Communicating new knowledge to practitioners
Philippa Cordingley, Miranda Bell, Donald Evans
Philippa (pictured) is the Chief Executive of CUREE
Miranda Bell is an Associate Director of CUREE
Donald Evans is a Research Manager at CUREE
What makes practitioners interested in research findings?
Researchers can be crucial agents in helping practitioners link with the evidence base about effective teaching and learning. So what do we know about how teachers access research evidence, what they want from it and how they use it that will help make the links?
Teachers become interested in what research has to say when they have evidence that it could help their pupils. Research about interventions that have enhanced pupils' learning is always interesting to teachers. Knowing where the research took place and who was involved also helps them to relate it to their own needs and professional contexts. These reflections are based on a number of evidence sources, including:
- Analysis of a series of popular research papers by the National Teachers Research Panel (e.g. Cordingley and NTRP (2000) at: http://www.tda.gov.uk/upload/resources/doc/b/bera.doc );
- consultations with the EPPI registered Impact of CPD Review Group teachers about the characteristics of effective professional development; (add Link?)
- reports of the action research activities of the TTA supported regional consortia (see, for example, the GTCE Research of the Month summary Teachers and school-based research: Why and how do teachers engage in and with research? at http://www.gtce.org.uk/research/romtopics/rom_cpd/schoolresearch_may03/ );
- findings of studies on practitioners' attitudes to research and evidence such as Hemsley-Brown and Sharp (2003) and Ratcliffe et al (2004) (add Link?); and
- feedback from focus groups, for example those structured to inform the content of the National Education Research Forum Evidence Bulletin(NERF see http://www.nerf-uk.org/bulletin/ )
What do practitioners want to see in published research?
We know from this evidence that there is a hunger among practitioners for research findings that illustrate teaching and learning processes and that are in a form that they can adapt and start to use relatively easily in their own classrooms. Research funded by TLRP has recently been moving in the direction of meeting practitioners' needs and interests. However, the demands of the mainstream and prestigious research publishing enterprises still privilege methods and technical issues over the processes of teaching linked to pupils' learning. The disciplines of academic research do, helpfully, emphasise the importance of theory. Without an understanding of the theory or rationale teachers are condemned to using approaches in the form in which they first encounter them. But for theory to be of practical help to teachers it needs to be contextualised. This is the reason why the tendency of research articles to describe the research process and findings in great detail but say rather less about the implications for those who would like try out new teaching and learning approaches is problematic. The detail of classroom activities and teaching strategies that matter so much to teachers and help them grasp both the detail and principle of new knowledge, are often either buried, or omitted.
Teachers will engage with research when it relates to what they need or want to learn about. At the time of writing professional development priorities identified by teachers (for example through surveys conducted by the GTCE and focus groups of teachers drawn together to inform the content of the NERF Evidence Bulletin) include:
- Behaviour management
- Using ICT in teaching
- Strengthening and/or updating skills and knowledge in curriculum subject areas
- Addressing underachievement in groups of pupils
- Teaching pupils with SEN
- Teaching gifted and talented pupils
Almost all of the TLRP output has the potential to support such development. But bridges may be needed in the form of additions made to the written outputs to make sure it does.
What do practitioners find helpful in accessing research evidence?
There has been a growth in the number of resources that help to make findings more useful to teachers by drawing out the implications that prompt reflection and stimulate experimentation. In addition research findings are increasingly being used as a resource for approaches to CPD. For example the National Framework for Mentoring and Coaching establishes, as a core principle, the need for teachers to draw on evidence and, as a core skill, the ability to identify, appraise and interpret research evidence for their own context. Based on both systematic reviews of evidence and fieldwork and consultation, the framework is now embedded in the programme of all national agencies and in many local authorities and thousands of schools. It can be found at: http://www.tda.gov.uk/upload/resources/pdf/m/mc_framework.pdf
Similarly the new National Standards for teachers emphasise the importance of mentoring and coaching and also point to the increased use of research and evidence. There has probably never been a more propitious time or greater momentum towards the use of research by teachers.
