Evaluating the first meeting of the research group

This post follows on from this article on ‘planning the first meeting of a research group.’

My first session was initially designed to gauge the levels of interest, experience and expectations of colleagues that decided to attend. From my perspective, the group felt a little rudderless but certainly achieved this aim. Helpful colleagues of mine have also pointed out that the group perhaps should not necessarily have a strong direction but instead it should guide colleagues to explore research for themselves – something to think about a little bit more fully when planning the next session.

Colleagues were very interested in research, and saw it more as an opportunity to ‘learn something new’ which I found quite interesting. I’m not sure how far educational research can achieve that, or how far this chimes with the aims of the group. Ideally, I want colleagues to question their teaching practice and use evidence to guide changes. If this involves learning something new, then great, but I’m not sure they will receive the silver bullet they’re looking for. It is perhaps worth noting, at this point, that the session fell in the week that we picked over the bones of our mock results. Staff were naturally looking for “interventions” that would turn around students who were not performing at the expected level.

 

Reflections on own performance:

This group sits as part of my own personal development. I have been guided by the senior leadership team this year to think carefully about how I might grow into a successful leadership role. This has therefore led to the following thoughts:

  1. Staff respond well to experience. I am not the most experienced teacher, and most of my participants were more senior to me. However they responded well to my background as an MA student currently engaged in the research process myself: this was something I was perhaps anxious about before the session.
  2. Staff are supportive, and are generally willing to be led to where you want them to go. In hindsight, I wished I had used this session to unpack more fully what colleagues meant by wanting more research on successful interventions. They can only make progress in this area if they have more concrete ideas about what aspects of their student’s learning they wish to develop.

Reflections ahead of the next session:

  1. Staff want a range of ideas. I am therefore minded to provide them with a few different articles, summarised, and invite them to discuss which of them might prove the most useful to them in designing an intervention to improve a set group of students in their exam classes. This should hopefully encourage them to think in a more focussed way, and will allow us to plan some useful interventions to be evaluated in a subsequent session.
  2. I want to send staff off with a concrete task to complete. This session didn’t have the ‘zinger’ of an ending I had hoped it would – largely because we were all speaking about attending the next session, which does not fall until the beginning of May. This should take the form of a structured, planned use of some research to modify (or perhaps even remove) an element of their current practice.

Reflections on the role of the group next year:

  1. I have mentioned this elsewhere, but the group does need to meet more regularly. I need to have, by the end of this academic year, put together a clear proposal for the model the group should follow in 2017/18.
  2. With a clear programme for 2017/18 staff should be encouraged to commit to the group for the year and perhaps even be invited to join. This allows for the action-research model I am aspiring towards to be sold more clearly before the first session of this year. The first meeting of the group did feel like colleagues were arriving with broad, differing expectations. The session had also come as something of an interruption to their year-long professional development programme which has, of course, been underway since February.

 

I remain interested in speaking with fellow research leads and others bringing research into the classroom. Please do get in touch, I have always got the time to chew the cud on this subject.

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Launching an in-school ‘research group’

Step Two: Planning the First Session

I have found planning our first session a rewarding experience. Using the goals I set for the group in its infancy, I undertook the following journey in planning the session.

  1. Finding some literature

    I knew that I wanted to discuss a piece of research in our first session, to model the process of engaging with research as a teacher and to broaden the source of new ideas that our teaching staff access. Using Fordham’s helpful ‘index’ of useful sources, I went in search of an article that was short, accessible and would spark a discussion with colleagues.

    I eventually settled upon an article on retrieval practice which seemed to fit the bill. This article seemed valuable in that it offers a clear and easily accessible method and Smith’s conclusions are communicated clearly. I am therefore hoping that it should spark some useful discussions among colleagues on the extent to which we might be able to replicate the findings in our own context and how we might apply the lessons to our teaching practice. As a short article, and one written by a fellow teacher, it should not be too threatening to colleagues.

