What’s Praxis Teacher Research?
It’s a free, peer-reviewed online journal where teachers* can publish action research, lesson study findings, Masters dissertations etc. Too much education research is paywalled, jargonistic and irrelevant to classroom practitioners. This is a platform where we exclusively publish research by teachers, for teachers.
Why is it called Praxis?
Praxis is an ancient word, dating back to ancient Greece, which was defined by Paulo Freire as “reflection and action upon the world, in order to transform it”. We see teacher research as a process of reflecting and acting on our own practice, in order to improve it it – and so to improve the life outcomes of future generations.
Who’s behind it?
Praxis Teacher Research is a free service provided by Rethinking Education.
Why should teachers do research – aren’t we busy enough?
The question “what works?” has been asked a lot in recent years, often in exasperated tones by people who just want to get to the bottom of this education malarky once and for all. But the frustrating truth is, the answer to “what works?” is almost always “it depends”. It depends on how the “what” is defined, how it’s practised, by whom and for what reason. It depends on how you define and measure the notion of “works”. And it depends on the values of the people involved, and their beliefs about what education is for.
In an attempt to bring clarity to this complex picture, in recent years there have been a number of publications which have sought to provide teachers with a kind of “league table” of educational practices, ranked from the highly effective to the highly ineffective. Two of the most widely used examples include the EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit, and John Hattie’s ‘Visible Learning‘ study. However, again there we find bad news. Because even if you do things that have been “proven to work” in other contexts – that is no guarantee that those things will be “working” in the same way in your context. In fact – you might be making things worse (e.g. see the short video halfway down this page).
The only way to get to the bottom of this once and for all is to set in place a system of professional development which determines “what works” in each individual context. Now, we could wait for educational researchers to parachute into our classrooms and carry out this work for us. But we’ll be waiting a long time. The only alternative is to roll our sleeves up and carry out this work for ourselves. And to share our findings on an open platform. so that we can learn from one another and stop having to re-invent the wheel.
If professional development means “getting better at what we do” – or “getting *even* better”, because teachers are already pretty awesome – well, in the absence of some form of systematic inquiry… how can we even hope to get a handle on the question of whether we’re getting any better? Let’s turn the question around. If your professional development activities do not require you to systematically evaluate the impact of your practice… how do you know whether they’re making things better, having no impact – or making things worse?
How does Teacher Research work exactly?
When we work with schools, we go through the following 12-step process:
- Reflect. Think about your professional development to date. What are your strengths? What problems do you face currently?
- Focus. Choose an area of your practice that you would like to investigate or develop. Keep the focus small and manageable. For example you might examine just one strategy you use, or explore how best to support a particular student.
- Formulate a research question. Research questions should be defined as tightly possible. A useful question frame is: ‘To what extent is… effective as a method for improving…?’
- Read around the topic. There’s no need to carry out an exhaustive literature review, but try to read at least one piece of research about your chosen area of interest. If the area is controversial, it’s helpful to read articles from opposing viewpoints.
- Choose a research method. There are many options – observations, test scores, interviews, questionnaires – or you might wish to combine a few different approaches. The more data you collect, the richer your understanding will become, but here too it’s important to keep it manageable.
- Take a baseline (optional). Not all research inquiries require a baseline measure or lend themselves to a ‘pre vs. post’ style of evaluation. However, if you wish to get a handle on whether your practice is improving over time, or whether it is equally effective in different contexts, some form of initial baseline measure will provide a useful point of comparison. You might also consider collecting data about students not involved in the study (a control group).
- Plan and carry out your intervention (optional). Not all research inquiries are intervention based – for example, you might simply wish to find out more about an aspect of your practice, perhaps through student voice interviews. However if your aim is to evaluate the impact of a particular strategy, you should take the time to plan how and when to do this in a realistic, authentic way.
- Take a post-intervention measure (optional). If your research method involves a ‘pre vs. post’ comparison, how long will you wait before collecting the data – a day, a week, a month? Will you collect it over time, or in a single data harvest?
- Analyse your findings. Once you have collected your data, take the time to sit with it. Try to understand it as deeply as possible. Discuss it with your colleagues. What does it tell you? What does it not tell you? Did you find what you expected? Were there any surprises, and if so, what might lie behind them? What conclusions can you draw?
- Evaluate your research inquiry. How did it go? What went well? What aspects did you find challenging? What would you do differently if you did it again? Can you use the findings to inform your practice in future? If so, how? If not, why not?
- Write up and share your findings. Try to tell the story in a way that will be helpful to others working in a similar position. Aim for around 1-2000 words. If you would like to provide more detail, you can upload additional documents (e.g. resources, results tables) as attachments.
- Plan your next inquiry. What’s next? Do you wish to repeat the same inquiry, but do it differently this time, or in a different context? Or perhaps it’s time for a total change of direction. Whatever you decide, stick with it: action research is a powerful engine for getting better at what we do, and improving outcomes for young people.
How do I get started?
First you need to register – it’s free to do so. Then click the ‘Submit Inquiry’ tab and start writing! The ‘Suggested Format’ tab contains some suggested headings and prompt questions. When it’s ready, hit the ‘submit for review’ button. We’ll get back to you as soon as we can, either with suggestions for improvement or to confirm that we have approved the inquiry for publication on the site.
And that’s it!
* On this site, teacher is used as a shorthand for ‘people working in education’ – this includes learning support assistants, SENCOs, pastoral staff, support staff etc.