Teacher Staffroom Episode 35: Digging into the research

Thanks for tuning in to this episode of Teacher Staffroom, where we catch you up on the latest evidence, insight, and action in education. I'm Zoe Kaskamanidis.

At Teacher, we look a lot at evidence-based practices in education. Applying evidence-based research to practice can take many forms – you might be looking at big sets of quantitative data to analyse system-wide trends, or sifting through qualitative stories from smaller case studies to inspire you.

This month at Teacher we’ve been digging into the research to bring you updates from Australia and abroad. In today’s episode I’m going to get you up to speed on these stories, and also some more of my highlights. And, like all episodes of Teacher Staffroom, we’ll be posing some questions throughout the podcast, so feel free to pause the audio as you go, gather some colleagues and discuss together how these stories might be relevant to your school context. Let's get started.

The first story I’d like to highlight in this episode is from Teacher Editor Jo Earp, who unpacked the key findings from a UK-based study on the possibilities and potential risks of collaborative school designs.

As part of the study, the researchers spoke to a range of professionals from a variety of disciplines who had been involved with the development of three different exemplar schools, asking them to reflect on the lessons they learnt from the design, construction and occupation of their new buildings.

One of the things I really like about this study was that the researchers lean into the complexity of the topic. They embrace it and explore how it can inform practice. Citing a number of preceding studies, the researchers write:

Reported impacts of school design on practice include, but are not limited to, teacher pedagogy, student engagement, student academic achievement, student attendance, school climate and healthy eating-related behaviours … However, school design, build and occupancy are complex multi-agency processes where issues of continuity and conflict can arise.

So, that brings me to my first question for you to think about. As a school leader, if you have just moved into a new building or learning space (or are planning to in the future), do different user groups understand how to get the best out of it? How will you help to prepare them for a successful move and occupancy?

The next story I’d like to share with you takes us to schools in regional, rural and remote settings in Australia. In an episode of The Research Files, we spoke with Scott Eacott - Professor of Education in the School of Education, and Deputy Director of the Gonski Institute for Education at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. Scott was the lead author of a research paper detailing the four key attributes of high-impact leadership in regional, rural and remote settings.

One of my favourite moments in this episode is when Scott explains the fourth attribute highlighted in his study – visibility in and commitment to the community. Here’s what he had to say:

Trust is built when the community see educators in the community, when they see things that demonstrate that the educators are there working and committed to the long-term future and sustainability of communities. It’s also about making the curriculum authentic. Connecting that curriculum to where you are, engaging with the events and the natural wonders that surround the school, and bringing the curriculum to life in context.

Reflecting on this point, take a moment to consider how your school engages with the broader community. How do you work with community to achieve shared outcomes?

Remember, we always love to hear about the current initiatives at your school that are having an impact on student learning and wellbeing. If you have a story you’d like to share with us, you can email us at any time at teachereditorial@acer.org.

Next, I want to zoom out a little to consider a different way of looking at data. In her latest Teacher column, Deputy CEO at ACER Sue Thomson looks at PISA scores to examine achievement, school climate, and student wellbeing in Australia’s three school sectors up to the 2018 PISA test cycle.

Interestingly, Sue points out that while there are significant differences reported in Reading, Maths and Science scores across Government, Catholic and Independent schools, the differences are reduced when considering the fact that the majority of students who fall into government-defined categories of disadvantage are enrolled in Government schools.

In her article, she says:

It is important, therefore, to account for disadvantage when looking at these scores. Internationally, PISA has consistently found student achievement is different when reported before accounting for socioeconomic background compared to after. Importantly, analysis with the Australian data show that after accounting for socioeconomic background at both school and student level, few differences remain.

The last story I’ll highlight is our article on home reading experiences and how they can support the continued development of reading at school. In this article, we take a look at a small-scale study by Honorary Professor in the Melbourne Graduate School of Education at the University of Melbourne, ­Bridie Raban.

The study looked at the home reading experiences of 10 children across four SES classifications. Interestingly, SES was not found to be a strong indicator of reading progress at school.

For the six children with the highest reading progress from home to school, Raban says:

These six children represented all four of the social class groupings included in this study. In each one of these homes there was evidence of books and writing materials owned by the parents and their children, and regular library visits were made by these families… These children were reported by their parents to ask questions about words, word meanings and how to spell them, and to remark on words they found in the environment.

So, this brings me to one last point of reflection. As a primary teacher, what approach do you take to developing students’ literacy, especially for a class of students starting school with varied reading skills? How can you work with families to meet students where they are at?

That's all for this episode, and now you’re all caught up on the latest evidence, insight and action. Links to all the content and the resources I’ve mentioned will be in the transcript of this podcast available over at our website, teachermagazine.com.

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