From my point of view, I believe that the two main sorts of research evidence that could inform educational practices are the evidence based practice and the reflective practice.
I still have on my mind the words of Ravitch, “I am deeply grateful that my treatment was based on medical research and not education research. … Otherwise, I would not be here to tell my tale” (Ravitch, 1998, p.33) and her insistence from her experience that educators have something to learn from physicians as she was also educators. The evidence based practice was first introduced on medical research as ‘evidence-based medicine’. Their main source was the development of a particular kind of medical research – the randomised controlled trial (RCT) – which was designed as a way to assess the value of new drugs in order to check the claims of their manufacturers (E891 Educational Enquiry, Study Guide, p.18). However, there is a movement in the late 1990s, in several countries and also in the UK, for both educational practice and educational policy to become more ‘evidence-based’-or at least evidence-informed (E891 Educational Enquiry, Study Guide, p.15). From my own experience of teaching professional practice has always been informed by evidence. What we teach on the class is based on evidence. It is a fact that reliance on a body of scientific knowledge has been treated as a defining feature of any profession, and has figured largely in the attempts by many occupations to gain this status. Looking back, in the beginning of the twentieth century it was taken to be one of the traits that marked professions off from other occupations (Flexner, 1915).
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The movement for evidence-based practice does not repeat the ideas of the definition of a ‘profession’, it does involve distinctive requirements. It proposes that practice should be guided much more directly by research evidence than previously. Furthermore, education as a profession, or a collection of professions, has always been a complex and contested one. It is well known that, in most countries, schoolteachers have never gained any autonomy and power achieved by other professions such as lawyers and doctors. In addition, the main body of knowledge on which their practice was supposed to be based was very often subject knowledge. Thus, in recent decades, in the UK and some other societies, a weak grasp of subject knowledge on the part of primary-school teachers, especially in the areas of science and mathematics, has been held responsible for what has been identified as poor levels of educational performance (Traianou, 2007, p.11). In contrast to this, research knowledge has been shaping the educational practice well before the evidence-based practice began. Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky, the two famous educational researchers have worked a few decades ago and their ideas have been generated diverse recommendations for educational practice. It is obvious since Piaget’s name often has been invoked by advocates of “discovery learning” and progressive education two approaches that strongly emphasise the autonomy of the learner. Furthermore, his work also highlights the important role that cognitive structures play in children’s learning, and, more generally, that what learners learn will depend on where they are starting from (E891 Educational Enquiry, Study Guide, p.18). At this point, it is also important to mention that Vygotsky drew on Piaget’s work, and they both believed that learners should actively construct their understanding of the world. They both denied that learning is a passive response to external stimuli but it has implications well beyond the context of children’s learning. Indeed, it carries an important message about all forms of education. In addition, Hargreaves literally mentions “Teaching is not at present research-based profession” and he continues “I have no doubt that if it were, teaching would be more effective and more satisfying” (Hargreaves, in Hammersley, 2009, p.3).
The medical profession has gained a lot of prestige lately due to the growth of its research which mainly is based on evidence based practice. In contrast, the teaching profession did not take such a step. Very rarely, teachers would look on other professional fields to examine and learn from their structure (Hargreaves, in Hammersley, 2009, p.4). As a teacher, I certainly understand that even though we heavily rely on what we learn from our own experiences which are private trials which might be right or wrong. In contrast, in the evidence based medicine process they convert the information needs into answerable questions, track down with the maximum efficiency the best evidence with which to answer, critically appraise that evidence for its validity and usefulness, apply the results and evaluate performance (Hargreaves, in Hammersley, 2009, p.13).
Reflective practice can be traced way back before the twentieth century, while much of what is involved in the notion, for example the idea of phronesis outlined by Aristotle. However, the statement by Schön that “In recent years there has been a growing perception that researchers, who are supposed to feed the professional schools with useful knowledge, have less and less to say that practitioners find useful”(Schön, 1987, p. 10) does really disturb a lot since the reflective practice was happened a long before and has not just developed. Furthermore, Schön stated that “it is modified by reflection-in-action (the ability to think about what one is doing while doing it) and reflection-on-action (the capacity to reflect after the event on what has happened and on its implications for one’s practice)” (E891 Educational Enquiry, Study Guide, p.41). Developing these abilities, these forms of reflection that professional skill and wisdom can be built up in the course of experience, and these capacities are important because real-world problems do not usually present themselves in ways that would match the technical knowledge produced by research.
The notion of “reflective practice” has been under different names in the early 1970s, came to the fore in the 1980s through the works of Schön, Valli and Elliott. “This notion places as much emphasis on teachers’ own evaluation of their practices as on the planning and management skills into which such evaluation feeds”( Moore, in Hammersley, 2009, p.122). One of the recent recommended techniques in the reflective practitioner discourse is the developing of teacher’s own diary or journal that can systematically reflect. With this method, teachers can improve themselves and develop their own valid teaching method. As usual, the introduction of new ideas was accepted by less experienced teachers rather than more experienced ones. As Mitchell and Weber (1996) stated “experience teachers suggest that they are just likely to cause concern, confusion and misguided behaviour through their over-personalization of teaching activity (Mitchell and Weber, 1996, p.34).
Up to this point, I have described the two main sorts of research evidence that could inform educational practice. Furthermore, I will mention differences and significant similarities.
