Recruitment, Assessment, and Implementation: Reflections on ResearchAug 03, 2023
The Research on the Instruction of Language with Literacy (RILL) project, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, has a clear objective of testing the effectiveness of the RILL programme in improving reading outcomes for 7–9-year-old children, especially those who struggle with reading and writing. The project follows a systematic process that involves recruiting schools, conducting staff training, screening students, assessing selected participants, and implementing a 15-week lesson plan. As a Research Officer on the RILL English project, I will be reflecting on the recruitment, assessment, and implementation stages, offering valuable insights and lessons learned which I hope will be beneficial in supporting and guiding others in similar positions or educational initiatives.
The first step is to recruit schools that are willing to participate in the RILL project. The team recruited through various means through emails, phone calls, educational psychology websites (EdPsychEd), social media posts (Facebook and Instagram), as well as via the postal service. This comprehensive approach allowed the project to reach a wider audience, enhance visibility, and mitigate bias.
I appreciated that recruiting schools for a project can be challenging, I learnt this from my dissertation project in my master's year, especially considering their busy schedules and various ongoing interventions. Nonetheless, I approached the recruitment stage with optimism and expected schools to readily participate but this was not always the case...
I experienced disappointment and took it personally when schools did not respond or declined participation, especially when the team and I had invested time and effort into the recruitment process. However, I now appreciate that there can be various factors that contribute to schools not expressing interest or being unable to participate in a program. Timing can indeed play a significant role in school decision-making. Schools may already have ongoing interventions or initiatives in place that require their attention and resources. Additionally, staffing constraints or other operational challenges can make it difficult for schools to take on additional programs, even if they are tailored to address COVID-related struggles. Rather than viewing the lack of interest as a reflection on the program's quality or relevance, I found it helpful to seek feedback from schools that did not participate. Understanding their specific concerns or circumstances can provide insights for potential improvements or adjustments in future recruitment efforts.
Consequently, I have been practising effective communication with a strategic approach: building relationships, using open communication, and instilling flexibility to navigate the recruitment process successfully.
Here are some suggestions and recommendations to consider during the recruitment process when working with schools:
- Start by articulating a clear and compelling description of your project, highlighting its objectives, potential benefits for the schools, and students' learning outcomes. Schools are more likely to engage in projects that align with their educational goals and demonstrate value.
- After initial contact, ensure you follow up with schools to gauge their interest and address any concerns or questions they may have. Maintain regular communication to keep them informed about project updates and progress. Building a long-term relationship with schools can lead to continued collaboration beyond the current project.
- Keep the communication with schools clear, concise, and easy to understand. Present the programme’s key details, expected outcomes, and any requirements in a straightforward manner. Highlight the value and impact of their participation to motivate their involvement, for example, professional development opportunities for teachers, access to educational resources, or recognition for their participation.
- Ensure that you target schools that fit your specifications and share a common vision whilst tailoring communication to address their interests and complement their existing efforts. This personalised communication demonstrates genuine care and increases the likelihood of garnering a positive response.
- Assure schools that you will provide adequate support throughout the project implementation. Offer training sessions, materials, and ongoing assistance to alleviate any concerns about the additional workload. Schools are more likely to participate if they feel supported and equipped to integrate your project into their existing activities.
- Schools have busy schedules and various ongoing interventions, so be flexible and adaptable to accommodate their needs. Being accommodating demonstrates your willingness to work collaboratively and increases the likelihood of school engagement.
- I found that involving the entire project team in the recruitment process can be valuable. Each team member can contribute by reaching out to their own networks, spreading the word through personal contacts, or sharing recruitment information within their professional circles.
In summary, I have realised that successful recruitment requires patience, persistence, and effective communication. By demonstrating the value of your project, personalising your approach, and building relationships with schools, you can enhance your chances of engaging them in your initiative.
Working with schools
I will now focus on two crucial aspects of any educational project: assessment and implementation, I believe that the insights I have gained can be applicable to other initiatives as well. Taking a holistic approach that considers the school staff, pupils, and the project itself is essential for achieving success and promoting best practices. By ensuring that everyone involved is supported and engaged, you create a conducive environment for positive outcomes. Below, I'll delve deeper into the significance of this holistic approach in both assessment and implementation:
The selected participants undergo assessments at three different time points throughout the programme. These assessments measure their progress and the impact of the RILL programme on their reading outcomes. The assessments provide valuable data for evaluating the effectiveness of the programme.
As a team, we made efforts to make the assessments as enjoyable as possible for the students while ensuring effective assessment practices. By incorporating built-in breaks, stickers, and fidget toys, we created a more positive and engaging assessment experience. We also provided schools with an assessment guide which served as a valuable resource for teachers outlining clear instructions, guidelines, and rubrics for conducting assessments. It helped ensure consistency and accuracy in evaluating students' progress whilst also helping teachers to feel more confident and supported in conducting assessments.
The stickers and fidget toys were used as a form of positive reinforcement and recognition for students' efforts and achievements during the assessment process. They serve as tangible rewards that can motivate and encourage students to actively engage in their learning. The stickers and toys can also create a sense of accomplishment and pride, boosting students' self-esteem which is a key element we incorporate into the lessons.
By providing these support materials, we were not only addressing the practical aspects of the assessment process but also considering the emotional and motivational well-being of both teachers and students. This holistic approach can contribute to a positive and supportive learning environment, enhancing the overall experience and outcomes of the assessment stage.
Once the participants are selected and assessed, they can begin the 15 weeks of lessons as part of the RILL programme. The lessons are designed to target specific areas of reading and provide support tailored to the needs of the individual participants. The programme aims to improve their reading skills over the course of the 15 weeks.
Implementation of the programme has been aided by school visits by a member of the RILL team, this has fostered a collaborative environment, providing valuable support, knowledge sharing, and feedback opportunities for school staff members involved in the project. This interaction can contribute to the success and continuous improvement of the programme:
- Support and assistance: the visits from our team have provided valuable support to the staff members. They can seek guidance, ask questions, and receive help with technical issues they encounter during the implementation of the programme. This support likely enhances their confidence and effectiveness in executing the lessons.
- Knowledge sharing: the chance to interact with a RILL staff member allows the school to share their experiences, challenges, and feedback regarding the project. This exchange of information helps in identifying areas of improvement, addressing concerns, and potentially refining the project’s implementation.
- Feedback loop: the visits create an open channel for staff members to provide feedback directly to our team. By sharing their thoughts, suggestions, and consents, they contribute to the ongoing improvement of the project. This feedback loop ensures that the project evolves based on real-world experiences and user input.
Spreading out school visits throughout the project's implementation is a beneficial approach as it allows for adequate time for both our team and the school to respond to the changes and improvements made. By having sufficient intervals between visits, we create space for everyone involved to implement necessary actions and adjustments.
I have received positive feedback from schools currently at the lesson stage which is an encouraging sign that the sessions are making a constructive impact on the participating students. The teachers have shared that their pupils are eager to attend the RILL sessions and note that they are increasing in confidence as the sessions progress. I hope that the lessons continue to empower these students and have a positive impact on their overall educational experiences.
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