There are several limitations to utilizing methods in practice based on traditional practices. Most often teachers new to the field receive instruction in methods and characteristics within the college setting and receive instruction on practice by engaging in some sort of practicum where students learn under the tutelage of an experienced teacher. Because teachers are learning what to do in the classroom from teachers who are “experienced,” we could potentially see practices in the classroom being utilized for decades without change. For example, if that experienced teacher were to only engage in professional development that fit a narrative that coincided with her beliefs, changes in that teacher’s practices would likely be little over the course of their career. Thus, a beginning teacher learning from an experienced teacher who fit the above description would likely learn practices that may not coincide with what are determined best practices today. Schools, in general, change course as easily as an aircraft carrier in the Pacific Ocean. It is likely that much of the resistance to change comes from the traditions of experienced teachers or administrators who mentor new students. Therefore, practices that have been around for decades may still be utilized in classrooms even though research may document their ineffectiveness.
An example of this phenomenon can be witnessed with the frequent use of modality instruction. Modality instruction (learning styles) refers to instructional strategies that make use of a student’s predisposition to learning through different means (e.g., visual, auditory, kinesthetic; Kavale & Forness, 1987). This theory holds that if we can assess the student’s ideal learning style, then teaching to that modality will increase the students achievement. However, Kavale and Forness conducted a research synthesis three decades ago and found that modality instruction did not result in increased learning of students. Regardless, modality instruction continues to be used by practitioners and even taught in some teacher preparation programs as a best practice particularly when trying to address the needs of students with disabilities (Landrum & Landrum, 2016).
Another example of practitioners continuing to use practices that have little evidence is the use of sensory integration therapy with children with autism spectrum disorders. Sensory integration therapy (SIT) is based on the work of Jean Ayers (1972). SIT posits that providing specific sensory input can lessen the person’s response to those inputs and the behaviors that are thought to be linked to those senses. Common forms of SIT are weighted garments, therapeutic brushing, compression (including wrapping the subject), fidgets (hand fidgeting bags), and hug machines. Research suggests that sensory integration therapy continues to be one of the most widely used therapies for students with autism spectrum disorders and other sensory issues (Lang et al., 2012; Losinski, & Ennis, 2016). This, despite volumes of research attesting to SITs lack of efficacy in reducing any of the symptoms it has been claimed to help with (Losinski & Ennis, 2016). Indeed, there have been studies where the behaviors of interest increased rather than decreased. One of the most cited and popular heroes of this methodology,
Temple Grandin, was involved in a study in the 90s investigating the use of her hug machine (see link hug machine) on the symptomology of students with autism. This study was one of the only known studies utilizing this machine, it did find positive results, however the methodology in the study was so poor and there were so few participants that we can’t draw any conclusions from it (see Edelson, Edelson, Kerr, & Grandin, 1999). Despite lack of research, this machine is sold to parents and schools at a price tag of nearly $10,000.
While these cases may be extreme, they nonetheless show the difficult proposition of getting practitioners to utilize research-based methods. The methods described above are commonplace in schools and are utilized unquestioningly by practitioners of all experience levels. In many cases practitioners believe that these methods are working for the student, however very often progress monitoring data is not taken in a reliable and valid fashion. In the end, practices like these do little to help students improve in their education, and potentially waste instructional time that could be better used to improve outcomes for students with the most severe disabilities.
Websites With Research-Based Practices
The Technical Assistance Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports is devoted to giving schools information and technical assistance for identifying, adapting, and sustaining effective schoolwide disciplinary practices. The website is sponsored by the Office of Special Education Programs in the U.S. Department of Education.
The mission of the National Center on Intensive Intervention is to build district and school capacity to support implementation of data-based individualization in reading, mathematics, and behavior for students with severe and persistent learning and/or behavioral needs.
The mission of the NCRTI is to provide technical assistance to states and districts and build the capacity of states to assist districts in implementing proven models for response to intervention. The website is sponsored by the Office of Special Education Programs in the U.S. Department of Education.
The What Works Clearinghouse is an initiative of the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences. It is a central source of scientific evidence for what works in education. The website is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education.