It’s our Masters Graduation on Friday the 22nd and we’re looking forward to celebrating the graduates of MACYS 2015. We wrote to some of our graduates and asked them to reflect on the process of writing their dissertations. Candice and Claire both received awards for their fantastic empirical research projects. Below they briefly describe their work and have a few handy tips about approaching a masters thesis.
Claire Durrant – ‘An exploration of the emotional health and well-being of severely dyslexic children in mainstream primary school and the role of teachers in supporting them.’
My main motivation for conducting my research project was a personal one. When my severely dyslexic son’s needs were not met at mainstream primary school he developed extremely low mood and self-esteem and became very anxious. Through my involvement with online forums and local support groups I became aware of other severely dyslexic children who have had similar experiences. With one in ten children in the UK affected by dyslexic (Dyslexia Action, 2014) and around 4% experiencing it severely (National Literacy Trust, 2015), I felt that the emotional health and well-being of severely dyslexic children was an issue of wider significance.
My MA in Childhood and Youth Studies provided me with a framework with which I could engage with the broader issues affecting children and gave me the tools with which to objectively contrast my son’s experience with those of other severely dyslexic children and create meaning out of what happened to him. I used a psychosocial approach for my empirical research because it allowed me to examine my research questions in an interdisciplinary and reflexive way. I explored the lived-experience of two severely dyslexic children through the use of a life story format with their parents. This methodology (Biographical Narrative Interpretive Methodology) also uses an interpretive panel comprising specialists and non-specialists which allowed for a deeper interpretation of the parent’s narratives and for the views of teachers to be taken into account. It was, I think, also particularly important given my own parallel experiences with the parents I interviewed.
My research demonstrated the impact that lack of resources and teacher training in dyslexia have on the emotional health and well-being of severely dyslexic children. However, it also uncovered that there are things that teachers can do, even without resources and training, which can improve the experience of severely dyslexic children in education. My dissertation convinced me that children with severe dyslexia experience school in a unique way that requires its own research and I am now applying to do a PhD which I hope will make a larger contribution towards knowledge and understanding of the emotional needs of children who are severely dyslexic.
Since qualifying as a teacher in my undergraduate degree, I have been highly motivated to work with young people who have experienced disadvantage and require access to education in a different way. My career has spanned a variety of contexts, such as foundation learning, youth work and alternative education programmes. Alongside this, my interest in the political landscape has developed by observing first-hand how policy decisions shape practice and impact people’s lives directly. Of particular significance to the contexts in which I have worked is the introduction of the government’s Raising Participation Age (RPA) agenda, which requires that all young people remain in some form of education until aged 18. Reflecting upon the impact this had on professional practice and, in particular, the experiences of young people who access support via alternative routes, led me to choose this topic as the focus of my study.
The decision to conduct empirical research was in order to capture the impact of RPA within the environment, with it having undergone a period of rapid change following the full introduction of the agenda from September 2014. Throughout the year of the MACY’s course I was eager to use my practice skills in working with young people and apply them within a research context by conducting focus groups to collect qualitative data for analysis. The main challenge I experienced was in taking steps to ensure ethical clearance was gained in time to conduct the research necessary to inform the dissertation and I thank my supervisor and the department for their support in ensuring this was able to go ahead within the timeframe. The results gave an insight into how the RPA is shaping the different opportunities available for young people and will continue to change the status quo of education and work for 16-18 year olds in England. This study touched the surface of what is likely to be a significant cultural shift, with far more questions and insights still to be uncovered as the RPA policy takes full effect.
My approach to writing the dissertation was as a marathon not a sprint. Reading, preparation, transcription and writing daily helped me to the finish line as smoothly as possible, as well as with the invaluable support of my peers, who joined me in the library, and that of my supervisor in shaping and refining my ideas.
I have emerged from the MACY’s course a more reflective practitioner with an awareness of current developments relating to policy and practice and a heightened sense of social justice. As such, I am motivated to pursue a career in which I can use what I have learned about utilising research evidence to engage with policy and practice to make a positive difference to people’s lives.