In-school project: start a researchED reading group

A lot of teachers come away from researchED conferences with new ideas and the desire to do something with them – but what? How do they pursue their interest in evidence-informed education? One answer is to do what teacher Adam Boxer did at the Jewish Community Secondary School (JCoSS), London, and form a researchED Reading Group. Here he explains what he did, and how people reacted to it.

Just over a year ago, a couple of colleagues approached me to ask about research- and evidence-informed practice. Following a conversation with Tom, we decided to set up a local chapter of researchED which would meet once a week. The drill was pretty simple: each week I would send out some evidence-based reading and on a Friday lunch we would meet to sit and talk about the reading.

This lasted throughout that summer term, but there were a few problems:

The reading was coming in thick and fast – too fast for frontline staff to keep on top of.

Some of the reading was a bit technical, and people would have preferred more ‘secondary’-type readings.

It wasn’t part of any formal CPD programme, leading it to feel like something else we had to do.

Despite the above, the feedback was generally positive. People had really enjoyed the conversations and had already found the reading to be influencing their practice: we were keen to continue and expand.

In September of this year I gave a little plug at morning briefing and invited staff to come and join our group. Around 15 staff from across the school (including 3 LSAs) signed up and we met one lunchtime to discuss plans going forward. Most people said that they were interested in learning and how it happens, so we looked at Willingham’s simplified model of cognition:

I sketched this up on the board and then we started putting more information around it until we had something looking a bit more like this:

From that basis, teachers were able to identify something that they found interesting and pursue that. I tried to rephrase things as specific questions to clarify and focus our reading. (This wasn’t intended to be ‘action research’ per se; the nature of it was far less formal and structured.) I then provided staff with a bank of readings, and sorted their particular questions by that reading. This would give them a straightforward starting point from which to begin, as well as a lot of ‘crossed-over’ topics:

What makes an effective explanation?

1 Rosenshine’s principles of instruction

2 Kirschner et al., the case for fully guided instruction

3 Ben Newmark, great explicit teaching

How do I ensure that students are behaving in a way that will optimise learning?

1 Joe Kirby, Great School Ethos

2 Doug Lemov, SLANT archives

How can I actually tell if my students have learned anything?

1 David Didau, Why AfL might be wrong

2 Soderstrom & Bjork, Learning versus performance

3 Rob Coe, a Triumph of Hope Over Experience

How can I use students’ prior knowledge to circumvent the constriction of working memory?

1 Willingham, How knowledge helps

How can I use visuals to circumvent the constriction of working memory?

1 Dan Williams, Why use visuals?

2 Richard Mayer, principles of multimedia learning

Is drilling students a bad thing?

1 Dani Quinn, Drill and thrill

2 Daisy Christodoulou, is all practice good?

3 Soderstorm and Bjork, Learning versus performance

4 Rosenshine’s principles of instruction

What is all the fuss around mastery learning?

1 Mark McCourt, Teaching for Mastery

2 EEF, Mastery learning

How are different memories stored in the long-term memory?

1 Clare Sealy, Memory not Memories

How does low-stakes quizzing improve memory?

1 Me and others, Assessment as learning

2 Toby French, Testing isn’t evil

How do I space between quizzing to optimise memory effects?

1 Damian Benney, Optimal time for spacing effects

How is memory dependent on external cues?

1 The Learning Scientists, Transfer

2. Clare Sealy, Memory not Memories

As the year went on, we met as a big group a couple more times; and due to the nature of people’s timetables I also had ‘micro-meetings’ with smaller groups of people who were researching similar topics.

By the end of the year, our main areas of discussion were:

  • The use of mini-quizzes and retrieval practice to support long-term memory
  • 1:1 work with cognitive load in mind for students with SEN
  • How can we know if learning has occurred?
  • How can we use the evidence base to better observe teaching and learning?

Throughout the year I also sent out any interesting journal articles or blogs that I had found; and next year we will be sending out a blog every week with a synopsis from one of our group. Hopefully, by having it come from different people, we will achieve better coverage. We were also lucky enough to have Efrat Furst and Flavia Belham come in to deliver lectures on retrieval practice and cognitive load theory, respectively. I have received some very positive feedback from the staff involved.

Next year, researchED JCoSS will be part of the school’s formal CPD track. We are hoping that this will give us more time to spend on it – as well as being able to reach more staff.

Tips for helping your colleagues become more evidence-based:

Identify those interested; start with them and then spread out.

Regularly send out reading; write a brief synopsis each time.

Narrow people’s interests into a very specific question.

Provide as much relevant reading as you can.

Don’t jump in with peer-reviewed articles. Probably best to start with evidence-based blogs and more ‘teacher-friendly’ articles like Rosenshine’s ‘Principles of Instruction’.

Want to start a researchED reading group in your own school? You don’t need to ask anyone – just go ahead and start one! And if you want to let us know you’re doing it and how it’s going, get in touch with us at the addresses listed on the contents page. Good luck!