Who is best at communicating research to teachers?

Teachers have famously found little use for educational research. I think this is for three principal reasons. First, they have been stung too many times in the past, having been sold brain gym, pyramids of learning, learning styles, neuro-linguistic programming and so on. Many teachers I know will hear the phrase ‘research shows…’ and their eyes will either roll, or glaze over, or both. Secondly, research often prescribes ‘interventions’, where what teachers usually want to know is what they ought to be doing on a day-to-day basis. Many interventions are couched in language that does not mean very much. “This intervention means they will make six months more progress.” “Oh, so does that mean they’ll know about the Tudors by the end of Year 7, even though we don’t do it till the start of Year 8?” Thirdly, much research often feels too remote from what teachers do: a teacher might happen to be interested in your quasi-Bernsteinian deconstruction of the normative semantics of curriculum, but chances are they are not. It is your responsibility to show teachers the relevance of your research, and not theirs to deduce it.

I am however convinced that educational research (and please look at my old post on how ‘education’ is not a discipline for what I mean by ‘educational research’) can be communicated well to teachers in a way that is empirical and relevant to practice. The list that follows is a bit of a selection of some blogs that I think do this well, although I have tried to include some where I think there is room for improvement.

Edu DataLab – 10/10

http://educationdatalab.org.uk

The research reported by Edu DataLab is primarily sociological in character (they essentially carry out quantitative analyses to address questions in the sociology of education), and they are particularly good on assessment data and what these can and cannot tell us. Each article is well-written, it does not over-simplify, and it uses clear graphics to communicate complex information. Although I do not think researchers can or should be ‘neutral’ on ethical questions (e.g. should we have grammar schools), I think the Edu DataLab do an excellent job of distilling what can be said empirically from that which cannot. If you wanted a model of how to communicate research to teachers and a broader audience, then this is it.

The Learning Scientists – 8/10

http://www.learningscientists.org

I really like the Learning Scientists: as far as psychology of education goes, you will not find a better organisation currently communicating with teachers. Most useful are the core resources on the blog, particularly their downloadable posters and slides. I have to deduct a point for the videos (this might just be British sense of humour failure…) and the guest blog posts are of varying quality, but for distilling psychological research into a clear take-away for teachers to use, this website is doing a pretty good job.

ResearchED – 7/10

http://www.researched.org.uk

ResearchED have probably done more than any other organisation in recent years to get teachers interested in research and the organisation’s strength rests on its conferences, which would probably score 9 or 10. Conferences of course can only ever involve a small proportion of teachers, and this is why a good online platform is essential, and this is something that ResearchED could do with developing further. There are lots of excellent materials available in the resources section of the ResearchED website, but these are not organised particularly helpfully, and so more could probably be done to help teachers find their way around.

Filling the Pail – 7/10

http://gregashman.wordpress.com

Greg Ashman’s blog is a fantastic resource. Greg is a scientist by training and it shows in his approach: his blog posts are very well referenced with numerous links to the studies he is citing, and he does an excellent job of distilling the findings from studies into something that will resonate with teachers. His blog is an excellent example of how ‘objective’ does not mean ‘neutral’, and he clearly takes a particular stance on things, although it is worth noting that he gives plenty of airtime to people with whom he disagrees. I’ve deducted points primarily because it can be difficult to find older posts: the blog is in desperate need of a ‘guide to this blog’ page!

Education Endowment Foundation – 4/10

http://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk

Given how much tax-payers money goes in to this organisation it would be good to see it ranking a bit higher, but I have a few issues with it. It does do a good job of sharing research findings and some of the reports are good and usually well-referenced. It loses points on a number of things, including over-simplification of categories (it tends to bundle similar or related studies under one heading and treat them as equivalent) and its preferred metric of additional months progress is highly misleading and, in some cases, not appropriate. Its emphasis is also on ‘intervention’ and, although it does publish some studies on ‘day-to-day’ things teachers might want to do, in practice it is not actually very helpful on this front.

BERA Blog – 3/10

http://www.bera.ac.uk/blog

Full credit goes to BERA for taking a first step towards communicating research from its members to a wider audience. This is something where the organisations does not have  a good track record. It must be said that most teachers will never have heard of BERA, let alone have attended its annual conference which, usually falling in the first week of the school year, is the worst possible time to attract teachers to engage with research. The blog is very much a step in the right direction, and its posts are often nice little vignettes, and some of the best are excellent summaries of an individual’s research. The blog is however incredibly eclectic, and some posts are little more than the political opinions of some academics. I am not a regular reader, but when I do drop by I read the most recent posts, and then conclude that I can probably visit again in six months to see what is new. It has the potential, but needs to develop its provision a lot further.

Picture: St Louis receives relics from Constantinople, Royal 16 G vi, f. 395. http://www.bl.uk/catalogues/illuminatedmanuscripts/TourHistoryVernac.asp

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4 Comments on Who is best at communicating research to teachers?

  1. Great list! Thank you for sharing. A lot to learn. I’ve just started trying to build a blog at http://www.kripasundar.com helping instructors convert research to their practice. I’d love your feedback.

  2. Somehow it seems Dan Willingham’s blog needs to be on this list. It is not specifically oriented towards communicating education research to teachers — but where it does this I think it does so very effectively, and within his own domain (cognitive science) he speaks with a great deal of authority and is more-or-less representative of the message of those within his field. He has a different scope than the Learning Scientists blog.

  3. Some suggestions:

    Three Star Learning Experiences: https://3starlearningexperiences.wordpress.com/
    This is the blog of Paul Kirschner and Mirjam Neelan.

    The Wing to Heaven: https://thewingtoheaven.wordpress.com/
    Daisy Christodoulou’s page.

    Trivium 21c: https://martinrobborobinson.wordpress.com/
    Martin Robinson’s page.

    Razor Blade in the Candy Floss: https://razorbladeinthecandyfloss.wordpress.com/
    UK teacher Maria’s excellent summary of some of the main pedagogical publications.

    Hack Education: http://hackeducation.com/
    Audrey Watter’s non-nonsense look at educational technology.

    Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practice: https://larrycuban.wordpress.com/
    Larry’s outstanding take as a long-time educator and researcher at Stanford.

    The Librarian Shipwreck: https://librarianshipwreck.wordpress.com/
    My favorite Luddite on the internet–erudite postings from a very well-read grad student in library studies.

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