Journal Club- reflections on our first term

6 January 2018

Author: Vicki Barnett (Research Lead at Notre Dame High School)

New and improved: widening participation

I gave Journal Club a bit of a revamp when I started as Research Lead back in September. One of my key aims as Research Lead has been to appeal to the masses of our teaching staff, to cater for the busy teacher who believes they don’t have time for research in amongst everything else they have to do.

With that in mind, I decided to make Journal Club a once a month affair, with the topics largely chosen well in advance. This way, teachers would know what was coming up, could commit to a particular topic and the reading without it feeling too frequent or too last minute to fit things in. I also tried to pick areas for discussion that would reflect CPD needs identified by staff as well as big research topics to again encourage a variety of staff to participate.

November: Cognitive Load Theory

So far, two of these meet ups have occurred. The first (back in November) was based around Cognitive Load Theory. The reading I directed everyone to before the meeting was: Cognitive Load Theory: Research that teachers really need to understand (2017)

I’ve spent some time this past year looking at Cognitive Load Theory ever since Dylan Wiliam proclaimed it ‘the single most important thing for teachers to know’ back in January 2017. My reading on it had enforced the idea that it was significant research, and led me into investigating ways to ease the load, such as Dual Coding, so I thought it was important to discuss with fellow staff.

November’s Journal Club saw a meeting of minds of science teachers, politics and economics teachers, history teachers, and sociology and psychology teachers, and we discussed whether this was as important as Wiliam had suggested. The dynamics of the group (made up of teachers who had been in the profession for 5 years and over) allowed us to discuss whether this was new research or merely stuff that teachers already knew and were aware of. The group discussed the implications of the research, and the impact it would have on their day to day teaching – the biggest takeaway point for many seemed to be in relation to the separate audio-visual processing functions of the brain, and how too much of one could cause overload. I think we all agreed we are guilty of reading from a PowerPoint!

December: What makes great teaching?

The second meeting in December built upon something we had been looking at as a school earlier in the year, which was what great teaching looks like at Notre Dame High School. Entirely separately, as a school we were looking at ways in which observations and feedback can be tailored more specifically to the nature of our school, but this led me to ponder whether there was research out there that could specifically identify what makes a good teacher. I am also a mentor for the first time this year, and so consequently I would love to mould and create a great history teacher but found myself questioning the criteria for this. What does a person need to have and/or do to make them ‘great?’ The reading I chose for this Journal Club was the Sutton Trust’s 2014 paper on ‘What Makes Great Teaching?’   (the conclusions are summarised in the first few pages so you don’t need to read the whole paper – it is very interesting though!)

This time Journal Club included scientists, historians, psychologists, drama and English teachers, religious studies teachers amongst others. I also specifically invited our cohort of trainees in to see what they thought, and to get an insight into their teacher training and how far it reflected the conclusions reached by the paper. We cross examined the list we came up with as teachers and compared it to the 6 key findings made by the paper, identifying how many similarities we had made – interestingly there were a lot of similarities, but some big areas missing from our school list that the Sutton Trust had identified (predominantly the importance of subject knowledge and behaviour management, but perhaps that’s because as a staff we take those two things as a given?).

The majority of the discussion focused on the best way to observe and quantify ‘great teachers’ – the report identified that one off lesson observations are likely to be an inaccurate measurement of teaching, and we discussed the possibilities of whether the teaching staff would be prepared to follow the report’s recommendation on getting feedback from the students themselves: they are, after all, the people who see us on a daily basis. Unsurprisingly, this met with a difference of opinion amongst the group. Finally we examined the traits that the research suggest have little impact, things such as setting groups and praise. It was interesting to see the group’s opinion on setting as some of our subjects are setted, some aren’t, and some have recently moved away from it. Overall, it was a really interesting debate due to the variety of teachers present, and I feel very privileged to be able to oversee these discussions and understand what teachers think not only of the research but also to hear their experiences in the classroom.

The next Journal Club in January will be building on teachers’ experiences of mocks and revision before the Christmas Holidays, and looking at what the research says about the revision techniques available.

If you would like to discuss ideas for starting start your own Journal Club, you can come along and talk to Vicki at our next Research Leads Network meeting on 5th February. Sign up here.

Posted on 6 January 2018
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