In 1994 Mike Askew and I were asked by the Office for Standards in Education to write a review of research in mathematics education over the past 15 years. OFSTED hoped our review would be used by teachers and inspectors to help evaluate the effectiveness of current teaching and to plan new developments.
We faced two major challenges. The first was to reduce the mountains of research evidence to something more manageable. Hundreds of books and articles are published on maths teaching every year. The second was to present the evidence in ways which busy teachers could use.
Identifying the most relevant studies was time-consuming. We concentrated on those that had shown a substantial impact on the quality of students' learning or attitudes to mathematics. We also decided to focus on those aspects of teaching over which the classroom teacher has some influence.
We wrote the review as a series of double-page spreads, so that schools could use one spread as a focus for a "twilight" meeting. To make the writing and presentation as clear as possible we worked with groups of primary and secondary teachers, listening carefully to their comments about what they did (and did not) understand. Some LEAs have bought copies of the review for all their schools.
Where the review has been regarded as a "set of answers" there appears to have been little impact on classroom practice. Educational research cannot provide answers that can be applied in the same way in different classrooms.
In other schools, however, the review has been used more as a source of questions which have provided a focus for discussions among teachers, and between subject-leaders and heads.
In these schools the results appear to be far more promising. The review has helped schools to reflect critically on their practice, which the research shows clearly is the key to improving professional practice.