Shoddy Research

As the phrase “research-based” is thrown around to sell textbooks, ideas, and curricular materials, it’s important that we think critically about research presented. This week, two new articles have come to light which shed doubt on some¬† educational beliefs.

We DON’T Remember 90% of What We Teach Others

This one is an older article by Dr. Will Thalheimer which researches the figures that appear with the Cone of Learning to say that we remember 90% of what we do and 5% of what we hear or read. Although the article is two years old, it evidently hasn’t made its way around my district yet as you hear this figure at nearly every professional development session you attend.

While it’s true that most classrooms employ mostly teacher lecturing and that student retention would likely increase if teachers taught to different learning modalities, the exact percentages are mostly bogus. Much depends on an individual’s learning modalities, the material being presented, and how it’s being presented. The idea of putting percentages to the different modalities is pretty silly.

I can’t say I remember 90% of what I’ve ever taught. Can you?

Music Doesn’t Increase Test Scores

Bummer. Ken Pendergrass, music teacher, presents this New York Times article which looks critically at research stating that music increases academic performance in other areas.

Maybe we should be teaching music for the way it enriches our lives, teaches teamwork, concentration, and rhythm.  Other reasons?

Manipulatives Don’t Help Teach Math

Elona, of Teacher at Risk, comments on another New York Times article which calls into question the benefit of real-world examples and manipulatives to teach abstract concepts. Certainly, just putting manipulatives in a kids hand isn’t going to improve mathematical understanding. We need to do more work in terms of bridging the gap between the concrete and the abstract.


I believe in teaching music. I believe in using manipulatives and real world examples. And I believe that we need to break free from lecturing and begin to employ material that appeals to different learning modalities. However, I can’t use shoddy research as justification for those things.

Teachers As Researchers

Teachers are in a unique position to gather data, informal, observational, as well as standardized testing data because of the access we have to our students. Doing research doesn’t mean doing what you’ve always done because it “just works.” Research means looking critically at one area of your teaching and analyzing data to see how it is working. Please join me in continuing to research the use of concrete mathematical examples in teaching or any other area of the curriculum you’re willing to look at critically.

Who do you trust for your education research?

4 Responses to Shoddy Research

  1. Mathew,
    Thanks for the resources. It’s important in the educational environment to provide evidence of research. The problem is that research can be tweaked to fit needs. I don’t know who to trust.

    Additionally, we all have anecdotal evidence of what invites powerful environments of learning, but research is necessary to convince others. I’ll need to look closer at the resources you have provided that refutes earlier research findings.

  2. Matt,

    I enjoyed your article. I wrote about the same NY Times article on my blog
    I think I might use your articles on differentiated education as a prompt for a future articles.

  3. Could it be that educators question the validity and therefore ignore?

  4. Educational research problematic because of the amount of variables. As a reading/ESL teacher I lean towards Stephen Krashen/Frank Smith and their ilk. But when I’m at in-services I hear teachers citing the scantest of evidence for things they do. One short article will cause them to turn off their fluorescents and turn on lamps, but a hundred years of solid research proving that spelling lists/weekly tests are a waste of time leaves them unmoved. Drives me nuts.


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