Evidence-based practice in education is getting more and more attention recently. Projects like #SciTeachJC have been part of this, but I think there’s a general movement towards wanting to base what we do on facts rather than wishful thinking. The problem is that it’s actually quite hard, for several reasons, to be an evidence-based-practitioner.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t.
I Want To… But I’m Lazy
There’s a lot of evidence to keep up with. A lot of teachers are still being told that learning styles are useful despite a lack of supporting data, and a recent Guardian article shows this also applies to the infamous Myers-Briggs ‘test’. This means that we as teachers aren’t accessing old research, let alone new material. This is hardly surprising when you consider the cost; joining the British Educational Research Association costs £89, for which you get 6 issues of the BJER each year, and four issues a year of the Curriculum Journal will set you back £135. There’s also the lack of time teachers have when constantly rewriting schemes of work to suit the latest national qualification change, of course!
I do my best to keep up, but I’ve only so much time and money. I pay for my own membership of the ASE. I buy my own books. I spend my own time developing what I know and what I can do. I make it to TeachMeets when I can, join in with #asechat and #SciTeachJC, read and try out in school and reflect afterwards. But the situation we’re in makes it difficult.
Of course, what makes it even more frustrating is when individual teachers know the research and want to make decisions about teaching based on evidence, but aren’t allowed to. It’s important to recognise that schools may have perfectly valid reasons for not following suggestions from research, and cost is obviously often high on the list! But we need to accept that sometimes we are not getting it right on an institutional level, and this needs to change. If it doesn’t change from the bottom up, it will inevitably – and probably slowly and painfully – happen from the top down.
What’s Already Available And Where From
Every school should have well-thumbed copies of Petty’s book Evidence-Based Teaching and Hattie’s Visible Learning. In my opinion – as a classroom teacher, not a manager – schools could do a lot worse than spending half of every inset day applying just one of the ‘best-value’ concepts in every relevant department. The constantly updated research by Marzano in the States examines a wide variety of teaching methods in terms of their success against measured criteria. The database is freely available and there are materials to explain effect size.
The British Educational Research Association (BERA) and the Specialist Schools Attainment Trust (SSAT) spend time and money looking into the effectiveness of eduication policies and methods; the latter works primarily with schools. The Evidence for Policy and Practice Information (EPPI) unit based out of the Institute of Education looks interesting, but not exactly accessible for those of us in the classroom. The GTC produced some research summaries with the title Research for Teachers (RfT) but I don’t know how well they were accessed; the group behind the summaries, the Centre for the Use of Research and Evidence in Education (CUREE) is still active. There’s the National Education Trust. And of course the Times Ed now has a weekly article bridging the gap between research and classroom practice, but I can’t find it online. There’s lots around, some free and some not so much. Some is purely academic while other groups attempt to translate it for classroom use.
The Education Endowment Foundation looks particularly at techniques to support those from disadvantaged background but their EEF Toolkit is generally useful, ranking interventions in terms of ‘value for money’. The difficulty with this approach is that it ignores the cost in terms of time and pressure on teachers, something I am sure they are aware of. It is the limited time of individual teachers which means centralised research is so necessary. As of 22nd March they have a vacancy for a Senior Analyst, if you’re interested…
There are some smaller groups in the UK; the Evidence-Based Teachers’ Network grew out of training sessions and has some useful summaries. There are many practitioners active online, for example @teachitso on Twitter (Dr Mark Evans IRL) who has some useful summaries on his site. There’s also several (competing?) groups such as the Guild of Teaching and the Teacher Development Trust with a small impact so far.
What We Need To Do Better
Much – but not all – of the current evidence is based on action research. This means a practitioner decides to try an intervention, does so and records any measurable change in results. This could be exam scores, recruitment rates for post-16 courses (I did that) or something else. It tends to be small samples and a snapshot in time. Think of them as case studies. Useful because they’re a step up from staffroom anecdotes, but more a starting point than gold-standard data.
Ben Goldacre, following the paper he wrote on RCTs for social issues that we discussed in #SciTeachJC, was asked to consider the use of RCTs specifically in education. The report has now been published and has stirred up a lot of debate. He wrote an article about it for the Guardian, and it’s noticeable how conscientiously he’s engaged with those commenting. I’d recommend reading the paper itself, of course – unlike some of those commenting. I like the idea of getting more teachers involved in research, obviously, but many seem sceptical. From a teacher’s point of view, the main issue is getting hold of the information afterwards. But it’s okay, the government has a cunning plan…
From this announcement, the EEF will be one of six centres, alongside NICE, tasked with gathering and disseminating evidence on social issues. It deliberately follows the NICE model where the evidence is analysed independantly of government, which would then (hopefully) consider the results and implications. A big issue I see here, of course, is that we seem to be moving away from a centralised education system where new knowledge would result in new systems for all. But we’ll see how it works.
