Despite American education’s recent mania for standardized tests, testing misses what really matters about learning: the desire to learn in the first place. Curiosity is vital, but it remains a surprisingly understudied characteristic. The Hungry Mind” is a deeply researched, highly readable exploration of what curiosity is, how it can be measured, how it develops in childhood, and how it can be fostered in school. Children naturally possess an active interest in knowing more about the world around them. But what begins as a robust trait becomes more fragile over time, and is shaped by experiences with parents, teachers, peers, and the learning environment. Susan Engel highlights the centrality of language and question-asking as crucial tools for expressing curiosity. She also uncovers overlooked forms of curiosity, such as gossip an important way children satisfy their interest in other people. Although curiosity leads to knowledge, it can stir up trouble, and schools too often have an incentive to squelch it in favor of compliance and discipline. Balanced against the interventions of hands-on instructors and hovering parents, Engel stresses the importance of time spent alone, which gives children a chance to tinker, collect, read about the things that interest them, and explore their own thoughts. In addition to providing a theoretical framework for the psychology of curiosity, The Hungry Mind” offers educators practical ways to put curiosity at the center of the classroom and encourage children s natural eagerness to learn.”
From NFER – Building your research skills
Whether you’re just starting using research in your school or looking for more advanced, specialist techniques, these materials will help you on your research journey. These are continuously updated, so check back often.
A FREE online tool to help you review how research-engaged your school or college is, using eight key statements.
You can use this tool to do a quick review yourself, or you can set up an account for your school or college to involve all your staff and get a whole-school picture. The tool provides you with:
- A set of eight key statements defining a research-engaged school or college
- A downloadable chart of your review results
- A downloadable report of your results including suggested next steps
- Links to resources (from NFER and elsewhere) to help with your action plan.
This tool is free to use – http://www.nfer.ac.uk/schools/research-in-schools/self-review-tool-for-research-engagement-in-schools.cfm
The LOCIT process is an inclusive approach involving teachers and their learners in constructing a shared understanding of successful learning. The principles of the LOCIT process (Lesson Observation and Critical Incident Technique, Coyle and Wiesemes: 2008) start with an analysis of ‘lived though’ lessons by both learners and teachers, using ‘playback’ reflection and critical incident technique (CIT). For Tripp (1993:8) critical incidents are
…not ‘things’ which exist independently of an observer and are awaiting discovery like gold nuggets or desert islands, but like all data [..] are created. Incidents happen, but critical incidents are created by the way we look at a situation […..] an interpretation of the significance of an event. To take something as a critical incident is a value judgement we make, and the basis of that judgement is the significance we attach to the meaning of the incident.
Science suffers from an image problem. Many students see the subject as too difficult and they think scientists are aloof boffins with big brains. A new study out of Taiwan tests the benefits of teaching high-school physics pupils about the struggles of eminent physicists – Galileo, Newton and Einstein.
Over the course of three computer-based lessons during one week, 88 low-achieving students were taught not just about the relevant theories developed by these characters but also about their frustrations and perseverance. For instance, they heard about Newton’s hard work and inquisitive nature (including his comment “I keep the subject constantly before me, till the first dawnings open slowly, by little and little, into the full and clear light.”), and they heard about Einstein’s efforts, but ultimate failure, in seeking to develop a unified field theory – an endeavour that he spent the last 25 years of his life working on.
For comparison, a further 93 students completed the three computer-based lessons on the relevant theories but without any background information on the scientists, and 90 more completed a version in which they heard achievement-based background information on the scientists, including their key discoveries and dates.
Learning about scientists’ struggles had several important benefits versus the other two conditions. Students in the struggles condition developed more rounded, less stereotypical images of the scientists, seeing them as people who worked hard. For students who had no initial interest in science, the information about struggles boosted their interest in the subject. Struggles-based background info also improved students’ delayed (a week later) recall of the theoretical material, and it increased their success at complex open-ended problem solving tasks based on the lesson material.
