Research-Informed Teaching

How can schools embrace research-informed teaching methods to better meet the needs of their students? Find out how in this comprehensive article on pedagogy and classroom learning.

Course Enquiry

What is research-informed teaching? 

Education institutions are always grappling with efficient ways of delivering teacher professional development, and as a sector, we are becoming more comfortable with the notion of research-informed teaching. Due to the time constraints and workload on the teaching profession, we must be sure that there is a clear link between teaching practice and student learning.

Healey (2007) describes Research-informed teaching as the different ways in which practitioners are exposed to research content and activity during their careers. By linking research and teaching to form our individual practice we are developing critical thinking, networking skills and our own pedagogy.

Research-informed practice is something that is very current in education. At a FE and HE level, it is about supporting a culture of enquiry to support all aspects of teaching. At a school-based level, it is about implementing strategies to support inclusive teaching and learning. This article seeks to identify some of the issues related to implementing research-informed practice.

As educators, time is always an issue to undertake research or indeed read current research. Institutional policy and the promotion of pedagogy are also issues that often inhibit research-informed practice. However, we also need to be mindful of what the research is telling us about our practice and the implications for our own pedagogy. Through defining and exploring the issues of utilizing research to support practice there are many questions that arise, such as:

  • Can it support my practice? 
  • Is it just a fad and soon to be outdated? 
  • If I invest time in implementing this idea or pedagogical practice, will I benefit or indeed my learners
  • Which knowledge base should I base my academic practice on?
  • Will my change in teaching practice be likely to have a long-term impact on student learning?

 

Can research support pedagogical content knowledge?

Our own individual research can take on many forms, from action research groups to self-reflection or just individuals trying to answer the why did that happen question in their daily dealings with students. Working in a teaching team can also provide us with new perspectives on what is sometimes quite a private practice.

Reflection on the quality of teaching, then, is an integral part of research-informed teaching as we examine its worth to us, to our learners and to the end goal of completing and compiling assessed results to show our effectiveness as teachers.   

In essence, it is about how existing research and evidence on teaching practice underpins curriculum content and how it contributes to our own pedagogical content knowledge. This might be using our own research findings or the research outputs of others, taking the form of large or small research projects and, in some instances, action learning sets. 

Research-based education can improve student learning, for example, Barak Rosenshine’s 10 principles of instruction. First published in 2012 based on extensive research into cognitive science and classroom practices, they are now a staple in many teachers’ practice.

They encourage teachers to review previous learning daily, provide models and worked examples for new knowledge to build on and integrate both collective and independent learning into their pedagogy. These principles have been shown to strengthen recall of the information students need across educational contexts

However, despite the recognition of its usefulness, truly research-informed policy and practice remain far from reality as OECD (2020) research shows. Gorard (2020) identifies that despite over 20 years of modest improvement in research on what works in education policy and practice, the evidence on how best to deploy these findings is still very weak.

We consider studies in terms of several issues, including whether they look at changes in user knowledge and behaviour or student outcomes, and how evidence is modified before use. This means that in terms of improving practice in our education system, we do not actively employ new ideas but add to our practice with the best bits from what we have read or heard.

Teachers are often encouraged to adopt new ideas that advance student learning and are described by promoters as evidence-based, but they have no way of knowing if this is true. The label ‘evidence-based’ has itself become contentious as a term.

Barriers to undertaking education research and its application to the classroom

Paul Mclennan (2016) outlines the following issues that often, as practitioners, we do apply research to our own practice due to the academic papers not being accessible enough to readers. Reading academic materials is a skill that has to be taught and one that is not always practised once a degree has been attained.

Another problem is not seeing the relevance to own practice from the course material presented. As practitioners, we often fall into the mindset of I have been doing this successfully, so why change it? A final problem is not having the time to read research during a busy teaching week. 

A key problem in educational research is that educational stakeholders such as policy-makers, practitioner bodies and senior researchers agreed reasonably well that education research is not good enough for real-life impact (Taylor & Gorard, 2002).

This was argued from the standpoint of a shortage of ‘quantitative’ skills,  and limited attention paid to causal links from small-scale research leading to the problem of poor quality, largely unusable education research (Hazell, 2019)

Research informed teaching
Research informed teaching

Improving student learning by applying research-informed teaching strategies

Tony Harland (2000) writes about the benefits of this approach, saying that this approach equips us with the skills, opportunities and environment to engage in disciplinary and interdisciplinary research and research-led teaching.

