This post was first published on Pedagoo on September 1st 2015.
It’s a bit like standing above a pool of cold, deep water and daring to jump in, isn’t it? My first Pedagoo post…..Can I do it? Think how good I’ll feel if I do…..No, I’m too scared……I’ll let him just go first…..Oh no wait, now he’s beaten me too it….I’m useless……Oh maybe not….deep breath….Splash!!
Back in the spring of last year I got caught up in a Twitter debate about the need for teachers to engage in research. Whilst I could absolutely see the point of what was being said, I asked how on earth teachers were supposed to fit in research along with the hundreds of other tasks that fill their days (and nights). Wasn’t creating an expectation that they should do research just another way of making them feel inadequate when they couldn’t find the time?
And then came my discovery of the debunking of Brain Gym and Learning Styles. “What?” I cried, feeling entirely defensive and embarrassed at having launched a ‘Learn to Learn’ programme in several schools which has both within its content…..”But I DID research around those! I read shiny, published books by Alistair Smith and others and they’d done LOADS of research in writing those books….” I felt let down (as well as stupid) and thought indignantly that if, as teachers, we don’t have time personally to do the research, we should surely be able to trust the ‘big names and the shiny books’.
And in such a frame of mind, my eye fell upon a tweet from Mark Healy about researchED Scotland. Late to the Twitter party and not at all knowledgeable about researchED, I decided to go along and see whether it would be able to help me with my malaise about the relationship between educational research and practice.
What was I expecting? Maybe something above my head and overly intellectual. I suspected, having driven for 2 hours to get there, that I might duck out at lunchtime and get back to my family. It was Saturday, after all.
What did I find? Passion, connection, challenge and stimulation and some answers to my questions, plus a few more questions to ponder…Do I have any part to play in the research debate as someone who fell for Brain Gym? Yes, as Tom Bennett said, everyone within the education eco-system has a right to talk to everyone else in that system.
Is the research always 100% to be trusted? No. As George Gilchrist said, sometimes we stop, take stock and have to ask “what have we been doing for the last five years?” before moving on and trying something different. What worked 2, 5 or 10 years ago may not work any more.
If the research provides compelling evidence that we should teach in a particular way, should we ignore it? No, said Anne Glennie. Not in terms of teaching reading and when we are risking the future wellbeing and life-chances of our children.
Is IQ testing outmoded as a useful benchmark? No; Andrew Sabisky has a LOT of data and evidence that proves otherwise. Can it assess all types of intelligence? No… but then the definition of intelligence is the stuff of another huge debate…
Can we half-do Mindset interventions? Mark Healy and Marc Smith would argue not. Everyone in the institution needs to understand the theory and walk and talk the values. But this can be problematic when the system we are working in is based on different values. Character education must be a good thing, right? Not necessarily. Gary Walsh explained that the jury is out and that we need to continue to seek hard evidence of its benefits.
And where exactly is the love? Well, my love has found a new recipient. His name is David Cameron and my tweet, after attending his session was “Your talk today was the most inspirational 40 minutes of my educational life. You are my new hero and I actually love you.”
The key messages of his talk? Don’t be blinded by research that isn’t. Don’t allow politics to rule education. Use relevant, pertinent data to inform developments. And “it is better to try in the face of incorrectness than to give up on children’s lives.”
I stayed until the bitter end and was sorry not to be able to join the others in the pub after the final panel session. I left with my faith in research, passion and debate restored. I know to be a little more cautious of the big names and shiny books in future….but also that passion and meaningful research can combine to create the best possible outcomes for our learners. Thank you so much to all those who made it happen and brought researchED to Scotland.