I’ve had a couple of interesting conversations recently about the reliability of ‘old’ research and whether it has some sort of ‘use by date’.
It is of course reasonable to be wary of over-relying on research that was published decades ago, and taking note of age when reviewing evidence is important, but it shouldn’t be a case of dismissing something because it’s been around for a long time if the points are still relevant. Fads come and go but that’s perhaps even more reason to look back at older research – new ideas quite often aren’t new at all. People use examples like ‘Would you trust your doctor if they prescribed using leeches?’ – maybe not for everything, but there are quite a few situations where leeches are still used in medicine today.
Should ‘good’ research be repeated to keep it fresh? Even if nothing new is being done? When this does happen, a quick look at the references and all the previous papers by the author/s are usually still there – of course there are likely to be a few changes but the general take-away messages remain the same and then the work is criticised for re-hashing the old stuff for the sake of it. We hear arguments that research needs to be repeated and ideas challenged as we learn more about how we can improve teaching but as soon as someone writes about a ‘debunked’ idea there are criticisms in the opposite direction.
For example, I’ve seen enough evidence from people I respect to believe that there is no mileage in the concept of individual learning styles but if those same people present evidence that has changed their minds (as solid as that would have to be) I would of course have to reconsider my own position. That’s a provocative example of course but my point is there – we can’t criticise research simply because it’s testing something we think is long-disproved – we need to criticise the research itself.
As research increasingly finds its place in schools, with different staff at different levels of engagement, it’s important to stress the need to develop critical evaluation skills. The role of research lead includes helping people to come at research from all angles – treading round popular ideas of the moment, being critical but not dismissive in the face personal bias. We need to be careful with new research that simply repeats itself rather than challenging ideas and be aware that not everyone has heard all the evidence around each theory – however much we think it’s been discussed to death.
Those of us who have heard all the arguments to the point of fatigue need to make sure we use and develop our own critical eyes too and remember how easy it is to run about in the echo-chamber. As we focus on how we help our colleagues we can’t forget to challenge ourselves. As long as we are aware that the age of a piece of research may limit its value to our work then we’re a step ahead, but maybe it’s more ‘best before’ than ‘use by’. When it comes to it, we don’t have access to everything we need to make a fully informed decision and we need to trust what experts say. If I’m honest, whilst it doesn’t sound overly pleasant to be treated by leech I would have to trust that the doctor knew what they were on about, and that some older ideas have a place.
The role for technology in education, and the impact technology has on children generally, is a thoroughly embedded topic for debate. I’m sure if twitter had been around at its inception, the Casio Databank would’ve been the topic for a whole half-term’s Edutwitter ‘civilised’ discussion but there is an understandable increase in these sorts of conversations as we try to keep up.
The latest story to hit the tech-debate radar is this one in the Toronto Star reporting that grade 7 and 8 students at Earl Grey Senior Public School are to have restricted access to their mobile phones during lessons. Now, I work in a school where the pupils have always handed everything in when they get to school – even before mobile phones were commonplace – so I’ve not really noticed the rise in personal tech use in classroom in perhaps the same way as other schools, but it still seems odd that this sort of ban (and not even for all year groups) would be newsworthy.
Screen-use in the classroom is becoming increasingly ubiquitous, so what concerns should we have with this? Carl Hendrick recently blogged about why the Internet should be kept out of the classroom, citing a 2016 study (Ravizza et al) looking at how university students use laptops in class reported the relationship between classroom performance and internet usage. They found that ‘nonacademic Internet use was common among students who brought laptops to class and was inversely related to class performance’. A recently published Japanese study (Kawahara and Ito, 2017) looked at the ‘Effect of the Presence of a Mobile Phone during a Spatial Visual Search’ and found that even without using it, the mere presence of a mobile phone can adversely affect cognitive performance. This offers an opportunity for us to look at the impact of classroom technology and how schools can use classroom technology in a balanced way.
In response to an open letter published in December 2016 over concerns about children’s ‘screen-based’ lifestyles, a second letter quickly responded, calling for ‘quality research and evidence to support these claims and inform any policy discussion’. Whilst worries over increasingly sedentary lifestyles and mental health issues are understandable, the letter argues that there is little evidence to support the concerns in the initial letter and encourages the government and research bodies to invest in well-founded guidelines.
The evidence around the benefits and disadvantages of technology for children is ever-changing. In 2015 the American Academy of Paediatrics reviewed their guidelines for early childhood screen time, mostly based on old research into television time, which previously recommended that children under two should stay away from screen media. They have now provided more evidence-based guidance as to how children should use screens, including for unstructured play and the positives of video chatting with distant relatives.
At our school a decision was reached several years ago to provide each pupil with their own laptop to use in school. As we started to expand we found our ICT suite with 6 laptops wasn’t enough for 30 pupils and they were getting damaged etc so we started to roll out laptops and now we have 1:1 from KS2-4. Pupils use these within all lessons – we run KS2/3 on a mostly primary model of class teacher teaching most subjects with some specialist teachers/swapping (KS4 is more specialist). Laptops move with the pupil throughout day/years – it’s easier to track use and damage etc. Obviously (perhaps) laptops aren’t used in every lesson but they are used a lot. They are also used during some reward times and some break times (probably why online games are still accessible).
