Shanker Blog: Evidence In Education: Is Supply Meeting Teachers' Demand
In today’s public schools, teachers and administrators are constantly pressured to implement new reforms and initiatives, most of which claim to be research- or science-based. Schools are often viewed as the recipients of new policies and new knowledge generated by research. In So Much Reform, So Little Change, Charles Payne states “Best Practice discourse lends itself to decontextualized thinking, reducing the problem of urban schooling to a cognitive one: if only our teachers and principals knew how to do it in the Big City...we should spend some time thinking with school people about what those reasons might be rather than just issuing more exhortations from on high” (p. 63). Including educators in the conversation is crucial for a successful rollout of any evidence-based intervention. Additionally, in order to best support our teachers, it is imperative we develop a system for them to have access to evidence-informed practices that are contextualized and can be tailored to their varying needs.
While there are many problems with the “research to practice” approach, one barrier is that schools are frequently not given enough training, resources, and support to make sense of educational research. Educators need evidence, innovation, and new approaches; after all, much of their job is to constantly adapt their ways of teaching to meet the unique and changing needs of their students. But right now, too many educators are doing this work without the necessary tools to be successful. In this post I would like to sketch out a tool that could improve access to and applicability of research. By access, I refer not only to the ability of finding and downloading journal articles and other sources, but also to having the knowledge to discern questionable research. According to Paula J. Stanovich and Keith E. Stanovich (2003), a failure to discern good and bad research can cause teachers to try new methods that are not strongly supported by peer-reviewed research. Applicability refers to the extent to which research has practical implications for teachers.
A Research Portal for Teachers
As a teacher who is interested in research, I often wished I had a simple way to access research and teaching resources. I knew I could find great research on education, and I knew I could explore new teaching strategies, but I struggled to discover a website that achieved both. While many websites provide teachers access to resources, lessons, strategies, and ideas, this website would specifically cater to educators who are interested in what research says to the issues they are encountering in their practice and schools.
For the purposes of describing the proposed portal, I share three of its main overarching features: 1) the ability for teachers to search for studies and access studies, 2) collaborative features where teachers can post their own experiences related to research implementation, and 3) communication between researchers and teachers.
First, an important aspect of the portal would be to allow teachers to access evidence-based research studies. From a teacher typed question, the portal would direct teachers to relevant studies and syntheses. The portal might also use AI to gather the specific needs of teachers. The search would return a list of high-quality research syntheses on the topic of interest. If the teacher is unable to find a specific answer to her question, the portal would contain a chat function that could be used to contact someone to further assist and guide. Once the teacher identifies relevant research, the portal would allow access to succinct summaries. Importantly, the portal would include high-quality examples of how other teachers have applied the research in videos, photos and other formats.
Second, the portal would provide a space for collaboration amongst teachers who are able to share their experiences in the classroom based on the provided research. This would allow a teacher to receive guidance from other teachers’ implementations and before they try it in their own classroom. Additionally, once the teacher tries out the new practice in their classroom, they can add to the collection of work so other teachers can learn. This way, the portal can become a central space for teachers to share posts based on the research. These posts would be regulated and approved to ensure that they directly connect to the relevant research study.
Lastly, it is important for teachers and researchers of varying backgrounds to contribute in order to create a wide diverse array of knowledge. The portal would encourage teachers to ask questions and provide feedback if they are unable to find a specific answer to their question. This would allow researchers to gain a deeper understanding of the challenges of implementing the research, the possible trade-offs of choosing one practice over another, and what research teachers are seeking to better their teaching practice.
The portal I am proposing would focus on supporting the needs of teachers through evidence-based research. Additionally, researchers and teachers should work together to create new knowledge; teachers’ voices must be valued in both the creation and dissemination of research. Through building cumulative practitioner knowledge, the professionalization of teaching will be strengthened.
A goal of the portal might be to not only encourage teachers to collaborate and explore research-informed practices, but also to create a partnership between researchers and teachers. Ultimately, this tool would amplify the voice of teachers so they become both consumers and creators of research.
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The views expressed by the blogger are not necessarily those of NEPC.