Here’s a riddle for you: What came first: the practice or the research?
You might say, “practice, of course!” The first teachers didn’t just sit around to collect data about everything under the sun. They had to teach others valuable lessons, such as Survival 101.
While that might be true, the first teachers probably also did some research of their own. They developed theories about the best ways to hunt, stay warm and stay away from predators at all costs. In other words, they had to find the best methods to share with others.
Sure, I’m not referring to teaching in an academic setting here. It’s more of a thought experiment to introduce today’s topic: how to research as a teacher, which brings us to…
Practice vs. research in education
At first glance, this gap between research and practice makes no sense since they have the same end goal: to improve education. However, this disconnect comes from a lack of communication between the two sides and practical reasons. Sometimes, the research doesn’t answer the most pressing teaching questions, so they should work on that. Besides, teachers mistrust research because it doesn’t offer immediate practical solutions.
Research can’t make up for the invaluable practical experience, but we shouldn’t dismiss the evidence offered by reliable studies that aim to improve teaching and learning. Teachers can also feel more confident when they have the science to back up their methods, and educational leaders take more informed decisions at a school or district level.
Here are more benefits of keeping up with the most recent developments in education research:
Knowing which practices are evidence-based
Teachers will experiment with different methods and come up with their own conclusions. Sometimes, this trial and error approach takes a lot of time, and assessing its effectiveness takes even longer.
That’s why educators can find valuable lessons from research. For example, an English teacher might stumble upon this meta-analysis that looked at 41 summer reading programs across 35 studies and found that lower-income students from kindergarten to eighth grade benefit the most from these programs.
Separating education facts from fiction
Learning myths such as “we only use half our brain” persist because they sound good on paper. They are passed down from generation to generation of teachers.
Some of them are harmless, meaning that they won’t affect your daily practice. Others are downright detrimental. For example, students don’t learn better when they’re stressed, as stress “may hamper the updating of memories in the light of new information.” Especially in these trying times, science tells us that extending deadlines may be the best thing that you can do.
Read more: Top learning myths to leave behind in 2020
Gathering new ideas
If you’re looking for new teaching methods and ideas, where do you look first? More experienced teachers? Mentors? Your personal learning network (PLN)?
Those are all valid sources. However, another teacher’s situation might be different than yours, seeing how each classroom is unique. In this case, the best approach is to also look at what the research says, especially before implementing something new.
Read more: Learning and growing as educators
Staying up to date
Some fields change faster than others, so it might not apply to all subjects. Regardless, it’s still useful to keep up with new developments in your area.
This approach helps in two major situations. Firstly, you might want to infuse your lessons with some new and intriguing facts to keep students hooked. Secondly, the information changes so much that it’s practically necessary to update regularly some of your lessons.
How to access information like a pro
Teachers don’t have a lot of time on their hands to access all the information available. However, establishing a routine to research when you need to learn something new or read a few articles when you have the time can positively impact your teaching practices.
Here are some tips to get started:
Check out educational research journals
Educational research journals are a great way to find relevant, peer-reviewed articles. Sure, you can’t follow them all, but you can subscribe to one or two that match your interests. For example:
- Subject-specific publications, such as the Mathematics Teacher Educator or The Electronic Journal for English as a Second Language;
- Educational research journals that focus on education as a science: Harvard Educational Review or American Educational Research Journal;
- Teaching with technology resources such as ISTE.
Some of these require a paid subscription, which your organization can offer as part of the PD program. If not, there are open access resources available such as the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), which is supported by libraries and publishers so many people can read high-quality studies for free (yey!).
Read more: 6 Ways in which edtech shapes teacher training programs
Find relevant research organizations
Research organizations (think tanks) offer a wealth of resources. They are often affiliated with a Higher Ed institution, such as the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University.
One of their primary purposes is to decrease the gap between practice and research. They also provide essential research that can inform education policymakers. For example, there’s the American Institute for Research and Brookings Institution.
To keep up with what interests you the most, you can subscribe to their newsletters, so you can get into the habit of reading articles when delivered to your inbox.
Use article curating apps
Sometimes you find something interesting, but there’s no time to read it on the spot. So you’ll make a mental note to return to it, which probably won’t happen. That’s where apps such as Pocket come in handy, as they help you save articles and videos to watch later.
So when you’re scrolling through your Twitter feed and see something that a fellow teacher shared, you can simply save it for later. They have a browser extension that helps you do that. The best part is that they remove all distractions so that you can read a clutter-free article on any device.
I also like to peruse the Collections section, which is a list of articles curated by editors.
Use a search engine for articles
Academic search engines were a lifesaver in university, and they still are! My favorite is Google Scholar, but you can find others that work best for you. For example, there’s also Microsoft Academic, Research Gate, and Semantic Scholar.
Educational Resources Information Center (ERIC) is probably the best for educators. With over one million records, they publish journals, books, conference papers, among others.
Just take a look at this immense collection of journals. There’s something for everyone, including Child Development, Digital Education, and Special and Inclusive Education.
Use plugins for more effective research
Most websites/apps also have a browser plugin. For example, the Google Scholar Button allows you to search much faster and easier.
For organization nerds like me, reference management apps can come in handy. Tools such as Mendeley, Zotero, and EndNote help you build and manage a reading list. They’re not just for researchers who are writing papers, although if you do need to write, they’re pretty indispensable, in my opinion.
The gap between education research and practice is a big problem that education leaders and policymakers need to address. However, teachers can reap the benefits of educational research by tapping into valuable information to use in their daily practice. This information is widely available online, so why not give it a try?