Certain websites are blocked from use like social media/YouTube/keywords and as websites appear that we want to block (YTPak as a YouTube substitute for instance) we can inform our blocking people (although I did find recently that I wasn’t able to access websites using the word ‘edge’ in the URL. This was an issue as I was trying to look at the knowledge organiser blogs and ‘knowledge’ was banned). We also use software for managing and monitoring what the pupils are using live. Teachers can view (and control) pupil laptops which is useful for both instances of inappropriate pupil activity and in-lesson sharing of work on the IWB. If pupils are using the computers inappropriately then we have reward/sanction systems that are used.
Clearly this is different to other types of screen use in the classroom but I do have concerns that we, staff and pupils, can be over-reliant on the laptops. Whether that means a reduction in the amount of handwriting pupils do, ‘lazy’ internet research (we’ve all heard amusing tales of Wikipedia regurgitation), or a slightly more concerning impact on processing information as described by Mueller and Oppenheimer (2014) looking at laptop vs written note-taking by university students. Our pupils don’t take a huge amount of notes in lessons, but if we over rely on using the laptops when they do, the chances are we’re denying them the opportunity to process the information in a meaningful way.
Even if we can’t do much about what they do at home, we have a lot of control over how much technology pupils use in the classroom. There are some great resources out there and the deeper debate over this is perhaps for another day, but how much of school-tech is driven by what staff quite fancy having a play around with over the genuine benefits in the classroom? It’s almost becoming a cliché to ask whether the 1:1 iPads are essential or could you do it another way and save thousands of pounds (seems old but I had this conversation a fortnight ago). In a desire for an easy ride, doing something different’, squeezing in some of those illusive ’21st Century Skills’, is it actually more revolutionary to go without?
More robust research will hopefully lead to better guidelines, but we need to use our professional common sense as well. We’ll never be completely on top of it but we do have some control over our classrooms and probably just as well because with last month’s speculation that Apple are set to introduce a ‘cinema mode’ for iPhones, it seems like it soon won’t be single screen-use we’ll be discussing, but perhaps multi-screen use as well.
The other day I was going through some possible reading materials for upcoming journal clubs and came across this in this (pdf):
The next day I was asked why I’d even consider looking at a paper from a computer science conference as a journal club text. I didn’t see this as a negative thing and I replied saying it was a case study of iPad use in primary (which the I assume satisfied as it was followed by the customary ‘like’), but it does throw up interesting questions about the types of reading we should be looking at in education journal clubs. My own stance is that the reading/s are used as a stimulus for conversation – this can be everything from discussing the ins and outs of current research in detail, to debating a wider topic (in this case I was thinking it might be interesting to compare how iPad technology was first introduced with how it is now), but I wonder how many people think we should only be looking at ‘perfect’, purely educational research?
The recent opening of Chartered Collage of Teaching membership, particularly with its free access to 2000+ journals has excited many on my timeline. I’ve got my own jealousy that I can’t join in with that part but it seems to have worked to change a few people’s minds and soon after the announcement I saw tweets suggesting people are wiling to join just for the access. I do have some misgivings about how useful journal access in itself will be but I think (presume) there will be different benefits of membership for those who aren’t interested in journals so I know it’s not all about that.
The way people use research in education is a recurring topic for debate and recently renewed. If teachers are thinking they’ll be able to search for papers that tell them ‘x is good, y is bad’, the chances are they won’t (and if they do then I think they should be cautious). I still believe that most people won’t have time to look for information in detail and if they do have time, wading through what’s out there can be hard and end up with cherry picking and sweeping assumptions. My choice of papers for journal clubs won’t always be a shining beacon of quality educational research or perfectly relatable to what we’re looking at in school (with or without access) but that’s an important part of the discussions we need to have.
I think the role of Research Lead now has an even greater chance to be pivotal in helping to translate research and point colleagues in the right direction. Journal club discussions can help with this of course and allow people to dip their toes in; but even for more rigorous investigation, knowledge translation is going to be important. I’ve delved into the world of Knowledge Mobilisation for various things recently and I’m convinced that there are exciting directions this can go in, whether that’s research summaries, brokering or bespoke investigations.
Increased access to research will be great for sharing original sources and following up of ideas. It will be used by some for deep academic study and inevitably by others to try and find a quick fix, tick-the-research-informed-box activity. It’s a brilliant opportunity for teachers but it’s also an opportunity to put guidance in place so that everyone can really make the most of it. I think it’s important we remember that just because something isn’t presented as ‘education research’ it doesn’t mean we can’t call it out for saying touching a screen with more than one finger is a ‘natural means of input’ and that this will motivate students, and recognising that something isn’t perfect is good for us too. In fact, I’d argue that’s exactly what we should be doing with our widening engagement with research.
For me, as I don’t suspect I’m going to have access to thousands of journals any time soon, I’ll just have to continue using the wealth of open and free access articles for starting discussions and helping focus ideas.
So one minute you’re planning which cheap package holiday to book for half term and the next you’re flippantly replying to a tweet about an educational research conference in Washington DC. ‘Do they want to know about Journal Clubs?’ you ask. ‘Keep going…’ comes the reply.
So Portugal turned into Washington DC, and a tour of a local church turned into a tour of the White House. There are a lot of people who have done a lot of unexpected things because of researchED, but walking round the White House is pretty epic even by rED standards. It came at the end of a fairly intense week as we decided we’d go to New York for a few days before DC and it essentially turned into 7 days straight of open-topped bus tours which is hard-core even for us. To be honest, one of the reasons it’s taken me so long to write about it is that I’ve not quite come down from the whirlwind. The downside of this is that now I’ve had more time to process it, I’ve got so much more to say.
