The Basic Guide to Reading Research for Teachers
In today’s discourse on educational practice in literacy, the term “research” is ubiquitous. You see it in the newsstands, on television and across the social media universe. A point of contention in many discussions is what constitutes “research-based” and “evidence-based” methods and practices. You may find yourself on the sidelines, with your attention ping-ponging back and forth, watching many players in the debate argue their case with one another all while wondering who is right and what the research actually says.
While educational research is certainly not new, it seems to have taken on a more heightened and, sometimes, controversial form than ever before. Usually, there tends to be somewhat of a gap between the research side and our classrooms. As teachers, we have often relied on the programs in our classroom to have done the research and to have found conclusions of effective outcomes. Though this was traditionally the case, we are seeing in the current climate, that programs may not always be what they advertise and because of this, the gap in the informational pipeline has significantly decreased as many stakeholders want not only more first hand research knowledge but also to understand how it might inform and guide any changes they make.
If you are reading this, there may be a chance that, like me, you have a strong curiosity, or interest, in understanding the vast body of literacy research available to us. Staying abreast of current events in the literacy and educational world might also be a high priority. Perhaps, you have been seeing an increase in the use of “research” in your collegial conversations, when considering and choosing new programs or during articulation of your curriculum. Maybe, you are attending webinars or conferences where research is taking center stage and widely discussed.
On the flip side of this, you may be finding, as I once did, that the process of reading research studies seems a bit daunting and as if they are written in a different language. If you didn’t have a research methodologies class in your undergraduate or graduate programs (me too), you might also feel like you’re at a bit of a disadvantage in terms of having the background knowledge that may unlock full access to the content.
Full disclosure: it still takes me repeated readings (like our students) and taking annotated notes to fully digest a study and come away with a more complete understanding. Considering that mathematics is also not exactly my strong suit, especially statistics, it can end up being a really intense mental workout for my brain. (Despite all of this, I still really, really enjoy it and do recommend it)
Perhaps, you can relate to some of the experiences or feelings I mentioned and as a result, you have avoided wading into the pool of research. I’m here, as a fellow educator, to try to help and change this.
My goal for this new series of posts is to learn about research and its design, in easier terms, in order to get ourselves swimming comfortably in its pool. This first post will be a bit of a primer on research methods and data collection as well as identifying and distinguishing between the types of studies that are commonly found in the realm of educational research. While there are many different types of studies out there that we could discuss, for our initial exploration, we will be focusing on four of the more commonly used in our field. Knowing this information can assist you in understanding how a research study was developed and the kind of data it was looking for. You will also have a better understanding of how this connects to “research” vs. “evidence based” as mentioned earlier.
In subsequent posts, we will explore the parts of a study, what effect sizes mean and how one can walk away with a more accurate picture of a study’s findings as well as what it means for you, the educator.
Are you ready? Let’s dip our toes in…
Research Methods and Data Collection
Quantitative - tells us the “what”
Quantitative relates to quantity. In quantitative research, the focus is on the ability to measure, collect and analyze countable, or numerical, data (statistics). This makes it more “concrete” or “objective”.
Qualitative - tells us the “why” and sometimes the “how”
Qualitative relates to quality. In qualitative research, the aim is to describe or better understand phenomena related to the human experience and through collection of non-numerical data. This means it is more “interpretive” or “subjective”.1
As the name implies, a mixed method approach will utilize facets of both quantitative and qualitative research and data collection.
These methods play a role in the types of research studies mentioned below.
Commonly Used Research Studies in Education
A study of multiple, previously researched studies. By analyzing data related to an educational question or topic across multiple studies, researchers can determine whether the findings are consistent and the outcome is strong or significant (effect sizes). The 2020 National Reading Panel Report utilized meta-analysis.
Randomized Controlled Trials/Experimental Design
RCTs are what many think of in relation to research studies. This type of study involves comparing a “control” group and a “treatment” group of randomly assigned participants in order to determine the effect of a practice or intervention.
QE is similar to an RCT, however, a key difference is that participants are not randomly chosen for placement in a group. QE designs are more commonly used in education than RCTs as they can be easier to conduct, within a classroom environment. QE studies sometimes, do not have any intervention in the control group. This can inflate their results.
*Evidence based products, programs or pedagogies are those that have had multiple quasi-experimental or experimental studies done and which yielded high effects.
Circling back to earlier, some examples of EB vs. RB currently out there:
Phonemic Awareness, phonics and morphology are all evidence based.
Decodables and sound walls are research based (for now).
Case studies are often compared to narratives and are the most widely used in education. Researchers investigate a problem, situation or people, gather and piece together information or data related to their specific topic and develop a report to share their findings. Case studies usually do not have control groups.
We’ve now made it waist deep into the pool. How are you feeling? I hope that this post was able to bring some clarity to research studies and that it also provided you with a new lens through which you can read it.
We will meet again the next time as we tackle parts of a study, effect sizes and how you can synthesize the information you read to form an accurate conclusion.
The Beginners Guide to Reading Research: https://www.pedagogynongrata.com/a-beginners-guide-to-reading-research
The Intermediate Guide to Reading Research: https://www.pedagogynongrata.com/an-intermediate-guide-to-reading-researc
Simply Psychology. What’s the Difference Between Qualitative and Quantitative Research.
Retrieved from: https://www.simplypsychology.org/qualitative-quantitative.html
Statswork. What is the Difference in The Research Objective Between Qualitative Versus Quantitative Study While Writing a Proposal.
Salters-Pedneault, Kristalyn PhD. The Role of Meta-Analysis in Scientific Studies.
Retrieved from: https://www.verywellmind.com/definition-of-meta-analysis-425254
Childcare and Early Education Research Connections. Experiments and Quasi-Experiments.
Shuttleworth, Martyn. Case Study Research Design
This blog was developed in partnership with Teaching By Science.
On a personal note, I am greatly appreciative of Nathanial Hansford and Joshua King’s work in helping educators to become better informed about research and also for serving as a sounding board and source of information for this series.
Written By: Elizabeth Reenstra, Guiding Literacy Growth
Last Edited: September 8, 2022
 Simply Psychology. What’s the Difference Between Qualitative and Quantitative Research,