Hargreaves and others who have concerned how research serves evidence based practice are not simply putting forward a particular view of the relationship between research and practice. “It is clear that they think educational research needs to change in character, although neither Ravitch nor Hargreaves insists that it must take the form of randomised controlled trials” (E891 Educational Enquiry, Study Guide, p.26). However, from the point of view of advocating evidence-based practice, the practices of professionals are based on knowledge that must be eliminated in favour of procedures determined by sound, scientifically validated research evidence. In contrast, Schön’s perspective, those traditional practices are seen as skilful and principled strategies that cannot be bettered by the substitution of research based knowledge; rather, they can only be improved by further reflection in and on professional practice (E891 Educational Enquiry, Study Guide, p.41). In addition, Moore suggests that, the reflective practitioner discourse was not influential in official circles during his times. He insists that there are connections between each model and particular approaches to educational research. In a sense, the competences discourse has an affinity with quantitative method, and the reflective practitioner model with qualitative method (Moore, in Hammersley, 2009, p.127).
In my opinion, I believe that there could be another similarity due to the fact that both are considered to be unrepresentative. It can’t be presumed that all subjects taking part in RCT trials are representative of the people who will eventually be taking the drug or treatment and the data that a teacher personally gathers from his/her own classroom conditions cannot be presumed to apply to all conditions. Both of them have the same goals which are to enrich the corpus of knowledgeand to inform educational practice. Also, they both rely on philosophical grounds positivist one and interpretivist (E891 Educational Enquiry, Study Guide, p.79). On the other, it cannot be presumed that all subjects taking part in RCT trials are representative of the people who will eventually be taking the drug or treatment and the data that a teacher personally gathers from his/her own classroom conditions cannot be presumed to apply to all conditions. Nevertheless, it seems to me that they share a lot of points in common, such as theirposition with theory, which they don’t question as both tend to look at teaching strategies rather than the sense of teaching and what is taught. To sum up, I would not disagree that RCTs provide measurable outcomes, and the reflective discourse emphasises the practitioners experience, this doesn’t mean that it ignores the skills and techniques needed but that it tries to look at the “wider picture”…. so if their spectrum of research and practice is limited what part does critical theory of research play as I see it to be connected to reflective practice.
The Cyprus educational system unfortunately has been very weak as far as the new teachers are concerned, especially the ones that teach in secondary and high schools. A lot of them enter the teaching classrooms without any educational experience apart from the fact that they are graduates of universities. The same fact has happened to me also. Suddenly, I found myself from the hotel industry to teach in the school hotel labs and classrooms. From that day on I had to find a way of how I could become more effective within the classroom and be more efficient with my students. Having studied part one of the study guide for the course I am more confident to explain which methods I use during my teaching courses. However, I remember that I always mention to my colleagues that the teaching plans I have, are never stable. Every time I conclude with the lessons, I keep change them. I used to judge myself (reflective) what went right and what needed a change and I was doing it. Without realising, I was using the reflective method and in a sense I was improving myself. However, as a teacher in a technical and vocational school, I spend most of my teaching hours in the lab rather than in the normal classrooms. From what I have studied up to now, I find myself that I used both educational methods of teaching, i.e. evidence based practice and reflective methods, not only for improving my teaching methods but also for the benefits of my students.
The evidence-based practice, I use it a lot when I teach Food technology, Wine making or Food and Drink cost course. In all these courses the results from previous statistics which can be found through research are very useful not only for the teacher but for the students also. For instance, in order to produce good quality wine the evidence shows that there are certain parameters which are very essential such as the % of the sugar on the grapes, or how many days they should stay for fermentation, and e.t.c. This is happening with all the above mentioned courses and believe me students understand better when I use evidence-based practice because I can claim that throughout the years the research experience on developing the course has never been wrong.
On the other hand, reflective practice is mostly used in the labs. Since a lot of the students work is done within the lab with practice on the lab exercises. I usually teach cooking and baking. All the other vocational teachers as well as I, were using reflective practice even though we could not understand that we were using it. What do we usually do? We explain to our students how things should be prepared, cooked and be ready to be served. As a teacher, I know from the beginning how the final product should be since I have worked through the reflective practice many times. I explain to the students the process and the directions needed to be followed and I guide them throughout the lesson. A single mistake or a small misunderstanding from the students, results are off truck. This can happen not only with cooking and baking but also with carpentry, electricians and any other specialization existing in the technical and vocational schools.
E891 Educational Enquiry, Study Guide, (2007), The Open University
Flexner, A. (1915) ‘Is social work a profession?’, paper presented at the National Conference of Charities and Corrections, Proceedings of the National Conference of Charities and Corrections at the Fortysecond Annual Session held in Baltimore, Maryland, May 12-19, Chicago, Hildmann.
Hargreaves, D. (2007) Teaching as a research-based profession: possibilities and prospects (The Teacher Training Agency Lecture 1996) in Educational Research and Evidence-based Practice By in Hammersley, M, 2009, Sage Publication, London.
Mitchell, C. and Weber, S. (1996) Reinventing Ourselves as Teachers: Private and Social Acts of Memory an Imagination, London: Falmer Press.
Moore, A. (2007) Beyond reflection: contingency, idiosyncrasy and reflexivity in initial teacher education in Educational Research and Evidence-based Practice By in Hammersley, M, 2009, Sage Publication, London.
Ravitch, D. (1998) ‘What if research really mattered?’, Education Week, 16 December, vol. 18, no. 16, p. 33.
Schön, D. (1987) Educating the Reflective Practitioner, San Francisco, Jossey Bass.
Traianou, A. (2007) Understanding Teacher Expertise in Primary Science: A Sociocultural Approach, Rotterdam, Sense Publishers.
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