I’m delighted to announce that Irresistible Learning: Embedding a culture of research in schools has made the shortlist of Learning Ladders’ ‘Best Books for Educators Summer 2021’ awards.
I was shortlisted alongside 40 other books from a longlist of over 100 entries for our dedication to enriching the lives of educators with our writing.
The awards panel featured teachers, school leaders, and EdTech entrepreneurs including Learning Ladders’ founder, Matt Koster-Marcon, who is also Chair of the EdTech Special Interest Group at BESA.
Educational books are a great CPD resource, providing inspiration, entertainment, and new ways of thinking about education.
I’m proud to be included in the list, and would also like to congratulate the other shortlisted books for their incredible work. Visit the full list of recommended books, which cover topics such as wellbeing, educational leadership, and diversity and inclusion in schools.
Research in schools empowers you to develop practice that can impact positively on your organisation. Whether you are part of the curriculum team working directly with students or the business teams working across a school or trust, research is affirming and can exemplify the effectiveness of new practice. Research can challenge existing practice and move the researcher to confront their own thinking and values. And it can also seek out fresh ideas to adapt current practice. Whatever the outcome, through research, you are led to carefully consider your next steps in adapting or affirming your own practice or influencing the wider practice of your teams.
In step 8 of the Research Cycle, now you have undertaken your research and shared it with others, you need to stop and ask yourself ‘So, what…?’
So, what… • did you find out relating to your research question? • did you not find out that you hoped to discover? • surprises did you discover along the way? • did you find that challenged or changed your own practice? • has changed in the progress of your students as a result of your research? • has changed in the relationships you have with your colleagues as a result of your research? • are the implications of your research for your team, school, organisation, network beyond the school? • has changed in you as a person as a result of this research project? • were the pitfalls in your research project that you will use to inform your next research cycle? • will be your next research question, knowing what you now know?
This leads to the key question relating to step 8 of the Research Cycle: • So, what will you do differently as a result of your research?
Now you have completed the analysis of data at step 6 of the Research Cycle, you are ready to share the key points you have discovered. It is important to be aware of step 7 in the Research Cycle at the outset of the research journey. In knowing that you will be required to present your research findings, you embark on the Research Cycle with a potential audience in mind, encouraging you to maintain the quality and integrity of your research as it unfolds. In short, by keeping the end point in mind, you recognise the importance of making your research accessible to your potential audience, whether this is your team leader, appraisal lead, colleagues, senior staff or colleagues beyond your own organisation.
There are many ways to share your research findings, such as a structured article to be published in an organisational research journal, a digital presentation or notes to support a verbal presentation to a group of colleagues. It is important that you take ownership of this step in the Research Cycle; in doing so, you will become increasingly confident about sharing your research findings with others.
Here are my key messages about sharing your research findings at step 7 of the Research Cycle:
• Produce a journal write-up for your research and encourage your organisation to produce its own research journal. • Use a blog as a vehicle to present your research findings and share new understanding. • Use digital presentation tools such as Microsoft PowerPoint and Prezi to share your research. If you are less confident in presenting live, then record a narrated presentation. • Record your voice or a video to present your research findings to a wider audience. • Present to a small group of colleagues if you are nervous presenting to larger groups in order to show what you’ve discovered and build your confidence in presenting. • A research poster can be a fun and engaging way to connect research findings with an audience.
Now you have gathered a rich array of data at step 5 of the Research Cycle, it is time to set to the task of analysing the findings. It is likely that you will have collected a wealth of raw data using your chosen research methodology. If you have used a range of research methodologies, your data may include transcripts from discussions or interviews, responses to questionnaires, recordings from class groups, diamond 9 pictures and accompanying notes. You now need to think carefully about deciding which data to analyse. You need to seek out the data that is helpful in answering your research question. The analysis of findings helps you search for patterns within the data gathered. Patterns within the data may be presented as similarities or differences, common occurrences, abnormalities or points of interest.
