THE RESEARCH AGENDA-TOO MUCH NAVEL GAZING?

Dylan Wiliam says in the TES that teaching cannot,  and will never be a research-based, or research-led profession. Tom Bennett, a co-founder of researchED , which has done so much to put teacher led research on the political agenda, surprisingly  agrees.

Wiliam has always been a master of the counter intuitive insight and these  frequently  grab the  headlines.

But there is a danger   that too much navel gazing ,among  those  currently dominating the research agenda, will undermine its longer term  credibility and lead the agenda into a cul de sac. Bennett is  right, of course, to highlight that there is quite a lot of poor research out there, that is well marketed ,  and there is too little effort   going into separating the wheat from the chaff. It is also true that good research is often misunderstood and oversimplified, with the nuances and  the full context lost, so that it ends up being misapplied. (how many of us simply look at the press reports or executive summary rather than the full report). I would also add that rather too often good insights are lost as researchers look at data from too narrow a perspective, only seeing what they want to see. and that which supports their particular agenda. And,   of course, research literacy  is generally quite poor in the profession  though  this is not limited  to teachers. Civil servants and politicians lack research literacy too.  But there does  seem to have been a recent shift in the centre of gravity of this debate, focusing on the possible negatives particularly  the negative  impact research might have on teachers  professional judgement and ‘craft’. The glass used to be half full. Now its  veering towards half empty.

Professor Wiliam talks about the limitations of research, quite a lot, but that doesn’t seem to have stopped  him pushing his own research agenda and indeed working closely with the  EEF  in research related to feedback (formative assessment, assessment for learning  etc)

Kevan Collins of the EEF is right when he says that while there has been too much qualitative rather than quantitative research Wiliam is  dead wrong to imply that the solution is to return to a time when teachers shut the door to evidence. Collins writes ‘  For too long, too many teachers have been as guilty as politicians of acting on what they believe to work, rather than what has been shown to work. Instead, we need a middle way where teaching is informed by the best evidence so that their practice is improved, and collectively the teaching profession does more to improve results especially for poorer pupils’

Quantitative research has  to be combined with qualitative research to create  the  full picture.

Lets keep this agenda on track. We need to identify good research to inform practice, we need to get good  teachers more involved as researchers, but make sure that they are supported properly in this, ( dont assume teachers are natural researchers)  and  there must be a role for ‘action research’  Why? Because  it encourages reflection and deeper understanding of the teaching process, and  can be part of professional development. We need to manage and distribute this research and knowledge better , ensuring that it is user friendly and can be applied  at   the chalk face-and we should refrain from  navel gazing.

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