He argues that to be effective, there needs to be a culture embedded in an institution that drives a research agenda. Engaging in a research network or having a peer discussion on research-informed teaching is an excellent way to develop and expand our existing teacher networks, support our reflective skills and develop pedagogy.

Catherine Hobbs (2022) argues we hear a lot about the vital links between research and the quality of teaching with the argument frequently made in order to deliver high-quality higher education, whereby in order to deliver high-quality higher education, it must be taught by research-active staff.

But how, in practice, does this play out? Very often, HE staff are encouraged to undertake research to enable them to deliver industry, relevant content to their students. However, this academic viewpoint should not be confined to the realms of Universities.

Equally important is the need for practitioners to daily question their practice, seek out evidence on teaching progress and upskill themselves on a regular basis to enable them to provide the best inclusive and engaging experiences for their students.

There is some excellent literature out there on the relationship between research and teaching [Brew, 2007]. From a HE perspective, there are many positives to research, which include:

  • Co-creation with students –  posing interesting questions and seeking out the answers through existing literature, experiment and exploration. This type of practice can be included in a project students can guide and use to explore the links between teaching methodologies and the impact on student learning outcomes.
  • Sharing research skills with our students – not just the basics of literature review, quantitative and qualitative analysis, but the concepts of formulating good questions and being rigorous in answering them. This is a great way of putting teaching principles under the microscope.
  • Sharing the creative process of research with students – helping them to understand that not all knowledge is already known and that what they read in a textbook may represent a highly refined description of what took years of research to establish.
  • Supporting students to understand that through research activities, they are building skills that can apply in all aspects of teaching.

From a classroom perspective, using research can inform how we interact with our students and what pedagogy we use to engage and motivate students. Popular methods of teaching and innovative strategies can be accurately examined, and their efficacy is called into question. Integral to exploring evidence on teaching is the following principles:

  • Learning is about the relationship between student and teacher in the learning environment;
  • Learning takes place best when it involves reflection, self-assessment and metacognitive awareness;
  • Motivation, readiness, and emotion all play a role in learning;
  • Learning is enhanced when organized around essential ideas and concepts of the disciplines;
  • Learning takes place best in context;
  • Deep learning occurs when students can apply learning to new situations.

Using research to inform teaching
Using research to inform teaching

 

How does evidence on teaching support student learning?

As practitioners, we should ensure that each student reaches his or her learning potential, which is a particularly challenging undertaking given the wide range of abilities and linguistic and cultural backgrounds we find in our classrooms.

This is where the research-informed practice is useful. If we are to, therefore, the needs of learners and respond to the nature of learning itself, then research in education and other related disciplines should inform pedagogical practice.

There are many aspects of teaching that are not research involved. Education is full of customs and cultural nuances that will remain part of school life. With regard to subject delivery, the quality of teaching is paramount for promoting deep knowledge. Without utilising evidence on teaching strategies, instructional practice remains blind.

Excellence in teaching comes from a deep conceptual understanding of pedagogical knowledge and its application. By combining classroom experience and evidence-informed teaching principles, we can continue to build a profession that values education research and development.

 

What teaching principles should we be using?

As practitioners, we are taught in our training to undergo reflection to enhance our practice. We are also exposed to a variety of theorists to support our early career development. However, linking theory to practice is a skill to learn and develop (Stenberg et al (2016).

Larrivee (2000) argues that we should be supported to understand the rationalities of the ways we teach rather than accepting the status quo. We should be careful and mindful that the research we use and undertake is current to our practice. Using a de-colonization lens will support us to develop our enquiry to not just use 'Deadman or white men to inform practice.

Therefore as part of our research, we should consider the relevance of what we are using in our classrooms. One of the reasons that research is not readily used is that it is constantly changing and that in Britain, we do readily invest in our teacher's pedagogy in comparison to some of our European and Scandinavian counterparts. Such ideas as learning styles, cognitive load, and growth mindset have all had publicity within education but have all lost favour with educationalists.

When looking at research we should be mindful of its currency and longevity. In some instances, evidence research may mean that the users’ actions are in accord with the evidence rather than employing the full research findings, leading to a watered-down version of the research being applied. This may mean that then nothing is done or practice may be modified slightly, or be incorporated into educational institutional practices e.g the use of synthetic phonics.

