texts are similar to one another. Castle of Otranto I am not such a big fan of currently, but I am sure we will see a change in this when I am back at York because class always opens up the aspects of the text I cannot properly fathom and hence I enjoy it so much more. Analysis unlocks all those little things that make you adore a text and suddenly you see it in a new light made up of those details. Also, another snippet of class work, I'm super excited to present my study groups analysis of Twelfth night on the first day back because the Branagh interpretation was very different to the interpretations I have seen before. Whilst it's not my favourite, it was definitely a well thought out version of the infamous play and a cool new way to look at it.

But of course, I can't head off to rehearsal and back to York without first having rejoiced in all the festivity of the Manchester Christmas markets! So that was how I spent my Saturday evening - some people hate the crowds that gather this time of year because it's like being a sardine in a very full tin. But all the same, I adore that excitement and energy of large crowds. It makes me feel simultaneously shrimp-like and also enormously empowered. It takes me back to the early years of my childhood (mainly because I'm still that short!) Whatever it is, it's a weird amazing feeling that surrounds the holidays. It's one that dances at the mention of fairy lights, hot chocolate, gingerbread or reindeer. Plus, the German markets are an excellent time to practice German (Deutsch!)

On a final note to end this ninth week/reading week/second instalment, this Sunday has been a celebration of 6 years with my boyfriend Joe. It is so odd that it has been such a long time, but simultaneously, it is wonderful to reach this mile stone. And to celebrate with too many sweets, flowers and discussing everything from books to saxophones! Happy 6 years!

That's all for today folks! Thank-you again, so so so much for voting for me as blogger of the year 2016 - it is an achievement I am really proud of which makes me smile just thinking about it!

Thank you also for all your support and comments, it is so wonderful to be able to answer or help with any questions you have, and to share this adventure with all of you. It makes my day every day!

If you like, you can click Here to vote for me as Blogger of the Month. Thank you.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

How to: Make the most of assessment feedback

Today I got back the feedback and grade for my first essay of the year... and can you believe it (I know I certainly am still so happy and incredulous about this) I got a first! This news has made me so happy, but it reminds me more than anything that now is not the time to become complacent, but is the time to continue working hard now that I have three more assignments.

The important thing here is not the grade itself - the important thing is the feedback that I got. This means looking at both the positives and the negatives in what the examiner had to say. Whether it be on grammar or on structure, taking those things into account is how I am going to improve and also how you might improve when it comes to putting together your next assignment. 

To get the most out of your assessment feedback, here are a few tips:

1. Highlight/Colour code

Highlighters are your new weapon here. Choose at least two different colours and use them to pick out good and bad things that you got back in your feedback so that you can see clearly which fits into which category. You can also highlight sections of your essay which might not have been focused upon in depth to show you think you could have done better in a certain place, or perhaps to show that in another you think you could not have done any better.

Colour coding is useful because it is an efficient way of sorting a large amount of information. It means that you can look at something and know immediately that it is a negative and needs to be fixed, or that it is a positive and doesn't need to be right at the top of the re-evaluating list. Plus, it is always reassuring to see just how many positives there are in your work. Whilst there will be plenty to be built upon and done differently next time, you'll usually find that the things to be proud of achieving always outnumber the things that need to be developed. If you have worked hard, this is the best way you can go about productively sorting info whilst also taking in what a good job you have actually done. 

2. Talk to your tutor 

Whilst feedback takes a long time to put together, it can also sometimes contain information which doesn't make complete sense to you right away. Especially as a first year, it might be that you want to know more about what you can do differently, or why exactly that feedback has led to the mark you achieved. There is no shame in being a little confused or just wanting to know more, and the best way to go about doing this is to go to the horses mouth itself and asking directly. 

Talking to your tutor might also give you even more information about how you can improve. Perhaps they will have more tips based on your feedback notes to support you in your learning process. Whilst every teacher is different, all of them want for you to earn the best grade and achieve high marks - most importantly, they want you to be willing to put yourself out there and to learn from your mistakes. Some of my best achievements and best ideas have been achieved because previously I made so many mistakes. If you keep asking for information, or help, or whatever it is you need when you need it, you will soon see a massive difference in your progress.

