Introduction to the issue: action research across the Dulwich network

Guest Editor Mel Stuckey

by Melody Stuckey (Dulwich College Suzhou)


Melody Stuckey is the Guest Editor of this issue of the Dulwich Lab and Head of DUCKS at Dulwich College Suzhou. She has valued the opportunity to be part of the College in Suzhou for the past ten years and to grow and develop as an educator and a leader. She feels very fortunate to be working with a team of passionate and devoted teachers who continue to keep the school moving forward.

It is really encouraging to see so much action research being put into practice throughout the Dulwich College International schools. The power of action research comes from setting a meaningful “essential question”. It is about exploring something in your practice that you have been grappling with and that you are passionate about improving. This article offers an overview of the different ways we approach action research in our schools.

In 2016/17, Dulwich International High School Suzhou has further developed its  focus group system, which is designed to facilitate communication between staff members and encourage inter-departmental collaboration. Based on their professional objectives and academic interests, all teachers choose to join one of the four focus groups: Assessment for Learning (AfL), Embedding English (EE), Learning Sciences (LS), and Technology Integration (TI). Each of the groups engages in action research and this is used as a channel for the teachers’ internal and external professional development courses.

Teachers at Dulwich College Seoul are continuing to use Dylan Wiliam's Formative Assessment programme to embed formative assessment into day-to-day practice. Teachers and assistant teachers continue to meet every month. They are trying out different techniques and engaging in peer observations before offering feedback within the supportive structure of a professional learning community. The research in Dylan Wiliam's recent book, Leadership for Teacher Learning, supports and encourages this process.

David Didau's summary of Robert Bjork's research into “desirable difficulties” has led staff members to adopt a new approach to teaching maths. Rather than teaching in traditional unit blocks, as set out by the UK National Numeracy strategy, they are now incorporating spaced and interleaved learning into the curriculum structure. For example, instead of teaching Block A, focusing on numbers for four weeks, then Block B, focusing on shape and space, they are teaching a lesson on numbers on Monday, followed by a lesson on shape and space on Tuesday, a lesson on fractions on Wednesday and so on. In this way they hope to enhance the children's long term learning.

Rosie Campbell, a Senior School English teacher at Dulwich College Beijing, is conducting a year-long research project into developing a coaching programme that meets the needs of teachers at the College. Although there are many “ready-made” coaching programmes, she wants to develop an approach and set of processes that are specific to the needs of our teachers and related to the challenges we face. To this end, Rosie has involved 20 volunteers from across the College in an experimental programme. Teachers are both acting as coaches and receiving coaching. Through careful recording of outcomes and ongoing meetings with participants, Rosie is aiming to identify the most valuable approaches to coaching for our teachers and their professional development.

This academic year at Dulwich College Shanghai, some members of the learning community are engaging in their own professional learning in the form of action research.

Rachel Shi, who holds a PhD Education from the University of Maryland is working with the Early Years team at the College in Shanghai to explore the role of the Mandarin-speaking adults in early years Dual Language education. The insights and findings that have emerged over the course of two week-long visits have been very informative and have led to a deeper understanding of how children acquire language.

Sarah Juta, the Dual Language programme Coordinator, is exploring the link between cognitive development and language development following the work of Clare Painter set out in Learning Through Language In Early Childhood. Starting from the premise that learning is mediated through a significant other, she will be following the language development of individual children and noting the role and relationships of the caregivers in the school setting and at home.

Sue Stinson, Nursery Year Group Leader, is exploring the use of triangulated reflection and its effect on professional engagement and observing whether and how strongly it impacts teaching and learning in the setting. This project follows a successful 18-month middle leadership professional learning course with Andy Hind.

Renee Wheeler, Toddler Group Leader and Sue’s colleague and learning partner from the Andy Hind course, is focusing her research on improving the quality of consistent and sustained interaction of adults and children in their play. She is working with four Mandarin-speaking colleagues in the Toddler setting.

It is inspiring to hear about the action research taking place across our schools. It will be interesting to hear how these projects continue to develop and how we can learn from one another.