We want the same thing'
Education research is a great thing...
A few years ago, I knew very little of wider educational developments apart from the occasional TES article. Now, thanks to internet blogging and Twitter, I follow and interact with new ideas from across the educational spectrum.
One discussion I've followed closely is the need for research and evidence in teaching practice. Bad Science author Ben Goldacre has pointed out how teaching, like medicine, benefits from research. Tom Bennett and colleagues have set up the very exciting ResearchEd conference in September. Other bloggers, including 'Old Andrew' and 'Red & Green Pen' have challenged ideas that I'd taken for granted - from Mind Gym (which I always found a bit dodgy) to Learning Styles (which I had more affection for).
Based on online recommendations I downloaded and read the 'bible' of current education research - John Hattie's 'Visible Learning for Teachers' - which contains an incredible amount of research and analysis into which classroom interventions and training work in terms of student achievement. I'm taking many of the ideas from the book and blogs into my teaching and my department and hope to see some great results .
...but something important is missing!
However, with my marketing hat on, there's a bit of a problem. We need these ideas to reach beyond the school gates. Parents, politicians and other stakeholders seem to want us to implement ideas that don't seem to work, and avoid those where there is evidence that they do.
Here are a few examples, using John Hattie's research. For those who've not read his book, he attempts to rank the success of 'influence on achievement' by comparing 'effect sizes' - he argues that an 'effect size' of over +0.40 is something that is worth putting into action.
Among the 150 (!) influences in his research (which covers up to 4 million students!) , those that score highly include:
- Formative evaluation (or Assessment for Learning) (0.90)
- Classroom discussion (0.82)
- Interventions for learning disabled students (0.77)
- Meta-cognitive strategies (learning to learn) (0.69)
- Classroom behaviour (0.68)
- Study skills (something I'm really keen on!) (0.63)
Conversely, those below are seen as much less important in student achievement include.
- Setting homework (0.29) (especially unimportant at primary level)
- Values/moral education (0.24)
- Summer schools (0.23)
- Class size (0.21)
- Charter schools (the US forerunners of free schools) (0.20)
- Matching styles of learning (0.17)
- Ability grouping ('setting') (0.12)
- Changing timetables (0.09)
Another constant issue in discussion of UK schools, uniform, isn't mentioned in the book, but Hattie says there's no evidence that it has any effect on achievement in this article.
When we look at the wider education debate in the UK, it tends to focus on the areas that don't appear to work well and ignore those shown to work. Take these recent examples:
- The single most important issue for those choosing private schools (after the nebulous 'better standards of education') is 'class size'. (Independent Schools Council research, 2012)
- Labour must embrace the notion of free schools if it wants to get back in power, one of its former education ministers [Lord Adonis] has warned. (Headline in The Guardian)
- 'Schools could be encouraged to stream children rather than teach them in mixed-ability classes' (from an interview with Sir Michael Wilshaw in the Sunday Times)
- '"It is no coincidence that many of the best-performing state schools have proper school uniforms. If a school... does not have a uniform, I would urge it to reconsider its policy." Michael Gove quoted in The Guardian.
- Pupils in England should spend more hours at school each day and have shorter holidays, the Education Secretary Michael Gove has argued. BBC Online article.
What should we do to bridge this gap?
As teachers and schools, we have a responsibility to use the best ideas to help our students- we can't ignore Hattie's and other research, even if we're told to!
That leaves us two options. We can either...
- Go ahead and try new things in our schools, track the changes that occur in response and then tell parents and others why we've improved.
- Talk to parents and others at an early stage, share the results of educational research and engage them in working with you on making changes in your school.
Whichever way we do it, we're marketing - changing the way we do things to better meet student needs, communicating these with stakeholders and engaging them in the process. When we talk to parents in our local communities about education research we're also helping them see the teaching professions as dynamic and innovative - and perhaps helping them change their views of teaching from what they experienced in the classroom!
On a national level I do share a wider frustration that we cannot make the positive case for some of the ideas above and showcase what is working every day in our schools. Personally I would really welcome a National Institute of Teaching that focused only on communicating and researching the best ideas. Perhaps this is the future for ResearchEd?
And finally, if this article has got you interested in educational research, I suggest you either read Hattie's book or book a place at ResearchEd 2013.