Working in a school makes you think about your own school days all the time – the subjects, the teachers, the classmates. Despite the fact it’s 20 years since I did my GCSEs I find lessons are frequently peppered with anecdotes from ‘when I was at school’. It’s not just working in schools of course, nostalgia’s big business and as I type this my Twitter feed’s exploding with suggestions for the best kids’ tv themes (this is what happens when Mr Bennett doesn’t have a researchED to get to of a weekend).
Last week I had an unexpected trip down memory lane as we were watching The Last Leg and all of a sudden I spotted one of my first year uni flatmates (the thrown together by luck-of-the-draw sort) appear in the audience. Right there, grinning with a Australian cork-hat plonked on her head. To be honest it was lovely to see her – and lovely to have the flurry of texting people to confirm it was her. Sometimes things hit you a little bit more than others though.
Michael was in my half of the year from year 7 and part of our friendship group. He went out with one of my best friends for a while, we had various lessons together, I have an official photo of us (and the rest of the Geology boys) at the 6th Form May Ball. In April, having not seen him for 18 years, his face was filling the television. He had been killed.
He was one of those people that is peppered throughout my whole school life. I don’t know what his politics were or where his life took him (apart from what’s been printed in newspapers). I don’t do Facebook or hunt people down and there are very few people I went to school with I’m still in touch with, but the constant little snippets of memories that come with working in a school mean that I realised I think about him a lot. I don’t know who he stayed in touch with but by the few people I’ve spoken to about this with I know there will have been ripples of contemplation and memories across the country – the globe even. But time passes.
Last week I had to cover in science for the morning and it sounds over the top but there was almost something emotional about it. The boys were doing an experiment I’ve done a thousand times using equipment and terminology that’s just ingrained. They needed to be reminded to do things that most of us would probably do automatically. For the rest of the day I was back to thinking about what was. Then this week it was in court and in the news again.
Of course, most of the time it’s little flicks of memory that attach themselves to a school day. I think this has a lot to do with the way we work – whether we want to give the pupils what we had or whether we want to ensure they get the opposite. In many ways working in schools means you don’t move on, but it also means memories are always close to the surface and sometimes they’re lovely.
This was a juicy one. Our PE teacher Joe came to see me the other day to ask if I took requests for looking at research – Research Lead 101 says yes I do, so I did. Apparently PE Edutwitter has been talking about cooperative learning for teaching PE. He wanted to know if there’s anything specifically that supports cooperative learning for SEMH pupils.
Certainly in regards to more academic subjects (the cooperative learning literature seems to use ‘mainstream classroom’ a lot but I’m adding SEND to the mix so don’t want to confuse things) direct instruction with occasional support from a bit of group work is something I’m happy with. In PE there’s obviously a lot of group work going on so it seemed like something that was worth a look at, particularly the opportunity to look at it from an SEMH/SEBD (the literature hasn’t caught up with SEMH yet) point of view.
The other thing that intregued me was that a few times now (I’ve no references, just vague memories) I’ve heard sports instruction – direct instruction, drilling, practice of individual skills rather than whole-game – as examples for what we should be doing in other subjects. Here is PE looking at the alternatives to doing that.
I thought it was a good opportunity to try out something I’d been mulling over and create a single-subject add-on to Relay. I’ve ended up creating ‘Relay FOCUS’ which in this instance looks at the research surrounding PE and SEBD/cooperative learning more broadly and then explores how they might work together. I’m not sure whether Joe was quite after what I’ve ended up with but I’m pleased with how it’s turned out and hopefully there’s more individual requests that I can work on.
I know it’s not perfect and it won’t cover the whole topic nearly enough, but it’s not intended as a formal piece of literature research and hopefully it’s enough to help Joe decide whether he want to explore the approach or whether it’s something he wants to look into more.
If you fancy having a glance, the pdf’s here: http://westburyschool.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Relay-FOCUS-Cooperative-Learning-and-PE.pdf
I’m going to say it. rED17 was the best one yet. There have been researchED conferences that rival of course, and the light-up pens have reached legendary status, but the atmosphere at this one was something different. Whether it was the venue, Chobham Academy, with its circular building that forced delegates to cross paths and talk as they found their next session, or whether on a more personal level I felt like I knew more people there, there was a buzz I’ve not sensed in the same way before.
