Dysfunctional marriage

13th October 2000 at 01:00
The outside world may see them as a couple but teachers and researchers don't really communicate. Can they ever patch up their differences? David Budge reports

IT is one of the stranger forms of human relationship, but not as rare as people think. The wife lives downstairs while her estranged husband has the upstairs rooms. Outwardly they appear a couple, but in fact they live separate lives, barely acknowledging each other's existence.

In some respects, teachers and education researchers are that couple, although it is debatable whether they were ever close in the first place.

There are, of course, many examples of model partnerships between researchers, teachers, and sometimes local authorities - and the number has been growing in recent years. But most teachers still pay little attention to research findings, and some researchers are unperturbed by that fact.

Their goal is to publish academic articles and books, and garner as many citations as possible. If teachers read their papers, all well and good. If not, so be it.

The wind - or, rather, breeze - of change is now blowing, however. The Government, the Teacher Training Agency, the Economic and Social Research Council and many individual researchers are now making a determined effort to ensure that the odd couple begin talking to one another.

The latest body to contribute to this cause is the National Teacher Research Panel, funded by the TTA and the Department for Education and Employment. It has produced a paper of its own on the "accessibility and usability of research outputs".

The document, which was presented to the British Educational Research Association conference last month, sets out what teachers want from research. Their wish-list includes:

* Relevant research that helps teachers "to do more effectively ... what they have to do anyway". This might include national priorities such as literacy, numeracy and information technology.

* Help with perennial problems such as combating pupil disaffection and improving motivation.

* A "stepping stones" approach to research reporting - the first stone" should be a brief (four sides of A4) summary that helps teachers to decide quickly whether they want to know more. Longer reports should be available for those who do.

* Crisp, plain language.

* Vivid and detailed case studies.

* Short, well-targeted video clips of teaching and learning in real classrooms, together with video-based discussions of the content of the clips.

Authentic pupil perspectives on teaching and learning.

* Clear, succinct descriptions of researchers' methods and the theories underpinning their work.

* Lists of further reading and brief summaries of related research, preferably in an appendix.

* E-mail contact addresses that could help teachers to share experiences or explore problems.

The panel emphasises that teachers do not expect guarantees that a change of practice will always have the desired results. "We feel that teachers are not looking for over-simplified cause-and-effect propositions but for evidence that recommended strategies have been shown to be at least linked to such improvements," it says.

The panel, which canvassed 600 teachers, also asks researchers to remember that teaching calls for "almost instantaneous decision-making" by a professional working in isolation.

"Grounding research inputs in this reality is important to its credibility," it adds. "Assurances that research has taken place in authentic classroom settings and that it has involved teachers as active partners rather than passive subjects ... helps to achieve such grounding."

Few of these suggestions are likely to surprise researchers, but the points still need to be made.

The question is whether researchers will act on the teachers' advice, and whether the teaching profession will then be more inclined to heed what researchers have to say. We must remain optimistic in the face of all previous disappointments.

"Teachers' perspectives on the accessibility and usability of research outputs", by Philippa Cordingley and the National Teacher Research Panel, is available free from 0845 6060323, www.teach-tta.gov.ukresearch

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