3. Attempt to re-write small sections differently 

It isn't mandatory, but as with point one it can be a useful task to partake in inbetween your assignments. Use the feedback to re-write small sections and then look back at the contrast between the two passages. 

This is one which was recommended to me by a friend in sixth form. When you take the comments and put them into action, you soon start to notice the small differences in your writing which make it clearer and better at communicating your point to your audience. Similar to your highlighting the positives and negatives of your essay, this is a similar process. There will be whole sentences that you will cut from your initial final draft, there will be whole sentences you won't change at all - it's all part of learning how to shape your voice in the essay format so that you can say exactly what it is you want to say. 

4. Use it to create 3 targets/goals

Use what has been said to make an action plan of sorts. But the simple kind, just a guide line - something to keep you going through the bitter process of future drafting. In your darkest moments turn to these points to know what it is you're working towards. Those three things can be simple - maybe it is to use less commas and more full stops so that you aren't going on forever (cough, Charlotte, cough) 

To quote my favourite Pixar fish, just keep swimming. Fun fact - did you know it's impossible for great white sharks to live healthily if they stop swimming? Their gills are built so that they cannot filter air on their own and need to keep moving in order to breathe successfully. 

5. Bear this in mind next time

All of these tips centre around the same central idea: remember this advice from your marking for the next time. As I said, learning from our mistakes is everything and is the only way that we can improve. If you make the most of your feedback by referring back to it, soon you will do so by habit (almost a reflex) and the work you will be producing will be the work you can be most proud of.

And well done - because so far, you have already achieved so much in your essay writing. Whilst this is a small step right now, in the long run it will be prove to be a leap.

That's all for today folks! Thank-you again, so so so much for voting for me as blogger of the year 2016 - it is an achievement I am really proud of which makes me smile just thinking about it!

Thank you also for all your support and comments, it is so wonderful to be able to answer or help with any questions you have, and to share this adventure with all of you. It makes my day every day!

If you like, you can click Here to vote for me as Blogger of the Month. Thank you.

Week 9 - Reading Week

Quite a quiet week and no, not just because I was catching up on homework in the library, but because I have also been catching up on some much needed sleep! And spending time with my lovely family. Getting to do some work in my comfort zone back here in Manchester has worked wonders. Whilst I am still nervous about assignment feedback, it is much easier to deal with those nerves with my family reassuring me that I have worked hard, done my best and that it isn't the end of the world if the grades (when I do get them back) aren't the best I ever get because it is a first attempt.

The beginning of the week was exciting for two reasons:

1. It was my mum's birthday (Happy birthday again mum!)
2. My uncle Jeff came to visit from the U.S!

Having so much of the family together for my mum's birthday and my return to Manchester for a short period of time was a lovely way to begin the reading week. It was the perfect opportunity to ditch the essay plans for a while and reminisce the past years. Going over memories always ends up shocking me because time passes far too quickly for my liking. That has been the case with this week too - it has simply flown by.

My uncle Jeff hadn't seen too much of Manchester over the past few years, so it was fun to act as tour guide and to try and remember all the things we get taught in school about the history of the city. From the architecture to the finer details of the culture of this place, informing others about elements of the city reminds me why it is that I care so much and am so proud to come from this area. Especially on Monday when we visited Salford Quays together and went to see the collection of paintings by L. S. Lowry, before crossing over the river to the imperial war museum, I was reminded by how much and how rich in knowledge + variety this place is. In one day, there are probably over 10 art galleries and museums you could access easily which is a remarkable and rewarding thing.

Lowry was a painter from the Salford area who was quite famous in his life time, but became most well known posthumously. His work is especially intriguing as it is centred around the lives of those who were from working class regions of Manchester. In the talk at the gallery today, there were some really interesting points made about his life, personality and hence also his artwork. This seems to culminate in one of his pen sketches which is now shown in the gallery devoted to his work. A pen sketch, I hear you say, that is not so odd. No, I suppose not... but what makes it striking is that is on the back of an invitation to join a prestigious art society. 

I've also been getting back into sport over this week - swimming is one of my favourite past times and it's been difficult not having the time to go as often as I like. 

Reading week, as I have written about in How to: make the most of your reading week, is a time to catch up on all the work you might have got a little behind in and getting ahead with upcoming deadlines + reading. So far, I am pretty much 99% done with all of my reading and have begun preparing my essay work for the following weeks. 3 Weeks before Christmas break to get everything done. I can do this! 

