Research tunes into better teaching

1st December 2006 at 00:00
Classroom interaction studies help to spread good practice, reports Martin Whittaker

The sprawling campus and thousands of students milling around the Sixth Form College Farnborough make it look more like a seat of higher rather than further education. It even markets itself as "the college with the university feel".

The Hampshire college, which has almost 3,000 students, has become a hothouse for research in teaching and even publishes its own research journal. Teachers have instigated a range of investigative projects, such as into improving student participation in maths, the use of role-play in history and the effects of peer support on student motivation.

"In this college, there are some brilliant things going on in the classroom, but who knows about them?" says the vice principal, Simon Jarvis. "So we have been trying to think how we can improve the internal sharing of good practice."

Three years ago the college, which was among the first to be awarded beacon status for excellence in teaching and learning, won funding from the Department for Education and Skills for its teachers to research emotional intelligence and the use of classroom technology. When the funding ended, it continued to offer research opportunities to staff.

David Godfrey, a psychology teacher who has a post-graduate qualification in research methods has been giving colleagues day-to-day support in their research projects.

Participants are paid an extra pound;600 to help them run a project and disseminate their findings. The final report is published in the college journal and on its website.

The research gives staff the chance to refresh their own practice and share their ideas, whether formally in their reports or informally in the staffroom. So far, 17 teachers have undertaken projects.

Julien-Pierre McKenzie is researching the learning environment in his A-level music technology class. Students spend most of their time doing coursework on a computer while wearing headphones, making traditional teaching methods difficult. His solution is to use online messaging. If a student has a problem or a question, they can email Mr McKenzie without leaving their desk.

It is going down well with his tudents. Marco George, 18, says: "I think it's a lot better. Some people might feel intimidated or like they are asking a stupid question and don't want to share it with the class.

"And when I'm really on a roll with my work and don't want to forget what I'm doing, I find it a lot less disruptive."

Rebecca Rhodes, another psychology teacher, has stopped giving students their essay grades in the run-up to A-level exams. She had been worried that they were focusing too much on their grades and not enough on her feedback on how to improve their work.

"They are quite grade orientated, which is understandable, so I'm really pushing them out of their comfort zone," she says.

The college now hopes to extend the research scheme among its 14-19 partner schools and is seeking accreditation for the work.

The Institute for Learning says such action research among teachers in further education is likely to increase with changes to improve professionalism and become part of their practice.

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