Monthly Archives: November 2015

A Frame of Mind?

Written by Christopher Bolton, Senior Lecturer in Drama Education, Birmingham City University

2 1

Teaching can often be a lonely job. Despite being in the company of a number of learners, colleagues and teachers, I often felt that what I was trying to achieve in my practice was at risk of being swallowed in the variety of school agendas, policies and processes. This risk of isolation has, arguably, been augmented with the recent election of a group of ‘educated’ politicians make decisions about the future of Britain’s education system. More testing for children; a greater focus on EBaCC subjects; a narrowing curriculum; and little monetary investment in real terms.

With this in mind my spirits were revived when Big Brum Theatre in Education Company, my colleagues at Birmingham City University and I launched our Masters in Teaching and Learning programme (MTL), with the hope of creating both an authentic space for teachers to develop their own reflective practice and planning, and a learning community for those people in which their practice, in collaboration with like-minded people, might be formally accredited. This Community of Practice is intended to link theory and practice explicitly and aims to connect drama teachers across the West Midlands.

4 3

The structure of the MTL will see teachers responding to the artistic input from Big Brum, a world renowned theatre company. In order to develop their thinking further, teachers will then be encouraged to explore, create and deepen their understanding, where it matters, in the classroom with our children. In essence this collaborative relationship between Artists, Teachers and Children will be central for everyone’s learning as we all wrestle to understand what it is to be human, particularly at a time such as this.

There are three groups within our community of practice as can be seen in the diagram below:


Group 1 will commit to involvement in a core group, including completing MTL units for accreditation; Group 2 will commit to involvement in a core group, but without completing MTL units; whilst group 3 will attend occasional meetings and occasionally contribute (e.g. via online conversations.)

From this process of response, creation and reflection participants will create resources that can be used for the wider drama in education community. This might include lesson plans, schemes of work, reflective analytical documents or critical commentaries about the learning. What this will allow is that useful resources for teachers will be created by learners, teachers and artists.

During our first introductory session we discussed the fine balance between the drama form and content. What is it we could be teaching in drama? How might we do this? Implicit within our learning was the feeling that schools are increasingly focusing upon the performance of education and the data that this produces. In the light of Ofsted’s inspection policy,

‘organizations will concentrate their efforts on those things they are judged on’ (Muijs & Chapman, 2009:41),

which means that school leaders may prioritise Ofsted’s needs over the aims of the community, or indeed the children, that the school serves. How might we, as drama teachers, work within this framework?

Furthermore, the issue of preparing young people to work with Big Brum was also considered. Should we prepare young peoples’ ‘mindset’ or should we be helping them into a ‘frame of mind’, from which they can explore the rich content that Big Brum provide? Much of Big Brum’s methodology is open-ended and dialogic, which for some teachers operating in an ‘observation culture’ can be difficult to handle, particularly when this open-endedness cannot always be measured in terms of progress or demonstrated to a non-conscious observer (Giddens, 1991).

From the first meeting I learned that in my role as a teacher educator I might want to focus on how I enable teachers to consider the content of their intended learning just as much as the form that it takes. Linked to this is the notion of ‘frames of mind’; how do I prepare my trainees for learning, given the meta-cognitive way in which my sessions are run?

chris_bolton-130313213637113498Interested? We are always looking to increase our community of practice, should you want to know more then please contact me


Muijs, D., & Chapman, C., (2009). Accountability for Improvement: Rhetoric or Reality? In Radical Reforms, ed.

Giddens, A., (1991). Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age. Cambridge: Polity (35)

ISM webinar: Which way now? GCSE music challenges and choices

Kirsty Devaney, PhD student, School of Education, @KirstyDevaney

Education PhD student Kirsty Devaney paired up with Dr Alison Daubney from Sussex University to host a webinar for the Incorporated Society of Musicians . This webinar is designed to help music educators to choose the most appropriate qualification for their pupils by considering the key changes and exploring the new qualifications from each awarding body in depth. What the video here:




Data collection time!

Written by Shannon Ludgate, PhD Student, School of Education – Early Years

Shannon has been with us just over a year and starting to collect data – here are some of her reflections:


“It feels rewarding being out and observing practice, knowing that my PhD is going somewhere…”

“I am looking forward to hearing the children’s views on using touchscreens in their settings; this will hopefully give me a good insight into how the children feel.”

