Below are the notes I wrote myself for my talk at Research Ed Rugby. Sorry I’ve not written them up into a proper post, you’d be waiting a lot longer for that! There isn’t much on the slides other than Bitmojis, but there are a few more useful slides so I’ve included them too.
Hi, I’m Bex and I’m going to talk to you over the next 25 minutes or so about my experience of integrating research into my practice as a MFL teacher and hopefully give some examples of where I’ve done this, both well and pretty badly! I hope at the end we are going to have enough time to have a look at some research together and think about how we might apply it to our own classroom practice.
When I said I’d do this session on engaging with research as an MFL teacher I thought back to when it was first suggested to me that I should be engaging with research. I didn’t have a clue what to do, where to start and what to do once I’d read some research. It seemed to me that everyone on twitter was very clever and was coming up with all these ideas that I could never match. Well, I still feel like that now but now I at least know where to access the research and how to start doing something with it, even if I still don’t feel like I measure up. That’s just one of the dangers of Twitter though.
In this session I’m going to talk about how I recommend approaching research. Along the way I’ll try and give some examples of things I’ve done (whether or not they have worked out well) and at the end I’m hoping we’ll have some time to engage with some research ourselves and think about what we could do with it. The eight key steps I’m going to discuss, which I’ve already outlined in an article for the Teach Secondary website are:
Know where to start
Don’t be too ambitious
Don’t just assume that it will work
Be willing to be challenged and open to new ways of thinking
Keep students in the loop
Make it a habit
Share your progress
Knowing where to start is our first obstacle. There is an overwhelming amount of research out there, how do we go about selecting the good stuff and knowing what to trust?
You’re definitely in the right place for this today, so you’re clearly already on the right track. Twitter is also a great resource. Although a word of caution – it’s easy to get caught up looking at all this lovely resources people are sharing and start feel like you’re not as good or doing the wrong thing. That’s just not true. Remember what it is you’ve set out to do and then avoid comparing yourself with people who are doing totally different things.
The Chartered College of Teaching provides a great starting point for engaging with research. Members have access to a database full of articles as well as the Impact journal which is full of articles which are easy enough to read, understand and apply to your own practice. I also realised the other day that I have access to another couple of research databases through the alumni network of the university I went to for my undergraduate degree – worth checking out.
Although I joined the Chartered College at the first opportunity and started getting Impact delivered to my door step, my journey into really engaging with research begun when I started on the Chartered Teacher programme in January. Research was always something I was interested in, but never something I was actually very good at doing anything with. For me, doing the CTeach programme has really started to get me looking at research, actually engaging with it and building habits and changing my practice. I’ll be mentioning this at various points.
The Chartered College of Teaching also has a languages network which has run two great events so far, the next is later this month and I’m gutted to be missing out – I’ll be in France with 74 year 7s! The last event was on the science of learning and there were some really interesting discussions going on and plenty of ideas shared.
Enough of a plug for the Chartered College for now…
You can’t just rely on one source for all your research, especially as you have no control over what topics are going to come up in Impact. So you’re going to need to think about what else you’re reading. My reading habits have hugely changed over the last couple of years. I used to read books full of instantly applicable ideas that I would blindly put into practice without really knowing why, or books that I was recommended on my PGCE reading list that were so dull it could put any teacher off of reading education books again! In 2015-6 I did a Masters in Education and that’s when my reading habits started to change. The books on this slide are nothing groundbreaking and I’m sure at least a few of them will be recommended by other speakers today. I’m only going to talk about a few of them, but they’re all great.
Why Don’t Student’s Like School – A book that is recommended a lot, and for good reason as it has a lot of interesting points that we should be considering in our teaching with some MFL examples here and there too. However, it’s not the easiest read in places, I’ve taken two attempts at it and I reckon I’ll need another to totally get it.
Seven Myths about Education is a book I was told to read for my Masters. As the title suggests it takes 7 myths that we hear frequently and explains why they are indeed myths not facts. It’s a great place to start if you want to question why we do some of the things we do.
Mindset – Fed up of hearing about Growth Mindset? I don’t blame you, but give Carol Dweck the chance to explain it herself, it might just come across a bit better than what you’ve heard so far.
Teach Like a Champion – I know I said I’d moved away from books with lists of immediately applicable techniques, but this one is different. Teach like a champion does a really good job of explaining the techniques, why you’d use them and how. One I’ll definitely reread over the summer before I start at my new school.
