First Steps to Writing Assignments in Further and Higher Education

I am very pleased to introduce guest writer Rachel Ingham to the readers of this blog.

Rachel is a speaker, trainer and consultant in Specific Learning Disorders (SpLD) and co-director of Understanding and Supporting Learning (USL). The training and advice she gives to educators, parents and learners is founded on solid research and experience which informs manageable strategies to enhance the learning of children and young people.
Her knowledge and experience comes from a career in teaching in schools, lecturing at ManchesterMetropolitan University and working as an Inclusion Consultant for Calderdale Local Authority. She also delivers training for the British DyslexiaAssociation in all areas of education and employment. 

Importantly she has dyslexia. Her desire and passion to make a positive contribution to improving the teaching and learning experience of children and young people with a SpLD is evident in every presentation she delivers. 

First Steps to Writing Assignments in Further and Higher Education 

I learnt a lot at college and university and much of it was not about the subjects I studied. Like all students moving to further and higher education it is not just about academia, you also learn about yourself. Some of what I learnt was about how to achieve as a student with dyslexia. Unfortunately, the lessons I am going to talk about I learnt later in life when I did my PGCE and subsequently my MA in Specific Learning Difficulties, many years after my BA in History and English. Yes! History and English, these may not have been the softest option for someone who struggled to read accurately and fluently and certainly to understand the material alongside the difficulties of writing essays.
It is the writing element that I am going to concentrate on in this blog. Not as you might suspect the mechanics of writing but from the very moment you are assigned a piece or work. These are the tips I still use when I am asked to write a presentation, speech or training. I have applied my rules to writing this blog which I was asked to do last night. My immediate reaction was thank you for asking, shortly followed by ‘please don’t ask me to write’ as it is so taxing. I resorted to a defer strategy by asking, ‘What would you specifically like me to write about?’ buying time to think. An hour’s swim the day after, a good breakfast and here I am writing this blog.
Deferring is not a strategy I am advocating but giving yourself time to think is one key to success. Start as soon as you receive your piece of work. There are so many wins to be had by taking this approach. You have kick started the thinking process and can only profit from our fabulous problem solving skills and creativity.  Let the ideas flow and record them in any way you prefer, mind maps, flow charts, linear notes, audio note taker etc. These ideas can then be developed by adding researched data, thoughts generated by discussions and information from lectures / lessons which enhance the potential for a deeper critical debate.

Understanding and Supporting Learning

Time is such an important factor for us as our slow speed of processing inevitably means we are going to find it challenging to complete a piece of work on time alongside the other demands of life and college. Researching and writing will take longer than most other students so it is important to ‘get ahead of the game.’  I am not an advocate of requesting deferred deadlines for work unless they are completely unavoidable. Handing work in late means everything gets pushed back further creating a negative spiral, and causing anxiety which takes up brain space and detracts from the pleasure of learning. The work has to be done and imagine the relief and pleasure of finishing well before the due date. The time that remains can be used to read through your work with a tutor and make any last minute changes on your final read before handing in your work. There is something rather satisfying of returning to your writing and feeling impressed with what you have accomplished. On the occasions, this feeling does not happen, you have time to do something about it.
It is said that people with dyslexia experience good and bad days. On the bad days when thoughts don’t flow, sequence well and quite frankly the words in your head are not making their way to your pen or keyboard, go and do something more productive. Tidy your desk and desk top.  Ordered  and uncluttered surfaces make your thoughts clearer and put yourself in a much more positive place. Now, I am not sure whether this is the mother in me speaking or the lecturer!

I have the advantage of having been the student as well as the lecturer which leads me to my final point. Your lecturers want you to get the best mark possible. During lectures I would explicitly say that the next point I am about to make is relevant to your assignment and it is important you include it. The sooner you start your assignment the sooner you can see the relevance and make links to key material. Preparation and planning are the key. I believe that taking these initial approaches to tackling a piece of work sets you up to succeed enabling you to enjoy the ‘process’ of writing and letting the ‘product’ take care of itself. 

Rachel can be contacted through the Understanding and Supporting Learning Website by clicking the logo below.