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.
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?
When Ben Goldacre mentioned Journal Clubs in his keynote speech at researchED 2013, my husband Howard, who works for the NHS, became very enthusiastic about the opportunity for me to introduce something like that at my school. Journal Club became part of my pitch to become Research Lead and I’ve had a series of regular meetings that are gaining support.
After Sam Sims’ theory based presentation at the September national researchED conference, I wondered whether a more practical session would have a place. The December Leads Network day confirmed that it might and I realised that if I was going to make the suggestion, I’d better be prepared to do it myself. That is how I ended up running a Journal Club with a bunch of Research Leads and other interested parties at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.
Most of the session was given to the discussion of a paper as practical experience of taking part in a Journal Club. I used my brief presentation to outline a few basics and how I run my club in school. Along with some additional points that came from talking with people afterwards, that’s what I’ll outline here. If you fancy looking at the presentation, it’s here – researchEd Journal Club
What is a Journal Club?
A journal club is essentially a book club for reading research. Widely used in medical settings, journal clubs form part of professional training and CPD for more senior members of staff. This is an informal and social way to discuss new research that may otherwise sit unread after publication, keeps practitioners up to date and acts as an opportunity to develop critical analysis skills.
Why start a Journal Club?
A significant theme at the December Leads’ Network was about how we can familiarise staff in school with research. I think journal clubs are a great way to start engaging with research, facilitate evidence based practice and get people used to how it all looks in its raw form. It may not be that everyone has the time to hunt down research papers, but having the chance to develop skills that mean they have the choice can be valuable. This is especially the case where staff have studied subjects where research in this format isn’t touched.
Journal clubs are a way for staff to keep up to date, improve morale and network in ways they might not during a normal school day. In addition to this, you don’t need to have a large number of people to start off, so unlike some other routes into research engagement, you can adapt your club to meet the needs of your members and timetable.
Who is Journal Club for?
I’m a firm believer that journal clubs are for staff at all levels and across the whole school. I have members from leadership to TA and everyone contributes to our meetings. I’m lucky enough that our school is small enough that if they wanted, we could probably accommodate everyone if they chose to come, but I realise that this isn’t necessarily practical for everyone. I think there’s the opportunity for clubs in a range of settings – key stage, department, around a particular school focus, within a group of schools (federation/ teaching school alliance etc.), and I also suggested that it might be useful as part of the ‘expert input’ element of Lesson Study.
If you’re more confident in working with research, Dr Gary Jones (@DrGaryJones) has written more information about critical analysis and evidence based practice in a series of blog posts, including introducing journal clubs. To be honest, the way we run journal club is very similar to some INSET activities I’ve taken part in; given some information and asked to evaluate its worth and whether we could apply it in school. Those were attended by all staff, journal club can be too!
How to run a Journal Club
Space and time is something to think about, and not just in a Timelord way. Finding somewhere with room for everyone and not picking a Monday or Friday afternoon is my advice. In my experience, illness, unexpected meetings, detentions, will all get in the way at some point and you just have to keep going. I’ve seen varying advice about how often to hold a meeting. I’m trying to go for one a month at the moment. Some have been closer together than others, but I think if you could only manage one a half term, that would be great. Definitions of a successful journal club being 50% of staff, weekly for more than two years are perhaps a bit ambitious, but go for it if you want!
There are various ways you can find something to read in your club. I’ll write about access in more detail further down, but one of the joys of journal club is that you can go for anything. I have so far gone with a variety of different topics in our’s. We all work across a 7-16 school and work with a primary model (one teacher to a class for most subjects). This means we can look at maths, behaviour, literacy, PE and keep everyone interested. You may want to select a theme to build a knowledge base, or fit a department. It’s completely up to you.
A crucial rule for our journal club meetings is that they are NOT a policy meeting. If we think something we’re looking at is worth trying out, we need a separate meeting for that. This means we keep to the task of analysing the text and don’t get bogged down in the details of how we’ll get it going in school before we’ve even decided if the evidence is strong enough.
You need to have a designated leader or facilitator for your club. Someone to keep up the enthusiasm, send out reminders, provide access to the chosen paper, write a summary of the paper (bit more detail than the abstract), and keep your discussion on track. This is also the person who needs to provide the biscuits. You will learn to appreciate the importance of the biscuits.
- Biscuits (I have actual evidence for this).
- Read out summary of paper to familiarise everyone with key points.
- Discuss and analyse paper – use guide questions to keep on track.
- Pick next paper (I tend to choose two abstracts and print them on different coloured paper for easy reference).
- Disseminate notes (I type up our notes and whack them on the shared drive).
Things that might go wrong
- People think it’ll be too hard
- No one reads the paper
- No one turns up
- Too many people turn up
- No one wants to go home
- You forget the biscuits
The only one I’ve not had is the bit about too many people. The important thing is that it really can be for everyone and keep plugging away. There is always the Co-Op for emergency biscuits.