These are the books that are still on my to be read shelf. They reflect my current interests in the science of learning as well as MFL specific pedagogy and a few ‘must-buys’ recommended by Twitter that I’ve just not got around to reading yet. Clever Lands is going to be a pretty different read for me, but it was recommended so often when it was first published that I wanted to give it a try. I’ve dipped in and out of the Language Teacher Toolkit already and it’s made me want to buy a book specifically on second language acquisition. There’s just no room on the to be read shelf right now!
Then of course there are these articles, recommended by various people but easily accessible through the Research Summaries page on Tom Sherrington’s blog. Strengthening the Student Toolbox is a good read, nice and short but with some good points to take away and share with students. I’ve spoken to my students about how their favourite trick of just highlighting things on a page is not that effective and given them some alternative suggestions to consider.
Being too ambitious is such an easy trap to fall into. I’ve seen this on twitter, read this in a blog and heard about this at research ed and I want to try it all!!
It’s all well and good wanting to try out all the things you’ve heard and read about, but if you jump into them all at once the chances of you keeping any of them going are pretty slim. As tempting as it can be to do this, don’t! It just won’t be worth it in the long term. It’s not just about the things you want to try in the classroom. I fell into this trap by getting loads of books to read so that I could come up with all these great new ideas. Of course, it didn’t work. All that happened was that I had a shelf full of books to work through and I wasn’t dedicating the time to focusing on any one thing. Start with one thing at a time and you’ll feel much better for it.
Don’t forget to be realistic too. If it’s taken you an age to plan, you’ve had to make extra resources and put in a lot of extra effort then think carefully – are you really going to be able to keep this up?
Really consider what you will be able to do and weigh it up against the potential impact on your students. If the effort involved is larger than the potential impact, leave it. There will be something else to try.
This is where seeing pretty resources and wizzy ideas on twitter can sometimes be a danger. We start to think that we all need to do those things, but we don’t. Remember, we all have different lives and that person may have a whole load more time on their hands than you do. Besides, is that resource really having loads more of an impact on their students than something less time consuming might? If what you are changing is having a negative impact on your workload then stop – there must be a better way.
Don’t feel like you have to reinvent the wheel all the time. The key is reading/hearing about something, adapting it to make it work for you and then sharing what you’ve come up with. We don’t need to all come up with the great ideas, we just need to adapt them and pass them on to other people that might also need them. Make sure to always credit the person/people the original idea came from.
An example of where I have done this is with Feedback crib sheets. I’d read a lot about them last summer and decided it was something I wanted to try out myself. So, I read a few different blogs, made my own sheet and power point template for lessons and then blogged about what I had done. I made sure to credit the people that had originally written about the idea, or at least the blogs that I had read. Writing the blog also helped push me into trying out the sheets. Now I’d told people that’s what I was going to do I needed to make sure I did it. That’s often the helpful push I need to make sure I do something.
It was great to have this sort of feedback months later from a department that had adapted it and tried it out themselves. Even if I didn’t proof read my tweet thanking them… (where is that edit button twitter…). Being able to share your ideas and see them used by other people often makes the work you put into preparing it feel even more worthwhile.
I’ve done a fair bit of reading on marking and feedback since then, and whilst there isn’t enough research to conclude that there is a best way to go about marking and feedback, I’m still pretty happy with my approach. If you need some reading on this to help persuade your department or SLT to change some policies then I’d suggest starting here (most of these were suggestions given by the Chartered College of Teaching for an assignment). I can’t claim that the research says that I’m doing the best thing, or the right thing. But what I can say is that there isn’t any research to say I’m doing completely the wrong thing either. The problem is, there just isn’t enough solid evidence either way, but if you can be confident in what you are doing and that it’s making a difference then it’s a good start. Just remember, the impact on your workload needs to be smaller than the impact on your students for it to be truly worth it.
Don’t just assume that it will work. It’s very easy to read an article or a blog and assume that just because something has worked for someone else it will work for you.
I know this is a hugely overused quote, but it sums it up perfectly.
Everything works somewhere and nothing works everywhere. It’s up to us as teachers to work out what works for us and for our students in our own contexts.
Just because that great teacher on Twitter said it worked for them, it doesn’t mean it’s going to work in your classroom too. Do they teach the same subject? In the same type of school? With students from the same background? In your classroom? At the same time of day? Unless you managed to answer yes to all of these questions what they have done might not be immediately applicable to you and that’s fine.
You need to know when things are working and when they’re not rather than blindly trying something you don’t know much about. This is definitely something I’m guilty of, trying something new in all my lessons but not stopping to check if it is making any difference or if it’s worth the effort. This is something the Chartered Teacher programme has taught me a lot about, evaluating my practice properly. It’s ok to get to the point where you say that something you’ve tried hasn’t had the desired impact, but you need to give yourself the chance to come to that conclusion.
