All Things SED Webmaster

I am the Web and Marketing Administrator in the School of English and Drama. Amongst my various roles, I run the School's website (www.sed.qmul.ac.uk) and its Twitter feed (@QMULsed). I also manage the running of the School's Open Days and draft promotional materials.

Verbatim Formula Report by Josh Gardner

“I go to Idenham high school. I am fourteen years old. I live in Croydon. I try to be good at everything but when I leave school I want to study business and history. I will need to study hard and do my best to achieve the highest grades possible. I am at Queen Mary school because I want the day off school.. A university is a place where you can study and socialise with people.. I think it will be a great experience to visit the university for a day and see.. meet with other people.”                                                          

Idenham student, March 2017

A group of ambassadors and myself wait nervously for the secondary school students to arrive. We’re here to support Maggie Inchley and Sylvan Baker run a Verbatim Formula  session on the Achievement For All visit to Queen Mary University of London, organised by the Widening Participation department. Verbatim is a technique often used in theatre. Performances are constructed from recorded material that is repeated word for word by an actor on stage. Maggie and Sylvan have been using this formula to work with young people in London and I am curious to see how it translates into an educational context. As the students enter the room, I ask a few awkward questions about their journey – ‘How’d you get here? By bus? Oh right.. Cool.’ The students are friendly but the conversation is strained and it’s clear that they, like me, are feeling a bit apprehensive about the coming session. Suddenly, Sylvan springs into action. A circle is quickly constructed and before I’ve had time to think – urrr, drama games!  – we’re in the midst of a rapid round of ‘pass the clap’. Everyone is howling with laughter. The tension dissipates and the focus in the room starts to settle. Maggie hands out scripts. We break into small groups and begin to interview each other.

I go to…. school…

I am… years old..

I am visiting Queen Mary because…

A University is a place where…

These short prompts get the interviews going and, with a little encouragement, the students start to record each other, excited by the prospect of being ‘performed’ by someone else. Looking around the room, I notice the buzz of conversation about me as ambassadors, lecturers, and pupils fire questions, perform each other’s voices and listen back to the recordings they’ve made. The initial awkwardness lifts and the interview process enables a series of discussions about the University to emerge.  After interviewing some students about what they’ve had for breakfast for example, the group are much more relaxed and talk openly about the visit – ‘I am at Queen Mary school because I want the day off school…’ one student says into the recording device, before adding… ‘I think it will be a great experience to visit the University for a day and see.. meet with other people’.

Another girl asks me inquisitively; ‘Can you really leave lectures whenever you want?’ I try to explain that you can, at the risk of upsetting the lectu.. but it’s too late.. her eyes are wide with amazement, ‘WOW’ she exclaims, ‘that’s crazy!’ Her classmate is less impressed; ‘That would be stupid’, she says to her friend disdainfully, ‘you have to pay to be here’. Exchanges like this continue for the next half an hour. During the discussion, I am fascinated by how little the students know about university life. This is especially perplexing when it becomes apparent that the idea of getting into university is already embedded in their understanding of the purpose and value of education. As they file out of the studio, I wonder why visits like this don’t happen more often.

In the afternoon, we meet the students in a different room to finish the day with a short performance and some more interviews. Maggie, Sylvan and I have met for a brief run through of the material and are now going to perform the student’s ‘voices’ back to them. This turns out to be more amusing than we had anticipated, with Maggie’s attempt to keep up with an extremely fast speaking student prompting bouts of laughter from the class. After this short introduction, we pick up where we’d left off, with more interviews and discussions about the student’s visit. Again, the Verbatim Formula enables a quick transition into conversations about the University. The students are enthusiastic, asking more questions about the campus and how university life is different from school. In my own group, an extremely quiet student reluctantly agrees to interview me about my day before giving the following response to his class mate;

“My name is Adrian, on the 17th March 2017 I visited Queen Mary University of London. I met.. I met a group of people that worked at the University of London. I saw different places where you can learn and the cemetery. I thought it was a good experience. I found out a lot looking at this University. When I leave school I want to be a interior designer. In the future I will study hard and work hard to make sure that my dream comes true. I will need to work hard in lessons, not get distracted and just focus.. the main thing I learnt today was keep d..discussingARGHHHHH! Can I try again!?”

Idenham student, March 2017

 

This is an example of the value of the Verbatim Formula. As a structure, it enables various ways of engaging with students as either performers, interviewers, interviewees and/or audience members. In this instance, the student’s reluctance to be interviewed by me is overcome by enabling him to take control of the research process. What’s more, being interviewed by his friend also interrupts the discomfort of talking to a stranger and turns the experience into a kind of game. This sense of play is then built on as the students are encouraged to perform the speech of others. Positioning the students as ‘audience’ and ‘performer’ seems to encourage critical reflection and further engagement –  it is difficult to ignore someone performing your own words back to you! Watching the teachers attempt to imitate the language and intonation of the students also inverts the usual power dynamic and increases their involvement in the session. In such a short space of time, an astonishing amount has been covered. To finish off, the students are invited to perform some interviews in front of the class;

“My name is Jenifar, on the 17th March 2017 I visited Queen Mary University of London. I met a group of teachers that worked at the University. I saw quite..very interesting things. Such as the cemetery er, erm.. people that used to be founders of this University. And I also I met some the Uni.. the erm, students that are studying at this University.  I found out that you was able to leave lectures whenever you want and you was able to live in your own flats. When I leave school I would like to study.. in.. in the future I would like to study in Queen Mary University of London because I believe that it will help me a lot and it’s very interesting. In the future I would like to study law at this University. I will need to focus more in lessons and study my hardest. The main thing I learnt today is that if you want to do something you will need to work hard for it.”

Idenham student, March 2017

 

“My name is Sarah, on the 17th March 2017 I visited Queen Mary University of London. I met students that study in Queen Mary University of London. I saw ambassadors of Queen Mary University of London.  I thought it was a great experience and I learnt a lot from it. I found out that there’s a lecture room and a seminar room and they’re two different types of room.  When I leave school I want to be a lawyer and.. in the future I will… like to come back and visit Queen Mary University and see whether it’s improved. I will need to do very well in school and come out with a great University and have a lot of money to pursue my goals in life. The main thing I learnt today was growth mindset and there’s two different parts of growth mindset – There’s growth and… theres growth and there’s fixed mindset. And that’s what I learnt today. THANK YOU!”

Idenham student, March 2017

 

My name is Fariha, on the 17th March 2017 I visited Queen Mary University of London. I met Catherine, I saw the cemetery.. I thought it was friggin’ huge! I found out that um, there’s an Italian restaurant that isn’t that…[LAUGHING. IN TAKE OF BREATH]…when I leave school I want to study med..medicine.. In the future I will become a doctor yeah, and I will need to study medicine . The main thing I learnt today is that University is cool and…YeAH!

Idenham student, March 2017

 

“Right…My name is John on the 17th of March 2017 I visited Queen Mary University of London. I met some new people around. I saw some new buildings as I walked around the University. I thought it was kind of boring but was fun in the end. I found out as I was learning… Uh, I’m going to restart… My name is John.  On the 17th of March 2017 I visited Queen Mary University of London. I met some new people as I walked around. I saw some new buildings and some new places that I’ve never seen before. I thought it was boring but in the end it was even better. I found out that University is not as bad as I thought. When I leave school I want to be a mechanic. In the future..In the future I will practice and practice and do some more design technology to do that. And I will need to practice, to focus more…”

Idenham student, March 2017