Raising Standards Together

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MEP learning pack

Masters in Educational Practice: Professional learning


Teachers as researchers


Examining educational literature

In this section we are going to explore how you can get the most from reading the wider educational literature referred to by Brookfield. Educational literature comes in many forms, some of which are referred to in Figure 2.2.1.

Figure 2.2.1: Key educational literature
Figure 2.2.1: Key educational literature

University and county librarians provide details of journals and other reference materials. There are huge archives of so-called ‘grey literature’ including:

  • Her Majesty’s Inspectors reports
  • government enquiries
  • school-based policies
  • local authority records
  • reports written by charities.

Derek Gillard’s website (external link) hosts a very impressive set of documents relating to the history of education to the present day, mostly confined to England.

Here we want to discuss engaging with particular texts in an open-minded and constructive manner. You may be familiar with how to conduct a literature review for more substantial research projects. A literature review pulls together different theories, arguments and sources, as well as identifying possible gaps in our knowledge – which might justify the research.  

Whether reading a specific text or carrying out a wider trawl, the basic principle is not to accept what is said or written without asking searching questions. Healthy skepticism is essential in research. There are many useful references and models to help you interrogate texts. The key points to bear in mind are noted in Figure 2.2.2.

Figure 2.2.2: Checklist for reading critically
Figure 2.2.2: Checklist for reading critically

Judging the quality of what you read involves continually asking questions. Here is an example of critical reading based on a recent story about attendance in the news (external link).

Ethical signpost

Reading critically for research does not mean criticising other researchers in a defamatory manner. It simply means asking questions about the quality of the material.

Figure 2.2.3: Basic questions to ask when reading educational literature
Figure 2.2.3: Basic questions to ask when reading educational literature

These questions particularly apply when looking at online materials that may not have experienced a rigorous editorial process. Poor digital literacy skills are a widespread concern. A recent report, entitled ‘Truth, lies and the Internet’ (Bartlett and Miller, 2011), found that many young people do not check the factual accuracy of what they find online and trust what they first see. Google has become a verb and is often the first (and only) point of reference.

Ethical signpost

You should treat the online community with the same level of courtesy and respect that would be afforded if researching offline. Online research presents particular challenges, for instance relating to e-safety and the use of social media. Check advice in sources such as Dolowitz et al (2008).

Activity 2.2.1

One of the challenges when reading any text is detecting the reasoning behind arguments, possible bias and weighing up the evidence, rather like a high court judge.

Here is a list of cases brought before the UK’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE). By looking at the headlines only, what do you think were the arguments for and against and the outcomes?

  • Case 314: Parents were banned from saying goodbye to their children in the playground.
  • Case 302: Primary school not allowed ladders.
  • Case 258: Hot drinks not allowed on school trips.
  • Case 230: School refused to allow learner to bring in a live baby chick for school presentation.
  • Case 180: School bans children from wearing frilly socks.

Choose a case from the HSE Myth Busters Challenge Panel (external link) findings to explore further and see what evidence is presented to reach the judgement.

Do any of these cases have implications for your practice?

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