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UCL Teacher Action Research Project – interview with teacher Becky King

By Lauren Sandhu, on 6 March 2019

We recently caught up with Becky King, a teacher (at The Duston School, Northamptonshire) who is currently participating in our UCL Teacher Action Research Project (TARP). Becky explains how she came to be involved in the project, her challenges and early success and the importance of cherry bakewell cakes!  

1.How did you come to be involved in the UCL Teacher Action Research Project (TARP)?

My first experience of UCL came from attending the UCL Teacher Summer School in 2017. I enjoyed myself so much that I applied the subsequent year. The focus of the 2018 event was on action research; something that I had begun to explore through being part of the DART (Duston School Action Research Team) and felt had the potential to improve the quality of my teaching. It still all felt quite a ‘woolly’ topic and I initially struggled to see how I could balance my day-to-day tasks with completing my own project but the sessions with experts in educational research soon made me realise that being research-informed would add value to every aspect of my practice. I now find myself questioning the impact of what I do in the classroom far more than in previous years. When the UCL Teacher Action Research Project (TARP) was launched, I jumped at the chance to work with the UCL Institute of Education and benefit from the expertise of Mark Quinn and left UCL in June feeling genuinely enthused about the journey I was planning for my top set Year 11 students in 2018-19.

2. What areas(s) does your research project explore?

My research question is ‘To what extent does teacher modelling, implemented for six weeks, improve the attainment for high achieving pupil premium students in English at GCSE?’ The question has evolved somewhat since June and it was valuable to spend over an hour writing and amending our questions as a group in October. I think we had all underestimated the importance of phrasing our research question in the most appropriate way. I came away with over fifteen versions of my initial question to reflect on and hone over time.

3. In what way does your research and development project focus on disadvantaged students?

Whilst the work I am doing aims to benefit every student in my Year 11 class, I am paying particular attention to the progress of the small number of pupil premium students. As a school, particular emphasis is being placed on improving the performance of high prior attaining students in English.

4.How does the project link to your role at school?

As KS4 Coordinator for English, looking at research into improving the grades of the most able students in the school fits in perfectly with my job title. It has been useful to reflect on conversations I’ve had with colleagues at UCL back at school with members of the English department. I have also been able to pass on resources like the pre-reading and frameworks that Mark shared with us in October to the Action Research Team at school.

5.Tell us a bit more about the implementation of your research so far; what challenges or early success have you encountered?

As every teacher knows, there are definitely times when it would be easier to dig out a PowerPoint from their hard drive than be innovative and take chances and I initially struggled to provide students with worked examples every week. I was constantly feeling as though my lessons were becoming dull and that I should be ‘entertaining’ the students (as my teacher training had encouraged me to do). Once the Head provided me with a visualiser, I found that talking students through planning and writing responses slowly and methodically was far more valuable than anything I had done previously with KS4 groups. From seeing more exemplars, students have a better grasp of how to write a conceptualised answer for Literature and how to reach the top bands on the mark scheme in Language.

6. How do you plan to share your learning from the project with colleagues from school/ the wider sector?

On the 30th of March, I will be presenting at the Educating Northants conference alongside three of my DART colleagues. Although it’s nerve-wracking, I’m excited to share the work that I’ve been doing and show other teachers that being research-informed will improve their practice and make their work lives simpler. I am also speaking at the forthcoming ResearchEd Northants event at The Duston School on the 5th of October, where I will be able to evaluate the success of my project against the 2019 GCSE results.

7. What one piece of advice would you give to a colleague thinking about undertaking a school-based research and development project?

Don’t be intimidated! I used to think that I wasn’t intelligent enough, well-read enough or a decent enough teacher to take part in a scheme such as the UCL Teacher Action Research Project (TARP) but everyone has been so positive and supportive that I really feel like my teaching (and confidence) is going from strength to strength.

