Ed Research: A user’s guide (for busy teachers)

23 September 2017

Author: This post is written by Niki Kaiser, our Network Research Lead.

It’s easy to feel daunted at the idea of using research to inform your teaching. Common hurdles include (lack of) time, access and specific expertise. Here’s some advice from someone who’s been there! I’m hoping it might help…

1- Remember why you’re doing this

The motivation for most teachers when they first look at research is to try and improve their teaching (and their pupils’ learning/outcomes). Most of us are unlikely to complete a thesis or a groundbreaking tome, we just want to identify some “best bets” and to make informed choices. Try not to forget this as you read and apply research ideas, and avoid disappearing down rabbit-holes, however interesting they might appear at first glance.

Having said that, do still read simply out of interest, and not only because you think it might help solve a problem. Reading educational research has ignited a real spark in me, and I love to read widely… possibly obsessively at times….!

2- Use the support that’s out there

Peer support can be invaluable, whether it’s face to face or online. Is anyone else interested in reading research at your school? Could you form a Journal Club? Is there a local Teachmeet or ResearchEd coming up? And Twitter is a great place to read what people think, to discuss ideas and to discover new approaches. Don’t be afraid to ask questions! Twitter is a great leveller, and I’ve always found the people I’ve “spoken” to very helpful and friendly. (If they’re not… just walk away… as you might do in any social situation!).

3- Marginal gains

If you discover an idea that looks promising, don’t throw the kitchen sink at it in your enthusiasm to apply it. Go for a philosophy of “marginal gains”. Research, try, apply, evaluate, tweak, re-evaluate… And change one thing at a time. This will help you work out what is going right (and, perhaps more importantly, what isn’t!) and will help prevent confusion and exhaustion (in you and your pupils!). Teaching is a demanding, all-encompassing profession as it is. Research is there to help you, not pressurise you.

4- Stick to the piste!

It’s important to reflect on your practice and to refine it, and I’m a firm believer that research helps you do this. And as I said before, it’s important to evaluate what you’re doing and tweak as necessary. But I don’t veer too far off-piste for either of these! You must consider your workload and think about your pupils. A complete overhaul of everything you do will leave everyone feeling disorientated. Do evaluate what you’re doing, but do also try to use assessment and observation methods you’d be using anyway. Don’t add too much extra analysis into the mix.

5- Secondary sources

It’s easy to be scared by the idea of using research to inform teaching, because research papers can be written in seemingly impenetrable language at times, and it’s sometimes difficult to know where to start because there’s just so much of it out there. But nowadays, there are plenty of secondary sources: blogs, reports… tweets! I’m not suggesting that these are enough on their own, or that they’re infallible. Scepticism and critique are healthy when considering research, whether you’re reading a seminal research paper or a book that cites other people’s work. But secondary sources can be helpful for signposting promising ideas or pointing you towards original research that you might find interesting and want to follow up.

A few starting points

  • The EEF Teaching and Learning toolkit is a good starting point for thoroughly-researched, promising ideas
  • The Learning Scientists blog has made a huge impact, “translating” robust research into practical, useable tips.
  • I’m a Chemistry teacher, so I read the magazine and resources from the RSC. Other subject-specific organisations and Learned Societies have similar access, and the Chartered College of Teaching now offers online research access, as well as its own Journal, Impact.
  • Chris Moyse has summarised key research in 100 words. These are very readable and accessible, and are fully referenced so you can read further.
  • Look for hashtags on Twitter that will point you towards chats and relevant information: eg. #UKEdChat #UKEdResChat #ASEChat #teamenglish #LrnSciChat (or start your own! A few of us started using #CogSciSci earlier this year, initially as a joke, but it has now developed into an active peer-support network).
  • I particularly like the bitesize chunks that Harry Fletcher-Wood tweets to summarise research papers. The balance is just right: short enough to act as a hook, but long enough to give useful information.

But my biggest tip….

….is to sign up to our monthly newsletter!

Posted on 23 September 2017
Posted in: Blog
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