This post has languished in my drafts for a year; you’ll see this from the date references. The main reason I didn’t publish over a year ago was simply because I didn’t want to wade into what was, at the time, an extremely highly charged debate about the place of research, evidence, and practice in education. My additional reasons for not publishing until now will, possibly, be covered in another post on another day.
Anyway, a year has come around and although the charge and passion of the debate is still high, it has, perhaps calmed and softened somewhat. l have spent the morning watching the second National ResearchED 2014 Conference online thanks to the wonderful technical expertise of Leon Cynch @eyebeams through the LIVESTREAM feed. Having listened to the first of the main hall speakers (@johntomsett @huntingenglish and @dylanwiliam) advocating a practical, wise approach to what we do in our classrooms, I thought I’d go back to this post from last year, take the plunge and publish.
I haven’t edited any part of it, and my only addition to it is the inclusion of a presentation by an inspirational education consultant, Dr Julia Atkin (@Juliaatkin) South Australia who I came across a few months ago. In this talk, Dr Atkin references the Aristoltlean view of knowledge, PHRONESIS, also referenced in Dylan Wiliam’s presentation today. Dr Atkin speaks brilliantly about the need for teachers to merge their own experience with research, through the lens of deliberate practice and analytical thinking.
ORIGINAL POST (Written in September 2013)
There is always healthy discussion around research findings and sources of evidence and even more so thanks to the increasing availability of the work of academics and research centres online. Tom Bennett and ResearchED have responded to this debate in the establishment of a conference for teachers and researchers as part of ResearchED 2013 to be held at Dulwich College in London on Saturday 7th September 2013.
The growth in Master Level opportunities and engagement in accredited courses through the National College and Teaching School Alliances will continue to bolster the body of research findings and evidence for teachers to access. Alongside this, academic research is increasingly becoming more accessible through websites and direct engagement with researchers and there’s a tiny selection at the end of this post for reference. There are far more listed on the site of The Teacher Development Trust who also, on 20th May 2013, launched the second exciting phase of The National Teacher Enquiry Network: “A family of schools & colleges working for better professional development” to strengthen the link between evidence, practice and professional learning in schools.
But there’s nothing stopping anyone developing and researching their own practice right now and the summer term is a great time to have a go and try something different, new, or just to do more of the good stuff that’s already in place.
Individual practitioners can access reams of effectively communicated evidence from contemporary researchers such as John Hattie, Dylan Wiliam, Carol Dweck and Geoff Petty and even discuss their work directly with the authors through social media and by attending seminars and public lectures. The educational landscape and quality of teaching and learning is so much richer for this and for the debate and discussion these sources of evidence stimulate.
CPD: Thinking ‘as’ research
Our own evidence base and sources of inspiration continue to be drawn from the wider educational world and beyond; from business and advertising; from design and engineering; from fashion and space exploration and from medicine and architecture. As a result, we are able to adapt many different ideas, approaches, systems and processes from the many different contexts we encounter. Integral to this is access to an effective evaluation framework against which we can assess impact on learning outcomes.
Amongst all of the evidence that we have access to, it could be argued that the best evidence, i.e. the most valuable, important and accessible, is the evidence we have before us every day: the internal. First and foremost, it is this that we can begin to research, as it unfolds before us, immediately.
So we need access to everything that is available to us, in a digestible but not diluted format. We need researchers to continue to make their work accessible and practical. The Education Endowment Fund Teaching and Learning Toolkit has provided us with one highly accessible format for this. We also need to create a personal-professional evidence base drawn from our own research into our own practice. For it is only when we can understand and witness first-hand the real-life impact of teaching-decisions on learning-outcomes for our own practice and ultimately, for our own learners, that we will truly be able to bring our practice to life and have the greatest impact.
So…a mindset to adopt….? CPRD
This is my attempt to clarify the impact of ‘thinking-as’ a researcher; an activity of adopting ‘Research Thinking’. In doing so, a ‘Research-Thinking School’ will encourage a systematic implementation of Continuing Professional Research Development. Such an approach to professional development and system-wide innovation will engage practitioners in habitual meticulous self-reflection that result in deliberate and mindful teaching actions. These ‘mindful teaching’ actions will be both evidence-informed (external and internal) and research-based (external and internal). The result of this is to establish and sustain a culture where observable and measurable innovations in practice become an integral expectation and rationale of the systems throughout the organisation.
