How can schools use research to better inform teaching practice?

The Guardian reports that in the past few years, schools have focused more on the use of research, especially into how pupils learn and the implications on effective teaching.

One reason teachers have needed to become more research informed is to respond to the masses of misinformation presented to us. Even when a teaching approach is exposed as incorrect, it can continue to influence how we work.

One example is the learning pyramid, which is based on Edgar Dale’s cone of experience. This was a theoretical framework that made no mention of learning but soon took on a life of its own, as the learning pyramid. Most teachers will have been given information apparently based on this work – for example, that pupils only remember 5% of what they’re told but 90% of what they teach others.

Another example is the idea that pupils should be taught according to their learning style. Despite this thinking being widely criticised and evidence for it lacking, as many as 93% of teachers in the UK still hold on to this idea. In my experience, few schools ever told teachers to start teaching different learning styles; they just stopped mentioning it – so its use died out, but not necessarily the underlying belief.

Identifying what actually works

Some of these problems have arisen because research often seems to be done “to” teachers rather than with them. As Carl Hendrick and Robin Macpherson point out, “Teachers have been given answers to questions they didn’t ask and solutions to problems that never existed”.

When useful research is given to teachers, it’s usually a list of strategies divorced from their original reasoning. Take the use of lollipop sticks in the classroom, where every pupil in the class has a number, and those numbers are also written on lollipop sticks – when asking a question, you choose a stick and ask that pupil. What was originally used as a way of ensuring the same pupils don’t always answer questions is now insisted on by some schools as the only way questions should be asked.

Sharing knowledge

So how can schools and teachers find research that’s relevant to them, identify what is rigorous and work out how it can be applied? One increasingly common solution is for the school to invest in the role of a research lead.

“Teachers do need to be research-informed but the pressure of the workload means that they don’t have the time to keep track of it all,” Macpherson said. “A designated research lead can filter what’s out there and share the most robust evidence for their colleagues. This avoids duplication of effort and improves pupil learning.”

Read the full article How can schools use research to better inform teaching practice?

Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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