UCL Teacher Action Research Project – interview with teacher Martin Hanlon
By Lauren Sandhu, on 22 March 2019
I got involved with the UCL Teacher Action Research Project through my involvement with UCL’s Teacher Summer School. I am always aware that there is an academic world of educational research in universities that too often in the past hasn’t always aligned with the world of education in the classroom. During the summer school, it became clear that there was an opportunity to engage with this academic world of research and to attempt to bridge the gap between research and practice, as well as developing and improving my own pedagogy.
My area of focus on the research project is retrieval practice exercises, such as low-stakes content quizzes, free recall activities and direct question and answer sessions. The emerging findings from academic research suggest that student outcomes will improve if students are given multiple opportunities to recall key pieces of curriculum content and knowledge. I am interested in exploring this area as it seems fairly easy to plan and integrate into lesson plans, it is easy to explain to students and as the processes are designed to be low-stakes then it doesn’t create any stress or anxiety for the students.
The school that I work in has a large proportion of Pupil Premium students and a large number of Black Caribbean and African students. My particular focus is on the students who have managed to make it to Key Stage 5 and are currently studying in Year 13. All of the students intend to go to university and the majority of them will be the first generation to attend. The barriers to university – especially the more prestigious ones – are significant and it is pleasing to note that there are a number of social mobility programmes helping us to remove some of the barriers. But the most significant barrier is the simple fact that our students don’t get the grades to get them to prestigious universities in the first place. The attraction of retrieval practice is that it helps the students learn content in a clear, precise and identifiable way. Clearly, A Levels expect more than information retrieval but it seemed to me that students who have lots of knowledge are at an advantage over those who don’t – and therefore if we are going to genuinely enable social mobility, we need to bridge the knowledge gap and give our students the tools to become successful learners.
Implementing the research so far has been quite challenging. In my own practice I have had to adapt and grow methods that suit my teaching style. I soon learned that a process of teaching content followed by a quiz was fairly dry stuff. But it has been interesting to consider different approaches and to see the effects that successful recall of knowledge has had on the students. Similarly, many other teachers have begun to utilise these practices and to develop their own. We have set up a small Research and Development (R and D) group in school and I send out a weekly update of interesting research and practice to the whole staff, so the project has helped to fire enthusiasm and engagement.
In the short term, I plan to blog more about my experiences and to encourage other members of the R and D group to do the same. We are going to be collecting our experiences together in the summer term and producing a booklet for the rest of the staff to use and will hopefully get some CPD time to explore our findings and to disseminate them to the staff as a whole as piece of training. As a member of the Ark Network, I am also hoping to be able to disseminate findings across the wider network and to continue my work with a wider group of teachers.
I firmly believe that more teachers should be engaged with the process of action research and the task of reading articles about learning – it is easier now than it has ever been and I would heartily recommend that if any teacher is interested, they should definitely have a go.
If you are interested in learning more about the Teacher Action Research Projects, including an opportunity to hear from the teachers involved and the project facilitators, why not join us on Monday 9 July 2019 (6.00pm-7.30pm) for a special project event. The event will explore the impact of the projects and offer practical advice for teachers approaching research in schools. Please complete this online form to receive further information.
Applications for the UCL Teacher Summer School 2019 are open until Friday 10 May 2019.
A word from the writer:
Martin Hanlon: I have worked as a teacher and leader in South London for over twenty five years, and was a founding member of staff at Evelyn Grace Academy in Brixton. Passionate about teaching, I engage with educational research with the intention of providing my students with informed strategies to help them learn more effectively, gain better grades and go on to lead productive, rewarding and happy lives.