Other people have written about some of the sessions I went to like Kate Walsh’s and Ben Riley’s, and they’ve covered Dylan Wiliam’s brilliant keynote in varying amounts of detail so I won’t repeat that, however I did love that some of his themes were picked up throughout the day and this made for a unifying thread among some challenging ideas.
My favourite session by far was Ruth Nield‘s session on ‘Researcher-Practitioner Partnerships’. One of the reasons it’s taken me so long to write about #rEDWash is the amount of time I’ve spent looking through and getting sucked into her links – there’s some brilliant stuff out there! I went to this session partly because of a project that I’ve been working on with the School of Education at the University of Nottingham around collaborations between schools and researchers and I’m always up for new ideas (‘What Matters‘ – I’ll probably write about another time), and also to hear more about the wider picture of research use in schools in America. The day before we had been hosted by The Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning at St Andrews Episcopal School for lunch and one of the questions they were asking us was about how to widen the scope of education research in American settings. I got the impression that there are lots of pockets of activity and it’s a question of how these can come together – perhaps easier with the smaller scale of the UK – but also the more limited use of social media with practitioners in the US.
Turns out there’s quite a bit of stuff going on with the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) (apologies if I get muddled with this, I wrote my notes furiously and interpreting my special shorthand a week later is proving awkward). Ruth set out the different strands of work they are doing and it sounds amazing – if the College of Teaching wants research to be at its core then they could do worse than looking at what’s going on here; the US may be behind in regards to practitioner involvement with research, but it’s all there for the taking. Their work is independent and covers a range of practical approaches, much more than just RCTs.
She started by discussing the value of education research, the disconnect between schools and researchers (something we’re all familiar with) and how their researcher-practitioner partnerships (RRP) are aiming to address this. Researchers and practitioners work together over time to co-construct agendas of work for mutual benefit. This allows them to work on research that is more relevant and hopefully more likely to inform practice; they are able to form long-term working relationships and both sides can develop professionally. To support these partnerships (which can be in cities, states, cross-state, cross-district) they have Regional Education Laboratories (REL) working with”Research Alliances” of education practitioners and policymakers. They identify areas of need and work together to analyse data and conduct research to develop and test strategies. The IES provides seed-grants of around $400,000 to develop projects for which they can go on to apply for further funding if required. Projects mentioned included one that created software to track progress and now has a national audience.
In addition to the RELs, the IES has the What Works Clearinghouse (how had I not seen this before?) which ‘reviews the existing research on different programs, products, practices, and policies in education’ and hosts intervention reports, reviews of individual studies and a series of practice guides that they are now seeing schools adapt and use for their setting. Tom Bennett came in to the session towards the end and drew similarities to the EEF in the UK; this is so much more than that; it’s sort of like a cross between the EEF Toolkit and the Literacy intervention review Tom Sherrington talked about at rED15, but it’s nicer to look at with simple infographics (including a lovely representation/summary of the setting for each intervention). You can see effectiveness, improvement, and my favourite bit – you can compare interventions. Something that really impressed me was that all their reports go through peer review before they are released (see picture for questions). Ruth was clear to point out that they aren’t just interested in the ‘gold standard’ of research – they publish a cross-section of work, summaries and of course RCTs.
On top of all this they have ERIC – the Education Resources Information Center. I did know about this one and they’ve recently changed the website to be a bit more easy to use. ERIC is a digital library of education research and other information – in their words ‘ERIC’s mission is to provide a comprehensive, easy-to-use, searchable Internet-based bibliographic and full-text database of education research and information for educators, researchers, and the general public.’. How can we not be excited about this? Perfect for Journal Clubs too…
One of the issues the IES, and research engagement in US schools generally, seems to have is with ‘reach’ and I asked how they get their message out to schools. They use social media, professional associations and each REL has a governing board with regional commissioning officers that work in their localities. I’m sure there could be more. I was already following one of the IES twitter accounts and have since followed more, but when I look at how many followers these accounts have or how many RTs/Likes the posts have they are no where near the amount that similar UK accounts have. This is a bigger issue than the IES of course; one of the things that stood out to me and others was the low number of classroom teachers at rEDWash in comparison to the UK events. I’m certain that if more teachers engaged with this work, the impact could be massive. I don’t know that I have any answers to the questions this throws up, but I’m sure researchED has a part to play.
There’s so much I’ve not written about yet, just with Ruth Nield’s session, and I’m at a ludicrous amount of words already. I’ve not talked about my session, the people we met, the pub, what’s next for me and research. This has been an amazing, crazy week and I’ve thought about researchED a lot – as always it’s about keeping up the momentum and sharing ideas. I’ll have a think and write about it more next.
A theory I’ve had at the back of my mind for a while now is that there’s an emerging ‘2nd Generation’ of researchED goers. I’ve increasingly found that discussing the day with people I’ve now spent time with (both during conference and in pub afterwards) at several events is quite different from some of the conversations I’ve had throughout the day with people who were just starting to engage with researchED.
When researchED began in 2013, no one knew quite what it would be like but it looked like it’d be a good day out. I’d had a year without studying and I was eager to see how I could keep my foot in with all the research stuff I’d slaved over for three years. On the day there were people you recognised, a wide variety of sessions to attend, and there was nothing to lose. It was grass-roots – but not yet a movement. I felt the same way I did after my first MEd tutorial – there were all these people interested in the same things and I wanted to do it again. I scribbled notes for my first blog post as we drove back up the M1 towards home, and so did other people. I wasn’t the only one who wanted to do it again – there was a hunger for more. We all took different things away from the day but we’d gone along to take part and be part of that day.
