Access To Research

Unless you are studying at a university or work at one, it can be very difficult to access academic research. It’s all very well encouraging people to become critical thinkers and take their CPD into their own hands, but if you are relying on the information provided by others it can be restrictive.

Following every ResearchEd there has been a ripple of frustration at the lack of access to published research – there is even an online petition to ask the Secretary of State for Education to make online journals free to access for teachers. Whether or not this is a feasible idea (corporate sponsorship of research and all the reliability pit falls), it shows that we are in need of a solution. This is an incomplete list with just some of the ways to access research. I intend on adding to it as I find anything else that may be useful.

  1. Free access articles – http://www.educationarena.com/

Taylor and Francis Online/Routledge @educationarena have a selection of articles available to access for free. There are monthly collections available around a certain topic (cyberbullying, autism awareness month, leadership etc), and topic selections available for a longer period of time. This is fantastic but does limit it to what someone else has decided and there isn’t the ability to read around a subject.

  1. Public library access – http://www.accesstoresearch.org.uk/libraries

In February, thousands of free articles became available in public libraries http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-25981183. The major downside with this is that you can’t access anything outside the library and you aren’t allowed save anything. If your local library isn’t currently part of the scheme you can ask them to apply. This is a really good step but it is limited.

  1. #icanhazpdf

Using this hashtag you can ask twitter members to access an article for you and someone will save and send you the article you’re after. Not an option if you are after a large amount of information and not necessarily legal.

  1. CORE – http://core.kmi.open.ac.uk/search

‘CORE aims to facilitate free access to content stored across Open Access repositories’. This looks promising but it is tricky to navigate. There is a lot of information available but it might not contain exactly what you’re after due to the limitations of Open Access.

  1. Email researchers directly.

If there is a specific paper you require it is a good idea to contact the author. Contact details are often available alongside the abstract of a paper. An advantage of contacting the researchers in person is that they may be able to provide further reading and up to date advice in the area you are researching.

  1. Academia.edu

A way for academics to share research papers online. It is free to sign up – you don’t have to be a researcher or employed at a university. Users can follow the research or a particular academic or institution. Think of it as social networking for academics.

  1. Research libraries

Many educational organisations have online collections of research or links to research.

CfBT – Research Library http://www.cfbt.com/en-GB/Research/Research-library

Curee – Links to research http://www.curee.co.uk/category/5/27

FFT – http://www.fft.org.uk/research-centre/FFT-Research.aspx#.VADEamObk3k

  1. Education Endowment Foundation http://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/

The EEF are funding a huge amount of research at the moment. The website has summaries of research findings and descriptions of what is underway. You can download the full reports of completed projects. A good starting point and their Toolkit is a great resource.

  1. http://oere.oise.utoronto.ca/

This is a small, searchable database which is Ontario based. The focus is on day-to-day practical challenges in schools and there are a limited number of papers. This might be a good source of articles for use in journal clubs and as starting points for further research.

  1. Self-Published Work

A small search online reveals several easy ways to publish your research online and Open Access. This has the benefit of being low cost and reaching a wide audience but the downside of lacking peer review and regulation. As a starting point, self-published articles can be brilliant to start off a debate or as a journal club article for picking to pieces. That’s not to say what you find won’t be worthwhile, but critical analysis is key.

An example of where self-published work can be valuable to both producers and consumers of research is the Sandringham Learning Journal (http://www.sandagogy.co.uk/learning/?q=upload/sandringham-learning-journal). An annual, anthology of research and reflective practice from Sandringham School. A valuable piece of internal and external CPD.

  1. Local university library membership.

Universities often offer membership to their libraries to members of the public. Birmingham (http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/libraries/membership.aspx) and Nottingham (http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/library/libraries/using/joining.aspx) offer membership for around £50 a year to access their libraries. Again, great, but this includes limited electronic resources and you can’t print or save any of them.

  1. EBSCO

The ‘leading aggregator of online resources’. Familiar if you have used online access at university and with the OU, they’re fairly comprehensive. They have education specific collections for institutions to purchase membership. If you are lucky enough to be registered with The General Teaching Council for Scotland you will have free access to journals through EBSCO (http://www.gtcs.org.uk/research-engagement/education-journals.aspx), but if you aren’t, these are some options.

All figures are from May 2014.

A subscription to Education Research Complete (http://www.ebscohost.com/academic/education-research-complete) would be £995 + VAT.

They provide a smaller version of Education Research Complete called Professional Development Collection which is £250 + VAT. (http://www.ebscohost.com/public/professional-development-collection) This also includes free access to Teacher Reference Centre. (http://www.ebscohost.com/us-high-schools/teacher-reference-center)

You can coordinate with a number of institutions to allow them to also have access to Professional Development Collection or Education Research Complete, then they offer a buying group discount of 3% for two Schools purchasing, 5% for three, 10% for four and 15% for five Schools all purchasing their own version of PDC or ERC.

  1. Subscription

E.g. Taylor Francis publish a large number of academic journals. Their prices for each journal are available here – http://www.tandfonline.com/page/products

They list for individual and also for institution. For all their educational journals, online only access would probably be around £2million per year which is quite a lot, but you may be willing to subscribe to key publications.

  1. Societies – BELMAS, SEBDA, Nasen etc.

Societies and associations in more specialist areas of education often have their own academic journals. It may be more cost effective to join an association in order to access a journal than it is to purchase access to the journal directly. There are different levels of membership available for different organisations. Some have special rates for students, TAs, whole schools etc.

BELMAS offer your first year’s membership free and this includes access to journals.

E.g. Nasen produce the journal ‘Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties’ on a quarterly basis. Taylor Francis list this for £79 a year (individual use, hard copy). Membership of Nasen is £55pa (individual member, online access to current and back issues), and of course that comes with other benefits of being a member.

Journal Club TSA Style

TSA JC 01(image via @Mrs_Rob_says)

I’ve recently become involved in our Teaching Schools Alliance’s Evidence Based Teaching group and last week I lead our first TSA journal club (orgainised brilliantly by Nicky Bridges).

A bit swankier than my portakabin at school, we met at the University of Nottingham in a thousand degree heat in the middle of what is essentially a greenhouse. Pictures of us looking mighty studious exist but we’re all a touch pink and frizzy so feel free to look past that. There were about ten of us from all across the TSA – secondary, primary and special schools all represented. Sustenance came in the form of cake (I know this is an important factor to JC followers).

