Student research I want to read

My Grade 12 Data Management students complete a research project as part of the course. They create a questionnaire to help answer a question they’re interested in, or to look for relationships that bear further study.

While working with one student today to help develop that question, we talked about how she started to take guitar lessons but didn’t stick with it. She said that she regretted stopping the lessons, but that a part-time job and her own laziness got in the way. She expected that she would have been quite skilled by now had she put in the time over the past year.

I asked if she thought that experience was common, and how the music school offering the lessons might have made it easier for her to stay with it. She figured that a lot of people start lessons but don’t continue, and she had some suggestions for improvement that seemed reasonable as well.

Wouldn’t it be nice to know what the most common reasons are for quitting music lessons (and for sticking with lessons), and if there is a correlation between some other variable and perseverance? For example, do students without jobs stick with music lessons longer? What other factors play into persistence?

She might pursue this area of research for her project. I hope she does. I want to know the conclusions she draws from it, because it might have an impact on the way I teach math and computer science.

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Poor research in education bothers me

When I look at educational research about instructional strategies, I’m concerned with how often the researchers ignore important controls. They confound their data and then draw invalid conclusions.

I just read some research in which students were taught the same math content but using two different approaches:

  • Group A was taught “traditionally”, which included teacher-led, direct instruction;
  • Group B was taught with a student-directed approach and a specific context.

After read the descriptions of the two groups, what conclusions could you draw if one group outperformed the other group?

Unfortunately…

…the researchers concluded that the context they used was important for student learning. They admitted that the specific context required a very different instructional approach, but they attributed the achievement differences to the “theme” of the task.

Confound it

That’s really not good enough. You can’t have two major differences between groups and then point to either difference as the cause. In fact, you can’t conclude much of anything from data like this.

Fail.

Do it right

Only change one thing at a time. If you need to change more, try a third group (here, you can have a group with a student-directed approach but without the contextual restriction). Then you’ll be able to tell if the difference is due to the approach or the approach with the context.