Monday, 2 March 2015

Stop The Madness!

Image courtesy of AV Club taken from the Last Stop: This Town video

At an Eels gig, many years ago, at the Royal Festival Hall, the lead singer Mr E had whipped the crowd into a frenzy. People were on their feet, screaming "I love you E", waving their arms. His reply to calm the lively audience was, "STOP THE MADNESS"! 

This has been the repeated call from a small, but growing, group of teachers in school over the last few years too. STOP THE MADNESS.

This is just some of the MADNESS (read falsities, lies, discredited research...) that still remains in schools, schemes of work, university courses, INSET training:
  • Brain Gym:
  • VAK:

Image courtesy of Systramartha
  • Left Brain / Right Brain: 
Image courtesy of Huffington Post

  • The Learning Pyramid:
Image courtesy of The Peak Performance Centre

  • Thinking Hats:
Image courtesy of TandLHub

Andrew Old wrote a great TOP 10 THINGS TO AVOID IN INSET and these make a few appearances. It's a very worthwhile read <here>. This was indeed published at the start of THIS academic year (2014-2015), not in 2007.

So why, write another blog post on this? It's because despite the absolute discreditation of these things, they still keep cropping up on my Twitter TL and various other professional sources of information that I use. The other day I spent time going through being "the voice of reason" asking people if they knew these ideas were nonsense? Sadly, no one entered into discourse with me, which was probably for the best as I was in a grump and argumentative mood. On first hearing, they also sometimes seem like good ideas; that's why they still exist in some peoples educational thinking.

My interest in "stopping the madness" came when I first came across ResearchEd, which lead me to read Ben Goldacre's DfE paper Building Evidence into Education. If you haven't read this, I strongly urge you do so <here>. He then came to speak at the first Research Ed conference (watch <here>) and the words that stuck with me was the label of much teaching being peddled quackery. By this he meant the pseudo-science found worryingly prevalent in education, often promoted by businesses and training providers who have a vested financial interest. He also meant the way in which teaching has, in the past, not been very evidence based. Tom Bennett refers to it as snake oil (this is a great read <here>).

"If you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always gotten."

I've found Mark Twain, Henry Ford and Tony Robbins credited with this. Maybe it's another internet-created, made up quote (it just needs an inspirational image in the background, ready to be shared on Instagram; no one ever checks their accuracy either do they?), but the sentiment perhaps is correct. However it does need some further, careful, consideration. If you do do something different, you may get a better result, but you may not. How do you know what will get you a better result? What is your evidence? How do you know?

In December 2013, I was invited to the DfE to take part in some work on EBT (Evidence Based Teaching). This was an interesting evening where a group of teachers offered their thoughts and experience. I had completed my MA and found that the research I had conducted was very meaningful to my practice and I was already considering 'what can I research next?' (and I still am! If anyone fancies funding my PhD, I'm all ears). I chatted to David Laws MP in the lift and he even told me that he "loved EBT".

However the sad reality that was relayed by DfE staff. EBT would be a 10 year project and no minister can undertake a 10 year project... Gove lasted another 8 months and who knows if Nicky Morgan will still be there after the next election. So if not the DfE, then who? As with all the best initiatives, schools and teachers can perhaps do it better than civil servants and those in government office.

I was reminded of this recently when a colleague gave me a flyer in the staffroom with a simple, "You're interested in research, right?". Interestingly it featured Carl Hendrick who I had been chatting to about being a research lead just a few days before over a curry:

Carl works at Wellington College who have embraced the idea of making research useful for staff AND engaging in active research themselves:

Wellington College has launched the first major school-based research centre in the UK, saying that in the future, children should be taught based on what research shows is effective, rather than relying on guesswork, hunches or ideology. [See more  <here>]

Some schools which I have come across that are investing in research leads and active use of research include Huntingdon School under Alex Quigley and more recently Highbury Grove School under the new headship of Tom Sherrington. Perhaps the first I came across was Kev Bartle's Cannons High School encouraging staff to investigate marginal gains? Maybe they will be looked back on as the trailblazers of EBT or whatever it ends up being know as, hopefully just 'teaching'.

'Clinical reasoning' in medicine began in the 1960's after a long period of 'clinical judgement' and an 'art of medicine' whereby decisions depended on individual doctors deciding what evidence, if any, they would consider using to treat a patient. This would be merged with personal beliefs and any number of other varying factors. Clinical reasoning or Evidence-based medicine (EBM) optimises decision making and uses acceptable evidence from well designed research. It highlights epistemological strength and results in only the strongest types being recommended for patient use. It involves meta-analysis, systematic review and RCTs.

I really believe that the mid 2010s will be looked on as a pivotal moment in education. It was the moment where teachers, empowered by the new democracy of the internet, facilitated by Twitter, TeachMeets, ResearchEd conferences / Tom Bennett and Andrew Old curries, said STOP THE MADNESS. 

This obviously needs time and money. These are two things that most schools do not have. Equally individual teachers are, generally speaking, on their knees, all the time. It is hard to find time to read, let alone undertake, research. When I did my MA, I pretty much had to give up Sundays and all my holidays. To undertake research with my current workload would undeniably shift my work-life balance the wrong way (and hence me abandoning my NPQML). However as previously mentioned, some schools are managing to find the time and money as part of a CPD and school improvement programme. Who's next?

Some recent blog posts on using research in schools:

"Why should teachers engage with, and in, research?" by Sara Stafford (Director of Research at Highbury Grove School)
A valuable post that explains concisely, and with diagrams, what a school director of research does and how the school are going to use research to be a 'praxis' that transforms practice by engaging with and in research. Read it <here>

"4 ways to use evidence in education - and 15 places to start" by Harry Fletcher-Wood  (History teacher and Teach First researcher)
Harry gives 4 straight forward ways in which schools and staff can use research, He then gives some links to some great starting points. Read it <here>

"Why every school needs a research champion" By Carl Hendrick, (Head of Learning and Research, Wellington College)
A useful overview on what a research champion is and why they are important; 7 clear reasons are provided. Read it <here>

"50 shades of uncertainty in educational research" by Jane Pettifer 
Some key questions asked and answered about using educational research. Read it <here>

There is also a new Journal for Applied Education Research which looks like it will be worth investigating. It promises "Peer led, classroom focused education research". Find out more <here>

Research Ed: "Working Out What Works" - the website <here>

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