Getting started with your search for education research

3rd August 2018 at 00:00
It hasn’t always been easy for busy teachers to access relevant research – but academics and research organisations are now increasingly focusing on making their findings user-friendly, writes Alex Quigley

It is a truth universally acknowledged that teachers are time-poor. So it should be a priority for the bearers and brokers of evidence – from researchers at universities to subject associations, research schools and organisations like the Education Endowment Foundation and the Chartered College of Teaching – to make accessing research evidence as easy as possible. Fortunately, this is happening more and more.

So where, as teachers, do we begin? Although teachers don’t have access to all of the available edu-research, there is enough out there that is freely accessible if we know where to look.

The following are great places to start:

* The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) Teaching and Learning Toolkit is a heavily used and well-known source (see bit.ly/EEFtool). The EEF has now gone one better in producing teacher-facing guidance reports (bit.ly/EEFreport).

* The Chartered College of Teaching has quickly established a great repository of research evidence and teacher insight that is worth pursuing, including free blogs (bit.ly/ChartColl).

* Some big-hitting researchers are helpfully open with their resources, from Professor Dylan Wiliam sharing his presentations (bit.ly/WiliamPresent) to Professor Kate Nation, at the University of Oxford, sharing resources on her handy website (bit.ly/NationRead).

* The Institute for Effective Education offers a brilliant fortnightly newsletter that shares the latest research that is a must-read for those interested in research (bit.ly/EffectiveNews).

* And, of course, Tes publishes research-informed articles, as well as interviews with the academics behind the research, every week in print and online.

 

Getting past the jargon

But getting access to the research is only the first step. For many teachers, if the primary research hasn’t already been distilled and translated into useable summaries and guidance, it can prove hard going to read and interpret. It is important, then, to have a starter kit that strips down the jargon.

Now, the word “research” itself inspires debate and disputes. What educational research are we really talking about? We could be considering “ethnographic research” or “case studies”, which describe a setting and the experience of teachers, or we may be assuming a more “experimental research” perspective, which is when research seeks to make a causal effect in the classroom.

Research projects are now common across England, with the findings being widely shared, so some of the terms underpinning experimental research need unpicking.

First, we may consider research that is qualitative research – that is to say, research that is gathered that is non-numerical, like interviews and case studies. We also have quantitative research – that is a method that pursues hard data. Or we have “mixed methods research”, which is a bit of both.

Then we also need to assess some basics:

* Reliability: basically, how repeatable the findings of the research prove to be.

* Validity: effectively, how well a test measures what it is claiming to measure (eg, does a questionnaire accurately capture teacher stress levels?).

* Correlation: the extent to which two different things fluctuate together (eg, engagement increases as I am teaching my class English).

* Causation: the extent to which one thing or event causes another thing (eg, it is my teaching that is directly causing the increase in engagement in learning.

 

Finally, for time-poor teachers, we need to speak the lingo of research if we are to critique it and use it meaningfully, so it pays to have a mental glossary of the terms and related debates. To get started, this free online research glossary is useful: bit.ly/ResearchGloss.

Alex Quigley is an English teacher and the director of Huntington Research School in York

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