There was a rhetoric at the first couple of Research Leads events that centered on the need for head teachers and leaders to have a ‘vision’. The vision to drive their institution forward and properly engage with research on a whole-school level or it ‘wouldn’t work’. The message seemed to have shifted from engaging individuals, to ‘how do we familiarise people with research’, to the requirement for a ‘whole school vision’. I don’t think anything is wrong with this. I agree leadership need to be on board of course, but I think there is now a group of people who have skipped the first bit and are aiming for the last. They may have been sent to a researchED event by their Head in order to bring back the magic bullet, or be that Head looking for ideas. They want to know how it’s all supposed to work in practice; where the common ground lies between schools and what the bigger picture is; what the point is. The theory sounds great but it’s turning into a big job.
At one of the events Tom Bennett made a comment about whether researchED was the new Brain Gym yet. There does seem to be a reflexive reaction to the growing interest in research in schools, “that looks good, we’ll try that, Ofsted will love it”, throwing everything into ‘research’ without stopping to think about what it means and what will work for your individual setting – perhaps heightened by Research and Development as one of the ‘Big Six’ key areas of focus for Teaching Schools. I’m part of it myself I suppose. I asked for the Research Lead role because I didn’t want anyone else to get it. I’m still happily moving along, picking up ideas and things to try out. I’m in a different situation to a lot of people though; our school is small and think there are quite a few things that aren’t suited to us so I’m not so worried about figuring out how we’ll fit it in. I’m happy to cherry pick and try to work out what we can try whilst I continue to meet with interesting people and build connections for us.
Jude Enright used Pasteur’s Quadrant model of scientific research in her session in Cambridge. Our group discussion about where the Research Lead lies within the quadrant was interesting. We pretty much decided that we can flit from place to place depending on what we are engaging with. I like to think that even though I’ve got a responsibility as Research Lead to consider how research is relevant and used, I can also delve into research for the sake of it; it’s like the indulgent me-time of research. As Research Leads I think a lot of our work is helping others find their quadrant and supporting them. Be that individually, as a whole school or perhaps as part of a TSA. I understand that schools don’t want to be left behind, and I really understand the need to be part of this – it doesn’t mean it has to be about finding ‘the answer’ all the time though. People can be nominated to do the role but there needs to be an element of personal interest.
I know the Leads events are more focused on what we can actually bring back to do in schools, the national conference has a broader scope and I’m glad it has continued to be that way. One of the best things about researchED is that it’s a hobby; I’ve seen people at teachmeets getting a bit haughty about research – feeling like they’ve got to question things for the sake of it. It turns people off and spoils it. A speech from Tom Bennett is never complete without astonishment that so many people are giving up their Saturday to attend. We’re doing it for fun, it’s enriching but it doesn’t feel like we’re at work. At least that’s how I see it.
My advice to the 2nd Generation, for what it’s worth, is you don’t need to worry about rushing to find the answers. Take the opportunity to see what other people are achieving and think about how you can adapt it to fit. That’s part of working our what works, right?
I’m annoyed by how long it’s taken me to write about researchED 2016 this year. After a weekend spent absorbing so many ideas and then hurtling back into the working week, I think it’s taken me longer to process. I want to write about it properly but I’m still buzzing from it all and can’t quite order my thoughts so apologies if it’s all over the place.
This year looks like it’s going to be an interesting one for me researchED wise and this was a brilliant way to kick it off. The national conference is now firmly in the education calendar – with all the advantages of securing brilliant speakers and having a press presence. It’s also great to have the buzz of the run up and see so many people again (if not nearly for long enough in so many cases). The flip-side of this of course is that there is a core of familiar faces and we need to be careful not to become too cliquey; it’s easy to forget that not everyone knows what’s going on. I also had a couple of conversations where people seemed a bit disappointed with the session they went to and I think it’s really important to remember that at the heart of researchED is an ethos of everyone being able to share with each other. That means polished speakers that forgo their usual fee and it means nervous teachers quite prepared for 30 Year 9s but terrified of 15 adults. Not everyone will be polished but it’s amazing that everyone wants to share and connect.
I had no particular method of picking my sessions this year and part of me wishes I hadn’t looked through the rED16 feed afterwards because I saw tweets about sessions I hadn’t even spotted in the programme. This is what I saw this time:
- Laura McInerney – Perfectionism
- Becky Allen et al – How to win the argument against opening new grammar schools
- Stuart Kime – Assessment: the unclaimed prize of learning
- Pedro de Bruckyere – Some basic ingredients for an effective education
- Sean Harford interviewed by Andrew Old
- Tim Leunig – How ministers make decisions when evidence matters
- Paul Kirschner – Urban legends in education: What does the research say?
I’m not going to go through each of them, but it’s worth highlighting a few bits from the day.
The first session with Laura McInerney (when I found it) was probably the one that was most personal to me. Laura explored the relationship between perfectionism and performance anxiety in teachers and how that impacts on retention. Looking at the links between type of person who becomes a teacher alongside how people act when under pressure, Laura focused on seeking approval and worrying about mistakes – connecting to this idea of ‘teaching fright’. She suggested that one of the reasons other roles that require dealing with people or performing don’t have the same issues with staff retention is that they are not asked to ‘perform’ for so many people, for such a length of time and repeatedly. It certainly hit the nail on the head as to why I don’t want to teach (and probably why I like working in a small school). The important things to take from this are that we need to work out who is likely to suffer from this anxiety, when, and how we can prevent it. Whilst it’s not going to be the only reason people leave the profession, it might go some way to helping those who do.
