Graduation Events

Graduation ceremonies for our School this year were broiling events – with a temperature in the thirties and no air-conditioning, we knew that it was going to be hot! It turns out that, rather surprisingly, academic robes are not as sweltering as you might expect – thank goodness.

Alongside graduation several events were held within the School. During the afternoon there was a celebration for our students that have completed the Professional Track scheme. The scheme is now in its third year and the number of students completing it has increased by 61% this year. What’s even better was being able to talk to our new graduates at the ceremony to find that many have already entered graduate employment and have been able to articulate their experiences as part of the Professional Track in their interviews. Becky White, who has just started an apprenticeship as a copywriter, said “the courses, placements and schemes I have undertaken in order to complete the Professional Track have contributed to providing me with the necessary training skills needed to enter the workplace and begin working in the copywriting and editing industry”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was fantastic to see so many parents, supporters, partners and friends at the event, where Dr John McKeane gave an enlightening talk on how the students’ development journey is only just beginning, as well as how to utilise the skills that they have gained throughout the course of their degree. A drinks reception was held, where students received certificates highlighting their achievements and had the opportunity to network amongst their peers. We hope our new graduates keep in touch with us, and that they could be delivering workshops as part of the Professional Track for us very soon – congratulations!

Soon after the Professional Track celebration, on the lawn outside the Department of English Literature, Dr Maddi Davies hosted a book launch for the staff-student collaborative publication, Second Sight: The Margaret Atwood Learning Journals. The book has been generated from the students’ learning journal entries for the ‘Margaret Atwood’ Part 3 module and it was co-edited by a student, Bethany Barnett-Sanders, and designed by June Lin, a Part 2 student from the Department of Typography & Graphic Communication working with the ‘Real Jobs’ scheme. Staff, students and their families basked in the sunshine and collected copies of the book: Professor Emerita Coral Ann Howells, the leading scholar in Atwood studies, comments of the collection: ‘it is ground-breaking, not only as a collective teaching and learning project, but for the most original Atwood criticism I’ve seen for ages. I have been totally enthralled reading the whole book through. It’s a magnificent collection’.

Right after the book launch was the SLL prize giving event held in the Van Emden Theatre. After being welcomed to the event by the Head of School, Professor Gail Marshall, Professors Peter Stoneley, Rodney Jones and Catherine Leglu presented awards and prizes to their well deserving students as heads of their respective departments. Twenty seven awards were handed out to our students for reasons ranging from academic excellence to extra-curricular contribution, resilience and study abroad. The event concluded with celebratory drinks in the foyer outside with new graduates, their parents and staff discussing what was a fantastic day.

These events highlight the hard work our students and staff put in to make the school as successful as it is and rounded off a positive week in which several members of staff received promotions. Notably, Neil Cocks, Maddi Davies, Federico Faloppa and Mark Hutchings were promoted to Associate Professor, while Cindy Becker and Julia Waters were promoted to Professor.

It’s wonderful to see how much we have to celebrate in our School at the end of this session, with not only individual successes of both students and staff, but also collective successes between the two.

Madeleine Davies wins RUSU Excellence Award for Diverse and Inclusive Teaching

The School of Literature and Languages is pleased to announce that Dr Maddi Davies has won the ‘RUSU Excellence Award for Diverse and Inclusive Teaching’. Maddi writes, ‘Thank you to all our students who nominated me for this award; I’m truly touched by what you wrote about my teaching. I hope that some of you will help me celebrate by coming along to the presentation of the award at the RUSU Teaching and Learning Partnership Showcase which is taking place in the Meadow Suite on Tuesday 24th April between 12-2pm. As I said last year at the RUSU presentations, good teaching is produced by excellent students so I feel as though this award belongs to all of us.’

Madeleine Davies wins University Collaborative Award for Outstanding Contribution to Teaching and Learning

We are pleased to announce that Dr Maddi Davies (DEL) has been awarded a ‘University Collaborative Award for Outstanding Contribution to Teaching and Learning’. Maddi’s winning team includes Dr Jacqui Turner (Department of History) and Guy Baxter (Special Collections).

