What works? Teacher Action Research works.

 ‘I think the thing that attracted me to TARP was the fact that actually what we are doing is looking at something that is a lot more research-based… it’s much more useful to be thinking about what does make a difference in the classroom; how does one implement it; how does one disseminate it and how does one go through the process of being more professionally engaged with the science and craft of teaching.’ TARP teacher, 2019

What was the Teacher Action Research Project?

Between October 2018 and June 2019 I delivered a Teacher Action Research Project – TARP – to a group of 8 secondary school teachers from across England, meeting on three occasions at UCL Institute of Education (IOE), where I work. The project was funded by UCL Widening Access and Participation, whose remit is to increase the uptake of places at leading universities by students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The teachers chose themes and interventions that they judged likely to make a substantial difference to their own students: some focused on aspects of their classroom practice that they wished to adapt; others conducted their action research on an element of their wider school responsibility. The only stipulation was that they must concentrate on outcomes for their disadvantaged students.

Summary of the interventions and outcomes

Three were interested in the process of student learning; they were keen to increase their students’ awareness of how they learn, and to see the extent to which this would contribute to their academic progress. These projects may be labelled metacognitive strategies. The self-regulation of learners was a feature across several other projects. One hypothesised that, to address the demands of new linear exams at A level, teachers needed to address the metacognitive skills of their students and could best achieve this through explicit modelling of written responses; two English teachers conducted projects which focused on boosting subject-specific vocabulary in Key Stage 4. These three enquiries can be loosely grouped as language and literacy. One teacher, whose whole-school role embraces Careers Education, was interested in the link between students’ self-efficacy and realistic career choices; the project of the final practitioner-researcher saw her department take a range of new evidence-informed approaches to teaching Geography at Key Stage 3. These last two come under the very broad heading curriculum development but, like the rest, are complex interventions concerned largely with students’ self-regulation.

There were many common findings across the eight action research projects. Many saw student confidence as a prerequisite to progress; others saw that increased confidence was an outcome of their projects. The same could be said for the issue of teacher-student relationships: some saw them improve, while others identified them as a continuing threat to successful outcomes. Teaching strategies that placed an emphasis on student self-reflection, their metacognition and self-regulation all had promising results for disadvantaged students and others. Likewise, modelling of exemplar answers, emphasis on appropriate subject vocabulary and the embedding of strategies which force students to retrieve prior knowledge: greater focus upon these pedagogical approaches did bear fruit for many of the disadvantaged students whose progress was tracked. Not all projects succeeded on their own terms. Those where the number or complexity of interventions were greatest found it difficult to implement change or to track the impact of the changes they did implement. In some few cases, the participating teachers speculated that their innovation may have in some way hampered the progress of the students they were trying to help, but this was a minority finding. Others were able to reflect upon the extraneous factors which continue to impede the progress of their disadvantage students.

What TARP has to say about innovations that make a positive difference to disadvantaged students

Modelling

Modelling happened in several ways across the projects. In some cases this involved the use of a visualiser in class to highlight features of exemplary practice; in another it included the repeated use of model answers provided by exam boards; one teachers referred to the ‘talking aloud’ strategy, whereby the teacher models their thinking as they construct an answer ‘live’ in front of their class. One found that ‘it was clear that all students, disadvantaged or not, wanted to see what excellence looked like and had a genuine thirst for knowledge.’ The progress of her High Prior Attaining Pupil Premium students improved, but so did that of most of the rest of the two Year 11 English classes in her study. Another – who had analysed the planning and teaching of A level subjects that had performed well since the reintroduction of linear exams – wanted to see what lessons could be learned by those departments whose results had dipped. A student survey identified more modelling of exam questions as the area that would help them improve the most. Teachers in two subjects agreed to a six-week implementation of explicit modelling – specifically of exam board answers and typically within homework – and to track the impact upon the bursary students through internal assessment and mock exams. In maths half the bursary students in the set improved their grade while the rest remained as they were. The picture was similar in economics, where one bursary student improved their grade while the other remained static.

 

Building good relations and a culture of trust

One teacher contended that ‘establishing a culture of trust within a class is central to students making progress.’