We decided to look at two papers – something I’ve not tried in a journal club before. Aware that we would have people from a variety of settings we went with the loose theme of ‘Assessment’ as we felt it was topical and would be relevant to all of us. The two we picked were:

After a brief introduction into the whats and whys of journal clubs, we started with the Birbili and Tzioga, Greek context paper. Interestingly, quite a few people said they had found this, more typical research paper, easier to read than the second article from an online magazine.  I know the ‘look’ of a journal paper can be intimidating so it bodes well for the future that everyone could get into this.

Unlike my school JCs and the researchED  one back in March, I think we used the papers as a starting point for our conversation more than have a deep analysis of the studies. I suspect as we have more meetings we’ll get into the analysing side a bit more, but as an environment for a group of professionals sharing their experiences, the format worked well as a way of talking round a topic.

I started the session by reading a summary of the first paper and we had a general discussion. The parental observation and assessment outlined in the paper is described as new to the Greek context and certainly as a group we highlighted that the participating teachers had seen the process more as a way to gather information about their pupils than about cooperation with parents. Although the study was conducted in an EYFS setting and there was an element of ‘easy to observe’, we thought the methods could be adapted well to some areas of further education. We thought that parents may feel once their child is in school that there isn’t as much of a role for them and PHSE was suggested as an area where the questionnaires/diary may be useful as a way to involve parents in observing how their child develops.

A lot of our discussion was around the importance of getting parents involved in school and how we could go about it. We talked about how we can level the playing field and empower parents. We recognised that parental engagement is key to narrowing disadvantage but were aware of the barriers that exist for some of our parents. Many of the parents we want to engage with have themselves had poor educational experiences and are reluctant to engage with teachers as a whole, based on this past experience.

We discussed involving parents with SATs set up – even inviting parents to complete a paper. As many parents struggle with academic elements it was suggested that it is important to make use of parental expertise in different areas; one school has recently found out a parent is able to make costumes for instance. A few schools organise events such as family activity days or ‘bring a parent/grandparent to school’ morning. Ideas ranged from stickers and certificates for parents, to teaching parents a skill and then getting them to teach their child.

We felt it is easy to make cultural assumptions based on our own experiences and we need to be mindful of our pupil and parent backgrounds, however, we also thought we should perhaps raise our expectations of parents and not decide something isn’t worth trying on the basis we don’t think parents will take part.

We didn’t spend as much time on the second article, ‘Assessment and the Learning Brain: What the Research Tells Us’ (Hardiman and Whitman, 2014), and our conversation started with the limitations of the text (examples given were in the setting of one of the authors, is it a plug for their ‘Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning’, is creating a collage evidence of a mastery mindset or do students pick it because they like picking out fancy fonts more?).

There were lots of elements that we did like too and we thought it was important that schools are familiar with developments in research about how the brain learns. Of course things like learning styles and Brain Gym (tick your researchED bingo cards) have made people (at least the people who will be trying to keep up to date with developments) wary of new information and this is probably a good thing. We felt there is an element of trying to get the balance right between teaching for the final/external assessment which we know will be presented in a fairly traditional manner, and adapting formative assessment in different ways.

The Hardiman and Whitman article had some interesting points about barriers to how information on how neuroscientific research is used. Often teachers and leaders have little understanding or it is only seen as relevant to struggling learners. This linked in with thinking about parental understanding of assessment and how we should be aware of the need to involve parents at every stage of a child’s education.

I think I’m safe to say that everyone at the journal club found it useful. We might not have ripped apart the readings as thoroughly as some would, but it was interesting to be able to compare different texts and use them as a prompt to discuss our settings. We’re going to hold another meeting next term and sticking with two papers. Topic suggestions are most welcome!

Reading to Survive

Woodland-Camouflage

For the ‘Tried and Tested’ section of our latest Learning and Development Bulletin I’ve chosen Stephen Lockyer’s idea of marking popular songs in a SPaG lesson. Stephen was surprised to find the high use of non-standard grammar and punctuation in popular songs and had worked it into a SPaG activity for his pupils, highlighting and correcting the mistakes. I think this is a brilliant idea and a really adaptable lesson for all levels of our pupils. Along with several other things I’ve come across recently it’s made me think more about the idea of ‘reading to survive’.

Reading for pleasure is a wonderful thing and I’m delighted that this is given prominence in the curriculum. But before pupils read for pleasure, they need to be able to read to survive. That’s not to say we should differentiate between types of reading; for most children this blends together and we never notice the seam, for others there is a gaping chasm.

When Daniel Willingham tweeted a link to an article about how the majority of popular music has a third grade reading level, I thought it was quite apt having just written about Stephen’s idea. It’s not an academic study, it analyses the numbers and it’s a bit of fun, it sounds nice and shocking but I was interested in what ‘grade three’ meant in terms of reading ability. Grade 3 is 8-9 years and looking at the Hodder Oral Reading Test pack we use in school, a reading age of 8-9 reaches words like ‘cyanide, chivalrous, candidate, opaque’ and sentences like ‘The rock star was an inveterate self-publicist and opportunist of irresistible charisma.’ and ‘The apparatus is equipped with an ingenious configuration of micro-filters’. I know this is a crude way of looking it and I don’t know if American 8-9 year olds are expected to read the same words as ours, but to be honest that seems OK for pop songs to me.

On a tangent here, but with the recent Eurovision Song Contest, I’ve been very enthusiastic about all sorts of songs in different languages. We have a French teacher at our school this term (French national, not here to teach French). He is amused at the level of conversation I’ve generated about Eurovision and said some interesting things about French songs. He said that French music is all about the words and the tune is secondary to the lyrics. He told us that when his English was good enough to actually understand the words to his favourite songs he was disappointed that the words were rubbish and there wasn’t more to them. It would be interesting to see where French songs are on the grade/level scale.

Anyway, all this got me thinking about where our day-to-day language sits. Does it matter that the majority of song lyrics are at a grade 3 level? Most of our conversations are probably at a level that an 8-9 year old could understand. We have specialist pockets of information for given situations or subjects and pupils learn these – first in a context specific way and then hopefully transferable to wider areas. Of course we want them to have a wide and flexible vocabulary. Of course we want them to do much more than survive. But surviving’s a good place to start.

I know we’re a special school but I also know that our pupils are the lucky ones that got a Statement. For every one of ours, they left behind another handful in mainstream. These are the ones who will be ‘failing’ their KS2 SATs. If the scenarios that Bill Watkin recently put forward play out then there’s a high possibility that by focusing on the magic level 4 they get left behind without us thinking about why level 4 was chosen. At a basic level we need them to be able to access the curriculum and pass exams. A simplistic view but that’s pretty much what we want. Everything else grows around this and the more we can give them the better.