There are a range of strategies to help you analyse your data. Each strategy depends on your ability to eyeball the data. Eyeballing is a technique that, with practice, helps you to seek meaning from the data that is presented whether in numerical, graphical, pictorial, auditory or written form.
In order to strengthen your ability to eyeball data, you can ask the following critical questions as you examine the data and charts: • Stepping back from your data, what jumps out at you? • What are the prominent similarities in the data presented and why might this be the case? • What are the prominent differences in the data presented and why might this be the case? • What didn’t you expect to see in this data? • Does anything support your assumptions relating to your research question? • Does anything challenge your assumptions relating to your research question? • Is there anything in this chart that stands out as unusual or surprising? • Does your wider evidence base support or challenge what you see in this data? • Can you trust this data? Why? • Are there any other ways you can represent your data? Would a different chart help you see something new? • How does X affect Y? • Is there anything that you would have changed in your methodology now you have analysed this data
Here are my key points about analysis of data:
• Analysis is the art of unpacking or breaking down the data for analysis in order to bring clarity to what the data is saying. • Synthesis is the art of drawing together the many elements of data in order to form a conclusion. • Seek out data that is helpful in answering your research question. • Help define cause and effect within research through the use of a flow map. • Compare and contrast data using a double bubble map. • The tree map helps you sort data into categories. • While not essential in the analysis of data, words and images (qualitative data) can be turned into numbers (quantitative data) to broaden the analysis of the data. • Eyeballing is the process of reading and rereading data to seek for relevant patterns or anomalies in the data set. • Bar charts are helpful when comparing the frequency of a measurement across a range of variables. • The distribution chart uses a range rather than a single number in a data set, helping to group larger data sets into bite sized chunks of data that is easier to interpret. • Pie charts are helpful when presenting data relating to the frequency of one numerical variable against a categorical variable. • Percentage component bar charts compare percentage responses across multiple sets of data. • A spider or radar chart presents data visually showing the relative scale of response on a common scale for a range of variables. • Line charts are helpful when interpreting data at a range of points in time. • Scatter charts group data to present patterns when looking at two scaled variables. • When analysing the data, you must hold your assumptions lightly in order to allow the data to tell the story of research. • Be alert to your own conscious or unconscious bias in your analysis and when answering your research question.
By step 5 of the Research Cycle, you have considered and refined your research question, building a broadening understanding of your research issue. It is now time to think about the most helpful research methodology to answer your research question. You need to develop an awareness of the range of research methods available to you in order to select the best method, or methods, to explore your research question.
In pursuing your research methodology, you can choose to collect data through a single research method, or combine a range of research methods. It is important to understand the theory behind research methodology. This will help you to define the type of methodology that will help to answer your research question. Theories such as qualitative and quantitative research, longitudinal research, single study research, microgenetic research, cross-sectional research, design experiments, action research and the mosaic approach. In understanding the theoretical basis for research, you can select your approach to research with confidence along with the practical tools for research.
Here are the key theories that underpin step 5 in the Research Cycle:
Qualitative research involves numerical data.
Quantitative research involves non-numerical data, this could include words or pictures/images.
Longitudinal research looks at how things change over time.
Single study research focuses on one participant (or sometimes a limited number of participants) in detail.
Microgenetic research is a form of study where the subject is observed during a period of rapid learning or change.
Cross-sectional research, unlike longitudinal research, collects data on students of different ages or developmental levels at the same time.
Design experiments allow the researcher to design their own parameters of research to test out their own hypothesis.
Action research critically examines one’s own practice and then make changes to practice based on the research findings.
The mosaic approach (Clark, 2005) was devised as a tool to gain the thoughts and perspectives of young children in research using a range of research tools.
Clark, A. (2005). Beyond Listening: Children’s perspectives on early childhood services. The Policy Press.
In step 4 of the Research Cycle, you are encouraged to bring your knowledge of what is already known about your research issue to look afresh at the research question formed in step 1 of the Research Cycle. At this step in your research, you have defined an issue, built a research question then spent time reviewing what is already know about your research question. This will have moved your thinking forward and as such, it is a great point to stop and think about your original research question. With what you now know, is your question still the right question for you and your organisation or do you need to adapt it or completely change it?
