the Dragonfly journal

What is Research for Learning? (RFL)


Author: @Alan_Jervis

My chemistry students carefully mixed marble chips with hydrochloric acid, collecting the volume of carbon dioxide given off in 40 seconds. They were well aware of the importance of using the same strength of acid for each test. They ensured the acid temperature was constant and the size of each marble chip was as similar as possible.

Investigating the effect of teaching strategies on students is not as straightforward as investigating the effect of marble chip size on the rate of reaction. Twenty years ago I started to implement my own action based research. I had responsibility for teaching, learning and assessment in a High school, and I wanted to improve the validity of our strategic planning.

My limiting factor was the small number of students that I could involve in my research. Large numbers of students involved in action based research irons out the effect of anomalies. Professor Hattie’s research does not suffer from such low numbers,

Professor Hattie has been Director of the Melbourne Education Research Institute at the University of Melbourne since March 2011. His work synthesized more than 800 meta-analyses involving more than 80 million school-aged students across the English speaking world. He listed 136 classroom interventions in order of effectiveness. His work suggests that teacher feedback to students is one of the most effective ways to improve learning, and team teaching has a minimal impact on learning. His work has been criticised for not examining the impact of social factors such as home life and poverty.

The Sutton Trust and EEF have organised RFL, examining the impact of Pupil Premium. The research was commissioned by the Sutton Trust and Durham University produced the toolkit in May 2011.  The research was published as a toolkit that ranked ‘what works well in schools.’ They also included the relative costs to implement each strategy,

Dragonfly trainers have been using this evidence over the last year. Have a look at Neil Atkin’s outstanding blog ‘Feedback Strategies and how best to use them effectively;’ that was published in March this year and Steve Garnet’s excellent blog ‘Piagetian Programs, Meta-cognition and Solo Taxonomy’ also published in March.

Steve Garnet and I are supporting several RFL in-school projects around the country, and if anyone would like to run such an investigation then please make contact with Dragonfly Training.

Last year 6,200 students at the Higher Colleges of Technology in Dubai were given i Pads. The paperless classroom RFL also attracted 320 teachers.  The use of i Pads created a positive attitude to learning and had a positive impact on the student’s development of language. Dr. Christina Gitsaki from HCT said ’Most of the students were using the devices all day; they were using them out of class to do homework.’ From their research they also found that the teacher was still the top motivator in the classroom. Many of the students attributed their improvement to the support of their teacher and their willingness to embrace the new devices.

These headlines create more questions than provide good answers but it is the start of a long journey to base improvements of learning on RFL. One crucial question is one of transferability. Can you take an idea used successfully in Shanghai and drop it into the United Kingdom?

Up to 60 Shanghai maths teacher are to be brought to England to raise standards, in an exchange arranged by the Department of Education. They will provide master classes in 30 ‘maths hubs’ which are planned as a network of centres of excellence. The Chinese city’s maths students have the highest international test results. The OECD says that children of poor families in Shanghai are on average better at maths than middle class children in the UK. Such projects will start to answer the question of transfer ability.

Steve Garnett and I delivered the Dragonfly’s flagship RFL course in London on the 31st of January and I presented RFL in Dubai for our Middle East launch. Next week I will deliver at our Far East launch in Bangkok, and Steve Garnett will present in Brussels for the European launch.

If you would like to know more about RFL then I would like to invite you to attend a Dragonfly RFL hotel based courses running in a city near you this term.

To view more details on Dragonfly RfL please click the following link: