30 Jun 2019
At the heart of Jonathan Firth’s book is the premise that “research is a key part of teacher professionalism”.
All good research questions its own assumptions, and The Teacher’s Guide to Research tips its hat to that by opening, somewhat rhetorically, on a question.
Firth asks: if education is not informed by research, then what is it informed by? The answer, I sense, is political ideology and “top-down approaches”. His book seeks to address this by providing teachers with the practical research information they need to arm themselves against poor policy.
Firth claims that research is an empowering process that improves the practice of teachers, but it is also a political tool with which to challenge politicians and policymakers. There is a delightful irony that evidence can also have an underlying tone of rebelliousness.
The book first offers an introduction to research and its use in improving practice, before presenting a primer on current methodologies for those who want to engage in research-based activities.
I agreed with the sentiment that classroom practitioners should use research to inform practice, but less convinced that teachers should engage in it. Are they prepared to conduct research without the experienced support of a research environment like a university?
The first half of the book considers research from the perspective of improving practice, introducing the format and structure of academic papers. It includes useful explanations of research-based concepts such as generalisation and confirmation bias.
The point is forcefully made that if research is worth doing, it’s worth sharing
Each concept is explained in terms of how teachers can use evidence to develop classroom interventions and how to evaluate them objectively. The inclusion of hotly debated topics, such as retrieval practice and the spacing effect, maintains the feeling that this is a contemporary book by an author abreast of current educational issues.
Educational research is often spoken of in terms of the natural sciences, in particular randomised control trials (RCT). Firth, however, considers educational practice from the perspective of psychology and the book dedicates a chapter to data and variables.
Philosophical aspects of research get less coverage, and Dylan Wiliam’s oft-quoted truism “everything works somewhere, and nothing works everywhere” is left to carry a lot of weight in lieu of a nuanced consideration of the power of research and its limitations.
The second half subdivides into two distinct parts and reads like a primer on research methodology. Ethics are covered, with correlational studies, quantitative and qualitative analytical approaches to data. The chapters are accessible with lots of examples, case studies and written in practitioner-friendly language – a testament to the author’s affinity for his subject.
The concluding part returns to developing a practitioner-led research culture and the key role of the school research lead as a networked professional with access to a wide spectrum of professional expertise.
It finishes with an interesting overview of how to disseminate the results of practical research by writing papers and engaging in social media such as blogging. The point is forcefully made that if research is worth doing, it’s worth sharing.
Each chapter has useful references and ends with recommendations for additional reading and further explanatory notes. I found them most helpful in the drier chapters relating to methodology.
I have read several books of this nature aimed at classroom practitioners, but this one has a contemporary feel and includes references to current debates. It successfully articulates the need for research-informed practitioners and is another tool in the armoury of a profession that desperately needs to able to stand up to politicians.
My only reservation is whether a book aimed at the research-informed practitioner and the practitioner-as-researcher works seamlessly. Regardless, I would recommend it to anyone looking to enhance their professional identity as a research-informed practitioner in the contemporary classroom.
Is there a better way, after all, to empower oneself?