Reaching level 4 means they can survive. They can read instructions, fill out an application form, understand their pay slip. They will get some GCSEs and other qualifications* and get into college or an apprenticeship. They might not be headed for the heights of university, they have their own heights. That’s the reality. Not for all of them by a long shot, but a good few. Still. We can only individualise for so long. We know that they’ll sit the same exams as everyone else, do the same BTEC courses, follow the same GCSE syllabus. We have to ensure they can read, write and handle numbers well enough to survive, but also to get a certificate that says so. All whilst making sure we don’t squeeze out other subjects.

It makes great headlines to say X% of songs/school pupils have the reading age of an 8/9 year old. Well, the expected levels for 8/9 year olds mean they’re pretty good at reading. They’re in a position to build their skills and develop their preferences for different texts.  They can hold intelligent conversations and write normal, multi-million selling, song lyrics. Does it mean they’ve failed though if it takes them longer to get there? Are they less likely to achieve if we decide they’ve failed?

I’m not quite sure what my point is with all this as I’m bringing together several ideas that I’ve been thinking about. If the goal posts are shifted for GCSE content, of course the level required to be ‘secondary ready’ is going to shift as well. *Whether our ‘surviving’ students will continue to be able to succeed in this way, I don’t know. I’m not advocating a dumbing down of curriculum content or saying grade 3 or level 4 is good enough for a 16 year old. It’s clearly not good enough to only expect the minimum but what is good is having a realistic target for the minimum.

I don’t want anyone to read this and think for a second that I (and my school) don’t have high expectations for our pupils. We stretch them as far as we can and go out of our way to make sure they can access everything they should be able to. I just wonder if in the rush to be top of the tables the core reason of education for some of our pupils is pushed aside. At least according to the Hodder reading assessment, at an 8-9 year old reading level they should be able to read ‘ Vote for one candidate only’.

Easter Books

bertjem

We were lucky enough to have some good reading-in-the-garden weather over Easter so I took advantage and finally got round to reading some of the books I was given for Christmas and Easter. I’ve got quite a few that I still need to read but I went for either ones that Howard wanted to read ASAP or ones that he isn’t likely to read at all – or at least likely to want to take away in the summer. As you can see, I was being observed as I sat there… Anyway, I’ve not written a post for a while so I thought I’d do another mini book review.

Book 1: Foxglove Summer by Ben Aaronovich

This is the fifth book in the Peter Grant series by Ben Aaronovich. I wrote about the fourth a bit in my first booky post a couple of summers ago and whilst this one’s been out for a while, I’ve only just picked it up again after starting it and getting distracted. This is the one Howard wants to read ASAP so I read it first (he’s still not had time to start it though).foxglove

Whilst the first four books are set in and around London, this one takes a jaunt out to the countryside. There are of course nods to what’s happened so far in the story but equally it could be read as a stand-alone novel. As Peter Grant steps out of the city and gets away, the tension of the series is paused momentarily and I highly suspect it will prove to be the calm before the storm. There are a couple of characters we know, but if the books are ever filmed, this is the one where actors who have other jobs on or are on maternity leave can get away with being at the other end of the phone.

We get as many new questions as we get answers but I enjoyed the change of pace and once the hazy, magic filled summer is over and Peter goes back to London and the Folly, he’s probably going to be grateful for the get-away as I don’t think he’ll be getting another holiday for a while.

Book 2: The Critic by Peter May

I’ve loved the Peter May books I’ve read so far. A colleague recommended the Lewis Trilogy and I whipped through those. I’ve read the first of the Enzo Files and have some more stacked up. The Critic is the second of May’s books featuring Enzo McLeod, a Scottish forensic expert living in France. critic

Self-tasked with solving a series of cold cases, the second installment leaves Paris and heads into the countryside for a spot of wine making. If ‘Chocolat’ by Joanne Harris made you crave cocoa, this one will make you perfectly happy to reach for the corkscrew. To be honest, I’m not a wine drinker, but I was taken in by the whole world of it all and was perfectly prepared to declare myself as a sommelier by the end of it. The character of Enzo fits most of the clichés about middle-aged detectives – the strained relationships, the drinking, the maverick persona, but it works and it’s different enough not to seem tired.

The Enzo Files aren’t a love letter to France in the way the Lewis series is to the Outer Hebrides, but the plot is strong and if you like a bit of murder then I recommend you give these a go. I’ve got the next one waiting for me already.

Book 3: The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion

I missed Don and Rosie. I knew I would. Since reading The Rosie Project last summer I’d been waiting for the sequel to come out in paperback. Not so much because I’m a bit cheap, more that I had the first in paperback and it’ll look prettier on the bookshelf to have them the same. I decided to go for this one now as a break from the detective genre and for that purpose it was perfect. rosie effect

Set in New York, Don and Rosie are still around and mixing their life of science and cocktails (there is also some real ale in this one – much more me than wine). Don is just as logical, and his unique take on life is a welcome return. Whilst the first book had me giggling like a loon by the pool, this one had a touch more heartbreak. I’m trying not to spoil anything really, so I apologise for being a bit vague, but rather than laughing at the predictions I was making from Don’s oblivious actions, I was hoping that I wasn’t right. Don’t think I didn’t enjoy it, I really did, just don’t think it will be as carefree as the Rosie Project.

Hopefully this will still encourage people to read all these – or try earlier books in each series. I’m not sure what I’ve got to read next. Most of our books are in boxes as we construct some new shelving for them all so I suspect I’ll wait for a bit and then uncover hundreds more I’d forgotten about when we fill the new shelves!

Journal Clubs feat. Biscuits

rED slideWhen Ben Goldacre mentioned Journal Clubs in his keynote speech at researchED 2013, my husband Howard, who works for the NHS, became very enthusiastic about the opportunity for me to introduce something like that at my school. Journal Club became part of my pitch to become Research Lead and I’ve had a series of regular meetings that are gaining support.

After Sam Sims’ theory based presentation at the September national researchED conference, I wondered whether a more practical session would have a place. The December Leads Network day confirmed that it might and I realised that if I was going to make the suggestion, I’d better be prepared to do it myself. That is how I ended up running a Journal Club with a bunch of Research Leads and other interested parties at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.

2015-03-14 13.19.09

Most of the session was given to the discussion of a paper as practical experience of taking part in a Journal Club.  I used my brief presentation to outline a few basics and how I run my club in school. Along with some additional points that came from talking with people afterwards, that’s what I’ll outline here. If you fancy looking at the presentation, it’s here – researchEd Journal Club

What is a Journal Club?

