By Ian Hadden
ResearchED is getting big. A ‘grassroots movement’ started by a former teacher, it aims to bridge the gap between research and practice in education. Since I’m researching how simple, well-timed social psychological interventions can help kids from low-income families thrive at school, I went along to their London event last September see what it was all about. That is, me and an awful lot of other delegates. On a Saturday. Standing room only.
There were some well-known names, but the main draw was the hundred-or-so school practitioners, educational policymakers and academics who presented parallel sessions in seven slots throughout the day.
The impressive Eleanor Stringer and Elena Rosa Brown of the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) was my first slot. The EEF has some chunky money to commission research into improving outcomes for kids from low-income families, and I took away two pieces of good news. Firstly, they’ve recently begun to expand their focus to cover well-being and non-cognitive skills as well as their original aim of increasing educational attainment. I think this is good news for everyone, and of special interest to me as one of my areas of research is looking at how non-cognitive skills can drive not only educational attainment but also employability. Secondly, they told us that a new focus for them is packaging academic research in ways that are of practical use in schools using guidance reports. They’re aware that this is a big challenge and it’s very positive that they’re starting on the journey.
Three other slots were highlights for me.
Firstly, Stephen Gorard of the University of Durham gave some shocking examples of poor education research that had somehow found their way into peer-reviewed journals. While he offered a handy guide to sifting the solid from the flaky, the talk underlined the need for trusted intermediaries between research and practice – organisations like the EEF and TES.
Secondly, Carl Hendrick and Robin MacPherson from Wellington College highlighted practical evidence-based ideas for effective teaching: Barak Rosenshine’s principles of instruction and Robert Bjork’s desirable difficulties were the standouts for me that I need to look into. The emphasis, in this talk and more generally in the conference, was on the cognitive side (dual coding, cognitive load etc.), and I see opportunities for social psychology to get more of a profile in future conferences.
Finally, Robin Launder worked the audience like a pro with Theo Wubbels’ research into teacher-student relationships, ending on a high with a video of Ian Wright meeting an inspirational teacher from his schooldays. Eyes welled, mine included.
ResearchED might not be widely known, but it seems to me that it’s generating valuable debate in two of education’s big challenges: how can practitioners and policymakers identify high quality relevant research, and how can they then apply it to classroom practice? These are tough questions, and ones to which our team here at Sussex is focused on making a contribution within our field of social psychology.
To finish, a nice practical tip. According to Carl Hendrick, one teacher asked Dylan Wiliam about his advice that feedback should be more work for the receiver than for the giver. “How does that work in practice with maths homework?” Wiliam’s answer: don’t mark what’s right and what’s wrong, instead tell the student how many answers are wrong and ask them to figure out which ones.
Now that sounds like a great recipe for developing high-quality researchers for the next generation.
Ian Hadden is a doctoral researcher looking at how simple, well-timed social psychological interventions can help school students from low-income families see school as a place where they belong and can thrive. The interventions aim to help students reframe everyday experiences as normal, rather than evidence that “kids like me” don’t belong in school