As we reflect on the complex and exciting endeavor we refer to as "school," it is easy to see that decisions are being made left and right, some having to do with the administrative and managerial needs of the school community, and others having to do with matters relating to instruction. Decisions about how to position tables in the cafeteria or how to make the best use of the public announcement ("PA") system can often be made based on intuition and prior experience. In contrast, no one would agree that decisions about what will work best to facilitate effective teaching and learning should be left to chance.
In a perfect world, we could say that all of what we teach and how we teach is determined after careful investigation, and that we have at least some level of proof that what we are doing has a proven track record of success. In reality, we have an obligation to try our very best to make decisions based on data and to ask ourselves and each other whether our actions are modeled upon the best available research.
The "R" Word
Mention the word "research" and watch the reaction:
- "Am I supposed to read research articles and know what they mean?"
- "How does the result of research apply to me as a teacher or parent?"
- "How am I supposed to find out about what the research says on a particular topic?"
Sure, there are aspects of reading and understanding research that can be intimidating, and the more specific your questions, the more you are likely to need to understand how research studies are conducted and how conclusions are made based on their findings. The fact is that RESEARCH IS FOR EVERYONE, and a willingness to search, ask questions, and use data to make informed decisions is all you need to tap the power of research as an informed consumer.
Research Made Simple
In response to some of the reactions above, let's reflect upon what we mean by the word "research." A quick online search led me to the following words and phrases:
- an attempt to find something out in a systematic manner
- to study something thoroughly and share details in an accurate manner
- to look for the most efficient way of doing something
- a thoughtful process to solve a problem
- to search, explore and gather meaningful information.
Needless to say, this is precisely the kind of thinking (and action) that should underlie the decisions we make when working to ensure that students have the best possible opportunities to succeed in school. Whether we are looking for the best way to teach reading and math (to all students and to those who struggle with learning), trying to determine the most effective strategies to help students stay organized, or searching for study skills that will improve test taking performance, the ever-growing body of knowledge that we casually refer to as "research" can provide direction (and answers!) to meet the needs of students, educators and parents.
A Terrific Resource
This easy-to-use website offers access to full text versions of thousands of resources relevant to the field of child care and early education. Among these very helpful resources is a glossary of research terms and a comprehensive description of terms relating to research methods, research design, data collection, and data analysis
Sheldon H. Horowitz, Ed.D. is the Director of LD Resources & Essential Information at the National Center for Learning Disabilities.