Despite recent naysaying (and outright attacks) around researchED there appeared to be lots of people who put their hand up to say it was their first time so the great conspiracy doesn’t seem to have put them off. A noticeable feature was the conversations going on. In previous years dining room chatter was filled with overhearing people talk about the speakers they’d seen, in awe at who they were, and this year people seemed to be discussing the session and the ideas. Instead of the queue in the loos being all “I saw X, I love him. I’ve read all his books.” there was a definite vibe of “I went to see X talk about Y. That really fits in with what we’re trying to do with year 9”.
That’s not to say there weren’t ‘big hitters’ – 2017 attracted speakers such as Minister of State for School Standards, Nick Gibb and Ofsted Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman; but I wonder if one of the achievements, and I really mean achievements, of researchED over the past few years is to make it normal to see and hear these people in person and it’s taken away some of that awe – allowing the debate to take hold. Nick Gibb tried (I think. I’ll be generous for a moment) to stick up for researchED and its contributors by talking about those academics who hadn’t engaged as being stuck in their ‘ivory towers’. I have to say, I think a considerable amount of ivory-tower-placing comes from us, not them, and the more we do engage and interact the further down the tower they come. It works both ways.
I did go and see Nick Gibb’s session. To be honest I wasn’t impressed. I wasn’t outraged either though and used it as a good opportunity to catch up on Twitter. I can be a crazy note-taker during these things but my word-for-word notes from this one read:
- Telling us about rED
- Embrace challenge and debate
- Answering the h8ters
- Ebacc, reading
- Reporting G4+
Tell me what’s new with that? The most impassioned bit was the first bit and that was pretty much reading Tom’s blog out loud (we’re at rED, and whether we agree or not, we’ve probably read Tom’s blog haven’t we?). The Schools Week article made it all sound punchy – you can view it here and decide for yourself.
So. To the good stuff!
My second session was Sam Sims with Katie Magee and Dhana Gorasia talking about Journal Clubs. Now, I do like a journal club and this was brilliant to go to as it was Sam’s 2014 session that boosted my explorations into journal clubs to what I’m doing now. The session explored a pilot study of journal clubs as a way to break behavioural habits around teaching and the theory behind this. The second half featured examples of how it had worked at Canons High School. I always make a point to stress that journal clubs aren’t a policy meeting and to avoid getting bogged down in how one paper could be used in school; Katie and Dhana showed how the two can work together with requests for papers on specific strategies and discussions that lead to implementation in practice. I liked the advice that journal clubs can be used to spot positive strategies and behaviours that are already happening in schools and enable these to be shared more widely. There seems to be a few exciting journal clubby things on the horizon, particularly with the Chartered College of Teaching, so I’m looking forward to seeing what happens and getting involved where I can.
Session 3 found me in the Britney-infused sardine can* that was David Weston’s session on Toxic schools. David explored how the school environment impacts on outcomes, looking a lot of things that Kev Bartle had talked about in York last summer. Coming from a school that has historically had a small number of staff with close relationships that is now expanding hugely, I’ve thought about this idea of trust and leadership a lot recently as the dynamics are being forced to shift. David took us through various biases to recognise and avoid (aided by occasional Britney) with some pointers to take back. His presentation’s here if you fancy it and I’m looking forward to any follow up sessions involving late nineties/early noughties classics with a dance routine.
It was me after lunch – good turn out, Journal Club info here – www.edujournalclub.com
I always find that once my own session is done I can sort of float through the rest of the day without the weight of it (literally, lugging biscuits is HARD) but it does make my notes a bit more relaxed. I went to see Martin Robinson give a warning about Growth Mindset. It does concern me that this is a bit of a bandwagon that looks fancy and evidence informed so it was good to pick up some ammunition for the time it descends on us here (and Martin was lovely, obvs). I went to an Institute of Ideas conversation about Mental Health in schools that was interesting. I agree with points that if we are over-cautious we risk medicalising ‘normal’ responses from pupils and found this idea that we have a ‘cultural script of fragility’ hit a point too. However I’m in a school where our pupils have (by definition) a range of mental health issues and I can see the problems of under-diagnosis and lack of intervention too. A teacher’s job is to teach but they’re with us a considerable amount of time – quite often the only stable time they have, and we have a role in safeguarding them too.