Things like the EEF DIY Evaluation Guide are good for helping you work out if the change you have put in place has had the desired impact or not. The toolkit that this diagram was taken from is also very useful for this. The four steps are simple, but important.
Select the strategy
Implement the strategy
Collect data on the strategy
Analyse the data and reflect.
Here’s something I tried out, inspired by some reading on the principles of cognitive science was vocabulary grids to improve retention. Each colour block was linked to a GCSE theme, some of which were studied more recently than others. In that box was an English word and students needed to remember the Spanish. This is a good example of seeing something working in another subject and deciding to adapt and try it for myself.
It was important here not to assume it was making a difference or just rely on what the students were telling me – I needed to collect some data to make sure. Now, of course this wouldn’t stand up as solid research as I can’t say that the change I made directly caused this, but for me as a classroom teacher at that point in time it was enough. Test results over time were improving, and that was all I wanted to know.
You have to be willing to be challenged and open to new ways of thinking because that new idea you’ve launched head first into – there are lots of people that think it’s a load of rubbish. But are they right? Are you right? Maybe it’s a combination of the two.
Sometimes you need to step out of your comfort zone and put yourself out there – something that admittedly I’m rubbish at doing. You should ask lots of questions as well as sharing your opinions. Know when to listen but also when to take people with a pinch of salt. You just have to be open to changing your mind but also good at defending your ideas. This can be tricky ground, especially when it comes to twitter. When people first started to question things I’d post I would take it personally which wasn’t the way they intended it at all. You have to realise it’s your opinion they disagree with, not you as a person.
There are loads of chats happening on twitter every week, and these can be a great way of hearing about new ideas and research. In fact there is an MFL specific chat on Wednesday nights run by me. We start at 8.30 PM until 9PM and discuss a different topic each week. We used the already well-established #MFLTwitterati
When people question your ways of thinking it can be really helpful. For me, having Steve question the usefulness of vocabulary learning was important. I knew that the vocab grids had been making a difference to test results, but was it the difference that I needed? Were these tests the best way of helping the students? It made me consider what changes I could make to what I had been trying. I didn’t need to throw it all out of the window, but maybe I did need to consider working with chunks of language instead of phrases. I still felt it was an important thing to do, even if it could be dull, but his questioning had given me the chance to stop and think about what I was doing from another perspective.
Keep students in the loop with what you are doing. Personally I think it’s important to have your students on board, but it does depend on the changes that you are making and the ages of the students that you teach.
I think some buy-in from your students is always helpful. If they understand the changes you’re making and why you’re making them they will hopefully go along with them and be able to give you more constructive feedback about it. If they don’t understand what you’re doing they may just see it as an inconvenient change and not give it their best shot.
With my vocabulary grids I had spent some time talking to students about the change I was making and why. I’d even spoken to them about the science of learning and how their habits needed to change if they were going to successfully learn their vocabulary. As well as doing this I did some anonymous surveys.
I found that giving students the chance to respond completely anonymously to surveys helped. They were honest with me from the start about how much revision they were doing and what it was they were revising as I couldn’t trace it back to them, there was no point in lying. What I saw at the end appeared to be a change of attitudes and habits. Giving the students the opportunity to give me some feedback on what I had been doing was useful, not only for seeing how it was making a difference but also for working out what I needed to change or reexplain. Some misconceptions came to light that I was able to quickly address.
Making your new changes into habits is one of the hardest things to do and something I always used to be rubbish at!
Once you’ve trialed something new, you need to be able to make a habit of it. This is why it’s so important not to bite off more you can chew in the first place. You might want to focus on embedding this new routine/activity with one class or year group before you try and use it in all your lessons. This way, you’re able to keep track of it better and really get a good idea of what is working and what isn’t. This is a lesson I really need to learn myself as I’m too quick to try and apply a new idea to every lesson and so it quickly loses focus. Reel in your excitement, start small and when it is going well you can start to expand.
This was one of the issues I had with my vocabulary grids. I told lots of classes about how I was going to test them on words they’d learned a long time ago and how important this was but then didn’t really have the time or inclination to make a set of grids for every language and year group. It quickly died a death in every year except for year 11. Whilst I continued to do this with year 11 my focus wasn’t really on making sure they knew the individual words anymore but making sure they were revising for their upcoming exams. The grids had kick-started a lot of them into realizing they had forgotten things from the start of the course, not necessarily the intended outcome but a pretty useful one it seemed.
