Research. What is it good for?

Research Copy

Can the use of more research and evidence based practice be a good thing for education? In this post I want to explore why it could be a good thing to expand the use of research in the area of education.

So why might it be that research plays an important role in education?

Research and evidence based practice shows up in the NZ curriculum, so I am thinking that is a good place to start. The NZ curriculum suggests inquiry as being an effective way of improving teacher practice. “The teacher uses evidence from research and from their own past practice and that of colleagues to plan teaching and learning opportunities aimed at achieving the outcomes prioritised in the inquiry”.

Inquiry cycle from the NZ Curriculum

Inquiry cycle from the NZ Curriculum

So why is research important?

  1. Understanding and using research can help more accurately attribute causation to what is and what is not working in our classrooms and schools. This acts as a guide to what practices might need to change and what to keep. Example: We changed to mixed ability grouping in mathematics after looking at the research around ability groupings. Our maths data is generally very good, but we wanted to know what was working and what was not and how we could improve. Because our data was good it was an easy trap to fall into to think that all of what we were doing was good. But when we looked at what the research said, we could identify a variable to change to see if that had a positive impact. When we looked at the data after the intervention it showed there was improvement because of the changes we made.
  2. Research can empower teachers to become more autonomous and have more agency in their school. Having a good working knowledge of relevant research allows teachers to present strong arguments for why they want to implement change. This is an opportunity for the locus of control to shift from ‘leaders’ making decisions to teachers making more decisions about what happens in their classrooms.
  3. Engaging with research is part of building knowledge and improving practice. Knowing what does and doesn’t work helps inform future focused thinking as we are not circling round and round in what doesn’t work, but rather building on and innovating from what does.
  4. Confirmation bias – how do you know? Confirmation bias is the tendency to select and perpetuate information that aligns with our existing beliefs or practices. How much of what we do is collecting anecdotal evidence to support the status quo? Research is a way of testing our beliefs and assumptions about what is and isn’t working in our schools. It gives us a way of being more impartial and less bias about our practice.
  5. It matters. It matters that we know what we are doing in the classroom is having an impact. Research is another tool in the tool box to narrow down what it is exactly that is and is not having an impact. It matters because our kids matter and if we can do things better then we should.

What is possible?MindsetBook

Imagine using Carole Dweck’s research in the classroom 25 years ago – where would we be today with our kids?

Much of Dwecks work has been around for 25 – 30 years, imagine how great it would be to get that information sooner. With a culture that values research, knowledge would move faster through the channels into classrooms. What else is out there right now that we won’t see in classrooms for another 25 or so years?

I also think it is possible to raise the status of teachers and shift more power and autonomy to them through using more research.

I think though for me, the biggest ‘what’s possible’ is continuous consistent improvement in teacher practice that impacts on student learning outcomes.

Possible Problems:

Research behind pay-walls.

Perception that more work will be involved.

Reading and using research in itself is a skill.

*I am not advocating teachers as researchers. This is already an option with study leave and e-fellowships etc.. I am simply suggesting that a higher-level understanding and use of research could benefit education, teachers and students.

What do you think about research in education? Do you agree/disagree or do we need to think about research in education in an entirely different way?


  1. This is vital for us to be able to improve our practice and paywalls shouldn’t be a barrier. As teachers in NZ we have a few avenues to access the latest research. 1. use your school’s EPIC login to access the databases in there – has some awesome resources for teachers as well as students. 2. Sign up to the Ministry of Education Library which has even more journal access than EPIC and has book loans too. 3. Do some part-time postgrad studies, gets you access to the Uni libraries.

  2. I can’t agree with you more Paula. In my mind, research is absolutely critical to ensuring we are doing our jobs effectively. It is also critical that more teachers engage with research in order to start creating more meaningful shift in our education system.

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