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How Research Can Affect Teaching at the Classroom Level

Effective teachers use scientific thinking in their classroom all the time. They assess

and evaluate student performance, develop Individual Education Plans, reflect on their practice,

and engage in action research (Stanovich & Stanovich, p.1, 2005). Observations are made to

determine if any patterns or inconsistencies exist. These observations provide the basis for the

identified question or problem. However, unlike a scientist, I am not setting up a controlled

experiment and collecting empirical evidence to truly conclude if the selected strategy improved

student learning. According to Cunningham:

Many of us try new approaches and classroom strategies, hoping to improve our classes

and increase student success in our courses. Then, based on an overall sense (or even a gut

feeling) of how well these approaches or strategies worked, either we continue to use them,

perhaps with modifications, or we abandon them.

A teacher can use action research to determine if a particular evidence-based educational

practice could be effective in the classroom or determine if it was successful after

implementation. The National Research Council stated (as cited in Brydges, Chilukuri, Cook,

Feeley, Herbst, Tour & Van Den Einde, 2013, p.18) that Discipline-based education research

(DBER) is an emerging field of evidence-based research that integrates best practices of teaching

a particular discipline and is informed by the findings of cognitive science and psychology on

how people learn (NRC, 2012). DBER is conducted by individuals removed from the school

setting, while action research is completed by the teacher. Furthermore, this form of research

develops generalized conclusions for a wide range of individuals. Both forms of research aim to

obtain accurate information with minimal error, bias or opinion (Metcalf, 2016). However,

DBER has its limitations because the causal claims generated from the research about best
practices is a blanket statement and not specific to a particular environment and or student(s).

Action research is a method of conducting research that teachers can use to solve real-world

problems in their learning environments (Metcalf, 2016).

However, before action research commences, an issue or problem associated with

students success and performance (Metcalf, 2016) needs to be identified. This can be a

challenge, because successful action research requires well-formed questions that are

meaningful, clear, and answerable through the collection of data (Metcalf, 2016). The question

should address an issue that the practitioner has realistic control and influence over, such as

instructional strategies. The purpose of the action research is framed by the research question

and indicates if the research will be descriptive, predictive or controlled. Another challenge is

selecting appropriate data collection methods that will provide accurate and reliable information.

What data we collect determines, and limits, the conclusions that can be drawn (Metcalf,

2016). It is suggested to use at least three methods of collecting data to strengthen the reliability

and accuracy of the research. Sometimes, at this point, action researchers may find that the data

collected may not reflect the problem or area of focus that they had originally felt existed

(Crothers, 2015). The lack of experience with conducting action research is the biggest

challenge. With practice and experience, the process of action research will become fine-tuned

and ongoing with the primary goal of improving teaching and student learning.

Action research benefits the teacher because the attention is on an immediate solution to

remedy a current situation. In addition, the research is carried out by the practitioner (teacher)

directly impacted by the problem and provides data that will allow the teacher to make effective

changes (i.e. instructional strategies, classroom environment, curriculum, resources, etc.) to

address the problem. Being able to systemically investigate, gain better insights into what does
and does not work in the classroom, and act on the research gives teachers confidence by

improving their skills and validating reasons for the classroom decisions they make (Crothers,

2015). Action research hands the control over to the teacher to further investigate how to make

specific improvements in the area of teaching and learning in their classroom. This is an ongoing

process that utilizes both quantitative and qualitative data collection and analysis to allow for

meaningful reflections, descriptions, predictions and possible correlations about their own

practice.

Understanding the key components of effective research is essential to be able to separate

causal claims from genuine scientific research. Stanovich & Stanovich (2005) developed a guide

for teachers with questions that can be used to determine the authenticity of the research. These

questions include determining if the study has been published in a peer-review journal, if the

results of the study have been replicated by other scientists and is there a consensus about the

studys findings among the research community. This course strengthened my knowledge of

scientifically based research by providing the tools necessary to not only identify genuine

research but to also provide an opportunity to conduct authentic, empirical, action research.

Action research gives us an iterative, systematic, analytic way to reflect on what we are doing in

class, to evaluate our success at achieving our classroom goals, and to chart the direction of

future classroom strategies based on what we have learned (Cunningham, 2008, p.1).

How Research Can Impact School-wide Achievement

In an environment of accountability, the development of evidence-based practices is

expected (Missett & Foster, 2015, p.1). Research is categorized as scientifically based research

when the researchers have used an experimental control. The experimental control ensures that

that meaningful data can be collected and used to draw a conclusion about the claim. Evidence-
based practices (EBPs) are shown by high-quality research to meaningfully improve student

outcomes (Torres, Farely & Cook, 2014, p.1). Descriptive, predictive, qualitative and

correlational research provide necessary insights for teaching and learning but a conclusion cant

be drawn about causality. A curriculum map is provided by the district curriculum leader, but the

critical decision regarding the type of instruction received and strategies and interventions

implemented is ultimately up to the teacher. Using an EBP can help eliminate many of the

frustrations and guesswork from teaching by providing specific approaches for improving

student performance (Torres, Farely & Cook, 2014, p.1).

