Shireland Collegiate Academy in the West Midlands has developed an impressive range of projects based around technology. This work has been supported by the West Midlands Examinations Board Fund.
The projects show the academy’s approach to using digital solutions to investigate and improve teaching and learning. Other schools and colleges across the region have learnt from this approach.
Through their close collaboration with this work, OCR’s subject teams have developed resources to help other schools and teachers. These include guidance on flipped learning, based on the findings of the Shireland projects.
Teachers are often keen to learn from other schools’ classroom-based research, but then find it doesn’t have the same impact that they read about in the research.
This can be because the school takes a key concept and applies it wholesale, hoping for maximum impact with minimum effort. Unfortunately, this strategy usually doesn’t pay off – instead, it makes teachers and education leaders cynical about the value of research.
Here, we offer some thoughts on how you might apply principles from research in a new context.
Too often, teachers make changes they have read about without really understanding why the changes were effective. For example, providing learners with water to drink, playing music during a lesson, or using a particular teaching technique. If they don’t know what results to expect, or if they are unrealistic about the outcome, the changes are unlikely to succeed.
The solution is to use existing data, or collect new data, to identify and prioritise the areas you want to focus on. Define the scope of your work, and make clear the problem you want to solve. Focussing on a specific group of students in a limited context will work best. For example, ‘I want my most challenging year 10 boys to sustain their effort when faced with a tough question’.
We hope you’ll find something in our research projects that will help with your problem, but if not, there are plenty of others out there. You could also contact another school with a similar demographic or need, and ask them what they’re doing that works.
Think about how to gauge impact and how you will define success. Remember to consider qualitative data – such as student feedback, confidence measures or attendance at parents’ evenings – as well as quantitative.
For accurate analysis, we recommend that you compare two groups of students, where one group receives the intervention and the other doesn’t. It’s best if any tests are anonymised and marked blind – if possible by someone who doesn’t teach either group.
Of course, it’s vital to consider ethics. Think about:
At this stage, it’s time for your own implementation. Make sure you keep focus and limit the timescale. Collect enough evidence to assess the impact of the project and think about what’s working. Once you have some evidence, take a step back and reflect on your project. Ask some key questions of your data:
What’s happening? Is it what I expected or not? Why/why not?
Should I keep going as planned, or should I try something slightly different? Is my research question still the same?
Once you’ve completed your research cycle, look at the evidence you’ve gathered, and question what it tells you. Did your project have the impact expected? Do you know why? Was it for the reasons you expected? How do you know? You may want to gather more data, or you may feel it’s time to extend your project to another group, or to get another colleague on board.
If evidence suggests that your original objectives haven’t been met, you may need to improve the process, or think of a better strategy. Remember though, that if you haven’t seen an impact, it may be because of factors you haven’t considered, or simply because it’s not appropriate in this context. In some cases, the process may be working, but the research hasn’t managed to detect results. With small numbers in one school, this can easily happen.
After a trial period, some innovative methods can stall and end up being limited to one teacher or one small group. Discuss your work with colleagues, and help them consider how they could put it into practice. Consider whether other staff may need training to improve their confidence. Make sure you have clear expectations, and monitor carefully to move the technique into normal working practices.