"Is your district making you use anchor charts?" a teacher asks.

"Yeah, they're all the rage right now. Really trendy." Trendy is exactly it. They're the capri pants of vocabulary.

"I don't understand why I can't use them as a tool and then let the kids keep the charts in a binder," she says.

"I want to know what makes them more effective than the Frayer model," I add.

"They say research, but I've never seen the actual research."

"I think it looks ugly to cover walls with chart paper," she says.

"It looks like a binder vomited on the walls," I say.

But research says, right?

People evoke the name Data (yes, I'm using it as a proper noun, because it is treated oh so properly) as often as some people claim that God has led them. There is an absolute religious belief in Research.

But like the Bible, people can use research to justify just about any initiative they want to push through.

When someone says, "Research says . . . " my instant reaction is to ask:

  1. Was it peer-reviewed? 
  2. Was there a viable commercial interest guiding the formation and analysis of the research? 
  3. What were the variables? What was the control group? How was the research constructed?
  4. How large was the scope of the research? What was the sample size? Where was the research conducted?
  5. What does the raw data look like? How was it analyzed? What external factors were also considered? What were the differences between 
When I ask these questions to professional development presenters or district office personnel, I almost never get a straight answer. I've learned not to ask those questions. It's almost always perceived as a challenge to one's expertise or authority.

Over the years, people have accused me of not "believing in" research. And they're right. I don't believe in research. I either accept it or deny it. Research shouldn't be about beliefs, but way too often it is.

photo credit: Matt_Connors via photo pin cc

25 comments:

  1. I agree... but I also don't think you go far enough. There's so much we cannot measure easily... edu-research is really, really hard. And so much of the edu-research is thin-value stuff. Also, there are so many contradictory studies out there that people can use "research" to prove almost anything they want.

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    1. I love how you broaden the conversation. You're right. We need to clearly define what research cannot prove.

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  2. Research too often means hard numbers. I can get you numbers, but honestly they just don't mean a thing. Or as Samuel Clemens put it "lies, damn lies, and statistics"

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    1. I was going to invoke Twain as well. It feels cliche, but I suppose we have to keep saying it until we don't need to say it anymore.

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    2. Let's keep Twain alive. He never gets cliche.

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  3. I just began reading Daniel Willingham's latest book, "When Can You Trust The Experts"? It seems like it's a good place to begin with these issues. Have you read it? What did you think of it if so? Because as far as I can tell, it seems like it might be a great place to start a serious PD conversation about educational research.

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  4. Funny. My thoughts immediately turn to Dan Willingham's latest book about trusting experts. You asked similar questions he did. Now, I don't think you don't actually believe in research, but your point is well stated. It's far too often that the phrase "research says ...." is problematic and tends to dissuade people from argument, as if the listener won't actually do the actual work of looking at sources. Or even question the premise of why they're prefacing their claim with that statement.

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    1. Research isn't about beliefs. It's about acceptance or rejection. I don't believe in research. I don't believe in evolution. These have no realm in the area of belief. They are either accepted as reality or rejected.

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  5. I tell people that when I say "research says" I'm just blowing smoke. If i say a something like Marzano's meta analysis of XYZ, or Krahen's work--then I've done the required reading. My first question to "research says" is "whose research?" Most times the speakers don't even know that and I am done listening.

    I do firmly believe that if you look long enough you can find research to support anything.

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    1. Exactly. This is especially true when there is a commercial interest involved.

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  6. I don't think that the practice of reading research articles is common place in school districts like it is in graduate school programs. When I was earning my Master's degree, I read numerous articles for my classes and I had access to many more through the university's online library. Once I was back out in the "real" world, I lost that connection to research. For one thing, I did not have the luxury of time to read and digest research articles like I did as a student. Secondly, I no longer had access to the resources that were once available to me. Sure, PD folks and district personnel shouldn't toss out the word research unless they actually have something to back it up, but I think the larger problem is bringing research directly to teachers and teaching them how to analyze it as you suggested with your set of questions.

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    1. Exactly. I'd love to see PD time replaced (not all the time, but sometimes) with the chance for teachers to either do some action research or read some real research. Give us access to the articles (which we don't currently have access to) and time to analyze results.

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  7. It's all about the p value--and I trust meta-analysis about as far as I can toss Marzano.

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    1. Me, too. For what it's worth, I'd love to see you toss Marzano. It might be fun.

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    2. You know I love your work, John, but...

      I agree that a great deal of educational research should be closely scrutinized, but I'll be there to catch Marzano before he hits the ground. Which of his high-yield strategies don't fit into your classroom culture?

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    3. In my opinion, he's wrong about homework and about ActivBoards. I disagree with a few of his thoughts on classroom management. I like his vocabulary model, but it's not unlike what others already do. I don't see him as bad, but I do see him as over-inflated in importance.

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    4. All said and done, while I shield Marzano, I would be hoping you were my child's teacher.

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  8. As I was reading I felt the agreement welling up inside me, then I started to feel slightly hypocritical. I do not accept the kind of research that you are talking about - backed by a special interest and performed with a specific agenda in mind. But, research that is done well, long term, and with only the purpose of providing clear information I like.

    The thought that brought me to this was the teaching of grammar. I won't teach prescriptive grammar through direct instruction. One of my reasons is that the research on it, which is extensive, says that it is not effective, like assigning homework. However, I won't teach it that way because of personal experience from teaching it.

    Research definitely has its place, but not as a sales gimmick.

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    1. I'm with you. The research is clearly against it. However, personal experiences also form my own bias. I am more apt to point out that the research is in my favor when it jives with what I've experienced firsthand.

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  9. Great post. Agree 100%. I know how I can easily skew imperceptible factors to get just about any result I want from the research. Perhaps of equal importance is how we are measuring success in the research which is most always standardized tests...another thing I don't believe in.

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  10. Clear understanding of what science can and can't do is crucial, I agree. Where it's applicable, I think it can help, but when it can't it's just a distraction, or it's used as a rhetorical device.

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  11. There are statistics... and then there are #Marzanostatistics.......

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  12. you're an effing baffoon..for example,studies show that nudity and coarse language aren't healthy for young people(preteens) to see and hear on television..it does effect a child's mind.but if you enjoy nudity and bad language you'll reject that piece of research,claiming it's BS.this is the kind of (un)intelligence you possess and it's obvious the direction you're heading with this "i reject what i don't want to hear" crap(regardless of what the facts are).it's just another manner of using rejection or acceptance as an excuse to encourage a liberal lifestyle and attitude.facts are facts.what if i don't believe that molestation effects children the way in which studies show it does? get my drift? you're allowing yourself to believe just whatever the hell you wanna believe when it's to YOUR advantage...period.even with the facts and research we have regarding conditions like bipolar,dspsd,etc ,the hillbilly hick says "i don't care what his/her condition is,if ya got 2 arms and legs ya kin do sumthin'".you can show the hillbilly medical records and facts about the person and his/her condition and he'll just say"that's bull shit". that's ignorance.and to reject research that clearly shows facts ,is ignorant & unintelligent.

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    1. You didn't read this piece at all, did you? I don't believe in research. I either accept it or reject it. Belief isn't a part of the equation, period. So, I'm not anti-research. I'm actually pro-research. Read it before you troll it.

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