Today I’m talking to Cathy Bovill about what has shaped her reseacrh and her CoDI show. To hear more from Cathy join her for ‘Hey, You At The Back!‘ on the 4th August at the New Town Theatre. 

Which experience has particularly shaped your research?

My mother and grandmother were both activists in the women’s peace movement and this certainly influenced me to develop a strong sense of social justice when growing up. I think this has impacted on all the work I do, to ensure I maintain a strong set of values around cultural diversity, and critical pedagogy, and a strong belief in developing individual and community potential. In my current research, I witness when students become really meaningfully engaged, they are capable of amazing creativity.

Working on student engagement you must hear a lot of those experiences which have shaped teachers’ methods. Are there any which come up time and time again?

I visited Legoland in Denmark last year, and when I arrived at the front gates just before the park opened, children were running around and playing outside the entrance. Five minutes before opening, there was a palpable sense of excitement amongst the children. As the metal barrier started to rise at opening time, children were ducking underneath to try to get into the park faster. However, at 08:55 on a Monday morning outside most classrooms there is an apparent lack of this excitement. I think we have a lot of work to do to recapture the excitement of learning, the fun and unpredictability that increases curiosity. I get excited when teaching is more interactive and both teachers and students sense the increased interest and buzz about learning. A small example, is when teachers ask students to work in groups and present their work back to the rest of the class. This changes the typical dynamic of a class when the students become teachers for a while.

Or any experiences which particularly stand out?

I love the example of a Professor at Reading University who gives his students 5-6 keywords and asks his students to write their own essay title. The keywords keep the students on topic, but the freedom enables them to think about what most interests them in the subject area. They come to realise it’s quite challenging to write essay questions, but the Professor says that the students are far more engaged in writing the essays and they generally perform better because of their improved levels of engagement.

How would you like to shape the future of teaching and student engagement?

The foundation of student engagement to me is good relationships. We need staff engagement first because if teachers are not interested or don’t want to be there, how do we expect to inspire students to learn? A very engaged student once said to me, ‘we’re not unicorns living in the forest, some unique mythical and magical isolated beast…there are many engaged students just like me out there!” Teachers need to recognise the amazing ability of the majority of students and have high expectations. Teachers need to greet each new group of students they meet in the knowledge that they have an opportunity to build new relationships and that inspiring learning can happen as a result. We all remember the teachers we had that went the extra mile and demonstrated that they cared. Good quality relationships can be life changing for both staff and students.