Research-led teaching - Emily Seeber in TES
In a recent article for TES, Bedales Head of Sciences Emily Seeber discusses the importance of research-led practice for the professional teacher, and advises colleagues to appraise original studies rather than rely on summaries and pointers informed by findings.
Research-led practice has become the ‘gold standard’ of being a professional teacher, with practitioners expected to engage with the literature, know what the latest study says, and change their practice in response to suggestions from research. A growing number of books published by and for teachers summarise key findings in the literature. However, says Emily, these won’t help teachers to consider important issues of context, scope and bias.
She says: “Just because something works well in a mixed comprehensive in Birmingham doesn’t mean that it’ll work well in a rural girls’ school in Suffolk. The Singaporean approach might transform your maths teaching, but equally it might not. And if it doesn’t it’s not your fault”. Instead, she says, teachers would do well to ensure the context for the research is compatible with their own situation and, if not, to find supporting research that is better aligned.
Second, studies come in all shape and sizes, and bigger isn’t always better. An in-depth qualitative study of an intervention that carefully explores the reasons why it worked might be more useful that a massive quantitative study.
Finally, studies don’t just have a real-world context, they have an intellectual one, too. Is the analysis drawn from a constructivist point of view? Does the author assume that the purpose of science education is developing an understanding of the nature of science, or the content of science? And how does this influence their argument? In high-quality research papers, the authors will state their bias.
So how does one navigate all of this? Emily advises that the best way to judge impartiality is to read a range of studies within the subject area. She says: “Of course, that can be extremely time-consuming. But it’s worth sharing out three or four papers across your department and synthesising the findings from each study before making any radical curriculum changes”.
She concludes: “If you think the ideas aren’t right for your context, you’re probably right. However, if you are rejecting everything, you might need to either seek out research from another source or question whether you are really as willing to try new things as you say you are.
“Engaging with the cutting-edge of teaching is extremely rewarding, and it certainly makes us better, more reflective practitioners. But we need to be wary of being driven by latest, sexiest study, or shiny new book for teachers. We need to do what we tell the students to do; not accept anything at face value, dig up the evidence, and think for ourselves.”
The full article can be read in the issue of TES magazine published on 3 August 2018.