8. Which fictional teacher (from film, TV or literature) do you most identify with, and why?!

My favourite literary character is Elizabeth Bennet. She’s opinionated, is a good sister, has a strong moral compass and won’t be taken for a fool, although I suspect I come across as more of a Jane Eyre that a Bennet!

For more information please visit our UCL Teacher Research projects webpage. 

Applications for the UCL Teacher Summer School 2019 are open now, for full details please visit our website

WPeople: Stephanie King

By Lauren Sandhu, on 25 February 2019

Today we are talking to Stephanie King from UCL’s History of Art Department ahead of our upcoming Year 12 History of Art Masterclass (applications are open) on Thursday 11 April 2019. 

1.How did you come to be at UCL?

I’ve always been really interested in the arts and humanities, which was reflected in my choice of A Levels, namely, fine art, history and history of art. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to study fine art or history of art at uni, so I went back to college after my A Levels to do a Foundation Diploma in Art and Design (commonly known as the Art Foundation). This was a great experience as I got to spend a year experimenting with and exploring different art practices! However, I was still really passionate about art history and felt that I couldn’t give it up.

Unable to choose between the two, I went to Plymouth University to study a joint honours in fine art and history of art. But after my first year, I decided that I wanted to devote my time to art history – and so I switched to single honours, and I’ve been studying art history ever since!

By the time I was in the final year of my undergraduate degree I knew that I wanted to do a Masters. The History of Art MA programme at UCL was really exciting, and so I applied! The MA really broadened my knowledge of art history and led me along new lines of inquiry and introduced me to methodologies that I felt reflected my own thoughts and ideas. I also had (still have) a really inspirational tutor who fed my thirst for knowledge and pointed me in the direction of material that is now foundational to my research. After my MA, I decided to continue at UCL to study a PhD and am still working with the same supervisor!

2.What do you do at UCL?

I am currently a fourth year PhD student in the History of Art Department, which means I’m in the throws of writing up my PhD thesis. My thesis investigates British documentary photography from the 1970s and 1980s. Through the conjunction of visual representation and politics, I examine how oppositional image makers have mobilised the camera as a prism through which to scrutinise Thatcherism, as well as the mass media institutions through which that ideology has been creatively constructed and reproduced. This research is performed through a close engagement with the work of Stuart Hall and the literature that emerged from the Birmingham Centre of Contemporary Cultural Studies during the seventies and eighties.

3. Why is Widening Participation important to you?

Widening Participation is important to me because I believe passionately that everybody should have access to higher education and it’s important that we ALL work towards overcoming the barriers that prevent equality of opportunity and access to good schooling. I went to a state comprehensive school, and although I took my progression on into university for granted as a teenager – in part because of very supportive parents and teachers – I know that this experience is by no means universal. For numerous, complex reasons, lots of people didn’t share these opportunities, and I want to help redress the balance.

I’m also acutely aware that there are some serious diversity issues in the humanities, in part because people are worried about the job prospects available at the end of a humanities degree and the associated costs. I am interested both in debunking myths about the kinds of skills that humanities degrees provide to those who study them (you can enter a multitude of diverse professions with an art history degree!!) as well as widening participation in the field. It’s also extremely important that our academic and cultural institutions better represent our diverse demographic in order that they become spaces that are accessible, welcoming and enjoyable places to visit and work.

4. Tell us a bit more about the masterclass you will be running?

I am going to be running a Masterclass in History of Art for Year 12 students this spring. The Masterclass will introduce students to art history as well as the History of Art Department at UCL. We will examine the diverse methods and materials that an art historian might engage with in their studies, and throughout their careers. I want to challenge the notion that art historians are connoisseurs by focusing on the ways in which the work of the art historian is to explore art’s cultural form.

Prospective students will learn about the interdisciplinary nature of art history and come to comprehend the ways in which art historians delve into subjects ranging from history, philosophy, sociology and economics, to gender studies, cultural studies, psychology (and more!!!!) to write the history of art.

