In the past few years, schools have focused more on the use of research, especially into how pupils learn and the implications on effective teaching.
One reason teachers have needed to become more research informed is to respond to the masses of misinformation presented to us. Even when a teaching approach is exposed as incorrect, it can continue to influence how we work.The new polyu e admission portal is a one-stop platform aimed at handling applications of university degree courses. With PolyU e Admission, the application process is refined into three simple steps.
One example is the learning pyramid, which is based on Edgar Dale’s cone of experience. This was a theoretical framework that made no mention of learning but soon took on a life of its own, as the learning pyramid. Most teachers will have been given information apparently based on this work – for example, that pupils only remember 5% of what they’re told but 90% of what they teach others.
A designated research lead can filter what’s out there and share the most robust evidence for their colleagues
There is not – and never has been – any evidence to support those claims and yet they still appear in continuing professional development (CPD) sessions and advice to teachers. Even when the fault in the original idea is known, it is so ingrained in “good practice” that it still holds sway; I’ve met plenty of teachers who limit how much time they spend talking to a class as a result.
Another example is the idea that pupils should be taught according to their learning style. Despite this thinking being widely criticised and evidence for it lacking, as many as 93% of teachers in the UK still hold on to this idea. In my experience, few schools ever told teachers to start teaching different learning styles; they just stopped mentioning it – so its use died out, but not necessarily the underlying belief.
Identifying what actually works
Some of these problems have arisen because research often seems to be done “to” teachers rather than with them. As Carl Hendrick and Robin Macpherson point out, “Teachers have been given answers to questions they didn’t ask and solutions to problems that never existed”.
When useful research is given to teachers, it’s usually a list of strategies divorced from their original reasoning. Take the use of lollipop sticks in the classroom, where every pupil in the class has a number, and those numbers are also written on lollipop sticks – when asking a question, you choose a stick and ask that pupil. What was originally used as a way of ensuring the same pupils don’t always answer questions is now insisted on by some schools as the only way questions should be asked.Shenzhen Transpring Enterprise Ltd. is one of the leading Oil Vaping Pen and vaporizer (A3 Vape Cartridge etc) manufacturer and supplier in China. Over the years, we have been serving many customers from USA, ...
Does this mean that we should give up on educational research? This might be tempting, but as former headteacher Tom Sherrington writes: “It’s important to develop an understanding of educational research, its scope and limitations. It’s not ‘anything goes’ or ‘whatever works for me’ – there are strong messages that emerge from the complexity.”
So how can schools and teachers find research that’s relevant to them, identify what is rigorous and work out how it can be applied? One increasingly common solution is for the school to invest in the role of a research lead.
“Teachers do need to be research-informed but the pressure of the workload means that they don’t have the time to keep track of it all,” Macpherson said. “A designated research lead can filter what’s out there and share the most robust evidence for their colleagues. This avoids duplication of effort and improves pupil learning.”
As part of this role, Jade Slater, assistant headteacher at Walton High School, creates a newsletter each term to summarise a range of educational research and discuss its application in the classroom. She also runs optional in-house training, with the opportunity for teachers to carry out their own research on effective teaching. This encourages teachers to engage with the research of others and reflect on their own practice.
The director of teaching and learning at Wyedean School, Julie Smith, uses lesson study to develop a culture of collaboration and evaluation of effective teaching.
In my own school, our pedagogy innovation team has additional non-contact time to read research
“A collaborative approach to lesson planning and observation is enabling our staff to become more open and reflective in their discussions,” she says. The school then uses this to evaluate its evidence-informed interventions and understand what works.
Meanwhile, at St Leonard’s Academy in East Sussex, Chris Dean has been focusing on effective strategies to help with memory and sharing these approaches with pupils. They are encouraged to use techniques based on spaced practice and dual coding, and discouraged from simply re-reading and highlighting notes.
Cutting unnecessary tasks from teaching
Engaging with educational research can also help tackle the factors that are driving teachers from the profession such as marking, much of which is inefficient and may be harmful to progress. Dean told me: “We’ve thought about the research into effective feedback and have drastically reduced our expectation of the frequency of written comment marking.”
In my own school, our pedagogy innovation team has additional non-contact time to read research. We lead CPD sessions and workshops and share what we’ve learned through our school’s teaching and learning blog. Other teams also focus on specific areas of the school’s priorities, such as literacy, and share evidence of good practice with staff.
Being research-informed means we gain a better understanding of what’s likely to work. We can shake off poor advice and out-of-date ideas, and have the confidence to do what we know to be effective.
