13 September 2022
During one of my final meetings with the Research Mobilities in Primary Literacy Education team, I looked into the corner of the Teams window and watched myself gesturing vaguely to the area above my head. I was trying to explain how I sense there is a ‘raincloud’ of research that I can feel and see implemented around me, but as a classroom teacher, I have my umbrella up to it for much of the time because there are so many competing demands in my working days. Putting the umbrella away and making time for research to enrich and inform my teaching practice was, for me, a rare gift from the pandemic.
There was a magical and never-to-be-repeated period during the initial weeks of lockdown where teacher workload dwindled to an incredible low. All external stresses had been cancelled and schools hadn’t yet mobilised the wealth of online teaching platforms, or at least mine hadn’t. For me, this meant time to spare for the first time in years – great, open afternoons of it. I joined the UKLA. I joined the Chartered College. I signed up for free OU courses. I finally opened and considered a good number of the TES weekly round-up emails that had been amassing in my inbox term on term. And I got a taste for it.
Later, when everything started frothing back up and we were back to full-on full-time, whether in-person or virtually, I decided this wasn’t something I wanted to lose. So I continue to seek time for research encounters in my professional life, or attempt to, and when I heard about the Research Mobilities in Primary Literacy Education project at SHU, I was keen to sign up. Via Teams meet-ups with the project team and other participants, plus weekly emails with prompts for reflection, I was guided to notice when and how I was allowing myself to be watered by the pretty lively and flourishing research raincloud.
We were asked to begin recording these encounters using life-logging – my log was an online notebook software called Evernote, but a range of analogue and digital logs were encouraged. The act of logging began quite quickly to show key themes of my encounters, particularly in terms of where I was getting my research from. There seem to be a number of brokers who facilitate my exposure to literacy research, in particular the UKLA.
Via my UKLA membership, I attended an online conference and from there joined several teacher Special Interest Groups around reading and writing. A couple of these are led by The Writing For Pleasure Centre (https://writing4pleasure.com/). They meet digitally, roughly quarterly, and in the sessions different presenters share their examples of practice. Speakers range from classroom teachers explaining how they ran specific writing projects in their school, to professional literacy consultants who have contributed to educational policy, teacher training programmes and more; recent speakers have included Alex Quigley, Shelley Harwayne and Murray Gadd. I never leave a session without making some note of a book or website that I intend to investigate further – a kind of branching database of references, or a series of bridges as Gill has referred to them in her recent post. Some bridges I’ve crossed lately include https://rethinkingassessment.com/, https://www.icape.org.uk/ and Literature Circles by Harvey Daniels.
All of this research I encounter through choice – and more particularly, generally outside of working hours. It mainly serves to reinforce opinions I already hold about the way we teach reading and writing (more of it with fewer hoops to jump through, please and thank you) and assess it too (a little less of that would be nice). The life-logs record another side to my encounters – one brought about via my school and coming under the generalised heading of CPD.
With this type of encounter, often there is still an element of choice. For instance, staff are invited to select webinars that interest them from a list of events hosted by a local authority organisation – many coming from the prolific Huntington Research School and the Research Schools network. My school is also a member of an organisation called PiXL which hosts its own professional development events – I have attended two reading conferences and watched some of their online TV channel. While these kinds of encounters also furnish me with further research rabbit-holes to investigate, they also often offer repeat meetings with ideas and research I have met elsewhere. Perhaps research needs to undergo these first, second, third flowerings in order to become something that can be endorsed by school senior leadership teams and aligned more easily with existing school practice?
Both the categories of research encounter I have mentioned are united by having something less than open access. Memberships to subject organisations cost money and school subscriptions to CPD programmes must also be budgeted for. By beginning to sort and classify the kinds of research that are being encountered, the Research Mobilities in Primary Literacy Education project may be supplying the data to build something that I feel we lack: a centralised archive of educational research, a sort of teachers’ library to point people towards the kind of things that may interest and inform them. The ‘hive mind’ of Twitter is a step in this direction, but the shapelessness and infinite nature of its structure puts me off. Bring back our libraries and the guiding hands of their custodians!
I would certainly recommend that others participate in the Research Mobilities in Primary Literacy Education project, whether to examine the themes and messages of the research they are already encountering or indeed to chivvy them into seeking out more encounters. Research encounters with all aspects of teaching are a way to reflect on and adapt my own classroom practice, as well as look critically at practice in my workplace as a whole. They can bring fresh ideas when I’m feeling stale, or reassure me that my classroom habits are worthwhile. I hope the forecast for my academic year ahead is for rain!