Still lots to go this week, so it will split into two posts of sorts. More in the next instalment about singing in the graduation ceremonies, reading list books and catching up with some of my friends from Leeds College of Music. 

That's all for today folks! Thank-you again, so so so much for voting for me as blogger of the year 2016 - it is an achievement I am really proud of which makes me smile just thinking about it!
Thank you also for all your support and comments, it is so wonderful to be able to answer or help with any questions you have, and to share this adventure with all of you. It makes my day every day!
If you like, you can click Here to vote for me as Blogger of the Month. Thank you.

Monday, 14 November 2016

November in books

Studying literature is one of the best things that has ever happened to me, but it is also full on at times. It is many things, but it is also a million assignments and reading lists at once which can be a bit too much from time to time. By this, I mean often I get distracted from the rest of the world and focus my attentions on only this.

My aim for November, a mid year resolution if you will, is to escape the bubble of just my degree. I want to enhance it by bringing in all the things that can be enjoyed in day to day life. This means books from outside the class room being read, being one ahead of the reading list at all times (I have found this suits how I study best) and focusing in on my different interests to see how they impact on my perception + analysis skills in the wider spectrum.

Book wise, my reads for November outside of the reading list look something like this:

1. A short history of nearly everything - Bill Bryson

It is seldom you come across a writer who writes about such a variety of different things. The first book I read by him was one on the life of Shakespeare. Whilst, like most books on the Bard, it recycled a lot of old information, it told it in a creative and fresh way which made me feel like I was learning it all for the first time.

Bryson's dry humour and sharp wit are what make him such a wonderful travel writer. Of all his books, those are my favourites. He reminds me in a way of Wainwright, except more optimistic. This book (a short history of nearly everything) is one I spotted on several book shelves over the past few months and quickly became curious about. I mean it's saying it's a history of everything - that alone is intriguing enough. Coupled with Bryson's name, and I fell for this one hook, line and sinker.

So far I am a few chapters in and happy to find that all the skill with word placement and fast paced non fiction is still as present as it was in the Shakespeare. Looking forward to re-learning everything I thought I knew the right way!

2. Testament of youth - Vera Brittain

The movie of this book was one of the most powerful I've come across in a long time. Based on the life of Vera Brittain (an English poet capturing her experiences from world war I) this book centres around her experiences with war, how it impacted on her and her family but most particularly, how she experienced war being a woman.

Often the experiences of women are not as widely covered, due to many of the most famous published war writers being a prominently male dominated field. Brittain's experience captures what it was to have war shake up everything about the society she had previously existed in and how this impacted on her education and the work opened up to her. Through this, she was able to train at Oxford and to become a nurse on the front line. Her loss, her strength, her human compassion, is all so beautifully expressed in her poetry and I am looking forward to reading her voice through a more autobiographical narrative.

3. Phantom of the opera - Gaston Leroux 

Studying the gothic, why not explore more of it beyond narratives class? And where better to start than with re-reading one of my favourite gothic short novels (from one of France's finest writers) than phantom of the opera? Plus, it gives me the perfect opportunity to be nostalgic about halloween passing by so quickly and to sing along at the same time to the original Andrew Lloyd Webber sound track. The phaaaaaaanttoooom of the opera is thereeeee!

4. Dreams from my father - Barack Obama

Obama has always been a figure I have admired because he is passionate about what he does and has a love for learning which I too have found I have. Reading his books has been a long time coming on my to read list, and stumbling across this in the university library of late night researching made me seriously happy!

I believe this was the first of his books to be published, and it is quite a length read, but as with Vera Brittain his writing style is one so unique to him as an individual. Hearing his thoughts and memories together on the page is a whole different thing to hearing him through the various forms of media that exist in the contemporary present. As an individual who is fascinated by memories and how they affect our own human experience, autobiographies (especially this one) seem to be a big part of the reading list this month.

5. Fantastic beasts and where to find them - Manuscript, J. K. Rowling 

Firstly, can we talk cover art? Because I mean, look at how awesome this cover looks - don't judge a book by a cover and all but still, wow! This cover brings out my inner Ravenclaw!

