Seven Ways to Build a Research Habit in the Classroom

Updated: Jul 16

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Incorporating research use into classroom level decision making takes a concerted, focused, and consistent effort. It requires teachers and leaders to develop an intentional habit of research use. In this post, I will give you seven methods that you can easily deploy to build a research habit in your classroom.

1. Include research review in your professional reading.

Most teachers are avid readers who read for both pleasure and learning. Every teacher I know has a stack of to-be-read professional books on their nightstand. Those books are incredibly valuable and I am a big believer in reading as a professional learning activity – my nightstand has nine books stacked up as I write this. One great way to build a research habit is to incorporate research into your professional reading. Start by looking at books that review existing research – like John Hattie’s Visible Learning – and then drill down into research articles.

Adding research articles into your professional reading is really easy. One way to do so is to subscribe to open access journals in education. They will send you an email any time new articles are available. Download them and add them to you reading pile. Another great method is to use the ERIC database to access articles on a current theme or problem of practice. I hold myself accountable to this by tweeting out a daily research article that is relevant to projects I am working on. I use the hashtags #eduevidence and #whatimreading to help my followers hold me accountable.

2. Participate in action research.

Action research is a practitioner research method that is focused on testing solutions to the problems you face in your classroom. Most teachers do action research every day without thinking about it. When they have a sticky problem, they test various solutions to see what works. Take your informal tests to the next level by intentionally creating a data collection method and trying out different solutions with different groups.

Action research is great fun, especially when you do it with your team. Consider attacking a system wide problem with your team. Use the research literature to carefully design a solution and test it out. If you find something that works but needs refinement, you can apply continuous improvement tools to the mix, like the Plan-Do-Study-Act protocol. This can lead to lasting change in your school and classroom.

3. Be curious.

Curiosity is at the heart of research use. Next time you find yourself asking “Why does that kid do that?” turn to the research literature. I am always fascinated by the behavior of our students – looking back I probably should have studied child psychology. The truth is, unique behaviors aren’t really all that unique when you consider that there are more than 50 million public school students in the United States. The research literature can help you understand why kids behave the way they do and can expose you to new solutions that you had not yet considered.

4. Become an advocate.

Teachers are vocal advocates for their students. Stepping out of your classroom and becoming a vocal advocate for the profession can help you build a research use habit as well. Good policy advocacy requires a mix of storytelling and data. Do you have strong feelings about an education policy issue? Check out the research literature on that issue before you head over to the state capital. By grounding yourself in a theoretical framework, you can give your stories more life and appeal to both qualitative and quantitative thinkers.

Here’s another way to frame it. If you