 

 

 

The award is for their work on the ‘Feminism 100’ series of Spring Term events that was organised with our Part 2 and Part 3 students to celebrate the centenary of the extension of the franchise in the UK to include (some) women. ‘Celebrating Forgotten Women’ was the centrepiece of this series. Feedback from the university panel emphasised the innovation of the project, praised staff-student teamwork, and described the activity as ‘an important piece of work outside the curriculum’.

 

 

 

Maddi comments: ‘We’re thrilled to have received this award, and we feel that it belongs as much to our magnificent students (Imi Snell, Vicky Matthews, Jack Champion) as it does to us. Thank you to everyone who helped us with ‘Feminism 100’ and who came along to the events to support us. We have two more events planned for the summer term and information about both will follow shortly.’

Jess Phillips MP at the University of Reading (16th November 2017)

Dr Madeleine Davies (Department of English Literature)

The Vice-Chancellor’s Endowment Fund generously supported the Department of English Literature and the Department of Politics and International Relations in hosting Jess Phillips MP at the University of Reading last week.

Jess Phillips was invited to deliver a talk on the topic, ‘Finding your Voice’, and to engage in a Question and Answer session led by Dr Mark Shanahan from the Department of Politics and International Relations. A book-signing for the MP’s recent book, Everywoman, was organised with the help of Blackwell, and this took place after the talk.

185 people were in the audience on the night. Members of the wider community joined us (including some in the 15-18-year-old category), and the majority of the seats were taken by colleagues and students in roughly equal proportion. The University’s live Facebook stream shows that 3,465 views were recorded during the 90-minute broadcast.

A Twitter feed from the event provided a lively flow of the MP’s comments as well as audience responses. One tweet alone (presented below) was viewed by 1,334 people.

Jess Phillips herself added her ‘like’ to the feed.

Jess Phillips’ talk included her childhood experiences as a campaigner with parents who were both committed to socialist causes: she remembered attending a day-care centre run by activists and helping to produce the banners that would be used on the drive-way to Greenham Common. She also discussed a brief period of political apathy when, in the early years of the Blair governments, many situations improved and the need for constant campaigning declined (she noted that she was more a fan of Blair’s ‘early work’ than of his later concepts). The election of David Cameron reignited her political activism, and her years of experience with ‘Women’s Aid’, a refuge charity, finally persuaded her to make herself heard and to enter Parliament. Her speech also included issues of class and privilege, questions of fairness and responsibility, and all her comment was laced with wit, humanity, and a deep-seated commitment to social justice. In the speech and in the Q&A session that followed it, it was clear that Jess’s passion is for equality, not in the highly theorised sense of ‘academic feminism’, but in the ‘lived’ sense of fairness, human rights and plain decency.

All of us who met Jess were extremely impressed by her warmth and her wit: there was no gap between her public image and the real person. It was also a timely and much-needed reminder that there are many MPs who are politicians because they are driven by their convictions and who are defined by their integrity and compassion. Meeting heroes is a dangerous enterprise but not in this case.

Thank you to all colleagues and students who attended the event. Jess Phillips told me (and told many students too) how impressed she was with Reading students and I felt very proud of everyone who contributed so much to such an excellent evening.

 

A Language Teaching Community of Practice: Collaborative development of expertise and scholarship By Jackie Baines (Dept. of Classics), Rita Balestrini (MLES), Sarah Brewer (ISLI), Barbara King (IoE), Regine Klimpfinger (MLES), Congxia Li (IWLP), Sarah Marston (IoE)

 

Over the course of the last academic year, the idea of creating a Language Teaching Community of Practice (LT CoP) has taken shape and developed as part of the University strategy to support and promote language learning and expertise in foreign languages teaching. A number of colleagues involved in language teaching or teacher education from the Department of Modern Languages and European Studies, the International Study and Language Institute, the Institute of Education and the Department of Classics, have agreed to meet informally and contribute, from their different perspectives, to the implementation of the project.

