Monday, March 23, 2020

NEA support: language investigations

As promised, here is (what I hope will be) some helpful material if you are still working on the NEA. We don’t yet know if the ‘calculated grade’ that Year 13s will receive, in lieu of the grades you would have got in the summer, will factor in any element of NEA, but as NEA was specifically mentioned in the Ofqual guidance last week, I thought it might be useful to offer a few things to help.

So, if you’re at the stage where you want to polish off the investigation, or you’re redrafting, following some feedback from your teachers, or you’re working out how to complete the commentary for the original writing, the posts today and later in the week are designed to help. If you've already submitted your final draft, then your work is done and this post isn't for you. Don't stress about it.

First off, the language investigation. A lot of the posts on here about the investigation have been to do with how you set one up and get started. You’ll be past that stage by now (if not, I won’t judge you… look here instead), so there are a few things to think about.

The advice from the NEA lead moderator’s report last year (and most years so far) has been consistent about what makes a good language investigation.

A few of these are going to be difficult to address now, so without a complete overhaul (which I wouldn't really recommend at this stage), it's probably best to think about those areas you really can deal with. 

Beginnings and ends
Starting at the end of the project is one way to think about this, because as you write your conclusion (and evaluation, if you are doing one as a separate section) you'll also be thinking back to the beginning of the project. Make sure you have actually done what you said you were going to do. If you haven't, why not? Did your investigation lead you to question your original aims and research questions? Did it make you reconsider your assumptions? If so, this could be turned into some interesting reflection and evaluation.

An example. You set out to investigate whether females and males used language in different ways in their interactions in social media. What you discovered was that gender was less important than the topic being discussed or the nature of the relationship between the participants. Does this mean your project was a disaster? No, not at all. Your evaluation might actually address some of these other factors. It's not too late to read what others have said about this too, so you might be able to reference ideas around the diversity model of gender, Butler's ideas about performance of gender identity, or perhaps other work carried out on social media to support your observations and show how it's more complicated than just a binary gender difference. 

The conclusion and evaluation is also a chance to reflect on the wider issues and consider if - had you been doing this as a longer study, or had access to more equipment/respondents/time - you would have liked to proceed. You should also be able to look back at the early stages of the investigation and see if you have phrased your aims and/or research questions and/or hypotheses as clearly as you can.

A problem that has been flagged up at various feedback meetings with teachers is that lots of investigations aren't very clear at the start about what it is they are actually investigating. Here's a tip. Show your introduction and methodology to someone who doesn't do this course. Ask them to read it and summarise in a few sentences what it is they think you are going to do. If they can't understand what your investigation is about or what it is you're setting out to find, consider re-writing it. 

We want the introduction to say exactly what it is you are going to do and what the language focus is going to be.

While it's probably too late to make big structural changes to what you've written, have a think about your subheadings. The advice has pretty much always been that you should follow the prescribed sections of the investigation in the spec as a bare minimum (Introduction, Methodology, Analysis, Conclusion, References, Appendices) and add more if it helps. This means you can add an aims section if you like, or subdivide your analysis under helpful subheadings, related to the approaches you've outlined in your methodology or the aims/research questions/hypotheses you've offered. many people also add an evaluation section.

If you haven't used subheadings, there's a risk your analysis might just be one big chunk - difficult to read and hard to unpick - so have a think about using relevant subheadings.

Analysis and quotation
Another big area where some people come unstuck is not offering detail, depth or exemplification in the analysis. Are you being linguistic in your discussion of the data? Are you offering some kind of technical description of language features that you're analysing (identifying word classes, interaction features, syntactical structures, for example)? Are you looking at patterns of language use and starting to think about how individual language choices form part of a bigger picture, or show that a strategy is being used? These could be linked to the aims of your project.

An example. You've analysed newspaper reports of the UK royal family over the last year to identify if there's a difference in how the royal wives are represented. You start to notice that certain semantic fields are employed by one publication more than another. Perhaps this field creates certain connotations and links to a stance or political bias you've started to notice in this particular newspaper. Can you back up this hunch with some more focused discussion and analysis?

Another example. You are analysing children's spoken language in a primary school class and notice that some of the children around the tables are being much more cooperative in their speech than others. In the groups where the speech is more cooperative, you think they are getting on with their work better and making more progress. What is happening? How are you actually defining cooperative speech and what are some of its features? Are there any other factors at work? Can your observations be linked to any background reading you have done?

Addressing problems
The list of problems in investigations is worth a look too. If any of these apply to your work, you've still got a chance to address them.

One easy fix for a lack of quotations and examples is simply to go back and find them in your own data. Remember that quotations won't count towards your word count, so don't worry about that. It's  important to support any observations you've made and often a good idea to offer a quick bit of context to your examples. If possible, try to offer quotations of more than just a single word or phrase. It can often be useful to quote a slightly longer extract from the data so that the marker and moderator can see where the bit you're talking about came from and what was around it: it could offer important context.

That's it for this post. I'll address a few other areas later on.

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