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Widening Participation

In March 2012 I was appointed Widening Participation Officer for the Department of English and Comparative Literary Studies at the University of Warwick. To date I have worked in collaboration with members of the academic staff in English, the central Widening Participation Team, The Brilliant Club, and representatives of IGGY in developing a series of initiatives for widening participation in English.

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The Transformations Tutorial Programme, otherwise known as the Transformations Project has been developed by members of the Widening Participating team based in the Department of English and Comparative Literary Studies at the University of Warwick with the principle aim of supporting aspiring English students and improving Widening Participating in English. Over the course of two terms, small teams of trained undergraduate Transformations Tutors deliver ten university-style seminars. The target age range is school years 9, 10 and Sixth Form, with the typical Transformations Session taking place after school and lasting one hour. Due to exam commitments at both participating schools and the University of Warwick, we aim to deliver all of the academic sessions by the start of the Easter holiday, although we can exercise flexibility to help address any timetable issues that may arise.

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Participating pupils not only benefit from gaining insight and experience of undergraduate study, but will also build on their existing skills in preparing for individual assignments and formal assessment. We have designed a scheme of work that reflects aspects of the current English GCSE/A-Level curriculum while challenging pupils to exceed their own expectations. Transformations utilises a skills-based approach to learning, promoting methods of independent inquiry and active questioning closely modelled on the undergraduate teaching and learning environment. Each session will be led by an ambassadorial team comprised of up to three undergraduate Transformations Tutors from the Department of English and Comparative Literary Studies at the University of Warwick.

Our Transformations Tutors are highly motivated and successful students with a keen interest in enabling young people in the pursuit of Higher Education. Prior to entering the classroom all undergraduate tutors complete a training programme and undergo a thorough DBS check and safeguarding training. However, we also ask that a classroom teacher will always be on hand during tutorials and act as a point of contact between the university and the participating school.

Over the course of the programme, participating school pupils engage with a combination of literary theory and literary texts from multiple genres, supported throughout by a team of Transformations Tutors. Throughout the programme pupils are guided through a variety of creative approaches to the study of English literature that will complement their existing knowledge and expertise. We currently offer two modules, the first of which examines the concept of the Other, which has come to inform a wide range of literary and cultural theories. As they progress through this module, pupils examine the role and function of undead, alien and otherwise unusual or supernatural characters and motifs in literature. The second module considers the relationship between magic and the child’s imagination. In either case, the format of the tutorial sessions resembles a university style seminar, with a keen focus on developing critical insight through group discussion and reflection. Each session will see the preparation of a set text, typically extracts and short articles, which serve as the subject of discussion and activities. Pupils then record and reflect on their discoveries in a book of commonplace, otherwise referred to as the Common Book, effectively a portfolio for pupils to collate their ideas, discoveries, thoughts and any interesting material/text/images that they find relating to their project. The common book is viewed as a creative space in which pupils can express anything that comes to mind or engages their academic interests.cb4

Towards the end of the programme the format of the tutorials shifts towards a series of academic writing workshops during which each pupil will develop a critical question in response to their individual research and interests inspired by the programme. This question will inform a comparative and self-reflective writing assignment examining two or more of the texts studied. This assignment is completed over the summer and is submitted, along with the Common Book, to the Department of English and Comparative Literary Studies at the University of Warwick in late September to be marked in preparation for the Transformations Festival: a day of academic celebration to be held at the University of Warwick in November.


Transformations Summer School

July 2013 saw the launch of our Transformations Summer School, a free, two-day non-residential drama and storytelling event developed by the Widening Participation Team in Department of English and Comparative Literary Studies at the University of Warwick. The Summer School has been designed to support current year 9 and 10 school pupils who are considering a future in Higher Education (HE) and who have a keen interest in English literature, theatre studies and the creative arts. Some of our participants had already completed a Transformations Project at their school, whereas others were joining us for the first time from more than six schools from across the region and as far away as Berkshire.

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Over the two days of the event participants completed a series of drama-based and creative writing workshops in which they explored, adapted and finally performed a contemporary reimagining of a traditional fairytale. The event began with a live performance or telling of several traditional fairytales from Ethiopia and Ireland, and then moved to a workshop format where pupils engaged with the dynamics of storytelling and the adaptation of text for performance. Having developed some exciting ideas of their own at the end of day one, day two saw small ensembles of pupils workshop and critique their own unique performances, supported throughout by a team of creative writers, theatre practitioners, academic staff, and undergraduate Transformations Tutors.

In just two short days our young writers and actors delivered a series of fantastic performances to an audience comprised of parents, tutors and academic staff. Their achievement was made all the more remarkable due to the fact that each ensemble was told that their performance would take place within the confines of a small rectangle, measuring just two metres by one metre, and that they would not be allowed to use any props, costumes or mechanical special effects. Instead, pupils were taught how to negotiate this tiny space to create a focused, dramatic spectacle, using their own bodies and carefully crafted dialogue to represent a range of scenarios and situations.

The Summer School was tremendous fun and a huge success, and we very much look forward to welcoming new participants next year!

If you would like your school to participate in any of the programmes outlines above, please contact me via Email at p.c.whitehouse@warwick.ac.uk


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In addition to this, our Brilliant Club Partnership Programme places PhD students in schools across the West Midlands with the objective of engaging brilliant young people with a keen interest in the study of English literature. Both of these programmes have been designed to offer school pupils an opportunity to work on a challenging and rewarding programme of extended study that introduces them to aspects of undergraduate study and the expectations that it entails.

Development of interactive website content for English

Recently I have led development on new web-based resoucres for the English department aimed at increasing interactivity and visibility of widening participation and supporting prospective students. Working closely with Leaminton Spa based web development and gamification specialists Fishinabottle and the digital media production team 88Media, I produced a series of informative videos hosted in an interactive environment which advise prospective students on aspects of the Warwick University application and interview process with a specific focus on English degree courses. The videos cover such topics as interview etiquette, the personal statement, preparing for the interview, anxiety about fitting in and, most importantly of all, a showreel of student experiences provided by current undergraduates. The videos can be viewed here: http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/arts/english/prospectivestudents/undergraduate/interview_qanda1/

In 2013-2014 we plan to launch a new on-line version of the Transformations Project which will host classroom resources for schools and offer a compact form of the project that can be run in schools across the UK. A series of digital media projects are currently under development.