Tangents, digressions and meandering
The pile of books is beginning to grow. Attempting a piece of academic research means reading and reading means the begging, stealing or borrowing of books. Reading also means becoming distracted, losing focus, and forgetting what was intended.
Teaching lessons in school, I am very aware of there being a need for each lesson to have a title which students copy into their exercise books, (if nothing else it provides some clues at to what the writing that follows might be about). However, a title is not sufficient, beneath the title I ask them to copy a “learning objective,” a short sentence which states what it is intended that they should have learned by the end of the lesson.
Having learning objectives means being able to ask the students at the end of the lesson if they have learned what was planned, it means being able to assess what has been understood, what has been misunderstood, and what been missed altogether.
Often, having a learning objective is more important for me than for the students, it’s very easy to become sidetracked, particularly during Period 5 of the schoolday, that hour after lunch when the eyes are on the clock as to ticks towards ten past three. It’s sometimes much easier to have a discussion, or to watch a video clip, than to remain focused on the piece of work that forms the lesson.
Contemplating my pile of books, I am aware that I might need to start writing on a slip of paper what is the learning objective for a piece of reading and what is the purpose of the nights I am writing. Perhaps such a discipline would help an avoidance of the distractions.
Tangents, digressions and meandering have been a problem since days at sixth form college more than forty years ago.
Picking up a book to read about a particular topic, there would be other information that caught the eye. Reading for an essay on Lord Liverpool’s government of 1812-1827 might drift to the story of William Huskisson, who served in Liverpool’s government and who was run over by George Stephenson’s locomotive, The Rocket, in 1830. (It need hardly be said that the world’s first railway fatality was more interesting than the details of the repressive measures taken by Liverpool’s ministers).
The supervisor of my research has said he will be very restrictive of tangential lines of inquiry, which means submissions to him will have to be tightly worded. It does not, however, mean, that the reading will not include some wide meanders and some ox-bow lakes.
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