Education Endowment Foundation:EEF blog: Teacher-powered research: how we’re building the evidence around everyday practice

EEF blog: Teacher-powered research: how we’re building the evidence around everyday practice


Christine Kelly, our Methodological Innovation Lead, and Faizaan Sami, Evaluation Manager, explore our new stream of evaluations, which aim to give teachers better evidence to support their everyday practice.

Blog •6 minutes •

Every day, teachers make decisions in their day-to-day practice that aim to improve pupil learning but may have limited evidence to support these choices. To help, we introduced a new approach to evaluation in 2019, Teacher Choices, to generate relevant and actionable evidence to resolve dilemmas teachers routinely face. We also launched a corresponding approach called School Choices to investigate decisions made at setting level. After some disruption during the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re now launching a new series of Teacher Choices evaluations and taking stock of what we’ve learned so far.

What are Teacher Choices?

Consider a whole-class reading lesson in Key Stage 2: is it more effective for pupils’ reading comprehension to read a story continuously (‘GO!’) or to stop periodically for questions and discussion (‘STOP!’)? A research team at the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) investigated this question in the Story Time trial by randomly assigning Year 4 and 5 teachers to carry out either the STOP! or GO! approach with their classes for a period of three weeks. They provided short implementation guides for teachers in each condition to scaffold classroom delivery.

The trial found that pupils taught by teachers who stopped and asked questions while reading aloud scored higher in reading and listening comprehension, on average, than pupils taught by teachers who read aloud without stopping. More broadly, the study demonstrated that the Teacher Choices approach to evaluation is feasible and can be applied to other questions of interest to teachers and early years educators to inform day-to-day practice.

What have we learned so far?

In Autumn 2023, we published the first set of Teacher Choice feasibility studies, including the Story Time trial, as well as A Winning Start’, which compared two approaches to lesson starters in Year 8 classes. These studies aimed to assess whether real-world practice-based questions could be successfully evaluated using a randomised controlled trial (RCT), and whether teachers could integrate a discrete set of approaches into routine teaching without disruption. The findings have left us highly encouraged, with a number of key takeaways.

1. There’s appetite among teachers to take part in this type of research.

First, we found that teachers were highly motivated to take part in this type of research. Not only did participation in these trials align with school professional development priorities to apply relevant, evidenced-based practices, but it also supported a desire among teachers to directly contribute to the evidence base.

Year 8 Science teacher participating in A Winning Start’ Trial.

2. Short and simple guides help teachers apply the approach being tested.

Second, we learned how short and simple teacher guides were sufficient for teachers to understand the trial and apply the choice approaches with fidelity. Striking the right balance between strict prescription and flexibility within provided guidance is no easy feat. We gathered input from EEF content specialists and practitioners from our Research Schools Network to distil guidance down to the core elements of practice, with teachers using their best judgement in localising’ the approach to their context.

3. Findings can be distilled into relevant, actionable takeaways.

Third, the pilots provided a test case for disseminating findings to the wider sector. On the Story Time trial, for example, EEF and NFER collaborated with practitioners to summarise the qualitative and quantitative insights from the trial in a short evidence brief for schools. By packaging results in this way, we want to allow teachers to quickly digest which approach is more impactful alongside participants’ experiences of implementation, ultimately to make informed choices to replicate a chosen approach in their own classroom. This approach to supporting schools with evidence-informed decision-making draws on the qualities reflected in EEF’s recently published concise guide on using research evidence.

Senior School Leader after participating in StoryTime’ Trial.

Unsurprisingly, the Teacher Choices feasibility trials underscored the importance of close collaboration with teachers at all stages of the research process, from identifying compelling and testable research questions, to informing the design of teacher guides and deciding how to communicate results.

So, when we commissioned a new trio of Teacher Choices projects in 2022, there was a desire to further embed a teacher-powered research approach. This time, all three projects began with an explicit scoping phase designed to identify testable practice dilemmas in each subject theme. Teacher engagement through co-design workshops, interviews, focus groups, piloting work, and large-scale surveys was pivotal in each project progressing to impact evaluation.

Despite some exciting initial findings, there are methodological challenges associated with Teacher Choices trials that we continue to explore. For example, running causal evaluations of teacher practices means we have to identify specific outcomes that we would expect the practice to influence and evaluate them with sensitive assessment measures. Where standardised test measures lack the necessary precision, evaluators like NFER have turned to innovative approaches by creating and validating bespoke assessments or collecting teacher-developed topic tests to evaluate the impact of Teacher Choices.

Nonetheless, integrating RCTs into real-world practice entails navigating some level of variation. Not all teachers instruct the same topics in the same sequence, and pupils in classrooms may not be grouped in the same way across settings. Such differing contexts challenge the ability to test pupils across settings and produce a standard impact. However, it also presents a unique opportunity to work with teachers in identifying innovative testing solutions.

To support evaluators with such challenges, we realised that multidisciplinary expertise was needed. Each new Teacher Choice project has therefore been guided by a Study Advisory Board comprising methodological, subject and practice experts providing fresh perspectives to help inform the evaluation.

What next for Teacher Choices?

As part of our research funding round on cognitive science, early years and Key Stage 1 maths, and early language in 2022, we commissioned three Teacher Choices evaluations which have just completed their scoping phase:

These evaluations seek to support teachers to answer questions including:

Which modelling technique that uses examples is most effective for teaching English grammar?

Is pre-teaching more effective than other forms of targeted support in Key Stage 1 maths?

Are educator-led or responsive reading sessions most effective for teaching language skills through stories in early years?

Additionally, complementing newly-commissioned evaluations of educational technology (EdTech) interventions, we’ve partnered with Hg Foundation to fund a Teacher Choices trial to examine whether ChatGPT-informed lesson and resource preparation is more effective in reducing teacher workload than traditional preparation methods. As EdTech developments are rapidly transforming teaching and learning practices, a Teacher Choices evaluation provides the opportunity to generate expedient, robust and timely evidence in this space.

This is where we need your help! All of our active Teacher Choices projects are currently, or will soon be, recruiting for participants. Teachers and school leaders are encouraged to learn more about the projects and register their interest on the relevant EEF project page.

If you have any questions about our Teacher Choices work, please contact Faizaan.​sami@​eefoundation.​org.​uk.