There are two basic methods of educational research. Quantitative methods analyze large numbers of students to study causes and effects. What teacher practices, for example, improve student outcomes? Researchers plan interventions, create control and experimental groups, and compare the results.
Qualitative research, on the other hand, offers powerful tools to access the minds of a small group of students. How do these young people think about God? What do they do when they approach a text? How do they use the Internet to find information online? To answer these questions, researchers don’t need thousands of people; they may only need a single classroom. The goal of qualitative research isn’t to make generalizations. Rather, the researcher aims to generate hypotheses based on a set of carefully selected cases. These hypotheses chart directions for future thinking and research.
Learning and practicing qualitative research methods, therefore, can be a powerful way for teachers, especially veteran teachers, to deepen their practice. The tools of qualitative research help teachers articulate clear learning goals, design new assessments and expand their understanding of students’ experiences in the classroom.
Over the last two years, with support from a CASJE small grant and in partnership with the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for the Study of Jewish Education at Brandeis University, I organized a group of teachers to use qualitative research methods to study their own teaching. They articulated research questions, collected data and synthesized shareable findings.
Read the full article "Teacher Research as a Pathway to Professional Growth," Hayidion, Summer 2019. Dr. Jonah Hassenfeld was assistant director of teaching and learning at Gann Academy and is now a program officer at the Jack, Joseph, and Morton Mandel Foundation.