why a knowledge of scientific research methodology can be of value to educators.
When you go to your family physician with a medical complaint, you expect that the recommended treatment has proven to be effective with many other patients who have had the same symptoms. You may even ask why a particular medication is being recommended for you. The doctor may summarize the background knowledge that led to that recommendation and very likely will cite summary evidence from the drug's many clinical trials and perhaps even give you an overview of the theory behind the drug's success in treating symptoms like yours.
All of this discussion will probably occur in rather simple terms, but that does not obscure the fact that the doctor has provided you with data to support a theory about your complaint and its treatment. The doctor has shared knowledge of medical science with you. And while everyone would agree that the practice of medicine has its "artful" components (for example, the creation of a healing relationship between doctor and patient), we have come to expect and depend upon the scientific foundation that underpins even the artful aspects of medical treatment. Even when we do not ask our doctors specifically for the data, we assume it is there, supporting our course of treatment.
Actually, Vaughn and Dammann (2001) have argued that the correct analogy is to say that teaching is in part a craft, rather than an art. They point out that craft knowledge is superior to alternative forms of knowledge such as superstition and folklore because, among other things, craft knowledge is compatible with scientific knowledge and can be more easily integrated with it. One could argue that in this age of education reform and accountability, educators are being asked to demonstrate that their craft has been integrated with science--that their instructional models, methods, and materials can be likened to the evidence a physician should be able to produce showing that a specific treatment will be effective. As with medicine, constructing teaching practice on a firm scientific foundation does not mean denying the craft aspects of teaching.
Architecture is another professional practice that, like medicine and education, grew from being purely a craft to a craft based firmly on a scientific foundation. Architects wish to design beautiful buildings and environments, but they must also apply many foundational principles of engineering and adhere to structural principles. If they do not, their buildings, however beautiful they may be, will not stand. Similarly, a teacher seeks to design lessons that stimulate students and entice them to learn--lessons that are sometimes a beauty to behold. But if the lessons are not based in the science of pedagogy, they, like poorly constructed buildings, will fail.
Education is informed by formal scientific research through the use of archival research-based knowledge such as that found in peer-reviewed educational journals. Preservice teachers are first exposed to the formal scientific research in their university teacher preparation courses (it is hoped), through the instruction received from their professors, and in their course readings (e.g., textbooks, journal articles). Practicing teachers continue their exposure to the results of formal scientific research by subscribing to and reading professional journals, by enrolling in graduate programs, and by becoming lifelong learners.
Scientific thinking in practice is what characterizes reflective teachers--those who inquire into their own practice and who examine their own classrooms to find out what works best for them and their students. What follows in this document is, first, a "short course" on how to become an effective consumer of the archival literature that results from the conduct of formal scientific research in education and, second, a section describing how teachers can think scientifically in their ongoing reflection about their classroom practice.
Being able to access mechanisms that evaluate claims about teaching methods and to recognize scientific research and its findings is especially important for teachers because they are often confronted with the view that "anything goes" in the field of education--that there is no such thing as best practice in education, that there are no ways to verify what works best, that teachers should base their practice on intuition, or that the latest fad must be the best way to teach, please a principal, or address local school reform. The "anything goes" mentality actually represents a threat to teachers' professional autonomy. It provides a fertile environment for gurus to sell untested educational "remedies" that are not supported by an established research base.