A journal club is essentially a book club for reading research. Widely used in medical settings, journal clubs form part of professional training and CPD for more senior members of staff. This is an informal and social way to discuss new research that may otherwise sit unread after publication, keeps practitioners up to date and acts as an opportunity to develop critical analysis skills.

Why start a Journal Club?

A significant theme at the December Leads’ Network was about how we can familiarise staff in school with research. I think journal clubs are a great way to start engaging with research, facilitate evidence based practice and get people used to how it all looks in its raw form. It may not be that everyone has the time to hunt down research papers, but having the chance to develop skills that mean they have the choice can be valuable. This is especially the case where staff have studied subjects where research in this format isn’t touched.

Journal clubs are a way for staff to keep up to date, improve morale and network in ways they might not during a normal school day. In addition to this, you don’t need to have a large number of people to start off, so unlike some other routes into research engagement, you can adapt your club to meet the needs of your members and timetable.

Who is Journal Club for?

I’m a firm believer that journal clubs are for staff at all levels and across the whole school. I have members from leadership to TA and everyone contributes to our meetings. I’m lucky enough that our school is small enough that if they wanted, we could probably accommodate everyone if they chose to come, but I realise that this isn’t necessarily practical for everyone. I think there’s the opportunity for clubs in a range of settings –  key stage, department, around a particular school focus, within a group of schools (federation/ teaching school alliance etc.), and I also suggested that it might be useful as part of the ‘expert input’ element of Lesson Study.

If you’re more confident in working with research, Dr Gary Jones (@DrGaryJones) has written more information about critical analysis and evidence based practice in a series of blog posts, including introducing journal clubs. To be honest, the way we run journal club is very similar to some INSET activities I’ve taken part in; given some information and asked to evaluate its worth and whether we could apply it in school. Those were attended by all staff, journal club can be too!

How to run a Journal Club

Space and time is something to think about, and not just in a Timelord way. Finding somewhere with room for everyone and not picking a Monday or Friday afternoon is my advice. In my experience, illness, unexpected meetings, detentions, will all get in the way at some point and you just have to keep going. I’ve seen varying advice about how often to hold a meeting. I’m trying to go for one a month at the moment. Some have been closer together than others, but I think if you could only manage one a half term, that would be great. Definitions of a successful journal club being 50% of staff, weekly for more than two years are perhaps a bit ambitious, but go for it if you want!

There are various ways you can find something to read in your club. I’ll write about access in more detail further down, but one of the joys of journal club is that you can go for anything. I have so far gone with a variety of different topics in our’s. We all work across a 7-16 school and work with a primary model (one teacher to a class for most subjects). This means we can look at maths, behaviour, literacy, PE and keep everyone interested. You may want to select a theme to build a knowledge base, or fit a department. It’s completely up to you.

A crucial rule for our journal club meetings is that they are NOT a policy meeting. If we think something we’re looking at is worth trying out, we need a separate meeting for that. This means we keep to the task of analysing the text and don’t get bogged down in the details of how we’ll get it going in school before we’ve even decided if the evidence is strong enough.

You need to have a designated leader or facilitator for your club. Someone to keep up the enthusiasm, send out reminders, provide access to the chosen paper, write a summary of the paper (bit more detail than the abstract), and keep your discussion on track. This is also the person who needs to provide the biscuits. You will learn to appreciate the importance of the biscuits.

fingersStructure of a meeting

  • Biscuits (I have actual evidence for this).
  • Read out summary of paper to familiarise everyone with key points.
  • Discuss and analyse paper – use guide questions to keep on track.
  • Pick next paper (I tend to choose two abstracts and print them on different coloured paper for easy reference).
  • Disseminate notes (I type up our notes and whack them on the shared drive).

Things that might go wrong

  • People think it’ll be too hard
  • No one reads the paper
  • No one turns up
  • Too many people turn up
  • No one wants to go home
  • You forget the biscuits

The only one I’ve not had is the bit about too many people. The important thing is that it really can be for everyone and keep plugging away. There is always the Co-Op for emergency biscuits.

Access to Research

Types of research

  • Academic papers
  • Blog posts
  • researchEd briefings
  • Self published

The joy of journal clubs is that you can use anything you like. If you were conducting a formal literature review then you’d have to worry about things like bias etc. With a journal club, this actually gives you something to discuss. Briefings and blog posts are a great place to start, but a quick warning, they tend to be written in a more balanced way so they might not be as easy to argue for/against.

Where to find it

  • Open access – will stay available
  • Free access – available as part of a promotion probably, limited time
  • Subscription/ Membership – often a cheaper way of subscribing to a single journal

There are lots of ways to find things to read for free (links below). Increasing amounts of research funded by the Research Councils UK is being made available as open access. There is a timetable for this to reach 100% eventually. Education Arena‘s promotions are a wonder for Journal Club so have a look there.

Links

researchEd Journal Club

Effects of an emotional literacy intervention for students identified with bullying behaviour. (Knowler & Frederickson, 2013)

I picked this as an Open Access paper that people could look at in advance. It covered a topic that was fairly wide-reaching, had a few statistics but was suitable for all levels and was hopefully a relevant place to start.

  • Pre-read paper
  • Read out summary – rED summary
  • Discuss using sheet to guide/ questions on screen – rED record sheet
  • Decide on ‘next’ article
  • Feedback
  • Biscuits

Things to think about

  • What type of literature?
  • What are the hypotheses based on?
  • What is being claimed?
  • Are the claims supported?
  • Agree/Disagree
  • Contradictions/ Competing hypotheses
  • Ethical issues/ bias
  • Relevance to own setting
  • Further research/ changes

It seemed like the people who attended got something out of the practical experience and had lunch not been on the horizon I think the discussions could’ve carried on for longer. There were some interesting comments around peer-nomination and the ethics of labeling pupils as bullies, and I know there was much more mentioned than this! Perhaps there is room on the researchED forum for something journal clubby? I enjoyed putting myself out of my comfort zone for a bit and would love to do it again, so who knows, maybe I will.

References

The basic concept of journal clubs is fairly straight forward – read paper; discuss. There is a wealth of research on journal clubs in medical settings and some of the ones I’ve looked at are here. Most importantly, of course, evidence in favour of biscuits.