As has become normal at these things one of the best sessions was hosted by a local boozer (and a proper boozer it was too) where I had some great conversations with lovely people. Some about education, some about shoes, some about the Midsomer Murders Tour… I’ve stepped in to defend researchED a couple of times recently and I think we all know there are people who aren’t going to be swayed either way. It was, as always, a diverse day with rushing round behind the scenes that looked ripple-free from the outside. The familiar company was great, the new faces were also great, and I was left feeling overwhelmingly positive (even after the karaoke) about all the opportunities we have to do great things. If people choose not to engage with researchED then I really hope they find something they do like because it’s a shame to miss out.
I’ll be honest, I could’ve done more reading this summer but sometimes I just watched telly instead. I did however read some gudduns, particularly following my call for suggestions and I’ve still got a couple from that list that I’ve not got to yet. Last year I included my books from the Easter holidays in my summer reviews but I won’t get into the habit of that so I’ll just say that I read Sue Perkins’ ‘Spectacles’ and Neil Gaiman’s ‘Norse Mythology’ on holiday in April and both are worth your attention.
So. My readings…
Book 1: Cast Iron by Peter May
May’s books appear frequently in my run-throughs of summer reading and Enzo has had his place. This is the last in the series of six books featuring forensic expert Enzo Macleod and his challenge to solve seven of France’s unsolved murders. It’s been a while since the last book (and I waited for the paperback so they matched on my shelves) but worth the wait and some good plot devices to bring in characters from previous quests.
I was going to read this regardless of quality obviously but it didn’t disappoint at all and rounded off the series most satisfactorily. I think there were initially seven books planned (from memories of looking at May’s website) so I don’t know how the intended plot changed but it didn’t seem rushed together. All the main characters are there – from the people to the locations and if you’ve read the others it’s worth finishing them off.
Book 2: A Rage In Harlem by Chester Himes
This was an author suggested by James Theobald. Oh my goodness. I loved this so much I can hardly describe it but I immediately bought another one which is below. They’re set in 1950s Harlem and described on one of the covers as ‘mayhem yarns’ which I never knew was a genre but describes it perfectly.
The book is set on the streets of Harlem and this is the first of Himes’ novels to feature detectives Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones – although it’s more of an introduction to them in this one. It’s a fast paced tale of a simpleton who gets swept up in all sorts of criminal activity with farcical slapstick that slams into grizzly reality at every turn. The language is so sublime that you almost don’t notice it – nothing is held back and it somehow comes across as both a throwaway caper and a raw snapshot of life.
From the con man dressed as a nun to the slashing of throats and a hearse chasing through the streets there is nothing to disappoint.
Book 3: Silent Scream by Angela Marsons
The body count mounts quickly and there are enough twists and red herrings to satisfy without them seeming too obviously placed or clichéd. Having said that I don’t know whether I’ll rush to read another one. There were bits that seemed a little clunky (sometimes I wonder if detective books are being written with TV adaptations in mind) and the parallels between the case and Stone’s history were a bit much at times – having said I won’t rush into the next one it’ll be interesting to see how she develops when the case isn’t as close to home.
If you’re looking for a new detective then give this a go and I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. I was probably still mourning Enzo a bit.
Book 4: One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson
I read ‘Case Histories’ quite a while ago and this is the second of Atkinson’s books featuring detective Jackson Brodie. I’d enjoyed the first and Twitter reminded me I’d not read any more so I was looking forward to it. My mistake was to have a break of 48 hours between starting it and picking it up again half way through. There are so many characters and interwoven storylines that I struggled to keep up with everything when they crossed over.
