One of the most exciting elements of the education scene in the last five years…. no, let me start again….. THE most exciting element of the education scene in the last five years as far as I’m concerned, has been the emergence and expansion of the ResearchEd movement started by Tom Bennett in 2013. Supported all the way by Hélène Gladin-O’Shea and a small band of volunteers including the brilliant Alex Weatherall who designed the programmes, ResearchEd has played a massively important role in providing a forum for research-informed ideas to circulate around the system. For me personally, it’s been a huge influence.
The first event at Dulwich College in 2013 was epic – from Ben Goldacre’s grand late-arrival entrance onwards. I wrote a blog about it at the time and this is how it starts:
What a day!
One of the best things about the ResearchED conference at Dulwich College was that it happened. It embodied the concept of a practitioner-led system perfectly. This is what ‘bottom-up’ looks like. It was a great thrill to participate in an event that brought so many education professionals together in the spirit of ‘by the people for the people’, tackling the issues we face in education on our own terms; a gathering of classroom and research practitioners meeting to exchange perspectives on the important work we all do.It was magnificent. It felt like the start of something. I hope that’s true.
Five years on, it’s safe to say that that was true; Dulwich 2013 was the start of something. Just browsing the themes explored in that first programme (a treasured possession), it’s amazing how expansive and ambitious the whole enterprise was. Five years (of accrued wisdom) later – ResearchEd is going strong, reaching out across the nation and the globe – and Tom Bennett remains the fireball driving force; flying the flag for evidence-informed practice, continually inviting new faces and voices to join the community and using all his wit and web-savvy wileyness to get the message out.
With the publication of the new magazine, it’s great to see ResearchEd established as part of our landscape with multiple lines of communication between researchers and teachers around the world. The dialogue is lively, dynamic, intelligent, thought-provoking…. it’s the discourse our profession should be having; we don’t all agree; new ideas come along all the time; our methods and conclusions are continually open to scrutiny; biases and values-systems interact with the evidence as we sift through it for actionable ideas – the good ‘bets’; the implementation of ideas in real classrooms is explored and evaluated… it’s all good; all exciting.
I’m delighted – honoured – to have been involved in this journey, from talking at the first event to contributing an article in the first magazine – (about one of my favourite books – Why Don’t Students Like School by Daniel Willingham.)
I’ve also taken part in 10 or more different events around the country and in Toronto, Norway and Sweden. No two are the same – and I love them all. The annual national conference is always excellent but it’s the spirit of the regional events that really captures the grassroots feel of ResearchEd. Each event is organised locally by someone with huge energy and commitment; each event brings a new wave of first-time attendees and first-time speakers. The atmosphere, without exception, is a buzz of people talking, sharing, being inspired, feeling enlightened. Always on a Saturday… people giving up weekends to invest time in the ideas that shape their professional lives and their students’ education. It’s a wonderful thing.Just off the top of my head, some talks have given me major insights into my professional life supporting teachers and leaders in their work:
- Ros Walker – Rugby 2017 – a superb talk about knowledge and schemas in science. I’ve carried around the idea of ‘tacit knowledge’ in science ever since; it made so much sense and significantly influences how I think about science curriculum planning. I also picked up the idea of progress being defined in reference to knowledge of the curriculum, not grades or linear numerical flightpaths.
- David Weston, Phillippa Cordingley , Harry Fletcher Wood – various events combined – the nature of effective CPD and professional learning: Different talks at different events each adding something to my understanding of the process teachers and institutions go through to improve teaching – and all the potential barriers and pitfalls.
- Ben Newmark – Rugby 2017 – the problematic use of generic skill descriptors versus knowledge based assessments in history teaching.
- Peps McCrae- Durrington 2018 – the idea the teacher expertise is partly dependent on knowing our students so that, when meeting a new class, we can’t be truly expert; not until we get to know them as learners, using that knowledge to inform our teaching and planning.
- Clare Sealy – Durrington 2018 – the idea of fluency and automaticity. This expression of practice and the power of it for future learning was so vivid: fluency through practice – lots of practice – with massive benefits in so many areas of learning.
