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Evidence based teaching

One of the things that always strikes me when I see something like this:

http://www.nfer.ac.uk/about-nfer/media-and-events/nfer-calls-for-action-to-make-evidence-based-teaching-a-reality.cfm

is the way teachers seem to be marginalised from it. Evidence based teaching is a great idea. But why does it always seem to have to come from above? Why can’t teachers be given the support and resources to carry out research themselves and then disseminate their findings? No doubt some will argue that it makes it harder to move things on, when you could have someone who knows what they’re doing come in and find something out or tell teachers how it should be done. In my experience that just doesn’t work. Yes, you might have come in and feel a warm glow from doing something, but it probably hasn’t led to any improvement in the long-term. Generally teachers do a fantastic job. They’re probably the best workforce in the country for delivering what their employee wants. Government wants better grades; teachers get their students better grades. You put in place a league table and you bet teachers will get schools up it. That’s one of the reasons we’ve had grade inflation. Teachers did as they were asked, but those in charge had asked for the wrong thing. We don’t want everyone to get top marks, we want them to get the marks they deserve. If every student got an A* we’d rejig the grade boundaries so they didn’t.
So why not invest in teachers and give them the support they need? Get rid of a lot of these bodies that swallow up funds and give teachers more time to study and research. No it won’t lead to changes before the next election but education ought not to be directed by the whim of politicians and their policy based evidence.

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2 Comments

  1. @benpdurbin says:

    Hi Gary, thanks for your interest in our recent thinkpiece and event. I’m sorry if we’ve given the impression of marginalising teachers from this – it’s certainly not our intention. Indeed, underpinning the whole discussion is a belief that evidence can empower teachers in their practice and support professional development, rather than undermining it. See this blog by my colleague Julie Nelson:
    http://thenferblog.org/2014/02/03/evidence-in-education-a-lever-for-professional-autonomy/

    Our recent thinkpiece (http://www.nfer.ac.uk/publications/99942/) deliberately focused just on one part of the landscape: changes required at a national/system level to ensure that research best meets teachers’ needs, and that teachers are equipped to make appropriate use of it. It’s informed by a literature review (http://www.nfer.ac.uk/publications/IMPA01/) that covers a much broader set of issues, including the role of teacher research and approaches individual schools might adopt to make better use of research.

    Regarding research conducted by teachers, I agree that there is a role for this, provided it’s clearly linked to a well-defined purpose (rather than being research for the sake of research, on which I recognise research organisations can be the worst culprits!) I explored these issues in a bit more detail in blog here:
    http://thenferblog.org/2013/10/21/teacher-research-whats-the-point/

    Any further reflections you have on these issues very welcome!

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  2. gdw100 says:

    I didn’t pick that particular item because it was a terribly bad one, it was just the first one I came across and is one of a long line of similar ideas I’ve come across and which I am myself trying to be careful not to add to.
    All of these articles are well and good but they don’t point to asking teachers what questions they want answers to. So why is that? Well we know why don’t we…it’s because generally they don’t ask the right questions. The questions teachers want answer to are too mundane and boring for people in this tier of education to try and answer. Which is why we have disengagement from research.
    But what if we view the problem slightly differently? What if the problem is that the environment “we” are creating for teachers? So it’s not teachers asking the wrong questions that is the issue but the environment we create that leads to them asking those questions. Perhaps we should just start with those dead straight and everyday questions from teachers and then try and answer them but at the same time look deeply at conditions and ask more widely “are these the questions we want teachers to be asking?”. Because if they aren’t then maybe we need to change things.
    We (the Physics Teacher Network) get lots of teachers wanting quick cheap ideas for practicals and demos they can take away and use tomorrow. Which have their place, but that’s by far the most common thing we get asked about. We don’t get asked about how to develop a module for teaching forces with embedded practical work and inquiry (just an example) anything like as often. But surely the latter type of question is what we really want teachers to be asking? They ask the former because they have too much to get through, too little time, not enough funding and they want to try and give the lesson a quick injection.
    We should let teachers steer the ship and if it isn’t going where we want it to then we need to make sure the wind and currents change and the holiday brochure is up to date rather than taking control ourselves.

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