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Small-scale research design

The design of your small-scale teacher research will offer a framework to help you to choose your research methods. It will be driven by the research question that you refined in last week’s content.

Let’s think about the evaluative research question, ‘To what extent is [strategy x] effective at improving or strengthening [outcome y]?’

  • Your engagement with literature and reflection on experience will have helped you to identify [strategy x] as worth implementing in your setting.
  • The research design might involve working with a defined group to implement [strategy x] over a period of time.
  • To evaluate the effect of this change, a teacher researcher could compare [outcome y] from before and after the change.
  • They may also collect rich data during the implementation of [strategy x] about teachers’ and pupils’ experiences.
  • An alternative design might involve an element of comparison, for example comparing [outcome y] between a group that experienced [strategy x] and a group that did not, perhaps from the same cohort or from a previous cohort.

There are various design frames that researchers use, and these include well established traditions such as action research, practitioner research and lesson study. The British Educational Research Association (BERA) uses the term Close-to-Practice Research, to describe any ‘research that focusses on educational practices in order to better understand or improve them.’ This kind of improvement project involves continual refinement of your professional thinking. It may involve the evaluation of a single change to practice or, in the tradition of action research, it may involve more than one cycle of planning and reflection as part of continual improvement.

Last week, we looked at the design of evaluative research questions, and here, we revisit these and consider some possible choices of research design:

Evaluative research question Possible design
How does subject specialist mentoring for four new secondary school history teachers over two months impact their self-efficacy? Use reading to design a questionnaire to measure self-efficacy, give questionnaire at start and end. Implement subject specialist mentoring. Ask teachers to keep reflective journals and discuss journals in interviews at the end.
How does metacognitive modelling develop pupils’ metacognitive skills in KS2 English? Conduct book scrutiny to identify aspects of writing that would benefit from metacognitive modelling. Observe a group of pupils writing in KS2 English. Implement metacognitive modelling. Observe pupils writing again, looking for evidence of them using metacognitive skills. Conduct book scrutiny and interview a small number of children, ask them about their writing.
How does a six-week secondary school academic and social orientation programme impact Year 6 pupils’ self-rated confidence levels regarding transitioning to secondary? Collect Year 6 self-rated confidence levels using an established school tool or design one for purpose. Implement orientation programme. Compare to initial self-rated confidence levels, and to those of previous cohort (if available). Interview a focus group of pupils about what they found most useful and what they enjoyed.
In what ways does a 6-month English secondary teacher journal club facilitate the development of autonomous, research-informed goal for participants’ teaching practice? Through a questionnaire, establish baseline of the extent to which teachers engage with research to develop their practice. Implement the journal club and ask teachers to keep reflective diaries throughout. Interview subset of teachers about their engagement with research to develop practice. Repeat questionnaire with all participants.

In each of the examples above, the design focuses on [outcome y]. To contribute to a rich picture, it can also be valuable for you, as the agent for change, to capture your own ideas, not just about [outcome y], but also about [strategy x]. Keeping a reflective diary is a useful tool in the teacher researcher’s toolkit, which offers a space to capture your own thinking and learning.

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This article is from the free online course:

Education Research that Matters: Doing Research in Your Learning Community

University of Birmingham