Having taken on board the feedback about the vocabulary grids and considering the effect they were having on students I decided they weren’t the way forward for all year groups. I think I’ll keep them for year 11 revision at the end of the year, but they’re probably not worth the effort for all classes. Instead I have been trying something using this slide. It involves vocabulary but also grammar and translation. Students are used to this slide now and know what is expected of them. It allows me to test them on grammar/vocab that hasn’t been covered recently but also making links to what they are currently learning. In terms of workload it would be useful for me to spend some time this summer creating them as at the moment I often find myself typing them up at the start of a lesson which isn’t efficient at all.
One example of how I would use this is with year 9 French. For section one I gave them words from the tv/film/book unit they’d done before half term, used foods that require different partititive articles for section two, a verb like manger or boire in the imperfect for section 3 and a translation that required the grammatical knowledge such as the imperfect and direct object pronouns from the previous unit but using the food vocabulary from the current unit. A way of starting the lesson with a bit of retrieval practice and linking it with their current learning.
Sharing is a really important part of what you’re doing when you engage with research. Without sharing you’re just one teacher in a classroom trying something out, shut off from things that could make it better and also keeping it to yourself when it could benefit others.
You don’t just have to share when things are going right. It’s actually pretty useful to share the things that are going wrong – you might find someone else has a suggestion for how to make it work better because they’ve had the same issues as you.
Twitter is very useful for this, but you may well have colleagues you’re happy to have these discussions with – but remember it’s good to hear from a variety of people, not just the same voices all the time. Maybe you’d even fancy writing a blog? It’s not as hard as it can be made out to be, and sometimes it’s great just for your own reflection even if no one else reads it!
I often integrate a question along the lines of ’what hasn’t worked for you?’ or ‘what is difficult about x?’ into the Wednesday night #MFLTwitterati chat. We also share things that are going well or what we are intending to try next in that area. Reading these chats is a great way to get ideas, but you get the most out of it when you actively engage and share your own thoughts. Putting yourself out there can be hard but it’s worth it.
What’s next? For me the next step is to transfer everything I’ve been trying to a new setting. I’m changing schools in September so rather than diving into anything new I need to work out how to apply everything I’ve been trying to a totally different school with very different students. I’ll be focusing on making sure my planning still integrates principles of cognitive science and that I discuss learning with students frequently, making sure they understand what it means to learn another language and how they can go about it.
I’m going to share with you now the things I aim to embed into my practice at my new school as a way of committing myself to doing it. I encourage you to do the same.
Continue to use my memory challenge slide – I may need to add some support onto this slide to begin with, especially directing students where to look if they can’t do the task.
Talk to students lots about memory techniques like using mnemonics, self-testing and the ineffectiveness of things like just rereading or highlighting.
Try to establish routines for homework that helps practice and improve their memory – make good use of quizlet.
Build on the work I’ve started to do on using Plickers to check student understanding in lessons and making sure I’m writing effective questions for this.
Slide 38 - 45 Recap
Before we move on to looking at some research together, does any one have any questions about what I have been talking about so far?
In that case we will move on to looking at some research together and considering what to do with it.
I have two copies of each of these four articles, all from the open access part of the Chartered College of Teaching website. I thought that rather than continue to listen to me speaking it might be an appropriate time to start engaging with some research ourselves. If in pairs or groups you could take an article, read it over and see if you can come up with an ideas as to how you would apply this in the classroom. Then I’m hoping we will get to share them at the end.
What are the main claims from the article?
What issues in MFL could this help to solve?
How might we go about applying this research in our classrooms?
What would we like to see changing as a result of this?
How would we check that what we have put into place has made a difference?
As part of the Chartered Teacher programme I have been working on checking student understanding during lessons. I’ve been looking at what effective checking of student understanding looks like and then working on improving what I do. I’ve set myself the following criteria:
Ensure that all students are participating, not just selected students.
Make sure questions are specific.
Make sure questions are repetitive.
Check that student responses are reliable by asking students to explain why they are correct/incorrect.
Plan for errors and be prepared to correct student misconceptions where necessary.
Having set these criteria (through reading books by Dylan Wiliam, Doug Lemov and Daisy Cristodoulou), I decided to focus on my use of technology for checking student understanding. This is something I was doing before but I hadn’t thought that much about how I was going about this. So far it has been a really good exercise in analysing and improving my practice.
Through doing this I have tried a number of different apps and this blog aims to describe my top five, their pros and cons and give some examples of how I use them.