Reader's Guide / The Research-Savvy Educator - ASCD
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May 1, 2021

Reader's Guide / The Research-Savvy Educator

Professional Learning
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In his conversation in this issue with fellow scholar Matthew A. Kraft, influential researcher John Hattie highlights a key recent transformation in K–12 educators' roles. "Over the past decade, teachers and school leaders have begun seeing research and evidence as a core part of their thinking and doing," he states. "This is a major change."

That change, of course, is partly the result of the emphasis on research-based practice in recent federal education law. The 2002 No Child Left Behind Act is said to employ the term "scientifically based research" more than 100 times. And the Every Student Succeeds Act, the most recent iteration of the guiding national education law, retained some of that spirit, establishing a more nuanced, graduated system for gauging "evidence-based" interventions. 1

But it's likely that educators' own evolving interests in inquiry and improvement, abetted by the growth of resources and networks available on the internet, have also played a big role in the profession's more research-oriented turn. In a sense, we are all researchers now—or at least determined consumers of research.

As many educators have discovered, however, that is not a straightforward pursuit. As critical as it is in today's schools, education research can be complex, contradictory, gap-filled, biased, and even just plain wrong or misleading. Using it constructively requires some groundwork and care.

This, we hope, is where this issue of Educational Leadership comes in. The official theme of the issue is "From Research to Practice," but if I could add a subtitle, it would be something like "How to Be a Savvy Interpreter of Education Research." Many of the articles explore the inherent complexities of education research today and look at ways educators and school leaders can become more critical and resourceful consumers of the evidence that's available to them. Such investigative strategies will likely be critical in the coming months as schools seek to recover and learn from this paradigm-altering school year.

A good place to start, in this respect, is Nora Gordon and Carrie Conaway's article on "Asking the Right Questions." Gordon and Conaway, both university professors, outline strategies for translating real-life problems of practice in schools into the more specialized types of inquiries that education researchers tend to address. They then offer tips for reviewing relevant findings more efficiently. This filtering process "can help educators more quickly home in on the strategies that will benefit their students the most."

In his piece, education tech expert T. Philip Nichols prescribes a somewhat different but no less deductive tack. He argues that, to spur evidence-based innovation, schools should reframe the "research to practice" model to one that is more about "practice to research." This means more systematically using local school conditions, discoveries, and infrastructural realities to refine, adapt, and inform "on paper" findings and drive customized improvements.

As several authors in this issue stress, context matters when it comes to interpreting or conducting research. So, too, as Douglas Reeves explains, does an attitude of "genuine wonder" as opposed to fixed "claims of certainty" based on belief or hearsay.

While focusing on interpretive strategies, this issue also includes plenty of insights on how formal education research itself can be improved. Indeed, a common thread running through the stories is the need for more and better "practice-based" research—especially given all the policy attention on evidence-based practice. We hope the suggestions offered by our authors—including "practitioners' abstracts" (Matthew A. Kraft and John Hattie), changes in research-funding priorities (Frederick M. Hess), and crowdsourcing platforms (Emily Barton and Dan Brown)—help bridge the divide and spur new thinking and connections.

Especially as we come out of this year, schools cannot afford for education research to be strictly academic.

Reflect and Discuss

➛ Is there a study or form of practice you've been using for a long time that you can review the research around for new findings or updates?

➛ How can you bring a more critical lens to the research you consult before translating it into practice?

➛ How have you seen the "innovation-from-above model" at work in your school?

➛ What steps can you take to support an innovation-from-below approach to solving problems of practice in your school?

➛ How can leaders support a culture that gives teachers and students the resources they need to lead problem solving?


➛ Where do you most often hit a snag when searching for research to help with problems of practice? Why do you think this is?

➛ In what ways could the questioning strategies outlined in this piece help you in researching issues in your school?

➛ Where do you go to read relevant research to help you with your school's challenges? Do you think your sources are sufficient?


➛ Why do you think "zombie ideas" persist and continue to crop up in classroom practices?

➛ How can educators make sure that the strategies they use and the research they read are valid?

➛ What other misconceptions can you think of that hinder teacher practice?


➛ What are your greatest concerns about current trends and programs in early-reading instruction? Why?

➛ Consider examples of effective reading instruction you've observed or participated in. What are the key components or characteristics of such instruction?

➛ Do you agree with Gabriel that schools need "flexibility" in their approaches to reading instruction? What does flexibility mean to you in this context?


➛ Of the four "obvious" principles of effective PD that Schmoker describes, which one gets the least attention in your school, and why? How could you shift that?

➛ How many initiatives or areas of focus are being simultaneously implemented in your school? Could you choose just one or two high-impact areas to focus on as a faculty?

End Notes

1 West, M. R. (2016, February 5). From evidence-based programs to an evidence-based system: Opportunities under the Every Student Succeeds Act. The Brookings Institution.

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