WE are increasingly confident that ‘2-for-1’ teaching approaches are a key part of implementing a whole education in the classroom. Following a successful, yearlong pilot of WE Lab Classrooms in 2018-19, it has become a core programme (launching November!) to help classroom practitioners build their repertoire of these ‘2-for-1’ teaching approaches.
But what do we mean by ‘2-for-1’ teaching? And how can research empower teachers in the network? Whole Education’s Secondary Network Facilitator Verity Cane shares her perspective.
Emerging from the RSA’s 2010 Charter for 21st Century Education, Whole Education is first and foremost a network of schools committed to helping young people develop the knowledge, skills and qualities necessary to thrive in life, learning and work. Through events, programmes and school visits, WE members share their expertise, take new learning back to their own schools and influence the wider system.
In 2018, WE piloted a new programme for teachers using a framework of action research to explore the evidence, trial and review the impact of different T&L approaches in the classroom. We chose to focus on what WE call ‘2-for-1’ teaching approaches: improving outcomes while also developing wider skills & qualities, such as communication and teamwork.
WE believe these approaches are key to equipping learners with the necessary qualities to succeed beyond school – preparing them for their future life, learning and work.
Why should we engage with research?
In the age of social media, we are inundated with advice about what new and exciting practices we should be using in our classrooms- often in just 240 characters. When we are so busy in schools, it can be easy to grab onto headlines and run with a new approach without taking time to reflect and consider: what does the research really say, and what does it mean for my learners?
Over the last few years there has been a welcome growth in evidence-informed practice within the education sector. The formation and consequent success of ResearchED in 2013, the Research Schools Network in 2016 and The Chartered College of Teaching in 2017 demonstrate the appetite amongst school leaders and practitioners to close the historical gap between research and classroom practice.
How can research empower teachers?
According to a 2017 DfE report, while most teachers valued research, many did not feel confident engaging with it directly and instead use organisations such as the Sutton Trust and EEF. By synthesising multiple research studies, both provide a valuable starting point for teachers looking to engage more closely with evidence.
However, we would argue that there remains a need to support practitioners to confidently and critically interpret these headlines in their own context. Some have identified a risk that too great a reliance on off the shelf ideas about ‘what works’ could undermine teacher agency – reducing them to vehicles to ‘deliver’ practices designed and evaluated elsewhere. We believe a blended approach should empower teachers to critically engage with a range of research, but choose and adapt the approaches around the needs of their classroom, school and community context. As Alison Peacock said at our 2018 Headship Summit, research should provide teachers with a repertoire to draw upon – not a recipe to follow.
Many teachers are using research in just this kind of bottom-up way – to challenge their thinking, widen their range of ‘teaching mindsets’, and enhance their professional decision making. WE adovocate for schools and individual teachers to take this kind of ownership of the education agenda – with a ‘whole’ education at the forefront of practice. We saw last year in our pilot of WE Lab Classrooms, that when teachers actively engage with new ideas through research they make meaningful and impactful changes for their students.
In addition, using research in this way could reduce teacher workload (workload is ironically a common reason teachers don’t take an evidence-informed approach in the first place). According to Cat Scutt, Director of Education and Research at the Chartered College of Teaching, workload is reduced when research is used not only to find “new, effective approaches to teaching, learning and assessment”, but also to identifying and rejecting existing, ineffective practices”.
Why are some teaching approaches ‘better’ than others?
WE appreciate that claiming some teaching approaches are ‘better’ than others can be controversial – particularly when the ‘how’ of what you’re doing is as important as the ‘what’. However, there are some approaches that, when implemented effectively, have multiple benefits for learners and can often be applied without significant financial investment.
WE has spent the last decade exploring how learners can be best supported to develop the range of skills, qualities and knowledge needed to succeed in life, learning and work. We know it isn’t easy: schools are incredibly busy places and under a huge amount of pressure. We therefore want to make the case for 2-for-1 teaching approaches which we argue do the ‘both and’. That is, they both help deliver you improve outcomes and deepen student subject knowledge and develop their wider skills and qualities. These approaches often have a particularly positive impact on the most disadvantaged learners.
So what approaches do we believe are ‘better’ than others? For our WE Lab Classroom programme 19/20, we’ve selected what WE think – and the EEF toolkit suggests- are particularly effective ‘2-for-1’ approaches: both giving positive improvements in progress and developing wider skills.
How WE Lab Classrooms supports the effective implementation of ‘2-for-1’ teaching approaches
Research can suggest what might work (or not), but as Sir Kevan Collins has commented, the way that evidence-informed strategies are implemented “can be the difference between success and failure.” Even if the approach is thoroughly grounded in research, unless it is executed well it will not have an impact in the classroom. As our Associate Director David Crossley has reminded us, this often also means using abandonment – choosing what not to do, in order to make space for our approach to be successful.
Using a framework of action research can be helpful when putting research into practice. The framework doesn’t need to be complicated, and by providing a structure to prepare, implement and analyse the change in your classroom, there is a much stronger likelihood of success.
This is why Whole Education has teamed up with evaluation experts ImpactED for WE Lab Classrooms 19/20. Using a simple ‘theory of change’, participants will be guided through a process of action research as they trial one of the above approaches.
By taking the time to think, plan and review an evidence-informed approach, WE believe that classroom teachers will gain a better understanding of how to apply research in the classroom, and what it really means for their learners.