Understandably there was a noticeable undercurrent around the topic of grammar schools throughout the day and the session led by Becky Allen was all about this. I have never seen so many of the voices in education be so united against something as they are with the grammar schools proposal. Having spent so long pushing the message of evidence based/informed/led practice in education, for something that flies in the face of available evidence it’s understandable that people are cross (particularly as part of researchED). There are a lot of differences of opinion in education – probably magnified by Twitter, but the atmosphere was infectious.
On a similar note, Tim Leunig’s session on ‘How ministers make decisions when evidence matters’ was fabulous. I could listen to him all day I think. Not saying I was agreeing with everything he said, but definitely one worth looking at the video of. All the available videos and presentations are on the researchED website.
So now I need to use all this to get some stuff done. I’ve spent the past few rEDs with getting ideas for Relay in the back of my mind and wasn’t quite so worried about that this time. However there are a few bits I’ll write about and, for me, the evidence is clear that grammar schools are not the answer to our problems with education and the best way to stop this happening is to let people know. I’ve realised that surely one of the reasons for school to have me as Research Lead is that I can collate and translate all the information on this and encourage staff to respond to the consultation. I was going to do something in the next issue of Relay but I think there might be a bit too much information so I’ll see if I need to think of something else too. I’ve never written directly about researchED in Relay. Not sure whether that’s because I want to avoid bias towards my own interests or, as I remembered this week, it’s really tricky to talk about without sounding like you’re name-dropping! Mulling the idea of a ‘Research Special’ so who knows.
Finally, Howard seemed to have a good rED16 too and entertained himself by creating all sorts of interactive statistical analyses of the #rED16 hashtag. You can find these here: http://benchheaven.co.uk/rED16/
Next stop Washington…
I’ve not seen many blog posts about rEDYork and to be honest as I’ve not got anything down for a week I did wonder if it was worth it, but I quite often use these sorts of posts for my own reference so I’ll go for it.
It’s been an unusually long time since I went to a researchED event – well, September, but that feels like a long time especially with the frequency of rED events popping up around the globe. It’s felt like a slightly slower year generally researchwise for me too I suppose, but this looks like it’s picking up with a few bits and bobs on the horizon.
This was the second researchED event at Huntington School in York, the first I’ve been to. A much nicer balance of Research Lead focus and ‘things people have tried’ I think, and it sets it out as different to the national event. I had the usual dilemma of what to see and I realise I now have the added conundrum of whether to see things that catch my eye or things I think might make for a good piece in Relay (the Learning and Development bulletin I diligently churn out every half term with no idea how many people are reading it). I pretty much went with catching my eye I reckon. Here’s the list anyway:
- Keynotes: Estelle Morris and Philippa Cordingly
- Leon Walker et al: ‘How RISE helped develop an enquiry-based approach to curriculum development’
- Gary Jones: ‘What would a curriculum to develop evidence-based practitioners look like?’
- Lisa Pettifer: ‘Teacher-led professional learning’
- Carol Davenport: ‘Unconscious bias in the classroom’
- Alex Quigley: ’10 things a busy teacher needs to know about research evidence’
It was the sort of day I’ve become familiar with and was starting to miss. It was good to see some familiar faces and meet some new ones, with interesting conversations as standard. Not going to describe each and every moment but I’ll pick out some bits that have particularly stuck with me throughout this week.
It was great to hear about how the RISE project is going down at Meols Cop Hight School. Realising that the job of leading things was too big for one person (and having responsibility for the school timetable), Leon Walker has passed on some of the responsibility to subject leaders and we heard what was being done in English, Maths and Science. The one that caught me here was Jen Filson talking about their Maths trial based on a research paper she was given. I did pinch this as an idea for Relay so if you’re interested you can read a summary here (pdf), but it was a brilliant example of taking an idea from research and using it to spark something, and having the opportunity to do so. My absolutely favourite thing from the day was slipped in at the end by Leon who revealed in the list of things they’re doing next year that in his timetabling duties has pre-set parallel groups into the structure of the school in order to make enquiry easier. Blowing my mind timetable style.
It’s worth a bit of detail on Lisa Pettifer’s session. I almost didn’t go to it because I’d forgotten what I’d circled earlier and was getting swept away with the dining room crowd – glad I did go, she’s a guddun this one. Lisa talked about her role in the school’s Professional Development Department – how this sits in the school and how the school sits within their community. I loved how professional development is very much an interwoven part of school life and not an after thought (or a tick list of certifications we all need to do). I loved that there are no senior leaders in the PD team. I loved the range of opportunities they help provide. I loved the diagram of their PD model (I got to scribble it in my notes and I took a photo with my shoddy phone camera. Bonus points if you can make it out*). I really loved that they were taking the opportunity to bring PD in-school, achieving ‘success through collaboration’, and I would like to explore how we can get some of all this going at our school.
