Available research projects

Centre for Research in Language Learning and Use (CReLLU)

Text chat as a bridge between speaking and writing proficiency

Supervisor: Dr Zöe Handley

Unlike learners from other linguistic backgrounds, Chinese learners of English continue to make gender errors in the use of third person pronouns as they increase in proficiency. This problem appears to result from transfer of the first language to the second language. Unlike English, Mandarin does not have different third person pronouns for males and females in the spoken form. It does, however, have different third person pronouns for males and females in the written form.

Text chat shares features of both speaking and writing. As such, it has been suggested that completing language learning tasks via text chat might provide a bridge between speaking and writing proficiency. In this project, you will explore this hypothesis in the context of Chinese learners’ acquisition of English third person pronouns or a similar attested learner difficulty.

Read more about this 'Text chat as a bridge between speaking and writing proficiency' research project.

Perceptions of second language oral fluency

Supervisor: Dr Zöe Handley

It is generally accepted that the ability to speak at a good pace without pausing or hesitating, i.e. oral fluency, is crucial if second language learners are to hold the attention of their interlocutors, develop personal relationships and access opportunities such as employment in the target culture. A wide variety of measures of utterance fluency, the temporal properties of an utterance including pausing and speech rate, have been developed for use in research designed to provide insights into oral fluency development. The extent to which these measures reflect listener’s perceptions of oral fluency, is, however, little understood. This project will extend previous research on perceived fluency to explore the influence of clause versus discourse fluency on listener perceptions of fluency, comprehensibility and communicative adequacy. 

Read more about this 'Perceptions of second language oral fluency' research project.

Computer-mediated task-based language learning and teaching: Exploring the impact of novel tasks on language production

Supervisor: Dr Zöe Handley

Selecting and grading tasks is one of the most significant challenges in implementing task-based language learning. In response to this challenge, a large body of research has examined the impact of task design variables and implementation factors on learner interaction and the quality of the language they produce. As new communication technologies have emerged, researchers have also begun to investigate the unique features of these modes of communication on task-based interaction and learner language production. New communication technologies also bring about new real world tasks and new ways of designing and implementing language learning tasks. For example, within the literature on business communication, a number of in-box simulations, i.e. email tasks, have been proposed. In this project you will explore the impact of some of these new ways of designing and implementing language learning tasks on the quality of the language they produce.

Read more about this 'Computer-mediated task-based language learning and teaching: Exploring the impact of novel tasks  on language production' research project.

Grammatical development and real-time processing in the L2

Supervisor: Professor Leah Roberts

There is a large amount of research on L2 grammatical development but very little relating this to real time processing of the input in the target language, but it is clear that processing language with developing knowledge must somehow push forward linguistic knowledge. The project would take a range of grammatical phenomena (e.g., tense-aspect, pronominals, gender and number agreement), and using a mix of traditional SLA methods (judgement tasks) and psycholinguistic methods (eye-tracking, EEG), chart developing linguistic knowledge with different participant groups (beginning learners/less-literate learners, for instance) in a longitudinal design.

Read more about this 'Grammatical development and real-time processing in the L2' research project.

The development of present perfect in L2 learners: Diachronic and synchronic approaches

Supervisor: Professor Leah Roberts

The present perfect (e.g., John has written a book) differs in a number of interesting ways across the Germanic languages (e.g., English, Dutch, German). The current usage of the present perfect vs. the past simple in English arguably reflects change due to language contact over time. In this project, the historical change in the English present perfect/simple past will be studied and linked to the grammatical knowledge of second language learners (e.g., English learners of Dutch, German learners of English, etc). Such research can push forward theories in both historical linguistic and SLA.

Read more about 'The development of present perfect in L2 learners: Diachronic and synchronic approaches' research project.

Language and literacy skills of international students, home students and home students with dyslexia in UK higher education: How different are they, and does it matter?

Supervisor: Dr Danijela Trenkic

Recent research shows that international students who speak English as a foreign language pursue their university education with a systematic disadvantage: despite arriving with required language qualifications, they know fewer words, are much slower readers and understand less of what they read than home students. They also experience lower academic success. Yet few UK universities make any assessment adjustments for students who speak English as a foreign language (EFL). In contrast, language comprehension and writing difficulties of home students disadvantaged by dyslexia are normally accommodated for, e.g. by extra time in exams. Should similar provision be in place for EFL students? This study aims to investigate whether language-related difficulties experienced by international EFL students are bigger or smaller than those experienced by home students with dyslexia.

Read more about this 'Language and literacy skills of international students, home students and home students with dyslexia in UK higher education: How different are they, and does it matter?' research project.

Language and literacy skills of international and home students in UK higher education: How different are they, and does it matter?

