Inspired by social media,Blair Minchin Invites you to try new concepts in class

I don’t know about you but Teaching is a professions that consumes my whole life. I love my job but I’d rather it didn’t have me delving into an ever deeper Twitter whole of pedagogical article to research paper on a Saturday night.


I could just put the phone down. However I suffer from FOMOONI. Don’t you? It’s the Fear Of Missing Out On New Information.


There is just so much information out there it’s hard to see the forest for the trees. With GTCS having (fairly) recently making a library of academic journals available to practitioners in Scotland, together with the governments drive to see teaching become even more enquiring and research driven profession, sifting through the findings is exhausting. It’s a near insurmountable task compounded by the fact that the findings mean little to a class teacher unless they are aware of one thing: the context in which the study was carried out.


If I was to simply believe the headlines, recent research has shown that any devices, even tablets and laptops aimed at enhancing learning, negatively impact learning gains. However, as we peel back the curtain on the 2016 study and find it was carried out at Westpoint Military Academy, in America, with students who were in their late teens working in small classes, sometimes of no more than 10 AND that multiple students (including the control group) didn’t stick to their assigned role…


Context is key.


It is not enough to simply cherry pick studies to support your practice. We need to critically engage in the literature and consider how it would apply to our own setting. Every school is unique, every class and every pupil too. It stands to reason that the research that will likely contribute to and benefit our practice the most is that which is carried out by we the teachers.


The rewards from engaging in practitioner enquiry are priceless. It’s an opportunity to scratch that itch that you’ve always had, really drill down into a hunch and find out more about yourself as a teacher. Furthermore, it’s a superb vehicle for developing relationships with your pupils and finding out what makes them tick.


The subject of your enquiry could be wide in scope (is learning through play detrimental to pace and challenge?) or narrow (what’s the best way to facilitate peer assessment?). It could even be a little bit out the box…


Currently I operate free seating: pupils pick where they sit every lesson. On the whole it works well as pupils consider their seating choices and have developed a great sense of self regulation, moving to a different seat if they are chatting too much or getting distracted…most of the time!


However, there is a small issue that nags at me and that is a gender divide in the room. Often I look out at the class and see tables of girls and tables of boys. They’re on task but it all feels a bit too segregated for me.


Now I’ve read many articles about free seating but I’ve never come across an academic journal entry or study on the subject. There have been studies into both academic attainment and mental wellbeing of pupils studying in same sex environments. However, none really relate to my current class and free seating arrangement.


That’s the great thing about practitioner enquiry: if the research hasn’t been carried about by anyone, then get stuck in and be the one!


So, I’m going planning an enquiry for the new year that will enable me to assess whether ten minutes of dance everyday has any impact on the seating choices of the class and (more importantly) if there is any impact on the quality of work in lessons. I’ll be sure to collect robust data, pupil opinions from before and after and keep a detailed reflective journal of my efforts.


And what I like most about practitioner enquiry is that even if you fail, you’ve still won! If you were hoping to change something for the better but your efforts didn’t succeed there is still much you can take from the experience. You’ll have developed your own enquiry skills, have evidence to back up your findings if another teacher suggests rolling out the same initiative and you’ll know what not to do next time!


Enquiry is empowering, practice changing and knowledge building. It is time intensive but it’s an investment in the most important element of your practice


Words Blair Minchin