Tag Archives: research

I accidentally went and picked a particularly relevant paper for my #rEDBrum journal club presentation this weekend and it’s got me thinking…

When I’m choosing these things I never know who’s going to come to the session and I’m aware I need to find something accessible (interests, language, and literally) and for the first time ever, due to my time-poor life, I chose a paper that I’d already selected for another conference I’m presenting at in a couple of weeks so I really didn’t know that the overarching themes of the day – curriculum, community and culture – would resonate with the paper choice so much.

The paper I used was ‘Teacher collaboration in curricula design teams: effects, mechanisms, and conditions’ (Voogt, Pieters and Handelzalts, 2016) which looks at 14 doctoral theses to establish the features and effects of collaborative design teams, and identify the mechanisms and conditions necessary for these to be successful. The focus for the design teams is curriculum and the paper sets out the effects of collaborative teams on both teacher learning (so a professional development slant) and on curriculum change (something particularly relevent in these times of everyone rushing to redesign their curriculums in the face of a new Ofsted inspection framework).

Half my work-life is now about professional development, both in our school and increasingly across the trust, and six months into our professional development changes we’re starting to evaluate how it’s going and thinking about how it’ll move on next year. Curriculum has had its place in some of our CPD conversations and it makes sense that we combine these in some way, so aside from making some general notes on the paper for journal club I was prompted to think about what it meant for us in terms of professional development and so much of what I heard at #rEDBrum cemented this.

There were a few things that struck me about the paper. It clearly comes from a place that already believes in the value of collaboration for teachers and talks about a shift in methods of professional development to involving teachers more and the increased use of professional learning communities (PLCs); commenting that PLCs are about generating knowledge of practice whereas more traditional CPD conveys to teachers knowledge for practice. I’d not particularly thought of this difference before but it seems so obvious now that all the desirable features of CPD that I’m trying to build into our model are about shifting from just giving people things to do, to getting them to think about why and how they’re doing things.

I’m familiar with benefits of collaboration including development of ownership, trust, and support for changes, particularly in forms of collaborative enquiry and models like lesson study. I’ve heard numerous warnings about schools rushing in to these structures of CPD without proper training, time or follow up and I’m personally cautious of introducing something that may amount to faux-research engagement for show. I’m wondering now about whether collaborative design is a better model than collaborative enquiry – working towards something tangible that’s going to be used and has a reason that’s more likely to engage staff. Certainly the findings in this paper seem to suggest that this could be a way of providing ongoing, long-term professional development, both subject-specific and pedagogical, whilst creating a curriculum that works for us and our pupils within a sustainable structure.

The paper nicely sets out the effects something like this can have on teacher learning and curriculum change including:

  • uptake of pedagogy
  • increased subject knowledge
  • making connections within and between subjects
  • development of curriculum expertise
  • creation of concrete curriculum products
  • improved, higher quality practice
  • systematic structure to curriculum
  • links with external providers and expertise

…the mechanisms that account for these effects:

  • teacher prior knowledge and up to date knowledge
  • level of teacher involvement
  • justification for change/process (stressing the importance of analysis)
  • focussed support
  • time to try things and adapt

…and the conditions that affect change:

  • support (organisational, process, expert and technical)
  • leadership (massive importance)
  • external (national curriculum, staff turnover etc)

I’m still thinking it through a bit really, but as a theoretical concept, if the whole year of CPD was dedicated to this process we’ve got what would probably be two whole inset days (maybe some time as twilights), the weekly half hour of CPD we’ve introduced that could shift a little, and add in opportunities for instructional coaching and expert input. It’s a model with room to account for individual staff needs and levels of experience, building on what we’ve put in place already.

I’m not saying it will happen (or will turn out to be the right thing for us) but as something providing a framework to combining CPD and the curriculum reform we need to make, allowing us to keep the elements of CPD that are working and affording the time necessary for it to work, I think there’s more than a spark of an idea so (before my meeting with SLT on Tuesday) I’m going to think about it in more detail.

