Recently there has been a flurry of interest in improving the evidence base for classroom teaching. Ben Goldacre was asked to investigate the use of evidence in education by Michael Gove (and whether the mention of Michael Gove and evidence in education in the same sentence raises your eyebrows or not) Ben Goldacre’s report raises some important issues.
Goldacre suggests the use of Randomised Controlled Trials, a technique which has been successfully used in medicine. Marc Smith in the Guardian and teacher Andrew Old in his blog both ponder whether RCTs are the best way to conduct research in the classroom, but both agree that making teaching a more evidence based profession is a good thing. Another Guardian piece, this time by school governor Jon Butterworth (who also happens to be a Professor of Physics) also commended a more evidence based approach to teaching.
All of this presents a huge challenge to teachers. Teaching is hard. Imagine how you feel before a major presentation, how much preparation you put in, how you feel before you walk before your audience. That is what teaching is like, but you have 4 or 5 presentations every day. And marking and assessments to do afterwards, before you plan the next day. It doesn’t leave much time for planning or implementing research, or even reading about the research that others have done. In my 10 years of teaching I don’t recall ever seeing an academic journal in the music office, or having research recommended to me. Disappointingly I never went looking for the research myself either.
In teachers defence it is hard to get the research. Academic journals are expensive and not all schools will pay for your subscription. While you do your teacher training you have access to academic libraries, but as soon as you finish so does your access to academic libraries. Until open access becomes a reality it is hard to be a research aware teacher.
I am now a librarian and recently at a conference I heard from a health librarian who is taking her health library resources out to the ward round to help doctors make evidence based decisions at the bedside (read more in my blog post or see more about her job on the hospital webpage). It started me thinking, if we think doctors and nurses deserve access to specialist library resources to help them develop evidence based practice, why not teachers?
The issues with school libraries are well known. It seems shocking to me that not all schools have libraries or librarians (it is a legal requirement for a prison to have a library, but not a school). Where schools do have libraries, qualified librarians have to constantly justify their position and many schools replace skilled librarians with part-time TAs and see the school library as just an adjunct of the English department. Evidence based practice could be a huge opportunity for school librarians to become more central to the school and provide services to teacher researchers alongside the hugely valuable services they already provide to pupils. Alternatively is it an opportunity for academic librarians to extend their services to teachers after they leave the university? Universities that offer teacher training are often keen to tie schools in to them so they will offer placements to their students. Could use of academic libraries become part of the offer?
Or is there another way to engage teachers with the latest research material? My husband is a Senior Lecturer in education. The continuing engagement of teachers with professional development material has troubled him since at a teachers’ meeting he was shocked that many didn’t know about an iminent change to education. He was also concerned that his current students had a limited connection to wider religious education issues. He considered how he could connect with busy teachers and students and began to use twitter. Tweeting as @PabloPedantic and using the hashtag #REatEH he began tweeting links to useful educational resources, research and articles. Through his own research he has been able to demonstrate an improved awareness amongst students. His followers include former students and a wider community of teachers who also benefit from his tweets.
At the recent LILAC conference on Information Literacy a tweet from Steve Wheeler’s presentation read “Alan Carbery @acarbery. @timbuckteeth says twitter has done more for his CPD than years of Grad SChool, formal education#lilac13“. Perhaps twitter as a way of pushing forward the right information to people at the right time is the way forward, and there is an obvious role here for librarians.
If teaching is to become a more evidence based profession there needs to be a revolution in how teachers create, access, assess and use research. As librarians we need to find how best we can develop our services to so that we become an integral part of facilititing this change.