Researching your own practice

One of the most interesting aspects of getting started with RME is reflecting on your own practice and how it impacts on your classroom and your students. Taking it one step further and systematically investigating what happens when you implement a particular pedagogic practice, or when you work with your students on a strategy like “re-alloting”, enables you to notice more about student learning.

One of the best ways to get started as a teacher researcher is to pick a mathematical topic that interests you. For instance, maybe you have noticed that your students seem to have difficulty with comparing fractions, or understanding area. Alternatively, you might be thinking more about your own practice — perhaps you want to work on extending your wait time, or asking more open questions. Research that is highly focused in this way is often most productive.

On this page we offer some ideas for how you might go about researching for own practice, with links and organisations to follow up. We will add to these ideas so please do visit again.

Practicing the art of noticing

There are a number of ways that you can research what you do.  If you are interested in your classroom practice, videoing yourself teaching and looking at the micro-moves that you make is one approach. Try working with one or two other teachers to observe each other and share thinking.

In any research, you need to develop skills of noticing, and this is particularly important in honing your observation and analysis skills. This idea has been developed in an accessible and compelling way by John Mason. We recommend his book, Researching your own practice: The discipline of noticing (Mason, 2001).

John has created a short introduction to these ideas here:

This work should help you deepen your observations about your own thinking, as well as your student’s though processes. This can lead to interesting questions of your own making: How do mathematical conversations develop over the course of a lesson? Which methods are my students drawn to? When do I interrupt students’ thought processes?

Other teacher researcher techniques

Another approach to classroom observation is suggested by Alan Schoenfeld’s work with teachers in the Teaching for Robust Understanding Project (2016). An Introduction to the Teaching for Robust Understanding (TRU) Framework. Berkeley, CA: Graduate School of Education.

Lesson study is another option. Here, you work with colleagues to investigate a particular issue in your school. Analyse what is happening, implement changes on the basis of your analysis and then evaluate or research the outcome. This short video explains how teachers went about this in a London-based project.

A related approach is action research.  Researcher Pete Wright has led a participatory action research project with 5 teacher-researchers.  Read about it here.

A completely different approach is to collect student work and systematically analyse it – can you see patterns in their responses?  How do they change over time? Alternatively, set your students some problems on a topic which interests you and record them as they set about the problems – perhaps video their hands as they draw and explain.  We have found that students often come up with novel approaches which give us major insights into how they are thinking.  Again, it’s a question of keeping an open mind and looking carefully at what students are doing or saying, rather than making assumptions about what is going on.  To see what we mean, read this paper on ‘Hearing Students’ by Wallach and Even.

Thinking about the mathematical horizon, our colleague David Webb in the USA has worked with teachers to analyse the ‘iceberg’ for particular topics, and reflect on what this means for their teaching.  This can be a really interesting exercise to do with colleagues. Read about David’s work here.

Including all students

RME has an inclusive ethos. If you are interested in inclusion, and how to encourage participation from all your students, you might be interested in this on-line seminar hosted by the University of Southern California in 2021.  The speaker is Deborah Ball:

Organisations of interest