Some participating teachers pointed to the trust that was an outcome of involvement in the project. One (who did a lunchtime group intervention focused on the students’ knowledge retrieval skills) saw that ‘as the interventions progressed, the girls started to become more and more accountable for each other and encouraging one another to meet the demands of their courses.’ She spotted a relationship between that burgeoning culture of trust in the group and their regard for themselves as learners, which (for all but one of the group) improved also. Another noted that, the more familiar his Year 13 English Literature students were with simple cognitive processes and the rationale behind the approaches to feedback he was taking, the more they trusted him and the tasks he was setting.

 

Student confidence

For this teacher, this trust in him and his teaching was a contributory factor in the students’ growing confidence going into their exams. One of his students said she had begun to ‘trust my own thinking’.

Among one teacher’s Year 10s, after the four months of her careers and options guidance programme

‘82% of the students felt that they were now more confident to make decisions related to their career paths highlighting that the project has been somewhat successful in breaking down the barriers to career self-efficacy and increasing student confidence.’

She concluded that it was the early and structured nature of the intervention which helped the students be more confident in their decision-making.

A geography teacher, implementing a new Key Stage 3 curriculum, explicitly measured the confidence of her students using ‘feedback circles’ in the lessons. She and her colleagues were alarmed at the high rate of students describing themselves as within the ‘panic zone’ when they were asked to think hard. But, persisting with their innovations – and in particular the demand that their students ‘speak like a geographer’ – they found gradually that ‘most of the students moved out of the panic zone and into the stretch zone’.

Teaching which boosts vocabulary

An English teacher noticed that students, who were unfazed at the prospect of producing two to three pages of work would still feel anxious about giving ‘the right answer’, and this stopped them writing. A ‘heightened focus on relevant terminology’ was one of the factors leading to improved progress for Pupil Premium students with higher prior attainment. The geography teacher’s students, as they moved out of their panic zone, began to expand their discipline vocabulary.

‘This started to finally pay off and after a few weeks teachers and students started to use these words as a matter of course (in the interviews this is something teachers referred to again and again and were quite amazed by.)’

Another English teacher delighted that some of her students had become ‘word hungry’ – asking for vocabulary and prepared to use the thesaurus – but she sounded a warning note too.

‘Students accessed and used a range of complex and higher level vocabulary that they would otherwise either not have the tools or confidence to access… Students are empowered when given tailored vocabulary – however students do not have the skills to be able to build upon this independently.’

They remained reluctant to source higher level vocabulary for themselves, or to transfer the new vocabulary they had learned to other subject areas.

 

Metacognition and Retrieval Practice

Several of the TARP teachers used their enquiries to test their supposition that students make better progress the more they are aware of the processes of learning. As noted already, an A level English teacher found that his students trusted him and his methods the more they recognised that they had some basis in cognitive science. He concluded that placing subject knowledge at the heart of the curriculum yielded significant benefits that seemed to go beyond simply recalling knowledge.

‘The ease with which the students retrieved information decreased cognitive load. It seemed that being able to retrieve knowledge with relative ease freed up cognitive space to concentrate on structuring essays and writing well.’

The teacher of the lunchtime intervention group found that they began to bring in examples of dual-coding they had produced in Science and discussed flash card examples for their humanities revision.

‘It was evident that they had not only taken a more independent approach to selecting and using appropriate recall and retrieval strategies but were also open and willing to share these with their peers.’

Caveats

These were small studies, a few conducted across a department or between two or three groups, most confined to a single class. Within that, the teachers tracked the impact of their projects on the much smaller number of specifically disadvantaged students. It is an advantage of action research that it allows participating teachers to spot the often very small, yet significant, changes that can occur when a modification is made to teaching. The methodology is essentially qualitative, which allows the teachers to report on the attitudes and behaviours which are both factors in and outcomes of learning. But the datasets are necessarily tiny, and the measures of attainment – short of public exam data – are assessed by the teachers themselves. (TARP concluded before the end of the Summer term, i.e. before the release of the 2019 public exams.)

