Digging deep among the newcomers

20th May 2005 at 01:00
They are looking for people to tackle research in Dumfries. Who better than probationers? Su Clark reports

Gillian Brydson is on a mission. As the person responsible for continuing professional development in Dumfries and Galloway, she is determined to create a breed of research-aware teachers. Her work began in January, with a small group of probationers.

"Research is an important part of CPD," she told delegates at the continuing professional development conference in Edinburgh last month.

"We are convinced of this, so we made it part of our induction procedure, although it is not compulsory."

Ms Brydson is not a lonely evangelist, preaching the benefits of research.

The General Teaching Council for Scotland made its commitment clear last year, initiating a major research strategy: the teacher research programme offers money to teachers, at various stages of their careers, to carry out small-scale, practice-led projects that link up with priority research areas.

Ms Brydson and her colleague Elspeth Penny, staff tutor for recruitment and induction, heard the GTC call and responded, launching a mini-project that would nurture an enthusiasm for research. In January, they recruited 24 out of their 44 probationers. The aim was to feed into the new generation of teachers graduating into the post-McCrone world, all increasingly skilled in information handling and competent with technology.

"Our purpose was to encourage the development of good practice, enhancement of teaching practice, and to raise professional self-esteem," she explains.

"Our aim was to I give them something that was practical to manage; not too onerous; gave them choice and interest; and which would relate to learning in class and have an impact on the learning of pupils."

The teachers wanted to study such themes as positive behaviour, shared learning intentions, formative assessment (aimed at giving pupils guidelines to improvement) and learning and teaching tools.

One researcher examined the impact that sharing learning intentions had on children's understanding of their own success. Another investigated how play could contribute towards the development of the mathematical concept of weight. Megan Thomson, a probationer at Johnstone Primary in Kirkcudbright, examined the effect Asperger's syndrome has on relationships and interaction.

"I am enjoying the research, which I'm surprised about," she says. "I've seen aspects of my observations impacting on my practice. And as the study I've undertaken takes me into another class, I've had the opportunity of discussing my findings with that classroom teacher."

To avoid making the work too onerous, the researchers were not asked to produce their findings as a paper. Instead they will produce a poster, to be presented at a ceremony in June.

Ms Penny and Ms Brydson have already begun to evaluate the course, considering how to develop it for next year. The programme will remain a voluntary part of induction, but the authority is trying to find ways of involving more secondary staff. Of the 24 in this group, only six were from that sector.

One of the delegates at the Edinburgh conference suggested that part of the problem might be that BEd graduates were more used to pedagogical research than diploma graduates, who may find the prospect too daunting. Another suggested involving the current cohort of researchers as mentors for next year's.

"It is a problem," says Ms Brydson. "I don't know how to get secondary involved. But I've got ideas from suggestions made at the conference."

Another challenge is how to get qualified teachers involved in research. Ms Brydson reckons it is as crucial to their CPD as it is to probationers.

Last year, Dumfries and Galloway launched its teacher researcher scheme, with the offer of bursaries to cover time and resources. Ms Brydson is hoping for an enthusiastic response so that the authority can move one step closer to her goal of a research-rich teaching staff.

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