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Practitioner research in 12 easy steps

Recently I was asked to make a one-page summary of practitioner research. I shared it on Twitter and it seemed to go down quite well, and so I thought I'd share it here. There's a text version below and a downloadable PDF version below that.

We run annual practitioner inquiry programmes for schools. Usually they are attended by around 8-12 people who are keen to take their practice to the next level and to take control of their own professional learning journey.

If you'd like to hear more about our practitioner inquiry programme, see here - or drop us a line.

Practitioner research in 12 easy steps

Practitioner research is a simple, systematic approach to professional development that can be done by whole schools, groups of teachers or individuals. Here’s how to do it in 12 easy steps:

1. Reflect. Think about your professional development to date. What are your strengths? What problems do you and/or your pupils face currently?

2. Focus. Choose an area of your practice that you would like to investigate or develop. Keep it manageable.

3. Formulate a research question. A useful frame is: ‘To what extent is [strategy X], implemented for [frequency/duration], effective at improving [desired outcome] among [pupil group]?’ (e.g. ‘To what extent is low-stakes quizzing, implemented weekly for 6 weeks, effective at improving the retention and recall of tier 3 science vocabulary among Year 8 boys?’

4. Read around the topic. There’s no need to carry out an exhaustive literature review. But if possible, try to read at least two or three articles about your area of interest.

5. Choose a research method. There are many sources of data – attainment data, observations, interviews, questionnaires, students’ work... It’s a good idea to combine two or three different methods and triangulate your findings.

6. Take a baseline (optional). Not all inquiries lend themselves to a ‘pre vs. post’ comparison. However, if you want to get a handle on whether your practice is improving over time, some form of baseline measure will provide a useful point of comparison. You might also consider collecting data about a control group.

7. Plan and carry out your intervention (optional). Not all inquiries are intervention-based; you might simply wish to find out more about an aspect of your existing practice. However if your aim is to evaluate the impact of a particular strategy, take the time to plan how to implement your intervention in a way that maximises the possibility of success.

8. Take a post-intervention measure (optional). If your research method involves a ‘pre vs. post’ comparison, how long will you wait before collecting the data – a day, a week, a month?

9. Analyse your findings. Once you have collected your data, take the time to sit with it. Try to understand it as deeply as possible. Discuss it with your colleagues. What does it tell you? What does it not tell you? Did you find what you expected? What claims to knowledge are supported by the data you have collected? What conclusions can you draw?

10. Evaluate your inquiry. How did it go? What went well? What aspects did you find challenging? What would you do differently if you did it again? Can you use the findings to inform your practice in future? If so, how? If not, why not?

11. Write up and share your findings. Try to tell the story in a way that will be helpful to others working in a similar position. Posters are great, or a short write-up. Most inquiry write-ups are in the range of 1000-2000 words. You may wish to use the following headings: Context; Focus; Research question(s); Research methods; Results; Claims to Knowledge; Conclusions; Evaluation; References.

12. Plan your next inquiry. What’s next? Do you wish to repeat the same inquiry but do it differently this time, or in a different context? Perhaps it’s time for a change of direction? Whatever you decide, stick with it: practitioner inquiry is a powerful engine for getting (even) better at what we do, and improving outcomes for young people.

Practitioner research in 12 easy steps
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