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Writing a TMA: one approach

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This year I’m studying A230 Reading and Studying Literature from the OU Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. I’ve recently submitted my first TMA for A230. I quite enjoyed the process. I have no idea how I’ve done, but I’m hoping I’ll get a pass. 

This blog is a short summary of the approach that I took to write my first TMA. Without realising, I’ve adopted quite a structure approach which seemed to work for me. 

In some respects, this blog follows on from an earlier blog that reflects on my studying of an arts module: Unpacking a TMA question: tips from A111.

Part 1: The journey to the TMA

I began by a bit of productive procrastination. What I mean is that I began by sorting out all my study notes.

I have a A230 folder (a physical one) which is broadly organised in terms of time and weeks of study. I have a copy of the materials which I have ordered through the OU print on demand service. I like to have materials to look through, so I can take materials to a café without having to take my laptop and worry about internet connectivity. Plus, it’s easier to underline points with different colours of pen if I need to. 

At this point, I’ve read through the materials once; the weekly guides, the chapters in the blocks (the books that were sent to us), and the sections of the set text that we’ve been asked to read. In the case of A230, we’ve also been asked to read a copy of Othello, published by Oxford World Classics.

I create a fresh copy of the TMA question, by copy-pasting the TMA text from the assessment guide into a new Word document, and printing the whole document. I now have something I can annotate.

It’s time to create my word processing files.

On my laptop file store (which is backed up to the cloud), I have a folder called ‘modules’, and then a folder for each module that I’m studying. Within my A230 folder, I have one folder for each TMA. I also use this folder to save materials that have been sent to me by my tutor, so I have everything in one place. I create a blank TMA document, following the “submitting arts TMAs” guidance, making sure I have the right header, font size, and line spacing.

With my paper notes all sorted and an electronic submission file ready to go, it’s nearly time to get properly prepared to answer the TMA question. Before I do this, I have a sit down, have a read of the TMA (along with the set text), and make a whole set of pencil notes.

Part 2: Getting prepared

With my new TMA document open, following guidance from my tutor, I add a title and a references section, and make a note of the word count at the end of the document. Doing these things first ensures that I don’t forget the obvious.

My next step is to split the submission document into some temporary sections, even though the essay will be submitted as one main section (with an additional references section). These sections represent the three parts of the TMA question that I’m answering. I also made a note of the word budget for each of these sections, so I can get a feel for if I’m writing too much or too little.

I quickly re-read the module materials, playing particular attention to key headings, topics, and activities. The module activities there to help us to prepare for the forthcoming TMA. Although we can skip to the answers, it is a good idea to try to do them. I add some keywords that are used within the activities into the body of my solution document, just so I don’t forget about them.

My tutor has sent his tutor group a couple of useful documents that highlight some of the topics featured within the module materials. I copy these documents into my solution document, and edit them aggressively, distilling them so I have a summary of themes that may be useful to remember (or need to address) when writing my TMA. 

There are reasons why tutors run activities and talk about certain concepts during tutorials; they’re sometimes trying to give us a helpful steer. When attending tutorials, I tend to make loads of notes, most of which end up being unreadable. I look through these, and pick out the ones that look to be the most important, adding these next to the other points I have added to the TMA document.

I’ve done all this to pull a set of notes into one place; this way I don’t have to go looking for them when I start writing. I have three key headings, topics from the module materials, and heavily edited notes from tutorials, and a TMA covered with pencil scribble. To help to navigate my way through the Word document using the document navigator tool, I use the Word inbuilt headings.

My next step is to sort my references out. I add a set of references at the end of my TMA, getting the structure of each resource right by looking at the CiteThemRight website. It’s okay if I don’t use everything; I can always delete any references I don’t use or need. Besides, it’s good practice putting everything in the Harvard format.

Finally, I make a copy of my combined TMA submission document and notes document, so I can refer back to them later on if I need to.

Part 3: Writing the TMA

It’s time to start moulding the TMA. My tutor has given me some clear instructions. For the first TMA, it isn’t necessary to provide an introduction or a conclusion, but I might need to provide these with later TMAs.

I remember a bit of feedback from my A112 EMA, which was to make use of the PEEL technique for writing essays. 

PEEL is an abbreviation for Point, Evidence, Explanation and Linking sentence. I remember my EE811 tutor offered a similar bit of guidance about academic writing. Given the nature of their first assignment I’m writing, I don’t think I can (yet) make use of this specific approach, but if I were, I would be sketching out a set of points within my draft TMA document.

I refer back to the module materials, look through the set text again, and refer to some video materials that my tutor mentioned. I make sure that I reference everything carefully within the body of the TMA.