There were a lot of moments in Birmingham that made me more convinced about this as having potential. Comments during the panel debate about how the process of curriculum design might work, how to avoid it being ‘scary’ for staff and how to go about building a school culture could all be addressed by collaborative design. What made me more eager to explore this was a fantastic session from Summer Turner on subject communities. Ideas about how these could be structured and where we could access the necessary expertise alongside cementing the benefits of this sort of model are all swishing round in my head now and I just need to try to control it a bit.

Obviously I’ve not mentioned everything in the paper and there are some features that make me pause for thought, but it’s a cracking read and whilst I feel bad about breaking my rule of using the same paper twice for a conference, attendees of the Habs Girls Conference are in for a treat because I’ve got so much more to discuss about this one now.

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Last weekend saw the annual behemoth that is the researchED national conference come to Harris Academy St John’s Wood in London. Despite some navigational challenges it was rammed with people enjoying themselves speaking and listening and questionning in the way these things should be and I’ve seen various accounts blogged over the past week.

My role at work has changed this year as I start working for our trust on various bits including CPD so I had a mixed focus on the sessions I attended which included:

  • Karen Wespieser and Jules Daulby on Dyslexia
  • Becky Allen on Pupil Premium (OMG, if you weren’t there, or even if you were, read the blog version here)
  • Rob Coe, Steve Higgins, Philippa Cordingley & Greg Ashman on Meta Anaylsis
  • Daniel Muijs on Research at Ofsted
  • Sam Sims, Steve Farndon and Emily Henderson on Instructional Coaching
  • Christine Counsell charing a panel on 21st Century Curriculum

It was a guddun.

This year was also a bit different for me as I took a step out of my Journal Club comfort zone and gave a presentation on my experiences developing the research lead role in a special school (don’t worry JC fans, I’m already booked in to give those a good plug, with biscuits, at rEDBrum and the Habs Girls conference next year). I debated whether to include the term ‘Special School’ in the title of my talk as on one hand it provides a level of SEND visibility to rED, but on the other hand I worried about people dismissing my presentation as not for them. I do think visibility is important so I went for it and as it turned out I was up against Gibb and at least three other keynote-worthy sessions so I don’t think I needed to over-think the attendance too much.

One of the things I focussed on, aside from the logistical bits of being a research lead, was the element of ‘oh no, not you of course’ that I seem to come up against. I think SEMH is an interesting sort of SEND when it comes to research as our pupils can follow a reasonably mainstream curriculum and don’t generally have the needs people associate as ‘special’ so we find ourselves in the middle where if I point out something doesn’t quite fit us in either the mainstream or SEND I get the ‘ oh no, not you of course’ response. This seemed familiar to some of the people who came to my presentation too and is perhaps something for me to explore a little further.

Criticism of researchED is healthy and there have been some interesting reflections following Saturday, including a continuation of a conversation started by a comment on the amount of SEND representation on the line-up which Karen Wespieser and Jules Daulby have pretty much reflected my thoughts on already in their post ‘ResearchED 2018: Everyone’s a teacher of SEND’. I want to pick up on their point about an ‘us and them’ position because I keep coming back to it as I think about the day. I have spoken at lots of events, mostly about journal clubs, and for researchED this includes at least three national conferences, Washington DC, Sweden and Ontario. In addition to this I have attended many more and at each of these events, speaking or not, I was SEND representation. I am a teaching assistant, in an SEMH special school, and also happen to be the research lead – everything I take part in is framed in my context.

My presentation hit on some of the challenges I have faced as a special school research lead because there are differences and barriers. I completely agree that we have a responsibility to include SEND pupils and issues in our questions and reflections on any form of professional development, conference or otherwise. What ‘counts’ as SEND will differ between people but I know that researchED events are attended by the whole spectrum of educators including those from special schools, AP, PRUs, SENCOs and teaching assistants. I think presentations addressing some specific issues will be welcomed but I don’t want there to be tokenistic SEND presence to ward off criticism either. The thing is, we don’t know why everyone is there or what their motives are, and I think if we truly recognise that everyone is a teacher of SEND, then we must recognise that everyone is also a representative of SEND.

As always the researchED national conference has given me food for thought to start the new year. There are already exciting things coming up and I’ve got plenty of ideas to keep me going (in my SEND setting) and hopefully there are plenty more to come!


