For the love of research

As a new middle leader, I’m still finding my feet and determining the precise scope of my role. Although I’m in principle KS2 English Lead, I find it difficult to think of good teaching solely in terms of the teaching of English. I am so interested in education in general, that I cannot separate good quality English teaching from good quality teaching of maths, science, history, art etc. This is why I’ve started to send around research emails, which digest important books or research papers and suggest tips for improving English teaching and learning (just in case someone accuses me of not being English-focused enough….). I’m not sure exactly what these emails will achieve, but I hope that they will pique my colleagues’ interests and provoke debates, discussions and questions about education and our roles within it.

These emails also serve another purpose: they allow me the space and time to process what I’ve read and find ways of articulating this to others. I find I swallow books whole, swiftly moving onto the next one, without taking the time to digest them. Funnily enough, I’ve just read Make it Stick*, and this process of retrieval and elaboration is exactly what the authors recommend to, well, make it stick. So in essence, I’m sending round emails, couched as professional development for my colleagues, while secretly being a tool to reinforce my own learning…it’s a win-win!

I thought I’d go a step further and document my attempts at spreading the research love – perhaps someone out there wishes their English lead sent around emails? Well, fear not, Christmas has come early for you! Here is a version of the first email I sent around: an introduction to the idea of using research to inform practice, in which I refer to Tom Sherrington and Barak Rosenshine.

Blog posts provide an accessible route into education research and since the landscape is so marred with debates such as progressivism vs traditionalism and skills vs knowledge, I thought I’d start off with a balanced voice: Tom Sherrington’s blog post, Evidence-Informed Ideas Every Teacher Should Know About.

In the post, Tom Sherrington distills some simple yet effective strategies to keep in mind when planning, delivering and reflecting on lessons. I really enjoy his blog – if you’d like to read more from him I can recommend his book, The Learning Rainforest*, where he goes into more detail about cognitive science, memory and the knowledge vs skills debate.

For those whose curiosity was piqued by Teacherhead, I attached Barak Rosenshine’s article Principles of Instruction, which sets out the evidence around what works best in education. This has come to be seen as a classic. Ideas include:

• recapping learning at the start of every lesson

• breaking knowledge down and allowing time for practice

• providing scaffolds

• building independence

These may all sound really obvious and we probably all do these to varying degrees every day. However, the article goes into some depth and allowed me to critically reflect on what I was actually doing vs what I thought I was doing. We do a lot of things and make a lot of decisions every day, and it’s so reassuring to be able to justify to yourself (and others), based on evidence, why you’ve made that choice.

It also really helps, especially for those of us with less teaching experience, to use teachers’ collective wisdom (i.e. evidence and experience) to improve our practice.

So that was email one. I hope someone out there found it useful. Please do comment with any suggestions on other important articles/blogs/books I should share with my colleagues. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be distilling ideas from Make it Stick*.

I have used affiliate links in this blog. They are marked with an *.

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