Reflections on professional learning in becoming a Research Lead (part 1)

28 September 2017

Author: Julia Farrow, Debenham High School, Suffolk


The Research Lead Programme

A collaboration between Suffolk School to School Support Partnership, SWA Trust Research School and Evidence Based Education

Part 1: The narrative

This focus on the importance of vocabulary has been a long time in the making.

About three years ago, colleagues and I came to a growing realisation that what limited many students’ ability to infer effectively was the paucity of their language, both in breadth and depth. We have tried to address it in a piecemeal way since then by teaching strategies to assist students in working out unfamiliar words as they read and in setting independent research tasks which require students to find the definitions themselves, explore the etymology and find synonyms, put it in a sentence, etc. However, neither of these were particularly effective; the first, I feel is because it simply requires too much cognitive load, and the second, showed that students were often unable to select the correct definition or simply copied it out word for word and, more importantly, found being able to use it in a sentence themselves nigh on impossible.  I realised that we needed a more systematic way and that seemed to be outlined in Bringing Words To Life (Beck et al) which I kept hearing about in the blogosphere. This represented a major time cost for the department as the creation of high quality resources is time consuming in the extreme and I just couldn’t find anything to buy in.  Therefore, my research document is a summary of the research I did to try to find out whether there is independent evidence to support Beck et al’s claim.  After all, they do have a book to sell!

I spent the summer term trialling  my early resources with my own pupils and a couple of colleagues also tried it out.  My amazing colleagues and I then spent the summer creating resources – no mean feat for some of the most hardworking people in a hardworking school – and we rolled it out across KS3 at the start of this term, choosing to work on 10 words/fortnight.  It is early days but anecdotal evidence seems promising.  It has certainly been a personal delight to teach Animal Farm to Y9 Set 5 out of 6 and to hear students using ‘tyrant’, ‘cynical’ and ‘benevolent’  in our class discussions.

Another colleague commented yesterday that the first piece of extended writing done by her mixed ability Y7s contained examples of their vocabulary words.

I now want to thoroughly evaluate the success of the strategy by assessing retention, and, assuming we can at least find evidence of promise, to research whether we can increase the number of words we are teaching without a fall off in retention.

In the long term, my reading this summer has really highlighted the importance of a wide general knowledge for reading comprehension and inference skills.  I can feel another research project coming on …but not this year!

Posted on 28 September 2017
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