Relating research to teachers' needs and contexts
Of course, like anyone else, practitioners find resources and knowledge created by others useful when authors relate what they create to teachers' own needs and contexts. There are currently a number of experiments with a range of strategies for doing this, including modelling approaches in real world contexts through case studies (such as GTCe Research of the Month (RoM) – add link here too), creating principles and tools (such as the Mentoring and Coaching framework) from research findings, raising awareness about teaching and learning (such as The Research Informed practice website (TRIPS)), asking good questions about implications for practice (RoM, TRIPS). (add links)There has been a sustained interest and investment too in systematic reviews such as those that are quality assured through the EPPI-Centre's work and methodology to summarise and synthesise for practitioners wide-ranging evidence about specific themes of interest to them (add links). Early efforts concentrate on accessibility and, for example, on making them more informative about the details of the processes in the studies included in the reviews, a development that practitioners will find helpful.
Tools and activities
Other communication methods for disseminating research findings create and present to teachers activities to stimulate thinking, engagement or experimentation (e.g. TLRP Practitioner Applications, Gifted and Talented ‘Nutshells'- add links).
Another large, established and significant approach to engaging teachers with the evidence base is through encouraging teachers themselves to undertake research in their own classrooms. There is now a wide range of support programmes and materials including those provided by:
- the National Teacher Research Panel , which presents authentic teacher voice in the form of classroom based action research (add link);
- the Creative Action Research (CARA) programme, which involves teachers and creative professionals in creative active research in their classrooms (add link)_; and
- the National Centre for Excellence in Teaching Mathematics (NCETM) and the Gatsby Teacher Fellow Fellowships programme (maths, science and design technology) that aim to support teacher research (add links).
Many teachers are also signing up to The GTCe's Teacher Learning Academy (TLA) (add link) that promotes and supports teachers' professional learning and encourages the use of action research.
- TLRP projects use a variety of tools for communicating findings for practitioners including Research Briefings and Research Summaries. Most projects have also produced books.
- Renewal.net presents case studies designed to answer the questions of local partnerships in deprived areas.
- EPPI-Centre systematic reviews draw together and synthesise research on selected topics in a robust way using teams of researchers, with practitioners as a key intended audience.
- Practitioner Activities act as ‘tasters' for the findings from the Teaching and Learning Research Projects ( TLRP ). Nuggets of evidence drawn from TLRP projects are offered as a starting point. They are accompanied by suggestions for reflective activities that immerse practitioners in evidence about their students' current experiences.
- Inside Information, produced by the National Teacher Research Panel, brings teacher research into useful publications for teachers, addressing practical issues such as working with teaching assistants.
- ‘Gifted and Talented in a Nutshell' activities on the National Academy of Gifted and Talented Youth website are based on research evidence and designed to help anyone interested in Gifted and Talented education explore some of the key issues at primary and secondary level.
- The Mentoring and Coaching Framework pulls together evidence from research about effective mentoring and coaching into a set of principles and skills which are now in widespread use in the work of all national agencies and increasingly in schools.
- The Teacher Learning Academy (TLA) The core dimensions of the GTC's TLA reflect their commitment to ensuring that teaching is informed by the evidence of a professionally relevant knowledge base. Engaging with the knowledge base is a prerequisite for teachers embarking on a TLA accredited programme, as is coaching and mentoring and sharing and influencing practice.
In the many schools just starting to develop strategic approaches to CPD and to use research and evidence, external awarding schemes can act as a useful stimulus at the same time as building a critical mass of practitioner research on a hot topic. Current schemes include:
- CARA (Creative Action Research), conceived and funded by Creative Partnerships; it brings together classroom teachers and creative practitioners to investigate, through creativity-based projects, the effect creativity has on pupil learning and motivation.
- National Centre for Excellence in Teaching Mathematics (NCETM); the Centre is making a grant scheme available to cover teacher research or teacher development projects associated with any aspect of mathematics teaching.
- The Gatsby Teacher Fellowships programme ; t he programme aims to identify teachers of maths, science and design and technology who can make a significant contribution to the effective and inspirational teaching of their subject.