The teachers on TARP were clearly invested in the successes of their interventions, and they were mindful of the pitfalls of bias. Several, in their own reporting, speculated upon the possible negative consequences of their study. One teacher’s English department colleagues undertook a lesson study into the expanded use of higher order language to enable their students to express perspective. She noted that they enjoyed the ‘safe’ bank of vocabulary they were given and asked

‘Are we inhibiting students by providing them with too much? Do we over-stimulate or confuse students with SEN? Some students feel they have to use every new word, which then makes their written responses convoluted.’

 

The geographer in the group also expressed a residual concern for her lower prior attaining students. When she and her geography colleagues rewrote their Key Stage 3 curriculum, they found that their higher and middle prior attainers responded well. But the lower prior attainers – especially those deemed to be at Levels 1 or 2 – did not. She remained confident in the approaches taken by her colleagues but was cognisant also of making too bold a claim.

 

Final comments

The Teacher Action Research Projects have made a positive difference to disadvantaged students in the eight schools. They have also affected the teachers themselves, their confidence as practitioners and their sense of their place in the profession. All intend to continue with the practices they innovated this year, and several have expanded their plans.

Reflecting on TARP, one commented

‘I think that to be effective educators, we need to be able to process, explore and consider the research before it is implemented, so that it can have a more positive impact on our students.’

The final word should go to another, for whom the project has made her think about

‘how small changes can have an impact without adding to workload and that sometimes it is doing more of what already works rather than incorporating something completely new.’

 

I full version of this report will soon be available on the UCL website at:

www.ucl.ac.uk/widening-participation/TARP

Wise Young Teachers

Teachers in England – and especially in London – are being encouraged to take on their first leadership positions at ever-younger ages. If good leadership depends on wisdom, and wisdom derives from experience, how can our leaders be both wise and young?

The IOE has a long-established CPD relationship with Newham schools. For several years we have run programmes on behalf of three Teaching School Alliances, for NQTs during induction and for those in the second year of their careers (often called NQT+1s.). These have been popular and successful and, through them, reached hundreds of teachers serving children and families in the area.

The design of the current programme arose out of my work over several years with NQTs in Chace Community School in Enfield.

Read more about this UCL Case Study here. If you happen to be a teacher in Newham, you might also want to check out the Newham Early Career Teacher programme here.

I am now running a similar programme for the Tapscott Learning Trust also based in Newham.

They are working on research themes with the (hopefully) catchy titles of Boys and Girls: the same only different? Differentiation: reaching all learners? and Providing effective feedback: it’s not just your marking!

Finally, I am working with a marvellous group of young teachers from the Future Zone group of schools in Islington. They completed their first enquiries, taking inspiration from Addressing Gender and Achievement: Myths and Realities, the report written for the DCSF by Gemma Moss, Becky Francis and Christine Skelton. This Year 6 teacher, from Tufnell Park primary school, Kieran Boulton, was so taken by his discoveries he committed it to video.

Enquiries such as these are accelerating the practice experience of these young teachers, giving them insights into research that provide them with stories to tell their colleagues. This is the sort of ‘practice wisdom’ they will need as they move into leadership.

Is technology addiction just FOMO?

With colleagues at UCL Institute of Education I have worked with teachers at the City of London School for a few years on individual practitioner enquiries. Below is an edited version of Matt Kerr’s report.

To what extent are CLS boys in the Third Form at risk of exhibiting behaviour consistent with Technology Addiction?

little-boy-mobile-phone-13308223

THE ISSUE

The idea for me to study the notion of Technology Addiction came when the School was about to embark on banning mobile phone use for some year groups. Up until quite recently the School’s approach to mobile phone use was somewhat light touch. Academic year 2017 – 18 was the first year that 2nd Form boys were not allowed to use their phones at all during the school day. Subsequently, this ban has been extended to 3rd Form boys for academic year 2018 – 19.

Technology addiction — sometimes called Internet addiction, Internet use disorder (IUD) or Internet addiction disorder (IAD) — is a fairly new phenomenon. It’s often described as a serious problem involving the inability to control use of various kinds of technology, in particular the Internet, smartphones, tablets and social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Now that it’s effortless to text and access the Web and social media from almost anywhere, more of us are dependent on communicating via the tiny computers we carry with us. So it’s no surprise that health experts are seeing a rise in addictive tendencies that involve technology.

