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.
I’ve recently become involved in our Teaching Schools Alliance’s Evidence Based Teaching group and last week I lead our first TSA journal club (orgainised brilliantly by Nicky Bridges).
A bit swankier than my portakabin at school, we met at the University of Nottingham in a thousand degree heat in the middle of what is essentially a greenhouse. Pictures of us looking mighty studious exist but we’re all a touch pink and frizzy so feel free to look past that. There were about ten of us from all across the TSA – secondary, primary and special schools all represented. Sustenance came in the form of cake (I know this is an important factor to JC followers).
We decided to look at two papers – something I’ve not tried in a journal club before. Aware that we would have people from a variety of settings we went with the loose theme of ‘Assessment’ as we felt it was topical and would be relevant to all of us. The two we picked were:
- Involving parents in children’s assessment: lessons from the Greek context (Birbili and Tzioga, 2014) Summary (.docx)
- Assessment and the Learning Brain: What the Research Tells Us (Hardiman and Whitman, 2014) Summary (.docx)
After a brief introduction into the whats and whys of journal clubs, we started with the Birbili and Tzioga, Greek context paper. Interestingly, quite a few people said they had found this, more typical research paper, easier to read than the second article from an online magazine. I know the ‘look’ of a journal paper can be intimidating so it bodes well for the future that everyone could get into this.
Unlike my school JCs and the researchED one back in March, I think we used the papers as a starting point for our conversation more than have a deep analysis of the studies. I suspect as we have more meetings we’ll get into the analysing side a bit more, but as an environment for a group of professionals sharing their experiences, the format worked well as a way of talking round a topic.
I started the session by reading a summary of the first paper and we had a general discussion. The parental observation and assessment outlined in the paper is described as new to the Greek context and certainly as a group we highlighted that the participating teachers had seen the process more as a way to gather information about their pupils than about cooperation with parents. Although the study was conducted in an EYFS setting and there was an element of ‘easy to observe’, we thought the methods could be adapted well to some areas of further education. We thought that parents may feel once their child is in school that there isn’t as much of a role for them and PHSE was suggested as an area where the questionnaires/diary may be useful as a way to involve parents in observing how their child develops.
A lot of our discussion was around the importance of getting parents involved in school and how we could go about it. We talked about how we can level the playing field and empower parents. We recognised that parental engagement is key to narrowing disadvantage but were aware of the barriers that exist for some of our parents. Many of the parents we want to engage with have themselves had poor educational experiences and are reluctant to engage with teachers as a whole, based on this past experience.
We discussed involving parents with SATs set up – even inviting parents to complete a paper. As many parents struggle with academic elements it was suggested that it is important to make use of parental expertise in different areas; one school has recently found out a parent is able to make costumes for instance. A few schools organise events such as family activity days or ‘bring a parent/grandparent to school’ morning. Ideas ranged from stickers and certificates for parents, to teaching parents a skill and then getting them to teach their child.
We felt it is easy to make cultural assumptions based on our own experiences and we need to be mindful of our pupil and parent backgrounds, however, we also thought we should perhaps raise our expectations of parents and not decide something isn’t worth trying on the basis we don’t think parents will take part.
We didn’t spend as much time on the second article, ‘Assessment and the Learning Brain: What the Research Tells Us’ (Hardiman and Whitman, 2014), and our conversation started with the limitations of the text (examples given were in the setting of one of the authors, is it a plug for their ‘Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning’, is creating a collage evidence of a mastery mindset or do students pick it because they like picking out fancy fonts more?).
There were lots of elements that we did like too and we thought it was important that schools are familiar with developments in research about how the brain learns. Of course things like learning styles and Brain Gym (tick your researchED bingo cards) have made people (at least the people who will be trying to keep up to date with developments) wary of new information and this is probably a good thing. We felt there is an element of trying to get the balance right between teaching for the final/external assessment which we know will be presented in a fairly traditional manner, and adapting formative assessment in different ways.
The Hardiman and Whitman article had some interesting points about barriers to how information on how neuroscientific research is used. Often teachers and leaders have little understanding or it is only seen as relevant to struggling learners. This linked in with thinking about parental understanding of assessment and how we should be aware of the need to involve parents at every stage of a child’s education.
I think I’m safe to say that everyone at the journal club found it useful. We might not have ripped apart the readings as thoroughly as some would, but it was interesting to be able to compare different texts and use them as a prompt to discuss our settings. We’re going to hold another meeting next term and sticking with two papers. Topic suggestions are most welcome!