Currently, the school I work at does not follow any guidelines to evaluate the scientific

basis of programs and practices at school. Descriptive and predictive research occurs at least

twice a semester. Each department reviews data with the goal of a better understanding of the

situation and make predictions about strategies and interventions that will work. As a faculty, we

analyze our school goals each year by reviewing data and determining if we reached our goal.

However, the research stops there. We do not scientifically determine the reasons for reaching or

missing a school goal. Only research that includes examining the impact of controlling one

variable on some outcome allows us to determine causality (Metcalf, 2015). With my new

knowledge of action research and data collection, I can provide professional development about

the effectiveness and usefulness of using action research to select an appropriate EBP.

Our school is also in the beginning stages of implementing a Pyramid Response to

Intervention (RTI). RTI is an EBP but I am unaware what data was used to select this program

and if it is appropriate for our students. Students that have multiple Ds and Fs are enrolled in

an 8th period intervention class. Currently the students do not complete a questionnaire or survey

to provide insight about their current academic situation. This type of data is necessary to ensure
that this strategy will work for the student. It is essential to understand the situation of the

students, however a solid claim about the effectiveness of the 8th period intervention cant be

developed due to the lack of data that will minimize the possible bias and preconceptions. To be

able to determine the effectiveness of the PRTI, a controlled experiment is necessary to collect

significant data. The controlled experiment would involve a group of students with multiple Ds

and Fs receive the 8th period intervention (the experimental group) compared to a control group

of students (with multiple Ds and Fs) that do not receive the 8th period intervention. The

experiment detailed would provide data that would make it possible to develop a meaningful

conclusion.

Knowledge and time is a barrier in establishing the scientific base of an implemented

intervention or practice. From policy makers to classroom teachers, educators need ways to

separate misinformation from genuine knowledge and to distinguish scientific research from

poorly supported claims (Stanovich & Stanovich, 2006, p.1). Some teachers do not realize that

their claims are not scientifically supported and they utilize their own interpretations of their

observations about the success of the strategy. Time is necessary to educate teachers about how

to recognize scientific research and time is essential to conduct a controlled experiment with a

substantial amount of significant data to draw causality. I would like to share my experience

with action research with the entire faculty to address any misconception about research as well

as encourage other teachers to conduct their own research with an obvious offer of support.

How Research Can Improve Individual Student Achievement

Action research, involves the systematic collection of data about a certain situation or

condition with the goal of describing, predicting or controlling it (Metcalf, 2016). The purpose
of the action research will guide what type of data to collect; qualitative, quantitative or both.

The scope and quality of the data that are collected will inform the action that occurs as a result

of the inquiry (Brighton &Moon, 2007, p.24). I can use quantitative data to determine the

performance level of a student on a test, but would not provide specific information about reason

behind the students performance. If I wanted to address this issue, qualitative data is necessary

as well. Both kinds of data can provide relevant information to guide curriculum and instruction,

only if is organized and interpreted correctly as well as provide enough information about

student behavior and opinion to select an appropriate EBP.

Data increasingly guide education, and the ability to understand and use them is a

fundamental professional responsibility (Metcalf, 2016). Selecting appropriate variables to

guide the type of data collected as well as the method of collection is necessary to be able to

accurately address the research question. I feel comfortable collecting data but not as

comfortable with the analysis process. If the educator lacks skills, it may be efficient to seek a

collaborator from within the school or district (Brighton & Moon, 2007, p.26). Collaborating

with other teachers can help with the analysis of data as well as provide important feedback

about the action research. Other teachers could also be experiencing the same issue as well and

further collaboration can continue. Collaborating with other teachers about possible EBP

selections would be helpful. Perhaps, one has tried the EBP or has one to suggest or has other

insights to offer.

Data is necessary when selecting EBP and strategies. Just because a practice has been

shown to be evidence-based for certain outcomes and for a particular population does not mean

that it will be effective in other areas and with other groups of learners (Cook, Shepherd, Cook,

2012, p.26). It is necessary to have the appropriate data, quantitative and qualitative, to ensure
that the EBP selected will be the most effective. It is important to make sure that the desired

outcome and the characteristics of the participants in the supporting research align with those of

the child (Kook, Shepherd, Cook, 2012, p.26). Reflection journals can be used to document

changes in individual student achievement. The student reflection provides qualitative data that

is personal and specific that student and can indicate if the evidence-based instructional strategy

was effective. A template can be provide that allows the student to analyze their strengths and

weaknesses with open ended questions. The student can select appropriate academic goals and

strategies and reflect in their journal about the successes. Regular conferences between the

teacher and student is necessary to ensure that challenging goals are selected. Feedback is

crucial to for students to improve and further understand their way learning.

Conclusion

Cook, Tankersley, Cook & Landrum (2008) stated that teachers make the ultimate

determination regarding the instruction students receive especially since recommended EBPs

have no impact on student outcomes without teachers who believe that the practice is effective

and worth the commitment to implement. Action research is a method to collect information

about an issue impacting student learning. Careful data collection will provide reliable

information that can utilized to select an EBP to address the concern. Through my action

research I learned that motivation and goal orientation varies from student to student and

influences student achievement and performance. I will address this issue by selecting an

appropriate EBP and implement the reflection journal to document student growth as a result of

the EBP. A continual commitment to utilizing action research in the classroom or schoolwide as
a reliable method to analyze practice will ensure all students experience academic achievement

specific to their personal learning goals.


References

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