Supervisor: Dr Danijela Trenkic

International students in UK higher education often experience lower academic success compared to British home students. One of the contributing factors to the differential attainment appears to be language: despite arriving with required language qualifications, EFL students know significantly fewer words, are much slower readers and understand less of what they read than British home students. Language difficulties, however, have been predominantly demonstrated on Chinese students, and it is unclear to what extent the language and academic difficulties of this population are representative of other international students, especially of those who come from typologically closer languages to English or who study with fewer fellow speakers of the same language. Understanding language difficulties of international students and what factors contribute to them is critical for developing appropriate support.

Read more about this 'Language and literacy skills of international and home students in UK higher education: How different are they, and does it matter?' research project.

Centre for Research on Education & Social Justice (CRESJ)

Mapping post-doctoral pathways

Supervisor: Dr Sally Hancock

This project will track the early to mid-careers of PhD graduates.  Over the past decade, there has been a substantial growth in the number of PhD graduates internationally, and with this a shift in careers doctoral graduates go on to do. Indeed, in many national contexts, the vast majority of doctoral graduates will forge so-called ‘alternative’ careers outside of the academy. This trend has been met with two opposing reactions from commentators - there are those who characterise this as a necessary step in the development of the global knowledge economy, while others question the extent to which the PhD sufficiently prepares  ‘disillusioned and directionless’ PhD graduates for work beyond the academy. Despite the political and economic importance of this debate, there is relatively little robust empirical data tracking the careers of PhD graduates, and of the particular variables and decision processes which shape individual trajectories. 

Read more about this 'Mapping post-doctoral pathways' research project.

Shakespeare in East Asian Education

Supervisor: Dr Sarah Olive

Shakespeare in East Asia is a celebrated phenomenon in Shakespeare Studies. However, it tends to focus on translation and performance, rather than on Shakespeare in educational settings e.g. schools and higher education institutions as well as theatre education departments. I am currently working with colleagues in Japan, Korea, Hong Kong and Vietnam to redress this imbalance, including writing a co-authored monograph on the subject with Adele Lee (Emerson, USA), Kohei Uchimaru (Toyo, Japan) and Rosalind Fielding (Birmingham, UK/Waseda, Japan) for Palgrave, as well as book chapters and journal articles. A current focus for me is the Chinese University Shakespeare Festival, held annually in Hong Kong between 2003-14. I would welcome proposals which wish to explore this, using the online (YouKu) videos of all ten seasons, as well as other such student Shakespeare Festivals. I am additionally interested in countries other than the above-mentioned, globally.

Read more about this 'Shakespeare in East Asian Education' research project.

Representations of Education in Literature and Popular Culture

Supervisor: Dr Sarah Olive

Formal education is, in many countries, increasingly a universal experience. Education also occurs throughout our lives in various informal contexts. It is hardly surprising that we are surrounded by literary texts and popular culture that represent experiences of education, from school days to driving lesson to language learning and much more. I am interested in representations of Shakespeare in other countries and in diverse popular forms such as manga and anime. Articles concerning such representations have been published in the British Shakespeare Association’s Teaching Shakespeare magazine, of which I am the founding editor.

Read more about this 'Representations of Education in Literature and Popular Culture' research project.

Is citizenship education the same as character education?

Supervisor: Professor Ian Davies

Several countries include both citizenship and character in guidance provided for teachers. It is possible that citizenship focuses on the social and political while character is essentially about moral issues. This project will explore the ideas and issues relevant to these fields. Policy documents, the perceptions of key respondents and the practices of educators and students will provide possible sources of data.

Read more about this 'Is citizenship education the same as character education?' research project.

What is meant by global citizenship and how are people educated for it?

Supervisor: Professor Ian Davies

Global citizenship for some is an empty slogan. For others it is an all encompassing attachment to humanity. For some it is associated with a precisely and concretely framed governmental system. The political, economic and other forces that influence the development of a more fragmented or less diverse world are hotly debated. At a time when many education systems are dominated by national (and perhaps nationalistic) forces this project allows for the exploration of the vital (and curiously neglected) field of global citizenship education.

Read more about this 'What is meant by global citizenship and how are people educated for it?' research project.

What is done in different national contexts to educate for the nation?

Supervisor: Professor Ian Davies

Citizens have a legal and political status. They also have an identity that may or may not overlap with that status. They may do certain things as an expression of the rights, duties and identities associated with their nation state. What do teachers and students understand by the phrase ‘national citizenship’ and do they see their work connecting to it? What actions in and beyond classrooms are undertaken by teachers and students to inform and develop their sense of national citizenship?

Read more about this 'What is done in different national contexts to educate for the nation?' research project.

Is there a connection between youth civic activism and education?