What I Would Like
I’ve said before – like many others on Twitter, and I’m sure I wasn’t the first – that we need a National Institure of Education Excellence. An organisation committed to performing more meta-analyses of research, like the Cochrane Collaboration, and then making sure everyone else knows. For this to work effectively, there are several things the system needs.
Information needs to be effectively free at the point of use. Schools won’t pay for what they think they can get for free elsewhere (even if they’re wrong) and if we say all teachers need the information, it seems odd to expect them to pay for it when they’re cutting our pay in real terms.
The research cannot be politically driven. Some of the answers will go against current government policy. Some of the research will show MPs or Ministers to be wrong. That’s how evidence works and they’re going to have to be prepared to accept the consequences. But we can’t expect Gove to follow the evidence if we don’t do what we can to (a)collect it and (b)use it as soon as we know.
Interventions will have different relevance to different people and institutions. I tend to think of strategic choices at national level (such as exam specifications), tactical choices at a school level (such as behaviour and homework policies, setting and ICT provision) and choices of technique in a classroom (such as how to make group work most effective). I’m sure it’s more complicated than that, but you get the idea. We need to get the right information to the right people.
We need a wish-list, as Ben puts it, of questions we want answered. Set up a Google form and let any of us suggest something to investigate; shortlist and vote every six months. Personally, I’d love to see a comparison between students taught to use Blooms’ and those who are exposed to SOLO. Is there a difference? Does it depend on the students? If so, which method should we teach to which kids?
Teachers should have the opportunity to build up their skills as researchers. If they are needed to do more than send a copy of the results their class got following intervention A/B/C (delete as applicable) then the chance to get involved in data analysis will make it more likely they put the results into practice.
Get current researchers involved in designing the interventions. Of course this might be difficult if they feel the Secretary of State for Education is dismissive of their views or their motivations. We need better links between academics and full-time practitioners (or more people who do both, like the wonderful @MaryUYSEG). Maybe BERA could offer discounted memberships to the data-collectors?
Share the results widely in a format that means it can be used immediately. Imagine a magazine format, published electronically every month in three sections; strategic, tactical and techniques. The summaries link to journal articles, which are made open-access for the month so we can all see how well the synopsis matches the evidence. And each month three case studies show how the evidence from six months was put into practice at all three levels.
There’s lots of groups talking about doing the same thing – linking research to practice. And despite having been in post for nine years, with a strong interest in science and evidence, I found half of the links in this post today for the first time.
Surely we can do better than this?
EDIT/UPDATE: It looks like something is happening rather quicker than we might have expected, thanks to the efforts of Tom Bennett. Check out the new blog for this September’s suddenly planned conference, ResearchED2013.
- The Evidence for What Works in education (wellcometrust.wordpress.com)
Filed under: CPD, political, teaching | 10 Comments
Tags: British Educational Research Association, Education, Education Endowment Foundation, evidence, teaching
There will be a second post in a few days, if I can fit it in between coughing, marking and spending time with my family. Please excuse the brevity, but it seems highly unlikely that my broadband connection – thank you Talk Talk – will last long enough for my usual wittering.
This is intended for those of us who teach GCSE Science with AQA, to help with the joy of an ISA. Of course we’ve no idea what format this will take once Gove’s messed around with it, but I can be fairly confident that even he couldn’t make it any worse. I’ve blogged before about the weaknesses I see with the current model, and what I’ve done to address them. Here’s the resources I’m currently using to try and help my classes. They should work, with tweaking of course, for any variant of the AQA Science courses. Click on the image for the presentation:
I found that my students, despite having been shown the sample exam papers while they researched, struggled to include all relevant information on their Research Notes sheets. My solution was to produce an extra sheet with more detailed prompts, similar to those in the presentation above, which they could fill in. I had them keep the exam paper and markscheme open in an extra tab, and annotate their sheet with the linked question numbers for each fact. They then transferred their messy information to the official sheets, which of course acts as another rehearsal before the exam.
ISA preprac as .pdf
Please let me know what you think, good and bad. The ‘post-prac’ equivalents should be up by the end of halfterm, subject to the usual caveats.
Filed under: AQA, exams, practicals, printables, teaching | 2 Comments
Tags: gcse, ISA, teaching
This is one approach to teaching the dreaded 6 mark AQA questions. I’d be interested in comments or suggestions, as ever. The powerpoint that goes along with it was set up for B1, but is obviously easily changed. 6 Mark Questions as ppt.