Whilst I will be seeing the movie first (not long now till Friday - eep!) getting to look first hand at the screen play is something I am especially keen to do. This is largely due to hearing actors such as Redmayne (who plays Newt Scamander in the movie) discuss how magical Rowling has made her first written screen play - there is so much detail in every element, particularly stage directions. I'm so excited for this (more even than I was for the curse child) so I'm just going to put a few clips below:

6. Hot milk 

Another book I am excited to be reading soon is Hot milk which was short listed for the Man Booker prize this year. Every year I aim to read the whole short list, but have never yet succeeded in doing so before the prize is awarded! Unfortunately, this book was no the winner but it is one of the ones everyone at college has been talking about and so I am keen to read and catch up on the hype! Spotted this last time I was in chapter one, so maybe next time this will be my book of choice over tea and cake, who knows.

That's my November book playlist/shortlist/toreadlist. What's yours? Please do let me know what you are excited to read or be reading in the comments.

That's all for today folks! Thank-you again, so so so much for voting for me as blogger of the year 2016 - it is an achievement I am really proud of which makes me smile just thinking about it!

Thank you also for all your support and comments, it is so wonderful to be able to answer or help with any questions you have, and to share this adventure with all of you. It makes my day every day!

If you like, you can click Here to vote for me as Blogger of the Month. Thank you.

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Week 8 - Debussy, Frankenstein and I

The week after bonfire night and Halloween is always one I find difficult to begin with, because after all that excitement suddenly it seems like the end of something wonderful and the beginning of something that isn't as thrilling... until I remember that it's only a few more weeks till Christmas! Honestly, Christmas is one of my favourite times of year and getting through my assignments to get there is something I am willing to put everything into (as long as it means lots of gingerbread and hot chocolate with my family is the end result) 

Monday was ridiculously busy this week, as I wanted to double check my portfolio for Writing for academic success before I sent it off for submission. That's right, three assignments have now been sent off and are no longer in my hands! It's quite a scary thought which I am trying to take my mind away from by working on the next three assignments due before Christmas. My portfolio, whilst we are on the topic, was based around Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper and how power is shown throughout this short story. If you haven't read it before please do, it's such an intriguing little literary work with so many different views surrounding it. 

My next three assignments are longer and more testing, but they are also slightly more liberating. For instance, for one of the essays I get to write my own question and write about two books opposed to just one as in the previous essay. And we also get to work on a group presentation, so it will be fun albeit testing to put that together over the upcoming weeks.

In Narratives class this week we have been studying Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, which I've never studied before although a lot of students did this for the Gothic module in A level literature I've mentioned briefly before (for which my sixth form taught Wuthering Heights) The Gothic has so much about it that is fascinating - for one, it incorporates not just the literature of that period but also much of the artwork and architecture. Plus, it runs many parallels with the romantic period. There is a quality to it as a genre that leaves you questioning and curious about the darker elements of human nature. 

Frankenstein has been interesting to study for me because, as a novel, it seems to zoom in and out of a series of nesting narratives in a way quite unlike anything I've read before. Without too many spoilers, I like how fragmented it is and also how we get closer and closer to the monster before fading out through other narratives again. A final comment before I give away the whole plot line, the question of who is really the monster and who is the man is one which fascinates many - myself being no exception. In class, we made a mind map of all of the qualities which make humans human and by doing so we were able to complicate the binary of man and monster even further. It is why this question has no answer - it expands into that realm of philosophy where nothing is truly certain at all. But the open questions are the ones which we keep talking about and this is why Shelley's novel has remained so popular and has never been out of print - it's themes are still very much in relation to us as modern day humans.

Other than class and some fun adventures with friends, plus getting all my work done before reading week so I can have a few days off, and getting some photos taken of moi (upcoming projects - eyes peeled everyone!) this week has been largely about getting my solo right for the concert that was this evening. 

I worked with the York St. John choir on Debussy's Trois chansons which are incredibly beautiful (wish he did more choral stuff) which we performed in the chaplaincy at the contemporary music festival. Due to the death of Peter Maxwell Davies earlier this year, a lot of his pieces were performed in his memory and honour. There were the works of other members of the Manchester school also, such as Birtwhistle, as well as some exciting new pieces composed by members of the college. Some of them were quite funny, which was lovely to see. a stressful week ending on high.

