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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Moving Research into Classrooms: My Reflections

I just finished attending the Moving Research into Classrooms conference put on by the Center for Teaching and Learning out of the University of Oregon. Overall, I have to say I was pretty impressed, both from a conference hosting perspective, as well as from a content perspective. The CTL folks did a great job organizing the conference and making sure all of the logistical nuts and bolts went smoothly. It's one of those things where if it goes badly, it's easy to criticize. But if it goes well, you really don't notice it. So kudos to them for the production of a conference.

More importantly, I think this was a good conference. There wasn't a ton of new learning for me, but I definitely picked up several things in terms of content knowledge that I can use. The whole conference was based on four of the Practice Guides developed by Institute of Education Sciences, the research and evaluation branch of the federal Department of Education. I attended the Adolescent Literacy strand, and it was as I said very well done. I had several reflections throughout the last two days that I'd like to lay out here very briefly, in no particular order.
  • I didn't realize we knew so much about adolescent literacy. It's just not an area I spend a lot of time in, hence the reason I attended the strand. It's heartening to know there are some answers out there.
  • Although we know about about good instruction from research, the evidence isn't as solid or comprehensive as we would like it to be. At the same time, that does not excuse us as professionals working on behalf of children to disregard the research that does exist.
  • Relatedly, I grow increasingly weary of the debates about different instructional "philosophies" or approaches. Specifically, I find the arguments against direct, explicit instruction increasingly shallow. For a while now, I've felt like an apologist for supporting direct, explicit instruction. No more. When done well, it works. Any arguments to the contrary are simply with little to no merit in my opinion. I have yet to talk to someone who argues against direct, explicit instruction who can accurately describe what it actually is. I am renewed in my motivation to fight the good fight.
  • Tim Shanahan, an incredibly talented and widely respected educator, was today's keynote. Although I think his treatment of frequent formative assessment for students at risk for failure was a bit harsh and incomplete, I thought overall he was outstanding. He brought up one point that tied tightly with alignment, namely the importance of collecting and using "input" or "process" data. That is to say, data about instruction. Collecting and using alignment data fits the bill incredibly well here in my opinion. I was encouraged greatly.
Overall, as I said, it was a great conference. I look forward to processing it some more, and putting some of what I learned to use in my daily practice.