Educational Research – Where to begin?

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Educational Research has always been an area I’ve stayed away from in my teaching career. I felt it was inaccessible and wasn’t really about the students I had in my school. The longer I stayed in the profession the more I saw that it was a way of organisations, who were so far removed from the classroom environment, trying to peddle another rehashed concept to make money and not really about the improvement of my teaching practice. However as I’ve begun to take on more responsibility of CPD within my school and look at my own professional development with a bit more rigour, I am beginning to see some beneficial uses.

As a teacher we have limited time time and energy to implement any changes in our practice. Educational Research is a way to ensure, if we have the energy to change anything, to help focus what we should be doing. What areas have potentially the biggest impact on our students attainment and achievement. I’m also seeing more teachers embracing research so that they can have autonomy and control over their own professional development. All of a sudden it is our profession, the teachers, who are taking responsibility for implementing educational research. So where to begin? Here are some of the resources that have helped me look at my own practice and decide where my time would be best spent:

There are some publicly available tools that might help with research:

NFER                     www.nfer.ac.uk/ris and www.nfer.ac.uk/publications

IEE (York Uni)     www.york.ac.uk/iee

IOE                         www.ioe.ac.uk/research and www.ioe-rdnetwork.com

EEF                        www.educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/projects

Camstar               www.camstar.org.uk

ResearchEd        www.workingoutwhatworks.com

Curee                    www.curee.co.uk

CfBT                       www.cfbt.com

NTEN                  www.tdtrust.org/nten/home/

Personally I feel EEF/Sutton Trust are really leading the field in this area and, generally speaking, they would encourage practitioners to use the existing evidence, but apply it in a local context, adjusting to local needs and evaluations. Not only do they pull together a lot of the existing evidence to help practitioners sift through the poor and good quality existing evidence, but they try to help practitioners apply it locally.

If you are looking to implement research yourself then The DIY Evaluation Guide (www.educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/evaluation/diy-evaluation-guide) might help with measuring the effect of an intervention within a school. It discusses your form of measurement, comparison groups, pre- and post-tests, process evaluation, analysis and reporting. It generally focusses on attainment, but you could also look at qualitative effects as well. As YOUR pupils might not typify AVERAGE pupils, it is important that you take into account the local context of your own school and evaluate it yourselves.

There are other schools looking at this kind of work where you might be able to partner up with. Teaching school alliance partners, HEI partners or research organisations (eg NFER, Curee or Camstar) could help with evaluations if your research is school wide. I recently attended the Wellington College Teaching School Partnership launch. The scope of what they are doing at Wellington College is impressive, with a focus on ITT, CPD, Leadership, School to School Support. SLE’s and Research. It was their approach to Research, specifically looking at meta-cognition, along with their support from Harvard University and a number of state schools who had signed up to become partners. I look forward to their findings and how it might be implemented in other schools.

Journal clubs are another good way to discuss each piece of evidence and how it could be put into practice locally. NFER runs an Enquiring Schools programme which is a school-wide CPD programme using enquiry-based programmes (www.nfer.ac.uk/enquiringschools). This is something I am looking at introducing into my school in the next academic year for those staff who are interested.

There are a number of teachers and researchers on Twitter who I follow that are I feel are very helpful with regards to making research a little bit more accessible to teachers:

Tom Bennett @tombennett71 – if you are interested in educational research, and get the chance, you should try to attend a ResearchEd conference

Alex Quigley @HuntingEnglish – his schools Learning Hub is also an excellent resource www.huntingtonlearninghub.com

Prof. Robert Coe @ProfCoe – the author of the recent literary review for the Sutton Trust and what makes great teaching

David Weston @informed_edu – the CEO of the Teacher Development Trust

Carl Hendrick @C_Hendrick – he blogs at www.chronotopeblog.wordpress.com and his current series of podcasts are excellent

Mark Healy @cijane02 – Mark is a teacher who is enthusiastic about the benefits of educational research and he is hugely generous with his time if you engage with him

Harry Webb @webofsubstance – Harry is an expat teacher in Australia who is an excellent blogger about educational research www.websofsubstance.wordpress.com

(Im sure there are plenty more, If you want to recommend someone to add to this list, then let me know).

When I asked my colleagues what one book they would recommend to read about Educational Research all of them said ‘Visible Learning’ by John Hattie. I have attempted and failed to read this book on a number of occasions, and there are far more accessible reviews of his work online rather than trying to engage with the whole of his book. My recommendations would be ‘Teacher proof‘ by Tom Bennett, a far more accessible book for teachers and a balanced opinion on the use of educational research for teachers.

Educational research is a difficult area. Most of the research that comes out is not done for the teacher, even if it has particular impact that would be beneficial for us to implement in the classrooms. It doesn’t also understand the difficulties we face on a day to day basis or have an idea about the context of our students or our school. However my own gut feeling is that the rise of educational research is not a fad, it isn’t going to go away. Colleagues have felt in the past, like back seat passengers, to where SLT and educational research is leading them with regards to their own teaching. They don’t like and it makes them very bitter. Therefore we as a profession need to educate ourselves so we can challenge the research and not, like I have been doing for most of my career, blindly accept it because some academic or member of SLT told me so. We need to get researchers to listen to us, work with us and to make research much more accessible. In the end we are the only ones that are responsible for what happens in our classroom, we should not allow others to dictate that.

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8 thoughts on “Educational Research – Where to begin?

  1. It would be great to respond to a number of these posts but the sheer productiveness of this blog (which is a huge assist) makes commenting difficult. However, as you know translating educational research is a project of mine so I felt I had to respond. Besides I always feel that my blog is richer when people engage with it and one of my drives (as I move forwards) is to try and engage in the ongoing discussions in my community about practice and about research. I think we are caught in the proverbial ‘chicken and the egg’ conundrum because a) teachers don’t read research and b) researchers don,t write research for teachers. While I can appreciate this argument I’m not sure I fully buy into it. Yes, some research is difficult to read and researchers don’t think about any audience but the twenty people they might consider to be their contemporaries. However, most research (well he stud I read) is, on the whole, fairly straight forward and doesn’t rely on dictionaries worth of obscure words to make its convoluted point. I think the truth is that we don,t seek to publish our work (and are not encouraged to publish it) in accessible journals. It is my hope that open access will come more and more the fore and teachers will be able to access research and researchers will be able to find accessible forms of publication. Until there both communities need to find ways of engaging with one another. There are ways of doing it we just need to be more open to the idea of sharing and get past both the chicken and the egg conspiracy.

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    1. Hi Ash, Thanks for your post. I do think you are a very different breed of researcher. In the case of educational research I’m sure most have been teachers at some point in their career, but that is where the connection ends. I don’t know many researchers who not only open their own research up to the teaching profession, but also engage with them in a thoughtful and challenging way, both via your blog and on twitter. You also have the energy and vision to try and share others research with us in an accessible way. There aren’t many researchers I know of currently who do that (Daniel Willingham and Dylan Wiliam spring to mind), it left to intellectual teachers to try and work it out and then disseminate it to the masses like me. You talk of the ‘chicken’ and the ‘egg’. I personally feel if more educational researchers were like you, then there wouldn’t be this divide. I do think you are quite unique in your approach. Then more teachers would be willing to engage with current research and try to implement it and change their practice.

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