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Q&A with Keeley Dobinson

Keeley is a Psychology and Human Development PhD student, researching the factors that improve primary school children's oral language skills.

Hi Keeley! Tell us a bit about your educational background.
I am a qualified primary school teacher and I recently completed an MSc in Language and Communication Needs in Schools (Advanced Practice), run jointly by the UCL Institute of Education (IOE) and City University. 

What are your motivations for pursuing a PhD in Psychology and Human Development?
During my MSc studies, I developed an understanding of the enormous importance of language development for children’s all-round success. I became fascinated by what classroom teachers can do to help enhance children’s language, particularly in areas of social disadvantage.

For my dissertation I conducted a systematic review of literature evaluating whole-class approaches to language development in the primary classroom. I found there was a scarcity of evidence in this area and I was keen to explore the topic further in my own research. 

Why did you apply to study at UCL?
Professor Julie Dockrell’s research has made a significant contribution to current knowledge about supporting children with language learning needs. I was fortunate enough to carry out my MSc dissertation under her supervision and was eager for her support in my further research.

In addition, being part of a large-scale project investigating the impact of the Talking Time intervention in areas of social disadvantage was a unique opportunity for me and one that would only have been possible at the IOE.  

'Communicate' on UCL building
What is the best thing about your course?
The chance to conduct my studies under the supervision of a leading expert in my field of interest, as part of a large research team, on such an interesting and important project. I feel incredibly grateful for and excited about this opportunity.


What do you find interesting about your field of study and what inspires you?
When I was a practising teacher, I worked with many children from deprived areas. I have seen first-hand the negative impact that poorly developed language skills can have on children’s development, from lower literacy achievement to increased social-emotional problems. In that role, I often felt unequipped to help children to improve their language skills.

I am very excited to learn more about what teachers can do as part of their day-to-day practice to try to close the gap between the highest and lowest achieving children, through enhancing oral language and being able to share this knowledge with other teachers.

What are your career plans once you’ve completed your PhD at UCL?
I would love to be able to use my knowledge and skills to train, advise and support schools and teachers to enhance the oral language development of their pupils.