How teachers use research– and maybe how they

How teachers use research– and
maybe how they should?
Ralf St.Clair
University of Glasgow
Two different worlds
Five questions about research
Responses to the two worlds
Questions for you!
Teacher’s World
Short time to make decisions
Practical– need something that works
No time for ambiguity
If it has worked for another teacher, worth a
• Answers to school, children, parents
• Limited exposure to research
Researcher’s World
Need to take time to develop ideas
Must be theoretically sound
Lives for ambiguity
Claims must be carefully justified– anecdotes
not enough
• Answers to other researchers
• Many years of training and experience in
Types of knowledge
Teachers’ knowledge is tacit
Researchers’ knowledge is explicit
(Hayek, idea from the marketplace)
“Two worlds” perspective
• Teachers and researchers live in different
worlds, speaking different languages
• The central problem of communication is
...the majority of teachers, counselors, and
administrators spend their careers at the
receiving end of "manufactured" research
products produced in remote university
"factories" by unseen research experts.
(Quigley, 1997, p.3)
What do we know about how teachers
use research?
• Research (!) shows that most teachers say
they value research and like to use it
• Few of them can name a piece of research
that influenced a decision
• Experienced teachers use research more than
new teachers
• Promoted teachers use it more
• Teachers with research training use it more
• When they really really need to
• If it catches their interest
• If they are writing a proposal, a plan or a
• Very few teachers just read research for fun
• Have a broad view of what counts as research,
e.g. the newspaper, TV etc.
• Prefer research by a known author– credibility
of the researcher very important
• Reports by other teachers popular
• Not too theoretical– judged by familiarity of
• Conference presentations and internet
• Some academic articles, very few academic
• Asking friends
Making teaching better
Justifying teaching decisions
. . . there are a lot of useful things and mainly
it's towards the grant writing entity, or proving
to United Way why or why not you can make
certain gains, or to business or companies that
think literacy can be a business
(practitioner 11)
It just helps the program to run a little more
smoothly and a little more cheaply and a little
more efficiently, and all of those things
(practitioner 9)
• Teachers actively choose when to use research
and what they will use
• These decisions are very different from the
decisions researchers would make
• Individual pieces of research in articles are
rarely used to make a single decision
• Experience and values beat research every
time (Weiss)
So is this a problem?
Class size
• Teachers think smaller classes are always
• Parents like smaller classes
• Smaller classes are MUCH more expensive and
require MANY more teachers
• Research shows that class size does not affect
results very much at all
Two different models of teachers
1. Skilled technicians implementing welldesigned procedures
2. Educated professionals making wise
Two responses to “two worlds”
• Evidence based education
• Teacher Action Research
Evidence based education
• No Child Left Behind Act
• “What works” clearinghouse
• Creates a huge database of “scientific
knowledge” about education
• Recommendations based on this huge
collection of information
• Research is contradictory
• “Scientific” research means Controlled Trials,
and these are rare in education and expensive
to do
• Overlooks values and culture
• Assumes teachers are rational in decision
Teacher Action Research
• Teachers conduct research in their own
classrooms and put the findings into action
• Look at questions that are most important to
• Build up knowledge in their school and across
their career
• Takes time, and teachers are busy
• Need support for the first few times– where
• Are the results useful to anybody else?
Questions for you
• Do you think there are two worlds of teaching
and research?
• Do you think they should talk to each other?
• Do you think teachers can be researchers, or
should we leave it to the experts?
• What might research help us, as teachers, to
understand and do?
• How will you decide what to do when you are