Teachers reading research…

[Update: This post has has some interesting comment. Please take time to read the contributions! Thank you].

I had an interesting exchange of ideas with Dermot Donnelly on Twitter just before Christmas, that I am going to use as the basis of my first posting on eLearning Island of 2013.

Donnelly is a Post-Doctoral researcher at the University of California (Berkley) interested in the affordances of technology for science education. He had tweeted a link to the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (here) about a site they support  that helps teachers “find what works”  and “compare the evidence of dozens of education programs“.

I personally feel that many teachers in Ireland do not read educational research as much as they should.

This has particularly struck me since I became involved with the reform of Junior Cycle education here in Ireland.

I am the “link-teacher” in one of the pilot-schools. I have however engaged with a discussion of Junior Cycle reform beyond my own school, both online and face to face.

I am regularly asked what is the basis for this? When was the research done? Is this relevant to Ireland?

I point to Emer Smyths’ work for the Economic and Social Research Institute (2009, Dublin): Junior Cycle Education:Insights from a Longutional study of students. The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment have made available research  for teachers to access e.g.  Paul Blacks presentation (below) in Dublin, October last, on the topic of Assessment.

There is a huge danger that if we as teachers don’t read research we will end up having as Donnelly suggests, a debate as a profession at the level of “lay people”.

Getting involved in eLearning (in the broadest sense of the phrase) since 2007 has forced me to examine and conduct my own education research. Some of this has been formal, some, most informal.

I am with Schön when he wrote that educators descend to the swampy lowlands where “problems are messy and confusing and incapable of technical solution” and are examined with research methods based on “trial and error, intuition or muddling through”.

Teachers do not need to access vast tomes of research documents but do need direction to some key theorists and practitioners in their subject areas. They need to read and discuss these together and they then will begin to evolve their practice. Much of this discussion is now online and examples of innovative practice can be found within many of the Twitter Hash-tag educational communities, #edchatie, #edchat etc.

What is interesting is the slow realisation here in Ireland that with the Junior Certificate Examination finally gone by 2020, that we as teachers will have to adapt our Junior Cycle practices in many different ways. Let these be research led!

Any thoughts out there?

Schön, D.A. 1995. The New Scholarship Requires a New Epistemology. Change [online]. 27 (6), 10 pages.



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  2. Melissa Stager

    I don’t think it is an educational problem confined to any one country, just as poor business practices do not occur in only one industry. Educational research is so important, but many educators do not have the time or the inclination to examine practices in a scientific manner. This helps perpetuate the constant practice of the quick fix in the form of a new program, or a new reading series, or a new anything. In addition what is most teachers relationship to research? If they were not taught how to self reflect or apply research in college how can we expect them to do it on their own? Then. how can we expect people to remain current if their institutions of employment do not expect it or give them the time to seek and apply new research. I seek out research on my own because I want to be better and I want to change people’s opinion about what teaching can be and do. This is because I make a commitment to grow. But, as we know many do not do this voluntarily because they view it as one more thing. Teachers are not lazy or complacent. For the most part they work hard and want to do what they “think” is best for kids. We have to create a teaching culture where they work smarter, not harder and they know what they do is best for kids.

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  6. Donal O' Mahony

    Dear John, Frieda, Dermot and Callum

    Thanks for your replies – was interested in seeing whether this post would get some reaction since I am not sure how teachers will react to it.

    John, You wrote that we ” need a platform or advertisement to where teachers can access educational research freely and easily”. I absolutely agree.

    The publications of the teacher associations occasionally touch on this but I find they are usually concerned with ‘action’ rather than ‘reflection’ as such. I must acknowledge thought that the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland has expresses interest in and support of some of my own work.

    The Educational Studies Association of Ireland is seen by some as a source of “tomes” which is unfortunate – again perhaps the emphasis there is more on the research than than the action.

    I am personally somewhat disappointed that the Teaching Council has become a source of further administration rather than a driver of practice based research. Certainly it is a place where teachers could access information freely and easily as you say.