Last one I’ll go into detail of is Carol Davenport on ‘unconscious bias’. This started with a breakdown of the reasons we have unconscious bias and how it can be useful (don’t misjudge a tiger for the wind) as well as problematic, before focussing more on the example of gender. I think working in a school where we only have boys, we are both more guilty of bias and more aware of it. I think for us, bias towards ‘boy stuff’ is often the easier option – football breaks, superhero themes etc. and there are reasons we generalise this stuff, the majority do like it. We do try though to move beyond it and consciously provide alternatives, whether that’s in exam courses like BTEC Hospitality alongside Motor Engineering or crafty options for lesson 6. Away from the ‘gender’ biases though I think we can be biased in other ways. Our boys come from very different backgrounds to most of our staff – culturally, economically, socially. We need to be careful not to pre-judge them and avoid self-fulfilling prophecies. This is something I’m particularly aware of as I baseline new pupils for next year. All our pupils have some sort of background that looks awful on paper and we can’t afford to focus on this too much.
I’ve pretty much decided that the next issue of Relay will be a sort of research focussed issue. I’ve tried to avoid it being too ‘researchy’ and give a broader selection of things so far (I don’t really want to bias it towards myself probably), but I think there’s so much going on everywhere that it would be a good opportunity to give a round-up of a bit more.
I’m proper excited for the National Conference in September now.
*Lisa Pettifer has fabulously provided the actual diagram which is very much less blurry 🙂
I would love it if all my boys adored reading and shunned the real world as they opted to bury their heads in the pages of their imagination…
There are a few who are like this, but they’re more likely to be up until the early hours playing XBox online with some kid in America than up until the early hours reading books with a torch under the duvet. I know that’s the case with a lot of children, not just my rock-hard behavioural gang, and it’s certainly not a new issue. I’m not sure what the statistics are for the amount of books children have at home, but I do know that quite a few of ours aren’t likely to have a duvet, let alone a bookshelf, so it’s one of our priorities to give their love of literature a boost.
I work with various literacy interventions, but the most structured one I use is Catch Up Literacy (EEF project here). We’ve been running this successfully for about 8 years now and the impact on pupils who receive this intervention goes beyond learing how to read. The EEF report highlights improvements to pupil motivation and attitude to learning, as well as confidence and enjoyment – certainly something we’ve found as well. Quite often our pupils crave attention and recognition from adults, and dedicated time for 1-1 interventions gives them that. I generally have a whole lesson for a 20 minute intervention and the luxury of that extra time means I can focus on a particular target, work on other skills or look something up that they’ve been reading about. If they spot a book in the room that they’re interested in I’ll let them have a go no matter the level and give them a hand.
They’re eager to read. They see it as something mature and aspirational. They want to read about Biff and Chip because it’s safe and familiar, but they’re aiming for books with a spine and no staples because they’re ‘proper’ books (doesn’t matter whether there’s one word on a page, that spine makes a massive difference). It’s hard when they’ve got bits of knowledge. They (like many others) have been in and out of school (sometimes several) picking up the occasional topic; great with graphs, not so hot on shapes; learning about ‘igh’ but no idea what to do with ‘th’. We’re gap filling and when they think it’s too ‘baby-ish’ their enthusiasm can wane.
One of the things we use to combat this is rewards. We have a range of different reward systems throughout school and with Catch Up it’s stickers. Simple enough; each of them has a bookmark that they pop a sticker on after a session and when it’s full they get a prize and certificate. I like to think I’m fairly well versed on the ins and outs of rewards and motivation, and I know that the ultimate aim is for each and every one of them to be intrinsically motivated to participate. To be honest, most of the time they are, but that 16mm square sticker and the thought of a funky pencil at the end can be the most wonderful carrot when necessary. Intrinsic is great when they’re in a good mood, but we all need a bit of extrinsic now and again whether that’s a shiny sticker or a pay cheque.
Actually (this is the researchy bit) quite often they forget to put their sticker on, or we don’t quite keep track of how many blank squares are left, so all of a sudden we realise it’s prize day and it all gets very giddy. This of course is a great way to do rewards – my own disorganisation turns a spot of fixed ratio/fixed interval reinforcement into variable ratio/variable interval. Brilliant. Also, as a point of interest that I should probably re-investigate, when I was researching rewards and behaviour during my MEd, I found various bits of evidence that whilst extrinsic rewards/token economies don’t necessarily have the impact most teachers want, they do work with pupils with SEN. Wildly searching through old notes and a rescued hard drive, things I’ve found that may support my crazy statements are below. They may or may not be of use:
Capstick, J. (2005) ‘Pupil and Staff Perceptions of Rewards at a Pupil Referral Unit’, Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties, Vol 10. No. 2, 95-117
Hufton, N. R. and Elliot, J. G. (2004) ‘Motivation Theory and the Management of Motivation to Learn in School’ in Wearmouth, J., Richmond, R.C., Glynn, T. and Berryman, M. (eds) (2004) Understanding Pupil Behaviour in Schools: A diversity of approaches., London, David Fulton.
Witzel, B. S. and Mercer, C. D., (2003), ‘Using Rewards to Teach Students with Disabilities’. Implications for Motivation, Remedial and Special Education, Vol 24, No. 2, 88-96
So is reading its own reward? Most of the time I think it is. Sometimes things need a bit of a boost to get going and I’m happy with the system I’ve got. But what do we do on a wider scale, once we’ve taught them to read? How do we encourage them to read widely and for pleasure? Part 2 will look at some of the things that we’re trying in order to get them going.