As a core group, we began our work with a critical discussion of the idea of CoP itself, its evolution and its adoption as an organisational tool. We discussed the range of functions that, as a cross-institutional LT CoP, we would like to have (sharing practices, responding to needs, mentoring, influencing policies, bidding for funds etc.) and key issues that we consider relevant to our interests and needs as language practitioners working in different  contexts. We agreed that one of our defining aims will be to deepen knowledge, promote reflection and stimulate in-depth discussion around themes relating to our professional practice at the UoR. Therefore, we have decided to focus on one main theme in each academic year. In 2016-2017, we began to share and discuss some aspects of our assessment practices and we intend to continue exploring this theme in 2017-2018.

We would now like to widen participation and invite colleagues who have an interest in foreign language pedagogy to join us in termly meetings. The first meeting will be held on 13th November, from 1-2 pm (Carrington, Room 101) room tbc) and will focus on marking criteria, rubrics and grading scales used to assess speaking and writing in a foreign language. We invite interested colleagues to give short presentations on these topics (10-15 minutes). For organisational purposes, we would like to receive a short abstract/summary (approximately 100 words) of the presentation by Friday 27th October at the latest. This should be sent to r.balestrini@reading.ac.uk

As is the nature of a CoP, our structure and plans will remain flexible and we will respond to the needs and interests of our members. Therefore, the direction in which the discussion will continue in the spring and summer meetings will emerge from this first event in the autumn term.

If you plan to join us at our Autumn meeting on 13th November, please register your interest in participating at the following link: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/autumn-meeting-of-the-language-teaching-community-of-practice-lt-cop-tickets-38351139290

Supporting Inclusivity and Diversity in Language Teaching and Learning at the University of Reading Authored by Laura Brown, Regine Klimpfinger, Daniela Standen and Enza Siciliano Verruccio

Language learning and disability: how to avoid the ‘avoidance’?

When the university disability office was approached in 2003 by a new member of staff for guidance on the assessment of a dyslexic student enrolled on a language module, the reply was that students with dyslexia are better advised to avoid foreign language courses. Fast-forward to 2017, and issues of ‘course substitution’, or ‘avoidance’,[i] when it comes to the study of foreign languages and learning difficulties, are still emerging today, as anecdotally reported by prospective secondary school applicants to this university.

When the principles of inclusivity and diversity, fresh from the new University of Reading Curriculum Framework, were chosen as the focus of this year’s university Teaching and Learning conference (January 2017), the discussion and thinking it provoked pointed clearly towards the need – within our institution and within our discipline in this institution – for a thorough reflection on how our current language teaching practices, our language curricula, and the general university procedures can best support students with disabilities who do not wish to avoid learning a foreign language.

Reflecting on disabilities and language teaching and learning practices: a workhop

This is when the idea of the Disability and Language Teaching & Learning Workshop was born. On 18 May, 22 language teaching practitioners from the Institution-Wide Language Programme (IWLP), the Department of Modern Languages and European Studies (DMLES), the Department of Classics and the Institute of Education gathered to explore and discuss experiences and practices of, as well as aspirations to, inclusivity and diversity in language teaching and learning here at Reading. They were guided by Laura Brown from the university Disability Office, with the support of Regine Klimpfinger (DMLES Disability Officer), Daniela Standen (International Study and Language Institute Disability Officer), and Enza Siciliano Verruccio (DMLES Language Coordinator).

The workshop consisted of a blend of theory and practice, with a strong focus on group discussion and activity, given the collaborative approach we wanted to engender. We set the scene with Enza recounting the experiences described above. To further examine the kinds of assumptions we may make about certain disabilities, the group then engaged in a ‘Fact or Fiction’ exercise to indicate whether statements were true or false, unearthing potential stereotypes and preconceptions, such as ‘Students with Asperger’s Syndrome can’t do group work’.

