Bringing the Ivory Tower into the classroom
Ask yourself the following questions. What guides my day to day practice in the classroom? What influences the development of my schemes of work? What affects the decisions my school takes about how to improve the learning of young people?
Most of us will probably respond by saying that we are influenced by a mixture of: professional experience; advice from others; what we learned when we trained (however many years ago that was); government strategies / school initiatives and the latest educational fad. Rarely will we say that we are guided by research evidence or that we have sought evidence from our own classrooms / departments in a systematic way. My school has attempted to address this by introducing a bursary system to offer teachers an opportunity to engage in evidence based practice.
Staff in school are invited to submit proposals for bursary projects that could improve and/or inform practice within school. The projects may focus on teaching and learning; administration/ management issues; pastoral care or home-school relationships. My role is to offer guidance on the design and execution of the projects and to help with finding relevant background literature (where it exits). Bursary holders meet together at least once a term to share ideas and to discuss the implications of their findings.
This bursary system is now in its second year and projects covering a range of areas have been completed. Colleagues have investigated factors that affect concentration (including sleep and exercise); whether there is empirical evidence to support a learning styles approach; how to improve transition in maths, French and science from KS2 to KS3; the introduction of a “restoring relationships” approach to our behaviour management system; and the impact of AfL in confidence in KS5 chemistry (to name but a few!).
At the end of the bursary year we held a “bursary fair” on one of the training days. Each bursary holder produced a “stand” summarising their project and being available to discuss it with colleagues. This event generated a real “buzz” which I do not think could have been achieved by a series of presentations (though the edible incentives may have contributed to the buzz!)
The bursary projects influenced individual and faculty practice. They have also sparked meaningful conversations about pedagogy and its evidence base. I hope that blog has illustrated one way in which “ivory towers” may be brought into the classroom. It would be valuable to hear other ways in schools have attempted to do this - in the true spirit of enquiry based practice.
Dr Emma Dunmore, Head of Psychology and Research and Development Co-ordinator
Harrogate Grammar School, North Yorkshire