Innovative research methods with children and young people, Cardiff University (25/4/16).
Last week, Charlene and I attended an interesting and thought provoking methodology conference at Cardiff University. This was really one of those events where you thank your lucky stars the call for papers graced your inbox. Every single presentation gave you the gift of new research possibilities, questions and ‘wow, we can do this..?’ moments. I will summarise some of the day here, but I have to say well done to all that spoke and shared posters.
Professor Janet Fink Kicked the day off with a brilliant key note speech. She discussed the ’emotional landscapes of school’. Within this research she used a series of activities to engage with children at two local primary schools. Discussing how she positioned herself (as some one who would like to know more, rather than a teacher or in the least adult position) she discussed their journey to school, used music, poetry and craft (following the national curriculum), a Victorian school day at the museum, and the children curated their own exhibition.
During the research, the children produced emotion maps of their school. This was of particular interest to Charlene and I as we both use maps (in very different ways) within our research. Professor Fink found that the transition from nursery to KS1 was an exceptionally emotional time, with doors sealing off these places heavily coloured in. Year 5 -6 became a place of imagined futures by this Year 3 class. The spaces the children drew identified multi layered meanings and micro level contexts, such as the liminal spaces of the home time door and outside the school office.
I could easily go on and on about Professor Fink’s research, but I will leave you with the two messages that have stuck in my mind: Do not ignore silence, and there is messiness in research, this is an ‘opportunity to challenge the scientific imagination’ (Elden, 2012).
Moving on to the presentations. The first I want to mention is Vicky Edwards, Cardiff University – ‘Surfaces and Skins: Boys and digital gaming’. Vicky did participatory action research with boys age 11-12years. Using friendship groups she did photo elicitation using the covers of top video games and creative data production. The boys involved in Vicky’s study produced images of themselves as their video game character.
Another presentation that really struck a chord with everyone in the room was the presentation by Megan Walker of the Making Noise Project – which examines the experiences of children and young people after the disclosure of sexual abuse. As trauma effects language and memory, young people in these situations have less opportunity to voice their experiences. The project offered young people, who knew that they are there to talk about what happened next after their disclosure, a range of materials to express themselves. Older young people preferred to use the calm box, this was used during interviews as a tool to help them stay focused and calm. They could fiddle with any of the sensory objects in the box.
Others made maps, showing life before the disclosure and life after. The maps demonstrate how life changing the disclosure is, and how, for the child, everything changes overnight.
The use of sandboxes was also discussed and we had the opportunity to take part in a sandboxing workshop later in the day. Words cannot really express the emotion and depth that this methodology produces, partially due to the subject of the research. However, the methods used produced a depth of knowledge that simply would not have been captured through traditional methods.
Here the sand trays show before and immediately after disclosure. All of the monsters and scary animals symbolise the whirlwind that happened immediately afterwards. The final picture (not included) showed the child and parent left faced down in the sand. Again showing how the process turns the child, and their family life, upside down.
A study that I was very interested in was carried out by Ria Dunkley and Thomas Smith. ‘Roaming nature; creative technology’. This used qualitative mapping, using creative methods, and spatial mapping by geo-tagging photographs taken by young people, and was situated in the Brecon Beacons.
From a different perspective Physiotherapist Dawn Pickering examined the experiences of children who live with cerebral palsy. Dawn also had a brilliantly informative poster (below).
The final presentation I want to discuss here is the one given by my PhD colleague and friend, Charlene Crossley from MMU. Her research called Here. Me. Now is a brilliant piece of research looking at the aspirations and transitions to adulthood by young people from ‘gang effected’ areas. She immediately challenged this label and discussed how young people in these areas do have aspiration, which she engaged with through the creation of letters to their future selves, mapping out the places that matter to them and using flash cards to engage with ideas of race and inequality. She also acknowledged the creative methods that were not engaged with well – such as the blog she created for them to use anonymously. In doing this she acknowledged the silences that Professor Fink discussed throughout the key note address. Her talk was well delivered and engaging to watch, earning her the prize for the best presentation. Well done Charlene!
This was my first conference that focused solely upon methods, and I got so much from the day. It was well organised, focused and well attended. Thank you to all the presenters and to the organisers for an interesting and engaging time.
Elden, S (2012) ‘Inviting the messy: Drawing methods and ‘children’s voices’, Childhood. 20(1) 66–81. Available Here