ResearchEd 4: Tom Sherrington

Tom is talking about his school’s model. Every teacher is engaged with some sort of research – not in, but with. They have “A researched-engaged learning community” on their school sign. Some people are more engaged than others; half funding is offered for MAs and PhDs for the really enthusiastic which is great blue for money for the school. He talks about research as CPD, and CPD as research.

There is an outcome, a product which helps create the sense of being research engaged: a publication called Learning Lessons, written by one or more people and available in hard copy around the school or on the website. This helps to embed it in the school culture and shares good practice which was a problem identified in an earlier session. Tom shares specific examples: dialogic teaching, co-construction of learning and talking texts. He suggests this sharing vehicle is vital in setting up a research based culture.

He also recommends sharing through workshops – like the learning communities we used to have at school. There is workshop time on the calendar for people to use for their research, in twos or threes or more. Then there is market-place CPD for the workshops to share heir work, which helps people to focus their mind and write a summary of their findings. Tom provides examples of some workshops explorations: question spotting in Philosophy A level, physics marking, explorations into coaching, use of iPads in GCSE PE.

Is it research? Is it valid, transferable? Does it have an impact? It was valid: it had an impact in their classrooms and teachers experienced it which helped them to engage with research.

Tom talks about CamSTAR, a partnership with Cambridge university to facilitate action research in schools. Projects need a question – not a task. It needs an effective methodology – Tom shares an example of how a small sample size was very useful from the thesis of a colleague and reminds us that in data you lose detail. He then gives us some specific examples of projects: a French teacher and one student with Edmodo, a Maths teacher with flipped learning on three year groups, an MFL teacher with different student groupings.

He lists some methods. Assessment data, pre and post. Questionnaires, but take care over leading questions and question design. Qualitative observation and evaluation. Student interviews and teacher interviews, but be careful of confirmation bias.

Tom gives his own example: co-construction in year 10. He makes it sounds very desirable! Reminds, though, that not doing any harm is not a measure of success.

Be careful about what you’re looking for in action research. Education is value driven and imposing unproven theories on other teachers and classrooms can be quite dangerous. What works for you in your classroom is not the same as a solution for all. True in context is not the same as true.

In contrast with Laura it seems, Tom thinks there is no big question to answer out there, but that through action research we can come up with a body of experience upon which everyone can draw.

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