Sustainable school-wide systems that connect research, developmental lesson observations and coaching and place these at the heart of professional development will have the greatest impact. Many schools are using video to support a similar growth-mindset approach to professional development. When placed within a carefully personalised programme supported by skilled coaches and reflective practitioners, the benefits of such an approach are clear.
But the first port of call must be to establish a culture that both enables and encourages us to research that which we encounter every day. It is this that informs and inspires us more than anything else and it is this that we can analyse and interpret immediately and meticulously in every lesson designed and delivered. It is the activity of researching this evidence that sharpens our thinking and prompts us to pose challenging questions. It is a culture of active, on-going and daily research that will continue to excite and enrich us and, as a direct result, our learners.
Thinking and acting as a researcher of our own practice requires a habit of constant evidence collection (feedback) from our immediate experiences, often in the form of informal, ‘micro-research’ projects. These micro-research projects encourage Mindful Teaching that notice and describe rather than infer and interpret. There’s more on this on the Marginal Learning Gains METHOD page.
Couple the everyday evidence to the canon of wider research and evidence (incorporating evidence and research from the educational world and beyond) available to us, then we have a powerful framework for systematic and daily research of own practice:
(a) Discuss and share what we see, hear and sense (internal research) from our own experiences and
(b) Connect and compare our own research to the experiences and evidence from beyond us (external research) and between each other
(c) Understand and apply what we now know and understand to our own context and setting (the internal and external) so that it shapes and informs the design of the learning opportunities that we provide
(d) Research and evaluate the impact of its application so that we can
(e) Repeat the cycle from (a) and begin to embed it as everyday practice
Thinking and acting as a leading research-thinker and constantly investigating the evidence of our own practice in this way enables us to engage in an overarching process where we can be part of a constant process of collating, analysing and applying evidence from beyond and within so that it directly informs our practice and brings about sustainable and systemic change. It has an impact on:
- Frequency of feedback (an on-going cycle that includes in equal measure information from the learner to the teacher and back again)
- Systematic reflective and collaborative professional practice across a whole school (and beyond)
- Quality of specific language that communicates learning outcomes and success criteria
- Effectiveness of the communication of teacher and learner expectations
- Deliberately planned opportunities for learners to lead, take responsibility, articulate and evaluate their own progress
Instead of providing us with a detailed list of ‘teachable actions‘ that we have not developed from our own practice or professional conversations, ‘Research Thinking’ ensures that the evidence we have to hand can be used to directly, immediately and in a timely manner to inform ‘learnable behaviours’.
‘Research Thinking’ provides a bridge between the evidence before us (internal) and the evidence and research from beyond us (external). It demands that we
- analyse and dissect teaching language and actions
- clarify our understanding and interpretations
- so that we can…
- define our concepts of learning
- forensically analyse its implications, inferences and impact on learning
‘Research Thinking’ enables us to actively and habitually search out examples, experiences and findings from beyond our context so that we can make sense of ourselves and our practice in our context.
“This is my evidence.
There is much evidence like this. But this evidence is mine.
Without me, my evidence is nothing.
Without my evidence, I am nothing.”
(Paraphrased by me from The Rifleman’s Creed)
Check out the following tiny selection of online research resources available:
The Research Centre for Evidence-Informed Policy and Practice in Education (www.eppi.ioe.ac.uk)
Current Educational Research in the United Kingdom (www.ceruk.ac.uk)
The Economic Social Research Council (www.esrc.ac.uk)
The National Foundation for Educational Research (www.nfer.ac.uk)
In addition, sites are emerging that invite direct interaction between researchers and practitioners:
The Learning Emergence Site (www.learningemergence.net)
There are many, many more…
FINAL Quick note: When it comes to ‘Research Thinking’ all I am attempting to do is to articulate my own approach to pedagogical pedantry (a pejorative term that I therefore dislike) and with this, my approach to curriculum innovation and designing systemic research-driven opportunities for professional development. This post is an attempt to explain the ‘Why, How and What’ it is I try for myself and practitioners to ‘be like’ when we’re thinking and talking about learning. This approach is illustrated in the Marginal Learning Gains Theory project.