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Blog post Part of series: Framing research: Theories, concepts and reflexivity in educational research

BERA ECR Network symposium: A personal reflection on constructive feedback

Sylvia Ikomi, University of Greenwich

In October 2019 I travelled to the US to explore the benefits of oracy-centred teaching strategies and expeditionary learning for the development of the speaking, listening, reading and writing skills of children that have had an adverse childhood experience (particularly children in care). As I am due to expand this research into a MPhil/PhD in October I wanted to get feedback from other PhD students and academics on what I could do to improve my research approach and strategy, and what areas I could amplify or reduce as research focus points.

I was quite nervous when I arrived at the symposium. I was putting my hope on having a late afternoon presentation slot but discovered that my presentation would be the third one. We had 15–20 minutes to present our research or proposed research followed by 10 minutes of questions from the audience.

I started my presentation by outlining the wider context of my research topic. I referenced the current situation in England in which only 6–7 per cent of young people in care enter university and 82.5 per cent of children in care did not pass their maths and English GCSEs according to the government’s latest statistics (DfE, 2019a). I also went into some detail about the concept of adverse childhood experiences. Adverse childhood experiences comprise of several experiences including psychological, physical and sexual abuse and household dysfunction ranging from parental substance abuse, mental illness, domestic violence and incarceration (Felitti et al., 1998). Further data from the Department for Education (DfE, 2019b) shows that 63 per cent of looked-after children in England are in care due to experiencing child abuse or neglect, 14 per cent are in care due to family dysfunction, 8 per cent are in care as their family is going through a temporary crisis that diminishes the parental capacity to adequately meet some of the children’s needs, 7 per cent are in care due to absent parenting, 3 per cent of them are in care due to their parent’s illness or disability, 3 per cent are there due to their own disability, and 1 per cent are in care due to low income or socially unacceptable behaviour. These situations primarily come under the umbrella of adverse childhood experiences.

I outlined my mixed-methods research methodology which compromised of a focus group with key members of the US Legal Centre for Foster Care and Education, an interview with one of the founders of EL Education (formerly Expeditionary Learning) who developed the expeditionary learning model that is used across the US, interviews with teachers at one of EL Education’s schools that is renowned for its work with children that have had an adverse childhood experience, and action-based research with students at the school. I presented the key findings of my research, with specific attention on the focus group’s identification of schools’ underdiagnosis and misdiagnosis of the special education needs of children in care and a lack of trauma-informed teacher training that present particular challenges for children and young people in care.

‘I presented the key findings of my research, with specific attention on the focus group’s identification of schools’ underdiagnosis and misdiagnosis of the special education needs of children in care and a lack of trauma-informed teacher training that present particular challenges for children and young people in care.’

The audience feedback was rich and constructive, as members shared their own anecdotes as educators who have worked with children and young people that have had an adverse childhood experience and have been in care. Potential ways of enhancing the MPhil/PhD follow-up research were recommended – such as considering a participatory approach to the research design that includes the ideas of children and young people in care. This feedback enabled me to consider key factors and perspectives that I would not otherwise have considered.

Taking part in the symposium gave me clarity on the significance of my US-based research, helped me to worry less about my weaker areas and provided me with key aspects to incorporate into my research methods to make it richer. It has substantially enhanced my own post-research reflection. I can say without any hesitation that my time at the symposium was time well spent, and I would highly recommend it to other early career researchers.


Join BERA’s ECR Network on 18 September 2020 for the online event, ‘Academic writing and publishing: Experiences from an ECR’. In it, Yang Hu – senior lecturer at Lancaster University – will share his experiences of publishing during and after his PhD, consider potential issues when publishing from one’s PhD research, offer ways to navigate (and survive/enjoy) the writing and peer-review process, and give some insights into solo-versus-collaborative research. Click here for more information and to book your place.


References

Department for Education [DfE]. (2019a). Outcomes for children looked after by local authorities in England, 31 March 2018. Retrieved from https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/outcomes-for-children-looked-after-by-las-31-march-2018

Department for Education [DfE]. (2019b). National tables: Looked-after children in England including adoption 2018 to 2019. Retrieved from https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/children-looked-after-in-england-including-adoption-2018-to-2019

Felitti, V. J, Anda, R. F., Nordenberg, D., Williamson, D. F., Spitz, A. M., Edwards, V., Koss, M. P., & Marks, J. S. (1998). Relationship of childhood abuse and household dysfunction to many of the leading causes of death in adults. American Journal of Preventative Medicine, 14(4), 250. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0749-3797(98)00017-8