    Ultimately I believe online communities of practice are developing where such sharing of practice based resources and research are evolving very quickly. The National Council for Curriculum and Assessments JC2.0 site to support Junior Cycle reform may be a case in point.

    Twitter, while a bit overwhelming at times can with the right filters be a rich vein of ideas.

    Freida – thanks for the vote of confidence!

    Dermot – thanks for responding. I absolutely agree with your hope that “the teacher would be in a respected position in such discussions based on their professional knowledge”. This I believe is particularly important in the evolution of education. I worry that even younger teachers are emulating a methodology they observed in their primary/secondary-school rather than developing a personal methodology in the early years of their teaching-practice – and one that is shared with their colleagues at all levels.

    Callum – you wrote “We as teachers often feel that implicit to the idea of critical reflection is the procedure of finding fault. This dichotomy can take time to overcome but after deconstructing it, one can see the immense value of critical reflection as a method of professional development instead of a process of self-laceration.”

    I think the ‘immense value of critical reflection’ you talk about is (for me) at the level of “emancipation” – this (emancipation) can be taken at many levels, but it has set me free, to look at new ways of thinking and doing. I am influenced here by Habermas and writers like Carr and Kemmis. Ultimately it has also allowed me to develop a conversation with students, with colleagues and within the wider educational community via blogging, twitter etc.

    Thanks all – I hope some of what I say makes sense to you – any other comments out there?

  7. Callum Philbin

    I completely agree, however, there is much resistance within second level education in Ireland to the idea of self-criticism. Teaching is too often carried out behind closed doors with teachers reluctant to engage in open-dialogue with other professionals or partake in any form of introspection. Similarly, teachers can often be averse to the idea of interacting with theoretical literature as by taking part in this act they are interacting with their own fallacies about teaching.
    Stephen Brookfield (1995) outlines the reluctance of teachers to participate in critical reflection. He depicts how too often teachers avoid critical reflection because they fear that by engaging in the process they will discover their own faults. Brookfield encapsulates this fear when he poses the question “who wants to clarify and question assumptions she or he has lived by for a substantial period of time, only to find that they don’t make sense?”. As teachers, our prior experiences massively impact the way we teach but it is difficult to examine if these experiences and views have a detrimental effect on our method of teaching.
    However, Brookfield also elucidates the prodigious benefit of critical reflection. He points to the four critical reflective lenses from which we can view our teaching; our autobiographies as learners and teachers, our student’s eyes, our colleagues’ experiences and theoretical literature. The last two relate directly to this blog post. By participating in dialogue with our colleagues and theorists we can develop our methods of teaching.
    We as teachers often feel that implicit to the idea of critical reflection is the procedure of finding fault. This dichotomy can take time to overcome but after deconstructing it, one can see the immense value of critical reflection as a method of professional development instead of a process of self-laceration.

  8. Dermot Donnelly

    Donal, I think you make a great point in terms of the greater availability of research. With so many educators blogging and tweeting links to freely available research, access can no longer be supported as a barrier. It is probably more of a hurdle now, but one that can be overcome.

    I appreciate that teachers are stretched for time, but to sacrifice any engagement in educational research I believe does result in what we had discussed on Twitter, i.e., lay people arguments in education. A simple example is when a parent tries to tell a teacher how to teach. I believe if a teacher really valued educational research they would be able to easily stand over their pedagogy and not yield to such pressure. Better still, they might not run into such arguments at all if they kept somewhat up-to-date on emerging pedagogical approaches and encompassed them in their practice.

    I think it is important to stress that everyone’s opinion can be valuable if considered appropriately, even lay people, but what I would hope is that the teacher would be in a respected position in such discussions based on their professional knowledge.

  9. John Heeney

    I definitely agree. I am in the middle of lots of research (due to a Masters) but I do find that the academic thinking and research in education does allow us to place our day-to-day in “big-picture” context. I also think research is a valuable tool to allow us as practitioners stop and prompt reflection of our practice, and reading a piece of research – whether you agree with the findings or not – allows this to happen. It does however need a platform or advertisement to where teachers can access educational research freely and easily.