- Rebecca Foster – Birmingham – 2018 – a superb exposition of how an English curriculum can be designed to take account of cogsci findings about memory and retrieval and spaced practice – amongst other things!
- Mark McCourt – Rugby 2018 – a brilliant talk about maths teaching reinforcing the idea that maths teachers should do maths; that each problem or difficulty is ‘an opportunity’ – helping me to place ideas about ‘enquiry’ in maths in the context of a rigorous mastery approach…
- Daisy Christodoulou – several talks at different events slightly merging in my memory: ideas about formative and summative assessment, comparative judgement and the concept of difficulty in tests.
- Nick Rose – York Huntington 2016 (I think) – the idea that primitive schemas – laced with misconceptions – remain with us even when new ones are learned so we can revert back to them unless newer, better schema are embedded; this requires attention to the old schema; breaking them down, tackling misconceptions head on.
- Pedro De Bruyckere and David Didau – Oslo 2017 – debunking myths: Both David and Pedro have done superb talks looking at learning styles, dodgy pyramids of various kinds and, generally, raising awareness of specific studies and of the evidence-gathering process.
So, although it obviously isn’t remotely the only great thing going on – I could write a long list – ResearchEd is brilliant. It’s a model that works; it’s open to all – and regardless of what some ill-informed nay-sayers might choose to believe to suit their own biases and agendas, it’s as grassroots as any education movement I can think of – even if a government official approves. (I find the Tom Bennett bashing that goes on pretty outrageous given what he does for nothing relative to what others do for ££££).
Why does it matter? Well, broadly, it’s because there are thousands of teachers out in the system who have yet to engage in evidence-informed thinking. I know this because I meet them all the time. And even for those with some general awareness of key ideas, it takes time to explore and embed ideas in practice and sharing implementation stories is massively helpful. Then there is the need to rescue people from blind alleys. For instance, literally just this week I was at an event where one set of teachers presented to some others in a workshop ideas based on VAK learning styles. It’s 2018 and they were literally introducing people to VAK as a good basis for lesson planning. There were separate activities and guidance sheets for visual, auditory and kinaesthetic learners… and there was a Bloom’s taxonomy with the usual relegation of knowledge to the bottom; the least important, not the most important. Someone repeated the false-attribution ‘Socrates’ quote about lighting fires, not filling pails and we were off into evidence-free backwaters. This stuff goes on – alongside all the unevidenced, workload inducing macro-data tracking, dubious lesson planning structures, poor assessment practice and the all-too-common ‘wasted teaching’ that happens day in day out across the land.
The fact is that, much as some folk get tired of hearing these thing being tackled… there are teachers and leaders out there across the system running schools and colleges on gut instinct and memes or hideous compliance structures. It’s not good enough for a serious profession. Lots of teachers are coming to cognitive science and classroom-based research for the first time; lots of teachers are only just finding about about Hattie and EEF meta-meta analyses, RCTs and effect sizes even as others are debating their validity… There are people out there who, with more understanding of some very strong ideas – such as those presented by Rosenshine, Bjork, Sweller, Christodoulou, Wiliam, Nuthall, Willingham, etc etc etc ….would be teaching a whole lot better than they are now, with reduced workload and more effective assessment regimes. It matters because we can do so much better.
ResearchEd is five years in but is just getting started; we need every avenue we can find to spread ideas and get people involved in the discussion. Attending a local or national ResearchEd event is superb way to find out how these ideas take shape in real classrooms or how policy makers and researchers gain and use evidence to inform their thinking. The list of future events is here: https://researched.org.uk/events/list/
I’ll end with a personal vote of thanks to Tom Bennett for getting this show on the road and for keeping it there. I’m in awe of the energy and persistence Tom has shown in driving ResearchEd forward… and I”m continually thrilled and delighted to be able to play a part. Next up for me: September London: October Philadelphia (with Dylan Wiliam and Eric Kalenze): February Haninge … and plenty more to come. Can’t wait.