The novel is set in Edinburgh during the festival and the feel of this was spot on. I think every aspect of the criminal world is covered somewhere is this with most of the characters having a hand in another’s business but there was just a bit too much crammed in for me I think. One of the characters is a writer who imagines writing a book like a matryoshka doll with layers fitting together and this is clearly the concept for this one. I just think I’d prefer a 5-doll set to the 15.
I did like it and I don’t think I’ll wait as long before reading the next in the series (there are four I think), but I’ve got to go back to Harlem first…
Book 5: The Real Cool Killers by Chester Himes
I saved this one for after the others rather than getting to it too quickly. I think I slightly prefered this to Rage In Harlem as it kept all the features but had a more flowing plotline and featured more of the detectives. It would stand on its own but there are threads that follow on so definitely read the first.
This one gets in quickly with a bar fight that is both brutal and hilarious in its farce. There’s a chase, a kidnapping, a fart scene. The language is on point once more and I wish I’d made a note of some of the descriptions and off the cuff remarks but I wasn’t going to break my flow. It’s described on the cover as ‘Hieronymus Bosch meets Miles Davis’ and I think that says it all.
I can’t believe I’d never heard of these before and at around 200 pages they’re perfect for polishing off in a day. I still can’t quite describe what they’re like so I’ll just end up sounding like a gushing thesaurus and there’s no use in that so I shall just ask that you give them a go whilst I buy some more.
Links to books are (almost all) The Guardian Bookshop again because of tax and monopolies etc.
I’m not too enthusiastic about ‘teachers doing research’; I am more enthusiastic about the opportunities for schools to take part in larger, more formal research trials and partnerships with higher education. My position set out, I think that what school staff can do is question things.
The staggered start to the new academic year for schools has caused my timeline to be peppered with INSET tweets throughout the week. A few have caught my eye and one particularly seemed to connect with last night’s #UKEdResChat which asked “Are we in a research bubble? Is so how can we pop it?”. The tweet’s from a locked account so I won’t embed it but it read:
“Really pleased how positively staff took on board our drive to embed a #GrowthMindset across school! #ThePowerOfYet”
This tweet was from a primary school colleague in our TSA Innovation Hub – a follow on from the Evidence Based Teaching Group we had, and shows engagement and dissemination of research we have touched on within the group and whilst it’s not bursting the bubble it is perhaps stretching it a bit.
It strikes me though that if research informed staff, including research leads, are striving to build research literacy in schools, is the ultimate goal not to have everyone on board, but to have them questioning? I appreciate that this single tweet doesn’t have a lot of information in it and there may have been a discussion around the approach – it’s just 140 characters. However, if we are to break out of the cycle of the same people driving the research-informed agenda in the same schools I think we need to be looking to encourage the critical eye rather than introducing top-down initiatives. It’s almost a cliché.
Taking the example of Growth Mindset, I know from my own reading that there has been a lot of debate around implementation in the classroom and my basic understanding is that it’s questionable as to whether there’s an impact and to be implemented properly staff need formal training. I don’t know how this school is approaching it (hopefully it’ll crop up at our next Innovation Hub meeting) and I feel uncomfortable using them as an example when I don’t know any detail about their method so putting that to one side, I think introducing something like this is an opportunity for the type of enquiry that should be encouraged in schools.
Questioning things isn’t the same as resisting change but about exploring initiatives and measuring the impact. Introducing school-wide initiatives should involve reading around the subject both for those driving the programme and those who are taking it on. When new ideas are put to staff it should be a positive thing to be met with questions and leaders should be able to answer those questions – either having read around the topic and predicted them, or by offering the opportunity for staff to answer the questions within an implementation and review process. We don’t need to be doing big research projects but at least exploring evidence for and against and looking for change if you do do it. And leaders shouldn’t be afraid to say that something hasn’t worked.
We need the rhetoric to move from ‘we’re going to do this’ to ‘we’re going to find out if this can work for us’. Doing with, not to. This isn’t something that should threaten leaders but that they should embrace. It can be difficult to accept if you have spent a lot of time in preparation but when changes are met with constructive questions that are taken on board and incorporated into the way we work, I think it will be an indication that the research bubble is at least expanding and we are truly embedding research in everyday practice.
