Bedales has set increasing store in its involvement with educational research in recent years, engaging directly with leading research institutions as well as encouraging staff to undertake their own ‘action research’ projects. We have had a relationship with the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) researchers and the associated Research Schools International (RSI) network since 2012, and have worked with Dr Christina Hinton and her colleagues on several projects, each of which you can learn more about in the links below.
A summary of the Research Schools International report on Bedales School, led by Christina Hinton of the Harvard Graduate School of Education
In the first year of our relationship with RSI and the Harvard Graduate School of Education researchers, work was carried out with staff and students at Bedales to pursue a research question framed to address the school’s key aim:
“To what extent are Bedales students motivated, independent thinkers with a love of learning? What are the factors that influence these dispositions?”
Initially, a literature review was carried out of the latest research relevant to student motivation, self-determination, level of challenge, theories of intelligence and meta-cognition. Based on the findings, an extensive survey was designed to highlight relevant attitudes and beliefs. The results of this were analysed using quantitative and qualitative methods.
“Bedales students tend to be motivated, independent learners with a love of learning”. Whereas 54% of students in the UK at large report being unmotivated by their school, 98% of students at Bedales reported positive motivation levels.
It is possible to identify 12 factors in the report which contribute to this unusually high level of engagement. The full report provides examples and quantitative data in support of these:
1. “Most students at Bedales convey a love of learning”, which in turn is inextricably linked with motivation. This is closely linked to their positive perceptions of their relationships with their teachers, and with one another.“Bedales shines in nurturing positive relationships, and these promote motivation”.
2. Autonomy and choice are important factors in supporting students’ sense of competence and engagement. Giving students a choice over the focus or the medium of their work is highly motivating, and is successfully embedded in the way that Bedales operates.
3. Collaborative work increases a sense of interest, ownership and motivation. Bedales provides many opportunities for collaborative work, which extends the social networks of students. The more extensive a social network (including peers and teachers) reported by students, the higher their sense of engagement in their work.
4. Students are more motivated when they perceive an active effort is being made by teachers to incorporate their interests into lessons. This in turn links to the motivating power of giving students a choice over their work whenever possible.
5. Bedales Assessed Courses (BACs) are a significant factor in enhancing motivation, independence and inquisitiveness. The variety of paths a student can take through a single course, and the broad range of assessment methods contribute to a strong sense of ownership.
6. The passion demonstrated by teachers for their subject is a strong contributory factor. “Results suggest that intellectual curiosity pervades the school culture...students frequently identify teacher passion as a powerful catalyst for motivation.”. Students frequently make explicit the link between this and their own love of learning.
7. The variety of instructional techniques employed by teachers and the broad range of activities, indoors and outdoors, enrich a sense of broad participation. “Students repeatedly emphasise that a variety of learning activities bolsters their levels of motivation and love of learning.”
8. Bedales is successful in connecting academic content to real life, which research shows is another leading factor in motivation. Students thrive on relevance.
9. Appropriate levels of challenge, strong encouragement, positive feedback and constructive criticism are important levers in securing engagement.
10. Independent learning skills are successfully developed through giving students a high degree of autonomy over their tasks, but providing them with appropriately supportive interactions with teachers.
11. A ‘growth mindset’ is a crucial prerequisite for positive attitudes to learning. Students must believe that intelligence is not a fixed quality, but highly malleable. Whereas on average only around 50% of people report this belief, 94% of Bedales students report a growth mindset, with the vast majority recognising that hard work determines success at school, rather than the damaging belief that talent is innate.
12. There is a correlation between being reflective about the process of learning (meta-cognition), and enjoyment of learning. “Teachers often encourage students to critically evaluate their own and others’ ideas as they formulate their opinions. This process, in turn, can generate enjoyment of learning”.Mindfulness practice can be a contributory factor to this, too.
In 2013-14, following the general analysis of attitudes and dispositions in the previous year, Bedales undertook to work further with the Harvard Graduate School of Education researchers to explore how we might make better use of active learning strategies, having established in the previous year’s work that this was an effective way to frame learning. In particular we wanted to explore the relationship between active learning strategies, and student enjoyment, since enjoyment of learning is at heart of what we want for our students at Bedales.
We asked the research question: To what extent are students engaged in active learning at Bedales School? What is the nature of this active learning? Is active learning associated with student enjoyment?
The subsequent literature review showed that active learning techniques lead to greater learning and motivation than ‘passive’ techniques. Research shows that when teachers implement active techniques in their lessons, students are more engaged and have better memory of the material being taught. Moreover, active learning techniques support students to learn material in deeper and more flexible ways. Specifically, students who learn through active techniques tend to be better prepared to transfer the knowledge they gained to new situations and creatively solve problems by applying this knowledge.
In addition, active learning techniques promote motivation and interest, which in turn leads to better academic outcomes. Moreover, active learning techniques can actually encourage students to have more positive attitudes toward a certain field of study. For example, research has shown that implementing active inquiry-based science programs can lead students to have more positive attitudes toward science and a greater interest in pursuing a career in science.
A total of 276 students took part in the study this year across two surveys, comprising approximately half of the students in the school population. For Survey 1, a small group of 18 students from the Teaching and Learning (T&L) group completed detailed evaluations of all of their lessons for a week. Subjects were analysed by type of activity undertaken, and relative levels of enjoyment were reported. This was a mixed-gender group comprising students from across all five year cohorts who volunteered to help with improving teaching and learning at Bedales. Survey 2, which was more general in scope, was given to a large sample of students, and also sought to establish the relationship between different types of less activities, perceived levels of learning, and enjoyment. The resultant data was subjected to qualitative and quantitative analysis by the Harvard team.
The findings of the analysis were consistent with the literature review: we found that active learning techniques are correlated with greater perceived learning and motivation among Bedales students. We found a statistically significant relationship between how often students engage in a variety of active learning techniques and their levels of motivation. In addition, Bedales students reported that they learn more deeply in active lessons.
As a result of these findings, which were presented to the staff by Christina Hinton and Catherine Glennon, Bedales has continued to emphasise the necessity of making lessons ‘active’ in their construction, and has sought to ensure that an even higher proportion of the lessons students are exposed to include a variety of active learning strategies.
In the third year of our relationship with RSI and the Harvard Graduate School of Education researchers we embarked on a longitudinal study of the ‘global awareness’ level of our students. We have initiated a new Global Awareness department to increase the international and cross-cultural sensitivity of our students, in line with our school aim: to foster interest beyond the school, engaging with the local community and developing a national and international awareness.
Researchers designed a baseline survey to collect current attitudes and knowledge across the entire school. As the Global Awareness programme develops, we hope to be able to measure the impact of this initiative by re-testing the school two or three years into the scheme.
We are currently deciding what our next steps should be in terms of research. We are interested in how collaboration between students can support learning, and indeed, be assessed.
We are also involved with the University of Winchester and in particular the Expansive Education Network, run by Professors Bill Lucas and Guy Claxton. A number of our staff are furthering their professional development by undertaking their own research under Bill’s expert guidance. We are also connected with Eton College’s Tony Little Centre for Innovation and Research in Learning. Our Deputy Head, Academic, Alistair McConville, sits on the steering group for the centre.