When 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.
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.
- 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.
- My list of free and not-quite-free ways to get research – https://impressionthatiget.wordpress.com/2014/12/15/access-to-research/
- researchEd – http://www.workingoutwhatworks.com/en-GB/Magazine/2015/2/Accessing_education_research
- SUPER Blog – https://schooluniversitypartnership.wordpress.com/access-to-research/
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
Things to think about
- What type of literature?
- What are the hypotheses based on?
- What is being claimed?
- Are the claims supported?
- 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.
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
Sidorov, J. (1995) ‘How are internal medicine residency journal clubs organized, and what makes them successful?’ Archives of Internal Medicine. 155(11), 1193-1197