Technology addiction, and the related and more common term Internet addiction disorder, are not recognised as addictions or disorders in the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the reference used by health care providers to diagnose mental health conditions. However, Internet Use Gaming Disorder – excessive playing of video games — was added to the DSM-5 in June 2018. Although my study does not look solely at Internet Gaming, but rather technology addiction in its broader sense, it is compelling to see the WHO recognise the dangers of too much time spent gaming.

Even if addiction to different types of technology isn’t yet a recognised disorder on its own, the problem has been on the radar of health professionals since the 1990s. In 1995, Kimberly Young, PsyD, established the Centre for Internet Addiction and created the first treatment plan for technology addiction based on cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) techniques. That same year, the term “Internet addiction disorder” was coined by psychiatrist Dr. Ivan Goldberg.

The way tech addiction is diagnosed can differ from country to country, but surveys in the U.S. and Europe show that between 1.5% and 8.2% of the population suffers from Internet addiction. Technology addiction is recognised as a widespread health problem in other countries, including Australia, China, Japan, India, Italy, Japan, Korea and Taiwan, which have established dedicated clinics to address this growing issue.

Like other types of addiction, technology addiction can range from moderate to severe, and some researchers say that like other addictions, people who use their phones or stay online for many hours a day experience a similar “high” — and also feel withdrawal when cut off. It’s not simply the amount of time spent with the digital device that defines an addict, though, but how excessive use adversely affects someone’s mental and physical health, daily life, relationships and academic or job performance.

According to Hilarie Cash, PhD., co-founder of an Internet Addiction Recovery Program, symptoms can include:

  • Compulsive checking of text messages
  • Frequent changing of personal social media statuses and uploading of “selfies”
  • A feeling of euphoria while on the Web
  • Social withdrawal
  • Loss of interest in activities that don’t involve a computer, phone or gadget
  • Feelings of restlessness when unable to go online

We are living in an age where one simply cannot escape the use of technology and the enormous benefits it brings are obvious. I was keen to explore how CLS boys are interacting with each other, and using and over-using their mobile phones. I also wanted to get a boys perspective on their level of dependency and usage habits.

RESEARCH QUESTION

It appears that barely a day goes by without a report documenting the explosion in the use of mobile phones amongst teenagers in the UK. With technology so embedded into today’s youth culture I wanted to get a better understanding of young peoples attitudes towards and usage of mobile phones.

So I came up with the following research question:

To what extent are CLS boys in the Third Form at risk of exhibiting behaviour consistent with Technology Addiction?

 

WHAT DID I DO – IN CARRYING OUT THE ENQUIRY

Methodology – part one – Questionnaire

  1. I used Dr Richard Grahams Technology Addiction Questionnaire – questions below. The questionnaire is made up of 12 questions. The questions are designed to be given to individuals who think they may be at risk of suffering from Internet addiction. The questions require a yes or no response and if the respondent answers yes to four or more questions then individuals are said to be displaying a worrying relationship with technology.
  2. All boys in the 3rd Form were invited to take part in the research questionnaire. The questionnaire was sent to all boys via a link to a Google form.
  3. 107 boys completed the survey
  4. The answers to the questionnaire were all anonymous
  5. I then asked for volunteers to take part in a follow up group interview.

 

Methodology – part two – Group interviews

12 boys were selected from all the boys who volunteered to take part in a group interview. The interviews were arranged into two groups of six boys. As part of the group interview all volunteers were given the questionnaire again and then a series of questions were asked which led to some interesting discussions.

The questions asked include:

  1. What are your perceptions of healthy versus unhealthy use of mobile devices
  2. What does a typical 24 hour period look like in terms of your digital device usage.
  3. How do you feel when: you leave the house and you realise that you have forgotten your phone?
  4. How do you feel when / if your phone has been confiscated.

 

MAKING SENSE OF THE INFORMATION

I only used results from boys who had completed all of the questions. Any incomplete responses were not included in the final analysis. All of the boys answered yes or no to all 12 questions and this produced some interesting results which I have presented in pie charts.

