education research special needs Uncategorized

Research vs Experience in Classroom Practice

Everything about our classroom is a decision we have made, if the desks are set up a certain way it is either because we put them like that or we decided (consciously or unconsciously) that they were fine as we found them.

Cast your mind back to those heady days as an NQT, filled with the words of wisdom of Vygotsky and Piaget, if you went 10 minutes without saying kinesthetic you would never make the grade (This was 2007). How many times since then have you turned to a research paper or study when implementing changes or strategies in your classroom?

I am writing this blog because of a short twitter exchange during #behaviourchat where an experienced teacher was told her tried and tested approach was nonsense because it wasn’t backed up by research, in fact her view is supported by peer reviewed research but I only know this because I researched it for this blog.

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If you are reading this post then you probably came here via twitter. Therefore you can consider yourself a connected educator whilst you may not read research journals you most likely keep abreast of changes to pedagogical thinking and approaches. There are many newspapers and educational magazines that will disseminate research. Countless blogs are written daily by people keen to share their great ideas and things that have worked for them. This is experience, dispatches from the chalkface (this term should really be updated, I propose now using The Learning Interface, but suggestions are welcome!). Not research but experience, experience built on the foundation of hours of planning, trying, adapting, trying again, reflecting and so on.

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Everything about our classroom is a decision we have made, if the desks are set up a certain way it is either because we put them like that or we decided (consciously or unconsciously) that they were fine as we found them. Now I may stray into the SEN field here, if we put up displays it is because we know our students like looking at their work, if we choose bare walls it is because we know our students get distracted or overwhelmed by the visual stimuli. I have got this wrong in the past and had to strip the classroom back to make it a calmer less stimulating environment. My current room is in the middle, 4 large simple displays and otherwise bare walls. Why? Because it works, no students are reacting badly. Now this is all experience not research. No one has conducted research on it with these students, my students so I cannot say that either approach is supported by research (it has been the subject of a study but not in depth.)

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Now People cleverer than me may have done research on classroom environments in teaching Autistic students (of course too many to list here) but they haven’t done research on teaching my class. These are my students, they show empathy, make eye contact, seek affection. Generally ignore the rules regarding how they should present (they haven’t read the research).

So when I or another teacher says an approach, strategy or idea works with my students I will listen and borrow ideas, adapt them as needed or bin them if they don’t work. I wont question if someone, somewhere with some other students has researched it. I don’t know if playing bowling on the Wii at lunchtimes has been proved to reduce challenging behaviour in the afternoons, but I know for 1 student it did, and because of this his experience of school was much more positive and meaningful than it could have been. After a quick google It has been shown to have health benefits and a positive affect on levels of social interaction

In order to placate the Trolls (if they have read this far) I am going to admit I think research is important. I conduct it myself, we record every behavioral incident in detail, time, who is present, what happened. I will use this extensive data-set, combined with observations and feedback from the students to evaluate my approach. I have recently worked with a postgraduate researcher from our local uni to look at an approach to reduce self injurious behavior (it worked).

We also use the TEACCH approach based on research by the University of North Carolina, very successfully with some students, it doesn’t work with all the young people in my class because humans don’t always fit neatly into studies.

The experience we each build up in our classrooms, the hours of work we put into building rapport with our students, surely gives us the right to say that we know what works. This doesn’t stop us looking for new ideas and no good teacher would ever claim to never make mistakes from time to time. Education is both a science and an art. Question by all means but until you have spent a week in another teacher’s room don’t judge.

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