the Dragonfly journal

Research for Learning (RfL): Evidence-based Practice

By Steve Garnett - @Garnett_S

Over the last two to three years there seems to have been a huge increase in interest in the role that educational research has to play in informing schools of the teaching approaches that have greatest impact in the classroom. Evidence has now been gathered identifying what strategies work best or to put it into statistical terms – have the biggest ‘effect size’

So that this knowledge can be disseminated to teachers easily, we at Dragonfly have conceptualised the transfer of this educational research into practical, ‘lesson ready’  teaching strategies through the term ‘Research for Learning’ or RfL

Drawing principally from research cited by Professor John Hattie in Visible Learning and the Sutton Trust, we are devising a RfL template that teachers can follow. This will ensure they are ready to deliver lessons that use the research to directly improve learning.

DIA (Do It Again) – re-drafting using feedback to improve the quality of work

You know how it goes – work has just been handed in – very little of it seems to have followed the instructions, methods or rules that you and the class have laid out and all agreed on – so you give the work back with the words “do it again!’

The reply is often predictable – ‘Why? – I don’t have to do it again do I Sir?” – “well yes, actually, you do!”

How do we as teachers create a culture where value is placed on re-drafting and re-crafting work so that it improves as a result of feedback and that re-doing work is not seen as some kind of vacuous, time-filling waste of time but part of necessary series of steps that need to be taken in order to achieve the best possible quality of work.

This might require a culture shift where teachers adopt new commitments and new procedures in their practice. It might require less time on covering content and more time devoted to showing students how to achieve high quality work and to showing them what it looks like and that re-drafting is an absolutely necessary element to this process.

For teachers who are keen to adopt this approach a wonderful starting point could be to watch ‘Austin’s Butterfly’

Whilst the video clip is focused on young pupils, there is so much that can be transferred to other contexts and age groups. Perhaps the most important is that pupils can learn the purpose and efficacy of re-drafting. They can see that quite simply the quality of their work improves through re-drafting especially when it is informed by quality feedback and critique that is referenced specifically to how the work will improve.

This focus on quality feedback informing the re-drafting process chimes in perfectly with the current interest in evidence/research informed practice as promoted through the Sutton Trust, Hattie and back in the late 1990′s – the Assessment Reform Group.

Feedback in particular features highly in this research as a significant intervention. If looking for  a definition of what proper feedback looks like, it has been eloquently described by the Sutton Trust thus:

Feedback is information given to the learner and/or the teacher about the learners performance relative to learning goals. It should aim to (and be capable of) producing improvement in studentslearning. Feedback redirects or refocuses either the teachers or the learners actions to achieve a goal, by aligning effort and activity with an outcome.

For those who prefer a checklist – DIA would work as follows (example from English)

Stage 1

A student will ask the teacher to read a paragraph of their work. It might be more than one paragraph, but isolating a single paragraph for scrutiny works best.

Stage 2

The teacher reads the paragraph but does not write anything in the margin. The teacher makes a mental note of how many errors there are in that paragraph.

Stage 3

At the bottom of the paragraph the teacher now writes DIA and in brackets, the number of errors which that paragraph contains. For example: DIA (4) or DIA (6) and so on.

Stage 4

The student now reads and checks their work, re-writing the whole paragraph. Do not allow the student to simply correct the mistakes. This is not an exercise in punishment! By re-writing the paragraph we are encouraging students to question and improve the content, as well as the overall accuracy.

Stage 5

The teacher now reads the improved paragraph. If the paragraph is faultless, the student can now continue with their next paragraph. If there are still mistakes the teachers writes DIA followed by the number of errors in the paragraph. For example: DIA (1)

Stage 6

At this point the student can now consult anybody in the room to help them find the final mistake or mistakes. If nobody is able to spot the final errors then the teacher can intervene.

Stage 7

The student now repeats stage 4 until the paragraph is faultless.

I really hope you are as interested in RfL as I am, and if you are come along to my RfL Practical Conference with @Alan_Jervis for @Dragonfly_Edu in London 31/01/13.

So DIA – another acronym to add to our list!