Friday, 2 December 2016

Teacher research literacy and the components of an argument

The question of what is meant teacher research literacy often appears in my Twitter timeline, and recently this tweet caught my attention.

Beth’s tweet got me thinking again about research literacy, as I had written about it earlier in the year  where I came up with a pretty long-list of cognitive strategies that research literate teachers could and maybe should use.  However, as I reflected on the feedback on that post, it became clear  that we need to avoid coming up with long lists, as no one will either remember what’s on the list or subsequently use it.  So it struck me was that if we are to ensure ALL teachers are research literate, then we need to make research literacy as simple as we can, but no simpler (to probably misquote Albert Einstein)

So with that in mind, I thought it worthwhile to turn to the work of  (Wallace and Wray, 2016)and their book Critical Reading and Writing for Postgraduates (3rd edn).  As for me they clearly and concisely get to the heart of what is meant by research literacy i.e. the ability to identify the components of an argument, and how to spot incomplete or flawed arguments

What are the components of an argument?

(Wallace and Wray, 2016) state:

An argument consists of a conclusion (comprising one or more claims that somethings is, or should be, the case) and its warranting (the justification for why the claim or claims in the conclusion should be accepted).  The warranting is likely to be based on the evidence from the author’s research or professional experience, or it will draw up on others’ evidence as reported in the literature. p36

An example of an argument, which is increasingly accepted within English schools is Coe’s (2014) view of graded lesson observation, which can be summarised as follows:
  • Graded lesson observations should not be used for high stakes accountability purposes as there are substantive issues with both the reliability and validity of lesson observation grades.
There are also other examples of where we can identify the conclusion and warranting of the current educational arguments
  • Research shows that pupils as they get older are much more heterogeneous, as such studies should take this into account when using effect sizes to judge the impact  of an innovation.
  • Evidence shows that children of poorer parents tend to perform less well academically, than children of wealthier parents.  Therefore, any school accountability system should take this into account.
  •  Evidence shows that there is a correlation between how school leaders spend their time and pupil outcomes.  Studies into effective school leadership should take into how school leaders spend their time on different aspects of leadership and management.
Illogical or incomplete arguments

So having identified the argument, you will now need to work out whether argument is flawed through, for example, drawing conclusions without evidence or insufficient warranting for the conclusion.  Table 1 adapted from (Wallace and Wray, 2016) gives examples of a range of flaws in arguments, which as critical consumer and uses of research you will need to be on the look-out for?

Table 1 Identifying flaw in arguments derived from different sources of evidence

Type of flaw in argument
Conclusion without warranting
The best teachers make the best heads of department

Potential warranting without a conclusion
In-house research shows that many parents often sign ‘consent’ forms without reading them.  School correspondence to parents can be confusing.

Warranting leading to an illogical conclusion
Early career teachers are not very experienced.  This indicates that they are not very good teachers.

Conclusion not explicitly linked to warranting
Evidence shows that out KS3 pupils are spending insufficient time on homework.  KS3 pupils should be set more homework.

Conclusion with inadequate warranting
Experienced teachers learn more effectively when they are given positive feedback.  An in-house school survey of  teachers over the age of 50,  indicated that the vast majority said they preferred praise to criticism

To conclude

This post is only a very brief guide to arguments and warranting.  As such, strongly I recommend that you have a look at Wallace and Wray's Critical Reading and Writing for Postgraduates and that you put on your Christmas list a  copy of Booths et al  The Craft of Research (4th end.).  After which you may want to set yourself the challenge of trying to Tweet both an argument and a warrant in less 140 characters.  I think it can be done, and it might make Twitter a much more informative space.


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