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Should you let educational researcers into your classroom?

  • Should you let educational researcers into your classroom?

Should you let educational researchers into your classroom, or is it a waste of your time?

This is Professor Boulton and he wants to come in to your class to interview your pupils for his research.” Well, that’s what the head said. I couldn’t help thinking that what the teacher actually heard was, “This is Professor Boulton who wants to come in to your class to make your life even more stressful.”

I think I know what they mean. People like me, and that includes a seemingly never-ending stream of dissertation students, breeze in, disrupt teachers’ routines, collect our precious data and breeze out again, mostly never to be seen again (at least until our next study). Sometimes we might offer a ‘research report’ that few teachers have the time or inclination to read.

I have tried to convince myself that doing research in schools is a case of mutual give and take, but have come to the inevitable conclusion that as things currently stand, teachers give and researchers take. You give your time and effort to rearrange your well-ordered class so that we can administer our questionnaires, conduct our interviews or do whatever else the study ‘requires’. We take the data and use it to write journal articles (that few, if any, teachers actually read) and progress in our careers. It is no coincidence that as teachers’ workloads have increased, more and more are saying no when asked to take part in educational research, and those that are ‘encouraged’ (or coerced) to do so are less than enthusiastic. If things don’t change, there is a realistic chance that educational research where it matters most – in the classroom – will become a thing of the past. This would be a disaster because it would cut off the supply of valuable evidence that feeds the evidence-based approach that is now so dominant in education. No bad thing, you might say, but I’m not so sure. While there is, to say the least, some dubious ‘evidence’ being peddled by those with something to sell, until someone comes up with anything better, good evidence remains our collective best hope of achieving truly effective teaching and learning in our modern world. So, in the hope of finding a method of building better research collaborations between teachers and researchers, I offer some practical ideas that might help us all benefit more from what currently is often seen by teachers as a waste of time.

What researchers can do

 

  • Give teachers more time to plan for the disruptions that being in the research will being. Agree times for school visits and data collection will in advance. Accept that schedules have to be changed at very short notice and plan to be flexible.
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  • Take more time to explain quickly but accurately what the study is aiming to find out and relate it wherever possible to the teacher’s own practice.
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  • Look for opportunities to build ongoing collaborations with teachers so that teachers can help set the research agenda. Teachers know more than anyone what the real issues are that need to be researched, so ask them.
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  • Present findings from the research, together with their implications for actual teaching practice, in a user-friendly format. Long, technical reports couched in statistical jargon are a no-no. Ideally, teachers should be able to easily take something useful from all research they are involved in.

 

What teachers can do

 

  • Ask the researcher to tell you exactly what is required and insist on being given time to prepare yourself and your class to be in the study. For example, if the researcher wants to interview individuals or small groups, where will this take place and how will the pupils transition from the class and back again with minimal disruption?
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  • Ask the researcher to explain the purpose of the study if it is not clear and to suggest some ways that the findings can help you improve your teaching practice. It’s OK to take a ‘what’s in it for me’ stance.
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  • If there’s time, and in collaboration with the head, form good working relationships with researchers so that you can offer your views about what is worth researching. You know this better than most people.
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  • If you feel that a specific piece of research is not worthwhile, be prepared to decline the offer to take part. You can be sure that the next ‘invitation’ is not far away and that might just be a study you are interested in.

Mike Boulton is professor of psychology at the University of Chester

Pie Corbett