- Recap key facts
- Improve structure of answers to 6 mark questions
- (Appreciate that it’s hard to write good 6 mark questions and markschemes)
Question on board, set timer running: “You have 6 minutes.”
I do it, We do it together
Ask what they think the aim of the lesson is.
6 mark questions may require explanations, examples to illustrate a specified concept, judgements of advantages and disadvantages, a description of a process or an experimental method. Marks are awarded for scientific content and the quality of the writing. This means key ideas must be clear and the explanation must make sense, the points in a logical order. Most students lose marks because their answers lack sufficient detail eg scientific vocabulary or because their answer is rambling or confused. Markschemes will usually include graded answers (low=1-2 marks, 3-4, 5-6) and examiners will decide which description fits best, then award the higher or lower score depending on the quality of writing. Aim for between 4 and 6 scientific points or steps in a process; if opposing viewpoints are needed include points for and against, or examples of plants and animals etc.
- Bullet point ideas
- Number the points to give a logical sequence, adding or removing points.
- Use this order to write coherent sentences.
Model with a new question, ask students to consider how they would structure their answer, show numbers, ask them to discuss possible sentences based on these points. Compare with each other, pick up on details needed by examiner.
You do it together
Give them more questions, have them discuss one in pairs while they attempt it. Collaboration should be about making suggestions and producing two different answers which can be compared, not one identical answer. You could give a choice or set it by rows. Go through example bullet points, discuss gaps, additions and exclusions. Elicit possible/useful connectives.
You do it alone
Attempt a question in exam conditions, following method. Compare to markscheme (ideally this one should be a past or sample question with specified allowed answers) and make specific improvements. Return to the original Starter question and annotate their answer, explaining why they would change various parts.
- Have students write their own questions and markschemes for specific points in the syllabus. Linking this to higher order tasks via Blooms or SOLO may be useful.
- Use the questions to play consequences where one student writes a question, one writes bullet points, one sequences and a last writes full sentences. This will end up with four complete answers which can then be discussed.
- Give sample answers and have students mark them, first with and then without a markscheme. What do they forget? What level of detail is required?
Filed under: AQA, assessment, exams, literacy, revision, teaching | 4 Comments
So, I had this idea.
If you read this blog at all regularly, you’ll know that I consider @alomshaha a friend. As well as writing, making films and teaching science, he should be credited with getting me on to Twitter two years ago. Thank him later. Right now, I’ve something more important for you to do.
I read Alom’s excellent book, The Young Atheist’s Handbook, when it first came out. Despite the title it’s easy to read it as a personal story of how he came to consider himself n atheist, despite his early upbringing in a Bangladeshi Muslim community. The references and explanations of ideas supporting his lack of religious belief are a comfortable part of an honest and evocative story. I’d recommend it to anyone, and have done.
The problem, as I saw it, is that the very kids who would benefit most from reading it were those least likely to have the chance. If your parents are invoking freedom of religion (actually an example of religious privilege) to teach you from a young age to follow their faith, without question or deviation, then they are unlikely to be pleased at you putting this on your birthday list. I’m sure some young people will read it discreetly as an eBook of whatever format. But, I reasoned, there had to be a better way.
School is for learning. School is where kids learn the things their parents don’t or can’t teach them. Like swear words and how to think for yourself. So, I reasoned, if Michael Gove can send bibles into schools, and the Gideons can visit, and the Church of England can explicitly plan to use their schools to indoctrinate kids, why not provide a different viewpoint?
We want to raise enough money to send copies of the book to every UK secondary school library.
Young people have the right to choose to be free from religion. It is not just their parents’ freedom of religion we should respect. We want young people to feel supported, not isolated, if they choose to exercise that right. Freedom of religion shouldn’t mean that parents have the choice to force their children into one particular faith. If you think this project is a good idea, there are two things you can do:
- Donate to the campaign via YAH4schools.org.uk
- If you feel able, tell your friends and your family; share the link on Facebook or via Twitter (hashtag #YAH4schools).
Whether you agree or disagree with the project, then of course I’d be interested to hear your views in the comments below.
Filed under: students, books, blognews, non-teaching, political | Leave a Comment
Tags: British Humanist Association, twitter
When does asking for training become an excuse not to try something new?
I recently had an interesting discussion on Twitter with @GrahamBM about the use of technology in education. He’s probably best-known as the founder of Learning Without Frontiers. Also involved was @jackandraka, from his point of view of a student who has clearly been able to use what he has learned – presumably both inside the classroom and independently – to produce new innovations in cancer diagnosis.
