George Lucas Educational Foundation
Professional Learning

How to Read and Interpret Research to Benefit Your Teaching Practice

Teachers can find helpful ideas in research articles and take a strategic approach to get the most out of what they’re reading.

August 15, 2023
damircudic / iStock

Have you read any education blogs, attended a conference session this summer, or gone to a back-to-school meeting so far where information on PowerPoint slides was supported with research like this: “Holland et al., 2023”? Perhaps, like me, you’ve wondered what to do with these citations or how to find and read the work cited. We want to improve our teaching practice and keep learning amid our busy schedules and responsibilities. When we find a sliver of time to look for the research article(s) being cited, how are we supposed to read, interpret, implement, and reflect on it in our practice? 

There has been much research over the past decade building on research-practice partnerships. Teachers and researchers should work collaboratively to improve student learning. Though researchers in higher education typically conduct formal research and publish their work in journal articles, it’s important for teachers to also see themselves as researchers. They engage in qualitative analysis while circulating the room to examine and interpret student work and demonstrate quantitative analysis when making predictions around student achievement data.

There are different sources of knowledge and timely questions to consider that education researchers can learn and take from teachers. So, what if teachers were better equipped to translate research findings from a journal article into improved practice relevant to their classroom’s immediate needs? I’ll offer some suggestions on how to answer this question.

Removing Barriers to New Information

For starters, research is crucial for education. It helps us learn and create new knowledge. Teachers learning how to translate research into practice can help contribute toward continuous improvement in schools. However, not all research is beneficial or easily applicable. While personal interests may lead researchers in a different direction, your classroom experience holds valuable expertise. Researchers should be viewed as allies, not sole authorities.

Additionally, paywalls prevent teachers from accessing valuable research articles that are often referenced in professional development. However, some sites, like Sage and JSTOR, offer open access journals where you can find research relevant to your classroom needs. Google Scholar is another helpful resource where you can plug in keywords like elementary math, achievement, small-group instruction, or diverse learners to find articles freely available as PDFs. Alternatively, you can use Elicit and get answers to specific questions. It can provide a list of relevant articles and summaries of their findings.

Approach research articles differently than other types of writing, as they aren’t intended for our specific audience but rather for academic researchers. Keep this in mind when selecting articles that align with your teaching vision, student demographic, and school environment.

Using behavioral and brain science research, I implemented the spacing effect. I used this strategy to include spaced fluency, partner practices, and spiral reviews (e.g., “do nows”) with an intentional selection of questions and tasks based on student work samples and formative/summative assessment data. It improved my students’ memory, long-term retention, and proficiency, so I didn’t take it too personally when some of them forgot procedures or symbols.

What You’ll Find in a Research Article

Certain elements are always included in a research article. The abstract gives a brief overview. Following that, the introduction typically explains the purpose and significance of the research—often through a theoretical framework and literature review. Other common sections of a research article may include methodology, results or findings, and discussion or conclusion.

The methodology section explains how the researchers answered their research question(s) to understand the topic. The results/findings section provides the answer(s) to the research question(s), while the discussion/conclusion section explains the importance and meaning of the results/findings and why it matters to readers and the field of education at large.

How to Process Information to Find What You’re Looking For

To avoid getting overwhelmed while reading research, take notes. Many articles are lengthy and filled with complex terminology and citations. Choose one relevant article at a time, and jot down important points or questions.

You could apply many strategies to read research, but here’s an idea that takes our time constraints and bandwidth as teachers into account:

  • First, read the title and full abstract, then scan and skim the introduction. You’ll be able to see if it’s relevant to your interests, needs, and whether you need to continue reading. 
  • After you’ve decided if the research is relevant to your classroom and professional development, jump straight to the discussion/conclusion section to see the “so what” about the research findings and how they could apply to your classroom. Review the findings/results section after for more details if needed.

Decipher the Details in the Data 

As a math, science, or English language arts teacher, you might come across figures, tables, or graphs that could spark ideas for your lessons. Some of these visuals and data may seem complex and difficult to understand. To make sense of them, take it slow and read through the notes and descriptions carefully.             

For example, researchers C. Kirabo Jackson and Alexey Makarin created a graph to show that middle school math teachers who had online access and support to use high-quality materials saw a positive impact on math test scores, especially when they used the materials for multiple lessons. The notes below the graph explain how the data was collected and which school districts were involved in the study.

Lastly, after reading the findings/results section, you’ll understand the gist of the research and if it’s applicable to your needs. Reading beyond these sections depends on your schedule and interests. It’s perfectly normal if it takes additional time to digest these sections.

When it comes to reading research, teachers don’t have to go it alone. School and district leaders can involve us in discussions about research findings and their practical implications for our school during professional learning community meetings or professional development sessions before the start of the school year. Even if only a few teachers participate in this process, sharing the main points with peers and the principal can have a significantly positive impact on improving direct instruction for students.

Share This Story

  • email icon

Filed Under

  • Professional Learning

Follow Edutopia

  • facebook icon
  • twitter icon
  • instagram icon
  • youtube icon
  • Privacy Policy
  • Terms of Use

George Lucas Educational Foundation

Edutopia is a free source of information, inspiration, and practical strategies for learning and teaching in preK-12 education. We are published by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization.
Edutopia®, the EDU Logo™ and Lucas Education Research Logo® are trademarks or registered trademarks of the George Lucas Educational Foundation in the U.S. and other countries.