Sunday, 6 April 2014

Research Ed - what I found out

I didn't take many notes yesterday. It is quite hard to take notes and listen, however I will try and recap what I remember and therefore what I take away with me.

John Henry Catholic College looks like a really nice building. Modern, nice corridor spaces and not vast as some West Midlands schools are (the one I worked in was 1400 and only 11-16). The head Jennifer McGuirk welcomed us and I was quietly impressed with what she had to say about the journey of the school. Tom Bennet then made us laugh and implied there was more to come in the Research Ed agenda before sending us off for the day.

I went to see Daisy Christodoulou talk about the "key principles teachers should apply in the classroom". I get the impression memory was a key point in a few talks given during the day (it was certainly in two of the ones I went to) and it took up a good portion of the talk Daisy gave. She started by talking about big data and saying something along the lines of looking at data isn't enough without understanding the underlying theory, and without the theory it is hard to translate into practice. As an avid reader of Glen Gilcrist's blog I would agree that correlation does not mean causation. 

Daisy went on to talk about AfL as an example of something that has struggled to show the impact that research would indicate. She said that there was problems with both the research and implementation. As someone who has been to a session run by Chris Harrison and Sally Howard on AfL I know that she is not the only one who is concerned about the implementation of AfL. 

Then Daisy talked about E.D Hirsch and his principles for good understanding. There were 7 of them. She then did an exercise with us to prove that having our knowledge in our long term memory made things easier to remember. 

I did write down her principles for teaching:
1. Avoid working memory overload
2. Promote long term memory storage
3. Practice to achieve mastery (fluency)

I went in expecting to find out something I didn't know. Although the language was more theoretical than I am used to. I was relieved that I agree with a lot of what Daisy had to say. Not teaching too many new things at once and practising them isn't new to me. 

For the next session I want to the DfE talk about "research priorities: what are the key gaps and questions in education". There was some positivity at the start of the session that the DfE wanted to engage with their own research questions. The details are here on line. 

We were asked to look at a selection of the research questions and make our own comments about them on post-it notes onto the flip chart boards. I really felt that I couldn't add a lot. In some ways because I feel that the things I could contribute are obvious and I don't have a great deal of expertise to add in a lot of the areas. However, this didn't stop me putting a few post-its onto the boards.

I think that it is important that the DfE use research to help them with policy decisions. However, at the end during a Q&A session concerns were raised about the bias of any research carried out by the DfE. Are the questions being asked genuinely the right ones or are they too politically motivated? However, the DfE are asking for feedback on this and seem to want to engage with teachers. In a way they have to come to terms with this shift as they have scrapped many of the quangos that ran education and LAs are becoming a thing of the past. However, this session didn't do anything to persuade me that the DfE are doing anything other than scrabbling around in the dark taking advice from the wrong place. 

I stayed in the theatre for the next presentation by Louise Stubberfield from Wellcome. I has seen her earlier in the day and wondered why I recognised her, when she was from Wellcome I realised that I will have seen her at the ASE conference. 

She talked about the work Wellcome had been doing with the science learning centres to help with the teaching of primary science.  I know that Wellcome put a lot of money into science education and it was heartening to see that this project had been carried out robustly. It was interesting to hear that those schools not allowed access to the science learning centres courses in order to be the 'control' group were then given access the year after the research programme. I have heard people who talk about RTCs say that it is unfair to restrict schools and their students access to things that might help improve education, but this seems to be a fair compromise to me. 

I was also interested in the comments Louise made about museums and the research they do into the impact of what they do. They measure impact by the number of visitors and not necessarily by the influence it has on the people who visit. 

In January I went to a session at the ASE conference with drinks paid for by Wellcome and also hosted by Science Learning Centres. I can see that Wellcome are interacting with the profession (although not always practising teachers). What was interesting in the ASE session about research was that only three of the attendees were practising teachers. 

I have heard it before, but Louise stated during the talk that those schools who Wellcome have worked with and have not sidelined science to focus on english and maths have had improvements in all three subjects. 

Then it was lunch.

After lunch I went to David Weston's session about "why most dissemination is useless and how we can fix it". I was assaulted again by slides about memory for the first part of the talk. I am not entirely sure why. 

I have to agree with David's assessment of the impact of CPD. I have worked with the science learning centres on a CPD model (when I say 'worked with', I mean I was a 'guinea pig for'). During that time we talked about what made CPD effective and the traditional model of go on a course, come back and share the slides in a meeting isn't it. 

He talked about the inability of CPD to breakdown the current (ineffective?) practices of teachers and replace it with new associations. We don't unlearn the things we do.

David told us the worst ways of transforming practice through CPD are the ways that we use: whole staff lectures, individual day courses and printed guidance.

He asked why is it that the profession most associated with learning is the worst at engaging with it? I still don't understand that.

David then went on to talk about things that do work. Things like lesson study, collaboration with other colleagues, coaching, carefully scripted teacher actions, forms of action research and masters level study. He showed two slides with a list of theoretical principles for good CPD, like evaluating it, it being sustained, aspirational, lead by good leaders, challenging.

David ended with this slide. "Start with the end in mind". Something I hear a lot in education!

Session six was the hardest for me to choose because nothing struck me. I am glad that I went to Joe Hallgarten's session: "if you can't stand the research get out of the classroom?" RSA and BERA are about to publish 10 principles for a 'research-rich, self-improving education systems' and Joe went through the process that lead to these. 

The principles are split into teaching and learning, teachers' practice, school leadership, system-level and research production. 

This session, above all others was of interest to me because I think it got to the crux of the purpose of ResearchEd. Teachers should be engaging with research and researchers should be engaging with teachers. But I do believe there are barrier to this: money, time, expertise, research literacy, bias and the famous SLT mangle. 

I intend to blog again about the issues that spring to mind on the back of this session by Joe, and where I see own practice with respect to research, how I have interacted with it and how I want to interact with it. 

The last session was presented by Michael Slavinsky and Alex Weatherall and started with us all getting a sweet. So far so good. They picked up one of the touch paper questions set by Laura McInerny at the first Research Ed conference. The list is below.

I wish that I had taken a photograph of the axes that Alex and Michael showed to highlight the way they distinguished between difficulty and complexity. It was interesting that they didn't consider the two as the same. On going into the session I has hoped that I would find out something that would help me to understand how we would structure a curriculum with increasing difficulty, but the work these two are doing is more centred on complexity. 

In order to map complexity Alex plans to create concept maps for all the topics in the curriculum, and this would help teaching and help map complexity. I am interested to see how this goes, happy to help but I am aware of the demands on my time. 

I very much enjoyed the day. Joe's session gave me most to think about and I have come away feeling that the profession can work with researchers more effectively. And that there is a great deal of desire to do that from researchers too. 

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