In partnership with Reaching Wider and SAILS/SEA, the department of Applied Linguistics sent several of our undergraduate students Emily Hitchman, Lauren Davies (both second year) and Taylor Garland (first year), on a literacy placement with Dylan Thomas Community School, in Swansea.
The students spent 10 weeks, once a week in an after-school group of year 7, 8 and pupils, working with Miss Bryony Green on their higher order literacy skills. It was also a good opportunity for the pupils to speak to ‘real’ students at a ‘real’ university and get the scoop on what it’s really like! I spoke to Taylor-Jade Garland about her experiences and what the placement meant to her.
AB: Why did you sign up for the placement?
TG: The volunteering with the Dylan Thomas School was a placement offered to students of the College of Arts and Humanities (COAH). It was designed to to that we would work with the pupils on their literacy skills – so helping them to express themselves well in their writing. But we were also at the school to show them what Higher Education might be like – to motivate them and build their confidence. The sessions ran for 10 weeks, once a week after school (five weeks in the first semester and five weeks in the second). It was nicely spread out alongside my studies. I thought it was an excellent opportunity for work experience that could be used on my CV. And I was right!
While this was already personally appealing for me (as a first year student that had yet to really do ‘anything’ and learn things myself), what was also exciting was I was told, at an information talk, that the programme would be part of a ‘Reaching Wider’ scheme. Reaching Wider is an outreach programme that targets students of in disadvantaged areas who might be interested in further education to show them that university IS a viable option to them.
As a student that comes from a lower performing area, I know a fair bit about low expectations; as a year seven pupil, I know I never thought I would get into university. These were the type of pupils we would be mentoring on the scheme. It’s safe to say that I was all for it, and applied that very night!
AB: What did you do each week?
TG: The first week entailed fun introductory games such as ‘2 truths one lie’. This was just to settle our nerves and introduce ourselves to the teenagers we’d be around for ten weeks, and of course, to learn their names!
The following weeks after involved us helping the pupils with their writing, including creative work. I personally encouraged the group of five or six students I was working with to ask me any and all questions they could think of: about university life, education or the work they had to do within that one hour session.
After the Christmas break, one of the first sessions back focused on helping the children look through college prospectuses and answer any questions they might have about college and university that they hadn’t thought to ask before, or didn’t feel comfortable asking an authority figure (such as their teacher). I remember a lot of the questions that were asked of me were to do with how I manage financially at university, and how much or even if the finance loans help.
AB: What did you gain from doing the experience at the Dylan Thomas School?
TG: A reason I signed up to DTS was – I think it’s sort of been brow beaten into me that my future job role is teaching. It’s one of the most common questions I’ve gotten since starting uni: “Oh, so you’re going to be a teacher then?” It’s an instant response once the words “I’m studying English…” leaves my mouth. So, it seemed logical to actually get a taste for teaching whilst I still can to see if I’d even like the job.
In theory what I’d signed up for sounded brilliant (and it was). However, I hadn’t realised how anxious I would be the second I stepped foot into an actual classroom as anything other than a pupil. Being on the receiving end of 20+ students’ gazes was scary. I knew in theory that I would not actually be solely responsible for teaching them, our role was more ‘tutoring’ them and assisting the teacher. I think the placement has really helped me deal with situations I am not 100% comfortable with. As such, I think I’ve become a person that adapts to new situations much more quickly.
One thing that is for certain is that the Dylan Thomas School definitely helped me develop and refine skills I will need in future. and the Dylan Thomas School work placement has given me an opportunity to see if I’d even like the profession. And yes: I think I am going to be a teacher!
We look forward to or next set of students going to the school and for the many return visits and taster days we can provide for the pupils of the Dylan Thomas Community School.
A BIG thank you to our partners: The Dylan Thomas Community School, in Cockett, Swansea for placing our students, the Reaching Wider team and SAILS/SEA at the University for facilitating and supporting us throughout! We have loved working with you all.