Challenging Perceptions in Education

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There are entire libraries and databases filled with research in education. However, educators often ignore research in favor of experience and a “feel” for teaching. We teachers have a sixth sense that we know what our students need even if it doesn’t jive with the research.

These perceptions are valid, though. After years of experience and tradition, many times how we facilitate learning doesn’t require researched methodology. We know our students and what they need. We know what to expect and how to respond in the classroom.

However, perceptions can be wrong.

Take same-sex classrooms. It’s a relatively popular trend in public education. Classrooms are populated by either boys or girls in order to eliminate deficiencies caused by gender constructs. Girls are more willing to take leadership roles and boys are more able feed off of the competition they generate among themselves, or so the thinking goes. Most of this thinking is based on psychology and a sense among educators that “this just makes sense.”

However, the research on classrooms segregated by gender suggests otherwise. Research is showing that single-sex segregation increases stereotyping and prejudice among students. Also, single-sex classrooms narrow students’ skill sets and interests.

Not only is the research calling single-sex classrooms ineffective and even detrimental, some are looking into whether this approach is even lawful. The American Civil Liberties Union is fighting single-sex classrooms all across the nation. It is the ACLU’s contention that single-sex education perpetuates stereotypes in much the same way that race-based segregated schools once did in this country.

Still, some educators just feel like this approach will work, ignoring the research.

Another example of how our perceptions of students and how they learn happens in the area of technological proficiency. It is perceived that the millennials (those born and raised around the turn of the century) are well-prepared for the technological requirements of the modern workforce. However, just because they are completely surrounded by technology does not mean that they are adept at using it productively.

These perceptions can be quite damaging. The assumption that students know how to best use productivity software and even code leads to a lack of instruction and guidance in these areas, failing to properly prepare them for college or the workforce. It’s akin to assuming every student can read at the same level when they enter a particular grade.

Although we as teachers have experience and instinct on our side, it just isn’t enough in every instance. Turning to data gleaned from formative assessments and academic research to make instructional decisions will only enhance our perception. Expertise can help us sort through this data and make the research work for us.

Take eMINTS for instance. The eMINTS Instructional Model and curriculum is not a collection of arbitrary methodology based on perception. We spend a lot of time researching tools, pedagogy, and methods to bring to teachers. The research on our program has shown mostly success. Even when implementation hasn’t been overwhelmingly successful, the eMINTS model has never been found to be a detriment to student achievement.

Our perception of eMINTS is based on fact, not just a feel.

As you reflect on your year and begin to plan for a new year, challenge your perceptions. Is there research that backs up your gut feeling? What does student data tell you about your classroom approach? Challenge long-held perceptions with research. In the end, your time will spent much more effectively and efficiently.

Zac Early is an instructional specialist and blogger for the eMINTS National Center.