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  2-Curious: More Than Words: addressing the problem of the early years language gap (Avineri et al, 2015) in a novel way

   Education and Social Research

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  Prof R Holmes  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

This doctorate addresses the intersection between performance arts practice and literacy pedagogies for two-year olds in early years classrooms. The collaboration between the doctoral student, Curious Minds, Manchester Metropolitan University, and creative practitioners, brings together theory with early years literacy research and performance practice to address the sticky problem of the early years language gap (Avineri et al, 2015) in a novel way.

Aims and objectives:
The project aims to re-conceptualise understandings of children’s language learning in relation to body and space. Using performance arts, it will explore how movement, sound, and materials can be employed as practices to support the emerging literacies of two-year olds.

New Government funding offers places to ‘disadvantaged’ two-year-olds in nursery classes, responding to the widening achievement gap for children from low-income families at the start of formal schooling, and increasing anxiety related to language and literacy acquisition (Save the Children, 2016, Ofsted 2012, Bercow, 2008). Assessment, planning, and data is becoming central for early years practitioners whose performance is judged in relation to progress children make in what is seen as a critical year for successful school life. This has lead to a proliferation of deficit-oriented interventions that are either aimed at changing parent-child interaction (by increasing spoken interaction and vocabulary), or classroom intervention strategies. However, there is little research to provide evidence about what a rich foundation for language skills might look like for two-year olds in classes (Georgeson, J et al, 2014). A growing body of scholarship emphasises young children’s literacy practices as entangled meaning-making with and through place, their bodies, and the objects they encounter (Pahl, 2002, Wolhwend, 2009, Hackett, 2014, Somerville, 2015). This emphasis on the moving body and materiality contrasts with word-deficit approaches.

Visual and non-linguistic research methods, including collaboration with artists (Barone and Eisner, 2011), have played a central role in developing understandings of the non-representational within aspects of children’s learning and experience (Huuki and Renold, 2016; Olsson, 2013; Otterstad and Waterhouse, 2016). Dance practices have also been used to theorise how movement constitutes the world, drawing on Deleuze and Guattaris’ notion of absolute movement (Lenz Taguchi et al, 2016; Manning,2013; Olsson, 2009). However, whilst there is some work looking at performance to support children with autism (Shaughnessy and Trimingham, 2016), and approaches such as Write Dance to facilitate mark making (Oussoren, 2010), the potential for performance arts coupled with young children’s literacy and language practices remains strikingly under explored.

Research questions:
How might movement-based arts practice (dance, theatre, puppets, music) contribute to pedagogic practice with two-year olds in ways that support language, literacies and communication?
What is the potential of non-representational, embodied and material performance practices as emergent forms of knowledge for two-year olds?

The studentship will explore the potential of performance and movement arts coupled with young children’s literacy practices through participation in and documenting of two arts-residencies in early years settings in Lancashire. Each residency will incorporate a series of six dance and movement-based workshops for the children. In addition, the artist(s) will spend time in the classroom, both building relationships but also tracing movement (children’s, teacher’s, more-than-human entities) as everyday forms of arts and literacy practice that start with materials and the body. There is a growing interest in how young children’s literacy emerges within broader ‘sign making’ practices (Kress, 1996), meaning that gesture (Flewitt, 2005), gaze (Lancaster, 2002) and movement (Hackett, 2014) can be positioned as key components of processes of signification. While the field of literacy studies is increasingly being conceptualised as embodied, often human bodies are centred (Enriquez et al., 2015; Rowsell, 2014; Thiel, 2015). The theoretical frame and innovative methodology of this doctoral study decentres the human in understandings of early childhood literacies. The intention within the residency will be to create a non-verbal conversation between the movements within the classroom more generally, and the movements within the performance workshops, drawing on the artists’ dialogic practice (Kester, 2004). The role of the student will be to document this process. This will make a substantial contribution to social science research into early childhood.

Funding Notes

This fully funded scholarship is open to nationals from the UK (paying fees and maintenance at standard Research Council rates).
EU applicants are eligible for a fees only award, unless they have been resident in the UK for 3 years immediately preceding the date of the award.
For candidate eligibility requirements please go to: