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Development:  A Vital but Often Neglected Part of R & D

Janet Angelis and Elizabeth Close

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In all fields where serious research is conducted, results are published in peer-reviewed, scholarly journals whose purpose is to provide information so that other researchers can expand their understandings and seek to replicate results.  Results generally take much longer to reach the field, especially when the funds that support research fail to support development.   Such is likely to be the case in pending legislation to reauthorize the U.S Department of Education’s Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI), which places strong emphasis on additional and more rigorous research in education and pays little attention to the development process.

But education researchers have a vital role to play in bringing their results to those who will put them into place in the classroom -- first by working with teachers to develop and test research-based curriculum, instructional strategies, and assessment techniques, then by describing and sharing these strategies in forms that additional teachers can use. 

In a sidebar to this article is a listserv posting that Long Beach (CA) reading teacher Juli Kendall made to MiddleWeb. In it Juli describes how she used Improving Literary Understanding through Classroom Conversation, a booklet from the Center on English Learning & Achievement, to assess and improve instruction. We were pleased, of course, to see evidence of a teacher making such good use of a publication that we had produced for that very purpose.  More importantly, Juli’s example provides an illustration of why researchers should work with practitioners to develop – and test and refine then share – strategies that enable other teachers to put research findings into practice.

First, we’d like to describe briefly the development process that led to the booklet that Juli found so useful. Beginning in the late 1980s, Judith Langer and a team of researchers began an eight-year study that looked closely at classrooms that were helping students engage in deep understandings of literature. They worked with more than 50 teachers of grades preK-12 and into the first year of college to learn more about how readers think when they read and discuss literature and how teachers can help students use discussion to think more deeply. They also interviewed selected students and analyzed their work.  Later in the study, Langer began working with classroom teachers to develop instructional strategies to capitalize on what they were finding.  Together, researchers and teachers developed approaches that enacted the features of effective literature instruction. They tested these approaches across the grade levels in diverse classrooms to measure the effectiveness of these approaches in improving students’ literacy skills.

During and after the eight years of the study, researchers worked to disseminate the findings to professionals at all levels.   They wrote research reports, journal and newsletter articles, a trade book, and the Improving Literary Understanding booklet; gave conference presentations; and advised the producers of an educational television series featuring the research (currently available from Annenberg/CPB).  Because of these efforts, many teachers learned about and are using the findings to improve instruction.

Some of the essential features of the development work these researchers and teachers undertook included:

  • Teachers were involved – in the research, in designing the strategies, in testing them with real students in real classrooms, and even in writing articles, presenting at conferences, and preparing publications for other teachers.

  • Strategies were captured in understandable language and in flexible approaches that teachers can reflectively use in their own settings to meet their own student’s needs – not a “cookie cutter” approach but a “foundations of good practice” approach.

  • It took time – time to try and test new practices, time to share results with others, time for schools to enact and support changes that had been shown to be effective.  (The events described above have taken place over the course of 15 years.)

Supporting sound education research is essential.  So, too, is supporting a development process in which researchers work with and for teachers to build the bridge between educational research and improved educational practice.


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The Center on English Learning and Achievement