Supervisor: Professor Ian Davies

It is possible that the goal of citizenship education is to help people understand and engage in society. There are, however, potential obstacles about linking education to what would some would see as politically motivated attempts to create change. In this project a literature review in which the links and disconnections between citizenship education and activism inform data collection from those who are teachers, students and/or activists. The project will explore key questions including: what is meant by activism, what patterns of activism exist and how do those patterns relate to education?

Read more about this 'Is there a connection between youth civic activism and education?' research project.

How may citizenship education be assessed?

Supervisor: Professor Ian Davies

What sorts of knowledge, skills and, possibly, dispositions are targeted by teachers and students? What are the ways in which those things may be assessed? In this project a variety of student work (written and in other forms) will be examined in order to explore the ways in which students are deemed to have made (or not made) progress.

Read more about this 'How may citizenship education be assessed?' research project.

Psychology in Education Research Centre (PERC)

Developmental trajectories of the metacognitive self-regulatory capacity in relation to mental health and well-being in children (or adolescents)

Supervisor: Dr Dusana Dorjee

Mental health and well-being of children and adolescents has been highlighted as an increasing concern by policy makers, educators and health-care professionals. The focus of well-being interventions delivered in schools has been so far mostly on physical health (such as diet and nutrition) rather than on mental health. One of the main reasons for this is a lack of clarity regarding determinants of mental well-being and limited understanding of developmental trajectories of well-being and their evaluation. This PhD project builds on previous work in Dr Dorjee’s lab and particularly her latest theoretical research on the core determinants of well-being development (Dorjee, 2017; Dorjee, in prep.; also see https://theconversation.com/schools-need-to-teach-pupils-skills-to-maintain-good-mental-health-heres-how-95885). One of the two core determinants is the metacognitive self-regulatory capacity (MSRC). The MSRC enables us to notice thoughts, feelings etc. in our mind and to effectively manage these in support of our well-being (Dorjee, in prep.). The MSRC involves metacognition, attention control, emotion regulation and regulation of negative rumination. Previous research on related psychological constructs shows that self-regulation and self-control (involving metacognition, attention control and emotion regulation) in childhood predict health in adulthood (e.g., Moffitt et al., 2010). We also know that negative rumination is strongly associated with psychopathology (Nolen-Hoeksema et al., 2008).

Read more about this 'Developmental trajectories of the metacognitive self-regulatory capacity in relation to mental health and well-being in children (or adolescents)' research project.

Sibling Bullying in Families of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Supervisor: Dr Umar Toseeb

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is characterised by social and communication difficulties, repetitive behaviours, and high sensitivity to sensory stimulus (APA, 2013). In the UK, the prevalence of ASD has been estimated at ~1 (Baird et al., 2006). ASD has a number of psychopathological correlates, which further reduce the quality of life of those affected (Matson & Nebel-Schwalm, 2007)

Children with ASD have difficulties in social interactions, such as turn taking in conversation, and deficits in non-verbal communication (APA, 2013). These difficulties have implications for children’s relationships with the people around them. In the general population, good quality sibling relationships are important as they help children to develop social skills and are a source of emotional support. However, up to 50% of children have been bullied by their siblings and up to 40% have bullied their siblings (Wolke, Tippett, & Dantchev, 2015). Sibling bullying in childhood is associated with adverse behavioural (Wolke & Samara, 2004; Wolke & Skew, 2011) and worse mental health outcomes (Bowes, Wolke, Joinson, Lereya, & Lewis, 2014). Given the heritable nature of ASD, sibling bullying may be more likely in families in which a child with ASD due to a higher risk of poorer language and communication skills within these families (due to the broader Autism phenotype). Indeed, recent evidence suggests that children with ASD are more likely to bully and be bullied by their siblings compared to children without ASD (Toseeb, McChesney, & Wolke, 2018). However, what is still unclear is 1) the form that sibling bullying takes in families with a child with ASD, 2) the risk and protective factors of sibling bullying in such families, and 3) the effect sibling bullying on mental health and educational outcomes in children with ASD.

Read more about this 'Sibling Bullying in Families of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder' research projects.

 

Investigating the role of specific prosocial behaviours in protecting against mental health difficulties in children with Developmental Language Disorder

