Sunday 31 May 2015

Why CATs (Critically Appraised Topics) are the Evidence-Informed Teacher's Best Friend

How many times have you heard : 'There's just no way I have the time to engage in research'.     The development of CATS are important given previous posts have  emphasised the need to embed evidence-informed teacher inquiry into the day-to-day work of the school. This post, I will suggest how Critically Appraised Topics (CATS) can be used in a time-efficient manner to summarise and appraise research

What is a Critically Appraised Topic (CAT)?

A CAT is a structured one-page summary of the results of an evidence-based learning opportunity, and where a pedagogic or pupil issue has stimulated a colleague to:  generate a well-formulated question; appraise the evidence; decide how to use that evidence to address the pedagogic issue or pupil needs (Adapted from Straus at al 2011 p239)

Draft Template for a Critically Appraised Topic


Background question

Foreground question (PICO)

Intervention or action required/anticipated

Pedagogic bottom-line

Concise statement of the best available evidence/answers to the questions


Description of evidence:
  •        Type of study
  •             Sample size
  •             Results
  •             Conducted by
  •             When
Alternatively – if no ‘research’ evidence is available a statement of relevant stakeholder/school evidence relevant. or articulation of  current best experience – by practitioners.

  •      Relevance to current setting
  •         Limitations
  •         Strengths


Include source of evidence and how accessed


Who conducted the appraisal?


How is it intended that the learning is shared?


Date CAT completed

Review date

Is new evidence likely to become available which would require the CAT to be revised?

Limitations in the use of Critically Appraised Topics

Strauss et al identify a number of limitations in using CATS, including:
  • Given the speed CATS are produced, not all the relevant evidence may be accessed.
  • As the emphasis is on applying the use of the evidence to a particular setting - the conclusions may not be transferable to other contexts
  • Due to the speed of production, there may be errors in the CAT
Despite these weaknesses, Straus et al identify several reasons to continue to produce CATS, including: 
  • Writing  a CAT summarises and consolidates learning.
  • Many teaching challenges are not unique and we may need to draw upon the learning in the future.
  • By sharing the learning from our CATs other colleagues can benefit from this learning, possibly contributing to the development of a professional learning community.
  • Most teachers will be new to the use of evidence-based practice techniques and by writing up CATs colleagues will have the the opportunity to refine their skills.
However, the most important aspect of the use of CATs is they allow colleagues to engage in evidence-informed/based practice in a time effective way.  CATs in being time efficient, make it easier for them to be used in settings such as Journal Clubs or the like.


CATS are great example of how evidence-based teacher inquirers can benefit from cross-disciplinary work, and in particular evidence-based medicine.  And despite educational research being  messy, difficult, provisional, and tentative, there are many opportunities for teachers to learn from other fields and disciplines.    


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.


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