(Remember: according to the design of the questionnaire anyone answering yes to four or more questions are said to be displaying a worrying relationship with technology.)

Group Interview data handling: I selected 12 volunteers from over 20 boys who were keen to take part in the group interviews. I first asked them to complete the questionnaire again. I then asked individual to share their responses with the rest of the group. I deliberately allowed the discussion to flow with little intervention from me. During the discussions I was taking notes and trying to ensure all members of the group had a fair opportunity to voice their views.

WHAT DID I DISCOVER

  1. 37 / 107 (35%) boys answered yes on 4 or more occasions.
  2. 5 / 107 (4.7% ) boys answered yes on 8 or more occasions.
  3. The average number of “yes’s” per person = 2.93
  4. 1 boy answered yes to all 12 questions
  5. 16 boys answered no to all 12 questions = (15% of boys)
  6. By the time the boys are in the Third Form the temptation to stay online longer than expected is increasingly difficult to overcome.
  7. “Only” 10% of boys would rather spend time communicating online rather than face to face. This is particularly concerning, however, if the individual has any socialisation difficulties. In addition, SEND students are known to be at a higher risk of Technology addiction and to take part in other risky online activities.
  8. 22.4% of boys sleep with their smart phone near or under their pillow. This contravenes all advice given to teenagers about healthy amounts of sleep, and best practice in terms of not having mobile devices in the bedroom.
  9. Probably the most worrying statistic is that 37.4% of boys secretly wish that they could be a little less connected to their mobile devices. This is a clear signal that they are not able to self regulate. The boys need and would appreciate help with curbing their own phone use.
  10. Almost 20% of boys hide or become defensive about their online activities. The secretive element of online behaviour is troubling for a number of reasons. 1. Secretive behaviour and actions online can result in boys encountering content or people that are not appropriate for their age. 2. Secretive online behaviour can increase the likelihood of technology addiction. 3. Many incidents of online bullying are carried out by lone individuals sending messages that they believe are anonymous.

 

Key results form the groups interviews. 

All of the people interviewed said that when asked the same questions again they answered differently and all of them said they gave more “no” responses. When asked about this, they explained it was easier to be honest on an anonymous survey. And when asked face to face they are more likely to give the response that they thought they should be saying. Some boys explained that some days they feel very attached to their mobiles and other days they don use them at all. This often depends on what game they are playing at the time and who else is playing with them.

  1. What are your perceptions of healthy versus unhealthy use of mobile devices

Healthy use is “normal usage” and this was described as the same time and amount of usage that their friends are spending. In reality this often means gaming before school, at break times and for large parts of the evening after homework has been completed.

Unhealthy use would be described as gaming all night and failing to hand homework in because of excessive use.

None of the boys surveyed believed they were unhealthy users.

  1. What does a typical 24 hour period look like in terms of your digital device usage.

It is not unusual for the digital day to start very early in the morning, before they have got out of bed and continue long after their agreed bedtime.  Some boys said that they would set their alarm on their phones for earlier than they needed to check messages and to play games before having to get up for school.

  1. How do you feel when: you leave the house and you realise that you have forgotten your phone?

All of the participants explained that they would never leave the house without their phone. Hypothetically speaking if they were to leave the house without their phone – they would return home to get.

  1. How do you feel when / if your phone has been confiscated.

Angry, unfair treatment, I would be worried because I couldn’t play my games and I would feel like I am missing out. (FOMO), having my phone confiscated is the worst thing that could happen to me.

None of the boys interviewed  expressed any feelings of relief if they were to have their phone confiscated.

One question that I did not ask but should have asked was: why did you volunteer to be part of the group interview research group?

Summary.

To what extent are CLS boys in the Third Form at risk of exhibiting behaviour consistent with Technology Addiction?

The short answer to this question is that I feel that the high level of mobile phone use by the boys surveyed is putting them at risk of developing behaviours that are consistent with Technology addiction.

