Golden rules numbered

May 14, 1999

I was fascinated to read Manfredi La Manna's condemnation ("Seven help us!" Letters, May 7) of Henry Ellington's seven golden rules for enhancing teacher performance.

How could such sensible advice lead to such a dismissive response? Surely these rules are applicable to any human activity including research. So, following Ellington: 1. Understand the research process 2. Set appropriate research questions 3. Use appropriate research methods 4. Evaluate your conclusions 5. Monitor and evaluate your research skills 6. Always try to improve your performance 7. Keep yourself up-to-date in your field.

Would La Manna, or indeed any holder of a university readership, seriously not subscribe to this? Are there any researchers out there not constantly undertaking any of them?

I agree with La Manna that Ellington should include enthusiasm on the list, although my experience is that colleagues who have followed the golden rules (or some variant of them) have interested their students not just because of their natural enthusiasm for the subject but also for their enthusiasm for students' development and success.

Ellington's reflective approach can surely do no harm and provides most of us with a structure within which we can seek to improve the experience of our students. It does not exclude any method appropriate to the audience and will therefore include that of the Nobel laureate referred to by La Manna.

As any good text on research methods will highlight, a single case does not prove a theory. Readers will have horror stories of the best researchers and/or practitioners being very poor teachers - and I include research degree supervision. Even if the theory were to be true, Nobel laureates are not that thick on the ground - even in St Andrews.

I was an external examiner at Robert Gordon's about a decade ago and in that four-year period the student experience and standards was enhanced not only because of the enthusiasm of the subject staff but also because of the support and encouragement of Ellington and his staff.

So let us not condemn these rules, or indeed any research "to the paper shredder". Rather let us get on with thinking about how we do what we are individually and collectively paid to do - and how we can get better at it.

Ray Harris

Perth College and University of the Highlands and Islands

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