This week I’ve had two conference experiences, both packed with brilliant sessions and filling my head with new ideas and connections. The first was the Teacher Development Trust annual conference in London where I was chuffed to be asked to speak about my experiences of the TDT Associate in CPD Leadership course and ‘the transformative effect of professional development’ (not actually my finest fifteen minutes but more on that another day perhaps), and the second was the inaugural Derby Research School conference in, surprisingly enough, Derby.

I’m gaining more and more clarity about the way high quality professional development can be increasingly woven into the systems we already have in place at my school. I’ve never seen much benefit in suggesting I come in with a sledgehammer and force new ideas on people, particularly as I’m very aware that I’ve spent the last few months really digging into and exploring the possibilities of effective CPD  and I know that other people aren’t quite as into it as me, but in the process of thinking about everything from a CPD point of view I’m finding lots of interlocking ideas. I’ve come to realise that one of the things that’s making it such an evolving and, perhaps, delicate process is how much I realise it matters to get these first steps right. It doesn’t have to be perfect or something we stick to, but it needs to be something we can embed and build on.

A common thread through the TDT conference was the importance of culture within a school and how that impacts ideas. That includes a culture of relational trust, of challenge, wellbeing, and of course the importance placed on professional development for staff at all levels. It’s certainly something I want to be central to my own plans for CPD and thankfully I’ve got a wealth of back-up as to why this should be the case. I think I came away from this conference with more answers than questions for the first time in this process of CPD CPD. I’m not there yet, but it’s nice to feel I’m on the right track.

The Research School conference was a beautiful thing. A bit like one of the early researchEDs actually, and slightly squeezed together to shorten the day so that everyone could watch the football. I saw some interesting sessions but for me, the two keynotes bookending the day have given me the most food for thought. First up was Marc Rowland who spoke about the use of pupil premium funding. Not in a ‘which strategy off of the EEF toolkit works best’ way, but how we can genuinely delve into and identify where pupil need is, exploring all pupil needs in terms of themselves and their families, their communities, and reflect on the barriers we put in place ourselves as schools. At one point he said that the ‘teacher is the most effective intervention’ and if that’s not a case for cracking CPD, I don’t know what is.

The thing that really brought a lot of things together for me though was in Alex Quigley‘s final thoughts for the day. The conference was about building the role and reach of the Research Schools Network and with a local slant to his presentation, Alex started and ended his talk with this slide:

This brought into focus a few things for me and I think this idea is central to everything I’m trying to achieve. When I visited a local primary school as part of the TDT CPD leadership course, one of the comments that stuck was how they were looking at how they deliver reading instruction and realised that they already have a team of experts in-house. This has prompted me to think a lot about the importance of ‘finding and developing our experts’ and it’s central to my yet-to-be-proposed CPD plan. What Alex’s words have done though is cement this concept as a wider ambition for me. If we take out the specific detail, this is something I think should drive our CPD journey as I move from working with my school, to across the Trust and then in a wider context. There will be many ways to support this process, but these are the questions I want to hold at the core of what we build:


I’m doing a lot of work around CPD at the moment and when I started thinking about the level of importance placed on pedagogical expertise I started to ponder about when might be the best time to introduce these skills if it isn’t happening during ITE. I don’t think it’s a case of people not wanting to know the ‘why’ – the plethora of conference-bingo edu-myths are probably a cliché, but I take their longevity as evidence that teachers like to feel they understand the science of teaching. It’s for schools to harness this and if they harness it early enough and in the right way everyone’s a winner.

The students that sparked my thinking about all this in Part 1 appeared to be talking about how they’re going to have time to study ‘the pedagogical knowledge stuff’ once they’re teaching and in turn, I presume, that they’ll be able to change practices they’ve already imbedded. With the presumption that their situation is not unique, it’s important we provide opportunities and time to address this in our school CPD programmes.

I’m not particularly concerned right now with the ‘what’ teachers need to know in terms of pedagogy – there are lots of excellent suggestions for that all over the place and it would certainly turn this into ‘Part 2 of 12’. I’m mostly thinking about how those with a role in leading CPD can take this information into account when designing and updating their plans.

