Research to practice: bridging the gap

A continuing challenge for any research organization is to strengthen the ties between research and practice.

In a 2006 article in the Journal for Research in Mathematics Education*, the NCTM Research Committee proposes that the need for improvement is two-way. The practice of classroom teaching needs to be better informed by an understanding of research, and researchers need to learn more from the insights and knowledge of teachers.

Efforts to make teaching more research-based are slowed by two challenges, the authors say:
1. translating research results into practical advice that can be implemented in today’s classrooms, and
2. targeting research to questions that are important to teachers.

Some journals aim at researchers; others aim at teachers. But in the case of mathematics education, at least, no journal focuses on providing syntheses of direct responses to teacher-generated questions of general importance. So teachers have no direct resource for research-based responses to their immediate questions.

In addition, many classroom teachers have little time for, or experience in, reading and interpreting research, and then translating those findings into practice. Teachers’ day-to-day priorities are often determined externally and politically, and their day-to-day priorities don’t always coincide with the long-term programmatic interests of the professional researcher.

And the knowledge, experience, and wisdom of classroom teachers are often untapped in research projects that could benefit from that perspective. The result is a bi-directional disconnect.

The article proposes that teachers and researchers collaborate in two ways:
1. develop researchable, generalizeable, and useable research questions.
2. communicate the research results in teacher-friendly ways.

The person best able to broker communication would be a practitioner with a working knowledge of both research and teaching, for example ‘instructional engineers’ or teacher leaders, who take the theory and results of research and design practical ways for them to inform classroom teaching.

Teacher-leaders may be teacher educators, professional developers, a school district’s content area supervisors, school department heads, or classroom teachers—anyone with the experience and knowledge needed to put research results into operation.

The authors encourage researchers to seek out more practitioners whom they can engage in collaborative and meaningful research on questions of mutual interest. Meanwhile, researchers need more support in their efforts to conduct school-based research. They often face regulations and funding priorities that restrict or discourage research in schools.

* Source: “The Challenge of Linking Research and Practice.” NCTM Research Committee. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education. 2006, Vol. 37 No. 2


10 Responses to Research to practice: bridging the gap

  1. This is the heart of the matter.
    Many, certainly not all, but not nearly enough, classroom teachers do not know how to become “reflective”. Nor have they been oriented to question what they do everyday in ways that lead to better outcomes using the “tools” researchers can offer or inside of research design.I really don’t find many reading research either. Of course broadly generalizing may be the worse way to talk. I am looking from my perspectives in a CA Under Performing school now, from 24 years earning tenure in four districts with some years involved/invested in learning more about what it is that I am doing as I work in a place that carries all of the edge…language, poverty, race, immigration, drugs, gangs, failures on multiple levels. What it offers is tremendous opportunity to develop craft with children who require of you the very best skill levels.All the time….but to continue.
    And worse, current moves in education place teachers in narrow definitions limiting them further, often times as so slow witted they need to be “scripted”. Ultimately I see this as what happened in my environment of distrust, miscommunication, a “have to” do this “or else” over a want or need to…just the blowing up of ways to find meaning making with students be more than forced rote basic skills drill and heavily formatted knowledge dump approaches to what really is such a much more sophisticated process that demands much more than a lunking “reform”.

    The mindsets of leadership for teachers seems too much, even within their own organizations, to not effectively enough promote open doors, nor grow them as relationships, and bridges to working with the researcher, or as a researcher, in the on-going quest to be better at what we do. In my case my District would openly suggest my going elsewhere again though my work is respected, as it is seen as so potentially empowering or as a kind of free agency I suppose, and thus I think dangerous.And in a way it is. They are totally hung up on everyone everyday on the same page in the same way doing the same thing.
    But let’s just look at one part. How to show teachers a way to connect. Judith Green at UCSanta Barbara an ethnographer in projects connected directly to schools in Districts such as one my husband Superintendents’ has projects that build these links, study doing this better and design opportunities to engage classroom teachers. So I watch what happens as a result of several years work -teachers and classes are linked to scientists and then linked to the ethnographic language pieces inside of research to enhance practice. As you are obviously describing. Here again technology offers ways to bridge and expand. Here at AERA I am thinking about the importance of Superintendents….these leaders have to see the relevance as they are your ….gatekeepers I think. I think, really, that pushing, inviting, encouraging the most visionary of them to conferences such as this to forge relationships to their people …well…that seems important. Another thing I find listening in sessions ….translating then to what I know of schools….right now researchers say they know what is happening politically but appear to feel they are riding above it or have a longer distance view. What I see happening is so fundamentally disgusting for lack of a better term, teachers right now are demoralized, dealing with luggingly bad materials, politics on such a inane level, we still are so momentously untrusted in the “talk” about this world…, you get the point. I see then becoming reflective, become research oriented as a wonderful way to regain “self” or sense of my integrity. But it may be that teachers are discouraged, closed. Fear, Paul , predominates the teacher climates, many worry over assaults on not only our autonomy as decision makers but assaults on our values, our frames if you will. Teachers often tell me ” do what they say.” And it becomes a massive force to conform and survive. Yet you are asking for a risk takers frame here. Again if you read Lortie and then translate this through recent developments in teaching what you find is the teacher remarkably fixated on security, not changing. I came at teaching as an artist first, risk taking a major component of 70’s art training. I came at it through lenses and gears many teachers have not yet built. So I see a need to build into teacher training the creative constructs that link to researching as a daily life activity. Here I think…well seeing someone do this is powerful which may work in visits to a class but through on-line ways I can visit blogs or sites set up to show it…I can see this happening. Oh…I see. I think a teacher describing, narrating and then clips into this made available would lower the stress or the “unknown” factor and could be a part of a National project housed on-line…my thought for you.