Alguire, PC (1998) ‘A review of journal clubs in postgraduate medical education.’ Journal of General Internal Medicine 13(5), 347-53

Denehy, J. (2004) ‘Starting a Journal Club’ The Journal of School Nursing 20(4), 187-188

Golde, C. M. (2007) Signature Pedagogies in Doctoral Education: Are They Adaptable for the Preparation of Education Researchers? Educational Researcher 36(6), 344-351

Linzer, M. (1987) ‘The journal club and medical education: over one hundred years of unrecorded history’ Postgraduate Medical Journal 63, 475-478

Mazuryk M, Daeninck P, Neumann CM and Bruera E (2002) ‘Daily journal club: an education tool in palliative care.’ Palliative Medicine 16(1), 57-61

**BISCUIT ALERT**

Sidorov, J. (1995) ‘How are internal medicine residency journal clubs organized, and what makes them successful?’ Archives of Internal Medicine. 155(11), 1193-1197

 

Blind Dating Books – Staff Style

I wrote about the Blind Date With A Book day I organised at school last year, and briefly that we also did the same for staff. Over the past year I have read several books from the staff list – some of which I would have chosen to or were already on my pile waiting to be read, and some that I don’t think I would’ve gone near. No point in telling the kids to broaden their reading horizons if we don’t give it a go ourselves eh?!

The basic set up for this was everyone suggesting a book and everyone picking one blindly. We’ve created a small library in the staffroom and we’ve continued to exchange and read them. I’m not sure how many people take part now, but there’s an obvious coming and going of books so I know it’s not just me.

The full list is here in glorious pdf form.

These are ones I’d already read and I would recommend them all if you fancy giving them a go:

  • The Men Who Stare At Goats by Jon Ronson
  • Kill Your Friends by John Niven
  • To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night by Mark Haddon
  • Foreskin’s Lament by Shalom Auslander
  • Faceless Killers: An Inspector Wallander Mystery by Henning Mankell
  • American Gods by Neil Gaiman
  • Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
  • Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch
  • Stuart A Life Backwards by Alexander Masters

I suggested a couple of the books on the list as some staff couldn’t think of one. I’ve mentioned The Rivers of London series in previous posts. We like those. Foreskin’s Lament is one I read as part of the Jonathan Ross twitter book club years ago, which I enjoyed at the time and have lent to people as something they might not pick up normally and thought it was a good addition to the staff list.

The one that was my first choice suggestion was Stuart – A Life Backwards by Alexander Masters. This was lent to me by the DT teacher at work about 5 years ago. They weren’t a big reader but they’d seen half of the film by accident on tv and been so taken by the story that they bought the book. He came up to me one day and asked if I’d like to borrow it because he thought I’d like it and he really wasn’t wrong. Please, please give this one a go. Don’t judge it by the cover. The new cover looks like one of those ‘Why did you leave me Mummy’ books that run in swathes down supermarket book aisles, and whilst we’re not in the zone of judging here, I know you will and Stuart really isn’t a book like this. Really. It is a biography. It, as the title would suggest, tells Stuart’s story backwards, starting with his death and working back to his childhood. You could read Wikipedia and get the whole story, but I think it’s worth reading it and letting the story unfold. Whether it’s because Stuart reminds me of quite a few of the boys I work with, or whether it’s because of the way I came across it, I love this book and I want other people to love it too.

Books I have read from the list since 14th February 2014:

  • Perfume by Patrick Suskind
  • Case Histories by Kate Atkinson
  • Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver*
  • Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
  • The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer
  • The Blackhouse by Peter May
  • Bitten by Kelley Armstrong*
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
  • Headhunters by Jo Nesbo

When it came to picking my book I chose ‘Me Before You’ by Jojo Moyes. Now this is something I would never pick up to read. I would very much judge by the cover and this one is pink and frilly to sit beautifully in the chic-lit section and be ignored by cover-judging people like me. I read it in 24 hours. Not at all the story I expected. I fell for the characters, I didn’t want it to end, I happily recommend it. Ok. So I still don’t think I would head to the pink frilly section but I’m willing to give a recommendation a shot.

I’ve enjoyed pretty much all of the ones I’ve gone for so far* but the two I’ve really loved have been Perfume and The Blackhouse. Perfume’s been on my to-read list since I read Daniel Pennac’s ‘The Rights of The Reader’. It was great. Read that one if you haven’t. The Blackhouse was recommended by our Deputy Head. Part of a trilogy and set on the Isle of Lewis it starts with a murder and the return of an islander tasked with solving it. The book isn’t so much about solving the crime, but that the crime is the catalyst for a return to the island and reconnecting with the past. It’s brilliant. I’ve read the whole trilogy and other Peter May books since. If you don’t at least fall in love with the landscape then I don’t know what else I could suggest.

*I really tried to give these a good bash but couldn’t for the life of me get into them so I gave up (which of course is my right as a reader).

Blind dating books has turned out to be fun and has introduced me to some books I might not have chosen and hopefully done the same for some other staff too. I’ll keep ploughing through the list as they work their way back to the library and see what I can find. I heartily recommend having a go yourself. Next time you’re in a book shop or supermarket, go to the book charts and pick a book. Use the day of the month, your age, shoe size, whatever you like. Pick something up and give it a go.

 

Blind Date With A Book

table

I’ve mentioned the Blind Date With A Book event at our school a few times but I’ve put off writing about it until now because I thought if anyone was tempted to have a go themselves, it was silly to be thinking about it too far away from the sort of time you’d want to be organising it. Anyway, it’s about a year since I started planning ours properly so now’s probably the time for other people to start.

Quick background first. We were in the fortunate position that Ofsted told us we’d got too much money left in our budget and needed to get some spent (I appreciate the money aspect might be the sticking point for most people but you can still do it in some ways). Staff were asked to put in bids for specific items and having recently seen some images of Blind Date With A Book events and wondering if we could do something similar at school, I thought it would be a good opportunity to give each of the boys a book to take home. So I typed up a very official looking bid and was told to go for it.

The premise of Blind Date With A Book is that people get to pick a book without knowing what it is and get the chance to read something they might not normally go for (generally speaking I’m a believer in judging a book by its cover but I understand that we’re not supposed to do that). I’ve seen pictures of schools, bookshops and libraries going about it in a variety of ways – plain wrapping, fancy wrapping, brief descriptions on the front, clues to the book, only the scannable barcode revealed, small and big displays – all around Valentine’s Day*. I’d originally thought about just wrapping up some books in the library, but given the sudden injection of a bit of cash I went for buying an awful lot of books instead. *I also saw a Halloween one with a whole ‘Dare To Read’ theme.

bdwab

I knew that I’d need more books than boys – they’d need something to choose from. I knew I’d need a wide variety of levels of book – we’ve got pupils from 7-16 and within that, reading ages that stretch in every direction. I wasn’t too concerned with excess books as everything left over has gone in the library or classrooms, but other than that I wasn’t quite sure how it was going to work out.