Access to Research
Types of research
- Academic papers
- Blog posts
- researchEd briefings
- Self published
The joy of journal clubs is that you can use anything you like. If you were conducting a formal literature review then you’d have to worry about things like bias etc. With a journal club, this actually gives you something to discuss. Briefings and blog posts are a great place to start, but a quick warning, they tend to be written in a more balanced way so they might not be as easy to argue for/against.
Where to find it
- Open access – will stay available
- Free access – available as part of a promotion probably, limited time
- Subscription/ Membership – often a cheaper way of subscribing to a single journal
There are lots of ways to find things to read for free (links below). Increasing amounts of research funded by the Research Councils UK is being made available as open access. There is a timetable for this to reach 100% eventually. Education Arena‘s promotions are a wonder for Journal Club so have a look there.
- My list of free and not-quite-free ways to get research – https://impressionthatiget.wordpress.com/2014/12/15/access-to-research/
- researchEd – http://www.workingoutwhatworks.com/en-GB/Magazine/2015/2/Accessing_education_research
- SUPER Blog – https://schooluniversitypartnership.wordpress.com/access-to-research/
researchEd Journal Club
Effects of an emotional literacy intervention for students identified with bullying behaviour. (Knowler & Frederickson, 2013)
I picked this as an Open Access paper that people could look at in advance. It covered a topic that was fairly wide-reaching, had a few statistics but was suitable for all levels and was hopefully a relevant place to start.
- Pre-read paper
- Read out summary – rED summary
- Discuss using sheet to guide/ questions on screen – rED record sheet
- Decide on ‘next’ article
Things to think about
- What type of literature?
- What are the hypotheses based on?
- What is being claimed?
- Are the claims supported?
- Contradictions/ Competing hypotheses
- Ethical issues/ bias
- Relevance to own setting
- Further research/ changes
It seemed like the people who attended got something out of the practical experience and had lunch not been on the horizon I think the discussions could’ve carried on for longer. There were some interesting comments around peer-nomination and the ethics of labeling pupils as bullies, and I know there was much more mentioned than this! Perhaps there is room on the researchED forum for something journal clubby? I enjoyed putting myself out of my comfort zone for a bit and would love to do it again, so who knows, maybe I will.
The basic concept of journal clubs is fairly straight forward – read paper; discuss. There is a wealth of research on journal clubs in medical settings and some of the ones I’ve looked at are here. Most importantly, of course, evidence in favour of biscuits.
Alguire, PC (1998) ‘A review of journal clubs in postgraduate medical education.’ Journal of General Internal Medicine 13(5), 347-53
Denehy, J. (2004) ‘Starting a Journal Club’ The Journal of School Nursing 20(4), 187-188
Golde, C. M. (2007) Signature Pedagogies in Doctoral Education: Are They Adaptable for the Preparation of Education Researchers? Educational Researcher 36(6), 344-351
Linzer, M. (1987) ‘The journal club and medical education: over one hundred years of unrecorded history’ Postgraduate Medical Journal 63, 475-478
Mazuryk M, Daeninck P, Neumann CM and Bruera E (2002) ‘Daily journal club: an education tool in palliative care.’ Palliative Medicine 16(1), 57-61
Sidorov, J. (1995) ‘How are internal medicine residency journal clubs organized, and what makes them successful?’ Archives of Internal Medicine. 155(11), 1193-1197
Part 2: In which I talk about the SUPER Network, some CPD, and what was going to be my thoughts on the next ResearchEd Leads Network but ended up being a brief conclusion due to me waffling on for too long.
One of the things I was interested in looking into at that first ResearchEd in the hazy, drawn out summer of 2013, was the potential for links between school and universities. I had just had my first year for a while without any academic study and I wanted to find out what was out there and where I could start.
During the session with Kay Yeoman from UEA I met, sorry, networked, with the lady next to me who happened to be Bethan Morgan (@morgteach) who works for the SUPER Network. We’ve tweeted about a few things, namely access to research and she recognised me at ResearchEd 2014 as doing a lot of pub quizzes (we run one, Thursdays at the White Horse in Ruddington if you’re in the area) and she was there with the SUPER (School-University Partnership for Educational Research) Network gang on Saturday to present a session and workshop on how Universities and Research Leads can work together.
Based at the University of Cambridge, they have a number of projects with partner schools including Masters programmes, research projects, dissemination of research and seminars. They host inquiry group meetings of their Teacher Research Co-ordinators (their Research Leads) six times a year and provide critical friendship to schools. From the university’s point of view, the programme enables larger scale, collaborative research, a wide reach for their work, and helps to keep the university staff grounded and up to date with the realities of working in schools. The schools involved benefit from an increased research culture and staff are able to maintain a dialogue post-MEd.
