Myth busting educational practices for better teaching and learning

There is no single way of doing something, especially for learning’s sake.  As teachers dwell into the intensive practice of planning, certain conditions tend to be overlooked.

Likewise, some educational practices may seem acceptable for some but not for the rest.  They may be effective, but still quite questionable. Through time, these practices became ingrained in the system that they end up becoming mythical in nature.

Here are some of educational practices and principles teachers and school experts may find mythical:

Rote memorization is an ineffective way of learning.

Bloom’s taxonomy dictates that acquiring knowledge through remembering is the lowest form of learning.  From his classification, the most effective way to learn is to create and to synthesize ideas.  Hence, memorization seems to be ineffective in developing high order thinking skills.

However, in acquiring a new language, rote memorization can be effective.  Definitely, we can not discard the fact that learning through memorization can be helpful.

In a study on language acquisition by Wang et al. (1992), they found out that rote memorization can help students retain information for a longer period of time.

Again, memorization as a learning practice depends on the student’s ability and purpose.  There are certain tasks that require routine and jargons, which require memorization.

On the other hand, there are also tasks that require high-level order thinking skills.

Critical thinking skills are transferrable.

Is it possible to teach students how to be critical thinkers? Indeed, teachers could claim using several practices to train students to think critically.

They also believe that the subjects and topics lead to critical thinking development.  For example, teaching computer programming and reading comprehension may claim to develop high order thinking.

However, current research on developing critical thinking skills is still skeptic about this idea.  Critical thinking skills do not transfer according to studies by Hirsch (1996) and Mayer & Wittrock (1996).   In their studies, schools that taught critical thinking skills or used academic programs could not really produce critical students.

For example, students could not really apply mathematical concepts even when they go to the grocery or elsewhere.  What students applied were the things they could remember and feel would work instinctively.

Assertive discipline strategies are archaic educational practices that have no place in 21st-century schools.

Proponents of student-centered approaches would claim that assertive discipline damages children in the long run.  In addition, they would go as far as likening this to medieval educational practices.  For them, what schools should cultivate is an idea of students who could self-manage.  Self-management comes from self-worth and not strict adherence to rules and policies.

On the other hand, teachers and school leaders know for themselves that an assertive discipline is an effective tool.  Research may still be divided on this matter, and other teachers may still be in denial. However, responsible and mature teachers would know that assertive discipline is a must.

In a study among schools in Oregon in 1989, 78-90% of the teachers admitted that there was a positive change in student behavior after implementing strategies in assertive discipline.

Needless to say, assertive discipline does not refer to physical or verbal abuse.  It is all about helping students to be more responsible through the policies in place.  Moreover, it is also by helping students make proper choices and accept consequences of their actions.

Well, there are still loads of debatable educational practices out there.  Next time, we’ll talk about the value of tests and homework.

Reference

Hoy, Anita Woolfolk., and Wayne K. Hoy. Instructional Leadership: A Research-based Guide to Learning in Schools. Boston: Pearson, 2009. Print. pp. 1-20.

Transformational leadership effects on schools: A myth or reality?

Transformational leadership is a productive approach in leading organizations. Generally, schools that had undergone remodeling used such an approach under certain conditions.

However, transformational leadership has turned into a hot topic to be investigated systematically in school contexts. As mentioned, this model to leadership basically targets to engage capability development and improved levels of personal commitment to an organization’s goals on the part of the leaders’ colleagues.

This article will be looking into the findings of Leithwood & Jantzi in their article, Transformational School Leadership Effects: A Replication.

Transformational leadership group dynamics

What are the conditions faced in the context of transformational leadership?

These “conditions” consist of decisions and actions taken outside the classroom but within the school. This aims to enhance the “teaching and learning” environment in the classroom.

However, in spite of Hallinger and Heck’s (1998) purposes and goals of instructional leadership, we had perceived “school planning” as a separate entity as in school condition.

In effect, this does not exclude the approaches used for decisions on mission and objectives, and on the action plans executed for their own success. Besides that, “organizational culture” also plays a role in school-level mediating variable.

For classroom conditions, these refer to the decisions and actions directly linked to the “teaching and learning” environment in the classroom.

This closely resembles Scheerens’ (1997) conception of classroom-level variables. In lieu to that, student participation in schools has both behavioral and affective elements.

The research approach

In this study,  Leithwood & Jantzi obtained the data about all variables aforementioned in the framework through two distinctive surveys in one large school district in central Canada. The district with a population of around 400,000 served elementary and secondary students. Likewise, this ranged from not only urban, but to rural area, made up of approximately 57,000 students in total.

There were two survey instruments used for data collection. One survey gathered data from teachers on school and classroom conditions, and on the practices and integration of transformational leadership.

The second survey collected substantial evidence from students on their engagement with school and their family’s educational cultures.

All teachers in the district took part in the “Organizational Conditions and School Leadership Survey”. The aim of this study is to investigate the effects of transformational leadership practices on school organizational conditions and student engagement with school.

In addition, this took into account the potentially large, moderating effects of family educational culture.

The results: A myth from reality

As a result, transformational leadership approaches have a mediocre but statistically significant effect on the psychological dimension of student engagement.

The size of these effects is approximately the same as those found for the effects of leadership provided specifically by principals in two of the other studies by Leithwood and Jantzi, which also used student engagement as an important factor.

Nevertheless, the best explanation is that principals and transformational leadership practices make a disappointing contribution to student engagement.

In fact, student engagement is a product linked directly to teachers’ classroom practices and not the leadership. Accordingly, this notion of leadership goes back to the term, “romance of leadership” (Meindl, 1995). This argument puts leadership as a convenient, phenomenologically legitimate, social construction. Hence, this disguises a multitude of influences on organizational outcomes including teachers’ practices.

Consequently, people stick to the idea of leadership in part because it provides a simple explanation for organizational effects that otherwise would defy their understanding.

Apart from that, leadership has very small effect on student engagement. Transformational school leadership practices do explain a large proportion of the value-sided variation in school rather than classroom climates. Furthermore,

Furthermore, large proportion of variation in student engagement explained by family educational culture raises the possibility that different student outcomes may range considerably in their sensitivity to family, as compared with school, variables.

Limitation and reflection

For the limitation of the study, further research needs to include a wider set of student outcome variables. These may resemble the general set of academic, social, and psychological outcomes included in the curricula of most schools.

Second, such research would step up its conception and parameters of “student background” variables, focusing on a quite specific sub-set of variables.  These may likely justify other factors influencing students’ accomplishment credited to background variables.

Finally, the premise of this study tries to debunk the myth of a transformational leader that Leithwood himself worked on for years.    This humbling gesture from an established researcher reveals the nature of educational research as a dynamic field.  Although leadership plays only second to teaching, still it is a key factor in any organization.

Leaders must always aspire to be transformational leaders that promote better teaching practices and learning strategies.

Working on educational change through leadership (repost)

Evolution of schools is a process driven by educational change. The state we are in will never be a reality without the prior changes throughout the course of history affecting our individuality.

This is just one of the countless ways to define the abstraction of change.  After all, to say that ‘change’ has a definitive definition undermines the existence of this notion.

Hence, enacting change is such a powerful driving force. Everything in this realm operates under it.

educational change like an orchestra

The concept of change

A general understanding of the notion of change needs to be in place. Before probing deeper, there must be a more contextual appreciation of this concept.

Although the definition of change comes in more than a million ways,  change is an “emotional process” that is transformational and dynamic. Accordingly, there is no improvement without change. Therefore, one should not misconstrue that all changes lead to improvement.

Being a process, change takes time and needs time. Certainly, it is a journey that best explored alongside the varying responses and effects that come with it.

To better understand this idea, Kritsonis (2005) compared five theories of change in claiming that “change is a real phenomenon.”  Clearly then, all theories generally revolve around factors leading to outcomes in explaining the phenomenon of change.

For an instance, it is Lewin’s three-step change theory that captures the core of change.  Lewin defines change as a rational process breaking the status-quo, allowing further development, and managing sustainability (Lewin, 1951 in Kritsonis, 2005).

Whether one sees it from a rational or emotional perspective, change comes in different forms shaped by time and the drive to go beyond the norms.

Educational change and transforming societies

 

Considering that change covers a broad spectrum, it is imperative to narrow it down in the context of education.

From a sociological point of view, education can be seen as a primary institution in the formation of societies. Social theorist Karl Marx believes that education [and propaganda] should be established first to provide guidance and improve the lives of the people (Kellner, 2006).

In effect, the focus of this educational change leads to the educators who will always be the people behind this institution of change.

Due to obvious reasons, they share baseline perspectives that initially spark ideas, passion, and the need for changes whether it is a small scale or a bigger scale (Keane, 2015).

Henceforth, further research needs to focus on developing and harnessing the potential of educators to be catalysts of change.  Even though this is an obvious matter in some societies, it is still highly debatable that most countries throughout the world have low regards of the power that educators could bring forth in social development.

Despite the social changes and promising development it could bring, it is disheartening that education seems to be the lowest priorities in less economically developed countries (LEDC’s) and the bottom range of more economically developed countries (MEDC) like my home country.

Perhaps, the quality and quantity of change lead to a deficiency of initiative in educational change in LEDC’s and some MEDC’s.

Here comes the idea of having a strong LEADER, which is not just a mere manager or an administrator.

educational change leadership challenge

Educational change and leadership

The emerging theoretical framework governs different notions and styles of leaderships.  One has to wonder whether LEDC’s propagate, address, and evaluate these modern and continuously developed styles of leadership.

It is easy to define an ideal form of leadership or to list 20 or so ways of effective leadership, but to put theory into practice is another part of the discussion.

Having all these leadership dogmas in place, why is it difficult to replicate the success of educational change and leadership? Although it sounds so good to be true, why can’t these governing bodies translate these ideal perspectives into reality?

One might be asking for heavens to materialize on earth.  However, if instructional leadership turn into reality, then we all would be enjoying the euphoria of utopia.

Alma Harris, a celebrated guru in educational leadership, noted, “Every person [in this room] has influence more than formal leaders.”

Titles do not equate to leadership. Titles without vision or action are meaningless in the field of education where genuine reforms are in need.

The problem with leaders these days is that they end up so engulfed by their ego.  Eventually, they forget the basics of humanity: compassion.

Numerous key performance indices drive educational leaders that they fail to make people or even themselves understand change.

We are missing the point when we rationalize change with numbers and letters.  In reality, social change is an “emotional process” dealing with human actions and attitudes.

Final thoughts

Beyond the call of positions or titles, a clear vision could help shape the future of our students.  This could then lead to the transformation of the school system. With a strong desire to inspire students to be the best they could be, every educator could transform this system.  Needless to say, a bureaucrat who clings on to his or her title only do so little.

We have to fully grasp the idea of educational change as a process. One needs an intense immersion in reality to scrutinize the ideal prospects for change and leadership.

The education system is continuously evolving dating back even before the conception of history. It is a journey of learning to look back at the changes in the past.  From here, we could see how we could modify the future of education through sound leadership.

References

Keane, Lorna. (2015, April 20). Why Educators are the Driving Force of Change in Education. Retrieved May 16, 2016, from https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/why-educators-driving-force-change-education-lorna-keane

 

Kellner, D. (2006). Marxian Perspectives on Educational Philosophy: From Classical Marxism to Critical Pedagogy.

 

Kritsonis, A. (2005). Comparison of change theories. International journal of scholarly academic intellectual diversity, 8(1), 1-7.

Choosing the better research approach: quantitative or qualitative

At first glance, choosing a research approach seems like a daunting task. Differentiating the word ‘quantitative’ from its seemingly identical counterpart ‘qualitative’ is another challenge.

Though distinctively differed by merely two letters, quantitative sets itself apart from qualitative. In the context of research, a quantitative approach has a world of its own—a complex world that typically defined by numerical data.

Creswell (2010) dedicates chapters of his book to explore and differentiate quantitative and qualitative approaches.  The conception of the research questions up to the collection and analysis of data forms this intensive process.

In fully understanding quantitative research, one has to weed out its differences with qualitative research as shown in the tables below:

differentiating research approach

Research approach and educational  leadership

In the process of planning a study focusing on educational leadership, choosing the most suitable approach is like deciding to choose between two different paths. At times and despite these tables of differentiation, it is still confusing to decide on an appropriate research approach.

Is there a way by which we can determine the appropriateness of a particular approach in relation to the intended purpose of the researcher?

Is quantitative approach better than qualitative, or vice versa?

In addition, methodology relies on the intention of the researcher whether to explore or examine variables or explain a particular phenomenon.

This kind of logic leads to another question: Can we qualify variables or quantify a phenomenon? For a novice researcher relying on readings and lectures, the methodology must go according to the ‘academic judgment’ of the researcher.  One must then justify the appropriateness of the approach on the purpose and focus of the study to arrive at conclusive and impactful findings.

 More thoughts on quantitative research

Creswell’s (2010) idea of quantitative research highlights the notion of variables and instruments as the core ideas of this approach. From a linguistic point of view,  quantitative research refers to a more technical process.  For example, this involves numerical-statistical data gathered through an experiment, quasi-experiment, or a survey.

On the other hand, one needs to be skeptical n analyzing data in quantitative research.

Perhaps, this somehow goes against the essence of a quantitative research.  It presents information in the form of numbers.  In addition, this approach seems to be absolute and backed up by the laws of statistics.

 Should educational researchers use quantitative approach for my research?

Although numbers serve as a definitive and objective tool for logic, educational researchers may opt to go for a quantitative methodology.

Certainly, it would have been more helpful if references in Educational Research present a matrix.  This table should show pros and cons of quantitative and qualitative approaches.

In addition, it should indicate how this could be applied to a particular research topic. Through this matrix, one could easily answer questions like: ‘Is quantitative research more efficient/effective than qualitative?’

To initially address this gap, here are some videos on YouTube that clearly delineates quantitative and qualitative research:

Qualitative vs Quantitative Video

Overview of Quantitative Research

Overview of Qualitative Research

Although seemingly identical, quantitative and qualitative are two distinct approaches in research.

In the early stages of the process, it is important for a novice researcher to determine a research approach. This is in order to employ methods that best address the purpose of the study.

Metaphorically, this is one of the first crossroads a researcher has to face in this journey.

 

Reference:

Creswell, J. W. (2012). Educational research: Planning, conducting, and evaluating quantitative and qualitative research (pp. 58-77, 103). Boston: Pearson.

Data presentation skills: A researcher’s guide

In every research, data presentation plays the most inevitably crucial role in representing the outcome of the study. It is the result, finding and evidence to substantiate every study.

It is not enough for our data to just sit in our hard drives.  These valuable information needs to be shared and communicated in the best way possible.

Why do we have to do data presentation well?

Visual tools are the first “thing” for the readers and reviewers, who are often busy to read. In effect, when it comes to the needs of a reader to just briefly scan through a research paper (due to time constraint), tables, figures, charts, and diagrams are the best visual aids to let the reader know what the research is about.

Imagine the hassle of reading a heap of words and numbers where you can just neatly organize them into a table?

Hence, a well-presented data also speaks for the researcher himself. It can depict the proficiency of the researcher in utilizing appropriate visual tools.

This creates great impressions on readers and to lure the readers to read more on the content.

In addition, visual aids can indirectly enhance the memory of readers. Thus, the art of presenting data is of utmost importance to be mastered.

The visual aids must be self-explanatory.

It has to be understandable so as to inform the readers about something important about the study. To know the validity of the table, we need to evaluate whether this table/figure stand on its own.

The purpose of putting up a table or any figure should be significant. Avoid putting up a pie chart just to show the distribution of male and female respondent. By the way, a pie chart is a NO-NO in research papers. Hence, save it for gossip magazines.

Apart from that, not all readers can understand abbreviations. If a reader has to look for the list of abbreviations or read the text to understand an abbreviation, the quality of the research paper can be doubted. Therefore, the full-form of abbreviations should be written on a line below a table or figure for the reader’s easy reference.

The title of each table and figure must be descriptive enough to tell what the data is representing.

In data presentation, the title for each table and figure has to be informative and descriptive. The title should be clear and specific. Do not let your readers guess what the tables and figures are trying to show.

For example: “Mean reaction times and percentage of errors by facial condition and sex of participants”

The placement of titles is also something one should be particular of. For tables, the title should be above the table. This is to ease the readers to read the title as they are reading the title bar on top of the table. Meanwhile, for figures, the title should be below the graph or chart. This is for the readers to easily read the title as they are scanning the axis bar.

