Using Research in the Classroom

A Donaldson Ready Approach to EduReseach

A Step by Step Guide to using evidence based strategies

There is a new era looming for education in Wales. Education research and cognitive science both stand to feature prominently in this new educational future. As part of Welsh Government's National Mission for Education it has been recognised that teachers should be engaging with research and using it to guide their practice in the classroom.

So how is it done? How should schools be deciding which is the best, most relevant research for their pupils and how should they be taking that research into the classroom in a way that makes a real impact on pupils' learning? Moreover, what will that use of research in the classroom look like in a Donaldson Ready school system? The answer is on!

First let's set the scene on why research has suddenly gained more prominence in Wales. One of the recommendations of 'Successful Futures', was that the new curriculum should be far less prescriptive and allow a new level of freedom for teachers to shape their own "local" curriculum. As the AoLE pioneer groups put it:

"The AoLE Group's preference is for a low level of specificity to allow schools to autonomously shape their new curriculum."

In order for teachers in all schools to be ready to do this, they need to understand what kind of pupils and outcomes that curriculum will be creating. Hence, the creation of 4 purposes of the curriculum. As Professor Donaldson says the rationale for the 4 purposes is to;

" ...mobilise the education community around a common mission, [and to] provide clarity about aspirations for the children of Wales."

How does each school leader and each teacher use these 4 purposes to shape what goes on in the classroom? The answer is by engaging directly with 'what matters' in education the 'big questions' that underpin subjects, areas of learning and experience and curriculum content. By fully understanding, for example, why we learn about Science in a particular way, and what the fundamental scientific knowledge and skills actually are, we are then fully capable of creating a high quality, engaging local curriculum that addresses the needs and aspirations of each child. The first step on this journey is to use education research and cognitive science to identify the what matters through pinpointing the most effective strategies for teaching and learning.

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Step One - Identify your pupils' greatest need

The first step towards meaningful and effective engagement with research is to identify a need, a question or a problem to answer. This problem should be one that is a whole school development priority. A problem that if solved will improve the outcomes of a large proportion of the school's pupils. A problem that as many teaching staff and support staff will engage with as possible.

Now we know where to start. Now we have narrowed our search down to something that will have a noteworthy impact on pupils' learning and skills.

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Step Two - Identify a reliable source of research information

It's easy to think that all research has equal value, but there is an enormous range of what is labelled research available online. Identifying some reliable sources of research papers, literature reviews and small scale studies will narrow down the search and ensure teachers are accessing the most up to date papers available.

Keeping up to date with the education research is important, even more so when the process of challenging research findings is ongoing and nothing can be taken for granted. Carol Dweck's research on Growth Mindset, Hattie's effect size meta-analyses and Jo Boaler's claims around the teaching of Mathematics have all been the subject of detailed scientific argument in recent months. It is important that research evidence is seen not as an end-point but a continual process of re-evaluation and renewal.

Welsh Government has recently announced that all EWC registrants will now have free access to the ESBCO Education Source Package, a collection of research publications. The council also provides a list of reputable sources of research online here

Step Three - Understand how research methods affect validity of research outcomes

In the media we often see research being used to prove an argument. We see headlines like "New study proves drinking wine every day keeps you healthy." What has been missed, is research should be used to ask questions, not provide answers. If the study above about wine drinking had been completed using only female participants, whose health before and after the study was measured by a set of questionnaires on how healthy they felt, there would certainly be questions to ask regarding the validity of the conclusions.

If teachers are to use research effectively in the classroom they need to understand different research methods, sample sizes, control groups etc. One way to address this is to designate a member of staff to curate and represent research for staff, taking into account the research methods used. Having a school research lead is also a very efficient way to ensure workload associated with reading and using research is kept to a minimum.

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Step Four - Know how to turn research into pupil friendly learning strategies

Driving continual improvement means both using what works, but also using what works for the pupils in your school.

Every school should have an innovation structure and system. They should have an innovation team who are ready and willing to try out and evaluate the latest research or learning strategy suggested by cognitive science. Every school should know how each innovation, if successful in a small 'in school' trial, can be scaled up and rolled out to everyone it will have a positive impact upon.

One of the key actions schools should be taking in preparation for the publication of the new curriculum for Wales, is supporting their staff to become ready and able to use research to make a difference to their pupils.

If you would like to find out more about how to become a research engaged school contact us at We use research in all of our support and training, we know how to make it work to improve outcomes.

A Little More About Us

Who are we? - We are Finola & Jane, Literacy & Numeracy specialists, with 35+ years of teaching, training & leadership experience between us.

Can you trust us? - We have both worked for Welsh Government supporting schools & senior leaders across Wales. We have held senior leadership posts, delivered support to strategic education advisers, and published curriculum support guidance with Oxford University Publishing...but if you need to know more visit our website for testimonials from schools we've worked with.

Why should you attend our workshop? - Put simply, because we believe in impact. We do exactly what our name suggests. Our workshop keeps things simple and ensures school actions really work. Our focus is always on delivering measurable impact for pupils.