Read the full post on her website:

Are you new to the PhD? Read Shannon’s reflections after 4 months of being a PhD student and let us know if you feel the same:

A short blog in which I worry about ‘flightpaths’

Martin Fautley, Professor of Education, Birmingham City University

MFMartin writes a very successful blog all to do with music education and assessment. He makes us question how and why assessment is done in music, but he also relates it to wider questions about education assessment:

“If we do know what we expect, are we simply providing a self-fulfilling prophecy, and at the same placing a glass ceiling on attainment?”

To read the full blog go to:


Can Twitter aid your research – Reflections from session 1

Written by Kirsty Devaney, PhD student, School of EducationBlack and white headshot

Session 1: Do you know your #hashtag from your retweet? 5th October 2015

We had a lovely bunch of researchers join us for a workshop all about how to get to grips with twitter. They had a variety of reasons for using twitter from wanting to use it at conferences to connect with other delegates, to promoting written and published work, to using it to collect data and promote their research. Some aspects we covered included:

  • Setting up a profile twitter
  • Writing tweets
  • Linking with other online platforms
  • Finding and getting followers
  • Privacy and safety

The main piece of advice I gave the group was to use Twitter as a “conversation”. Don’t just promote your own work but engage in debates, talk to others in your area of research, and retweet (share) other related posts and tweets. Think about your audience – who will be looking at your tweets and what do they want to see? Do they just want to see you promoting your latest publication all the time?

Join us for session 2: Twitter to aid research and building up your profile, 9th November, 2-4pm, Attwood, City North

We will be looking at the nature of Twitter, how to build a strong public profile, the dangers, how to build a network and engage them. We will also touch upon social media strategies and social media managers.

Contact: or for more information and to book a place.

Connect with other CSPACE Twitter peeps!


Interim reflections on a Travelling Fellowship

Written by Dr Carolyn Blackburn, Research Fellow in Early Childhood Studies, HELS

The report from my Travelling Fellowship to NZ is due by December.  On typing up the interview transcripts I found myself reflecting on my overall impressions of the Champion Centre and the people who had worked so hard to welcome me in New Zealand but also on the usefulness of travelling to the other side of the world.  These are my reflections.

First of all sincere thanks to Dr. Susan Foster-Cohen for organising a comprehensive research programme, to all of the staff for welcoming me and accommodating me, to parents and children for allowing me to observe their sessions.  I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to the Champion Centre (and Christchurch) and was really well looked after. Also sincere thanks to Jane Thistlethwaite of Positive Path International for showing me some of the amazing special schools in NZ.


The Champion Centre

The evidence and argument for relational pedagogy is robust internationally, especially in early childhood. The relational approach in the Champion Centre Model is the most consistent thread throughout the programme and observable in therapy sessions, in conversations between professionals, between professionals and families, professionals and children and extends to visiting researchers. Outstanding and distinctive features (that are different to previously observed early childhood education/intervention models and worth travelling to the other side of the world to see) include:

  • The range of therapeutic /educational approaches (the inclusion of music and intensive computer time especially) and the delivery of these all under one roof with parents as full and equal participants, sometimes following therapists, sometimes leading therapists alongside their child;
  • The integration of these different approaches to the extent that sometimes they are jointly delivered where this is perceived to be beneficial for the child/family/particular target, This means that there is a consistent approach whereby there is a common culture/language whilst individual specialisms are respected and maintained;
  • The natural conversations during everyday communications and interactions between staff of different disciplines and with families that are beneficial for consistency of delivery and continuation of the programme within the home setting;
  • The respectful and reflective approaches from professionals towards each other, to children, families;
  • The time given in therapy/education sessions for parents to talk and be listened to, this was especially important in the monitoring programme for children born prematurely where the Psychologist intuitively knew to allow silent moments and time for parents to think about what they wanted to say;
  • Dedication and enthusiasm of staff for the programme that goes beyond a desire to work with young children and extends to caring about the long term sustainability of family structures and processes;
  • Feedback from parents in interview has been extremely positive and reflects all of the above comments as well as respect for the highly skilled professionals who have shared their journey/about to share their journey, the baby programme that helps parents start their journey and the transition programme are especially valued by parents.

Overall, an adventure that I enjoyed, and as many people have said before me, an inspirational experience.

Carolyn Blackburn, 2015, WCMT Travelling Fellow

To read more posts by Carolyn please go to: