All entries for July 2016
July 28, 2016
The future of research in the palm of your hand
The future of research in the palm of your hand
My biggest concern moving into my NQT year is that I will become one of those cynical teachers, disengaged with the system, laden with stress and driven purely by results. We all know those teachers. We’ve all met them, or been taught by them and I find the thought of morphing into one quite frightening.
I think keeping on top of research is a way of ensuring this never happens. I don’t intend for research-led practice to be as laborious a task as in my training year. I won’t be pouring over library books for hours, or spending entire weekends locked away in my study, but there are definitely quicker and more engaging ways of keeping up to date with innovative ideas and movements in education.
Schools often offer CPD training on a variety of topics. While the quality of the training relies heavily on the trainer, the opportunity to engage with teachers of other subjects or schools should not be underestimated. At University, some of the most valuable sessions were when, even as students, we just talked about some of the things we had seen or tried in the classroom. It’s how I found out about Kagan structures, which, after further research, transformed my understanding of what cooperative learning is and how it should look. Other teachers, their ideas and experiences are an extremely accessible and incredibly valuable resource for exploring research and current educational pedagogy.
And, due to the incredible capabilities of modern day technology, we are not limited to exploring the experience of people we know, but we can tap into the innovations of educators around the globe. Twitter is a fantastic example of how this can be done. A whole world of blogs, reports and ideas all linked to 120 character summaries. Read a title, decide if you’re interested, click or move on.
Pinterest is another great way for coming up with novel teaching initiatives. For the tired teacher, who can’t even face the 140 characters of Twitter, Pinterest offers a scrolling screen of never ending pictures to browse and explore- all the in palm of your hand. General teaching ideas, subject or topic specific activities, behaviour for learning strategies and SEN support and guidance, classroom organisation, all presented in a range of bright, appealing pictures.
These ideas may not be the most up to date practice. They may not be based on the most contemporary research, but they are real life examples of real teachers and how they manage their workload and their classroom. It offers a quick way to dip in and out of the world of other teachers, ensuring that my own practice doesn’t go stale. Most of all it keeps me excited about teaching. I enjoy looking at what other people have done and thinking about how I could use that in my own classroom, how it could benefit my students.
Pedagogy and innovations have been made accessible in an attractive and convenient way and this is certainly how I intend to engage with research, at least as a starting point. From this, if there is an idea I am particularly inspired by, which I wish to develop and experiment with, then I may need to revert back to the hours of trawling through books and journals that I became so familiar with in my PGCE year- but the library certainly won’t be my starting point; the pretty Pinterest pictures will!
July 27, 2016
Research and its role in a trainee’s development
Research and its role in a trainee’s development
When first told about the research project that we would be conducting during our PGCE year, in all honesty I was not looking forward to it; however over the course of my research I have begun to appreciate the real benefits which research has had on my professional development.
Whilst I still appreciated that the assignment was going to be demanding, my own specific interests and queries within teaching began started to take form and eventually led to my decision to research the interaction between feedback and student confidence.
Secondary research through reading around my subject has proved to be invaluable within my first year of teaching; it has provided me with a depth of understanding and a range of perspectives on various elements of the profession. I will undoubtedly continue to read around educational based research in areas I see of importance at different points in time.
In terms of primary research, conducting a large (ish) study is something which I may consider undertaking in a few years’ time, but for the moment it will be put on the back burner. Before embarking on anything major in terms of research, I aim to hone my teaching skills and build my confidence within the classroom; this will also allow me to discover more issues or challenges and potentially uncover new points of interest for my own research.
With this being said, I believe small scale research would be beneficial for my own professional development. Within my final week at my training school, I intend to set aside 5 minutes at the end of my lessons and distributed short questionnaires to my students. These questionnaires will ask students to rate on a scale from one to five on areas such as my marking, homework tasks, fairness and how interesting my lessons were for them over the year. This will be followed by two open ended headings “What I liked” and “Advice/what I would change”, the aim of this is to seek ways to improve; importantly it will also allow a focus on what students enjoyed. This gives chance to appreciate what I have done well over the year, rather than purely focussing on negatives or areas to change.
The data will not be analysed as meticulously as my assessed university work, however it will still be collated in a similar manner; to look for patterns or general trends. Starting a new school in September, I believe conducting research of this manner could prove to be invaluable in developing my own practice to best benefit my students. There is scope for this to be placed at various points over a year, or even over a career; had I thought of this sooner, I would have attempted to do this type of research at my complimentary placement school earlier in the academic year.
Being in the early stages of teaching or indeed any career, I believe you need to be incredibly open to change and should actively seek any ways possible to grow and improve. Having the chance to gather personalised feedback from my students is a fantastic opportunity that I intend to make the most of over my career and I believe should be something which is integrated into lessons wherever possible.
So ultimately, yes, I will engage in research during my NQT year and beyond, as I believe it holds scope to really benefit my professional practice. Small scale research of the kind aforementioned allows quality reflection on one’s practice, which then allows for maximum impact when implementing change, therefore giving scope to achieve the ultimate goal; to improving students’ learning.
July 26, 2016
A Never–ending Journey
A Never-ending Journey
If I am being completely honest, I didn’t enjoy conducting my action research and then writing about it as much as I thought I would, or as much as I enjoyed writing my other post-graduate assignments (if enjoy is the right word?). Despite this, as I go into my NQT year I am almost certain I want to continue my Masters at Warwick and conduct more education-based research, just next time on an area I am slightly more interested in. I’ll give a brief explanation about my reasons for wanting to do this.
Firstly, education is such a big topic and is changing so much and so often that I’m intrigued by the fact that there is still not really any set way to do anything because, essentially, every child is different and every individual has different viewpoints, opinions and ways to do things. In addition, to bring the politics in, every Government wants to bring different ideas to the education system. I’m baffled by the scope of educational research out there and think it is exciting that everything works differently in a different context.
In the light of this, I would love to look at action research on a larger scale and in a familiar context, to try and tackle a specific problem and see its impact and how exciting it can be. One of the students involved in the action research I undertook achieved a positive outcome from my intervention, and the more I think about it, the more I realise how interesting tracking this was. Moreover, it was fascinating to see how the rich qualitative data that I collected from student interviews and questionnaires gave me such an insight into how the project had an impact on students.
Secondly, I wasn’t fully engaged in the action research project I undertook primarily because I didn’t find the topic overly interesting. This meant that reading around the topic became quite a painful experience and I got to the point where I felt some of the literature was stating the obvious. I would like, next time, to choose a topic that engages me more and makes me want to read on. Furthermore, after completing my own action research I feel like I would take more notice of the analysis and discussion sections within the articles I read next time. Although I don’t really want to admit it, I had a tendency to skip these and simply focus on the literature review and the conclusion. I feel that now I’ve done my own action research, and understand it more, I’d be able to find the relevance in those, actually vital, sections.
Thirdly, I want to push myself to find a way to implement something in the classroom that isn’t bogged down by data gathering but still produces results at different intervals. This would mean further researching tools to consider the best way to undertake an intervention. I found that making students fill out something every lesson was definitely not the best way to evaluate, as they just wrote something without really thinking about it, so I doubt the reliability of some of the data I have collected. I’m aware that action research is a continuous reflective, looping journey and, although I don’t really want to do any more research on the project that I have undertaken this time, I’m very aware that I could work to find ways to refine it to develop it further.
To put it simply, I would definitely like to continue to engage in research. As a teacher, I see my own learning journey as continuous and ongoing. For some this may be frustrating, but for me, it is very exciting.
July 25, 2016
Tweet Tweet: Using Social Media to Continue with Educational Research
As I am rapidly approaching the end of my training year, I have begun to consider what place research will have in my career as I take on a fuller timetable and move away from my own academic studies. Will I have the time to sit and read textbooks on educational theory, as I have been doing over this past year? Probably not. However, that doesn’t mean that I can’t allow research to continue to shape my teaching and most importantly, my students’ learning, as I have found several time-effective ways to quench my academic thirst.
Although this may seem a little unorthodox to some, the best way I have kept up-to-date with educational research, and also received some excellent advice which has shaped my pedagogy, is through Twitter. We live in an age of social networking, and as practitioners, we should fully embrace that we have access to an international level of support that is literally at our fingertips. This year, I’ve been struggling to come up with ideas to make the teaching of the new GCSE English spec fun and more effective, and my department are at a loss too as they are teaching it for the first time alongside me. I decided to log onto Twitter, and voila! A host of ideas from other teachers popped up, accompanied by a wealth of links to articles and journals which I would have never thought to search for. Seriously, teachers, Twitter has been my saviour this year. For general enquiries and support, look at the EduChat network, either by searching the username or the hash tag. Fellow English teachers, get following @HeadofEnglish, @SianCarter1 and @JamesTheo- their experience in the field, creative ideas, and above all, their obvious love for our subject, inspires me every day.
Alongside this, I’m looking into starting a blog to continue my research. I feel that there is a significant lack of support for trainees and NQTs out there, who need the reassurance that there are others who are just as exhausted, just as clueless and just as exhilarated by the rollercoaster ride that is teaching! As an English specialist, I feel that using blogging as a creative outlet would help me, and it means that I would continue researching in order to keep my posts updated for other users. I’d love to help people as much as others have helped me during my first year of teaching, and there really is no bigger platform for us as teachers to share our practice through than the World Wide Web. As cheesy as this sounds, our primary aim is to create fun, engaging lessons for students which ultimately help them to achieve above and beyond what they are capable of. To achieve this, a million heads (albeit virtual heads) are definitely better than one! So, my final word of advice to every reader is to exploit social networking for all the benefits it can bring to your research and practice. We get so caught up in the dangers of the Internet nowadays, we forget what it was initially created for: to spread knowledge. Happy tweeting!
Teaching without research, really?
Teaching without research, really?
Although my teacher training year is coming to an end, I feel that my learning and development as a PE teacher is only just beginning. As I sit and reflect on my progress this year, I consider the impact that research has had on my practice; the action research that I have carried out myself as part of my masters, the literature I have read and explored to develop my pedagogy and behavioural management, alongside the continuing professional development sessions I have attended at school, university and teaching school alliance days that have been centralised on research and key practitioners. I cannot think of an element of my teaching that has not had at least some influence from a form of research and therefore I cannot entertain the idea that I will not continue to engage within research as I enter my newly qualified teaching year.
Most importantly for me, I have engaged with research in order to develop my classroom pedagogy. As I enter my NQT year and in my future teaching profession, I have every intention to continually develop my teacher toolbox, so that my teaching is up to date and innovative to ensure pupils make the best possible progress. As a teacher I can experiment with my own ideas within the sports hall and conduct my own research about how successful or unsuccessful these prove to be, even if time is limited to write up the findings. However, I question whether alone I would have been able to develop the variety of ideas, teaching styles and models that exist for the teaching of the PE. For example, the Teaching Games for Understanding Model developed by Bunker and Thorpe has become renowned within PE for teaching pupils the skills through game based contexts and without the research that details how to implement the model, the discussions about the positives and drawbacks of the model within other PE teacher’s lessons, I would not have known about this pedagogical model and therefore may not have taught in such a way. One of my favourite journals that I have engaged with so far is the Association for PE’s “Physical Education Matters”. This has been particularly useful because I can read about the practice of other PE teachers and trial out methods that have already been tried and tested by other practitioners allowing me to make comparisons with my own experience. Not only this but each article within the journal, is both informative but relatively short meaning it doesn’t take too long to read. This removes one of the existing barriers that may prevent practitioners from engaging within literature.
Furthermore, I have had first-hand experience of how research can allow me to perfect and develop elements of my teaching practice through my action research around peer assessment. I intend to continue this approach throughout my career, experimenting with the findings of other researchers and implementing these within my own practice. By conducting research into the effectiveness of strategies used within my own lessons, I will be able to draw conclusions from my observations, the thoughts and feelings of the pupils (if relevant) and the impact of my teaching on pupil progress.
I spent a well-needed day at my alliance, exploring the ways in which we as teachers can help our pupils to make good progress within our lessons. The ideas presented were focused on research, allowing us to explore a variety of strategies and analyse the impact on progress. Without research and the contribution of practitioners sharing and discussing their experiences, we would only have our own singular vision of teaching and how best to do it. Some may consider research to be a very time consuming activity in our already very busy schedules but contrary to this view, seeking more effective ways to enable children to make progress could prove to save us time in the future. This could simply be through learning a new behaviour management strategy, experimenting with a teaching style to push gifted and talented pupils, seeking resources, learning about how best to implement peer assessment or self-assessment activities or understanding the factors of a lesson that allow for pupils to make the best progress. Of course the research doesn’t come with a one size fits all, but it allows you to see what worked for other teachers so you realise you aren’t completely alone!
July 18, 2016
Was I already doing research without realising it?
Was I already doing my intervention in other classes without realising it?
When I started to think about my action research project I found it very hard to try and decide what to do. My second placement was in a completely contrasting school to my first and so any ideas I had, had seemed to not really apply to my new setting. I found myself constantly looking at classes and trying to decide what the problem was, how I might tackle it and whether it would work with them – at the same time as trying to get to know a new school, names and schemes of work. In the end I settled on a year 10 GCSE Drama class that had students in it who seemed to be lacking motivation – I wondered how I could turn this around and, from my reading, discovered that self-goal setting supposedly worked to allow students to take a personal interest in the task and consequently increase their motivation.
My plan was to get the class of year 10 students to set themselves a goal every lesson and reflect on it in that lesson and then, suddenly, they would become super-motivated, get lots of work done and be amazing. This proved a lot harder than I thought. Ironically, I found it hard to motivate them to even set a goal every lesson as they didn’t really see any purpose in it. It therefore became a challenge to do an intervention on motivation when my students were not motivated to do something that was attempting to motivate them. I’d been told at the end of my second placement that I needed to take more risks. I found myself really grateful, though, that I hadn’t taken a risk to do this 6 lesson intervention with a class of 30 boisterous year 8s, or even worse, 30 year 9s who had already chosen their options for GCSE and so didn’t see any point in trying in my lessons any more – these classes may have also needed a boost in motivation but I think their motivation to complete the intervention would have been even less.
Despite this, as I moved further through the intervention, I started to realise that I was actually embedding a similar idea in my other lessons, just calling it a different name and not using it for, what I thought, was the same outcome. As part of the whole school initiative and as part of my knowledge gained from University sessions I had been getting my students to set themselves targets on a regular basis. The difference was, I was expecting these targets to work to improve their skills and encourage reflection to help them understand their learning, not improve their motivation. Also, I was calling them by a different name – targets, not goals.
This made me realise that, maybe, my intervention wasn’t having an impact on my teaching in any other areas because to an extent, I was already doing it. I was scared to take it further because I wasn’t seeing the impact on the year 10s and I couldn’t see an impact on motivation in any other classes when they were setting themselves targets.
Another interesting point that made me think about my practice: at the end of my action research project, 10 of the students involved said they prefer the teacher setting them goals than self-goal setting. I really started to think about the reason for this and wondered if it was better for them as I am the one that holds their data and the knowledge about the course. However, I came to the conclusion that it should be a two-way process; that I should continue to share their data and say what I think they need to do, but also get them to reflect and think about where they need to go next, because if they don’t, they are never going to learn how to do it on their own and motivate themselves to succeed.
Something positive that has come out of my action research project is the impact an intervention can have on one single student. Out of 11 students that I did the intervention with, one student came out at the end saying she was more motivated, that she found self-goal setting really helped to push herself and her work actually showed a huge improvement in terms of the detail and focus that was put into it. This is really exciting and, although this action research hasn’t necessarily affected my teaching practice to a great extent, it has taught me a lot – I look forward to the next one.
Research … what’s Research???
What effect conducting a research project with my students had on my practice. A trainee’s personal reflection.
What on earth could I implement in my class, in a well-established school with ‘outstanding’ teachers that would have anything but a negative impact on learning? How could I, six months into training, devise a teaching technique that would make a difference or change the way we approach our lessons? How I could I compete with the likes of Vygotsky and Piaget, when I could barely even say their names?
These are the manic thoughts of a trainee about to embark on what seemed like the most challenging assignment of the year. Why did I think like this? I guess it was because I’d never done anything like this before, it was the fear of the unknown. I’d written essays, assignments, done practicals, and presented but never had I implemented or completed a research project.
I soon realised this wasn’t about me re-inventing the wheel, this was about having the chance to implement a technique, style or method that I hadn’t had chance to try out before, whilst being able to monitor and record its effect on my practice.
As a trainee I have done this all year round, such as experimenting with different teaching methods etc. It’s what we’re told to do. But did I read up on these techniques before? Did I understand where these methods had come from and why, and the context they worked in?
This light-bulb moment inspired my ideas, this realisation allowed me to start the reading into my theme (behaviour) as well as research methodologies and the theorists behind them. This literature review enhanced my previous study, giving me a greater understanding of their validity, influence and value in the classroom. [AM1]I was able to understand the context in which these theories were developed and why. What conditions these methods had been tested in, and more importantly why these factors were important in the outcomes of the interventions.
Behaviour had always been of interest to me, but for the first time since I’d started my course, the reading felt natural. It linked to my practice and enabled me to understand what variables would help/ hinder my intervention.
I found Google Scholar to be amazing for this as well as my Universities library online books and resources collection. As obvious as it sounds, searching key words e.g. ‘Behaviour, Rewards, Journals/ Research/ Theories’ pulled so much reading I struggled to keep on top of it. That’s where ‘document search’ came into play, by searching individual documents for my key words I was able to get to relevant sections straight away without wasting time.
Tip: Look up the references in books and journals so you can see their sources directly. You can then use these to influence your own reading.
The intervention itself lasted six weeks and consisted of embedding a ‘5,4,3,2,1’ count down which results in students collecting VIVOS (rewards) for beating the teacher to ‘0.’ The aim was to reduce LLD in the Art Classroom. The countdown was utilised to stop the class for instruction, behaviour management, and demonstrations.
The points were then collected over time and linked to various rewards. Conducting my intervention was just like any other method I had tried and tested in my classroom, the hard part was getting its impact captured in data form for analysis. That’s where fellow trainees came in and in the end was no extra work at all. Helping each other out meant we were all able to get the data we needed from people who understood what we were trying to achieve.
It actually turns out my intervention was successful in lowering low level disruption in the Art Classroom, allowing me to continue its use in the classroom.
By using an action research approach, I have captured data which validates it impact. Being able to back up my findings with data has meant that this technique has now also been rolled out across the department. This gives me an immense feeling of satisfaction and pride, not just in my work but also the fact that a shift has taken in my department away from sanctions towards positive reinforcement.
July 17, 2016
Making students of teachers
Action Research: Making Students of Teachers
As part of the PGCE course, I have had to complete an Action Research project. What is Action Research, some of you might ask? In the simplest terms, it’s where you investigate a particular aspect of teaching and learning, so that both you as a practitioner and your students can improve. In my school, I noticed a particular issue concerned with the autonomy of my Year 12 group, who as lovely and bright as they all are, had no idea how to reflect and improve on their own learning. I began to wonder how we as a school could best prepare our A-Level students for the level of independent study that the majority of them will inevitably undertake at University-level, and to provide them all with a sense of responsibility over their learning and progression. Thus, I devised a simple and (what I presumed would be) effective intervention which invited my students to set their own learning targets at the end of every lesson, for a period of six lessons.
The result? Not life-changing, I’m afraid to admit. I wasn’t measuring for academic progression in such a short time-frame, so for all you mathematicians and scientists, I have no solid data. However, the research taught me a lot about my teaching, my students, and the kind of classroom environment that we like. In terms of my own teaching, I learned the value of dedicating reflection time in my lessons, and teaching my students how to reflect on their academic progress both critically and positively. I talked them through de Bono’s Six Hats Reflective Model, and they enjoyed using this process to consider their own strengths and weaknesses.
However, I also learned that at this age, my students still need my help and guidance. They suggested that, rather than setting their own targets as often as every lesson, that we dedicated time within each half-term where we sit and devise targets together, which they then have a substantial amount of time to demonstrate improvement. The class also collectively agreed that they liked the fact that the dedicated reflection time became a routine in the classroom, and it helped them to continually reflect on what they were learning over the course of each hour. For some of the less confident students in the class, they learned to consider their successes regularly, and this helped to boost their self-esteem.
Overall, my experience with Action Research confirmed to me what I had long suspected: that my students could help me to become a better teacher, as much as I can help them with their learning. Although I will admit my research did not produce any ground-breaking results, it enabled me to get to know my students, and my teaching style, better than I knew before. It is something I would recommend any teacher, either training or experienced, to undergo, as it reinforces a fundamental aspect of teaching: that we should never stop learning.
July 16, 2016
The pivotal role of Peer Assessment in PE
The Pivotal Role of Peer Assessment in PE… WWW and EBI?
Since learning about assessment for learning within my undergraduate degree and developing this knowledge further within my teacher training year, I have become a keen advocate for embedding, in particular, peer and self-assessment activities within my lessons. As supported by numerous research articles, feedback is critically important in helping pupils to make progress within PE, and peer assessment is key to allowing all pupils to receive immediate, individual feedback - an impossible task of the teacher! A number of sources suggest how peer assessment is not only a great way of engaging pupils within the lesson (rather than just allowing pupil to be stood ‘waiting for their turn’) but also in aiding their peers to progress and scaffold their own progression. As a result they are able to develop a better understanding of the standards they are aiming for within their own performance. With university, literature and my school all advocating the role of peer assessment within PE lessons, it seemed a relevant topic to inform my action research.
As there is already a vast selection of existing research around peer assessment and its benefits within PE, I decided to explore how peer assessment impacts the perceived competence of girls within their PE lessons. It is reported that girls are the more sedentary sex and it is has been found that girls are less likely to lead a lifelong participation in sport; linked to the negative perceptions girls have about their ability in sport and a fear of the negative evaluation they might receive from others. I therefore wanted to explore if the frequent use of a pedagogic tool, peer assessment, would change this. So how did this research impact my practice?
Firstly, the research that I carried out around peer assessment was supportive of the findings of other researchers; peer assessment can support the progress that the pupils make within PE. It also taught me about the importance of structuring peer assessment activities within a lesson. I am sure many teachers are familiar with the more common feedback practices of asking pupils to tell their peers what they did well and what they could to do to improve or to give three stars and a wish- myself included. But this alone without any scaffolding often leads to a lack of quality feedback and instead the pupils identifying and providing superficial feedback such as something “looking good” but not really influencing the way a pupil feels about their ability in an activity. Although, of course, some feedback is better than none at all! I therefore invested time into creating peer assessment resources with an explicit success criteria supported by pictures, alongside key words that the pupils should try to include within their feedback. These resources scaffolded the peer assessment activities really well and the quality of the feedback was much better as well as the pupils cognitive knowledge of teaching points and technical vocabulary increasing. One example of this was that a pupil, during a synchronised swimming lesson, provided feedback suggesting her peer’s body was streamlined and fully extended, as opposed to saying straight, flat or some other synonym. I also learnt that pupils need time to be able to analyse and identify the success criteria within their peer’s performance and pupils need to be clear on what each skill or success criteria should look like, through a modelled example, so that they can more effectively evaluate their peer’s achievements.