 

 

 

#Lower case r, upper case ED, 17

ResearchEd17 could be forgiven for being a bit self-conscious: in recent weeks it has been spoken of less favourably, had its grassroots raked over, its biases heat-mapped. Sure enough, when I arrived (like a marathon runner along Cheering Lane), it was clear that the cheering crowds had stayed away.

total gridlock ‘Total Gridlock’

There was barely a complimentary canvas bag in sight. Was TB defeatED? Was his love affair with geeks in the staffroom and policy wonkers in the anglosphere endED? Had his hash been tagged for the last time?

Nope.

It turns out that Chobham Academy, in the shadow of the Queen Elizabeth stadium, is larger than the average comp: they hosted the 2012 volleyball in their foyer – which is where we found the hordes and their canvas bags. Tom was in pink, Helene was handing out raffle tickets to win lunches, and all was right with the world. Someone (we blamed the Harris peeps) forgot the free pens, but we are high starters with 21st Century skills happy to photograb speakers’ slides and live-tweet our research. Our only concern was failing phone-battery power. #WorkingOutHowToMakeADyingPhoneWork.

I have engaged with ResearchED on many previous occasions, but this was the first time I got to engage in ResearchED. If you have never done it, you should, it’s miles better than sitting on the floor all day, and you get to rub shoulders with famous people and Nick Gibb. And you get to start the day in the speakers’ lounge, this year styled as the training room. I limbered up there with my fellow presenter James Mannion and teachers from the City of London School.

SpeakersRoom

Imagine if all the boxers from the undercard were put in the same dressing room: it’s just like that. Your competitors (those you suspect will draw a bigger crowd) are in there, as are real live people who misleadingly look nothing like their Gravatar. I’m represented to the online world by a three year old drawing by my daughter, who at the time loved me enough to ignore my greying hair. In short, there is little small talk in the speakers’ room; just people doing some research before it’s their turn to present.

You would get fit working in this school. It’s designed like one of those spiralling coin boxes that entertain you as you give your old euros to charity. I joined Lisa Pettifer for a lap on the second floor. ‘Is M213 this way, Lisa?’ ‘Just keep on walking, Mark, and it soon will be.’ Jonny Peacock and Christine Ohuruogu go to school here. Sensible presenters like Christian Bokhove wear t-shirts with penguins on them. He told us that spinach does not contain lodes of iron, that the myth apparently occurred during the Great Decimal Point shift, that that too is a myth traceable to the Readers’ Digest, which may or may not be available in the Netherlands. And the moral of his tale was: don’t pretend that you know stuff really well unless you really do; try a little nuance when discussing cognitive psychology on twitter. I will try my best, Christian, but it’s in my nature…

‘Mark Quinn et al’ were giving their talk on practitioner enquiry during session 3. Six of us at the front, going for the prize of Those Most Likely to Outnumber Their Audience. Tom helped us out by scheduling against us Sherrington, Christodoulou, Weston, Jones, Creaby, Davenport, and Hood and Fletcher-Wood… et al. Well, I don’t know how many flocked to the gurus this year but we were very happy with our little turnout. Everyone had a seat, they could join in on the chat, and I could pick out old colleagues Barbara Terziyski and Vivienne Porritt.

ResearchEd17 There are more people just out of shot.

We were making the case for the gnomes of the research garden, teachers carrying out the sort of micro-research that tests out the grand theories without ever being reported. Nick wanted to know if his year 8 had a growth mindset, and if they did did it show up in achievement and effort data. (They did, and it did not.) Joe, the head of RE, has an ontological interest in creativity: he wanted to know what his students thought about it and where they would like to see more of it. Richard wanted his year 11s to be more reflective about their work, had a hunch that peer feedback would help him get there, and found that it did. The great thing about ResearchED is that it showcases some of the disciplined enquiries that real teachers are conducting, but even if ResearchED did not exist these teachers would still be gnomically enquiring away.

Amanda Spielman finished my day. That’s great because she is passionate about workload, so much so that Ofsted will ask headteachers how they are reducing it. She is also passionate about research and will turn the inspectorate’s attention that way increasingly. I asked her if she would research the impact Ofsted have on workload, and act on the results. I can imagine headteachers replying to Sean Harford’s questionnaire by saying they tell their staff to ignore Ofsted. Ofsted could write a best practice review of all of those schools that ignore them. That would be great, because lots more schools would read Ofsted’s how-to guide to ignoring Ofsted. Spielman might pull her hair out at that unintended consequence. One to watch.