I started by being completely indulgent and buying books I thought they might enjoy; books I like and recommendations from colleagues and best-seller lists. Then I moved on to bulk buying and making up the numbers like a loon. I got quite a lot of books from Scholastic. They have a good selection of all sorts – you can filter by price and age quite nicely plus there’s the bonus of earning money to spend on books for school as you’re buying. I managed to get quite a lot this way, including lots of free ones. Quite a few of our pupils are into things like Robert Muchamore’s CHERUB series and Liz Pichon’s Tom Gates books. I love these books and I’m perfectly happy that if they’re reading anything, they’re reading and this is a good thing. I did include some of these books in my haul, but I also took the opportunity to introduce things like The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, some Terry Pratchett and a bit of George Orwell.

This was about getting them to read something new, but also about getting them to actually give it a go. The most difficult books to get were ones for the kids with a much higher chronological age than reading age. They need books pitched at their interests but often they’re completely beyond them reading-wise. Amazon’s ‘Look Inside’ feature is good for helping to gauge the words, and I found some books published by Dorling Kindersley that have proved quite successful. The DK Readers books have levels (some more subtly than others) from ‘Beginning to read’ to ‘Reading alone’ and include a variety of non-fiction and brands like Lego, Star Wars and Angry Birds. One of our Year 7s with a reading age of about 5y 6m has really taken to these books now so at least something good has come from it all!

In our Key Stage Two group we have one pupil who is working at very low levels. During our whole-school 10 minutes of reading after lunch, he reads picture books with his TA. I decided that a picture book was the best option for this pupil so I got a handful and fell in love with all of them. These were my favourites:

Eleanor’s Eyebrows    The Great Dog Bottom Swap

two books

I have genuinely dragged people into Waterstones to show them how brilliant they are.

So. I had boxes of books suitable for 7-16 year olds with reading ages of ‘not’ to ‘adult’. I had the morning of Valentine’s Day to fill and I needed a logical way for 50+ boys to pick something that was at least pitched at roughly the right level.

I decided the best way to make sure they got a suitable book was to divide both the pupils (within Key Stages) and books into similar level groups and get the pupils to select books from the right group. I needed to do this in a way that wouldn’t embarrass the lower level readers and make them stand out so I decided to stick with the ‘Blind Date’ theme and get the whole school to fill in an online dating questionnaire. I didn’t sign them up to anything dodgy, I created my own simple WordPress questionnaire. I didn’t need to know what the actual results were, I’d already grouped them, but I was able to give each class a list of the pupils’ ‘results’ with which corresponded to the colour of heart I’d stuck to the front of the wrapped books. The kids happily thought their result was down to their choice of car or ice cream and none of them were singled out as low readers.

table 02

Valentine’s Day was upon us and our very enthusiastic Deputy Head decided that was needed to start the day off was a whole-school assembly, in which we would explain what was happening and also the concept of ‘Blind Date’ the TV show to the pupils. This turned into members of staff acting out a game of Blind Date as book characters and Sherlock Holmes going on a date with Miss Dixon (she turned down the Wicked Queen from Snow White and The Gruffalo). Throughout the morning each class took it in turns to visit the (beautifully decorated) library and each child picked their book. I think most of them were happy with what they’d picked. I had a couple of subtle swaps as children were upset with their choice – I wasn’t going to swap everyone’s but I did want it to be a nice event rather than a miserable one, and they asked nicely. I’m not sure if any of them did get their ‘Dream Date’, but I know at least some of them have been read and now if they’re asked by one of those national surveys if they own any books, at least they can all say yes…

I know something like this isn’t going to be possible for everyone. We’ve got a manageable number of pupils and I had the money to do it. I do think it would be something more schools could introduce to their libraries or for individual classes/ year group to do perhaps. I left it up to class teachers as to whether they followed it up with book reviews or class blogging and gave them some rewiew pro-formas, but as we broke up for half term that day, I think they all left it there. It was a lot of fun to do with the boys, especially as it fell as an end-of-half-term event and we did our own version as a staff team. My reading of 2014 was swamped with those books, but I’ll leave that one for another post.

 

ResearchEd Leads Network 2014: Part Two

Part 2: In which I talk about the SUPER Network, some CPD, and what was going to be my thoughts on the next ResearchEd Leads Network but ended up being a brief conclusion due to me waffling on for too long.

One of the things I was interested in looking into at that first ResearchEd in the hazy, drawn out summer of 2013, was the potential for links between school and universities. I had just had my first year for a while without any academic study and I wanted to find out what was out there and where I could start.

During the session with Kay Yeoman from UEA I met, sorry, networked, with the lady next to me who happened to be Bethan Morgan (@morgteach) who works for the SUPER Network. We’ve tweeted about a few things, namely access to research and she recognised me at ResearchEd 2014 as doing a lot of pub quizzes (we run one, Thursdays at the White Horse in Ruddington if you’re in the area) and she was there with the SUPER (School-University Partnership for Educational Research) Network gang on Saturday to present a session and workshop on how Universities and Research Leads can work together.

Based at the University of Cambridge, they have a number of projects with partner schools including Masters programmes, research projects, dissemination of research and seminars. They host inquiry group meetings of their Teacher Research Co-ordinators (their Research Leads) six times a year and provide critical friendship to schools. From the university’s point of view, the programme enables larger scale, collaborative research, a wide reach for their work, and helps to keep the university staff grounded and up to date with the realities of working in schools. The schools involved benefit from an increased research culture and staff are able to maintain a dialogue post-MEd.

We heard from various people involved in the network – both university and school representatives. Every one of them was incredibly enthusiastic about what the network had done for them and their professional status. There was a reading list from Ruth Pineda which I scribbled notes on but thankfully took a photo of too – reading list

and there was a reminder that research and practice should inform each other equally.

The session had a workshop style answering questions in groups part which was great (but lacked tables). The focus was on bridging the gaps between theory and practice, and school/university partnerships. Whilst we aimed to answer the questions, almost every group fed back that they had accidentally answered the questions whilst having a good chat. I have to say, that’s the bit I like most about the day – just chatting about what we’re doing in our roles with other people. I don’t think it mattered if we answered everything well enough, we were there to learn from each other and debate, and that’s what we did. I have made some initial links with one of our local universities and I think I should probably look into it again.

