Friday 23 June 2017

The School Research and the So What question

As we approach the end of the academic year, school research leads will not doubt  be pulling together a programme of work for the coming year.  Inevitably,  colleagues will be putting forward a range of research questions which they hope to have included in the school’s research/inquiry agenda.  However, as harsh as it may seem the most appropriate initial response to these requests is to ask as  (Booth, Colob, Williams, J., & Fitzgerald, 2016) suggest: So What? Does this question really matter? What would happen if we didn’t answer your question?  Would it make a difference to the life chances of pupils or the well-being of colleagues?

In order to help your colleagues answer the - So What – question, we will borrow a three step process developed by (Booth et al., 2016) in helping researchers develop questions that matter.
  1. Name the topic:  I am trying to learn/find out about ………..
  2. Ask an indirect question about the topic in order to identify what you do not know about the topic
  3. Answer So What? by motivating your question by asking a second indirect questions that explains why you asked your first indirect questions. 
Let’s have a look at a few worked examples
  • I am interested in working on marking strategies because I want to find out the most time effective way of carrying out marking because I want to reduce unnecessary work load on teaching staff
  • I am interested in children’s play because I want to find out the best way of incorporating play into my teaching as I want to increase children’s independence as learners
  • I am interested in understanding the nature of parental engagement with their children’s learning so I can  enlist parents help in increase their children’s effectiveness as readers.
  • I am interested in looking into incremental coaching as I want to find a way to develop teachers’ pedagogical skill so as to improve pupil outcomes.
  • I am interested in understanding the role of school research champions because I want to find out how best to access academic research because I want teaching and learning to be informed by best currently available research knowledge.
Now just because a colleague cannot immediately answer these three questions, does not mean that his or her topic of interest is without merit.   However, what it does suggest that the idea or question is not yet robust enough to be allocated resources in its support.  Moreover, further refinement of the response to - So What – may lead to a situation where senior leaders care sufficiently about the question – as to make sure it becomes a future priority. 


Booth, W. C., Colob, G., G, Williams, J. M., J., B., & Fitzgerald, W. T. (2016). The Craft of Research (Fourth Edition). Chicago: The University Of Chicago Press.

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