Estimated reading time: 2 minutes, 4 seconds

Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Can Research Get in the Way of Knowledge?

| 5 Comments

Estimated reading time: 2 minutes, 4 seconds

Reading Time: 2 minutes

I am not joking with this title

I just finished reading an article “Are Good Teachers Born or Made?” about teacher education. The article repeatedly privileges intuition over (conflicting and confusing) research results on the impact of professional development in teacher education. The article is only available for free for a week starting yday.

Obviously part of the reason the author keeps skipping research in this area is that it is confusing and limited and then generalized incorrectly.

But see this:

We didn’t need research to tell us that teachers are a precious resource, and we should invest in them if we value our children’s well-being. Their ability to perform well consistent with any definition of good teaching, their ability to communicate effectively with children—to inform them, to set an example for them, to promote their self-esteem, to facilitate their cognitive and personal development—make an incalculable difference to individuals, families, and society.

And just as clearly, putting research aside, there remains much for them to learn once they become teachers. Some of what they need they will acquire on their own, especially if they have been coached in reflective practice. Many other skills they can master with the help of colleagues, school leaders, and other purveyors of professional development

.

Hello. And this

Lest we lose our way in an effort to sort through contradictory and misleading research results, we can follow our intuition and common sense by affirming the positive

role professional development has to play in helping teachers become increasingly successful. A small percentage of teachers may be born to the classroom, but most of us learn how to teach well over time, and more differentiated support often translates into better outcomes for teacher performance and student learning.

If we

wait

for good teachers to be born, we will be wai

ting a long time. If we strengthen our system for making teachers by choosing them carefully, educating them well and generously providing the ongoing support for development their success requires, we might see positive change in our lifetimes.

The larger question for me now is the more prevalent privileging of research over intuition of practitioners and what it means for teachers. Because research will always be limited by scope and approach and viewpoint and frameworks and context and all that. I am of course not saying we should ignore research #ILoveResearch… I am questioning what it means when research results go against intuition of practitioners.

Not a new topic?

5 Comments

  1. I vote for DOCUMENTATION before research. Research done without prior documentation of what people (students, teachers) are actually DOING is going to ask the wrong questions. Because the researchers don’t know in depth and in detail what students and teachers are doing (or what we want to do), their questions will be uninformed and even irrelevant.

    You cannot quantify before you “qualify” … but researchers are in a hurry, so they skip the long, slow process of first listening carefully to people (students, teachers) as we DESCRIBE what we do, how we do it, what we want to do, etc.

    That’s why I find most research useless and irrelevant. It seems to ignore what I do, which is no surprise because the researchers have created their measuring instruments in the absence of rich documentation about what is going on. We document nothing about teaching at my school (we don’t even share syllabuses in the open), and the only data we record regarding the students’ work is ABCDF.

    Result: we have a five-word vocabulary for describing what our students do.

    We need a BIGGER VOCABULARY. And as long as researchers speak our impoverished vocabulary, using outcomes likes grades as meaningful measures, they are saying nothing of use to me.

  2. Difficult to qualify or quantify what “intuition of practitioners” means. In my 14 years as a classroom teacher I saw how classroom practice is largely an evidence free zone and how desperately colleagues clung to ” best practice” or simply their practice which, naturally was the best, or if not, the easiest thing to do and hey, everyone does this anyway.

    Along with this, I often saw aggressive anti-theory attitudes, culturally conditioned by tradional American anti-intellectualism.

    That aside, teachers need training in research methods and particularly in action research. They need to understand how to read research critically and to contribute to this dialog. This is one way in which the current gap between research and practice can be bridged. And those who prefer “intuition” can be safely left to that.

    • Ouch, that disparaging attitude towards teachers and what they do is exactly the kind of thing I am talking about. I assure you that my negative attitude towards almost all of education research I read is based not on taking the easy way out or being anti-intellectual. It is instead because I am appalled by the poor measures that the researchers use in their attempts to emulate scientific method, proceeding as if students were laboratory rats, and their focus on decontextualized variables while using grades and standardized test scores as meaningful outcome measures, etc.

      And just as you contend that teachers lack a knowledge of research, I would contend that a lot of researchers have limited experience with teaching, and their limited experience badly undermines their research design.

  3. I’m a big fan of the New Teacher Center; their work has deeply informed the beginning teacher induction programs in California. That is, I should say that their work has informed the aspects of the induction programs that have worked well! I’ve had a chance to learn from their work since I started mentoring new teachers in 2008.

    I agree with Laura that we need a broader idea of research. The quanta-mania that has largely drowned out qualitative methods throughout my 14 years in the classroom (I suspect that it started before my career began, but as I don’t know the history, I can only account for what I’ve seen) has, I believe, contributed greatly to the gap between what we call “research” and “practice.”

    • I think we are all really saying the same thing (or leaning towards it) which is more action research in edu – by practitioners rather than policy makers. This will inherently be more useful for teachers than the kind done by others. It doesn’t mean they’ll naturally be good at doing the research but if it’s not useful they’ll know it right away and adjust…. Or something 🙂

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