Journal clubs have been used widely in medical settings since the 19th century during training and as ongoing professional development. Meetings are led by a facilitator who begins by reading a summary of a pre-decided paper or article and guides a group discussion. Journal clubs are an informal and social way to discuss research and keep practitioners up to date, whilst providing an opportunity to discuss how research is relevant to practice and develop skills of critical analysis (Linzer, 1987; Sidorov, 1995). The use of journal cubs in education settings has increased in recent years as research engagement has become more widespread and been given a higher priority in professional development.
Effective professional development is associated with an increase in pupil learning and there is a plausible link between professional development and teacher retention (Fletcher-Wood and Zuccollo, 2020). Features of effective professional development include engagement with evidence, including high-quality academic research that challenges beliefs about education, sustained peer-support and discussion about practice, and development of a culture that engages with evidence and knowledge (DfE, 2016).
Journal clubs offer an approach for schools to deliver effective professional development for staff at all levels and engage with research, keep up to date with emerging ideas in education and question how this relates to teaching and learning in an ongoing, sustained way. Not every member of staff will be familiar with academic research – some degrees such as mathematics or computer science may not require it, and support staff may not have higher-level qualifications. Journal clubs support leaders to familiarise staff with the structure and language of research, and can facilitate evidence-informed practice in schools.
Successful journal clubs have been shown to develop:
- positive attitudes towards evidence informed practice
- increased use of evidence to inform practice
- increased knowledge of research design
- reduced feelings of isolation
- forming of professional relationships
- increased subject knowledge/ professional growth
- increased motivation and morale
(Hutchinson, 1970; Coomarasamy and Khan, 2004; Denhy, 2004; Barak and Dori, 2009).
The process of a journal club is flexible to individual needs and can include staff at departmental, phase or whole-school level. They can be used as a way to introduce and update knowledge or they can be integrated into a wider process of reflective enquiry. Brill et al. (2003) describe biology teachers’ use of journal clubs to collaboratively update their knowledge and produce activities for pupils. Similarly, Golde (2007) highlights the benefits of journal clubs in connecting ‘multigenerational’ practitioners as equals in a flexible process that can be either topic-focused, or used as an introduction to research of historical importance which, when used to follow-up an introduction presented via another method, can provide increased exposure to knowledge (Deenadayalan et al., 2008).
There are limitations to how journal clubs alone will help to transfer evidence to practice. However, research indicates that journal clubs are appropriate for deeper study and consolidation of previously learnt material (Deenadayalan et al., 2008; Barak and Dori, 2009), providing an opportunity for practitioners to relate research to ‘real-life’ situations, which is more likely to lead to an increase in evidence-based practice (Swift, 2004). Whether a school is at the beginning of their journey with research and want a way to increase the ‘presence’ of research as they build their culture of engagement, or they already have research embedded in their everyday practice, journal clubs offer a space for collaboration and conversation at any level.
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Department for Education (DfE) (2016) Standard for teachers’ professional development. London: Department for Education.
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