We heard from various people involved in the network – both university and school representatives. Every one of them was incredibly enthusiastic about what the network had done for them and their professional status. There was a reading list from Ruth Pineda which I scribbled notes on but thankfully took a photo of too –
and there was a reminder that research and practice should inform each other equally.
The session had a workshop style answering questions in groups part which was great (but lacked tables). The focus was on bridging the gaps between theory and practice, and school/university partnerships. Whilst we aimed to answer the questions, almost every group fed back that they had accidentally answered the questions whilst having a good chat. I have to say, that’s the bit I like most about the day – just chatting about what we’re doing in our roles with other people. I don’t think it mattered if we answered everything well enough, we were there to learn from each other and debate, and that’s what we did. I have made some initial links with one of our local universities and I think I should probably look into it again.
Another thing I think the research lead role could be of benefit for in our school is our CPD. I’m being realistic with this – I don’t plan on hurling academia at everyone and expecting to get my own way, but the way things seem to be going, I think if I make suggestions they’re at least likely to be listened to. I think useful CPD with research flavour is a good way to get it in there as a natural way of working rather than heavy handed.
Daniel Harvey had CPD at the centre of his session. He outlined how he is changing the way his school, John Henry Newman Catholic College, is transforming their CPD by introducing a programme of action research, and the up and down process he has gone through to make it a success. In small groups we were asked to answer several questions about the relationship between evidence and CPD in our own settings, including the use of ‘research partners’. I have to say, I don’t think our school is ready for this, but whether schools scout out their own partners as Daniel Harvey has, or are part of an organisation like the SUPER Network, opportunities for schools and universities to work together are good thing.
As far as using action research goes, I have mixed feelings. I quite like the idea of action research as part of being a reflective practitioner or even for trying things out in a setting in a controlled, evidenced based way, but I understand the reluctance to call it ‘research’ as there’s very little that will be transferable to other settings apart from providing catalysts of ideas. The cycle of trying out, changing, trying out, is better than doing everything at one as far as I’m concerned. I do wonder if introducing something like lesson study might be a more gentle way of getting staff involved in using evidence to change their practice that could lead to more rigorous research projects in due course. It’s easy to get carried away with ideas at a ResearchEd event as everyone there is enthusiastic and opting to spend their free time with the converted but of course not everyone in school will have research as a priority.
Actually, through all the talk of how the whole-school CDP action research programme had developed – the recognition of bad research questions, levels of participation and group dynamics; I rather thought that the most interesting and relevant piece of action research they are doing is in fact their action research. It’ll be good to see how they ingrain it into their school culture.
After all that, what am I taking away from the Leads Network? Well I could probably write another four posts on the day. The whole spirit of ResearchEd is bringing people together to find out what there is to find out and the first Leads Network was a brilliant extension of the more general conferences. I really like the idea of smaller, more focussed groups and even though the groups here ended up quite large, there were opportunities for discussion. I had wondered if having some sessions on more than once, to allow for everyone to attend but in smaller numbers might work? Maybe with tables next time though…
I think I seem to be on the right track with the Research Lead thing. I’m not quite on the scale of Skyping Harvard, but a handful of staff in my little learning pod is all coming from the same point. I might investigate the partnership thing a bit more next year but my main concern is not to rush anything. Professor Rob Coe started the day off by reminding us that there’s no evidence Research Leads work – a reminder to challenge our thinking, but also that we’re the first lot doing this on a wide scale and we’re making it up as we go along. At one point in the day I was told I was being a librarian for hunting down and saving articles for people to use. I’m quite happy for that to be part of my role at the moment. If we get to a point where access to research becomes a budget priority then that would be a wonderful thing. Maybe it will take some time, but whilst we’re getting there I think there are a lot worse things than getting together from time to time and learning from each other.
Part One: In which I doubt my position and get inspired by two blokes off of Twitter.
I’ve blogged about ResearchEd before and Saturday’s Research Leads Network was an equally empowering and exhausting day as all the others. I don’t know if it’s one of those ‘end of term’ things but the further away from ResearchEd 14 we’ve got and the more stuff I’ve taken on, I get an increasing sense of ‘what the hell and I doing’ and I was really looking forward to spending time with lots of people all thinking about the same stuff.
There was a lot said on the day about how all of us in a research lead role (or thinking about it) are in new territory and no one really knows what they should be doing. I know everyone’s making this up as they go along, but I really have bullied my way into doing this. I basically prattled on without taking a breath in my support and supervision last year and was rewarded with a nominal role in the operational handbook. I didn’t particularly know what I was going to do with it, I just didn’t want anyone else to get there first. As it turns out, school (and particularly our deputy head) are being great and letting me do lots of things.