Whilst research informs us of the importance of subject-specific CPD, we need to think about the varying levels of pedagogical knowledge in our settings and ensure this is addressed too. Going back to Weston and Clay’s (2018) Depth of Practice Framework it is clear that programmes of CPD need to take into account the current knowledge and skills of colleagues and have an idea of the level of expertise expected following CPD. For teachers, the expectation for pedagogical knowledge and skills will probably be that they attain a level of adaptive expertise – an automacy that is adaptable to different situations. For this to be successful and embedded in practice there needs to be a continuation of opportunities throughout their careers.

Leaders of CPD also need to bear in mind the higher the level of adaptive expertise, the more difficult it is to make changes to practice. Therefore, the best time to embed good pedagogical skills would seem to be as close to the start of a career as possible and not, as my sample of two students indicated, once their teaching is ‘outstanding’. If we wait too long then the biases will creep in. Kennedy (2016) shows that as independence increases, so the ways in which CPD transfers to lasting change in practice change. As teachers become more experienced they need to be able to discover things for themselves and place them within experience.

Experiences are necessary to give teachers concrete ideas to hang abstract ones on – this idea carries on throughout a career with common advice to keep a particular pupil or situation in mind when taking part in any CPD. So maybe a solution to this is give teachers information and ‘facts’ whilst training, without worrying about practice too much when they’re concerned with all sorts of other things, but make sure the next step starts as soon as possible – and make sure they are, as Becky Allen and Sam Sims (2018) state, ‘immersed in a community of skilled teachers’ as more experienced teachers model what it looks like further down the line.

Experts can often forget how it feels to be a novice and this make pitching teaching at the right level an art that needs training and refinement – for children and for adults. By creating CPD systems that take into account different levels of experience and ensuring we include opportunities for challenge, questioning and learning from each other I think it’s possible to support teachers effectively throughout their careers and hopefully our visiting ITE students will find some of this ready for them in their next schools.

References:

Allen, R. & Sims, S. (2018) ‘The Teacher Gap’. 1st Edition. UK: Routledge

Kennedy, M.M. (2016) ‘How Does Professional Development Improve Teaching?’ Review of Educational Research Vol 86, Issue 4, pp. 945 – 980

Weston, D & Clay, B, (2018) ‘Unleashing Great Teaching: the secrets to the most effective teacher development’. 1st Edition. UK: Routledge


I’m not too enthusiastic about ‘teachers doing research’; I am more enthusiastic about the opportunities for schools to take part in larger, more formal research trials and partnerships with higher education. My position set out, I think that what school staff can do is question things.

The staggered start to the new academic year for schools has caused my timeline to be peppered with INSET tweets throughout the week. A few have caught my eye and one particularly seemed to connect with last night’s #UKEdResChat which asked “Are we in a research bubble? Is so how can we pop it?”. The tweet’s from a locked account so I won’t embed it but it read:

“Really pleased how positively staff took on board our drive to embed a #GrowthMindset across school! #ThePowerOfYet”

This tweet was from a primary school colleague in our TSA Innovation Hub – a follow on from the Evidence Based Teaching Group we had, and shows engagement and dissemination of research we have touched on within the group and whilst it’s not bursting the bubble it is perhaps stretching it a bit.

It strikes me though that if research informed staff, including research leads, are striving to build research literacy in schools, is the ultimate goal not to have everyone on board, but to have them questioning? I appreciate that this single tweet doesn’t have a lot of information in it and there may have been a discussion around the approach – it’s just 140 characters. However, if we are to break out of the cycle of the same people driving the research-informed agenda in the same schools I think we need to be looking to encourage the critical eye rather than introducing top-down initiatives. It’s almost a cliché.

Taking the example of Growth Mindset, I know from my own reading that there has been a lot of debate around implementation in the classroom and my basic understanding is that it’s questionable as to whether there’s an impact and to be implemented properly staff need formal training.  I don’t know how this school is approaching it (hopefully it’ll crop up at our next Innovation Hub meeting) and I feel uncomfortable using them as an example when I don’t know any detail about their method so putting that to one side, I think introducing something like this is an opportunity for the type of enquiry that should be encouraged in schools.