    In the end what I see most clearly is the teacher in public school barred by layers from being able at access research projects. Researchers putting access or talking to me on the web as this page does I see…oh…that is meaningful. Say I want to connect to those who also are working on 2nd language issues and children who have neither language due to poverty and are tremendously I find in a site a way to get to that and read what is there or I might hook up with or I query and find connectivity to it…a kind of Teacher/Researcher talk and learn…or I think I have a project but I want someone to listen and give some insight…I find it there.
    …oh I can then begin relationship building. You know that slogan…or line…build it they will come a national model of teacher to researcher network designed by a system that specializes in this …in communications facilitation AERA could own this. It would be a connecting bridge. And I think technology affords you the way to envision and realize this. sarah puglisi

  2. paul says:

    sarah, thanks for the thoughtful post. I’ll take a couple days and digest all you’ve said, and write again. I do want you to know that I’ve just been appointed to the AERA Communications and Outreach Committee. We met today, and are making plans for a session at next year’s conference in NYC. We want to present a riveting and useful session. Let’s keep up this conversation and see what we might come up with.

  3. I’m massively enjoying your blog. Can I link?

  4. I think you might find this interesting.

    The author is a teacher, among the finest who can reflect with you on how, why, ways to connect practice to research. I think worth the time to read his work…very good work contained there. Sarah

  5. paul says:

    Hi again Sarah. Thanks for the kind note. I’m honored that you’d want to link to EducationPR.
    And I did check out Doug’s blog, at your recommendation. Turns out he reads some of the same blogggers I do. I like his concept of exploring the unknown and looking for magic in the boundaries. What a great way to approach life! So he is leading his students by example.
    One thing Doug hints at in a recent post was spelled out very clearly by some academics I heard at an AERA session this morning: No matter how good the research may be, the implementation is going to be different in different contexts, and that’s why a five-star research-informed program can sometimes produce less than desirable results. Programs must be localized to each context. And the more partnership and ownership the teachers have in the inititial research itself, the more likely the implementation will have the desired results.

  6. SEE…..good. Next year I want Doug to go to AERA.

    AGAin enjoying reading today.

  7. Doug Noon says:

    Hi Paul and Sarah, Thanks for your attention. If I could quickly chime in here on the research-practice dynamic….

    There are so many contingencies in any educational setting, it is hard to reliably generalize from one situation to the next. As a teacher when I read a research paper, I have to try to imagine how similar the situation being presented in the report is to my own – even if the question is one that I might have asked myself – because the way that I implement any research findings will be some variation of what I already know, and what my students are capable of understanding. Briefly, the whole endeavor is very “iffy.”

    Paul, this is pretty much what you just said. As far as “targeting questions” to teachers’ interests, I think you have to go directly to teachers for that. My graduate school cohort worked within a teacher-as-researcher model, and we learned from one another. This, to me, was one of the most empowering and thought provoking professional experiences I’ve ever had. Get a group of teachers together. Offer university credit. Encourage them to ask and answer their own questions. Discuss. Show them how to publish their findings. That’s what we did. My project was a two-year-long effort to fully implement NCTM’s communication standard in a fourth and a sixth-grade classroom.

    I read Decolonizing Methodologies, by Linda Tuhiwai Smith, along the way. She talked about the need for indigenous peoples to design their own research projects in order to achieve goals that are consistent with their own felt needs and cultural values. I see the situation with teachers and education research as quite similar.

  8. paul says:

    For years, Ken Zeichner here at UW-Madison has engaged district classroom teachers in action research. There’s an article in Catalyst magazine on the topic
    Zeichner laments that some consder teacher-research to be “second class” work.
    I attended an AERA panel Thursday addressing the theme of forming partnerships: academic researchers partnering with districts, with legislative bodies, with building-level people, to design studies that would focus on projects of concern locally. A point that kept coming up is the need to translate, translate, translate.

  9. Judith Green at UCSB…doing this.

  10. […] In a recent comment on this blog, Sarah made a number of points about the gap between teaching and research, from her perspective as a teacher. […]

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