Stephen and co-workers, Beng Huat See and Nadia Siddiqui, were looking to see if teachers could take a piece of research with proven benefits and apply it in a way that had a positive outcome for their students. Beng Huat See explains: So the schools came together — the heads, lead teachers and subject leaders — and they read the paper by John Hattie and Helen Timperley, extracting information to help them understand the different types of feedback strategies to be used in a classroom.
Afterwards, they went back to their schools and cascaded the training to the other teachers. Once the training had been given to all the teachers, the researchers went in to the schools to evaluate how enhanced feedback was being implemented. The researchers observed lessons and interviewed teachers, subject leaders and pupils. And they also evaluated the academic achievement of students in the schools and compared with other schools in the borough and nationally. So, what did they find?
Well, attainment didn't improve. A quote from the study: Beng Huat has some ideas: One is the academic language in which the paper was written is not accessible to practitioners. Another is that there were not enough examples of how to apply enhanced feedback for the teachers to use. The problem was in the delivery of the enhanced feedback model.
Initially, the teachers were confused about the structures around feedback the research put in place. Any good teacher already uses feedback. Why are we doing this? During the initial training, one teacher said, 'I agree with [Hattie] about the impact of feedback, but this is what we all do in our classes. This is what we're doing already. More tellingly, the research leads from the schools struggled to understand the research paper. One teacher commented, 'I need a translator to understand what this article is saying.
I just cannot understand what [Hattie] means and what he wants us to do. But there was a lot of misunderstanding and misinterpretation of the evidence,' says Beng Huat. The teachers found the language of the research article impenetrable — it was not written for an audience of practitioners.
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Then there was the other problem: These could be a simple as clarification of technical terms with several examples, or as in-depth as videos of successful implementations of the intervention being used for training. But Stephen still feels the biggest hurdle to teachers implementing education research is just how difficult research articles are to read. I don't mean they leave out content that practitioners want.
I mean the academic English researchers write in is completely unnecessary and makes it really hard for everybody — including academics — to read. And, of course, it makes it especially hard for teachers. This is a problem we already know about. In May, the Education Endowment Foundation published two independent reports concluding that teachers aren't willing to invest the time to engage with education research and senior leaders aren't willing to invest the resources to support them in doing so.
Gary Davies, a physicist and soon-to-be physics teacher, commented that this seems absurd. If education research can make teachers better at teaching, the reports suggest that teachers don't want to improve.
Why don't teachers use education research in teaching?
Their managers don't want them to, either. Gary suggested that it's more plausible that teachers and managers don't think they can effectively use the outputs of education research to improve their teaching. Research isn't worth their time. And to be fair, their intuition is bang on — the Durham study shows that.
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There's a gap between the results of academic education research and teaching practitioners. Kristy spends three days a week teaching organic and general chemistry in Manchester, and two days a week teaching in school. I asked her about a typical teacher's engagement with education research.
There are some formal mechanisms in some schools for disseminating research — my school, for example, has a learning development group that meets every half term. But that's only one hour each half term. So the pressure from a teacher's side is time.
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But, as we've already seen, there are other barriers to using research. You might encounter a paywall. They're almost written to make the author sound clever to other people within that area of research, and not written to make it easy for someone who wants to apply it. Quite honestly, unless it's easy to digest, I don't think teachers have the time to spend decoding something that in the end might not be of any use to them.
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Kristy highlights three problems. First of all, access to research. If you've spent any time trying to read research literature, you will be familiar with coming up against paywalls.
Secondly, it's difficult for a teacher to know if a piece of research will be relevant to their teaching. And lastly, of course, the problem of language we've already encountered. I asked Kristy if she herself reads education research. For my school work, I tend to read it quite informally — I mainly discover things through Twitter or other social media. That way I can get the bite-size summary, rather than reading the full publication. But that's different to how I use research in my higher education role. I also asked if she applies education research results in her classes.
Kristy said she uses a few flipped learning techniques that came from some studies she's read, but not much beyond that. But, Kristy's role as a part-time university lecturer and tutor gives her a slightly different perspective on education research. Last year she decided to get her hands dirty. I published my first paper recently in the Journal of Chemical Education , which is about a modelling activity I developed for the classroom.
Producing that paper gave me a lot of insight into how other people are generating and communicating their ideas. It's quite a simple activity, but when I wrote it up to fulfill the needs of a scholarly publication it ended up being 14 pages long. Since that paper came out, Kristy has been working on translating the work for practitioners herself. The best way of me communicating my idea to teachers is either to present it face-to-face with someone or put it in a short, open access document. What about the pressures researchers face?
Kristy mentioned her article on a simple classroom activity became 14 pages long just by necessity of publishing it as research. I spoke to Keith Taber, editor of the journal Chemistry Education Research and Practice and professor of science education at the University of Cambridge, and asked him what the purpose of education research is.
The idea of educational research is to provide a knowledge base and expertise to support effective teaching and learning. Keith is very clear that education research must have an impact on the classroom. But he also agrees research articles tend to be written for an audience of other researchers, rather than teachers. So, if you have a field like biochemistry or transition metal catalysis, for example, then when people write research articles they will be written for other researchers in the field.
In educational research, that tends to be the case as well. It's not necessarily that researchers couldn't write for a different audience of practitioners, but the research journal is there to inform and develop its field of research. He explained that researchers have to convince editors and reviewers that their studies contribute something new. So when somebody publishes a research article, they are saying, "I have found out something new. I understand the nature of the data you've collected and the analysis you've done.