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Couldn't make it to Research unlocked? Here's what you missed...

The fourth Research Unlocked event took place at Whitefield Research and Development Centre on the 14th November 2017. This year, the theme was “Let’s Talk Communication” and there was a focus on exploring new and innovative ways for professionals, students and parents to communicate and collaborate.  Around forty people attended and it was good to see current and previous research partners from different universities alongside colleagues from a range of specialist schools and settings. 

Research unlocked graphical banner - not very interesting

The event began with some updates on new and current initiatives at Whitefield Academy Trust. Geraldine O’Grady, the Director of the Research and Development Centre introduced an Erasmus Research project which the Academy is proud to be involved in for the next three years. The project focuses on ‘Promoting Effective Communication for Individuals with Vision Impairments and Multiple Disabilities’ and will involve partnership working between three universities and four specialist schools in Greece, Romania Cyprus and the UK.

Zoe, Wells, a Specialist Early Years Researcher, based at Whitefield, updated the participants on the research she is undertaking about developing a 0-3 SEND provision. She shared her findings so far and also some possible ways forward which centre around developing a provision that will be local, family centred, accessible and fun.

Mark Bowes, A QTVI teacher from the Joseph Clarke Outreach Service followed up on the progress from the “Coloured Tent “project which was shared in last year’s symposium. The use of a single, coloured tent has been found to support the early engagement and attention of children with multiple disabilities and cerebral visual impairment. Mark has been participating in this research with babies and young children on his caseload and researchers at University College London. 

The next section focused on the MA research projects which had recently been undertaken by three teachers at Whitefield Schools. Their tutor from the University of East London, Nicole Whitelaw, spoke first. She highlighted why it is so important to participate in practitioner research as it gives us important and sometimes surprising insights into the abilities and perspectives of the pupils we work with, which we might not have appreciated before.

Left to right: Roisin, Nicole, Kayleigh and Tom
Left to right: Roisin, Nicole, Kayleigh and Tom

Kayleigh Hardy, a teacher in Niels Chapman School explained how her research involved her class last year and how happy they were. She gave her pupils a “Happiness” questionnaire and as a result of their comments; the pupils and Kayleigh designed and put into place a plan to improve their happiness. After four weeks, they reviewed the plan together and the results showed that all pupils were happier by the end of the project!  Kayleigh said that the most significant things she learned were the importance of asking the opinions of young people, listening carefully and encouraging them to talk. Also, to make sure that she always checked on her assumptions so that she was truly reflecting what the pupils actually wanted to say.

Tom Stacey, a teacher in Peter Turner Primary School looked at how effective ‘Attention Autism’ is in developing communication for pre- verbal autistic pupils.   Attention Autism is a well-known intervention which is used with pupils with autism but Tom had identified that there was little research in this area for pre-verbal children.  Tom’s results showed that for one pupil, his early communication skills had significantly improved during the AA sessions but there was no evidence to show that these skills had been transferred to other classroom activities during the course of the eight week research period.   Tom’s honest approach demonstrated how important it is to seriously consider what interventions are used in class and why. Also, to appreciate that often more careful analysis and reflection are required by teachers if they are going to be able to advocate the effectiveness of an intervention for a pupil’s overall progress and development with confidence.

The third researcher, Roisin Marr, also a teacher from PTP, considered the use of Lego Therapy to support the development of social skills in pupils with autism.  She gave a detailed account of Lego Therapy and its potential benefits to enable children to learn how to play.  However, the main results of her research stressed that parents, practitioners and societies’ expectations of children may not always match the individual child's desires and interests and it is essential to reflect on this whenever introducing a new intervention into a classroom.

The last section of the programme considered some school -based interventions which may not have been part of a university- led research project but which have been introduced and analysed by experienced colleagues  to see how well they work and what the next steps may be.

Louise Fuller, a Speech and Language Therapist and Dorota Witkowska from the Vale School spoke about how the Pragmatic Organisation Dynamic Display book (PODD) offers a way for children to communicate at home, school and in the community. They bought a range of resources for the audience to look at and also some excellent footage to show how this approach is being used effectively. They also shared with the audience ways they are planning to develop this system in the future.

Sadaf Aslam, Head of Teaching and Learning at TreeHouse School and Charlie Levenson ( Founder) demonstrated Multi -  Me. This is a secure network, multimedia communication platform and goal planning tool that has enabled some individuals to develop their independence and communication skills.  Charlie demonstrated some of the functions of this social networking tool and was keen for others to try it out to review its effectiveness with pupils.

Finally, Georgina Bull, Deputy Principal at Ravensbourne School spoke about how the ‘Triads Approach is being used to improve outcomes for pupils and performance management for teachers.  The approach is based on the ideas and practices from Lesson Study, coaching, mentoring and Action Research. The outcomes after two years of implementation have been successful. The majority of teachers have reported that they prefer this approach to being judged by lesson observations and believe that is has improved their teaching and changed their practice.  Georgina shared a list of next steps which include plans for training teachers in assessing the quality of evidence used and finding ways of sharing good practice developed during Triads process.

Georgina Bull speaking in front of the audience.
Georgina Bull from Ravensbourne School spoke on the 'Triads' approach

Feedback welcome

Immediate feedback from the audience showed that they found the presentations stimulating and varied.  Many commented that they would be interested in following up some of the subjects so Geraldine said that she will contact everyone in a few months’ times for an update.

Geraldine would like to thank all the speakers for their time and contributions to the Research Unlocked event. All of the speakers have willingly agreed to share their presentation slides. These can be found …

If you have any comments or questions about the talks or have any suggestions about ways in which we can share practice- based research or interventions further please contact Geraldine O’Grady.  G.ogrady@whitefield.waltham.sch.uk

See the Powerpoints

You can find many of the Powerpoint presentations below