Researching Classroom Realities

I recently saw a remarkable article in Education Next, Studying Teacher Moves, by Michael Goldstein, the founder of a charter high school in Massachusetts and of a teacher residency program that supplies teachers to schools like KIPP. The article criticizes educational research for its failure to study “teacher moves,” the day-to-day, minute-to-minute decisions teachers make to solve the predictable problems of teaching: how to call on students, assign homework, create a positive environment for learning, and so on. Why, he asks, should Microsoft spend 15% of its revenues on R&D, while the education enterprise nationally spends about 0.03%? And within the small amount that is spent on research, why is so little of it useful to teachers or principals? He proposes a system of research that would involve educators deeply in identifying “teacher moves” worth studying, doing exploratory research, and ultimately evaluating combinations of moves that promise to improve student outcomes.

Goldstein’s argument is right on the mark, in my opinion. In fact, back in the 1970s and ’80s there was a substantial effort to study teaching, particularly represented by process-product research. But enthusiasm for this type of research waned, and today, the journals are full of research that does not address basic realities of classroom practice. I write an educational psychology text, and I am always looking for high-quality research on, for example, classroom management, teaching methods, means of motivating and engaging students, and so on. Yet a tiny proportion of the hundreds of articles I read every time I revise my text address issues of practice.

I hope Goldstein’s article will be widely read and will make a difference. If research continues to ignore the daily realities of teaching, teachers will continue to ignore research, and that leaves the field spinning its wheels. Both teachers and researchers know how to do better, but they’ll need support and encouragement to link up and move the field forward.

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Illustration: Slavin, R.E. (2007). Educational research in the age of accountability. Boston: Allyn & Bacon. Reprinted with permission of the author.

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