Sunday, 15 November 2015

“Researching maybe more important than research” @realdcameron

The pedagoo #enquirymeet yesterday at Grangemouth High School was a new take on teachmeet format with a single focus on sharing practitioner enquiry. The range of presentations through early years, primary, secondary and some cross sector was fantastic with teachers and educators sharing their experiences and findings of enquiry. In his ‘final thoughts’ David Cameron (@realdcameron) had a bullet point “Research maybe more important than researching”, this connected with a paper I had been reading “Bridging the Gap between Researchers and Practitioners” Montgomery & Smith (2015), as I want to explore how research is accessed, used and the relevance of research in schools.
Teaching Scotland’s Future has a paragraph that discusses (p75), a research-informed approach to continuous learning” in this Cochran-Smith (2009) is cited and her notion of teachers developing an ‘enquiry as stance’ is described as “they need to develop expertise in using research, inquiry and reflection as part of their daily skill set”. This is reinforced later in Teaching Scotland’s Future on p102, as “teachers will be more research aware and engage directly in self-evaluation”. In the essay by Montgomery & Smith (2015), they discuss the use of research to “assist teachers in providing evidence-based justifications for the curriculum materials they choose and the pedagogical decisions they make” and to defend their professional choices”. These statements link the accountability that teachers have with the aspiration of ‘enquiry as stance’ and help to move teachers beyond "the kids loved it!" to more research informed practice. It also supports the suggestion discussed by Bevan (2004) that although teachers are both interested in improving students learning and are continually experimenting with ideas and approaches, using a more research focussed approach would encourage a more in-depth study of practice and support teachers to develop a criticality of “research-based initiative” which are ‘required’ to be implemented.
There was a major debate at the initial meeting to discuss the idea of a teachmeet with a focus on using research to inform practice. I was and still am of the opinion that the word ’research’ seems difficult, unattainable, and remote from teachers’ practice and indeed prevents teachers engaging in this way of working, as they can lack confidence and as Healy (2005) discusses many teachers have difficulty thinking of themselves as researchers. However by using a ‘softer’ idea of enquiry, this helps to break some myths and makes research more accessible for teachers, hence #enquirymeet.
There is a disconnect in the way teachers and researchers view themselves and each other and the relationship between the two ‘groups’ has not always been an easy one. Montgomery & Smith discuss these differing expectations as “researchers often wonder why so few research findings seem to make their way into classroom practice” and from the teaches point of view “teachers express frustration with how "out of touch" academic articles seem to be with the day-to-day realities”.
This argument of differing views is further discussed in terms of how research is written and where it is published. Classroom teachers can find access to research difficult. In Scotland, the GTC are supporting registered teachers to access academic literature through the Education Source – EBSCO, which has over 17,000 journal articles and also a small selection of ebooks to help teachers to engage with research. However, time is always a factor and teachers are “interested in concrete ways to improve their practice (Drill et al., 2012)”. Researchers “hope their work will have a large-scale impact on the profession” but for researchers, publication often serves a dual purpose. Firstly, to share their findings, thus adding to wider communities knowledge of the subject area and secondly, “a condition of continued employment”, therefore the intended audience may not be teachers which furthers the divide between researchers and teachers.
Most published research is written to a “standard convention” and follows a common structure. This “standard convention” can also create a barrier for teachers’ engagement with research as the abstract, literature review, methodology, discussion, and finally conclusion sections are lengthy and take precious time to wade through and digest. The use of "jargon," or "academese," can be off-putting and may seem to be “purposefully designed to deliberately exclude people”. The discussion and conclusion sections are usually of most use to teachers but can be written in an academically responsible but appear somewhat ‘wishy washy’ from the teachers perspective. However, this is right and proper, as Montgomery & Smith state “researchers try to be careful not to make assertions for which they do not feel they have adequate evidence, and limit the conclusions they draw from their research to statements that can be directly supported by the data they have analysed” but can lead to frustration for teachers who are hoping for something more ‘concrete’.
A further barrier for teachers for articles written in an academically conventional framework is the “extensive use of citations and complex statistical analyses”, this can be off putting for teachers as it can be “intrusive to the flow of the argument, and disruptive to their ability to understand the content” or viewed from an academic point of view as “gaps in their professional literacy” of teachers. There can also be an issue in the conclusions drawn from research and it can lack "street credibility" as it appears remote from the teachers’ personal experience.
The best way forward I would suggest would be, as is already appearing across Scotland, partnership models, where universities and either local authorities or schools, are forming relationships. These partnerships support “university researchers have access to students they would not otherwise be able to study” and “teachers can get the answers they need to improve their practice without taking on the research obligation alone” and this would appear to be the answer. However, a word of caution, in any partnership the relationship is key. The partnership must “find common ground” so there is no conflict of ‘whose agenda’ is being addressed. The outcomes of the research and who ‘owns’ the research must be agreed to minimise confusion and conflict as Montgomery & Smith state “[are] mostly due to the fact that both parties view the purposes and value of research from such different perspectives, which are firmly grounded in their unique roles and responsibilities”.
In essence, I agree with @realdcameron’s final thought of “Researching maybe more important than research” but I feel we, as a profession, need to become more proactive in seeking out literature to support our pedagogy but also understand the limitations of time and resource. Practitioner enquiry may be a first step into carrying out some ‘research’ into our own practice but I believe that if we can implement the partnership model as a way of working that meet the needs of teachers and researchers then we can have the best of both worlds.

Bevan, R. M. (2004). Filtering, fragmenting, and fiddling? Teachers' life cycles, and phases in their engagement with research. Teacher Development, 8 (2-3), 325-339. Retrieved from

Donaldson, G. (2010) Teaching Scotland’s Future

Drill, K., Miller, S., & Behrstock-Sherratt, E. (2012). Teachers' perspectives on educational research. Report from American Institutes for Research. Retrieved from

Healey, M. (2005). Linking research and teaching exploring disciplinary spaces and the role of inquiry-based learning. In Barnett, R. (Ed.), Reshaping the University: New Relationships between Research, Scholarship and Teaching, (pp. 67-78). Berkshire, England: McGraw Hill / Open University Press. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pmed.0020124.

Montgomery,C. Smith, L.C.(2015) ‘Bridging the Gap between Researchers and Practitioners’ Die Unterrichtspraxis / Teaching German, Spring2015, Vol. 48 Issue 1, p100, 14p

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