When I address a point that finds its way into the TMA, I delete my accompanying notes.

After quite a few cups of tea, and a bit of grocery shopping (a walk can help to put my thoughts in order), I think I’m done. I have three headings (one for each bit of the question), no remaining notes, and a TMA answer. I remove the three headings, leaving the ‘references’ section heading.

Part 4: Reviewing and submitting

After a couple of days have passed, I get a double spaced printout of my TMA (which is the format that the arts faculty suggest we adopt when we submit our TMA). I settle down at my desk, with another cup of tea, and a set of my favourite coloured pens and read everything back.

I correct a whole load of sentences that don’t make grammatical sense, scribbling on the paper, whilst resisting the temptation to rewrite everything.

When I’m done, I go to the word processed version and enact all the changes that I’ve noted. I make a note of the word count, save the document and then upload it to the eTMA system a couple of days before the TMA cut-off date.

The reason I submit it a few days before the cut off date is to take account of the potential of Sod’s law, which is: whatever could go wrong, will go wrong. 

Reflections

One thing I have done, but haven’t spent a lot of time on is the learning outcomes. Sometimes they are mentioned within a TMA in addition to being found within a module block. It’s important to revisit these too. Connection between the module learning outcomes and what the TMAs are assessing should be pretty clear. 

If I were doing a larger piece of writing, there would probably be a whole other section about structuring of my TMA (or EMA). With bigger bits of writing, I would have to find a way to structure my notes and to find quotes. I would also more vigorously apply the PEEL methodology. I might even give mind mapping a go, but that is not an approach I tend to gravitate to: I tend to prefer lists rather than spider diagrams. It all comes down to whatever works best!

Resources

There’s a whole host of resources about assignments, writing and study which can be found on the OU website. Here are some useful links.

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A230 Journal - September 2022

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Edited by Christopher Douce, Sunday, 13 Nov 2022, 09:55

I’m studying again! This time I’m studying A230 Reading and studying literature (OU website)

When I was at school, something clicked in place when I was studying from my English Literature GCSE. I had moved up from a remedial English group to a higher stream, where I managed to get a pretty respectable score. It was a subject I quite enjoyed.

When I was taking my exams, I didn’t have much confidence. I didn’t think I would get sufficient scores to take A levels (which sounded pretty intimidating), so I opted for a vocational subject that I hoped would lead to employment. You would say I’ve ‘dabbled’ in the arts, but I’ve never properly studied it.

This blog series follows earlier posts that relate to earlier study of A111 Discovering the arts and humanities (blog) and A112 Cultures (blog).

Some of the links shared within this blog are likely to be only available to either current students, or students studying the module, but it is hoped that any accompanying descriptions are helpful to anyone who might be interested in any of the modules that I've mentioned.

10 September 22

The module website is open before the official start date, so I’m starting to have a look around. 

I find the welcome letter from the module team (which I got in the printed pack), and eyeball the study calendar. I note that the weeks where there is a cut-off date are highlighted in orange. I have a watch of the introductory video. Key points: critical awareness, tutorials, tragedies, cities, the theme of home and abroad, assessments and accompanying resources. 

Next up: the module guide, which introduces the six parts. Key concepts I’ve noted from the guide: context, the author, the reader and reading, period, and literatures. Another important point I’ve noted is that there is an expectation of studying for 14 hours per week. There are five TMAs, and an EMA, and there are some skills tutorials that you need to complete before working on TMAs 2 and 3. It looks like there are five face-to-face day schools (if they are running, I’ll try to go to as many as I can), along with online equivalents.

After returning to the module website, I start to look through the welcome forum, and discover the English Literature toolkit https://learn2.open.ac.uk/mod/oucontent/view.php?id=1859527 There are two big headings in this toolkit: how to study English literature, and how to write an English literature essay. 

This first section looks pretty big, so I’m going to go back to it later. An important bit looks like ‘learning to be a critic’ since I feel as if I’m okay with time keeping and making notes (but I need to go through those too). Another link is the English subject page. I note that there’s a section about bridging material, called Moving onto Stage 2

Key tips from a video: the pace of the materials, being more critical, spending more time online in different forums, attend tutorials, the materials are more in depth, plan your essays, do your referencing. 

There was a video summary of A233 Telling stories: the novel and beyond, which I couldn’t resist viewing. After returning to the forum, I saw a post to a BBC programme: The Duchess of Malfi: BBC Arts at the Globe (BBC iPlayer) which looks like a good watch (when I get to it in the materials).