So, I’ve done a few things research-related with our Teaching Schools Alliance now, and when I was asked if I would share my journal club work at their upcoming event ‘Using Research and Evidence for Improvement’, I was happy to. Basically I wheeled out the usual presentation and took advantage of the opportunity to hear some brilliant people talk without having to pay for the pleasure.
The event, held at the National College for Teaching & Leadership’s Learning and Conference Centre in Nottingham, was a collaboration between Transform TSA, George Spencer TSA, Minster TSA, East Midlands TSA, and The University of Nottingham. It was a chance for the TSAs to promote engagement with research and development in schools and to showcase some of the work being done across our region.
Our keynote speaker was James Richardson from the Education Endowment Foundation. For all that I’ve seen and heard about the EEF’s work at various events, I didn’t think I’d actually gone to something specifically about them and I was completely wrong. Looking back through a wealth of conference notes, I saw James Richardson at researchED Midlands in 2014. Actually, in my notes* I have scribbled the phrase ‘Research Champion’. That was the start of A LOT. Things have moved on quite a bit since 2014. The EEF Sutton Trust Toolkit is familiar to a lot more people and used in a lot more schools. The focus has changed from making people aware of their work to updating them on research that has been completed (and is being replicated) and guidance to use the toolkit in their own setting. I’ve got lots more bits to look into and lots more badgering of SLT to do. *I have also scribbled that the DIY Guide will be interactive soon. I thought that was familiar when James said it on Friday…
Mary-Alice Lloyd – Vice Principal and Director of the George Spencer Academy TSA, shared her school’s journey to becoming a research engaged school. Starting in 2005 they created a ‘drip-feed’ model of CPD in addition to their INSET and focused strongly on AfL. After evaluating their school’s level of research engagement, they introduced Teacher Learning Communities (TLC), including all staff, that meet at least ten times throughout the year and staff are able to collaborate and enquire on their practice together. Following the success of the TLCs, they set out to use the TLC approach to enable all staff to engage in classroom based research and they linked this with the new Teachers’ Standards and now, working with The University of Nottingham and Nottingham Trent University, GSA have developed a practitioner enquiry cycle that works with the TLCs. This year they have extended the enquiry model to include Lesson Study as an approach.
Providing excellent examples of school-university partnerships was Professor Qing Gu from the Centre for Research in Educational Leadership and Management in the University of Nottingham School of Education. She described the role HEIs can play in interpretation and guidance in implementing findings from research in schools, and the potential for partnerships in fulfilling the role of a critical friend. Qing went into detail about this role with a local school with a focus on the Senior Leadership Team’s role in driving forward school improvement. A report on this can be found here – http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/education/documents/research/crsc/research-projects/kten/brochures/bookletsouthwoldpr.pdf There was a lot of advice about the process of school-based enquiry and I’m pretty sure that if Qing was to make a researchED appearance it would be a wonderful thing.
Before lunch we heard from colleagues leading research projects in their schools. The first, from KYRA TSA and whose name I didn’t jot down, spoke about their experience of the Closing the Gap: Test and Learn small scale research projects. Whereas our school’s involvement was with one of the large scale projects (Research Lesson Study), many schools were trained and developed their own RCT projects. I actually went to one of these training events that was aimed at special schools and it was interesting to see what other people had done with it. Following completion of their projects, schools were given a poster template to write up their work and these were shared in a marketplace style event. It was suggested later in the day that these posters may be a good source for discussion at a journal club.
Chris West from Redhill TSA shared his experiences at trying to build enthusiasm and participation in research engagement (something many of us are familiar with). Things he has done include creating his own examples of simple research write ups, a research Teach Meet and ‘Research in 100 Words’ postcards. These (I think) are here – http://www.redhilltsa.org.uk/course/view.php?name=Research#section-3 Chris’s focus is encouraging staff involvement and setting the structures in place for this to happen.
Journal Club was after lunch (where we discovered that ‘gourmet’ pies contain either steak or gourmet…), usual drill. This was the biggest one I’ve ever done. We looked at ‘Does Being Bored Make Us More Creative?’ (Manna and Cadmana, 2014) and never have I been in a room with so many engaged people saying the word ‘boredom’. It seemed to go down well, particularly with the man next to me who was, and I quote, ‘all about this’. Oh. Biscuits = Cadburys Fingers (lots in box and slim line to fit in bag).
Last up for the day was Matilde Warren from GSA talking about their use of Lesson Study. As mentioned earlier by Mary-Alice Lloyd, staff at GSA are able to pick Lesson Study as their focus this year. I looked at Lesson Study a fair bit with our research project so I’m aware of how the process has been adapted from the Japanese model for the way it is commonly performed over here. What was brilliant was that Matilde has been over to Japan to see just how they do it and study their process. She’s well aware that there are lots of elements that wouldn’t work here (40 teachers in a lesson whilst the kids just get on with it; leaving a whole primary school whilst the teachers all debrief), but what the experience did highlight was where they hadn’t been prepared and where they could tighten the process up. It would be brilliant to hear from GSA again and see how it all goes.
There’s no way I can write about everything that was part of the day and I hope I’ve represented everyone well enough. As with most school engagement with research, if you dedicate the time and resources, the results can be amazing for staff, pupils and the school as a whole. It was great to move away from the researchED glare and see what’s happening more locally. I know there are a few Transform ideas knocking about and I’m hoping I hear that more people are setting up journal clubs. Mostly I hope people just keep plugging away and trying because it can be tough but it’s definitely worth it.