  2. Finding a way into the literature

    I am perhaps imposing my own preconceptions onto my colleagues, but I felt that the world of research might sound daunting and alien to them at first. I therefore want to begin our session by unpacking our ideas of what educational research might look like and where we might find it. I have compiled a list of sources, built in part upon Fordham’s ‘index’ as above, and will point colleagues in the direction of the Learning Scientists It is important not to overwhelm colleagues, who are time-pressed, with a range of sources. Whilst presenting a range of sources, I also intend to discuss with colleagues why they are interested in the research group in the first place, and explore the site to see what we can find that might be useful to them.

    I’m also keen to share the four ‘approaches’ to reading research that I have been given by my own MA tutors and the history team at the Institute of Education. To suggest that some read new teaching ideas as if they are unchallengeable scripture, and something that must be applied to every lesson: a universal truth. Others passively engage with literature and new ideas as if they are a manual to be replicated exactly in their own lessons. Both approaches have a place, but we want to use literature as a spark, to consider how we might adapt ideas to our own context or even joust with ideas, based on our own experiences, to identify what does not work for our particular students. We want to ensure that we’re mostly taking the latter two approaches, critically engaging with literature, rather than accepting it without much thought.

  3. Finding a way back out of the literature

    I’m hoping to capitalise on the interests of participants to build up some momentum with this research group. I’m therefore keen to get colleagues to generate some valid questions of their own, which they might take further and engage in some critical research around. This might take place independently, or it might be done within the group in a future session. As part of my internet search, casting around for ideas, I came across this set of slides from a ResearchED talk on PICO questions. I will therefore invite colleagues to generate some questions of their own, and hope that I have sewn some seeds of curiosity and laid the foundations for our next session.

I will update the blog after the session, to critically evaluate how it has gone. Anybody interested in the materials used in the session, or to chew the cud further, are invited to get in touch by commenting below or sending me an email: wdv@dartfordgrammargirls.kent.sch.uk

Starting an in-school ‘research group’

Step One: Setting some parameters

This is much less of a manual, and much more of a documentary of my efforts to get a group started in school. In the first instance, it must be said that the EduJournalClub website and guidance given by Beth G-G, Tom Bennett and Dan Sabato have been invaluable.

I was first tasked with running this group back in September, and given a rather far off date of Wednesday 1st February for the first session. Naturally, I made very few plans being somewhat busy with my own MA level research. Before Christmas, I felt it was important to check with the Senior Leadership Team what it was they expected from the session, to ensure that it was able to fulfil their wish list and the school’s broader vision for the development of the teaching staff. As befits our school’s approach to CPD, I was given quite a blank canvas.

Some contextual detail might be valuable here. Our school’s CPD model revolves around a series of ‘professional learning groups.’ Each of these is built upon our school’s five teaching priorities. Staff opt into one of the groups, which meet regularly, to discuss one new habit that they wish to develop in their teaching. Within a supportive group, some input is given by an expert, some literature is discussed among the group and how the habit is being developed, and with what success, is discussed among colleagues who offer helpful advice.

I see my ‘research group’ as something of an extension to this model, for those that want to get hardcore with their consultation of the literature. I largely see the group as an action-research group, which reinforces the school’s ultimate goal of having a reflexive teaching staff.

I have also had to think carefully about what is realistically possible given the nature and regularity of the sessions:

  1. I have only been assigned three twilight sessions to get this group off of the ground. I must prove the viability of this group and pitch for more time in the next academic year.
  2. Given the school’s personalised nature of CPD, and the range of differentiated options in the schools’ development programme, the group will need to be attractive to earn members. No teacher will be attending because they ‘need to make up the hours’.
  3. How much research can a group of teachers engage with in a one hour session after school?

 

I have therefore devised a series of, hopefully realistic, goals and principles around which I shall plan our first session, which I will blog about when I get around to planning it.

  1. To expose teachers to a range of ideas about teaching beyond the staple diet given in the existing CPD programme.*
  2. To encourage staff to think critically about how they engage with new teaching ideas, however they are presented.
  3. To encourage a model of critical evaluation of new teaching ideas within our particular context.
  4. To encourage teaching staff to take an ownership over their own CPD and reflect on the process of improving their pedagogy.

* Dan Sabato has helpfully suggested that a mixture of blog posts, TED talks and research abstracts are a realistic and desirable mix. I’m hoping Michael Fordham’s blog-post on useful ways into research for teachers might also prove useful in planning.