- Postgraduate Professional Development (PPD) programme; subsidised by the TDA, the programme is provided by partnerships of universities, higher education colleges, local authorities and schools across England .
How can we get the messages from research to practitioners?
There are three issues that need to be addressed to encourage practitioners to engage more with the evidence base:
increasing the supply of robust, relevant material;
making research findings and evidence more easily accessible; and
helping practitioners identify research that is potentially useful to them.
A key challenge for the educational community is the issue of supply. The Teaching and Learning Research Programme has helped enormously in tackling this issue but, funding for projects usually comes to an end just at the point when findings are coming into the public domain and as the questions for further research are being identified.
Encouraging teachers to use the evidence base
Another challenge is encouraging more teachers to see research as a source of evidence to inform what they do. Over the past decade thousands of natural enthusiasts in our schools have been engaging with research and evidence in different ways, as evidenced above. But what about the convertible sceptics or even the ‘cynics'? We need to work beyond ‘easy-to-reach' allies and extend our efforts to a wider group. The TDA's recruitment advertising campaign seems to have been successful in repositioning teaching in the minds of the public. Perhaps a similar degree of creativity, perseverance and investment is called for in promoting the most intriguing and useful outputs from educational research more generally.
Making journal abstracts more useful
Practitioners would find it easier to access useful research if they were interested – that is if abstracts were structured to include information relevant to them. A survey of journal article titles showed that this is often not the case ( Bell , et al 2002 - link). Abstracts are currently erratic in both order and content. Core technical details are laid down by different publishers but there are other things in practitioners' minds that need flagging in abstracts. Brief additional details that would help practitioners include a summary of:
the objective of the study and who was involved;
the processes involved; and
the headline results.
By providing these details practitioners would know what to expect and could scan them quickly. They would also be helped by titles that are transparent and indicate the article's content. Quirky titles, chattiness, or populism and provocation all too often obscure interesting and practical evidence.
Making use of existing practitioner websites
But even if abstracts were more relevant, getting access to research quickly and easily is difficult for teachers. Few teachers have the time to scan databases for potentially useful research. Even if they do they almost never have access to the original articles and schools can't afford to subscribe to the journals. Most teachers would be more likely to access research via websites they use in the course of their professional lives, such as:
So a final request to researchers is to be diligent and persistent in notifying agencies about where and when they can access your work. What may seem like an obvious ongoing access route to you may be obscure to others. Better still, as new policies and issues emerge remember to send a user friendly summary to the officers concerned making the connections for them.
Bell, M., Cordingley, P., Curtis, A., Evans, D., Hughes, S. & Shreeve, A. (2002) Bringing research resources to practitioner users via web technology: Lessons learned to date Paper prepared for the BERA 2002 conference, Exeter UniversityAccessed at: http://www.leeds.ac.uk/educol/documents/00002175.htm (7/09/07 )
Cordingley, P. & NTRP (2000) Teacher perspectives on the accessibility and usability of research outputs Paper prepared for the BERA 2000 conference, Cardiff University . Accessed at: http://www.tda.gov.uk/upload/resources/doc/b/bera.doc (7/09/07 )
Hemsley-Brown, J. and Sharp, C. (2003) The use of research to improve professional practice: a systematic review of the literature Oxford Review of Education, Vol. 29, No. 4, pp. 449-470A digest of this article is available at:http://www.standards.dfes.gov.uk/research/themes/cpd/researchfindingspractice/ (Accessed 12/09/07 )
Ratcliffe, M. et al (2004) Science education practitioners' views of research and its influence on their practice. Evidence-based Practice in Science Education (EPSE) Research Network Report, Department of Educational Studies: University of York .Accessed at: http://www.york.ac.uk/depts/educ/projs/P4Report2004.pdf (7/09/07 )
|How to reference this page:
||Cordingley, P., Bell M. and Evans, D. (2007) Communicating new knowledge to practitioners. London: TLRP. Online at http://www.tlrp.org/capacity/rm/wt/bell1.html (accessed