Research School Network: Evidence Champions Deb Friis reflects on leading training for a cohort of Evidence Champions in Kent

Evidence Champions

Deb Friis reflects on leading training for a cohort of Evidence Champions in Kent

by Durrington Research School
on the

Last week we had our last meeting of this year’s Kent Evidence Champions programme – face to face finally at Kent Associate Research School at Kingsnorth Primary in Ashford after three 2‑hour Zoom sessions. For the past six months I have been involved in this project to train Evidence Champions from across Kent to start to bring evidence-informed practise to their schools in Kent.

I also attended the final national online meeting of the year for the Maths Hubs Secondary Mastery workgroup leads run by the NCETM (National Centre for Excellence in Teaching Mathematics), at which Chris Shore gave a really interesting presentation entitled A Critical Reflection on Research”. Chris is the Maths Hub Lead for East Midlands South, and as well as teaching in a school, he is also a Senior Enterprise Fellow for the Department for Mathematics Education at Loughborough University.

Having both of these excellent events so close together gave me food for thought and really made me reflect on our Evidence Champions training and how I might adapt it for next year.

My first session for Kent looked at what an evidence champion (or research lead) is and why schools might need one. We talk a lot at the Research School about evidence-informed, rather than evidence-based, practice and in his presentation Chris gave us some useful quotes:

Classrooms are just too complicated for research ever to tell teachers what to do” (Wiliam, D., 2019)

I think there is a difference between evidence-based teaching and evidence-informed teaching. The main difference is that the first is mostly impossible and the second is hard but valuable… I define evidence-informed teaching as however you teach when you understand the research evidence” (Pershan, M., 2021)

To illustrate the difference in focus between educational researchers and teachers, Chris contrasted some actual research questions with questions that teachers had submitted to Loughborough University as part of a recent project. It is plain to see that What are the best ways to teach A‑level maths?” (submitted by a teacher) is far more broad, and therefore more difficult to research, than Can young students’ Awareness of Mathematical Pattern and Structure (AMPS) develop through an intervention?”. It is not possible to translate academic research directly into classroom-based practice. We need to look at lots of different research and how this builds a theoretical framework, then consider research summaries around this framework, and finally use our own experience to translate this into our classrooms. This is a big ask for many busy teachers and is where the evidence champion role comes in – their job is to signpost teachers to this last stage by taking the best bets and seeing how they will work in the classroom.

In the Kent Evidence Champions session 2, we concentrated on how to look critically at research and the red flags” to be aware of. The size and make-up of the sample used is vitally important, as is the context, and we should be aware of who the author is and of any potential vested interests. There is a useful poster here
which summarises spotting bad science”. Chris also had us read a scientific research paper and then gave some really useful tips for how to do this most effectively as the text is often very dense and hard to read. He suggests:

- Read the abstract;
- Skim the methods to get a sense of what the researchers actually did;
- Skim the results to get a sense of what is presented and how;
- Read the beginning of the Discussion, which often starts with a summary of the main findings.

In the final online session for Kent we looked at great sources of research summaries which help us to find these best bets for our teaching. I was pleased to see that my list agreed with Chris’s:

What works clearinghouse
Deans for impact
Evidence based education
Visible learning

As summaries often rely on measures of effect size, and Chris was presenting to a bunch of maths teachers, he went into a little more depth about how these can be calculated. My takeaway from this is that there are a number of different formats that effect sizes are measured in and communicated, which is another factor to be aware of.

The face-to-face day at Kingsnorth Primary School concentrated on implementation and we used the EEF Guidelines alongside their new report on Effective Professional Development which states that we should

Ensure that each aspect of PD is being met with the same levels of care and scaffolding that we would expect to give to students”

There was time for our new Evidence Champions to begin to write their own personalised implementation plans, all the while concentrating on the mechanisms for delivery: building Knowledge, motivating teachers, developing teaching techniques and embedding practice. Chris Runeckles has written a useful post here about how we at Durrington have adapted our implementation plans slightly to include these mechanisms.

It was great to finally meet everyone in person in Ashford and to share presenting with Laura Howling (Director of Kent Associate Research School). Our new evidence champions were knowledgeable and enthusiastic and are keen to keep the network going into next year. I am also looking forward to speaking more with Chris Shore about his work at LUMEN (Loughborough University Mathematics Education Network) which I would thoroughly recommend for a great source of interesting videos all about research and teaching – some maths based but many others suitable for teachers of all subjects and phases. Now to update my presentations ready for our new cohort next year.

is a maths teacher at Durrington High School. She is also a Maths Research Associate for Durrington Research School and Assistant Maths Hub Lead for Sussex Maths Hub.

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