Approximately 11 weeks ago, I started my Ask A Researcher series. This is my attempt to connect two worlds of education: the education researcher world and the classroom teacher world. Both are incredibly important to education and learning, but they rarely ever work with one another for the greater good…especially on a large scale. Individual researchers or labs may conduct research in one classroom, one school, or maybe even one district, but there seems to be a lack of communication between the two on a national level. I wanted to provide some sort of platform to let teachers know a little more about researchers and the work they’re doing. I think, for the most part, the Ask A Researcher series has been a success. I’ve received loads of positive feedback and the researchers featured have been wonderful. I sincerely hope this has educated teachers on the work that researchers do and how they can participate to further our understanding of what works and what doesn’t.
But that is only one half of the equation. Through 11 different interviews, I’ve asked researchers to tell me about their work; to let me peek behind the curtain a bit to find out what they’re interested in and what their focus is.
But, now the researchers have some questions for teachers. Dr. Nick Soderstrom (Ask A Researcher #8) actually came to me with this idea…and I think it’s great. It’s one thing for me to ask them about what they do, but it’s also incredibly important for teachers to field questions from the researchers to assist with their work.
So, I’ve compiled some questions that the researchers would now like to pose to teachers around the globe. It would be great if teachers could respond in the comments sections on this article for all to see or, if you don’t feel comfortable with that, email the researchers individually. It is this sort of two-way communication that will assist teachers with better understanding research and help researchers understand exactly what teachers are looking for to improve learning in the classroom. When we all work together on this, everyone wins: the researcher, the teacher, and the student.
So, here are the questions:
From Dr. Robert Bjork (Ask A Researcher #1):
My question for teachers has to do with how to help ALL students learn. It’s one thing, for example, to argue—as Elizabeth (Dr. Elizabeth Bjork) and I have—that teachers should introduce desirable difficulties for their students (in order to better exercise the processes that enhance long-term retention and transfer of to-be-learned knowledge), but, as we have also argued, the level of difficulty that is optimal varies as a function of the level of prior knowledge a given student already possesses. With 20-30 students in a class, what can a teacher do to provide a level of challenge that is individualized, so to speak—that is, provides the right level of challenge for students in a given class who are at differing levels of prior learning?
I was also extremely grateful that Dr. Elizabeth Bjork, herself, wrote to convey her thoughts:
Whenever we speak with teachers—many of whom are very eager to introduce desirable difficulties into their instruction—perhaps the most frequent types of questions they pose to us amount to ones of how can they determine and/or provide the appropriate level of challenge for each of their students when they have up to 30 or more of them in each class.
From Dr. Joe Kim (Ask A Researcher #3):
What teaching practice do you use in the absence of research evidence, that nonetheless, you are convinced is effective?
Would you be interested in partnering with a researcher to explore this teaching process?
From Dr. Paul Kirschner (Ask A Researcher #5):
What did you miss during your education and training as a teacher that you need/needed when you became a teacher?
What was the balance between what to do (a technique; e.g. give feedback) and why/how you should do it (the theory behind; e.g., different types of feedback, how they work, what’s the function of requiring kids to act on it,…)?
From Dr. Regan Gurung (Ask A Researcher #6):
What are the biggest barriers to your learning about the science of what works? Journal access? Easily digestible summaries? Money for CE?
There are great blogs out there to learn about learning science, but time is limited. What would you WISH you had from researchers of learning?
When you read about a research finding, how do you go about implementing it? What problems do you face when doing it?
How do you measure the effects of changes you make in instruction?
What do you think researchers have missed? Something you see in your class that research does not seem to address?
From Dr. Brandy Tiernan (Ask A Researcher #7):
How do you manage your classroom — are you any more successful than college professors at getting students to do the reading?
We know that learning is the work of the individual mind, but what do you do to provide sources of motivation for students to keep trying/keep achieving?
How often do you ask students to self reflect and think about the processes they used to complete a task or assignment for class?
From Dr. Nick Soderstrom (Ask A Researcher #8):
(After commenting that he thought all of the other questions posed so far were great.)
I’d be interested in whether their teacher training program included information on cognitive psychology–more specifically, the science of human learning and memory.
From Dr. Ayanna Thomas (Ask A Researcher #11):
From your perspective, what are the greatest impediments to student learning?
When considering your approach to lesson planning and teaching in general, what factors influence your general structure and thinking?
Do you adopt new practices based on new information that you acquire? If so, how do you gather that information?
Where do you learn about new practices?
Do you think that working with learning and cognitive scientists directly would be beneficial to your practice? Why or why not?
I don’t know about you, but I believe these questions are fantastic. It is so interesting to see what’s on their mind…what they wonder about with respect to teachers in the classroom. They want to know. They want to help out and they certainly want their work to have as positive an impact as possible.
So what’s next? If you’re a teacher and one of these questions struck a chord with you, feel free to comment below or contact the researcher individually…you can find many on Twitter and all are available via email.
Keep the conversation going. Get involved. If you are a teacher, the impact of your work is vast and incredible. Here’s one more way you can positively impact students near and far.