I’ll introduce the students to my specialism – British documentary photography from the 1970s and ‘80s – and hope to demonstrate why I feel so passionate about the objects in question and how I developed my own particular methodological approach to them. We will consider how photographers have attempted, not merely to ‘document’ or reflect society, but to create images of society that are critical or potentially oppositional.

We will examine the seismic shifts that took place across the socio-political landscape in Britain during the post-war era, and artistic responses to, and attempts to alter these shifts. We’ll question how images continue to impact the socio-political landscape today, and how we see ourselves as subjects. Through an exploration of national identity, space and place (making), and the dialogue between institutions, modes of display and their variant publics, we will explore the essential place of critical reading skills and visual literacy in contemporary society. In turn, I will talk about some of the career paths open to art historians, from working in museums and galleries, to publishing, editing and working for Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs).

5. How would you describe art history to someone who has never heard of it before?

Art history is a dynamic subject that deals with visual culture through the prism of many different and diverse theoretical and methodological lenses. Examining the history of art and the art object’s cultural form, and how it is seen and circulates in society, is central to our understanding of history and how visual/material culture has shaped (not merely reflected) our beliefs, thoughts and ideas, as well as our very own self-perception and our perception of the world around us. Art history is an interdisciplinary subject that proffers visual literacy and critical thinking skills and teaches the student to be self-reflexive in their approach and to see the work from a range of critical, historical and historiographical vantage points. The subject is very rigorous, theoretically, and addresses problems that complicate chronologies and cross cut the boundaries between disciplines and geographies.

6. What would be your main bit of advice for someone thinking about studying history of art?

My main piece of advice for someone thinking about studying history of art would be: Always think critically about the information that you read, but also the images that you see!!! Images are never neutral, and once you know this, then you’re on your way to making a good art historian.

7. What would be your advice to young people who want to learn more about history of art?

If you want to learn more about art history and are intrigued by the subject, the best place to start is in an art gallery or museum – or, if you can’t make it to an art gallery, then you can explore images and objects on the internet or in books. Although art history is extremely interdisciplinary, images and objects are paramount, so start there, and see where the images take you: What themes do they address, who are the subjects, what is the material? etc.

Our History of Art Masterclass is taking place on Thursday 11 April 2019. Applications are open until Thursday 28 February 2019. 

A word from the writer:

I am a PhD candidate in the History of Art Department at UCL. I completed my MA, also in History of Art, at UCL in 2014. Before this, I studied for my undergraduate degree at Plymouth University. My review of Peter Dench’s exhibition ‘A1: Britain on the Verge’, has just been published in the journal Object. In 2017 I co-organised the conference ‘Decolonising History: Representations of Conflict in a “Post-war” Europe,’ an event funded by the Centre for the Study of Contemporary Art at UCL. My MA thesis Against Hegemony: (Re)Framing the ‘un- and under-employed’ was awarded the Oxford Art Journal Dissertation Prize in 2014.

WPeople: Elena Cagnoli Fiecconi

By Lauren Sandhu, on 21 February 2019

Today we are talking to Elena Cagnoli Fiecconi from the UCL Department of Greek and Latin ahead of our upcoming Ancient World Year 12 Taster Day on Wednesday 20 March 2019 (applications are open now).

1.How long have you worked at UCL, and what did you do previously?

I joined UCL in 2018, after working as a researcher in Switzerland and Israel. It has been very nice to be able to teach in addition to doing research and it has been wonderful to come back to London.

2. What is your current job at UCL?

I am a lecturer in Ancient Philosophy and the Outreach Officer in UCL’s Greek and Latin department. I organise Open Days, Taster Days and outreach talks in schools.

3. Did you go to university, and where did you study?

I did a BA in Philosophy in a small Italian city, Pavia. Then I moved to UCL to study for a Masters in Philosophy and after that I did a PhD in Ancient Philosophy at Oxford University.

