A Cautionary Tale of Educational Evidence

Let me first say that I am a big fan of educational research and undertaking trials in schools. Of course, we are not doctors and surgeons dealing with the clear boundaries of sickness and health, or the obvious dichotomy between medicine and placebo. We can, however, design far more robust trials that help us work out what works best in our classrooms. I think we have a moral imperative to do our best to do so. The pursuit of evidence in education could be better and I’m hopeful we can make this happen.

I think that even undertaking the process of controlled trials in the classroom, and attempting to isolate one variable in a fistful of complex variables, has value regardless of the results and we learn much from the process. It makes us reflect upon what we do with acute scrutiny. It can bring together the expertise of researchers with teacher practitioners. Yet, attempting to translate educational evidence from one context to our own unique school environment should be done with wise circumspection.

I have helped design and undertake a small matched trial in our English department last year – see here – and the process and the findings were fascinating. In the process of running the trial I learnt some of the many difficulties that attend the process. I looked at the evidence of Hattie’s ‘Visible Learning’ with new, more critical eyes after doing some research myself.

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