Present the data in an organized pattern.

One definitely cannot simply present the data as he wished. Take the bar chart below as an example:

data presentation bar chart

(Retrieved from: http://abacus.bates.edu/~ganderso/biology/resources/writing/HTWtablefigs.html)

Thus, the items on the x-axis should be arranged in a pattern. It can be according to alphabetical order or according to the trend (increase or decrease in number).

[Note: no dot after “Figure 1”]

Meanwhile, for tables, it should be simple with only 3 (or more if the table is too big, but try to minimize the number of lines) horizontal lines. There could be alternating shadings for rows if the table is too big. Always line up the decimal points in one straight line.

 

clear table

(Example of a clear table)

Relate the text to the tables and figures

Before a wordy title, always insert a label or number for that particular table or figure for referencing.

For example: “Table 2 Mean reaction times and percentage of errors by facial condition and sex of participants”

There is not necessary to put a full stop (.) or colon (:) after “Table 2”.

After that, make sure the table or figure serve their purpose. Always remember to relate the text or analysis of result to the table or figure shown. Tag the table or figure using their respective labels as such:

Table 2 shows that…

……… (Table 2).

Avoid repeating data.

While presenting the data in text form, avoid writing down all values from the table in word form as it is redundant. Try using one sentence to summarize the findings from the table.

Most importantly, great data presentation skills can depict how professional a researcher is. The tips above are not all, but something people do not usually notice or put emphasis on.

Take a small step to change, and great impact on your research skills will follow!

A good research question leads to a good research

To start an educational research with a good research question is quite daunting for novice researchers.

Morphologically, the word research comes with a prefix ‘re-‘ like repeat or redo.  This signifies that it is a continuous action—a continuous search. As a cycle, the process of research does not seem to have a definite beginning and an end.

However, formulating research questions can be a definitive start for this cycle.

Thinking of a research question

A research question is an integral part of the research process. By starting with a question, a researcher can identify research problems and kickstart the research cycle.

In effect, identifying a problem during the early stage of research takes place by interconnecting with various sources.  For example, a researcher may look into experiences, theories, non-education sources, social issues, and related literature (Ary, et al., 2010).

Identifying the problem

Hence, for educational researchers, there is a need to look for problems from professional experience.   The school principal serves as a good starting point when it comes to looking for a research problem.

By informally asking the principal of his [perceived] struggles in his school,  he can give the researcher a piece of his mind by mentioning the challenges and the struggles he usually faces.

From this, the research journey begins, as we can start formulating some research questions.  Although one would wonder, “How do we form a clear research question that could give us a defined research problem?”

Planning the research

Subsequently, Cohen, et al. (2005) believes that a vital part of careful planning involves setting and making the parameters of the research clear and explicit. In his book, Cohen emphasizes the significance of defining the aims of the research.  Perhaps, this is a good way of managing the planning stage of the research process. Relatively, it enables the researcher to have a more focused research problem.

Moreover,  the purpose of the research needs to be well-defined.   The researcher has to base this on the topic and the research problem.  This could be anchored on personal and professional experience, as well as related literature (Cohen, et al., 2005; Cresswell, 2012). Consequently, this may lead to ideal research questions.

The combination of a clear topic, problem, purpose, and questions provide a strong foundation for a promising research. Other than that, supported readings and experiences could still strengthen the foundation of the study. This makes the entire research cycle a seemingly never-ending process of establishing one’s perceived ‘truth’.

 

Clearly, with a polished research topic, problem, purpose, and questions, educational researchers could produce a good research proposal and a more meaningful research experience. Therefore, before plunging into the design and methodology, we need to constantly consult our peers and research supervisors with regards to the quality of the research questions.

“Prevention is better than cure.” So, does this hold true for research?

Or should we say, “Is a good research really grounded on good research questions?”

References:

Ary, D., Jacobs, L. C., Razavieh, A., & Ary, D. (2010). Introduction to research in education (pp. 49-56). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Cohen, L., Manion, L., & Morrison, K. (2000). Research methods in education (pp. 43-50). London: RoutledgeFalmer.