Putting Applied Research into Practice in Your Classroom (Applied Research in Education Part IV of III [I got carried away])

What follows are some questions you might like to use to help shape your own classroom improvements.

What are My Personal and Professional Goals?

            Pick one class in which you would like to see something change. Resist the temptation to change all of your courses at once. Doing so requires tons of extra preparation, and it can be devastating when the adjustments don’t work out. So, instead, limit yourself to one change in one class.

            [Or, if you are like me, then you will be unable to change one thing at a time; you will have to change it all at once. In that event, do yourself a favor and make a plan for what you will do in the event that the experiment fails miserably. Plan for the classroom equivalent of being out in the middle of the ocean in a sinking boat. What sort of inflatable life raft will you have on board? And so on.]

            Now list out all of the goals that your institution has defined for you. This might include lists of vocabulary words, intellectual goals (such as levels of analysis or understanding). Maybe there are writing-specific or public speaking goals. Make sure that these institutional goals are included, because this is probably how you are going to be professionally evaluated. Insitutional or professional learning goals likely include:

·      Reading comprehension

·      Mathematic/symbolic understanding

·      Analyzing information

·      Effective written communication

·      Effective oral communication

·      Technological literacy

·      Etc.


            Next, create a list of your personal goals. Throughout the years, I have had teachers and colleagues who shared some of their following learning goals:

·      Contemplate the good, the true, and the beautiful

·      Try new things/step outside the box

·      Be more creative

·      Be more confident speaking in public

·      Empathy, emotional intelligence

·      Read more, and enjoy the process more

·      Write poetry

·      Understand cultural differences between and within countries






Which of these Goals are not being Met My Classroom?

            Once you’ve outlined a few institutional and personal goals, take a few minutes to think about which goals aren’t being met. Maybe you have received feedback from a supervisor that students aren’t mastering reading, or maybe you’ve noticed that students are getting into your classroom with writing skills below where they should be. If there is a clear problem with one of the institutional goals, then that might be a good place to begin. After all, your colleagues and supervisors are going to be impressed by any effort you make to target these issues that are common to all the other teachers at your school. If, for example, you trial a teaching strategy to target technological literacy and document its effectiveness, then you will probably become your school’s resident expert on the topic. Your principal and superintendents are likely to celebrate your achievement and use you as their exemplar!

            Or maybe there is a personal learning goal that you want to focus on—something that you feel will make your experience and your students’ experience more worthwhile, significant, or meaningful, such as with the example that I gave. If you go this route, then I recommend taking extra time looking into how your personal learning goal relates to institutional learning goals. For example, with autonomy supportive teaching, there is loads of evidence that students learn more than personal responsibility. They also do better at math, social studies, science, reading, writing, etc., etc. (Whitehead, 2023). Having this kind of information is helpful in the event that a principal wants to know why you’re trying to promote an objective that isn’t required by the accrediting agency. 

Choose the Most Pressing Problem or Goal that You Want to Focus on

Choose a problem you currently face in your classroom. Most teachers can pick one or two issues with ease. After all, these are the problems that are most likely to keep you up at night. 

If you’re having trouble coming up with a problem, then do this simple activity, which I am borrowing from the world of psychoanalysis. Imagine that you have just received an urgent email from your principal. The title line is, “There seems to be a problem.” Now, what is the first problem that springs to your mind?

Now ask yourself: “Who has some experience solving this problem (or achieving my goal)?” and “What did they do?” Feel free to draw inspiration and direction from other teachers, mentors, writers, movies, YouTube channels, podcasts, and so on. This isn’t the time to worry unnecessary about the legitimacy or authority of the person from whom you are deriving inspiration. What matters is that you are impressed by them, and you think that you will have some success by applying their solution to your classroom.

Say, for instance, you listen to a teaching podcast and really like the show’s host. This host explains that all teachers should address their students, no matter the age, as “Mr.” and “Ms.” and so on. You think that sounds good, so you start doing it yourself. Once you make this change, you are going to learn a lot about addressing your students. You will learn way more than you would have learned just by listening to an entertaining podcast. During that period of implementation, you will become the authority on addressing your students—especially in your own classrooms. You will realize your perspective of what goes on in your classroom is the most important perspective of all. 

Now Imagine How You Will Apply the Intervention

            This is an exciting step: it is time for you to imagine how you class will look differently after implementing your intervention. Whether you are focusing on a goal you wish to achieve or a problem you wish to solve, this is the step where you plan what the change will look like.

            Imagine, for example, that you have chosen to focus on the problem of students who are struggling to learn vocabulary words. You have asked your class for their comments about studying for and taking the quizzes, and you have learned that most of your students don’t understand why they need to learn new words. They say that it seems like a waste of time and terribly boring. So you ask around on social media and learn about something called “semantic mapping” (Little & Box, 2011), which is a practice of tracing linkages between new vocabulary words and other familiar words that are related to the vocabulary words. As soon as you hear about the idea, you start to imagine what it would look like with a specific vocabulary list. You get out a blank sheet of paper and design an in-class handout. You’re so excited that you can’t wait to try it out in class. 

            Note: A sample activity is provided by Little and Box (2011), but you don’t have to copy it down exactly from them just because their version has been published. Make any changes to it that you feel are necessary. Because, after all, you know your students better than the authors of that journal article. You get to choose what it will look like and how it will be used in your classroom.

How Will You Know if the Intervention is Working?

            During this step, you have to decide what you think achievement will look like. If the goal is increased achievement on vocabulary quizzes, then you will probably want to see improvements on quiz scores. But there are other indications that your intervention is working. For example, if the vocabulary activity is effective, then you might expect that students ask more questions, or they seem to enjoy the process more; or maybe they are more courageous with their usage of the new terms.

            Keep in mind that it might be impossible to predict exactly what will happen. This is why you conduct applied research in the first place! The articles on the subject of your intervention strategy might predict that student test scores will improve, but such a change seldom happens in a vacuum. Other changes in the classroom, in student attitude and affect, and in you as the teacher are bound to be noticed.

            In my experience, I am often surprised by what I learn during applied research and how I learn it. After a week of practicing autonomy-supportive teaching, for example, I was surprised to find that students were so absorbed in a classroom discussion that they didn’t notice that class was over. The next class of students had to ask us to go! I hadn’t expected this change to occur, but it was evidence that something had happened, and, moreover, that that something was positive.

            Don’t limit yourself to a singular form of assessment. While test scores or attendance figures might be easy to count, try to look for other human metrics in your students and in yourself that might indicate that your intervention is (or isn’t) working.

Design a Plan

            This is the step where you turn what it is you have imagined into an actionable plan. Take that hand-drawn worksheet and turn it into a PDF using your computer. Print out enough for every student in your classroom, and write a short spiel for what you’ll say when you hand it out for the first time. Imagine that you are the student: What questions will they have? What concerns might they voice? And so on. Visualize how it will take place.