Onto the week 1 study guide. I’ve ticked off the welcome letter, video, and module guide. The aims are to read the first part of the module text, and focus on Act 1 of Othello, and then read chapter 1 of the module book. I now know what I need to do! I’m going to make notes when I get to the activities, but for now, I’ll continue to look through the materials. 

I scan through the Resources section, the Downloads section, and the glossary.

A final action before stopping; I’ve found a place to store all my notes, and I’ve got a pad of A4 paper, and set of pens. This means I’m ready to go!

11 September 22

I’ve read the introductory section of the book, and have completed the first activity, but I found it pretty hard going. The text of Othello is very dense, and there’s a lot of take in during the first 80 lines. To complete the activity, I’ve made a few notes.

Continuing my look around on the module website, I have a quick look at the assessments. TMA 1, which is all about analysing a fragment of text, doesn’t look to be too difficult. The TMA sends me off to look at section 4 of the assessment guide, which is in the same section where the TMA is located. Since I need to take all this in, and closely follow the assessment guidance, print out the assessment handbook, and file it in my new folder.

14 September 22

There was a bit of chat in the module WhatsApp group, where students were sharing the initials of tutors they had been allocated to. Noticing this, I logged into the module page to see if I was allocated a tutor, and I had! I think I recognise the name from tutorials from an earlier module, but this is not a tutor that I’ve had before. 

I managed to read three pages of the assessment guide. 

15 September 22

I’ve noticed that the tutorial dates are now available. I book into as many as I can, saving events to my Outlook calendar. 

17 September 22

I get an email from my tutor. I send him a quick reply.

I return to reading the assessment handbook, and get as far as TMA 2. This takes me to two other sets of pages, both of which I’ve printed out: assessment information for arts modules, and the drama skills tutorial. I also head off down a resource that is all about employability, which is called FutureYou. I’m introduced to OneFile, which I don’t tend to use, and there’s an accompanying template that I look through. I made note of the OU employability framework, since I feel that it might be useful later. It’s interesting to see that there’s a place to store reflections against each element in the framework, and there’s a section that is specific for the English Literature qualification pathway. 

When looking through FutureYou, I get as far as the Identifying and planning section. I’ve not really done much in the way of reading or looking at texts, but one other good thing that I’ve done today is that I’ve organised my bookshelf. I’ve got rid of some books, and there’s now space for all my literature books. 

One thing I’m thinking of is, whether I could start to use OneNote to make a study log.

18 September 22

Back to looking at the employability framework. I found an assessment tool, where I could rate myself on each of the 10 items on the employability framework. I found this interesting, but I did question whether some of the items were immediate relevant to what I was studying. I also discovered a page that relates elements of the framework to the TMAs, which offered a suggestion about some of the activities I would be carrying out later on during my study.

I’ve decided not to use OneNote, for the reason that I’ve got my own methodology, which makes use of paper based notebooks. I also tend to create different files (sets of notes) for different things. I find I learn when writing things down, and I use my visual memory to recognise papers which I’ve written on. Whilst I could more easily search for things in OneNote, I’m happy with my current study approach. For other forms of note taking and writing, I use Word documents.

It’s back to the reading of the assessment handbook. I’ve read the assessment information for arts modules, and I’ve found the EMA question.

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Preparing for A230

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Edited by Christopher Douce, Wednesday, 16 Feb 2022, 15:14

Over the last two years I’ve been studying A111 Discovering the Arts and humanities and A112 Cultures. I’ve really enjoyed both of them, especially the literature sections. The next module I intend to study is A230 Reading and studying literature

One recommendation that I have read from the module reviews has been: get ahead! Specifically, do try to read as many of the set texts as you can. 

A couple of years ago, I bought a new eReader since my original version of the Amazon Kindle gave up the ghost. I’ve written a couple of articles that relate to eReaders. Remembering these articles, I realised that it might be possible to download some of the A112 set texts from Project Guttenberg which would allow me to get started. I wouldn’t be able to benefit from the notes that accompany the recommended editions that go with the module, but I could buy those separately if I needed to.

What follows is a summary of all the set texts I can find from Project Guttenberg, listed in alphabetical order. 

I download each book to the desktop of my laptop, connect my eReader, which then appears as USB device, and copy the epub file into the reader’s filestore. It’s clear that I have a lot of reading to do!

There are three other books I need to get: a book by Friel, another by Selvon, and a further one by Sebald.

Where should I start? I read Charlotte Bronte whilst studying A112, so I might start with Emily. I then go onto Shelly, and then onto Joyce. After that, I'm not quite sure.

Good luck to everyone who is studying A230!

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