ResearchED is a teacher-led organisation aimed at improving research literacy in the education community. Elaine Sharpling and Siân Brooks discuss their recent visit to one of its conferences…
After an inspirational opening speech from Tom Bennett, director and founder of ResearchED (which describes itself as “a grass-roots teacher led organisation”), the conference began.
Tom asked the 300 or so delegates, seated in the grandeur of the Examination Centre in Oxford, if they were on Twitter and almost 300 hands went up, such is the strength of this social media platform in uniting teacher-researchers.
Looking around the room we felt like star-struck teenagers in a room full of YouTubers; the great and the good from Twitter were all there.
In fact, Twitter was active throughout the day with delegates using #rEDlang to comment on interesting and, at times, controversial points with the event trending on Twitter for a few days following the conference.
The set-up is simple and effective – pay £20, turn-up and sign-in, grab your timetable for the day and find a corner to sit and plan your campaign.
You can choose from a wide variety of topics, each delivered in a seminar-styled session for about 40 minutes. You take notes, ask questions and trot along to the next session.
We decided to ‘divide and conquer’ so that we could cover the main speakers and with game plan in hand we went our separate ways.
At ResearchED you don’t need to feel lonely as you end up chatting to whoever you are sitting beside and then you say “cheerio” and move on.
Next stop is the super-efficient lunch. Grab a paper bag containing fruit, water and muffin, choose a sandwich and meet up with friends buoyed by the quality of the speakers and with so many questions:
Siân: “Elaine, how does this event compare with other ResearchED events?”
Elaine: “This was a fabulous setting but I don’t think you can compare events. ResearchED conferences are always a vibrant and energetic gathering of teachers, teacher educators and those passionate about what works in education. Although there is a focus on secondary teaching, the conferences bring together education theory and practice by showcasing how teachers have used research to make a difference in their classrooms. Often the inspiration to use research has come from working with a university-based tutor, or following education Twitter gurus or reading blog-posts and think pieces. I like the fact that there is no one definition or source of research. These are real stories, from real classrooms where real teachers talk about how they have asked questions of themselves, their learners and their schools.”
Siân: “Who was your stand-out speaker?”
Elaine: “Tricky decision – I’m going for two. Firstly, Dr Arlene Holmes-Henderson presented on the impact of learning Latin on children’s cognitive development. The interim results are impressive and Arlene showed how children can begin to explore patterns of root words, prefixes and suffixes in the English language. It was addictive. We might take this forward with schools and student teachers and will be checking into this useful website: https://classicsincommunities.org/
“My other choice is Carl Hendrick – a very engaging speaker who considered the kinds of research that English teachers should have at their fingertips. He raised some interesting points about whether our education system favours the extrovert, and the futility of group work when the learners are not secure about subject knowledge. I was pleased to discover that Carl is an advocate of Daniel Willingham (http://www.danielwillingham.com/daniel-willingham-science-and-education-blog).
“What about you?”
Siân: “I was excited to see MFL guru Dr Gianfranco Conti and his session on ‘Breaking the sound barrier: teaching listening skills bottom-up’ was fascinating, with lots of practical ideas that I was immediately able to put into practice. Likewise, Professor Victoria Murphy’s session on ‘Why English literacy teachers should care about MFL learning’ was particularly interesting with regards the curriculum changes in Wales and my own research interests. The star moment for me, though, was Gillian Campbell-Thow’s session ‘1+2 languages: Joining the dots and weaving some multilingual magic’. Gillian’s passion for improving languages teaching was so inspiring that I wanted to move to Glasgow there and then!
“The only session we attended together was the one from a Michaela School teacher. This school is considered to be “England’s strictest school” and has a strong presence on Twitter. I was fascinated but felt my feathers were ruffled in equal measure. With the suggestion of no PowerPoints, no objectives, no images and next to no marking, I thought about the contradictory feedback I had given to my own PGCE students the week before. What were your feelings?”
Elaine: “I tried hard not to be reactive or flustered by such comments as ‘no group work’ and ‘no activities’ even though words like ‘collaboration’, ‘dialogic talk’ and ‘discovery learning’ were uppermost in my thoughts! I liked the idea of upsetting the status quo and creating a passionate debate. The focus on teaching knowledge and the value of the teacher as the prime resource were interesting points and I could appreciate this viewpoint. However, my overwhelming feeling was ‘I hope that the children will be OK’.”
Siân: “The idea of bringing English and MFL researchers together was very interesting in light of the Donaldson curriculum, however, I have felt as if I was the only Welsh person in the room in most sessions. Did you feel Wales was well represented?”
Elaine: “No, not at all – I did not meet anyone else from Wales. This is our challenge and one we must take forward with Tom Bennett’s team!”
Even before the conference had ended, presenters had very generously shared their presentations on Twitter.
On the train home we mentioned @tombennett71 in a tweet to thank him for organising such an exciting day.
He immediately replied and wished us well. This teacher-researcher community is most definitely a welcoming one.
- Elaine Sharpling is Executive Director of Initial Teacher Education and Siân Brooks is PGCE MFL tutor at Yr Athrofa, University of Wales Trinity Saint David