Learning to Learn Phase 3: Action Research Support 2003-2006

From September 2003 to September 2006
Project Leader(s): Steve Higgins
Staff: Project team: Kate Wall (project manager) Viv Baumfield, Jill Clark, Chris Falzon, Elaine Hall, David Leat, Rachel Lofthouse, Caroline McCaughey, Lisa Murtagh and Pam Woolner.
Contact: Kate Wall

The third phase of the Campaign for Learning’s Learning to Learn (L2L) project is running in over 30 schools in Cheshire, Enfield and Cornwall. Clusters of about 12 schools in each area have been investigating the impact of Learning to Learn approaches in the classroom from September 2003 for three years.

This builds on and develops the work from the earlier phases of the project (see

The Research Objectives
Specifically, the research aims to understand:
• the relative importance of different L2L approaches in raising standards
• how the adoption of L2L approaches impacts on teacher motivation and capacity to manage change
• whether, and if so how, L2L approaches support the development of confident and capable lifelong learners.

The Research Approach
As part of the Learning to Learn project teachers were invited to explore the different approaches they understood as being consonant with the Learning to Learn heading within their school or classroom. This common aim gave the teachers a starting point, but as teachers are often unrecognised innovators and, by the nature of their jobs, problem solvers, the tendency has been for the project brief to be interpreted and understood in a range of ways. This introduces a level of unpredictability for the university researcher; however this transfer of the locus of control regarding the focus and direction of the research to the teachers is essential in achieving the project aims (Higgins and Leat, 1997). The developmental process of action research, which over a three year project allows several research cycles (see diagram below) to take place is much more than the acquisition of a research ‘skill set’, encompassing personal perspective transformation, cultural change within schools and the broadening of external networks of collaboration, communication and critical challenge.

The input of the university team evolves as the action research process unfolds: the definition of the problem is wholly ‘owned’ by individual teachers or teams within schools and the university team scaffold the development of hypotheses by encouraging close focus on what will change and what change will look like. Our input on research methods informs the action plan and shapes it to the extent that schools are required to triangulate their data through the use of multiple evaluation tools (Baumfield, 2006), including at least one quantitative method (see, for example, Wall and Hall, 2005). In this way, though we are imposing our values from the academic community on teacher-researchers, we are simultaneously sharing the language and culture of research, giving procedural autonomy to teachers through a shared understanding of the expectations of this ‘craft’ (Ecclestone, 2002; Lave and Wenger, 1991).

Using Stenhouse’s (1981) model of “systematic enquiry made public”, the teachers have been encouraged to initiate changes they feel are appropriate and to investigate them in such a way that is meaningful to them and colleagues. The participant teachers work with the intended audience for their enquiry identified as a ‘sceptical colleague’ who needs to be convinced of the impact of the chosen approach. The university team support and facilitate this process of action research through a combination of electronic and face-to-face communication (Wall, 2005; Falzon et al. 2004). Through all these different media the university team take a lead role in providing input on different aspects of the project, as well as supporting dialogue between schools about learning to learn and the research process. Through these systems, the university team gave guidance and opinion which may impact on the action research process in schools. However at no point was there any intention to divert the locus of control away from the teachers and the context of the schools.

Practical support in the development of questionnaires or other tools and in the analysis of data was offered to those schools who wanted it, with a commitment to swift response which was a crucial component of the network. When learners are engaged in new, risk-taking activities, it is important that support is felt to be close, responsive and individually tailored. Just as scaffolding in the classroom is mediated through the quality of the relationship (Bruner, 1984), so, we believe, scaffolding teacher-researchers is dependent upon the authenticity of the relationship between schools and university. The role of the network in supporting teacher-researchers should not be underestimated and it is an important feature underpinning the success of Learning to Learn. As the diagram below demonstrates, there are a range of contacts for the individual teacher: at school, LEA, project and beyond. The needs will necessarily be different in each context: in July 2004, nine of our teachers were working alone in their schools, 18 were working with one or two colleagues and six were involved in whole school Learning to Learn projects. Indeed, a movement towards the engagement of the whole school has been observed as the project progressed.