And now finally, it's time for a break (not counting Halle rehearsal and singing at the graduation ceremonies next week...) Bring on the reading week and castle of Otranto! 

That's all for today folks! Thank-you again, so so so much for voting for me as blogger of the year 2016 - it is an achievement I am really proud of which makes me smile just thinking about it!

Thank you also for all your support and comments, it is so wonderful to be able to answer or help with any questions you have, and to share this adventure with all of you. It makes my day every day!

If you like, you can click Here to vote for me as Blogger of the Month. Thank you.

Essay Tips

Course work makes up a large part of my literature degree, which means that I usually have around 3 assignment deadlines at the same time (as has been the case for the past few weeks) This has meant learning to adjust to working under this type of pressure whilst also learning to avoid stress through maintaining balance. Starting as early as I can on written pieces means that I am almost done when it comes to deadline week and only need to worry about final editing.

What is an essay? It seems to be a word which is constantly revered and simultaneously feared by students and academics alike. We fear not being able to structure it correctly, not arguing our point clearly enough, not providing the right evidence. When the reality is, we should embrace the essay as our best means of expressing an idea we might have to share with the rest of the world. And we begin that sharing process with the essays we work on now during our education. We get a head start on the deadlines that are still to come and have not yet been. The essay is our means of engaging with critics and fellow academics to play our own part in a variety of open conversations surrounding subjects such as literature.

When putting together an essay for class, it is important to remember:

1. Be well structured 

Whilst it is true that without you having a clear something to say in your work it is unlikely to be successful, it is not just enough to have something to say on it's own. You need to work on presenting it in a format that not only makes sense to you but also to those who will be reading this. In some cases, assessing the piece you have put together.
The practice of research and reading widely have become my new weapons in putting together my own work. By reading a wide variety of different texts in all their formats, it is much easier to begin formulating your own ideas and to observe the connections between different things. Sometimes someone else's comment might spark in your mind a new thought. I do not mean plagiarise someone else's idea in this! What I mean is, reference correctly the material you have used and explain how this connects to the new idea you have had as evidence. This way you can show where your thoughts came from and credit similar researchers.
That's all for today folks! Thank-you again, so so so much for voting for me as blogger of the year 2016 - it is an achievement I am really proud of which makes me smile just thinking about it!
Thank you also for all your support and comments, it is so wonderful to be able to answer or help with any questions you have, and to share this adventure with all of you. It makes my day every day!
If you like, you can click Here to vote for me as Blogger of the Month. Thank you.

Structure is the skeleton of your essay - it provides a back bone which allows everything you write to link cleanly together. For instance, having three clear points expressed through three clearly linked paragraphs also featuring an introduction and conclusion might be a good place to begin. It doesn't have to be extremely complicated, in fact with word counts around 1000 - 2000 words it is better to keep it simple. Being concise is a lot harder than it looks which is why word counts are so useful a nemesis to have. Whilst we are left wanting to write even more, the work we put together has to be efficient in using that space to express everything necessary. This means that every word has to count and specifically placed in order to make sense.

When I am working with structure, I find it easiest to plan out a simple guide line when I also plan out my points. This way I know where I am going to move to after discussing a point on say, feminist theory. By planning, it is easier to see how things move and hence make them move more fluently. So the best advice when dealing with structure is to plan plan plan! Then after you have written your essay, compare your finished produce to the plan. It doesn't matter if they match exactly as long as everything makes sense and is well explained, but it does matter that you can look back and clearly see what each paragraph/section is expressing.

2. Research and read widely 

Reading widely also means that you can start to note down useful sections of books, chapters, etc. Essentially, you begin to reference possible useful materials on the go. Everytime I go to the library to look for one thing I always end up finding even more. The world of research is an open question, as stated previously, but more so it is an open conversation. It's useful to carry a note book around with you or even a little paper with a pencil so that you grow accustomed to referencing information as you come across it opposed to leaving it to the last minute.

3. Reference correctly 

Leading on from that last tip, remember that every university or place of study has different regulations for their students work and how they would like it to be presented under exam circumstances. Make sure you get all the information early on about how you should set out your referencing in terms of citation, foot notes, how to order your bibliography and so on.

Once you do know, keep hold of that information because that (particularly in an essay subject) is going to be what gets you your degree. Plus, it's just so satisfying to see everything in the right place and in the right manner at the end of your essay because you can hand it in knowing you have checked it rigorously. 

