Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Teachers and Research

I remember reading something by Lucie Golton about the reason behind her teaching toolkit booklet. She scoured the books looking for the magic bullet and ended up compiling a long list for her own pedagogy strategy booklet. (Unfortunately I can't find a link to it at the moment).

I also spent may career looking for the magic bullet. I like concept cartoons, I love key word card sorts, I like using true/false worksheets and my favourite way to help students learn is by getting them to draw graphs. I have taught CASE, I have taught the Upd8 segue course (, I have taught bonkers courses designed to fit into the timetable more than based on sound pedagogy. I came into teaching during the time of the strategies. I have read books, I have taken advice from ASTs, I have used ideas shared by fellow teachers and I have worked with consultants. In all that time I haven't been able to work out if I am doing the right thing.

Now it seems that we have been doing the wrong things as a profession. If the whole profession has been doing the wrong things then I must have be too.

To solve this teachers need to interact directly with the research.

1. Really?
2. How?

I went to Tim Oates session at the ASE conference about the future of internal assessment in science. I got the gist, don't get me wrong, but as Robin Millar was nodding to the things Tim Oates was saying I was pulling faces in a desperate attempt to understand. The language Tim Oates was using was completely foreign to me, it was specialist.

I can appreciate the need for specific specialist language in education research. I am a scientist, I use specialist terms all the time, and I spend a good proportion of my time trying to get my students to use the language precisely too. The difference seems to me that in educational research there is no common language, like in science.

If I am to interact with research first hand then do I need to learn specialist terminology?

I went to Michael Reiss's session the year before and he said that Piaget style curricula were very effective at promoting learning. (Or something like that, but I did understand what he was saying!) I said this on another teacher's blog in a comment and was shot down because we shouldn't listen to anything we are told, we have to find out for ourselves as respected education researchers can't be trusted.

Do I have to interact directly with the research? Is it enough to interact with the researchers? After reading "Teacher Proof", maybe not is the answer. Someone has to look at the original research because there are some people out there not doing a very god job at carrying out their research and there are others who are simply fibbing as it suits them. Confirmation bias is a big issue in education it seems.

I am going to be honest here, I don't trust other teachers to carry out research (sorry as if you are reading this you are likely to be a teacher). I have seen data for masters projects (and action inquiries) made up. I have seen a school sell ideas to other schools saying it made a difference when there was no causal relationship between the two and months later that school scrapped the curriculum. It makes sense for schools and teachers to be positive about the changes they make. Why make them if they are not going to make a difference to their students?

I am not the only one who felt this. At the ASE January conference I went to a session host by Wellcome and the SLC that was a debate. One of the questions was about research. On our table the SLC employee was determined that the action research she supports through the SLC was valid, I was on the opposite side of that. Another group also mentioned their dubious feelings about research carried out by teachers, although perhaps not so negatively as me!

Perhaps unscrupulous research is just something we have to cope with?

Or perhaps it is enough to interact with the researchers?

I am fortunate in my position to get journals through the post. School Science Review, Physics Education and Science in School.  I am fortunate that my head teacher will allow me to attend ASE conferences. I know some excellent university based educators and researchers. They are very generous with their time. They are happy to share what they know.

I have said this before, Stella Paes said at the ASE summer conference that the UK has world leading expertise in science education. (Granted she may have been talking about assessment of science education as that is what she needs to know about).

Is interacting with researchers through journals and conferences how I should interact with research? What if they are wrong? During my PGCE we were encouraged to look at VAK, it was presented as if it was a good way to differentiate. Should I be put off by this? Trust no one? Or do I have to interact with the research directly? Back to square one.

I do know that there is appetite within the profession to work out what works in the classroom. There are a number of issues with it. Expecting to find something new that will be the magic bullet . Finding the balance between private organisations who have an interest in selling CPD related to research is another. Implementing the pedagogy as the research intended isn't always easy, either.

However, as a profession we have to know that what we are doing and how we are doing it is the best way to get across ideas to young people. Without research and analysis we'll never know. Teaching and research are linked. What that link should look like in practice? Well, it probably needs to be researched.

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