Researching with children and young people

The Department undertakes research into children’s experiences, rights, voices, perspectives, and practices. In researching children’s lives and learning, the group uses a variety of social science perspectives and explores local, national and global challenges.

Strand conveners

The research expertise of the strand encompasses a range of areas, including, but not limited to:

  • Early education and learning
  • Teaching, early childhood pedagogy and curriculum
  • Education policy
  • Professional development and learning for educators
  • Language development
  • Researching multilingually
  • Parental engagement in children’s learning
  • Literacies, learning and identities
  • Sociology of childhood
  • Ethical and methodological approaches of research with children

Our staff have experience in examining and supervising research students in the area of research with children and young people. We welcome new postgraduate research students to conduct research with us.

Research projects

Open the door to reading

‘Open the Door to Reading’ is an Erasmus plus funded project. It involves five European cities: Bristol, Gothenburg; Turku; Brussels and Milan. Each city has an interest in finding and sharing ways to promote reading in their city. The project was initiated by Gothenburg: "The City Where We Read for our Children".

There is overwhelming research that indicates the importance of children developing as readers. Reading impacts on children’s vocabulary use and knowledge; their access to the wider curriculum in school and beyond; their future economic success and importantly, their health and well-being. For these reasons, Bristol, as a city has a desire to find ways to promote, support and develop reading across the city and in particular in areas of the city where families have been considered to be ‘harder to reach’ and with the greatest disadvantage and challenges.

The Bristol team working on the project is led by Debbie Miles, the Reading Recovery Teacher Leader in the city along with Cerys Stevens (also a Reading Recovery Teacher Leader); Kate Murray (head of libraries) and Jane Carter (UWE Bristol). The learning from the project is being used to develop a manual for practitioners engaged with families e.g. health workers; early years support workers; librarians and family workers. This will be disseminated across the five cities.

Find out more about:

Project contact: Jane Carter

Changing perceptions of Roald Dahl in the primary school sector and beyond: Dahl family reading project

The next aspect of the project seeks to inspire parents as well as children to read Roald Dahl critically and to extend parental engagement with reading (themselves and with their children). All the research shows that reading for pleasure as a household has a strong impact, not just on school results, but on the life chances of children and thus we feel that this project will be of distinct significance.

Children tend to relate to Dahl’s anarchic themes, the slapstick and humour in the texts and, thus, these stories have the potential to mark an important first step in many people’s reading journeys. This study ensures that this opportunity is not lost.

Through going into schools, training teachers and teaching parents we emphasise that by reading Roald Dahl’s literature for pleasure, we can also mark out patterns significant in literature; we aim not just to make literary critics of all our children, teachers and parents, but to impart a love of reading, a confidence in reading and the desire to read other texts after Dahl.

The project will focus initially on Fonthill Primary School . The school is in an area of high socio-economic need and has identified engagement with parents as a focus as a key strategy in raising reading attainment. The school has strong partnership links with the UWE Bristol's Department of Education and Childhood and with the Project Lead, who worked with this group of children in January 2018, and Jane Carter who has a number of projects established in the school and local area.

Project aims

  • To inspire parents to read alongside their children
  • To create families who read together for pleasure
  • To develop more sophisticated readers who are able trace pattern in text and so enhance pleasure and engagement with reading
  • To promote extended partnership relationships: children; teachers; schools; academics; parents and HEI students

Objectives

  • Establish a parents’ reading group at Fonthill Primary
  • To run four sessions of the parents’ reading group focusing on reading, engaging with Dahl stories (text and film)
  • To support parents in sharing books with their children (including reading aloud and story tapes)
  • To establish processes for parents to continue to explore children’s literature to share with their children beyond the project end
  • To produce a number of journal articles with an English Literature focus and an Education focus
  • To share findings at the United Kingdom Literacy Association conference (July 2019)

Project contacts: Dr Ann Alston with Jane Carter

Creating welcoming learning environments: Disseminating arts-based approaches to including all learners (CWLE)

This project was a follow-on grant from the AHRC large grant Researching Multilingually at Borders (2014-2017) in which arts-based methods were used to research interpreting, translation and multilingual practices in contexts at the borders of language, the body, the law and the state. The CWLE project brought together artists and teachers in four workshops and a practitioner conference to exchange ideas on how arts-based methods can be woven into teaching and learning and into the generation of a welcoming ethos in schools.

Outcomes included tried and tested activities in primary, secondary and special schools such as

  • pupil-to-pupil interviews about home languages as part of a whole school film;
  • collage and crafting used in facilitating assessment of pupils’ English language development; and
  • art work-based around Adinkra symbols to facilitate language work.

Project contacts: Dr Jane Andrews and Dr Maryam Almohammad
Funder: Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)

Sounds Bristolian: From talk to writing at Fonthill Primary School

The Sounds Bristolian initiative, launched in 2015 by the UWE Bristol Centre for Linguistics (BCL), led by Dr Kate Beeching sets out to chart and celebrate the range of different languages and language varieties spoken in Bristol, including Bristolian.

This project brings together researchers in BCL, eight student volunteers from both the Linguistics and Education Departments, primary teachers and pupils to develop activities around the languages, dialects and accents of Bristol, and how these can be translated into written English. Insights from research and publications by academics in BCL will be drawn upon to inform materials development.

Student volunteers will support teachers in helping pupils to value their own variety, to recognise register and how it changes according to context and mode of delivery (eg informal spoken, formal spoken, text message, written document), and to develop their writing in standard English.

Outcomes from the project will include a colourful poster celebrating register differences and learning activities which will be piloted in primary classrooms, revised and published in hard copy format and online.