One thing that struck me on Saturday was the emphasis on how this is a leadership role. I’m doing a lot of new things, but there’s no getting away from the fact that I’m not even a senior TA – let alone a qualified teacher or on the leadership team. I’m not saying everyone’s wrong about this – it’s more that it adds to the feeling that I’m in the wrong place (or at least not being paid enough).
Alex Quigley and Carl Hendrick’s session did a lot to encourage me (even though they didn’t dance. Something about cables and dangerous break dancing). Their summaries of their respective roles included quite a few of the things I’m trying to do – albeit on a greater scale than mine.
I found the structure of Carl Hendrick’s system interesting and I suppose sort of a standard to aspire to. Having said that, I don’t think it would be for everyone but before Saturday I thought anything these guys were doing would be way out of my league and I could at best pinch some tips. Actually, what I found was that I’m already involved in quite a few things:
- Conducting research – We’re taking part in the Closing the Gap: Test and Learn research trials with the National College of Teaching and Leadership. We’ve part of their Research Lesson Study trial and we’ve just had our second training event with Curee. As well as co-ordinating this in school I have taken on the role designed to be filled by a member of SLT which will include disseminating our work to the staff team.
- Journal Club – I’ve started holding a semi-regular journal club at school. All are welcome, at any level and it’s been a really positive experience.
- Links with University – I want to do more on this. I have started by signing us up to have MA students coming into school next year and attended a free event in October so far.
- Critical friend/ Devil’s advocate – Our Deputy Head asked me to be her critical friend in the development of the ECHP transition meetings format.
- Body of knowledge – MEd and ResearchEd for fun count as this surely?
- Translating research – Advising colleagues where they can provide evidence to support initiatives they are running and sourcing information for them. I think there’s a good opportunity to do more of this.
- Consulted by leadership – So far this term I have been consulted on two draft policies for our federation, the EHCP process and asked to complete a couple of follow up question sheets from staff meetings I wasn’t at.
When I write it down like that, it doesn’t seem like too bad a start.
One of my favourite parts of this role is my Journal Club. It’s bit rough and ready at the moment, but I’ve got some regular attendees and it’s them asking me about when we do the next one. It’s nothing as regular as Carl’s fortnightly literature reviews with his staff research fellows; and rather than selecting them through written application, I’m bribing with biscuits. It is my baby and it’s wonderful to see how everyone who has taken part so far has loved it. Realistically it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but everyone is invited and my personal crusade is to persuade those who are interested but think it’ll be too hard for them to give it a go.
I was pleased that neither Carl nor Alex seemed concerned about getting everyone to rush forth and conduct their own research. Facilitating this is certainly part of a Research Lead’s role, but personally, I would much rather get my school involved in large scale research projects coordinated by organisations like the EEF than worry too much about trying to squeeze any sort of reliability out of our 50 pupils. I do want to encourage people to critically evaluate their practice and if they want to do this through some sort of investigation I am happy to help. I just won’t get caught up in trying to have everyone conducting RCTs. As a few of us are venturing into Lesson Study for our CtG research I can see that this is possibly the best way to ease staff into using evidence in their everyday practice so I’m hoping that goes well.
Translation of evidence is something I’ve been very keen on doing – equally I am an annoying devil’s advocate so I think I can manage to play that part too. Hopefully the more people see that I am happy to source evidence for them, the more they’ll ask me to do it. One of the most important things I learnt during my MEd was that it’s OK to realise sometimes research is unreadable and makes no sense. So many people assume that it’ll be beyond them and if I can help by translating and summarising important and relevant information then I think that is a good use of my time.
I’m going to have a bash at the whole Devil’s Advocate thing now…
Every ResearchEd event stirs up the pain of access to research. I love access to research. I love finding interesting studies and following a trail of papers. I really miss having access through the OU – I looked into all sorts of things during my three years. A lot of people want research to be free for teachers, but someone has to pay and whilst free access would be a lovely thing, I don’t know how achievable that is. The cost of access is a big issue in the university sector with the major publishers and providers charging huge amounts of money. So much so that even universities have to be selective in their subscriptions. Even when I was studying I’d get my Dad to access some things for me, or one of the students doing some work at our school. We want to avoid a situation where the free to access research is the bits sponsored by profit making organisations or lacks peer review and I suspect in the long run, the best way to provide access is through membership of a professional body. I’ll let you fight it out about that, but I will add that it shouldn’t just be for teachers. I want access too.
The Quigley-Hendrick experience was a good way to knock me out of doubting what I’m doing. I may be in a small school with a handful of staff and pupils, but we still have to fulfil all the criteria other schools get and I’m quite convinced that what I am trying to achieve is benefitting the school. That should keep me going ‘til March anyway.
I have put together a list of some ways to access to research, free and not free, which I’ll post after this as a light break before Part Two which will feature the SUPER Network, some CPD and my thoughts on the next ResearchEd Leads Network.