Digging Deeper into the Research

We are removing our deck in preparation for a new patio.  I offered to do the demolition because when else will it be okay for me to destroy something?  After removing the decking, I started to dig around a support post so that we could pull it out of the ground.  After 5 minutes of digging, my wife asked if we should call the utilities commission to see where the power, cable and other utility lines are buried.  I’m glad she made that suggestion because I found out after the utility lines were marked that I was digging right in the area of our electrical line.

That was close.  I will definitely be more cautious as I continue to demo the deck.  I realized I was too focused on getting the job done and I wasn’t thinking about the bigger picture.  It made me think of how we educators are sometimes too narrow in our focus when we need to slow down and dig deeper into the issue.


Educational research plays a large role in our lives as educators.  Our district and our building have high standards for providing “research-based” interventions for our students.  What I have learned from my teaching experience and from the research I have done recently for a quantitative statistics course is that educational research is a complicated world.  “Research-based” interventions can sound like a safe bet, but digging deeper into the research can reveal a truer picture of the research.

I have been investigating “computer-assisted instruction” and its effects on comprehension.  I wanted to look into this area because I help facilitate intervention plans for students who are struggling with a specific academic, behavioral, or social skill.  Many of the students who are referred to our team for assistance are not responding to classroom instruction, and these same students may need the instruction to be presented in a unique way.  I wanted to see if computer-assisted instruction could be a possible solution to help increase student comprehension.  Computer-assisted instruction usually refers to instruction that is guided by a computer program that responds to how a child answers questions or how a child is applying a skill that the program is teaching.  A good example of computer-assisted instruction is Khan Academy.

Here is what I found out from my research:

  1. Most of the computer-assisted instructional programs for reading focus on phonemic awareness and word solving skills.

  2. All of the studies measured aspects of phonemic awareness and showed positive gains among student in this skill.

  3. While all of the research studies I read claimed the computer-assisted instructional program they studied might improve comprehension, NONE of the studies included reliable data about the effects on comprehension (which is the ultimate goal of literacy instruction).

So, how does this impact me as someone who wants to lead a building some day?  

  • I have a responsibility to dig deeper into “research-based” claims.

  • I need to remember computer-assisted literacy instruction probably focuses only on phonemic awareness, which is only one aspect of learning to read.

  • The best way a child can improve his or her comprehension is by being immersed in quality texts that are at the child’s instructional level and when the child’s reading behaviors are being supported with explicit language from the teacher.

  • I need to remember to stay true to my belief that nothing can replace high-quality literacy instruction that is provided by an expert teacher (the kind that live and breathe).

I invite you to take a look at some of the research yourself.