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Neither chore nor ego trip

Anne Campbell offers advice and tips for getting started on classroom research

Can teachers conduct real research in their schools and classrooms? Or is that for academics only? They can, and it isn't. Over the past four years, through the Best Practice Research Scholarships programme, nearly 5,000 teachers in England have engaged in funded research projects in their own schools. Similar scholarship programmes are offered by the Welsh and Scottish general teaching councils.

Previously, a raft of Teacher Training Agency initiatives targeted evidence-based teaching. Elsewhere, teachers are doing classroom research as part of a masters or doctoral course at colleges and universities, or in a networked learning communities project supported by the National College for School Leadership.

Research topics are many and various: every subject in the curriculum and some that aren't, for example, found materials, along with pastoral issues, philosophical questions, inclusion, self-image, underachievement (usually boys), gifted and talented (usually girls), accelerated learning, brain-based learning, ICT in every conceivable form, and even compensatory aromatherapy.

Research is neither chore nor ego trip. Arguably, it is therapy. It is a powerful form of professional development. Many teachers I have talked to have confirmed the beneficial effects that research has had for them. "In terms of CPD, this engagement with research has been a personal epiphany."

(Year 5 teacher, London) Research activity can also create opportunities to influence the school improvement agenda and have other important knock-on effects on teacher-researchers' colleagues. "Some teachers not directly involved in the project have been inspired to research and do further training." (staff development co-ordinator, North-east England) Research work can also increase teachers' autonomy and confidence in professional development.

"It has revitalised my love of my subject. I have been teaching for 11 years and it has given me an injection of energy and focused my practice.

Professionally, it has opened the door to further research." (secondary history teacher, Devon) Many teachers, academics, consultants, and local education officers have collaborated in fruitful partnerships and networks, with some interesting shifts in the balance of power. "I took a deep breath, overcame 10 years of humility, and said to the LEA adviser: 'Where's your evidence for that statement?'" (head of nursery unit, Merseyside) As I indicated, research can have the Heineken effect on teachers - reaching the parts that other professional development cannot.

Anne Campbell is professor of education at Liverpool Hope University


* Think small. Choose a research project that is small-scale, manageable, realistic, and achievable and about which you are enthusiastic.

* Seek help or training for doing research and designing your project from a more experienced researcher.

* Resist pressures to have control groups or to prove that if you do X and Y then Z will be the result. Rather, ask questions to illustrate how your teaching or your pupils' learning can benefit.

* Bear in mind an ethical code. Research should never disadvantage any participant (see for guidelines).

* Beware of performance data. Test results need careful handling and may only provide evidence of what has been tested.

* Find yourself a mentor or "critical friend" who will discuss your research with you and work alongside you. Join a network or small group of teacher-researchers.

* There is no recipe for doing research. Approaches and methods vary, ranging from using stories and biographies to collecting statistical data and crunching it.

* Doing research should involve reading and using the research of others to test your ideas and findings.

* Research may be systematic but it will also involve you in compromises, short cuts, hunches and serendipitous choices.

* Research is fun, but remember it can be messy and untidy too.

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