How teachers can use research effectively in their classroom

How teachers can use research effectively in their classroom

It’s important for teachers to be able to use the latest evidence from research in their classroom practice, but how can they use that research well to create meaningful impact?

Researchers from the Monash Q project provide some tips and resources for educators.

Almost any professional accreditation document or school improvement framework has an expectation that teachers use research in their practice.  At first glance, these statements appear simple, however the process of sourcing, interpreting and using research in practice is more complex.

At the Monash Q Project, we are interested in understanding how teachers use research and supporting them to use it well. In a recent survey of nearly 500 Australian educators, we found:

  • 85% believe using research will improve student outcomes,
  • 35% do not know where to find relevant research,
  • 32% don’t feel confident to analyse and interpret research,
  • 44% do not feel confident to judge the quality of research.

This article discusses four key considerations for using research well in the classroom, along with initial resources and practical guides to support teachers to engage with research.

1. Research comes from a variety of sources

The educators in our survey told us about the challenges they face in accessing research.  For instance, 68% indicated they didn’t have sufficient access to research, and 76% couldn’t keep up with new and emerging research.

While issues of access cannot be easily resolved without system-wide changes, there are a number of tricks that can make accessing research easier.

Resources for teachers:

  • An increasing number of research articles are now available open-access (no paywall). Many educational research databases, such as ERIC and Informit, host open-access research – just click “Full-text available” when searching.
  • There are many different ways to source research.  For example, Evidence for Learning publishes high-quality summaries of relevant educational research, or there are a number of great research-focused podcasts:
    • Teacher Education Review is a fortnightly podcast focusing on sharing recent and topical educational research.
    • Education Research Reading Room is a podcast that explores different education theories or research-based strategies each month.
    • Teacher Magazine produces several different podcasts, including: The Research Files, Teacher Staffroom, and Behaviour Management.

    Check out our Q Data Insight for a round-up of ideas.

  • In partnership with Behaviour Works Australia we developed a 3-step process for finding research – which is explained in our Q Behavioural Insight.

Increasingly, research findings are available in open-access repositories.

2. Not all research is created equal

Before you consider implementing research in your classroom, you need to evaluate and assess the research to determine whether it is suitable for your context. The educators in our survey were more confident to critique research in this manner if they were a school leader, held post-graduate qualifications and/or had more than five years of experience.

However, as research can be valuable for all educators, there are a number of guides to scaffold the assessment process.

Resources for teachers:

  • Research studies are often riddled with complex terminology. The newly-formed Australian Education Research Organisation (AERO) has developed Key Concepts Explained, a page which clearly and concisely explains common research jargon.
  • It can be difficult to know what questions to ask when examining a piece of research. AITSL recently published a comprehensive step-by-step guide on how to examine, critique and interpret research – which has also been summarised in a 1-page document.

3. Research is not a ‘magic pill’

Research cannot simply be dropped into your classroom to solve all of your problems. After critiquing and interpreting the research, teachers should spend some time developing a plan to adapt the research, trial it in their classroom and then reflect on whether it worked or not.

For the educators in our survey, the most important considerations to keep in mind were whether the research had directly and sufficiently addressed a pre-identified problem (1st ranked importance) and whether it was compatible with their current teaching practices (2nd ranked importance).

Resources for teachers:

  • AERO has developed a Research Reflection Guide that outlines key questions for teachers to ask when planning, implementing, evaluating and reflecting on research-informed changes to practice.
  • Evidence for Learning’s Implementation Guide provides evidence-based recommendations on effective implementation within schools.
  • For a narrative example of how one teacher found and adapted research to suit his small, regional primary school in Queensland, visit Michael’s Q Narrative.
  • For a case study of how two school leaders sourced and implemented research in their large Catholic co-educational secondary school in Victoria, visit Vaughan and Kendall’s Q Narrative.

Teachers need to develop a plan of how to adapt the research to their classroom, then trial it, and then reflect on whether it worked or not.

4. Using research is not an isolated activity

Teachers don’t have to embark on the journey of engaging with research alone. In fact, 76% of educators in our survey used research as a prompt to discuss best practices with their colleagues.

Our most recent Q Data Insight also highlighted how collaborative learning environments can support educators’ beliefs about research as well as their capacities to source, critique and implement it.

Resources for teachers:

  • To learn more about how collaboration can support teachers to use evidence better, take a look at this Collaboration research summary from AITSL and the Q Project.
  • For a narrative case study about how two teachers collaborated to implement a research-based intervention in a small, regional primary school in Queensland, visit Penny and Julie’s Q Narrative.

Final thoughts

These four considerations aim to provide educators with a springboard to explore how they can use research well so it has a meaningful impact in their classrooms. We hope that the resources provided assist teachers to:

  • explore research in various ways,
  • interpret and critique its findings,
  • thoughtfully adapt it to suit their classroom, and
  • engage with others throughout this process.

These suggestions provide an important first step, but there are important systemic issues that also need to be addressed, such as the lack of dedicated time to engage with research.

These concerns are continuing to drive our work at the Monash Q Project, and we explore them in an upcoming discussion paper.

For more information about the Monash Q Project, visit our website or join the conversation with us on Twitter @MonashQProject.

With thanks to the additional Q Project researchers who also contributed to this article: Mandy Salisbury, Joanne Gleeson, and Connie Cirkony.