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researchEd Sydney 2015: A day of reflecting on research in education

 Is evidence based educational research a fad? Isn’t teaching more a craft than a science?

These were the questions  asked early in the day at researchEd Sydney that challenged and framed my thinking for the rest of the day. researchEd was started by Tom Bennett @tombennett71 in the UK as a vehicle to promote the need to better evaluate the educational silver bullets and/or claims along with masses of educational research that is accumulating.researchED-logo

After listening and taking part in a lot of discussion,  I came to see the value of both; educators need to be aware of educational research and it’s application to the classroom and they need to be artful practitioners of the craft of teaching. This is nothing new and a lot of the preaching that occurred was to the converted.  What follows are my reflections to date on what I heard and learnt.

Teachers as researchers

One discussion that has changed the way I think relates to peer reflection and research.  There are a range of ‘research practices’ that teachers undertake that are helpful for evaluating what is and isn’t working but generally they are undervalued from a academic ‘peer reviewed’ research level.  An excellent example was provided by Michaela Pinkerton @kaiako_nz from Albany Senior High School NZ. It would be interesting to work with universities or other educational research organisations to formalise this reflection so it can be considered valid at a peer review level, but also kept the level of reflection achievable for the classroom teacher.

Research Leader

I love the idea of a Research Leader role in a school proposed by Tom Bennett and reportedly gaining traction in the UK. A Research Leader is someone who:

  • reads and shares ideas within an educational institution
  • critically challenges school leaders using research
  • runs training and seeks answers to school based questions
  • coordinates action research in collaboration with a teaching team
  • organises a Journal Club where educational research is discussed and implemented and reflected on by a group of peers

The Journal Club is something that I had already been organising at my school and it is the 30mins of PD a week that truly helps me reflect and change what I do in the classroom and has involved some of the best conversations I have had in the educational context. I came away from researchEd inspired to continue in 2015 and to increase its influence if possible.

Teaching and Learning Tool Kit

Teaching and Learning Tool Kit

One valuable educational research tool was introduced by John Bush @bushjb from Social Ventures Australia (SVA). The Teaching and Learning Tool kit allows you to search through summaries of educational research on intervention or practices and quickly see their educational benefit, cost of implementation and the validity of current research in one glance. It then allows you to dig deeper into the actual research. It will be invaluable in testing some of the claims I heard on the day such as:

  • engagement and activity are a means to an end…not the end themselves
  • giving students control over learning has a low effect size
  • worksheets need scaffolding
  • discovery learning not as effective as guided discovery
  • learning is not fixed, this is where you are, now know the ‘what next’

Innovation in learning? What if there is no research?

Another question raised was how do you innovate if you need to be evidenced based?  I think the answer here is straightforward: if you try something new, you must reflect and gather some evidence of its effectiveness. Of course many innovations have been tried before, the whole open classroom revolution occurring at present has been tried in the past. Have we learnt anything from previous implementations?Have we gone back and asked questions about why it did not succeed in the past and what we will do differently to produce better results in the current implementation? Are we reflecting on what does and does not work and documenting this in a way others can gain from it? This is what I feel is true innovation.

Humans as learners

I think one message I heard on the day that needs to be sent a little louder to the ‘innovators’ is the question “Has learning really changed?” Humans as learners have not gone through any radical reinvention in recent history, the fact is our biology and the way we learn has not changed at all. We are getting better at understanding how we learn which means we can refine our teaching practises to improve learning but it’s an evolution rather than a revolution.

Finally, I felt that some of the research on how we learn could have been better applied at the researchEd Conference.  I was in cognitive overload shortly after lunch and I would say there was definitely too many workshop sessions and not enough stop, reflect and debrief times. While I informally met and made many new connections it would be great to have built this more formally into the day somehow.

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