Another thing I think the research lead role could be of benefit for in our school is our CPD. I’m being realistic with this – I don’t plan on hurling academia at everyone and expecting to get my own way, but the way things seem to be going, I think if I make suggestions they’re at least likely to be listened to. I think useful CPD with research flavour is a good way to get it in there as a natural way of working rather than heavy handed.

Daniel Harvey had CPD at the centre of his session. He outlined how he is changing the way his school, John Henry Newman Catholic College, is transforming their CPD by introducing a programme of action research, and the up and down process he has gone through to make it a success. In small groups we were asked to answer several questions about the relationship between evidence and CPD in our own settings, including the use of ‘research partners’. I have to say, I don’t think our school is ready for this, but whether schools scout out their own partners as Daniel Harvey has, or are part of an organisation like the SUPER Network, opportunities for schools and universities to work together are good thing.

As far as using action research goes, I have mixed feelings. I quite like the idea of action research as part of being a reflective practitioner or even for trying things out in a setting in a controlled, evidenced based way, but I understand the reluctance to call it ‘research’ as there’s very little that will be transferable to other settings apart from providing catalysts of ideas. The cycle of trying out, changing, trying out, is better than doing everything at one as far as I’m concerned. I do wonder if introducing something like lesson study might be a more gentle way of getting staff involved in using evidence to change their practice that could lead to more rigorous research projects in due course. It’s easy to get carried away with ideas at a ResearchEd event as everyone there is enthusiastic and opting to spend their free time with the converted but of course not everyone in school will have research as a priority.

Actually, through all the talk of how the whole-school CDP action research programme had developed – the recognition of bad research questions, levels of participation and group dynamics; I rather thought that the most interesting and relevant piece of action research they are doing is in fact their action research. It’ll be good to see how they ingrain it into their school culture.

After all that, what am I taking away from the Leads Network? Well I could probably write another four posts on the day. The whole spirit of ResearchEd is bringing people together to find out what there is to find out and the first Leads Network was a brilliant extension of the more general conferences. I really like the idea of smaller, more focussed groups and even though the groups here ended up quite large, there were opportunities for discussion. I had wondered if having some sessions on more than once, to allow for everyone to attend but in smaller numbers might work? Maybe with tables next time though…

I think I seem to be on the right track with the Research Lead thing. I’m not quite on the scale of Skyping Harvard, but a handful of staff in my little learning pod is all coming from the same point. I might investigate the partnership thing a bit more next year but my main concern is not to rush anything. Professor Rob Coe started the day off by reminding us that there’s no evidence Research Leads work – a reminder to challenge our thinking, but also that we’re the first lot doing this on a wide scale and we’re making it up as we go along. At one point in the day I was told I was being a librarian for hunting down and saving articles for people to use. I’m quite happy for that to be part of my role at the moment. If we get to a point where access to research becomes a budget priority then that would be a wonderful thing. Maybe it will take some time, but whilst we’re getting there I think there are a lot worse things than getting together from time to time and learning from each other.

ResearchEd Leads Network 2014: Part One

Part One: In which I doubt my position and get inspired by two blokes off of Twitter.

I’ve blogged about ResearchEd before and Saturday’s Research Leads Network was an equally empowering and exhausting day as all the others. I don’t know if it’s one of those ‘end of term’ things but the further away from ResearchEd 14 we’ve got and the more stuff I’ve taken on, I get an increasing sense of ‘what the hell and I doing’ and I was really looking forward to spending time with lots of people all thinking about the same stuff.

There was a lot said on the day about how all of us in a research lead role (or thinking about it) are in new territory and no one really knows what they should be doing. I know everyone’s making this up as they go along, but I really have bullied my way into doing this. I basically prattled on without taking a breath in my support and supervision last year and was rewarded with a nominal role in the operational handbook. I didn’t particularly know what I was going to do with it, I just didn’t want anyone else to get there first. As it turns out, school (and particularly our deputy head) are being great and letting me do lots of things.

One thing that struck me on Saturday was the emphasis on how this is a leadership role. I’m doing a lot of new things, but there’s no getting away from the fact that I’m not even a senior TA – let alone a qualified teacher or on the leadership team. I’m not saying everyone’s wrong about this – it’s more that it adds to the feeling that I’m in the wrong place (or at least not being paid enough).

Alex Quigley and Carl Hendrick’s session did a lot to encourage me (even though they didn’t dance. Something about cables and dangerous break dancing). Their summaries of their respective roles included quite a few of the things I’m trying to do – albeit on a greater scale than mine.

I found the structure of Carl Hendrick’s system interesting and I suppose sort of a standard to aspire to. Having said that, I don’t think it would be for everyone but before Saturday I thought anything these guys were doing would be way out of my league and I could at best pinch some tips. Actually, what I found was that I’m already involved in quite a few things:

  • Conducting research – We’re taking part in the Closing the Gap: Test and Learn research trials with the National College of Teaching and Leadership. We’ve part of their Research Lesson Study trial and we’ve just had our second training event with Curee. As well as co-ordinating this in school I have taken on the role designed to be filled by a member of SLT which will include disseminating our work to the staff team.
  • Journal Club – I’ve started holding a semi-regular journal club at school. All are welcome, at any level and it’s been a really positive experience.
  • Links with University – I want to do more on this. I have started by signing us up to have MA students coming into school next year and attended a free event in October so far.
  • Critical friend/ Devil’s advocate – Our Deputy Head asked me to be her critical friend in the development of the ECHP transition meetings format.
  • Body of knowledge – MEd and ResearchEd for fun count as this surely?
  • Translating research – Advising colleagues where they can provide evidence to support initiatives they are running and sourcing information for them. I think there’s a good opportunity to do more of this.
  • Consulted by leadership – So far this term I have been consulted on two draft policies for our federation, the EHCP process and asked to complete a couple of follow up question sheets from staff meetings I wasn’t at.

When I write it down like that, it doesn’t seem like too bad a start.

One of my favourite parts of this role is my Journal Club. It’s bit rough and ready at the moment, but I’ve got some regular attendees and it’s them asking me about when we do the next one. It’s nothing as regular as Carl’s fortnightly literature reviews with his staff research fellows; and rather than selecting them through written application, I’m bribing with biscuits. It is my baby and it’s wonderful to see how everyone who has taken part so far has loved it. Realistically it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but everyone is invited and my personal crusade is to persuade those who are interested but think it’ll be too hard for them to give it a go.