Huang-Yao Hong and Xiadong Lin-Siegler, who made these findings, think the benefit of struggle-based background info for students’ recall may have to do with helping the students to build connections between different key concepts, and with increasing their emotional and cognitive reactions to the course material. Similarly, the researchers think that the struggle-oriented background information helps students see the interconnections between theories, which aids complex problem-solving.
Future research is needed to differentiate the effects of struggle-based information related to the scientists’ work and their personal lives. Also, the findings need to be tested in a different cultural context and over a longer time period.
“By helping students see the real human struggles behind science, we can inspire greater interest and learning to benefit future generations of scientists,” Hong and Lin-Siegler said.
What should inform the decisions made by teachers about how to develop their practice? If teachers are to make informed decisions, we need to ask – informed by whom? How can teachers inform themselves and each other about good ideas for developing teaching, and reflect more critically on the skills they use everyday in their own classrooms?
Why become a teacher-researcher?
Part of the professional role of the teacher involves keeping up to date with developing ideas about learning and teaching and being critically informed about developments in practice. Being a ‘professional’ includes developing the capacity to research for increasing numbers of teachers. This means developing the skills and knowledge to be able to lead the development of their own practice through research. Becoming a teacher-researcher is not something to undertake alone however and this article sets out ways forward for teachers to get started with the support of colleagues.
The idea of doing classroom research can sound extremely daunting to first-time teacher-researchers. With so many demands made on their time, the idea of designing a research project and carrying it out can seem an unnecessary burden – especially when so many initiatives offer ready-made ‘answers’ to improving practice. The effect however of externally provided solutions can be to overload teachers with models of ‘excellence’, handed down by unknown ‘experts’. Slickly produced training packs are frequently left unused in many departments, where teachers feel no particular motivation to work with ideas they do not ‘own’. Is this kind of knowledge really valuable to teachers, coming as it does from outside their own practice and when they have not been party to developing the ideas they are supposed to implement? The problem was summed up by one teacher, on leaving an INSET session at her local Professional Development Centre: “Every course I have been on involves watching a video of an exemplary lesson given by a teacher. I leave feeling both enthused by watching this good practice and also a bit scared – how would I ever use the strategies suggested to us in my classroom?”
Teacher research aims to involve professionals in producing their own knowledge and understanding about teaching and learning by examining what happens in their classroom through careful and systematic investigation of practice. The context of the individual classroom is central to this type of research, which usually starts by focusing on the needs of the students whom the teacher knows well. Through research, teachers can become their own experts and begin to develop and share their own ‘answers’ –particularly when the process is shared with colleagues who can help to build a collaborative approach to professional development that is bottom-up.
How can you get started?
Some teachers will have the support network of a masters degree or other professional development course which includes an element of research training. Even without this, there are things you can put in place to make research a supported professional development activity. Try to get the backing of your Senior Leaders from the start. This is vital to being able to spend professional development time on classroom research.
Peer involvement is important, and your colleagues are more likely to be interested in what you’ve found and try it for themselves if they have been involved in the research along the way. Working with colleagues on a project increases the motivation of the researchers, and means that a range of experience can be pooled as the project develops.
Adapted from an article for the Secondary English Magazine
(Vol 10 No 1 Oct 2006)
Caroline Daly, Institute of Education University of London
CUREE say: our research has identified a number of barriers to an evidence-based approach.
For example, large-scale international evidence highlights that time, inadequate facilitation, difficulties with research methods and processes, and diverse foci are the main obstacles to engagement in and with research (Bell et al., 2010). A survey of over 1000 practitioners found that time and access to research were significant barriers (NTRP, 2011).
National Teacher Research Panel [NTRP]. (2011) Habitats for teacher research: teacher perspectives on research as a sustainable environment for CPD. [Online]. Coventry: Centre for Use of Research and Evidence in Education [CUREE].