#UKEdResChat asked what aspect of teaching, learning, school systems or government policy etc, what would we commission research in should we have the opportunity. It took me a while to think of anything at first as it’s quite an overwhelming brief but I jumped in with the suggestion that I would like to see some proper investigation into unqualified teachers.
Replies to my choice varied from “I don’t get the fuss” to “it undermines the professional aspect of teaching” – which mirrors wider twitter discussions I’ve seen over the past few years, but what I haven’t seen is anything beyond perhaps stats of how many people are being paid as unqualified teachers. Last night’s brief discussion offered solutions to the problem and mooted reasons for individuals choosing to qualify or not but the general vibe was that (even if the idea of unqualified teachers didn’t offend) qualifying was best. I found points on professionalism interesting as I wondered whether that was more important to people who have completed training than a reason to qualify – does it de-value the qualification in the eyes of some? The point of my original question though was to work this out. Where is the evidence that qualified status is best?
A quick search on Schools Week (a good font of knowledge) throws up a couple of recent stories that offer some figures and concerns. In July this year they had a piece on a Labour Party report that
The number of teachers in state-funded English schools without QTS rose to 24,000 in 2016, a figure that has grown by 62 per cent since the rules around unqualified teachers were relaxed in 2012.
I won’t regurgitate all the stats but they’re in there so have a look. The points made echo other comments I’ve seen though which is pretty much – standards will decline vs schools can hire on the basis of ‘skills and experience’. Another story from July reports on a school rehiring (not quite all) its teaching assistants as ‘Teaching Fellows’ to work towards a teaching qualification and the points raised by this story surround the exploitation of the sort of teacher-on-the-cheap argument to stretch budgets further. It’s only a little look but I think the two main worries about unqualified teachers – ‘standards’ and ‘exploitation’ are pretty much covered by these. Thing is though, there’s a lot of opinion on how it ‘might’ affect pupils or the ‘potential to…’. Do we not need to look at whether it is or not?
My personal opinion is mixed. On the surface it seems reasonable to want all teachers to be trained, but my experience tells me there are some awesome unqualified teachers that get great results – both in terms of qualifications and on a more general level with pupils. Off the top of my head, reasons for me working with unqualified teachers include: staff cover where TAs have taken a class for an extended period and been able to have an uplift in pay to do it; vocational teacher with years of college and industry experience; art teacher with 20+ years experience as SEND TA, a fine art degree and work as an artist. Reasons for them not wanting to qualify include it being a temporary role; nearing retirement and not thinking the extra work’s worth it; not wanting a whole-school responsibility for the subject. There’ll be other reasons but you’d have to ask them. What I do know is that they were/are all brilliant at their jobs and it works for our setting really well. Different situations will appear in other schools where it does and doesn’t work as well but even though gut-instinct is useful, I think there’s an opportunity to explore it more formally.
So what do I think needs to be looked at? I don’t have an idea for a specific research question yet – more ideas of the data that needs to be gathered in order to prompt research questions. As a starting point, things I think we need to know include:
Where are they teaching and how many?
- In independent schools, state schools, and separate figures special schools/alternative provision settings. This needs to be gathered for each key stage.
- Data on the social demographics of schools and OfSTED grades.
What are they teaching?
- Which subjects are unqualified teachers working in?
- External test/exam data
- Primary – likely to be teaching a range of subjects; Secondary – more subject specific?
Who are they?
- What is their experience – as TAs/other school roles; college/higher education; teaching abroad.
- Qualifications – subject specific; ‘teaching’; training in specific programmes.
- Other responsibilities held in organisation.
Reasons for not qualifying
- Personal – happy in role; lack of entry qualifications; financial costs of training etc
- Institutional – school not willing to enable; not able to fund
Perceived gains of qualifying
- From both unqualified teachers and the wider teaching community. Issues such as pay and professionalism seem to be top of the list.