The ‘Nottingham-Shire, a Voice for Education event held at The University of Nottingham, organised by Howard Stevenson, was part of the ESRC’s Festival of Social Science and billed as an opportunity for ‘students, parents, those who work in education or are simple interested in education’ to discuss and explore how we can ‘rediscover, reclaim and reinvent democratic public education’ in Nottingham City and the County. Intentionally broad, it covered all phases and interests. It was free and lunch was provided. Worth a shot.
The day was orgainised around four workshops that were presented in the morning and repeated in the afternoon, giving an opportunity to attend a couple of options. The opening thoughts centred around four themes:
- Community – Forming a community based on collective values and our position in society amongst others.
- Creativity – Challenging traditional notions of ‘activism’ (including the style of events like this one).
- Connections – People are often triggered to come into something by being against it. We need to connect being ‘agianst’ with being ‘for’ something.
- Co-construction – Challenging the notion ‘there’s nothing you can do about it’.
It’s easy for people to adjust to the environment they’re in and narrow their expectations. We should promote the idea that there’s ‘no such thing as no alternative’, a concept Stevenson illustrated with Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.
Whilst I am a member of a union, and I do think it is important that we stay up to date and challenge things that threaten education (whatever the sector), I am not by any means an ‘activist’ in the common sense of the word. I am interested in the idea of how we can work together across education and in collaboration with wider society to establish what we need. Particularly how once we have come together over what we are against, we should work on what we are ‘for’.
Don’t get me wrong, unions are an important part of the collaboration. They are experienced and hold a high level of knowledge and skills needed to bring people together and have their collective voice heard. I can’t be the only one though that can feel intimidated by loud opinions that seem closed to debate, or presume that everyone has the same thoughts (something Martin Robinson wrote about in May), and I worry that there is public and education sector fatigue with repeated campaigns. To hold onto the proposal that we need to revise our notions of ‘activism’ and think creatively, I am encouraged by the enthusiasm for getting a wider community together – alongside unions – to challenge decisions but also to put together solutions.
Developing Collaborative Alternatives in Schooling
The first session I went to showcased the successful collaborations that have gone on in Leicester firstly to resist the acadamisation of their schools, but as a result of that, their city-wide reading initiatives including the ‘Everybody’s Reading Festival‘. I have two pages of notes about this session which are pretty much crammed with ideas – from Storytelling Week and Author Week, to bookmarks with tips for parents and reading champions in schools. Elements that stood out for me were the combination of CPD, networking and sharing ideas; schools bidding for ring-fenced literacy project funding; the potential uses of data collected from the (required) survey completed by each school; and the spread of this beyond schools and into the community. I am very jealous of what they’ve got going on there.
Due to a small train hiccup, the keynote speaker, Hilary Wainwright, was a little late so her talk was after lunch. She spoke about how we need to break the idea that change isn’t possible (using Jeremy Corbyn’s recent success as an example) and deep notions of democracy as people working together to achieve this. Having already heard about how unions can bring a community together, I wondered about the idea that unions could have a role as co-ordinating drivers for change – rather than simply focus on wages and conditions for members, a wider social role?
The Action For ESOL Campaign: Protest, Professionalism and Pedagogy
For my afternoon session I went to hear about the Action for ESOL Campaign. The particular subject matter isn’t something I have anything to do with but as a very specific section of education I can see some parallels with special education, and when it comes to fighting for funding and resources, I wonder if there are lessons to learn from their success. Through the coming together of professional, national and local networks (outside of a union structure although there was involvement), they successfully fought to keep provision accessible.
Analysing how and why this worked is of even more importance now as the renewed threat of cuts to the FE sector move closer. Earlier in the day we had discussed as a group what our ‘ideals’ in education were and points about access, valuing education and lifelong learning were central to this. It seems to me that we all need to have a greater awareness of what is happening in FE at the moment because for something that encompasses all the things we value about education, it’s not being valued elsewhere.
Seeds of a Nottingham Campaign For Education
The round up of the day included space for some local campaigns and initiatives to have a say and a break of into groups to discuss some of the issues arising from the day. I joined the ‘City’ group to discuss how we felt we could respond to the current consultation into the 10 Year Plan for Nottingham City. The consultation period is only a month long which seems woefully short, particularly as there doesn’t appear to have been a great deal of promotion around it, and our group felt that whilst the proposals were reasonable, they weren’t particularly ambitious or joined up with other work being done nationally around issues such as teacher recruitment and retention. There was a suggestion that we could put together a Citizens’ Jury to bring together the community and build an idea of how our whole community feels and what it needs.
It was certainly an interesting and thought-provoking day that I’m sure will be repeated, and even with a small toilets-not-working issue (which Tom Bennett having fixed a few of those during researchED events would probably see as standard), there was definitely a spark of something that I am keen to see develop and bring together the whole community, creatively, to challenge those that tell us what we need with what we know we need. If there’s a next-time, I think it would be good to encourage more parents (other than teacher-parents) to attend and there is definitely space for the research slant on things. We’ve got two big universities in Nottingham so why not take advantage of that expertise. Having mentioned researchED, I also think there might be an opportunity for Howard Stevenson to present something about this at one of the conferences.
Incidentally, a tweet from Tom Sherrington in February started doing the rounds again on Saturday morning. In many ways I think this fits brilliantly with the message that was being shared and it’s something we should keep in mind as we think about where we want this to go.
More information about the day all these things can be found here: https://nottsvoiceed.wordpress.com/