Questioning things isn’t the same as resisting change but about exploring initiatives and measuring the impact. Introducing school-wide initiatives should involve reading around the subject both for those driving the programme and those who are taking it on. When new ideas are put to staff it should be a positive thing to be met with questions and leaders should be able to answer those questions – either having read around the topic and predicted them, or by offering the opportunity for staff to answer the questions within an implementation and review process. We don’t need to be doing big research projects but at least exploring evidence for and against and looking for change if you do do it. And leaders shouldn’t be afraid to say that something hasn’t worked.

We need the rhetoric to move from ‘we’re going to do this’ to ‘we’re going to find out if this can work for us’. Doing with, not to. This isn’t something that should threaten leaders but that they should embrace. It can be difficult to accept if you have spent a lot of time in preparation but when changes are met with constructive questions that are taken on board and incorporated into the way we work, I think it will be an indication that the research bubble is at least expanding and we are truly embedding research in everyday practice.


I came to the realisation yesterday that our whole school is a bottom set.

I was very much looking forward to hearing Professor Becky Francis deliver her keynote at rEDYork yesterday. I’ve heard her speaking a few times, both as presenter and as questioning audience member, and I pretty much want to be Becky Francis when I grow up. This time the talk was about ‘The problematic interface between research, policy and practice: the case of attainment grouping’, with an overview of the general picture and an introduction the EEF-funded ‘Best Practice in Grouping Students’ study.

As our school works up to full 7-16 two-form entry we are finding ourselves in a position where we’re starting to allocate children to classes based partly on their attainment. There are other things we consider and sometimes there are still very different levels in the same class, but there’s a general move towards a ‘higher’ group and a ‘lower’ group. I don’t think the pupils are ever explicitly told this is the case – perhaps in KS2 where they switch up the classes for different subjects a bit more, but I’m not sure the pupils are particularly aware. Anyway, as we’re just starting to get on the ‘set’ bandwagon I was particularly interested in the presentation to see what I could take back to school.

What I found was something much more than a few take-away bits of feedback. I tweeted that I felt like I’d had an ‘epiphany’ and I’m still trying to work out what that is exactly, but as I sat scribbling my notes I pretty much worked out that our whole school is essentially a bottom set and there are probably other schools that are similar. I’m not sure how coherent I can be with what I’m thinking but I feel like there’s an answer to something here.

Our general school demographic matches Becky’s description of the make up of bottom sets – disproportionate representation of low socio-economic status, gender imbalance (we’re designated a mixed school but all 75 of our pupils are boys). All our pupils have been taken out of other schools, possibly after a few permanent exclusions and a stint at the PRU, normally for their behaviour (regardless of ‘ability’). With all of this they’re statistically likely to have already experienced being in a bottom set and many already have low self-confidence and feel like they’ve been written off. Add to this that for every one of our pupils they’ve got a bunch of similar friends back in mainstream, it’s probably not something that’s isolated to our school.

I’m still trying to write about my recent thoughts on cultural capital for a separate post and whilst this has thrown a bit of a spanner in things, I still think that as a staff team, and as a general school ethos, we recognise that we need to instill an attitude that they can achieve and be successful – providing them with opportunities and in many cases, a future. What we probably don’t admit, or perhaps recognise, is that the symbolic implications of segregation and the societal associations between setting and ‘high standards’ are probably so ingrained that we are still creating limits for them. Even without putting any of our pupils in sets, they come to us already matching the criteria for a bottom set and I’m wondering if our associations between the demographic and expectations are so deeply entrenched that we don’t even realise we’re doing it. If staff have these societal preconceptions, pupils have them and parents have them, what happens? Do we just accept it?

If we really tried to analyse our practice we could probably identify quite a few of the factors Becky mentioned – both ones we thought we were tackling and ones beyond our control. Lack of fluidity in groups – we’ve got two classes of c.8 pupils in each year; fluidity is tricky. Quality of teaching – we have a few specialist subject teachers but run a mostly primary model through to KS4 with class teacher to class group in all subjects. Teacher expectations and pedagogy – success is brilliant, but if we’re honest, we aren’t surprised if they don’t get straight A*s (or, for some, Ds). I worry that we become complacent and lower expectations are normal. This isn’t just staff as I said before, this is entrenched in staff, pupils, parents, society. It makes the successes we have stand out – even the small ones. And we celebrate them, and we should.

