How to make your teaching truly research-informed

Reading one piece of literature is never enough to build a teaching and learning policy on, writes Sam Jones

Sam Jones

This is how you make your teaching truly research focused

A good place to start when considering what research-informed teaching and learning should look like is to consider what it shouldn't look like. I would like to suggest that it shouldn’t start with a leader reading one book or one paper, however good it is, and saying, "Right, we are all going to do X." 

This is because "X", no matter how beneficial for learners, is not going to look the same across an organisation. It won’t fit everyone’s teaching practice without development and even risks doing harm to what is good about a practice by deforming it to fit a model purported to develop excellence. 

Reading the wider literature around teaching and learning can give you a great view of what has and could be possible. However, it is a job that needs to be completed systematically, looking at the full range of literature around the teaching practice you wish to better understand, and completed in a critical manner.  That is very different to focusing on one book that offers solutions to all the challenges of teaching and learning.  Because let’s face it, if it was that easy, someone would have written that book by now and made themselves very rich.

I would also focus on the most valuable resource there is when it comes to teaching and learning: the teachers and learners in the classroom. I would start with a sample – let’s say those teaching trades, those teaching general vocational qualifications, HE or level one teachers – and begin to observe the sample to begin to develop an understanding of what they are doing in their classrooms. This would need to be carefully handled, offering clarity, the need to observe rather than judge, and understand rather than assess or provide feedback. 

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Part of this process would be to interview the teacher afterwards to allow them to explain what I had just seen. To understand whether the lesson had landed, I may survey the students. I would also ensure that the teacher is comfortable and allowed to discuss elements of practice that may look outside the priorities of the organisation’s teaching and learning policy.

This provides an organisation with two really valuable sets of data that could be used to help them understand what is "best in their practice" and how this practice could be developed in the sample area. If this activity is repeated across all the teaching areas of the organisation, a really clear picture of teaching and learning could be created. From here, a new teaching and learning policy could be created that draws on both academic research and practice. 

The overarching teaching and learning policy would include all the factors that are common across practice, with examples of how this could look different in different teaching environments and could even contain guidance and examples for specific areas of focus, such as embedding maths and English or working with key groups of students.      

To build on this platform, I’d also look to link the new policy to the available CPD offering so that we would focus on developing specific practices important to our organisation or individual curriculum areas. It could be an evolving piece if teachers were able to look to develop practice through supervised action research projects, which could feed into the policy, thus developing practice and owning and building a fund of knowledge. 

This represents a very different approach, one which represents a different conceptualisation of research-informed teaching, bringing the site of the development of practice closer to the practice itself.  This points to new ways that research could "feed the tree" and moreover addresses Ofsted’s requirements for "leaders [to] focus on improving staff’s subject, pedagogical and pedagogical content knowledge to enhance the teaching of the curriculum and the appropriate use of assessment. The practice and subject knowledge of staff are built up and improve over time".  Importantly it puts teachers at the heart of driving research-informed teaching, moving from the position of passive receptors to active participants, which is exactly where we should be.

Sam Jones is the chair of the steering committee at the Research College Group and founder of FEResearchmeet 

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