5 Perspectives on the Power of Research-Based Instruction
This next piece in our series highlighting top strategies from top K-12 authors includes five perspectives on the transformative effects research had on individual career choices, teaching methods, and professional development. Many teachers have difficulty finding the time to get through their regular school day, leaving little time to learn and implement research.
What if schools prioritized giving teachers the time to examine research during their school schedule? What if the research was considered an integral part of the teaching process, not an extra or add-on? How can school leadership, districts, and teachers come together to allow more research-driven instruction to affect change in the classroom and, ultimately, student outcomes?
Read below as authors explain the wake-up moments that research had on their teaching, coaching, and writing paths:
Getting research into the hands of teachers
Kate Jones, author of Retrieval Practice: Research and Resources for Every Classroom
“My approach to research has completely changed. For thirty years in my career, I didn’t engage with any research at all. It wasn’t part of my teacher training placement, and that’s quite sad, actually. It’s through blogs that other teachers have written that signposted me toward research. I’m reading books like Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning that have been a complete turning point for me when it comes to my practice. I’m just opening my eyes to what the research says.
I found it frustrating that with a lot of this research, not all of it is new. But why am I finding out about it now? There was a delay between the research and getting it through the classroom teachers. I’ve read, and academic researchers write about that.
Jeffrey Karpircke wrote about retrieval practice. Why isn’t this getting to teachers? Why isn’t this mainstream? He wrote that about a few years ago, and I believe it did get into teachers’ hands now. But it took a while.
The school I work at now has four priorities regarding teaching and learning. Cognitive science is one of them. It’s not just retrieval practice. Retrieval practice is one aspect under the umbrella term of cognitive science. One of the reasons I wanted to work at this school is because I wanted one that was engaging with research and recognizing the science of learning and cognitive psychology. It was a big draw for me that it was important.”
Listen to the full interview with Kate Jones: Making Research a Helpful Resource in Every Classroom
Determining which methods are truly evidence-supported
Michael Zwaagstra, author of A Sage on the Stage: Common Sense Reflections on Teaching and Learning
“One of the most common sayings that I heard when I was an education student in the faculty of education years ago was that teachers should be a guide on the side rather than a sage on the stage. It never really made much sense to me back then ─ this idea that a teacher needs to get out of the way and let students essentially lead the process and learn things for themselves. I certainly have seen that it does not work in practice.
As I’ve done reading and research over the years, I’ve seen that the evidence does not support that perspective. I’ve decided to challenge that. The book’s title Sage on the Stage, is a deliberate twist on that common saying, and my point is that teachers should be experts. Teachers should have substantial content knowledge, and we should be passing along that knowledge to students as much as possible.
In terms of learning styles, it says a lot when top psychologists, including the American Psychological Association, take it upon themselves to put up articles that specifically debunk the theory. You have such a strong consensus among experts on this, and the research is definitive that that is one fad that we should stop promoting. We should stop talking about teaching according to students’ learning styles because it’s hurtful to students.”
Listen to the full interview with Michael Zwaagstra: Debunking the Fads That Shortchange Our Learners
Making good decisions based on insights gained from research
“Many teachers and educators in the system have not had a good education in what research says about teaching ─ bizarrely. I would attest to that myself because I was a teacher for a long time before I ever even heard of the idea of researchers investigating what works in the classroom, what is effective, and how we learn. I sort of came across it by accident.
Insights you gain from research help you make good decisions. I think we all have evidence from our own practice, and the wisdom that teachers have comes from knowing how things work. But there are insights you gain into how learning works from cognitive science, and it informs us to think more about why we do the things that we do and why they work. It makes you more focused on doing those things.
It’s been quite transformative for teachers, even for experienced teachers, who have been doing these things for a while, but now they have a reason: ‘That’s why it’s working’ or ‘Maybe that’s why it’s not as effective as that.’”
Listen to the full interview with Tom Sherrington: Combining Research with Practice to Deliver Excellent Instruction
Feeling empowered due to better familiarity with the research
Tricia Taylor, author of Connect the Dots: The Collective Power of Relationships, Memory and Mindset in the Classroom
“I worked at a school where I was slowly able to read a lot of research. I was in a privileged place to be in because teachers often can’t read all the research. There’s just no time to do it. If they have time to do it, they don’t have time to turnkey it and put it into practice.
That was my passion. I said, ‘Okay, we need to read the research. We need to consolidate it enough and make it something that we can communicate easily to people, and then we have to give some ideas for how to implement that into schools.’
I have been doing that in schools already, so it just seemed like a no-brainer to say, “Here’s the research. Here’s how you put it into practice. Don’t worry about it.’
In the opening of my book, I say, ‘Just sit back and relax. Read the research. The next part, the next section of a chapter, is going to be putting it into practice.’ Everything that we do in research, we connect then in practice in the classroom. It’s about changing a culture about teaching and learning. To teach children to have a higher level of self-efficacy of a learning mindset, teachers need to understand how the brain works. They need to understand how learning strategies or memory strategies work, and that’s really empowering.”
Listen to the full interview with Tricia Taylor: Connecting the Dots of Educator-Student Relationships
Finding a meaningful interpretation of the research
“[Things changed] when I started reading research. I did not read a single piece of educational research for 12 years. I cruised through teaching for those 12 years, and it was only when I started doing my podcast, and guests pointed me to the direction of books and papers to read that [made me question]. It led to my first book, How I Wished I Taught Maths and a mid-career crisis in which I started questioning everything.
Through my reading, I noticed the frustrating thing about research ─ there isn’t a clear answer; there isn’t a consensus view for ‘this is the best way to teach mathematics; this is the best order to do things; these are the best activities.’
I have my interpretation of the research, which is that when students first meet a concept or an idea, the teacher should be heavily involved in terms of explicit instruction, teacher-led activities, modeling, and so on.”
Listen to the full interview with Craig Barton: Common Sense Strategies to Enable Mathematical Thinking