Framework for using research to inform teaching
Framework for using research to inform teaching

 

Embracing evidence on teaching strategies

If teachers begin to reflect upon their own experiences and discuss with their peers, ways of applying research to understand and resolve issues e.g reading comprehension, their practice will be enhanced. Similarly, by attending courses, practitioners are taught by an expert with a wealth of knowledge about specific research to share and learn from this will also enhance their practice.

It must be acknowledged that in order to be successful this needs to be a whole organizational activity. Otherwise, the research will be lost, and new practices not embedded into the classroom. As a society, we need to use the best evidence available in the most effective way possible.

This is a practical and conceptual issue with implications beyond education, as large amounts of public money are still being spent around the world on education initiatives that have no basis in evidence, little chance of working, and are continued even when their ineffectiveness has been revealed.

If your school is at the beginning of a journey of using evidence on teaching systematically, then we would strongly recommend signing up for our weekly newsletter that covers all aspects of research-led teaching. It might also be that your institution has been researching different methods of teaching, and you would like to showcase your findings to a wider population. Please do get in touch if you have any research-informed practice that you would like to showcase.

 

References

Baldwin, G. (2005). The teaching–research nexus: how research informs and enhances learning and teaching in the University of Melbourne. Melbourne: University of Melbourne.

Brew, A, (2007 “Research and Teaching: beyond the divide”

Griffiths, R. (2004). Knowledge production and the research–teaching nexus: the case of the built environment disciplines. Studies in Higher Education, 29(6), 709–726.

Harland t  & Staniforth d  (2000) Action research: a culturally acceptable path to professional learning for university teachers? Educational Action Research, 8:3, 499-514, 

Hobbs C, Armitage J, Hood B, Jelbert S. A systematic review of the effect of university positive psychology courses on student psychological wellbeing. Front Psychol. 2022 Nov 15;13:1

Larrivee B (2000) transforming Teaching practice: Becoming the critically reflective teacher .Reflective Parctice1 (3)

Nassem, E. (2018) Bullying is still rife in schools. Here's how teachers can tackle it. The Guardian Teacher Network: Lessons from Research.

Stenberg.K, Rajala A. and Hilppo J  92016) Fostering theory practice reflection in teaching practicums. Asia Journal of teacher education 44:5

 

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Classroom Practice

What is research-informed teaching? 

Education institutions are always grappling with efficient ways of delivering teacher professional development, and as a sector, we are becoming more comfortable with the notion of research-informed teaching. Due to the time constraints and workload on the teaching profession, we must be sure that there is a clear link between teaching practice and student learning.

Healey (2007) describes Research-informed teaching as the different ways in which practitioners are exposed to research content and activity during their careers. By linking research and teaching to form our individual practice we are developing critical thinking, networking skills and our own pedagogy.

Research-informed practice is something that is very current in education. At a FE and HE level, it is about supporting a culture of enquiry to support all aspects of teaching. At a school-based level, it is about implementing strategies to support inclusive teaching and learning. This article seeks to identify some of the issues related to implementing research-informed practice.

As educators, time is always an issue to undertake research or indeed read current research. Institutional policy and the promotion of pedagogy are also issues that often inhibit research-informed practice. However, we also need to be mindful of what the research is telling us about our practice and the implications for our own pedagogy. Through defining and exploring the issues of utilizing research to support practice there are many questions that arise, such as:

  • Can it support my practice? 
  • Is it just a fad and soon to be outdated? 
  • If I invest time in implementing this idea or pedagogical practice, will I benefit or indeed my learners
  • Which knowledge base should I base my academic practice on?
  • Will my change in teaching practice be likely to have a long-term impact on student learning?

 

Can research support pedagogical content knowledge?

Our own individual research can take on many forms, from action research groups to self-reflection or just individuals trying to answer the why did that happen question in their daily dealings with students. Working in a teaching team can also provide us with new perspectives on what is sometimes quite a private practice.

Reflection on the quality of teaching, then, is an integral part of research-informed teaching as we examine its worth to us, to our learners and to the end goal of completing and compiling assessed results to show our effectiveness as teachers.   

In essence, it is about how existing research and evidence on teaching practice underpins curriculum content and how it contributes to our own pedagogical content knowledge. This might be using our own research findings or the research outputs of others, taking the form of large or small research projects and, in some instances, action learning sets. 