Here are my top tips at step 4 of the Research Cycle as you think about reviewing your research question:
• Ensure the original research question is still relevant and will lead you to find out something new about your practice or the practice of others. • Consider the end point of research and confirm that the research question will help you to this end. • Ask again: is the research question relevant to your roles and responsibilities? • Based on the new knowledge discovered at step 3, don’t be afraid to jump back to step 1 or step 2 of the Research Cycle to ensure the issue is clearly defined and the research question is purposeful for you and your organisation.
In the cacophony of our daily lives in school, there is often a great deal of distracting noise. Not simply from the students we teach but from the myriad of unresolved tasks that fill our minds. In order to take the first step on the research journey, we must try our hardest to reduce this noise. We need to help ourselves as researchers to focus on the issues we face and to move beyond what Daniel Kahneman would call ‘lazy’ or ‘fast thinking’ (Kahneman, 2011). It would be easy to think of an issue we face and accept our first and most present thought, especially if our working memory is filled to capacity. However, while this most pressing issue may be relevant to the moment, it may not be at the heart of the systemic issue that affects our practice.
In order to define the issue worthy of research, both the time and place for thinking need to be considered. We need to subdue the distracting noise that we face in school, enabling our cognitive load to reduce and finding space in our working memory to think.
The starting point to help mute this organisational noise is to find a quiet spot, away from your usual routine, to have a coaching conversation. In creating the uninterrupted place to have a conversation that goes beyond fast thinking, you are afforded the space to find a meaningful issue that could evolve into an engaging research question. This place should be beyond distraction, be a treasured time for you and your research coach, and be a regular entitlement for you and all staff in school.
Once you have found that space and time, here are my top tips for defining the right issue to help you form a purposeful research question:
• Find time to meet with a research coach to still the distracting noise, enabling you to think about the professional issues you face. • Use appreciative inquiry to help you recognise strengths in your practice that can inform your research question. • Think slow in order to go beyond your initial thoughts and ideas. • Address your own assumptions and biases related to your research issue. • Meet with a research coach who will ask questions to encourage you to think, while allowing you to own your issue without being strong-armed into research that may lack relevance to you. • Funnel down the issues you face and focus on one relevant and accessible issue that is purposeful to your professional roles and responsibilities.
Once you have defined your research question, it is time to move on to discover what is already known in this area. Research comes more naturally to teachers in their early careers as they return to practice learnt while at university. For many school staff, however, this may not be a natural step, and some may need guidance in how to review relevant literature and information about their issue. If your research question is to have meaning and purpose in your organisation then you need to find out how your research question, or issues relating to it, has been raised by others. This will help you to deepen your understanding of the issues that orbit your research question and will help you to refine your question. During this step of the Research Cycle, you may learn about difficulties others had in researching in this area or you may confirm that there has been limited research around your issue. This step is really important but it is one that the researcher in school often omits as they are keen to get going on their research methodology. It is important to slow down and reach out to as many sources of information relating to your research question as possible.
As a researcher, you need patience, time and talk. Patience, as you don’t want to rush headlong into planning your research methodology before you know what you are doing. Time, as you will need to fit your review into your busy working week. Talk, as you will need to talk to your research coach about the issues that arise from your review of what is known. All this builds what Dimmock (2019) refers to as a ‘professional learning community’ where a school creates the space where patience, time and talk rests.
Here are my top tips for reviewing what is known about your field of research:
• Finding out what is known about an issue is not research, but rather one of eight important steps in the Research Cycle. • In order to build a purposeful and helpful research question, you need to find out what is already known about your issue. • Professional learning communities and research buddies can be really helpful in connecting with other researchers with similar research questions to share knowledge about what is known about the research question. • Speaking to colleagues who have key knowledge and skills relating to the research question can provide a wealth of helpful context to the research, but be sure to plan the conversation carefully in order to ensure it helps you learn more about the context of your research question. • Consider speaking to colleagues beyond your organisation in order to gain insight into the context of your research question • Books are a helpful resource to the researcher, but be alert to author bias. • Approach journals that are relevant to your research question, read the abstract, read the conclusion, read the article and follow relevant references to broaden your knowledge of what is known. • Use websites and social media to learn more of what is known about your research question, but be aware of the limitations as some published material will not have been subject to deep scrutiny. • Consider joining relevant professional associations, particularly if they provide access to journals as a resource. • Think critically when approaching what is known about your field of study. Remember to beware – think fair – take care or to think FIRST. • Strive to understand the influence of conscious or unconscious cognitive bias in both yourself and the work of others.