As for here at York St. John, and in my previous experiences at Leeds College of Music, the standard system is the Harvard reference system. In my essays currently, I use citations opposed to foot notes. So, say I was quoting a book from 2016 I would write the quotation and then straight after would put (authors name, 2016, page number) The bibliography citation can be a little more complicated, but if you look it up on line there are some great pages explaining how to quote different materials/resources, from journal articles to documentaries. 

4. Have a well balanced argument and clear thesis

Whilst it is important to have a clear thesis, your argument should be balanced in order to provide contrast. Planning will help you to see this - for instance, in your research you might have come across a critic you disagree with. So you could quote them and then argue your point against theirs, using further evidence and other critics arguments which back up your own. This means that you are showing an awareness of being in a much larger open conversation and that you are engaging with the ideas around you through your resources.

Thesis wise, I find it best to have this clearly set apart from all of my other information before I even begin writing. The thesis should go as near to the beginning as possible, if not in the introduction itself. Once it is there, keep referring back to it throughout and linking it to the question so that not only is your argument balanced but it is clear and always prominent. 

5. Produce work that you are proud of!

It is easy to say that you don't care about the work you are creating and that you are merely doing it to achieve your degree and move on to work that is more interesting in your field. But that is not the point of writing all of these assignments! Whilst yes, it is lovely to have the prospect of achieving a degree, your main aim should always be to produce work you are proud of.

See every assignment as your Magnum Opus. Your piece de resistance. Because you never know, the next piece just might be that. You are after-all, only as good as your last assignment. So make every one of them count. 

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

The perspective of a first year student - Emma Halton

Emma Halton is currently a first year student studying combined English literature and German at York St. John university.

1.     What is your favourite aspect of being a combined literature and German undergraduate so far? What is the balance like between the two subjects?

I like that I get a variety of different modules instead of just studying one thing. It means I get to meet more people - people who study just languages or just English, which is really interesting. With English I like getting to read a range of different books on different topics and that similarly in German, we get to study history and culture opposed to just the language (for instance, reunification is really interesting!) There isn't a real balance for me because my subjects are quite time consuming, but this doesn't mean I don't enjoy them.

2. Do you find it interesting to study a completely different language?

Yes - as I previously said, the range of different things (such as culture, history, contemporary resources) provide a stimulating environment for me to learn in. It also provides me with new opportunities as languages are highly favoured by employers. It is quite difficult to learn to put new aspects of the language to use straight away, even after many years of practice. However, I enjoy it and it helps me think in a different way to some extent.

3. What are some of your favourite books?

Harry Potter! My favourite being The Order of the Phoenix because it has humour in a dark time. I find the characters of Peeves and McGonagall hilarious. Also, despite it being a childrens series I like how there are dark under tones, not everything is at face value and the enjoyment is in the details and complexity. Wuthering Heights is another favourite because ... I don't really know why, I just love it! And a final favourite for now, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde which as a work is well built and completely heartbreaking. As you can see, I have a thing for the gothic!

4. What are you most looking forward to about second year and the rest of your degree?

The highlight of my second year will definitely be my year abroad in Germany, though it is quite intimidating to think of now. Linked to this, I am excited to improve my German language skills by speaking it constantly. Gaining more independence throughout my degree and the experiences my degree involves is something which I am enjoying so far too. I'm looking forward to possibly living with friends in my third year -  as I have already met some good, dependable humans and it will be good to share our last year together. In the immediate future, I am super excited for my first Christmas in York!!!

5. What are some of your thoughts on the arts in general?

I think they are an important area of study because they aid ones personal development. They are key to expressing oneself and gaining emotional maturity, by through them understanding yourself and the complexity of life particularly when things are challenging. York St. John has a good connection with the arts which is useful.

Thanks for all of your insightful comments Emma!

That's all for today folks! Thank-you again, so so so much for voting for me as blogger of the year 2016 - it is an achievement I am really proud of which makes me smile just thinking about it!

Thank you also for all your support and comments, it is so wonderful to be able to answer or help with any questions you have, and to share this adventure with all of you. It makes my day every day!

If you like, you can click Here to vote for me as Blogger of the Month. Thank you.