Embedding Well-Being Into The English Curriculum
No-one could deny that the media account of a crisis in young people’s mental health and well-being is born out by the personal experience of academics and teachers in Higher Education and secondary schools (https://www.timeshighereducation.com/features/academics-need-greater-help-addressing-mental-health-problems-their-students)
What can and should educationalists do about this crisis? What is our role and how might, can or should it relate to our discipline?
Recent national research and investigative reports in the sector such as Houghton and Anderson’s Embedding mental wellbeing in the curriculum: maximising success in higher education (HEA, 2017) and UUK’s Student mental well-being in higher education (2016) urge universities to respond to the crisis.
John Morton (‘Balancing Resilience with Wellbeing and Student Experience in English Literature’) argues that despite the contemporary focus among employers and TEF data collection on the necessity of building student resilience to improve student’s chances of securing positive graduate outcomes, programmes still have both a duty of care for their students, and metric-related reasons to be wary of focusing too strongly on resilience and employability. Students often take a dim view of resilience-building activities, which can be reflected in verbal feedback, the NSS, and in a lack of attendance and engagement. This highlights a key tension in English Literature pedagogy between challenging students to develop skills and experiences outside of their ‘comfort zone’, and providing a programme and atmosphere conducive to their wellbeing. Morton suggests several approaches which a programme could take to both develop resilience but keep student wellbeing central to its focus.
Kate Aughterson and Vedrana Velickovic will discuss two case studies of recent developments in targeted areas of the English Curriculum at the University of Brighton. The first is the introduction of reading groups as support for an early modern module; and the second is the recent establishment of a hub called WriteWell, which was setup to foster an inclusive learning community for students. Research shows that writing and reading both regularly and collectively and in a supported environment improves resilience, a sense of community (see, for example, Pennebacker and Smyth, 2016; Smith 1997; Mindlab International, 2009), as well as general skills which are essential to successful life-long achievement and happiness for Humanities-based graduates (British Academy, Occupation and Skill, 2017). Aughterson argues that a twenty-first century version of humanism can both strengthen our students and strengthen our discipline’s distintinctiveness. Vedrana Velickovic is Principal Lecturer in English Literature and Academic Programme Leader at the University of Brighton. She is the author of Eastern Europeans in Contemporary Literature and Culture: Imagining New Europe (Palgrave, 2019) and has published on other contemporary literature topics and writers ranging from the intersections between postcolonialism and postcommunism, Bernardine Evaristo, Dubravka Ugrešić, Vesna Goldsworthy and literary theory. She also runs a decolonising the curriculum reading group with literature, media and creative writing students at Brighton.
Michelle Prentice has been instrumental in embedding well-being in her secondary school in Hove over the past two years, and continues to work at ways in which well-being can be seen as integral to learning communities in an increasingly education system (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ArvWFpnR-c). She argues that by building well-being into the everyday curriculum and at subject level, we can resist the instrumentalism of education. http://www.hovepark.org.uk/Mental-Health-and-Wellbeing