I was pleased that neither Carl nor Alex seemed concerned about getting everyone to rush forth and conduct their own research. Facilitating this is certainly part of a Research Lead’s role, but personally, I would much rather get my school involved in large scale research projects coordinated by organisations like the EEF than worry too much about trying to squeeze any sort of reliability out of our 50 pupils. I do want to encourage people to critically evaluate their practice and if they want to do this through some sort of investigation I am happy to help. I just won’t get caught up in trying to have everyone conducting RCTs. As a few of us are venturing into Lesson Study for our CtG research I can see that this is possibly the best way to ease staff into using evidence in their everyday practice so I’m hoping that goes well.

Translation of evidence is something I’ve been very keen on doing – equally I am an annoying devil’s advocate so I think I can manage to play that part too. Hopefully the more people see that I am happy to source evidence for them, the more they’ll ask me to do it. One of the most important things I learnt during my MEd was that it’s OK to realise sometimes research is unreadable and makes no sense. So many people assume that it’ll be beyond them and if I can help by translating and summarising important and relevant information then I think that is a good use of my time.

I’m going to have a bash at the whole Devil’s Advocate thing now…

Every ResearchEd event stirs up the pain of access to research. I love access to research. I love finding interesting studies and following a trail of papers. I really miss having access through the OU – I looked into all sorts of things during my three years. A lot of people want research to be free for teachers, but someone has to pay and whilst free access would be a lovely thing, I don’t know how achievable that is. The cost of access is a big issue in the university sector with the major publishers and providers charging huge amounts of money. So much so that even universities have to be selective in their subscriptions. Even when I was studying I’d get my Dad to access some things for me, or one of the students doing some work at our school. We want to avoid a situation where the free to access research is the bits sponsored by profit making organisations or lacks peer review and I suspect in the long run, the best way to provide access is through membership of a professional body. I’ll let you fight it out about that, but I will add that it shouldn’t just be for teachers. I want access too.

The Quigley-Hendrick experience was a good way to knock me out of doubting what I’m doing. I may be in a small school with a handful of staff and pupils, but we still have to fulfil all the criteria other schools get and I’m quite convinced that what I am trying to achieve is benefitting the school. That should keep me going ‘til March anyway.

I have put together a list of some ways to access to research, free and not free, which I’ll post after this as a light break before Part Two which will feature the SUPER Network, some CPD and my thoughts on the next ResearchEd Leads Network.

Art and Tea

I’ve been part of our school’s GCSE Art department* for a couple of years now and this year I’ve got all the Year 10 and 11 groups. Me and Kev (art tutor) have developed a good routine of lessons and marking, the kids get to experiment with a vast amount of techniques and processes – a hell of a lot more than when I was at school in the olden days, and they are producing some amazing work. I know they are producing amazing work because last summer we got our best ever GCSE results. Not only did we get the best results ever in Art (A, B, C, D), we got the school’s best ever results and the school’s first grade A GCSE in anything ever. We were unbelievably proud.

*it’s pretty much just the two of us

GCSE Art 2014

My own exposure to art has increased immensely – I’ve always had an interest and we trek round galleries with the best of them, but Kev’s knowledge and passion is infectious and I’m feeling it for the better. Every now and then I’ll dabble in some arty project or other and these are happily dotted round the house. At the moment I’m filling the house with rusty teabags.

There is a definite influence of old, rusty, textured stuff in the art at school. Anselm Kiefer, Gerhard Richter, Joseph Beuys, Richard Serra, and so many more, all work their way into the boys’ projects, and during a research trawl I came across the work of Jennifer Coyne Qudeen. I fell a bit in love with her rusty tea bags and decided to have an experiment. I don’t drink tea but this hasn’t stopped me – we didn’t have any rusty washers either but we do now. Anyway. Having told a few people about my teabags, I thought the easiest way to communicate my endeavours was a quick description.

teabags 04

I started by finding some rusty stuff. We’d got the odd nail and bits of old fence in the garden but for pressing it’s better to have something flat so I bought some washers. After a bit of a mooch online I decided to get zinc plated rather than galvanised ones. The plating is thinner and it’s easier to get the washers to rust. I scuffed the surfaces up a bit and put them in with some other wet, rusty stuff Howard had rescued from burning. It didn’t take too long to get some colour going and the more I’ve used them, the better this has got.

For tea bags, I started by using the few we have for visitors and the odd one I took from hotel rooms etc. I discovered that the best ones are Twinings as they don’t have a seam at the bottom and are easy to fold out into a full sheet. I’ve experimented with different flavours including some herbal teas and there are occasional differences in the reaction of tea and rust. If I could only go with one, it’s probably Assam at the moment, but there’s not a huge difference.

The paper I’ve used is Khadi Handmade Paper. I bought it because that’s what Jennifer Coyne Qudeen shows on her blog. I got a book and A5 sheets. I do like it – it soaks the colour well but the moisture doesn’t destroy the structure. It’s nice to rip, but only on one direction, so I may try different papers once I’ve run out.

My method is fairly simple. Once I’ve got a used tea bag, I open it out and layer it on paper with the washers and any other rusty material. With another sheet of paper on top, I weigh it down with whatever I can find. Mostly recipe books, but I’ve used all sorts as long as they’re heavy.

tea bag 01

After at least 24 hours I separate the layers and leave it all to dry. The tea bags take a while to dry out, but when they’re ready I open them up and get rid of the tea (I’m sure at some point I’ll try using that too) and lo, I have lovely flat bits of fabric stained with tea and rust.

tea bags 02

It’s taken me a while to decide what I’m going to do with all these tea bags and bits of paper. I’ve bought some thread that I think compliments the different shades of tea and the blue-black marks of the rust so I think I’ll try sewing some of them together. I’ve put together some bits into a couple of arrangements but I’m going to keep having a play with them – as long as Howard doesn’t mind the growing pile of tea bags, I can keep coming back to them and trying out new things. I’ll write a part two when I do!

tea bags 03

Art isn’t up there with the biggies like English and Maths when it comes to targets, but it has an important place in what I do and in our school culture. Pupils who have never thought of themselves as ‘artists’ are achieving success and it’s really interesting to see how some of them use art as an outlet. In a school where all the pupils are boys with emotional and behavioural difficulties, a strong, macho element is ever-present. Art allows our pupils to be creative and explore cultural perspectives previously closed to them, alongside the football and the motor engineering. Our ‘A’ grade promised us before left school that he’d visit Venice one day and send us a postcard. We’re holding out hope.


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