4. Tell us about a favourite memory of yours from your time at university.

One of my favourite memories is from my first day as a Masters student at UCL, I came from a small town and the main quad seemed huge and intimidating, but also wonderful. It was a nice sunny day and I had lunch in the park in Gordon Square with some of my course mates, who made me feel very welcome even though I was struggling a bit with my English. On that day I felt like my time here was going to be stimulating and challenging, but also fun.

5. Why is Widening Participation important to you?

I think the best learning and teaching environment is a diverse one. I also think that the subjects we teach help us to reflect on the past in order to construct our future. I see my job as Outreach Officer as the best way to make sure that all those who are interested in reflecting on our past critically have the opportunity to do so.

6. Tell us a bit more about the Ancient World Taster Day on Wednesday 20 March 2019.

During the Taster Day, there will be chance to visit UCL, to hear talks by our lecturers on a wide range of topics such as Women in Homer, or Cleopatra and Augustus. There will also be a chance to meet some of our current students over the provided lunch, and to learn more about the opportunity to get involved in the annual Greek Play.

7. How would you describe the subject to someone who has never heard of it before?

© UCL, Institute of Archaeology

The Ancient World degree is offered across three UCL departments: Greek and Latin, History, and Archaeology.

The field of study of the degree is also defined more broadly than most degrees in this area: the ancient world of the Mediterranean and Near East, since the beginning of written records.

It is possible to take modules from all the participating departments and from other subjects related to the ancient world across the University. The degree is open to those who have no previous experience of Latin or Greek languages, but all students must take 45 credits in an ancient language during their degree. This is because we believe that exposure to ancient languages enables and enriches our understanding of ancient cultures.

The breath and the variety of the degree allows students to shape it according to their interests. You could focus on the Greeks, for example, and take modules in Greek Philosophy, History and Literature. Alternatively, you could combine modules on the Near East, Egypt and the Greco-Roman world. You could also add some modules in Philosophy, International Relations and Politics to the mix.

8. What would be your advice to young people who want to learn more about the Ancient World?

The ancient world surrounds us in many ways, and it is easier than you think to learn more about it even before you enter a university class. It features everywhere in movies and tv series, you can see and sometimes even touch items that come from it in museums all across the country, like the British Museum near UCL. It is even present in many of the words we use all the time, like “politics” which comes from the Greek word for city, and “cosmopolitan”, which means citizen of the universe, or citizen of the whole world.

9. What would be your top tip for someone thinking about studying the Ancient World at university?

Don’t be scared by the prospect of learning ancient languages, they are easier than you think and they open up a new world of knowledge. They can also be surprisingly fun to learn!

Our Ancient World Taster Day is taking place on Wednesday 20 March 2019. Applications are open until Wednesday 6 March 2019. Apply now.

A word from the writer: 

I am originally from Italy, where I completed my undergraduate studies. Then I moved to the UK to continue with Philosophy and I ended up working on Ancient Philosophy. My research focuses for the most part on Aristotle, with an emphasis on his works on ethics, psychology and biology. In particular, I am interested in questions that lie at the intersection of these disciplines. For example, I look at whether Aristotle’s account of the human happy and virtuous life is influenced by his views on human desire, attention, perception and thought.

WPeople: Will Dunn

By Emily Robinson, on 7 June 2018

Job title: Postdoctoral Research Fellow
UCL Department: Department of Physics and Astronomy

What does your job involve?

At the minute I am a researcher in Astrophysics and Planetary Science and I split my time between the Department of Physics and Astronomy UCL, the European Space Agency and Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

I use X-rays to look at other planets. I try to figure out why they are producing x-rays and what that says about the environment on them. I want to know more about what the energetic environments around the planets are like and what the atmosphere on the planet is like.

Most of my work has been centred on Jupiter. Currently we have a spacecraft called Juno which is doing orbits around Jupiter and going through some very dangerous environments to measure parts of Jupiter that we have never seen before.

“The zone in the middle where the planets are neither too hot nor too cold
is called the Goldilocks Zone. These are the planets that could potentially have life on them.”