 

 

Research: Learning by Doing

Learning by Doing

I provoked some minor debate with my Research Home Guard post, suggesting that ‘research ayatollahs’ ought to be more relaxed when more practitioner researchers commandeer their favourite R-word. My point is basic: if I want my colleagues to engage with research, they need to have some experience of also being engaged in it.

What does that mean? Engaging with research is more than just clicking on twitter, or scouting around the EEF site – though I would do nothing to discourage either activity. To be properly engaged with implies that I can read the findings critically, that I can ask questions about validity, that I have an appreciation of methodology. It also means that I don’t let go of my own professional judgement: I may catch some shining new insight escaping out of an academic hole, but I also have long years of my own experience to call upon. In short, if I am to understand what I am reading, I need also to understand how the knowledge was put together. And that is where school-based, action/practitioner enquiry comes in. Done well (and – I owe – it can sometimes be done badly), it can be systematic and rigorous. All I know about evidence-collection, I have learned from doing it and from guiding others to do it. Action researchers learn by doing. In other words, they can read other stuff because they have had to write their own.

Research Social Network at Chace My Social Network analysis (courtesy, Chris Brown.)

This map arose out of a survey conducted among my staff, compiled by David Godfrey at UCL-IOE. It revealed that, although I was at the centre of much of what my colleagues perceived as the school’s research culture, I was not alone: our Lead Teacher team was vital to the wider dissemination of ‘what we know’. I wanted to build upon, and to further democratise, this distribution. So, as my homework for the Leading Evidence Informed Practice in Schools course (led by David and Karen Spence-Thomas at UCL-IOE), I proposed the creation of volunteer Research Co-ordinator posts at my school. With the green light from SLT, I advertised and successfully recruited two colleagues who had recently completed excellent school-based MAs with me. (See here.) They are @louleggo7 (our head of Psychology) and @DSaunders1106 (a PE teacher). With @BTerziyski, we have now completed our first meeting. They have taken on a lot, and I need to reconsider the ‘volunteer’ aspect of their job title. As their work proceeds I, and they, will report further. But, for now, here are our plans:

To increase staff engagement with research ·         DS and LL will start ‘research reading’ groups (name tbd), convening possibly on a monthly basis to share thoughts on a piece of recently published research. This could be something with a controversial edge, or an enquiry conducted by a colleague at Chace.

·         DS and LL to publish a termly ‘research digest’ (name tbd): either synthesised by them, or ‘found’ elsewhere. This will be placed on our ChacePD website, and flagged in the staff bulletin.

·         Either as well as, or instead of, the above DS and LL will compile a booklet of research which will underpin our Development Time focus. E.g. pieces on resilience, growth mindset, collaboration, independence.

·         LL and DS will contribute to short School Briefing slots on research into pedagogy, school leadership and the educational system.

To increase the Research Coordinators personal effectiveness. DS and LL will continue to pursue their own research interests (and through this contribute to School Briefing, as described above.)

Through twitter, blogs and publications they will enhance their skills in data collection, and their appreciation of how best to engage a school in and with research. Among the commentators and academics they will familiarise themselves with: Chris Brown, Louise Stoll, Gary Jones, Alex Quigley, Tom Sherrington.

To support internal research and review ·         RCs will conduct a review of the impacts of MDT. They will design their evidence-gathering methods at the outset and measure progress towards desired outcomes.

·         RCs are keen to work with one or two middle leaders as they write and review their improvement plans. Enquiry questions such as: What do I need to focus on? What might success in this area look like? What evidence can I gather against this? What is my current position? What does research – and my experience – tell me might work? Therefore, what will I do?

·         Assist with the construction of enquiry questions when SLT are conducting reviews and learning walks.

·         To respond to ‘commissions’ from SLT for research findings into areas, on an ad hoc basis.

·         Work with NQTs on one action enquiry across their induction year.

