Research: the gift of time

This is the first of a series of blogs about how research can make our teaching more efficient. This blog gives an overview of why we began using research-informed practice in English and later blogs will attempt to show exactly how this worked in the classroom, along with the resources we used.

For me, engaging with and using research has one very clear purpose: making my teaching practice more efficient. Teachers are a school’s most expensive resource so our time is, quite literally, too valuable to waste on practices that are inefficient. But, being efficient doesn’t take any of the love or soul out of teaching; it gives us more time, energy and knowledge to deliver really great lessons. Understandably, it may seem counterintuitive that to improve efficiency and reclaim our time, we spend more time doing something that may not immediately impact our teaching. If we are marking books then we can see something tangible emerging from the time we spend. If we are spending time reading research that doesn’t seem immediately relevant to our day to day practice, then it seems wasted. This is the challenge that we have to consider if we want to encourage teachers to engage with research in schools; but it’s the gift of time that research can offer, that is one of its greatest selling points.

The issue of efficiency came into particularly stark focus with the introduction of the new specifications in English. The content-heavy curriculum meant we didn’t have the luxury of hoping that what we were teaching would stick; we had to use everything available to us to give us the best chance that it would. We read about interleaving and spaced practice, low-stakes testing, cognitive load, and knowledge organisers, plus anything we could nab from the blogs and tweets of the awesome #TeamEnglish tribe. We read and ‘magpied’ anything we thought might help make some of this new knowledge stick for students – including, of course, Peter Brown’s Make It Stick. Without taking this time to read and research, as well as the time to discuss and implement these ideas, we would have continued teaching a topic and then moving on to the next. We would have left revision to the weeks after the January mock exams and then scrambled to put on extra revision sessions when, unsurprisingly, students couldn’t remember what we had taught them in the Autumn term of Year 10. Instead, students revised constantly. With these new research-informed strategies, students got used to coming into English and having to constantly access their long-term memory before the new knowledge or practice of the current lesson began. Then, when it came to the end of Year 11, students knew stuff – loads of stuff. We were amazed at what they could recall and write about. The time spent reading and thinking about how students learn wasn’t time wasted – we couldn’t have afforded not to take that time, not when students only really had one chance for us to get it as ‘right’ as we possibly could.

The second blog in this series will offer some advice on how to bring research-informed practice to the whole school, including some examples of resources you can use when leading a research group.


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