Research-based education can improve student learning, for example, Barak Rosenshine’s 10 principles of instruction. First published in 2012 based on extensive research into cognitive science and classroom practices, they are now a staple in many teachers’ practice.

They encourage teachers to review previous learning daily, provide models and worked examples for new knowledge to build on and integrate both collective and independent learning into their pedagogy. These principles have been shown to strengthen recall of the information students need across educational contexts

However, despite the recognition of its usefulness, truly research-informed policy and practice remain far from reality as OECD (2020) research shows. Gorard (2020) identifies that despite over 20 years of modest improvement in research on what works in education policy and practice, the evidence on how best to deploy these findings is still very weak.

We consider studies in terms of several issues, including whether they look at changes in user knowledge and behaviour or student outcomes, and how evidence is modified before use. This means that in terms of improving practice in our education system, we do not actively employ new ideas but add to our practice with the best bits from what we have read or heard.

Teachers are often encouraged to adopt new ideas that advance student learning and are described by promoters as evidence-based, but they have no way of knowing if this is true. The label ‘evidence-based’ has itself become contentious as a term.

Barriers to undertaking education research and its application to the classroom

Paul Mclennan (2016) outlines the following issues that often, as practitioners, we do apply research to our own practice due to the academic papers not being accessible enough to readers. Reading academic materials is a skill that has to be taught and one that is not always practised once a degree has been attained.

Another problem is not seeing the relevance to own practice from the course material presented. As practitioners, we often fall into the mindset of I have been doing this successfully, so why change it? A final problem is not having the time to read research during a busy teaching week. 

A key problem in educational research is that educational stakeholders such as policy-makers, practitioner bodies and senior researchers agreed reasonably well that education research is not good enough for real-life impact (Taylor & Gorard, 2002).

This was argued from the standpoint of a shortage of ‘quantitative’ skills,  and limited attention paid to causal links from small-scale research leading to the problem of poor quality, largely unusable education research (Hazell, 2019)

Research informed teaching
Research informed teaching

Improving student learning by applying research-informed teaching strategies

Tony Harland (2000) writes about the benefits of this approach, saying that this approach equips us with the skills, opportunities and environment to engage in disciplinary and interdisciplinary research and research-led teaching.

He argues that to be effective, there needs to be a culture embedded in an institution that drives a research agenda. Engaging in a research network or having a peer discussion on research-informed teaching is an excellent way to develop and expand our existing teacher networks, support our reflective skills and develop pedagogy.

Catherine Hobbs (2022) argues we hear a lot about the vital links between research and the quality of teaching with the argument frequently made in order to deliver high-quality higher education, whereby in order to deliver high-quality higher education, it must be taught by research-active staff.

But how, in practice, does this play out? Very often, HE staff are encouraged to undertake research to enable them to deliver industry, relevant content to their students. However, this academic viewpoint should not be confined to the realms of Universities.

Equally important is the need for practitioners to daily question their practice, seek out evidence on teaching progress and upskill themselves on a regular basis to enable them to provide the best inclusive and engaging experiences for their students.

There is some excellent literature out there on the relationship between research and teaching [Brew, 2007]. From a HE perspective, there are many positives to research, which include:

  • Co-creation with students –  posing interesting questions and seeking out the answers through existing literature, experiment and exploration. This type of practice can be included in a project students can guide and use to explore the links between teaching methodologies and the impact on student learning outcomes.
  • Sharing research skills with our students – not just the basics of literature review, quantitative and qualitative analysis, but the concepts of formulating good questions and being rigorous in answering them. This is a great way of putting teaching principles under the microscope.
  • Sharing the creative process of research with students – helping them to understand that not all knowledge is already known and that what they read in a textbook may represent a highly refined description of what took years of research to establish.
  • Supporting students to understand that through research activities, they are building skills that can apply in all aspects of teaching.

From a classroom perspective, using research can inform how we interact with our students and what pedagogy we use to engage and motivate students. Popular methods of teaching and innovative strategies can be accurately examined, and their efficacy is called into question. Integral to exploring evidence on teaching is the following principles:

  • Learning is about the relationship between student and teacher in the learning environment;
  • Learning takes place best when it involves reflection, self-assessment and metacognitive awareness;
  • Motivation, readiness, and emotion all play a role in learning;
  • Learning is enhanced when organized around essential ideas and concepts of the disciplines;
  • Learning takes place best in context;
  • Deep learning occurs when students can apply learning to new situations.

