Moving forward with research

The word research seemingly appeared in almost all presentations today with one professional stating ‘he was losing the will to live’, although he was criticised for his viewpoint. No-one seemed to define the need for research but rather assumed that its value was a given. The value being that it enriches our understanding of what works and what doesn’t work in our educational environments.

However, there are flaws with research and these come to mind initially when I begin to think about how I might develop the use of research in my faculty. The first is that all too often research is used as a method to serve someone’s own interests. For example, a head of faculty wants to introduce something new to their department. Person A does not agree with the head of faculty’s proposal so finds piece of research to quote that it has been proven not to work. Yet Person A does not look beyond the research that supports their own personal viewpoint – they do not expand their search into a wider remit of research that may indeed oppose their own standpoint. The research serves a purpose and is used in the most unhelpful manner possible, (something Tom Bennett calls Pokeman research – update 21.06.14 http://community.tes.co.uk/tom_bennett/b/weblog/archive/2014/06/21/the-2014-wellington-festival-of-education-day-2.aspx)

Luckily, there seems to be a solution in the form of the Education Endowment Foundation which collates a body of research on any one educational area – say homework for example (http://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/). Taking this body of work into account, the foundation is able to identify how much a strategy cam impact on the progress of a child. An objective exploration of a wider body of research means that informed decisions, about strategies to improve performance, can be adopted. Now this toolkit is only aimed at research that has been conducted to help our disadvantaged FSM students so whilst the idea is an inspiring one, the body of research collated is limited. Therefore, seemingly what we need is a body, without prejudice, to collate research on different aspects of educational development so that the teaching profession can tap into this and quickly access research that has already been conducted. A bank of research will surely help us begin to explore areas in a slightly more objective way.

(NB. Schools should be mindful of research that is conducted in a completely different environment to their own.   We must pay attention to contextual factors.)

There is a similar strand of thought in that schools want teachers to become teacher-researchers (as if we don’t already have enough on our plate?) but how does this work? In my school a body of teachers have got together to look at areas of aspects of teaching and learning, we have formulated key questions and chosen an area of ‘research’ to then present to the group. Now I am not saying that this is true of our group but isn’t this process also open to manipulation? In volunteering to research a particular area, is someone not perhaps volunteering because they too have a personal opinion that they are wishing to validate? That they have the possibility to manipulate a school’s system if they can articulate their opinion and then validate that opinion with a piece of research without approaching the body of research that might be out there?

There are strategies that, of course, can be used to ensure that the research conducted is objective. The Education Endowment Foundation spoke at the Festival about an evaluation process, in that once research has been conducted it has to be presented and evaluated by a panel before its acceptance and this has merits. You would assume that a panel would be able to recognise a personal bias in any research conducted

My first steps in introducing research into the faculty

So, where do I see the value of research within my own faculty? I have decided that the only research that counts is the collective research. A body of research on any one educational area. Single studies are no use to me in justifying the validity of a certain practice – instead let’s make informed decisions, exploring a wide range of research on any one given area.

Similarly, I do not want one person to be responsible for research in my faculty. I want everyone to be responsible. This will mean that educational areas can be explored without prejudice as everyone in the faculty will bring their own particular standpoint which will generate a wider collection of research to help us make more informed decisions about our own practice.

I think we will start in September and focus on one different area bi-termly. The three areas I want us to focus on are: 1) feedback 2) questioning 3) independence. As subject leader, I will seek out current research which I will share with the faculty as part of our meeting. We will then discuss, as a team, the strategies suggested and decide whether we think those strategies would be suitable in the context of our school before putting them on trial with our students. After the trial period we will evaluate the work done to see if it has had an impact on the outcomes of our students.

More thought needs to be given to this process but it will be the start of ensuring my team members become great educational researchers and, MORE IMPORTANTLY, reflective practitioners. My rather negative feelings towards research, having seen the somewhat biased use of it recently, have now been softened after a weekend away at Edfest and I am more positive about its usefulness in helping my faculty develop. Let’s see where this takes us!

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