Wednesday, 7 January 2015

School Research Leads and Asking Better Questions - Part Two

In my previous post I adapted the work of Strauss et al (2011)  to help school-based research leads go about the task of devising well formulated questions.  In this post I intend to look further at the differing types of questions that can be asked.   But first a quick recap of the PICO format.   PICO is an acronym for the components of a well-formulated question and which are as follows:

P — Pupil or Problem. How would you describe the group of pupils or problem?
I — Intervention. What are you planning to do with your pupils?
C — Comparison. What is the alternative to the intervention (e.g.different intervention)?
O — Outcomes. What are the effects of the intervention?

PIOC and Different Question Types

Having created a well-formulated question, it is worth reflecting on the type of question-which can be created and which has been adapted from (Stillwell, Melnyk, & Williamson, 2010).

Pedagogical intervention - To determine which pedagogical intervention leads to the best outcome for pupils/outcomes

  • For students requiring students requiring additional learning supported how does the provision of 1 to 1 support compared with group support affect retention rates in the first term?

Etiology - To determine greatest success/risk factors

  • Are level 3 BTEC Extended Diploma students who have grade C or above in GCSE Mathematics compared with those students who do not, more likely to successfully complete their two year programme of study?

Diagnosis - To determine which test is more accurate in diagnosing learning  needs

  • For post 16  students requiring support in the development of English skills,  are GCSE grades a better indicator of needs compared to specific on-line screening tool (eg BKSB)?

Prognosis or prediction To determine the course over time and likely complications of a particular pedagogical intervention

  • Do weekly tutorials for students with poor records of attendance improve timely completion of coursework within three months of the initiation of the weekly tutorials?

Meaning To understand the meaning of an experience for a particular group of  students

  • How do further educations students with grade D or below in GCSE English perceive re-siting GCSE English during the first year of post-16 education?

How to ask the most appropriate question?

Straus et al 2011 have suggested a series of filters which could be used to identify the most appropriate question to ask in a particular situation.  I have adapted the suggested filters so they can be easily transferred to an educational setting.
  • Which question, if answered, will be most useful for our pupils/students/learners' well being - academic or personal?
  • Which question will be most useful for subject leaders, heads of department in gaining a better understanding of the issues at hand?
  • Which question will be most useful in helping to improve the department, school or college?
  • Which question is most likely to re-occur and will need to be revisited in the future?
  • Which question is most interesting to you as an evidence-based practitioner and contribute most to your personal professional development?
I'm sure that some colleagues are saying that they do not have sufficient time to formulate questions in such a structured manner.  On the other hand, as Strauss et al (2010) so clearly articulate - again amended for evidence-based educational practitioners - there are a number of clear benefits of such an approach:
  1. Focussing our scarce professional development time on the needs of our learners.
  2. Making it easier to communicate with colleagues.
  3. As our knowledge grows we are role-modelling to our colleagues what it looks like to be a research informed practitioners
I hope you agree with me that by asking better questions we can expand our skills as evidence-based practitioners.  In future posts  I will continue to explore the challenge of asking better questions and will be drawing upon a number of differing perspectives.

Straus, S.E., Glasziou, P., Richardson, W. S. & Haynes, B.R. (2011)  Evidence Based Medicine : How to practice and teach it, (4th edition), Churchill Livingston.
Stillwell, S. B., Melnyk, B. M., & Williamson, K. M. (2010). Asking the Clinical Question : A key step in evidence based practice. American Journal of Nursing, 210(3).


  1. Thanks for taking the time to discuss this, I feel strongly about it and love learning more on this topic. If possible, as you gain expertise, would you mind updating your blog with more information? It is extremely helpful for me. Faculty Development Program || Institution Building || Educational Leadership

  2. There stands out to be possible concerns that will help and enforce students in establishing good foundation for the future success. edit personal statement