In smaller groups, participants then prioritised skills and attributes needed to learn languages, such as phonological processing skills, memory, curiosity and motivation, using a pyramid shape to indicate the most important at the top ranging to least important at the bottom (Picture 1). Skills and attributes were discussed in terms of how disabilities can affect those skills and attributes, for example the advantage of extroversion in acquiring spoken fluency and how this can be impeded by severe social anxiety. This led to a broader presentation on the experiences that disabled students may have in relation to the four key aspects of language learning – speaking, writing, reading and listening – looking both at barriers and strengths that disabled students may experience in relation to various elements of a languages course, such as oral examinations, classroom conversation exercises, timed translation examination papers, etc.

 

  1. Groupwork: prioritised language learners’ attributes and skills

The group were then subjected to an impossible memory test and a note-taking exercise using their non-writing hand. These gave them a feel for what it can be like for disabled students to try to fit in with traditional assessment and teaching methods which are unsuited to their learning style.

The group reflected, via Mentimeter, on their experiences of students on their modules who, despite adequate intelligence and effort, struggled with aspects of language learning due to disability (Picture 2). This led to consideration of techniques that can be applied to enhance accessibility and inclusivity in language teaching, across the three core areas of curriculum design, delivery and assessment (Picture 3). The challenges and limitations in applying these techniques were acknowledged as well as the benefits.

2. Workshop attendees report own experiences.

 

  1. Laura Brown from the university Disability Office leads the discussion on embedding inclusivity and diversity in the language curriculum

Case study examples of disabled students successfully studying languages were presented, highlighting particular aspects that helped them to achieve – this led to one of the key messages from the day in the plenary discussion, that small changes can make a huge difference. We also emphasised how people are not on their own in supporting disabled students and that the day’s collaborative approach provided a platform for further building support networks.

Moving forward

The workshop left the participants with solid advice on how to support students as individuals, but more importantly with ideas and possibilities to explore to make the curriculum more inclusive.  From the feedback received there is a clear need and willingness to push these conversations forward. Many expressed the need for more specific information and a forum to share practical ideas and good practice about language teaching and disability, and felt it was paramount to do so collaboratively across departments in order to implement and embed changes. So, keep a look out for the Special Interest Group on disability coming to ISLI and DMLES soon!!

[i] DiFino, S. M. & Lombardino, L. (2004), Language Learning Disabilities: The Ultimate Foreign Language Challenge. Foreign Language Annals, 37, 3, pp. 390-400

HEA Fellowships Awarded

Erhan Aslan (DELAL) and Veronica Heath (DMLES) have been awarded HEA Fellowship status.

Parvaneh Tavakoli (DELAL) and Enza Siciliano-Verruccio (DMLES) have been awarded HEA Senior Fellowship status.

Parvaneh writes:

“While engaged in the very hectic process of leading a team to restructure two MA programmes in my department, I had little time to contemplate, reflect  on and review what I had accomplished and how well I had used the available resources. The Flair application process provided me with an opportunity to pause, review and reflect on my skills, abilities, strengths and of course on what I could have done differently. The thinking required through the process of writing the application was a rich source of learning and a moment of revelation during my academic career.”

Madeleine Davies (DEL) won RUSU Teaching Excellence Award

Dr Madeleine Davies has won the presitgious RUSU Teaching Excellence Award this year. She received the award at the summer 2017 graduation ceremony for the school.

Madeliene writes:

‘I’d like to say a big ‘thank you’ to everyone who nominated me for the ‘RUSU Teaching Excellence Award’. I have won the Award for Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences and I couldn’t be more thrilled.

It is difficult to express how much the nominations for the RUSU awards mean to us as individual colleagues. It makes all the difference to know that the work we do is appreciated and, when our students take the time to make this known, their generosity and goodwill is extremely touching.

Thank you again, everyone: I feel as though I’ve won an Oscar!’