It started when I butted in to his conversation with @gillpenny. Many of those responding to his comments seemed not to be teachers, and I wonder if the reality of coordinating (and to an extent controlling) thirty teenagers totally escaped some of them.
— Gillian Penny (@gillpenny) December 8, 2012
.@bobharrisonset if teachers in the UK need training on how to use everyday 21st century appliances for learning they’re in wrong job
— Graham Brown-Martin
My argument is, I think – apologies if I’m putting words in her mouth! – similar to that of @gillpenny. In some respects whether teachers are familiar with tablets or not is irrelevant. Knowing how to do something is not the same as being able to best teach how to use it. I can kick a football around, albeit badly. Even if I were an expert player, that doesn’t necessarily mean I could referee a practice game while teaching a GCSE PE lesson. If you’re going to be responsible for them, first aid and risk assessment skills are needed. With computers, we as teachers will be held responsible if kids get into ‘trouble’ online. We need a certain level of practical trouble-shooting activity, to be able to sort out the settings when Johnny has set the language to Swedish, or what to do when the screen has mysteriously become reversed. We need to be able to fix all the varied problems that can be caused by students, deliberately or otherwise, which requires much greater familiarity than the average user. Because otherwise the lessons descend into chaos.
Secondly, the practicalities of teaching the skills involved with effective use of a mobile device are partially specific to that device. I love my tablet – a first generation Galaxy Tab. I use it at home, on the go and at school. Email, reading books and media sites, keeping up with blogs via RSS, producing and managing my own blog, saving ideas via Evernote and Pocket, playing games, Twitter including chats such as #SciTeachJC and #asechat… and I know there’s lots of applications I could add on. But those applications aren’t quite the same as those on an iPad. Or a more modern Android tablet. Or on a small-screen phone. Blackberry apps are different again. And the similarities can fool you just as much as the differences; Americans and Brits can really confuse each other talking about fags and pants, for example…
Of course we should be teaching students about using mobile devices effectively – but which mobile devices do we concentrate on? It’s reasonable for teachers to want the chance to know how they work in the classroom before we rely on them. Then we can focus on them as tools, as ways to apply the thinking and reasoning skills we really want to pass on. I want my kids to be able to use Google effectively, of course I do. But part of that – something I hope all teachers do, explicitly and implicitly – is teaching them to be sceptical about the results. I want them to consider the reliability of the sites they find, to check for bias, to look for opposing viewpoints. And this example brings me to my own classroom experience.
It’s a common claim that students these days are ‘digital natives’. It’s bollocks. It’s like someone claiming a hundred years ago that all ten year olds should intuitively be able to use libraries because they lived in the age of the printed word. Yes, every student from Foundation to Year 7 was born this century. So what? Not all of them have smartphones, and certainly not all of them can use them effectively in a learning context. Every student I have in secondary school can talk – admittedly not all in English – but that doesn’t mean they can present an argument to establish the truth of a proposition.
In my Year 10 Science class I have 32 bright students. The majority have smartphones, although we don’t allow them in school. (Don’t blame me, talk to the management.) We’re in a fairly affluent, aspirational area, a leafy suburb on the outskirts of a Midlands city. But it’s easy to assume too much about their use of mobile devices.
They don’t know what RSS feeds are, let alone how to use them to follow blogs that they’re interested in. They prefer to search using YouTube – great to know, but useless for complex data or meaningful research. They can share links with each other by FaceBook, but are much less confident collaborating on anything document-based such as GoogleDocs. Research is when they copy and paste from Wikipedia, or from one of the first five hits they get if they put the homework title into Google. They use Twitter instead of broadcast text messages, but don’t tend to share ideas or links. Basically, they’re using mobile devices the same way teenagers have always used technology; to talk to their friends, extend their social life through music and media, and look at porn. Sometimes, I suspect, simultaneously.
It’s great to use examples of teenagers who get more out of technology. @jackandraka and @nickdaloisio (the Summly inventor) are two examples shared by @GrahamBM, and I’d add @rhysmorgan to the list. But it’s important to recognise that these kids are outliers. They’re the exception, not the rule. Of course we, as teachers, need to be offering a range of experiences in our classrooms. But we can’t tailor every moment to every student, all at the same time. Expecting us to be able to manage a classroom with both ends of the spectrum, without practice and training with new resources, technology and approaches, is asking for trouble. It’s all very well to seek to ‘disrupt’ learning when you’re on the outside. In a classroom, sometimes all you can do is provide the basics – which are not always exciting, or enjoyable, or inspiring – and then provide opportunities for students to stretch themselves, with or without our guidance.