My research showed that the participants involved had mixed feelings about how the peer assessment activities impacted their perceived competence, with lots of them saying that this is affected mainly by their own perceptions of their ability and other people’s views. It was very interesting to capture the thoughts and opinions of the pupils about peer assessment activities. Although some of the participants felt that they liked being able to get instant feedback from a peer who was just focusing on them, lots of them doubted their peer’s ability to give accurate feedback and stated they themselves found it hard to give feedback even though the success criteria did make it easier.
The participants expressed lots of concern about offending their peers and admitted that when receiving critical feedback they ignored it due to not valuing or believing what was being said. This suggested to me the importance of my role as a teacher in teaching pupils to peer assess effectively before implementing peer assessment activities, the groupings of pupils for peer assessment and the important role that ICT and videoing performances could have in allowing pupils to show and justify they feedback that they give. Based on my research, it appears the most significant factor could be the facilitation of the peer assessment. It has become evident that I need to support the feedback the pupils make (as long as it is accurate) in order to help develop relationships of trust between the pupils, encourage reflective and justified feedback and dialogue between peers and guide them to see the fully understand the benefits of peer assessment to enhance their learning.
July 15, 2016
No simple thing
No simple thing
It is not a simple thing for a teacher to become a good researcher. You have to change position, use different skills and work in a team. And, make no mistake, research requires real discipline or it descends into mush.
The change in position is dramatic: from standing in front as the teacher and leading, to sitting as unobtrusively as possible and following. Of course, that’s too simplistic but the move is certainly from being a doer, to acting first and foremost as an observer. My greatest successes as a teacher-researcher were in learning how to observe learners as a quiet non-participant in other people’s lessons. Other teacher-researchers learn how to observe teachers skilfully. Both approaches will work but, for me, it was shifting to observe learners, early in my career, that changed my teaching practices. It changed my position, permanently.
The new skills are those of watching and listening, accurately. These are under-rated skills. Our tendency as teachers, certainly in our first years of teaching, is to develop our intuition and to make swift judgments that keep learning alive. But research requires a precision about watching and recording what we see. To be a very good researcher – paradoxically to see more – you have to try to take your own prior expectations out of the observation. Try to record what happens and not what you might want or expect to happen. Research usually blossoms where the researcher suspends their expectations and positively gets their burgeoning interpretation out of the way. Then they can look more clearly at the outcomes of their records, later. Evidence is never un-tainted but it can be made less tainted.
Teamwork is a huge help. It is in the nature of research to collaborate. Collaboration allows you to collect more evidence in more settings. It adds perspective and allows triangulation. And it is in the very nature of good research that it has to be shared, published even, so that others can examine and critique it.
But, my emphasis in this short piece is on the importance of discipline in research. Research is not just a business of observing practice and reproducing what we see as evidence for beliefs that we already hold. Discipline in research requires precisely the opposite: the conditions for seeking evidence should be to try to find conditions that disprove your assumptions.
More than that. The researcher should always examine their conclusions and their evidence to test whether the facts could be taken to support the very opposite of the interpretations they have made. In truth, good research – like the best science – should be allowed to surprise the researcher. Too often, when I read educational research, it feels like the researcher is relieved to arrive at conclusions that reinforce their prior values and beliefs. I am left wondering whether the teacher truly abandoned the discipline of teaching and embraced the discipline of research.
In my view, the two best Professional Development programmes in the world are founded in research techniques: Japanese Lesson Study and Harvard’s Instructional Rounds. It is not an accident that both require disciplined inquiry and they involve training for teachers in working in teams that abide by those disciplines. This is teacher research at its best.