Some of the data for these points will already exist and may already have been collated, but other bits require going a bit deeper and finding out what’s happening at school level. I’m happy to offer my opinions whenever this comes up as a topic and there are some interesting ideas for how to qualify the unqualified, but we can’t do that well without looking at the current picture and working out what schools, pupils, and staff, need.
This is one of several posts that I’ve started but never quite got round to hitting ‘publish’ on. Prompted by a tweet from Dawn Cox about the values we put onto children (and my recent thoughts about cultural capital) I thought it was a good opportunity. (Quick reminder that all our pupils are boys so when I refer to ‘the boys’ it’s because I naturally interchange ‘boys’ and ‘pupils’ when talking about work rather than me just stereotyping).
Also,do we put our own narrative & values onto children?Why try & get little Jonny to go to uni?Will it isolate him from family/community?
— Dawn Cox (@MissDCox) July 22, 2017
I started this post over a year ago in February 2016 after reading this Guardian article about white working class boys and university. I think by the time I came back to it the moment had gone and I never finished it. The article focuses on the aspirations of white working class boys and the role of universities in targeting underrepresented populations. One of the statements that caught my attention was “If these young men embrace academic success, they face entry into an unfamiliar and disconcerting world”. This is a theme I recognise regularly in our pupils.
I think for the majority of our pupils the experience they have of education is that it’s easier to fail than succeed. They know what to do when they fail – they know how to run off, know how to get told off, know how to respond in an aggressive manner, and know the sort of response they will get from adults. Quite often they find it very difficult to cope with praise (certainly open praise). If there’s a problem or issue at school or home, they will often try to get in a situation where they are stopped – physically or otherwise. It’s all about controlling a situation. They can deal with being picked on for not doing something right – can always fall back on kicking off.
As our school gets bigger there are more pupils that know each other, either from previous schools or their neighbourhoods (plus social media etc). I’ve noticed how this makes a difference to ‘showing face’ beyond what happens in school. We’re probably quite lucky in that it’s only fairly recently that the tentacles of social media have worked their way into our school – one of the benefits of having a couple of kids from each area of a whole city.
When it comes to aspirations though, why is university still seen as the be-all and end-all? There’s a massive rise in the number of apprenticeships – not just ‘trades’ now there are opportunities everywhere, but university’s seen as better. With rising fees and scrapping of grants, followed by questions about devaluation of degrees, there are legitimate reasons for not wanting to come out of university and be competing with those with three years experience for similar jobs (although I don’t believe fees and loans are any reason not to go and I do appreciate the earning potential stats). It’s not stereotyping to say that a high proportion of our boys will end up with a trade. We offer them vocational qualifications, and courses involving some sort of construction or motor engineering are pretty common next steps. It’s interesting that many of our pupils are likely to end up earning more in a trade professions than an NQT but are not likely to see themselves as our equals. So perhaps it really isn’t money that matters but education.
Something I’ve thought about is that despite the attitudes of our pupils, do the parents of these children – despite their background – aspire to university? Do these white working class boys that shun university for themselves want their own children to go to university? Anecdotally, I know of several people who I think feel they have to prove themselves to be just as good as someone who has been to university and it possibly gives them more drive, they’ve built up businesses and empires of their own, but they want for their children a ‘better’ life, and that includes university.
The discussion is one that has been played out before and will be again. The question of whether it is right for the educated, middle class to decide which values and experiences to pass on to white working class children is one that can be a minefield. Is it for us to decide what matters? Should we impose our own values on children? By thinking we’re aiding them are we curbing them? Either way, are we judging them and their backgrounds? We want them to study Shakespeare (the content of those final GCSE papers is class-blind) so taking them to see Shakespeare is part of that. Is Shakespeare OK but not opera? Is street-dance OK but not ballet? If we want them to learn languages is it OK if they go on an exchange trip? Not other foreign travel? Can we take them skiing at the Snowdome in Birmingham but maybe avoid the Alps? There’s never going to be an easy answer.
