Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Data-driven Expert Research

Yesterday a webinar asked me to take some teaching tips from a veteran teacher who had spent four whole years in a classroom in some other state. As the reform tide rises, we are regularly pelted by little chunklets of research as justification for whatever is being sold today. And sometimes perfectly well-meaning ivory tower types toss some educational research about, too.

Now, I don't hate science. I pretty much love science. And real science and real research have taught us some pretty amazing things about how the human brain works, how it processes information, and how learning can happen to it.

But much of what passes for educational research is junk. "Here's some research showing how well this flash card technique worked with 30 college sophomores at a German university! Clearly you should be using these flashcards!"

I don't blame the research world entirely. There is little real research on real students for the same reason there is little true research on pregnant ladies-- because using humans, particularly vulnerable young ones, as guinea pigs, is Just Deeply Wrong.

But when someone is approaching one of my colleagues with a pig in a poke wrapped in a fluffy blanket covered with "research" stickers, here's what I say:

You don't need to throw it out without looking. After all, teachers are supposed to study and reflect. But ask yourself-- was the research done by disinterested parties on a sample of people much like the ones you have in your own classroom. Can it be trusted? And most importantly, do you believe it?

Because here's the thing. Research is very valuable. It's the lifeblood of education. But you know which researcher has engaged in years of study with groups of subjects just like the students in your classroom under conditions just like those in your classroom? You know who has carefully observed those results and knows exactly how they apply in a situation just like the one in your classroom?

That's right. You have. You are the number one researcher, the pre-eminent expert on teaching under the conditions present in your classroom. You are the expert. Don't let anybody convince you otherwise.

No comments:

Post a Comment