Research for the primary classroom

25 November 2018

Author: Dr Caroline Creaby, Sandringham Research School Director

On 23rd November, we were really pleased to host the first of our two-session course on research for the primary classroom.  James de Winter, PGCE tutor from the Faculty of Education at Cambridge University, led the course and offered delegates a fantastic introduction to the education research landscape in the UK and supported them to delve more deeply into some key areas of research and practice. In this blog, I outline some of the key highlights from the session.

James took us through some of the recent developments in relation to evidence use in education, from Ben Goldacre’s paper on the potential for an evidence based teaching profession to the establishment of the EEF and the rise of researchED.  Despite the growing prevalence of research evidence in education, support for teachers’ research literacy isn’t necessarily advocated or available so widely. Such skills are important when faced with a range of ‘evidence’ based claims.

Taking the example of Teaching Assistants and feedback, James powerfully illustrated how a superficial understanding of the evidence or just a cursory look at the headlines of the EEF Toolkit can lead to teachers and school leaders to make poor decisions.  For example, we have seen a significant reduction in the number of TAs in schools and an explosion in written marking.  However, any teacher that has read beyond the research headlines will know that when trained and deployed well, TAs can add significant value to the progress of children. Likewise, many teachers will recognise that despite an 8-month effect size, that they can spend hours of marking and it not necessarily improve student learning.  Getting feedback ‘right’ is not a straightforward task.

Therefore, support for teachers’ research literacy is important as we are now increasingly operating in system where evidence is more commonly quoted, used and is justifying new approaches in schools.  In the session, James offered helpful distinctions between different levels of quality research evidence and unpicked some of the terminology used, particularly around research methods.

A good understanding of research evidence is clearly key if teachers are to see evidence informed approaches pay dividends in the classroom.   However, James discussed the other conditions that also need to be in place, for example, that teachers and school leaders first identify a clear purpose for change, are able to articulate a considered implementation plan and, in advance, be able to identify the likely indicators of success.

These considerations were brought to life with an exploration of two topics very common in the primary classroom: group work and oracy.  Drawing on a range of evidence, with each piece varying in quality and depth, delegates had a chance to critique and reflect on the research evidence presented. Delegates found the work of Neil Mercer on oracy and that from Ed Baines, Peter Blatchford and Peter Kutnick on group work helpful due to how clearly it articulated the approaches used.  Often the specifics of an approach or an intervention can be left out of research summaries with readers left to assume what particular strategies looked like in the classroom. However, all teachers will recognise the sentiment of the 1980s song lyric ‘it’s not what you do, but the way you do it’ here.  In our classrooms, the way in which we organise activities, seat students, emphasise particular behaviours etc. will all be critical in aiding progress. Hence why Mercer and Baines et al.’s work was considered so helpful to our delegates; their work ensured the reader was fully informed of the specifics of the approaches that were being tested in their research.  Such careful communication in research literature is likely to be more helpful to teachers seeking to translate research evidence to address their own concerns in their classrooms.

We look forward to our next session with James in the new year and we will share the ideas form that session in a follow-up blog.

Posted on 25 November 2018
Posted in: Blog

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