To impact on teaching and learning, and on school culture. LL and DS are keen to implement next steps from their MA enquiries. They will explore opportunities to work further with interested departments.
To create a repository of items of research interest. MQ, CLTs and RCs are increasingly sharing insights and thinkpieces from twitter, blogs and online publications, which we need to store more efficiently.

We will share using the #ChacePD hashtag, so our PD website can maintain items on its timeline.

MQ and BT will create space – and place interesting items – on the ChacePD site, under the Research Enquiry at Chace heading.

To support the RC team. Request that MQ and the RC team have a timetable free together, to meet to plan and review work.

MQ to enquire as to how now to remunerate RCs (via TLR or time), as their input could be substantial.

The Research Home Guard

The estimable Alex Quigley’s recent post Just Don’t Call in Research again raised the issue of what should, and should not, be called ‘research’ in schools. I’ve debated the issue myself here and here. Despite his post’s title, Alex seems happy to take Dylan Wiliam’s notion of disciplined inquiry and apply it to the hard work of school improvement. I’m just not sure why the research mavens are so jealous of the word ‘research’. If what we do in schools passes the test of asking interesting questions in a systematic way and making our answers somehow public, wouldn’t Lawrence Stenhouse himself be satisfied?

Full Disclosure: I do a little work for the UCL IOE Research and Development Network, where this blog is also featured. I have been a participant on their Leading Evidence Informed Practice in Schools course, led by Karen Spence-Thomas and David Godfrey. Their working definition of research is much more open:

By ‘research’ we include a broad range of activity that can be loosely defined as ‘systematic enquiry made public’. In other words, it must be consciously planned and involve some collection of data/evidence. Making research ‘public’ need not involve writing the research up formally in an article or report but it must have been shared in some way.This can include a wide range of practitioner or academic research or research and development activity.

They have been sharing some of the insights from their colleague Chris Brown’s Leading the use of research & evidence in schools, which includes the notion of information flow around an institution’s ‘social network’. This was my effort:

Research Social Network at Chace

I am the hairy dot in the middle. It was based partly on my own observations, but mainly on the findings of a staff survey which David is using in a number of schools. I have selected just a few graphs here as indicators of the sorts of things my colleagues think about the idea of research engagement.

The first set of questions were about our culture.

Research Culture at Chace

 

There is pretty clear agreement that the culture of our school supports engaging in and with research for professional development. They also agree that we use and do research for wider school development, and that the school’s leadership is committed to this. Very many could point to specific inquiries that they, or colleagues, had been engaged in. This included Masters level work (see here for recent examples), but also inquiries conducted as part of our NQT induction programme, action research conducted within some departments, and school improvement work done as part of National College programmes. Interestingly, very many decided that our professional development programme (what we call Development Time) also amounted to research engagement, as it often starts with sharing a piece of externally-produced research and urges colleagues to experiment with ideas in their own classrooms. Whereas few puritans would accept this as research, it is clear that our staff think of it as such; for many, it will be the principal way in which they interact critically with the research.

So my colleagues are clearly not averse to this business. What would help more of them get into it? The next question revealed that a quarter of them did not know of a named member of staff responsible for promoting research engagement. That person is me. Subsequent questions show that a majority do not know of funding to support research (there is, from the governors), or of training to develop research skills.

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This is obviously an area we can work on. I have taken 18 teachers through to completion of their MAs over the past few years, and whipped numerous NQTs through various forms of action enquiry, but clearly several others have not been invited to join the party. There is a capacity issue: if I alone am the ‘research guy’, too many opportunities will be missed.

So, where next? The social network analysis provides me with a potential way forward. Although I placed myself at its centre, I was not alone. The CLT (Lead Teacher) team leads the Development Time which very many saw as their exposure to research. We have a hardy band of volunteer Development Coordinators, who consciously develop strategies to share with their colleagues. My plan is to build upon this habit of discretionary input from colleagues, to mobilise some of the skills that my ‘MA teachers’ have acquired, and muster a small team of Research Coordinators.A Modest Proposal

And, daring the wrath of the research ayatollahs, we are going to use the word ‘research’ at every opportunity.