We are highly aware of the limitations that have already been put on our pupils but I realise now that it’s possibly the tip of an iceberg that doesn’t just impact our pupils and maybe the Bottom Set Effect has a wider, self-fulfilling reach. In more than one session yesterday I found myself coming back to the thought that ‘Does everything just work enough not to be seen as an urgent problem?’ Maybe this is one of those things too.

So what do you do when you realise your whole school is a bottom set? How do you go about changing these subconscious preconceptions? Even if they’ve turned into conscious preconceptions, can we change things? Change is hard and it’s risky.

I’ve still not quite formulated what my thoughts are but I have questions about whether as we expand into KS1 it’ll be better – getting them before the Bottom Set Effect hits – or as we get them earlier, does that ingrain the bottom-set-ness earlier? Are we actually just creaming off the bottom set early? Is that self-fulfilling? What happens when you put the bottom set in sets? How does it work with our small classes? I know when I’ve looked at setting in the past there’s been evidence that the impact is less on small groups due to the focussed attention etc. We’ve got 8 pupils and two staff in a class so maybe it’s not too bad?

Regardless of whether we set or not, I’m still struck by how closely we seem to fit the ‘criteria’ for a bottom set and I can’t help thinking that if we can apply some of the advice that comes from either the EEF trials or other investigation in this area, there’s an answer to something somewhere and I’m not even sure what the question should be, but we can make things better. We can always get better.


Enquiry isn’t a specialist activity. It is something we all do regularly – making a mental note of something that went well or how we could change things for next time. As easy as it seems to reflect on what we do day-to-day, the starting point for deliberate enquiry can be difficult. Key to engaging with research in a genuine, long-term way as a practitioner is to start with reflection – reflection on practice and reflection of practice.Reflective-practice is sometimes presented as the opposite to evidence based practice; the qualitative vs the quantitative. Quantitative research is held up as the best research can be, whether that’s the EEF toolkit and trials or the What Work Clearinghouse measures. One argument for evidence based practice over reflective practice is that the latter risks pathologising the practitioner and finds fault with the teacher or student rather than the wider environment.

Action research (or at least the term) is gaining popularity and the close link between action research and reflective practice leads to arguments that they lacks value and relevance between settings. Cautious voices remind that quantitative studies don’t necessarily provide the answers, as Dylan Wiliam says, “[In education] everything works somewhere and nothing works everywhere. The interesting question is ‘under what conditions does this work?”

It’s not realistic for everyone to be part of large-scale RCTs, particularly in settings that regularly don’t fit selection criteria like small or special schools. This can feel isolating and make research engagement seem irrelevant. Reflective practice is one way to get going and can take many forms, from keeping a diary to working in pairs or triads or developing cyclical action research projects, so where do we start and how can we incorporate research into what we do?

The Project

It’s frequently repeated that teachers don’t have time to trawl through and decipher research so I decided to have a bit of an experiment with taking a single research paper and setting it out in a way that can be used in the classroom. This is a paper I have used myself on several occasions to provide a framework to identify an area of focus and use as a starting point for enquiry.

The suggestions of how to use the document I’ve created are just that, suggestions. It doesn’t give instructions or solutions for practice and it doesn’t use multiple sources of evidence – the intention is that once a focus is identified, more refined research can take place if necessary around that area.

Whether it’s used for enquiry in the closed classroom or over a wider group; as a starting point for a whole school focus or simply to monitor the classroom over time, I hope it shows how research can be used in the classroom and it provides encouragement for more people to bring evidence into their practice.

So here it is in glorious pdf form. Let me know what you think.

A guide to ‘Evaluating the Learning Environment’ adapted from Ysseldyke, J. E. and Christenson, S. L. (1987) ‘Evaluating students’ instructional environments’, Remedial and Special Education, 8(3), pp. 17–24.


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.

Casio DATA BANK watch

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):

I found it amusing so I tweeted it and other people found it amusing. It was all very amusing.

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.