The TES reports today that Professor Hattie, the crown prince of education research, isn’t much keen on teachers conducting research in their classrooms. Apparently he thinks we should leave education research in the hands of academics. Because, I assume, they know best.
Now I’m certain TES journos have rubbed this particular story vigorously on the crotch of their cricket whites, the better to produce a savage topspin in the hope of enraging the new breed of research literate teachers, but Hattie is quoted as saying,
Researching is a particular skill. Some of us took years to gain that skill. Asking teachers to be researchers? They are not… I want to put the emphasis on teachers as evaluators of their impact. Be skilled at that. Whereas the whole research side, leave that to the academics… [Teachers] are more obsessed about how they ride a bike than whether they can ride a bike well… I don’t have any time for making teachers researchers. We have got no evidence that action researchers make any difference to the quality of teaching.
Well, that’s clear, isn’t it? We should put away our pretensions to anything other than enacting whatever Hattie and his ilk tell us works.
Although I’m not sure why he’s set his face against action research, I’d be the first to agree that teachers conducting small scale inquiries on their classes tells us diddly squat about what might work in anyone else’s classroom. The idea that you can draw meaningful, measurable conclusions from trying out stuff yourself is of course ludicrous. But then, most classroom research conducted by academics is equally unlikely to find the Holy Grail. The idea that pouring a load of correlational confusion and bias into the meta-analytic blender and distilling magic fairy dust for teachers to sprinkle on their lessons is just as fatuous. All classroom research can tell us it what worked in one particular context – dressing this up as science is like a toddler parading round in mummy’s high heels pretending to be a grown-up: cute but ridiculous.
For my money, the most useful research is distilled from the clean, cold, controlled conditions of psychology laboratories. This at least has the advantage of being subject to double blinds and other rather important scientific principles which just aren’t possible to implement in the hurly-burly of the classroom.
If teachers are discouraged from testing out what works in their particular classroom with their children, everyone is the poorer. We end up the kind of uncritical consumption of research summaries that tell us giving feedback is ace and then teachers being forced to mark more and more despite it having very little in the way of positive impact on students. If instead teachers test stuff out and think hard about what students do in response, we’re massively more likely to spot that the Emperor Hattie is running round in the buff.