Project contacts: Dr Kate Beeching with Karan Vickers-Hulse and Laura Manison Shore

Expert practitioners working in the Baby Room

Project contact: Helen Butcher

Professional childminders working in South Gloucestershire

Project contact: Helen Butcher

An illuminative evaluation of the Phonics Screening Check: Listening to the voices of children and their teachers

The Phonics Screening Check (PSC) was introduced in England in 2012 for year one children. There have been criticisms of the check in relation to its reliability and appropriateness as an assessment for early reading, although supporters see it as a valuable tool in securing early reading progress. However, the government’s own evaluation (2015 p8) concluded that it “did not find any evidence of improvements in pupils’ literacy performance, or in progress, that could be clearly attributed to the introduction of the PSC”.

With this in mind, this study seeks to illuminate through evaluation, the intended and possible unintended consequences of the PSC foregrounding the voices of those most affected by the PSC: children and their teachers. The study focuses on a range of schools in the City of Bristol, selected for their diversity in relation to attainment data (PSC and reading) and socio-economic status. Available from eprints

Project contact: Jane Carter

An evaluation and impact study of the Bristol Reading Partner (BRP) intervention on Initial Teacher Training students (ITE), children's reading and partnership schools' reading attainment

'Being a reader' has a significant impact on a child’s future social and economic success. This project builds on work over the last six years which has involved the training of second year ITE students in the Bristol Reading Partner (BRP) intervention programme. It has targeted over 1,200 underachieving children.

Students work with two identified children over a period of five weeks, implementing the intervention programme for 20 minutes twice a week. Teachers assess children before and after BRP using the British Ability Scales test (BAS), generating a standardised score and reading age. Children typically make an average of four months' progress over the five weeks of the intervention.

This research will focus on the nature of the student interaction with children during the intervention and try to identify the factors that contribute to the success of the programme in relation to children’s progress.

Project duration: July 2018 to July 2019
Project contact: Jane Carter

Investigating the use of children’s literature in classrooms across Europe

This Comenius-funded project, which was reported in 2012, involved four countries – Iceland, England, Turkey and Spain with over 6,000 children and 250 teachers completing an online survey about their reading habits, preferences and details of the learning and teaching of children’s literature in each country. About 150 children and their teachers were part of focus groups in each country.

The project aimed to support cross national comparisons of the use of children’s literature - reading, learning and teaching, and then to develop and disseminate practical and effective pedagogical strategies. The project also aimed to encourage diversity and respect for cultural difference.

Some of the headline findings across all participating countries were:

  • In concurrence with many other studies, the number of family books in the home had a strong impact on a range of reading activities and attitudes and that socio economic background was a strong indicator of reading attitudes and activity
  • The decline of the bedtime story (or equivalent)
  • Children and teachers’ perceptions of purposes of classroom reading activities are often different – what teachers thought they had communicated about reading was interpreted by children in a different way.
  • Children from across countries thought the funny book was supreme!

The research was disseminated in each of the participating countries. In Bristol, events were held for teachers to hear about the research and its findings. A CPD was produced. The pack had three main parts:

  • Part 1 presented some key data from the project to children – the aim was to find out children’s responses, analysis and recommendations.
  • Part 2 was a pack of ideas for teachers to use based on a shared text (The Tinderbox).
  • Part 3 was a pack of generic ideas for using and promoting children’s literature for teachers based on areas identified by teachers in the survey as ‘low confidence’ areas

The full report and CPD packs (previously available on the project website) can now be accessed by emailing Jane Carter (Jane.Carter@uwe.ac.uk).

Project contact: Jane Carter

Children as engineers

Children as Engineers, a four-year project led by Dr Fay Lewis and Juliet Edmonds, paired undergraduate Initial Teacher Education students with undergraduate engineering students, training them in the use of engineering challenge materials which they then delivered in upper key stage two classrooms.

The impact of participation in the project for these students was evaluated and indicated that for the pre-service teachers there were significant benefits in terms of their science and engineering subject knowledge and the confidence in their ability to teach these subjects (a key factor in ensuring positive outcomes for children).

This positive pedagogical practice has now been embedded within engineering and educational undergraduate programmes to ensure that all students can experience such work rather than just volunteers.

Project contacts: Laura Fogg Rogers with Dr Fay Lewis and Juliet Edmonds
Funder: Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE)

Oracy and storytelling in schools

Inspired by the work of Bob Lister, formerly of Cambridge Schools Classics Project, I have explored storytelling pedagogy with trainee teachers in our partnership schools in the region. Finding ways to share challenging but important stories has allowed us to discover ways into teaching Ovid and classical tales in secondary English classrooms.

In the early stages of the project, we worked with University of Bristol colleagues and students to explore perceptions about storytelling as a pedagogic tool which led to articles in Changing English and NATE’s Teaching English Magazine in 2015.

The focus since 2017 is developing schemes of work as part of the secondary English curriculum and encouraging school students to become storytellers themselves in the now annual Ovid in the West Country competition run in collaboration with Bristol’s Classics Department.

Links to outputs:

  • Lorna Smith and Joan Foley (2015) Talking Together, Learning Together: The Story of English PGCE Student Teachers’ Adventures in Classics, Changing English: Studies in Culture and Education, 22:1, 60-71, DOI: 10.1080/1358684X.2014.992212. Link to this article.
  • NATE (2015) The Trainee Teachers’ Tale: Developing teacher voice and creativity through storytelling in Teaching English Issue 8

Project duration: 2012- (ongoing)
Project contact: Joan Foley

Members

There is ongoing research cooperation between our Department and other departments across UWE Bristol.

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