Part of our job is forcing our opinions on our pupils whether that’s the curriculum we teach or the language we use when we speak to them. I’m not going to oversimplify my vocabulary when I’m talking to the boys just because there’s the danger they’ve never come across a word before, I’ll explain it. I’m not going to apologise for wanting to build their ambitions – it’s a better place to start than not. Of course getting them reading and calculating (preferably maths, not crime) is the first step, but can’t we do a bit of both? I want us to open their worlds. I want them to ask questions and if nothing else, I want them to be really good at pub quizzes. I want them to know that whether they want to go into a trade or go to university, they are worthy of it. Some of them have dreams that we don’t think they’ll achieve and I want them to prove us wrong.
I’m not living in a fantasy world. I know what the future is likely to hold for some of them. At the moment I’m hoping that the future for some of them isn’t on the front of the Nottingham Post as they merrily go about their holidays, for others I’m hoping that come results day they get a couple of GCSEs. I suppose it’s not for us to decide where their limit is. We’ve just got to make sure we don’t judge them and do our best to get them to the next bit.
I asked Twitter for some holiday-read recommendations and all I offered was that I quite like murders. Twitter responded with force enough to mean Howard’ll be making more bookshelves in no time 😉
Some of them I’ve read, some of them I’ve got waiting, some of them I’ve not even heard of. It’s a pretty good list so whilst I try and decide which ones to start with, here they all are!
Murder on the Orient Express – Agatha Christie
Kate Atkinson (Brodie Series)
Batavia – Peter Fitzimmons
Trigger Warning – Neil Gaiman
Poppy Z Brite
The Disappearance of Adele Bedeau – Graham Macrae Burnett
(all the links are for Book Depository but you can buy them wherever you fancy or pop into your local library if you still have one, obvs)
Enquiry isn’t a specialist activity. It is something we all do regularly – making a mental note of something that went well or how we could change things for next time. As easy as it seems to reflect on what we do day-to-day, the starting point for deliberate enquiry can be difficult. Key to engaging with research in a genuine, long-term way as a practitioner is to start with reflection – reflection on practice and reflection of practice.Reflective-practice is sometimes presented as the opposite to evidence based practice; the qualitative vs the quantitative. Quantitative research is held up as the best research can be, whether that’s the EEF toolkit and trials or the What Work Clearinghouse measures. One argument for evidence based practice over reflective practice is that the latter risks pathologising the practitioner and finds fault with the teacher or student rather than the wider environment.
Action research (or at least the term) is gaining popularity and the close link between action research and reflective practice leads to arguments that they lacks value and relevance between settings. Cautious voices remind that quantitative studies don’t necessarily provide the answers, as Dylan Wiliam says, “[In education] everything works somewhere and nothing works everywhere. The interesting question is ‘under what conditions does this work?”
It’s not realistic for everyone to be part of large-scale RCTs, particularly in settings that regularly don’t fit selection criteria like small or special schools. This can feel isolating and make research engagement seem irrelevant. Reflective practice is one way to get going and can take many forms, from keeping a diary to working in pairs or triads or developing cyclical action research projects, so where do we start and how can we incorporate research into what we do?
It’s frequently repeated that teachers don’t have time to trawl through and decipher research so I decided to have a bit of an experiment with taking a single research paper and setting it out in a way that can be used in the classroom. This is a paper I have used myself on several occasions to provide a framework to identify an area of focus and use as a starting point for enquiry.
The suggestions of how to use the document I’ve created are just that, suggestions. It doesn’t give instructions or solutions for practice and it doesn’t use multiple sources of evidence – the intention is that once a focus is identified, more refined research can take place if necessary around that area.
Whether it’s used for enquiry in the closed classroom or over a wider group; as a starting point for a whole school focus or simply to monitor the classroom over time, I hope it shows how research can be used in the classroom and it provides encouragement for more people to bring evidence into their practice.
So here it is in glorious pdf form. Let me know what you think.
A guide to ‘Evaluating the Learning Environment’ adapted from Ysseldyke, J. E. and Christenson, S. L. (1987) ‘Evaluating students’ instructional environments’, Remedial and Special Education, 8(3), pp. 17–24.