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Working out what works (for teachers and pupils) in the classroom

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“It’s not what you do, it’s the way that you do it”, according to Professor Steve Higgins at researchED earlier this month. Steve is the author of the Sutton Trust/Education Endowment Fund teaching and learning toolkit. He was speaking in a maths classroom at Raines Foundation School in east London. In the audience were teachers, researchers and authors who were spending their Saturday morning working out what works in education.

A couple of Steve's points about the toolkit are especially worthy of note, I think. The interventions listed have been tried and tested by other people, in other contexts and they might have worked for them. Crucially, research outlines things that have worked in the past. The toolkit isn’t a road map for improving literacy levels among white working class boys, for instance. It’s more like a satellite map. “Use the toolkit as a guide,” Steve said, and most importantly, “delve into the detail of why an intervention worked or it didn’t”. Evaluate why a particular strategy might not have worked elsewhere and adapt the way you do it to your setting where it might well be successful.

And this is how evidence can play a role in the professional development of teachers, Steve thinks. It can enable them to test, adapt and evaluate what works; it means they can change their practice on the basis of research and evidence rather than opinion.

Steve’s session was one of 60 that day, held in one of five maths classrooms crammed to bursting with over 600 attendees split between them. Take a look at the photographs from the event to see what I mean. All lessons and messages aside, to see so many people willingly engaging in the debate about evidence-based practice is really exciting.

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