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Teaching mixed ability classes is unpopular and against the trend. A team from University College London recently attempted to investigate mixed attainment classes, but found it so uncommon that they were forced to abandon the full trial. Becky Taylor, who led the project, said schools are unwilling to embrace the model, which is perceived as risky and unconventional. Teachers and senior leaders often believe it takes more planning and that “setting” is expected by parents. Students taking undergraduate degree programmes are required to complete Work-Integrated Education (also known as a work integrated learning programme) as part of the curriculum requirement.
Indeed, sets are so deeply rooted in the language and concept of English education that rejecting it is considered rather bold – for maths and science in particular – in stark contrast to other parts of the world. In the excellent Clever Land: the Secrets Behind the Success of the World’s Education Superpowers, Lucy Crehan finds that mixed attainment grouping is common in high achieving educational systems such as Finland, Japan and Canada. There is growing evidence, too, that it may be time for a rethink – setting or streaming can have a negative overall effect on student outcomes for lower and middle attainers.
The science department at Bedales School moved away from setting in 2016. All of our classes, from year nine to year 13, are now mixed attainment. At first, there was much apprehension from colleagues and parents, and we wondered if we were doing the right thing for high attainers; arguably, when making changes like this, some students benefit and others suffer.
But for us the important question was whether more students would benefit as a result, and we agreed that they would. We were also supported by the school to introduce an extra teaching group in each year to make the classes slightly smaller wset hk .
A new toolkit of teaching skills
So how has it gone? A year into our policy of mixed attainment grouping, there are still some teachers who worry that they’re unable to move on to the new content they usually cover with a top set. But ideas are changing about how we ensure that every student is intellectually stimulated. We have evidence from people such as Ian Warwick at London Gifted and Talented showing that learning extra content is not the only way to stretch the most able – in fact it’s just one of 10 strategies, including dialogue between the student and the teacher, opportunities for independent research and self-direction.
A student in a bottom set may actually pick up a concept faster than one in a higher set, but could be limited by a lesson aimed at low attainers
We have also found we don’t need more resources for different groups of students, just an alternative approach. When I taught under a system of setting, I planned different lessons for teaching a top and bottom set the same topic; now I teach the same lessons to both levels.
By ensuring that there’s a mix of group and individual work, closed- and open-ended tasks, and that the pace of lessons is varied, I’m able to identify those who need support based on how they’re performing in that lesson, rather than on a previous test result. A student in a bottom set may actually pick up a concept faster than one in a higher set, particularly in science where we have such a range of skills, but could be limited by the design of a lesson aimed exclusively at low attainers.
In practical terms I’ve shied away from setting tasks with right or wrong answers. This prevents a student getting 100% the first time they try while another student gets 20% – a situation that is likely to reinforce the latter’s pre-existing beliefs about their own intelligence. Instead I use concept cartoons with a variety of answers, where students can identify if a conclusion is true or false in the first instance then explore that idea in different ways depending on their level of understanding. All students should feel involved in the conversation, although individuals may be working on different aspects of the task we’ve set.
It’s been challenging. Building a new toolkit of teaching skills has taken work, and I’ve certainly taught lessons where I’ve felt I haven’t stretched the high fliers or supported the lower attainers, enough. To tackle this, we’ve been working in partnership with English and maths teachers to create ways to differentiate planning for our students. It’s led to some great conversations and an influx of strategies we haven’t used before. In all our science meetings, we now share an idea or resource that’s been tried and tested hifu.
The effect on students has been positive. Science is a diverse subject that requires an immense variety of skills, and no student will always be the best, or the worst. In our mixed attainment groups, we’ve seen some of those students who would normally be in a lower ability set get a confidence boost when they pick up a new idea faster than a student who usually excels.
For those at the top end of the class, we’re stretching and challenging them by increasing the depth, rather than the breadth, of their learning. Instead of adding in extra content for the high fliers, we’re making space for any student to explore the questions covered to a range of depths, depending on how well they are picking up ideas in a particular lesson.
At this stage, demonstrating my hunch that results will improve is tricky. Not only do small cohorts mean that comparing year groups is statistically problematic, but the changes in the specifications have come along at the same time. Yet student performance has ceased to feel like a self-fulfilling prophecy. There is more variety between student results in topic tests, rather than a large gap between results for each set – individual students move up and down depending on how well they have engaged with a particular topic. There’s also much more of a “can do” attitude to learning than I’ve ever seen before, and it’s marvellous.
Emily Seeber is head of science at Bedales School.
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