Supervisor: Dr Umar Toseeb

Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) is characterised by difficulties in the ability to use and learn spoken language (Conti-Ramsden, St Clair, Pickles, & Durkin, 2012). Affected children have problems putting words together to formulate sentences (expressive language) and/or understanding the words that are being said (receptive language). The prevalence of DLD is ~7% (Norbury et al., 2016)
Prosocial behaviours are conducive to positive social relations. Prosocial children are more accepted and more popular among their peers (Asher & Coie, 1990; Zimmer-Gembeck, Geiger, & Crick, 2005). In turn, prosociality is protective against psychosocial difficulties (Coulombe & Yates, 2018; Griese & Buhs, 2014; Troop-Gordon & Unhjem, 2018). More specifically, for children and adolescents with DLD, again, being prosocial is protective against psychosocial difficulties (Conti-Ramsden & Durkin, 2016; Mok, Pickles, Durkin, & Conti-Ramsden, 2014; Toseeb, Pickles, Durkin, Botting, & Conti-Ramsden, 2017; Toseeb & St Clair, in prep). Recent work has shown that in a sample of children with DLD, prosocial behaviours are protective against subsequent psychosocial difficulties (Toseeb et al., in press). Much less attention has been focussed on which specific prosocial behaviours are protective against mental health difficulties and why. An investigation into specific prosocial behaviours will allow for the identification of the strengths and weaknesses in children with DLD. Once specific prosocial behaviours have been identified, it will advance our understanding of the antecedents of mental health difficulties in children with DLD.

Read more about this 'Investigating the role of specific prosocial behaviours in protecting against mental health difficulties in children with Developmental Language Disorder' research project.

Investigating the role of friendships and family support in protecting against mental health difficulties in children with Developmental Language Disorder

Supervisor: Dr Umar Toseeb

Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) is characterised by difficulties in the ability to use and learn spoken language (Conti-Ramsden, St Clair, Pickles, & Durkin, 2012). Affected children have problems putting words together to formulate sentences (expressive language) and/or understanding the words that are being said (receptive language). The prevalence of DLD is ~7% (Norbury et al., 2016)

In the general population, social support from family and friends mediates the relationship between childhood adversity and subsequent depressive symptoms (van Harmelen et al., 2016). Children with DLD have poorer quality friendships compared to their unaffected peers (Durkin & Conti-Ramsden, 2007). What is less clear is the extent to which the valence of these friendships and family relationships contributes to mental health difficulties in children with DLD. Most of the previous work on this topic has focussed on the negative aspects of friendships, such as peer problems (Mok, Pickles, Durkin, & Conti-Ramsden, 2014). Much less attention has been focussed on the positive aspects of friendships and family relationships, such as closeness, common interest, mutual psychological support, empathy, and prosociality. An investigation into these positive constructs will allow for the identification of the strengths and weaknesses in children with DLD. If, as predicted, positive friendships and family relationships are associated with fewer mental health difficulties, and these are identified as areas of weakness for children with DLD, then this will advance our understanding of the antecedents of mental health and difficulties in children with DLD.

Read more about this 'Investigating the role of friendships and family support in protecting against mental health difficulties in children with Developmental Language Disorder' research project.

Investigating the role of play in protecting against mental health difficulties in children with Developmental Language Disorder

Supervisor: Dr Umar Toseeb

Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) is characterised by difficulties in the ability to use and learn spoken language (Conti-Ramsden, St Clair, Pickles, & Durkin, 2012). Affected children have problems putting words together to formulate sentences (expressive language) and/or understanding the words that are being said (receptive language). The prevalence of DLD is ~7% (Norbury et al., 2016).

We know that play with peers is important for the development and practice of social and communication skills (Howes, Droege, & Matheson, 1994; Pellis & Pellis, 2007). Social play with peers is a key context in which children deploy, practice and learn key relationship skills (Baines & Blatchford, 2010). On the whole, children with DLD have difficulties integrating into peer social play (Gibson, Adams, Lockton, & Green, 2013; Gibson, Hussain, Holsgrove, Adams, & Green, 2011). Furthermore, the social play behaviours of children with DLD have less sophistication and higher levels of atypicality, when compared to neurotypical peers (DeKroon, Kyte, & Johnson, 2002; Gibson et al., 2011). However, there are individual differences in this respect and some children with DLD do develop adequate play skills. Recent work has shown that in a sample of children with DLD, play is protective against subsequent psychosocial difficulties (Toseeb et al., in press). Much less attention has been focussed on which specific play behaviours are protective against mental health difficulties and why. An investigation into specific play behaviours will allow for the identification of the strengths and weaknesses in children with DLD. Once specific play behaviours have been identified, it will advance our understanding of the antecedents of mental health difficulties in children with DLD.

Read more about this 'Investigating the role of play in protecting against mental health difficulties in children with Developmental Language Disorder' research project.

Sleep, social relationships and wellbeing in UK undergraduate students

Supervisor: Dr Lucy Foulkes

Poor sleep quality is common in university students, and increases the risk of mental illness and poor academic attainment. A recent study indicated that sleeping in close proximity to peers, as occurs in university flats and houses, may have a negative impact on sleep quality in undergraduate students. This is unsurprising, since this population are still adolescents and that during this period, establishing peer relationships is a key developmental task. In addition, other people are known to disrupt sleep in older adults and children. However, more research now needs to be done to better understand how students affect each other’s sleep at university, and whether anything can be done about this.

Read more about this 'Sleep, social relationships and wellbeing in UK undergraduate students' research project.