Brain research query yields reward

25th February 2000 at 00:00
LAST month we devised a daunting task for you: "Set down - in under 100 words - the key questions that British education researchers need to address."

As usual, you rose to the challenge and stuck to your word-limit - a discipline that some researchers never master.

The responses reveal little consensus. When the Economic and Social Research Council carried out a similar exercise last year it found that the three topics most often named as priorities were:

how to increase motivation and engagement in learning;

how to use advances in research to promote learners' achievements and

how to achieve continuous improvement in learning communities.

These concerns were reflected in your responses. But other issues also figured strongly.

Some readers felt that the Department for Education and Employment was right to focus on the primary-secondary transition years (a study is currently under way at Homerton College, Cambridge).

The first year of secondary school is sometimes seen as a wasted year in which some pupils regress. However, one reader wanted to test her hypothesis that children also mark time in their last year at primary school.

Other readers were unimpressed by the "obsession" with qualifications and key-stage testing. Research should uncover what pupils are actually earning, they felt.

The British Educational Research Association also believes that the level of learning cannot be represented by bald statistics. It considers that the overarching educational research question may be:

"How may different individuals learn different understandings, different skills, and different values in different circumstances, from different people and from different experiences at different ages."

"The reiteration of the word 'different' is a reminder of the complexity of learning and the complexity of people," it added. "Research which leads to findings expressed in averages and standard deviations is usually too facile; we need to know about differences."

It would be difficult to disagree with that view. However, we were also persuaded by the business-like list of research priorities drawn up by Peter Murphy, of Basingstoke.

How will the findings of

current research on the brain impact on the learning processes?

How will relevant psychological findings, eg Howard Gardner's "multiple intelligences", influence individuals, schools and systems?

Can we refine and develop methodologies that measure the variance of money and resources on potential and achievement?

That thought-provoking list earns him the promised reward - a pound;50 book token.

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