A research poster is a simple yet engaging way to present research findings in a format that is easy to digest. Using the format of the journal article, the poster allows the researcher to present their findings in a way that can be browsed by colleagues. The poster can also be a reference tool for the researcher to use during a presentation to a small group of colleagues. I have used research posters as a marketplace of ideas during a presentation of research. In the marketplace, the research posters are mounted on easels around the room so that staff can wander amongst them and discuss their content.
I ran a research project with a group of middle leaders across ten primary schools. The final stage of the project was to share the research findings and the researchers gave a two-minute presentation to the delegates from their schools. This was followed with a marketplace of the ten research projects where the research posters were used as a talking point for each researcher as delegates wandered freely around the hall. The casual atmosphere of the marketplace allowed staff to pose questions to the researchers about their research posters and gain a deeper perspective about the research undertaken.
Here are some tips for creating an effective research poster, adapted from NYU Libraries (2020):
• Think about your audience and design your poster with them in mind. • Make your font size readable from a comfortable distance away from your poster. • Grab your readers with a clear title/research question. • Limit your words to keep your reader engaged and to be precise in what you are communicating Use bullets, numbering, and headlines to make it easy to read. • Think about your graphics and colours to enhance your poster rather than distract the reader. • Include logos from your organisation. • Remember to put your name on the piece. • Include references used in step 3 of the Research Cycle. • Share your poster with a colleague/coach to make sure it is easy to interpret.
Here is an example of a research poster produced by two teaching assistants whose research question was, ‘Can a nurture approach support pupils with complex needs to improve their behaviours?’:
While this poster does not share the detail of the research undertaken, it allowed the researchers to share the key steps in the Research Cycle. In displaying this in a research poster, the researchers were able to talk through each step with colleagues. While this poster is not a perfect example of a research poster, I have included it to give you an idea of the form a research poster could take. My advice is to be playful and use the Research Cycle to help structure your poster.
Staff often enjoy creating research posters as it allows for creative flair. The posters can be produced digitally using programs such as Microsoft Publisher or PowerPoint or by a simple cut-and-paste onto A1 card backing.
NYU Libraries. (2020, July). NYU Libraries. Retrieved from How to create a research poster: http://www.bit.ly/3eGuG5N Accessed: March 2021
The gingerbread man method uses the image of a gingerbread man as a reference for the research discussion and looks at four key elements in the participant. The method considers the participant’s knowledge, skills, values and experience. Similar to the triangle method, the gingerbread man can give the researcher a helpful framework for a research conversation with a participant.
As an example, a music subject leader in a primary school exploring how teaching assistants support pupils in music lessons starts by asking a teaching assistant, ‘What do you know about classical music?’ The researcher may then move straight to the experience of the participant and ask, ‘Have you ever heard a live classical performance?’ The skills of the teaching assistant are then explored through the question, ‘Can you play an instrument?’ or further to this, ‘Have you ever played a brass instrument?’ The final element of the gingerbread man will then ask the participant about their values and could be represented by the question, ‘What music do you love to listen to and why?’ The data gathered from the gingerbread man method helps the researcher to gain an understanding of the underpinning musical knowledge, skills, values and experience of teaching assistants in their school and can then be compared with how this impacts on the effectiveness of the support given to pupils in music lessons.
The gingerbread man image can be used to write key words or phrases from the respondents. Each gingerbread man can then be analysed for similarities and differences between the respondents, building a broader picture of evidence for your analysis of data.