Project outcomes
There is great resonance for teachers in pragmatically conceptualising their learning in action (Dewey, 1933). Our commitment in Learning to Learn is to the teachers’ voice and the project outcomes reflect the process whereby teachers reconcile their experience with their evolving ways of describing it (Elliot, 1991). Each teacher/ school completes a case study write up documenting their experiences of during the last cycle of action research. The University team then completes a cross-project analysis of common research tools, of different reported perspectives and of additional data collection. This is reported in an annual project report.

Outcomes so far:
• 31 Year One case studies
• Year One annual report (Higgins et al., 2005)
• 23 Year Two case studies
• Year Two annual report (Higgins et al., forthcoming)
(All outputs are available on the Campaign for Learning website:

The Project Team
The research team at the Centre for Learning and Teaching, Newcastle University have extensive experience of researching the impact of thinking skills approaches and related pedagogies in primary and secondary schools. The research project is directed by Steve Higgins and the project manager is Kate Wall. The other members of the team are Viv Baumfield, Jill Clark, Chris Falzon, Elaine Hall, David Leat, Rachel Lofthouse, Caroline McCaughey, Lisa Murtagh and Pam Woolner.

For further information contact:

Baumfield, V.M (2005, in press) Tools for Pedagogical Inquiry: the impact of teaching thinking skills on teachers, Oxford Review of Education, 31.
Bruner, J. (1984) Vygotsky's zone of proximal development: the hidden agenda, in B. Rogoff, & Wertsh, J. (Eds) Children's learning in the 'zone of proximal development'. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Brown, T. & Jones, L. (2001) Action research and postmodernism: congruence and critique. Buckingham: Open University Press.
Dewey, J. (1933) How we think: a restatement of the relation of reflective thinking to the educative process. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Ecclestone, K. (2002) Learning and Autonomy in post-16 Education: the politics and practice of formative assessment. London: Routledge Falmer.
Elliot, J. (1991) Action Research for Educational Change. Buckingham: Open University Press.
Falzon, C.; Higgins, S. and Wall, K. (2004) Using 'ICT-supported' action research as an approach to teacher professional development and systematic enquiry, in First International Innovation Education Conference. Leeds: The University of Leeds, UK.
Higgins, S. and Moseley, D. (2001) Teachers' thinking about ICT and learning: beliefs and outcomes, Teacher Development 5.2 pp 191-210.
Higgins, S., Wall, K., Falzon, C., Hall, E., Leat, D., Baumfield, V., Clark, J., Edwards, G., Jones, H., Lofthouse, R., Moseley, D., Miller, J., Murtagh, L., Smith, F., Smith, H., and Woolner, P. (2005) Learning to Learn in Schools Phase 3 Evaluation Year One Final Report.. London: Campaign for Learning
Higgins, S., Wall, K., Falzon, C., Hall, E., Leat, D., Baumfield, V., Clark, J., Lofthouse, R., Moseley, D., and Woolner, P. (Forthcoming) Learning to Learn in Schools Phase 3 Evaluation Year Two Final Report. London: Campaign for Learning
Lave J. and Wenger E. (1991) Situated learning: legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Leat, D. and Higgins S. (2002) The role of powerful pedagogical strategies in curriculum development The Curriculum Journal 13.1 pp 71-85.
Wall, K. (2005) Developing an Action Research Methodology for a Nationwide Evaluation of Learning to Learn, International Association for Cognitive Education and Psychology Conference, Durham, July 2005
Wall, K. and Hall, E. (2005) Learning to Learn: Exploring how teachers can learn about innovation in their own classrooms, British Educational Research Association Conference, Glamorgan University, September 2005


Dr Jill Clark
Principal Research Associate and Executive Director of the Research Centre for Learning and Teaching

Professor David Leat
Prof of Curriculum Innovation

Dr Rachel Lofthouse
Head of Education

Dr Pamela Woolner
Senior Lecturer in Education