As time-pressured teachers, we may rely on the well-established practices and strategies taught to us in our teacher training or have seen others use. However, do we ever question whether there is evidence supporting these practices? In truth, some practices have been found to be ineffective or lacking supporting research data (Procter, 2013).
It was once said the relationship between teaching and research is ignored (NCTE, 2005), however teachers are now urged to engage in evidence-informed practice. The Department for Education suggests teachers should be informed by research leading to “a combination of practitioner expertise and knowledge of the best external research, and evaluation based evidence” (Department for Education, 2014).
Research should, and indeed does, influence our teaching. Think back to earlier teaching practices where the approach was “one size fits all”; now thanks to years of educational research we have moved to the more inclusive differentiated approach. The reverse is true also and our teaching influences the research.
Engaging with research may bring about changes in your understanding, knowledge and attitude towards teaching, or you may apply the research directly changing your practice and sharing your knowledge (Department for Education, 2017)
So what are the benefits of engaging with the latest education research evidence?
Goldacre (2013) suggests that if teachers were more research-engaged, then improvements in teaching and learning should follow. Similarly, The IRIS Center (2014) supports engaging with evidence-informed practice to lead to an increased likelihood of being responsive to learners’ needs and to have increased positive learner outcomes.
Scutt (2020) suggests that time spent reading research pays off, as we no longer spend time on practices that make little difference, if any, to learning. Starting with an effective practice will mean there will be less wasted time and fewer wasted resources as you no longer have to work through practices through trial and error.
When reading the research you may gather useful insights from studies that you can discuss with colleagues, to clarify and reflect on how you may be able to use these in your teaching.
As well as stimulating conversations with colleagues, research can challenge our assumptions, or reaffirm our current opinions and practices. It may possibly raise new questions.
We mustn’t be lured by everything we read. Take, for example, the learning styles practice of teaching learners in a format that best matches the preferences of the learner (e.g., for a “visual learner,” giving information in visual formats). Although you can find vast amounts of literature on learning styles, there have been very few studies applying the type of experimental methodology that truly tests the validity of learning styles and, of those that have, the majority found negative results (Rohrer and Pashler, 2012).
Always remember that published research studies represent the findings of researchers looking at a particular area from their own particular perspectives. Therefore, approach the published research with a critical eye. If you are reading the original research, bear these questions in mind: What do the researcher(s) want to know (motivation)? What perspectives do they bring to the topic? What did they do (methods) and why was it done that way (context)? What does the study claim as its findings? Do the researchers see the findings as tied to a particular context? How do their findings fit with your own knowledge and experience as a teacher? What new questions does the study raise for you? (National Council of Teachers of English, 2005; Carey, Steiner and Petri Jnr, 2020)
Instead of viewing research as the provider of ‘universal dictates’, always approach with a critical eye, aiming to enrich your understanding of your own students and their social context as you develop strategies appropriate to them (National Council of Teachers of English, 2005).
Key message: Be informed, keep up to date, use your critical eye and choose those practices that you think will most benefit your learners.
Carey, M. A., Steiner, K. L., & Petri Jr., W. A. (2020). Ten simple rules for reading a scientific paper. PLoS computational biology, 16(7). Available from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7392212/
Department for Education (2013) School leadership evidence review: using research evidence to support school improvement April 2013. Available from https://www.dmss.co.uk/pdfs/evidencereview3.pdf
Department for Education (2017) Evidence-informed teaching: an evaluation of progress in England Research report July 2017. Available from https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/625007/Evidence-informed_teaching_-_an_evaluation_of_progress_in_England.pdf
Goldacre, B., (2013) Building evidence into education, Department for Education, Available from http://media.education.gov.uk/assets/files/pdf/b/ben%20goldacre%20paper.pdf
National Council of Teachers of English (2005) Understanding the Relationship between Research and Teaching. Available from https://ncte.org/statement/researchandteaching/
Rohrer, D., & Pashler, H. (2012). Learning styles: Where’s the evidence? Medical Education, 46, 34-35. Available from https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED535732.pdf
Scutt, C. (2020) Do teachers need to read original research papers? Schools Week. Available from https://schoolsweek.co.uk/do-teachers-need-to-read-original-research-papers/
The IRIS Center (2014) Evidence-based practices (part 1): Identifying and selecting a practice or program. Retrieved from https://iris.peabody.vanderbilt.edu/module/ebp_01/