Personally, I’d love us to provde more teaching in using technology in a learning context. I’d love to see my students blogging their lessons, cross-referencing between subjects, sharing links live and tweeting throughout the lesson with insights or difficulties. I’d give every 11 year old in the country a Google Nexus 7 and a Gmail account, and see what happens. But don’t blame the teachers when things don’t go as planned.
Filed under: L2L, political, software, students, teaching, web | 3 Comments
Tags: Google, learning, LWF, Mobile device
To be honest, this is long overdue but it’s been a bad month. Lots of other stuff going on, not all school-related – which also accounts for my fairly low output on Twitter. Which you’ve probably all enjoyed.
Anyway; one revision activity, like the others. This may be useful to help kids note down main points, check understanding, test themselves etc etc for the AQA P1 exam. Some will be doing it in January, some in the summer. Either way, hope it’s useful – please let me so if it is.
P1 Revision Activity as a pdf
Filed under: AQA, printables, revision, students | Leave a Comment
Tags: AQA, exams, revision, teaching
I tweeted a while back how frustrating it was many of a class of fourteen year olds seemed incapable of reading for fifteen minutes without distraction. I could understand it if I had handed out copies of The Origin of Species, but they choose the reading material. They can bring in their own books or borrow them from the school library (or my own selection), or they can bring magazines.
Admittedly, I am probably also a long way from ‘normal’ when it comes to reading. It’s an unusually busy week when I don’t read four or five books, usually a mixture of fiction and fact. I have an upstairs book, a downstairs book, one in the car and several on my Android. (Currently You Can’t Read This Book by Nick Cohen, The Perfect Ofsted English Lesson by David Didau aka @LearningSpy, Better Learning Through Structured Teaching by Fisher and Frey and Where The Bodies Are Buried by Chris Brookmyre, if you’re interested.) I would rather read than sleep and, in fact, often do. So it was always going to be hard to understand their extreme reluctance.
So I did some research.
An old item in the Telegraph discussed a link between kids reading at 16 and a higher chance of having a professional-grade job in later life. Sadly this probably says more about the kids who voluntarily read a lot as teenagers, than ways to encourage readers at this age. The comments below this article in the Guardian are quite depressing, and there’s really not much in the way of solutions. A more recent article on their professional network is more constructive, but still focuses on the books that could be offered.
LoveReading4kids is an online bookstore with a section for reluctant readers, but it’s more about books than strategies. Their downloadable leaflet is more aimed at parents than teachers. I had a look at BookTrust, but their research page has more about evaluation of their programmes than anything else.
The research page at the Literacy Trust was much more useful, although most of the ideas they have for engaging with reluctant readers need a whole-school approach. Not much I can do alone for Year 9 students in one form time a week! The most recent survey results, however, were interesting. I’d recommend having a look yourself if you’re interested, but I was shocked by how little the young people surveyed read for pleasure.
55% of KS4 students (58% of boys) read once a week or less. A third of KS4 students (40% of boys) agreed with the statement “I only read when I have to.” This covered all aspects of reading, including magazines and online, not just books. And it’s despite around three quarters agreeing that “the more I read, the better I get,” with roughly the same response across all ages.
Of course, difficulty in reading is identified as a major factor putting young people off reading. There are many approaches to this, none really applicable in form time. In my situation, I don’t think it’s a significant factor as they have a free choice of material and our library is well-stocked with a range of options. Another problem is that even those who do happily read seem content to stick with familiar and non-challenging books, long after their skill level increases, perhaps increasing boredom.
I suspect part of the issue is that they are using this area to assert their independence and provoke confrontation. The social cachet from defying the teacher – even passively, by repeatedly reading the blurb on the back instead of the book itself – is worth the few minutes of boredom.
So what can I do? It does feel like a broader approach is called for than the options available to me in form time. The research has certainly highlighted the problem, and in some ways reassured me that it’s not a ‘local’ issue. But it doesn’t solve it. Tried so far:
- Rewards/sanctions for those who repeatedly remember/forget.
- Suggesting 200word mini-essays “Why I would rather be bored than read.”
- Keeping a selection of my books to hand.
- Sending students to the library, where we have a range of choices including graphic novels.
- Reminding them of magazines that they could use.
- Passing on recommendations from other students of good books.
I’ll pass on my comments to the Head of Year – it’s a mandated form activity – but suspect I will be told to persevere for at least the remainder of the year. Any other suggestions?
Filed under: behaviour, books, pastoral, teaching | 6 Comments
Tags: reading, teaching