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.

MAs Re-Mastered

Masters

It is that time of year again. A pasty-faced band of colleagues return from their Christmas holidays having churned out 20,000 words for their MA Education dissertations. I have commented here before on some of the Masters work I have supported in my school. This year I want to share their work a little further (if my blog and twitter followers amount to ‘further’.)

With their kind permission I have reproduced their abstracts here. If you want to read their full reports, or to follow up a query with them, you can either type your email address into the comment box at the bottom of this post, or DM your email via twitter. It would be well worth your while!

 

Exploring the indirect impact of regular early morning football training on academic success: Can sport be used to develop a more academic culture?

By Daniel Saunders

Abstract

Background: There are numerous studies which discuss the benefits being physically active can have on physical and mental wellbeing as well as cognitive development in young people. Equally, there is currently much debate regarding the potential academic benefits of sport although many studies have struggled to find a causative link. Over the past three academic years, students at our North London mixed comprehensive school have had the opportunity to attend early morning football training sessions. This study seeks to determine whether there are any academic and non-academic benefits developed as a result. Method: Students who attended over 50% of the sessions were eligible for the study and the rest of their cohorts were deemed to be control groups. Student progress data was measured over the academic year, form tutors were asked for their opinion of students’ development, students were given questionnaires to determine their enjoyment of school and their perceived impact of the study, parents were interviewed to determine their opinion of their son’s improvement and attendance, punctuality and homework completion was measured to determine if the study has impacted upon their academic culture for learning. Conclusion: Students who participate in early morning football training achieve comparable results when compared with their respective cohorts. Form tutors and parents have made numerous suggestions that lead the researcher to believe that students who participated in the study developed significantly more positive attitudes towards school. Punctuality of students involved in the study was significantly better on days where early morning sessions were available as opposed to non-training days. The data obtained suggests that homework completion may be beginning to improve with the research sample who have been attending early morning training sessions for a longer period of time suggesting there may be a dose-response relationship which is yet to be understood.

 

How does a Mastery Learning teaching method compare to a responsive teaching method actively developed over time? 

By Darren Glyde

Abstract

This paper analyses in detail the Mastery Learning teaching approach and compares it to a tried and tested technique developed by a colleague over time. The two methods were applied to two GCSE Art classes, each taught by one method. The data collected has shown that both methods of teaching are able to raise attainment within the four core skills being investigated. The findings demonstrate that over a short period of time a Mastery approach of delivering skills based learning is effective, however, in the long term the tried and tested method of teaching produced higher levels of attainment overall.

 

An action enquiry to assess the effectiveness of a deconstruction model of teaching when applied to exam style reading-questions in year 8 English lessons, with a focus on: How far it can aid understanding of the question and whether it provides structural support when writing an independent response to a question.

By Megan Clarke

Abstract

This study explored the effectiveness of a deconstruction model when applied to exam-style reading questions in year 8 English lessons. It focused on the extent to which it aided students’ understanding of a question and whether it provided a structural support when students wrote independent responses to the question.

Data analysis revealed that implementing a model which focused on: vocabulary; the deconstruction and reconstruction of a question; and student-led scaffolding, to be beneficial in affective terms and promoted self-efficacy in students as learners, including independence. The results showed the specific areas of the model were successful in strengthening the breadth of responses to questions when delivered in a classroom environment, although, the small scale of the research would necessitate further quantitative and qualitative data collection and analysis in order to generalise and validate the use of the model further.

 

An Investigation into the Effectiveness of Distributed Practice and Practice   Testing Revision Strategies on Students’ Learning.

By Louise Legg

Abstract

Students often struggle to complete revision in preparation for important and final exams  and teachers are sometimes uncertain of how best to support students at this time. Experts in the field of cognitive psychology propose two revision strategies as being the most effective in improving students’ learning, namely distributed practice and practice testing. This research tested the effectiveness of these strategies in improving students’ learning in A-Level Psychology lessons. An action research approach was employed and a variety of techniques used to test the effectiveness of these strategies over the course of several months. Findings suggest that practice testing and distributed practice can enhance students’ learning and lead to improved performance in assessments. It was concluded that embedding these strategies within the teaching of subjects across the school and from an early age,  could lead to an improvement in students’ ability to prepare for exams and in their overall academic achievement.

Breaching our Cosy Bunkers

 

Bruce Bairnsfather

For all the inducements to engage in research, to become more evidence-informed, our staff are largely happy to be in the ‘ole they’re in. We prefer to think we do things differently here, so looking outside for answers doesn’t really occur. On the rare occasions we invite in an outside speaker, we tend to duff them up. “They don’t work with our kids,” is a familiar refrain. I call this our ‘cosy bunker mentality’: things aren’t perfect here, but the grass really isn’t greener on the other side you know.

I don’t blame them really. Just when they were getting comfortable with just marking the kids’ work, I made them whip out their green pens and commence a dialogue with them too. They bought my promise that independent learning was ideal for lazy teachers, only to discover that it was just another way to work bloody hard. My school has been a Pedagogopolis these past few years, and its teacher-denizens have been a pretty LO-abiding bunch. Research engagement / practitioner enquiry has been a toolkit too far for most of them.

But, slowly, we are beginning to breach their cosy bunkers. Some credit for this goes to the SLT. We are a largely internally-recruited bunch, with limited experience of working in other schools, and traditionally we would have been as splendidly isolationist as the rest of the staffroom. But two years ago I inserted into our improvement plan that we become a ‘research community’, and though we don’t yet deserve that immodest tag we are edging that way. On Pupil Premium, life beyond National Curriculum levels, the gainful deployment of TAs, and how we measure the quality of teaching without grading lessons – on all of these we have trudged through the blogs, reached for The Key or looked up the EEF. We have refreshed the way we tackle internal reviews: now we start with an enquiry question, devise a review approach (observations, scrutinies, the like) then publish our findings in ways which are much more useful to the teams under review. So, we have looked outside and we have looked inside and altogether we have achieved a much clearer view.

But, given my professional development role, I need also to be busting the bunker from the inside – getting ordinary colleagues engaged in and with research. I have posted here before on my management of our Masters in Education programme. Being a North London school, we have access to the capital’s universities and libraries. Middlesex University operate an arms-length MA module, whereby I get to tutor and assess my colleagues on their action enquiries. I would not say that we as an organisation have learned enough from the research conducted by these individual colleagues; but 15 busy teachers have themselves read some of the latest thinking, and devised valid tests for gauging the impact of new initiatives. They have engaged in and with research, become informed, savvy and inspired. They have found better ‘oles.

Finally, if enquiry is to be embedded as a go-to means of professional development, I need to get to my teachers when they are still young and know no better. That’s why our NQT induction programme is built upon a succession of 5 or 6 mini enquiries across the year. On school priority issues (independent learning, AfL, literacy) they are introduced to some piece of research or a set of strategies; they then have to consider them, plan around and teach them, then reflect upon and present their findings in a blog (which they are encouraged to share and comment on.) It’s enquiry, rather than research, but it’s my attempt to get them to discover and exercise the muscles they’ll need if they are ever to search for the theoretical underpinning for their practice. I now have colleagues – two and three years past their NQTness – for whom this form of enquiry is an instinct. Not many of them, but some. They have climbed out of the bunker.

It’s not so cosy in there now.

https://schoolleaders.thekeysupport.com/

https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/index.php/toolkit