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When Searching for Evidence-based Practices, This is What You’ll Find

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In the pursuit of research to support and inform our work, finding relevant material is the first hurdle to clear. Jason C. tackled this task through sharing practical suggestions on how to use Google Scholar to locate this research. Once you start digging through search results, it can be pretty overwhelming trying to determine what is good and what is not. There are a few things to know when combing through your search results.

There are many different article types that you will come across when reading the literature. In this post, I want to discuss 4 types of articles worth your time. Knowing what each can be used for, it will help you know what articles to dig into and when to move on to another one.

Informational Article.

This is an article that the author(s) write a few main points about a particular subject matter. It is not experimental, but rather an attempt to highlight or combine information from a few sources into one place. These tend to be easy to read and can provide information about a wide variety of topics.

I recommend using these articles to quickly find new ideas for working with your learners. For example, these authors wrote about tips and strategies at the co-teaching level. This would be a great read if that is an area that you are looking for some new ideas. These article types are the easiest to confuse evidence and opinion. Evidence is “what the data suggests” and opinion is “what I feel about this”. It is possible for authors to intertwine their opinions on the matter or only include the research that supports their position. Read carefully so that you are able to separate fact from feeling, especially if it is controversial.

Survey Research.

This article type looks at how people “feel” or what their perceptions are about the topic. The authors may use many different methods to gather these perceptions, but the intent is to capture the participants thoughts, feelings, and ideas about a particular area. For example, these authors looked at the changing attitudes of teachers going into the field about technology in the classroom.

I have read many of these articles initially thinking that they were telling me how well a practice works, when really they were talking about how the learners “felt” about the practice. It doesn’t mean that these articles are not worth reading. As a leader in the classroom or the school, it is important to know peoples perceptions of practices.Our perceptions will impact our performance and is subsequently very relevant. In survey articles, after you wade through the methodology, you will get to the place where the authors report the findings and make suggestions based on them. Those are the areas that I find most beneficial. 

Data-based Research (empirical research).

These articles are data-based in nature where the authors conducted research manipulating variables to determine outcomes. It can be single-subject (the data will tell you a lot about smaller number of students) or group design (tells you less in depth, but more about a significantly larger population). There is also qualitative research, but that would deserve another post for that type. We can talk about each of these at length, but your eyes will be glazing over if they have not already. The main take-away is that these articles investigate how well (or what are the effects) of a certain practice or procedure. For example, I investigated if we could teach a teacher to implement FCT using skype. The data suggests that we can and the article encourages others to try it too.

I find data-based research most fascinating. It is the cutting edge of what we are doing across our field. Well written data-based articles include the procedures so that you can repeat the process in your setting to hopefully attain similar results. What I recommend is to read the abstract (to identify what they are investigating and a snapshot of the results), jump into the introduction (to identify what has been done before), review the procedures (to see how they did the study), read the results (to understand the outcomes), and digest the discussion section (to understand the implications of their work).

Literature Review/Meta-analysis.

These articles are the most important type to spend time digging through. These are compilations of the research that has been done in a certain area or with a targeted population. Though there are differences between the two, we can discuss that in more depth in a later post. Here’s a great example, Konrad, Joseph, and Eveleigh (2009) looked into the use of guided notes across the research. This article contains a compilation of all the research on guided notes and provides some practical suggestions in the incorporation into the classroom. Literature reviews/Meta-analysis provide the strongest support for the evidence-base of a specific practice. 

When I am looking to identify what the evidence says about a particular strategy or population, then I go to google scholar and type in “literature review on _______” and “meta-analyis on ________”.  This will direct me to the results I need if the body of work exists. You may have to scroll down through the list to find what you are looking for, but these article types are worth the effort to uncover.

If you’ve made it this far in the post, then you deserve a medal of honor! Digging through the research, or even worse “researching about research” is not on the top 5 list of fun things in education. My encouragement is to take this post piece by piece over a few days so that you will know exactly what you are looking at during your pursuit of evidence-based practice.

About Jason Gibson

Jason Gibson is a learning and behavioral consultant working with schools and treatment facilities across the US supporting children and adolescents with cognitive, social, emotional and behavioral issues. His focus is on practical implementation of research informed practices to increase outcomes for learners with and without disabilities. With degrees in psychology, social work, and education, Jason’s peer-reviewed research has been published in journals such as “Topics in Early Childhood Special Education”, “Closing the Gap”, and “Education and Treatment of Children with Developmental Disabilities”. He is currently a doctoral candidate at the University of Kentucky writing his dissertation on the Efficacy of Online Professional Development to Increase Implementation of Stimulus Preference Assessments. In addition to his consulting work, Jason is the director of the BabbCenter and provides guidance to one of the leading counseling centers that operates from a faith-based perspective. Jason grew up in Titusville, FL and prior to moving to the Nashville area, made central Kentucky his home for 8 years.

One Thought on “When Searching for Evidence-based Practices, This is What You’ll Find

  1. Pingback: Practice-based Evidence: Identifying What Works in YOUR Classroom | Systems of Support

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