One of my committee chairs in grad school was an incredible innovator in developing and evaluating instructional practices for diverse learners. One day he began (once again) talking about the importance of implementing with fidelity (aka doing the procedure correctly) educational practices validated in the literature. Then he asked a very important question, “does research drive practice, or practice drive research?”.
Over the next few hours, we debated back and forth the answer to this question. As the impeccable scholar that he was, he would agree with your point and then pose a thought that made you rethink your entire position. Writing last week’s post about student achievement brought this conversation back to mind. Here are a few take-aways worth repeating.
1. Let Research be Your Guide. In many of the workshops I lead, I have asked the participants to make a list of as many evidence-based practices that they know. In every workshop, conference, or keynote, the most popular responses are preferential seating (not an instructional strategy) and math manipulatives (again, not an instructional strategy). Because of this, my work has focused on being a communicator of the literature so that every person that walks away from an event with a notebook full of strategies to implement that have a demonstrated measure of support. Don’t move on feeling, move forward with facts. As a field that has been entrusted with the task of shaping the next generation of leaders, we should approach our craft with the same care as a surgeon. Precise, informed by science, and with care for the individual.
2. Don’t let Research be Your Handcuffs. The problem with letting research be your guide is that the amount of relevant, credible, peer-reviewed literature is minimal when compared to other disciplines. What that means practically is that we do not always have the answer to every situation in a journal article somewhere. So be innovative! Step out in a direction informed by research but has yet to be specifically validated. For example, I was able to show that you could use skype to train a teacher to use a procedure to increase outcomes for a student with autism. The procedure had a long list of evidence in the literature, but using skype did not. So take an informed step into uncharted territory, collect meaningful data to identify it worked, and then share your findings so that other may benefit.
At the end of the dialogue in my doctoral seminar, when we were hoping to hear the final answer to this question, he wrapped it up encouraging me to go and do….both. May we all go and do….both.