Using research to inform teaching
Using research to inform teaching

 

How does evidence on teaching support student learning?

As practitioners, we should ensure that each student reaches his or her learning potential, which is a particularly challenging undertaking given the wide range of abilities and linguistic and cultural backgrounds we find in our classrooms.

This is where the research-informed practice is useful. If we are to, therefore, the needs of learners and respond to the nature of learning itself, then research in education and other related disciplines should inform pedagogical practice.

There are many aspects of teaching that are not research involved. Education is full of customs and cultural nuances that will remain part of school life. With regard to subject delivery, the quality of teaching is paramount for promoting deep knowledge. Without utilising evidence on teaching strategies, instructional practice remains blind.

Excellence in teaching comes from a deep conceptual understanding of pedagogical knowledge and its application. By combining classroom experience and evidence-informed teaching principles, we can continue to build a profession that values education research and development.

 

What teaching principles should we be using?

As practitioners, we are taught in our training to undergo reflection to enhance our practice. We are also exposed to a variety of theorists to support our early career development. However, linking theory to practice is a skill to learn and develop (Stenberg et al (2016).

Larrivee (2000) argues that we should be supported to understand the rationalities of the ways we teach rather than accepting the status quo. We should be careful and mindful that the research we use and undertake is current to our practice. Using a de-colonization lens will support us to develop our enquiry to not just use 'Deadman or white men to inform practice.

Therefore as part of our research, we should consider the relevance of what we are using in our classrooms. One of the reasons that research is not readily used is that it is constantly changing and that in Britain, we do readily invest in our teacher's pedagogy in comparison to some of our European and Scandinavian counterparts. Such ideas as learning styles, cognitive load, and growth mindset have all had publicity within education but have all lost favour with educationalists.

When looking at research we should be mindful of its currency and longevity. In some instances, evidence research may mean that the users’ actions are in accord with the evidence rather than employing the full research findings, leading to a watered-down version of the research being applied. This may mean that then nothing is done or practice may be modified slightly, or be incorporated into educational institutional practices e.g the use of synthetic phonics.

Framework for using research to inform teaching
Framework for using research to inform teaching

 

Embracing evidence on teaching strategies

If teachers begin to reflect upon their own experiences and discuss with their peers, ways of applying research to understand and resolve issues e.g reading comprehension, their practice will be enhanced. Similarly, by attending courses, practitioners are taught by an expert with a wealth of knowledge about specific research to share and learn from this will also enhance their practice.

It must be acknowledged that in order to be successful this needs to be a whole organizational activity. Otherwise, the research will be lost, and new practices not embedded into the classroom. As a society, we need to use the best evidence available in the most effective way possible.

This is a practical and conceptual issue with implications beyond education, as large amounts of public money are still being spent around the world on education initiatives that have no basis in evidence, little chance of working, and are continued even when their ineffectiveness has been revealed.

If your school is at the beginning of a journey of using evidence on teaching systematically, then we would strongly recommend signing up for our weekly newsletter that covers all aspects of research-led teaching. It might also be that your institution has been researching different methods of teaching, and you would like to showcase your findings to a wider population. Please do get in touch if you have any research-informed practice that you would like to showcase.

 

References

Baldwin, G. (2005). The teaching–research nexus: how research informs and enhances learning and teaching in the University of Melbourne. Melbourne: University of Melbourne.

Brew, A, (2007 “Research and Teaching: beyond the divide”

Griffiths, R. (2004). Knowledge production and the research–teaching nexus: the case of the built environment disciplines. Studies in Higher Education, 29(6), 709–726.

Harland t  & Staniforth d  (2000) Action research: a culturally acceptable path to professional learning for university teachers? Educational Action Research, 8:3, 499-514, 

Hobbs C, Armitage J, Hood B, Jelbert S. A systematic review of the effect of university positive psychology courses on student psychological wellbeing. Front Psychol. 2022 Nov 15;13:1

Larrivee B (2000) transforming Teaching practice: Becoming the critically reflective teacher .Reflective Parctice1 (3)

Nassem, E. (2018) Bullying is still rife in schools. Here's how teachers can tackle it. The Guardian Teacher Network: Lessons from Research.

Stenberg.K, Rajala A. and Hilppo J  92016) Fostering theory practice reflection in teaching practicums. Asia Journal of teacher education 44:5

 

Links