Research the research

As someone with a masters degree in educational psychology, I probably have the credibility to tell you that music benefits learning. But how would you know for sure?

© Mark Finkenstaedt |

One thing the Executive Director and CEO, Mike Blakeslee, mentioned in his workshop during NAfME’s 2017 National In-Service Music Education Conference is that quantitative (think objective) research is not as reliable as it once was. There are many flaws where research done in one area won’t prove to be generally true, or perhaps not prove true at all.

How can teachers and administrators advocate for music in education, when they don’t know which research is credible and which is not? While anecdotal or qualitative research can be influential for community members, those relying on money, budgets, and/or expected academic improvement sometimes need accurate statistics and objectively proven results.

© Alfredofalcone | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

Even if parents, teachers, administrators, etc. have not had any training in research and statistics, there are still some basic things they can do to verify if a recent study or article is credible.

  1. Who is the author? An author who is a teacher, professor, psychologist, therapist, researcher would be more credible than someone in market research or product sales.
  2. Who is in the research? How many students or teachers were involved in the study? Was there more than one school or more than one neighborhood? How old are the students? Are there any existing learning issues with the students? Is there an existing relationship between the researcher and the people being studied?
  3. What is the research about? Is the author looking at one specific program or method of teaching? Is the person teaching the program or method experienced in that area?
  4. What’s missing? Does the researcher acknowledge any faults in the current study or research in general? Or, does the researcher write of implications for future research? Are all participants accounted for, or if any are eliminated, how many are eliminated and why have they been eliminated?

It seems strange that we should have to question educational research, but the truth is that all researchers have some biases that they bring into their research. Consider me, as an example — I am an educated advocate for music education because a lot of the credible reliable research has proven it to be beneficial. But, that does not mean that I should guide my research in such a way that every type and method of music education is successful. Researchers who do this are the primary cause for elements of education not being taken seriously or perhaps too seriously.

Please contact me if you are concerned about a piece of research you’ve found or if you’re still curious about a study even after you’ve answered the above four questions. I’d be happy to help!

Loving Life

It’s been a while, once again, since I last posted, and things in my life have been simply amazing both professionally and personally. I’ll keep the “personally” to myself as a constant reminder to be grateful for all the changes in my life, but for you readers, I wanted to share all my amazing professional actions from the last twelve months!

A year ago, I finished working as a behavioral aide, one-on-one with a third grader and began working as a learning clinician at a learning center. The learning center, Lindamood-Bell, focuses mainly on word recognition and reading comprehension, but it also works on math for some students. Their foundation for teaching/learning is based on the dual coding theory. I’ll be writing about that in another blog. For me, though, I have loved every moment. I have instructed several students from age 5 all the way up to 25. Their improvement has been dramatic. To provide a few examples, I worked a few students who started by recognizing the letters of the alphabet. When they finished their programs, they were reading at a minimum of two grades higher than when they initially tested. I’ve had other students who could read just fine, but had no idea what they were reading. This type of learning disability is called “hyperlexia”. With these students we start with simple descriptions of pictures and move on to sentences, then paragraphs, then stories. It always amazes me the progress students can make in just a few weeks and how their confidence levels completely change. I’m only working a few hours a week there while managing my epilepsy, but every child I’ve met there has impacted me.

Second, in November of last year, I began an unpaid internship/volunteer position as a research assistant at the University of Washington’s Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences. I assisted a post-doctoral fellow with a study she was completing on how the brain stem responds to sounds. Throughout the study, I learned how to schedule participants, run tests written in MathLab, and set up MEG sessions. It was a very steep learning curve for me.

Whenever I’m involved in something that fulfills my passion, I turn into a perfectionist, and I catch every single thing I did wrong. So, I was a bit hard on myself. The preliminary study finished at the end of April, and the post-doctoral fellow presented her findings at a conference in Texas. Of course, I’ll not be credited in any part of the study, but I have the satisfaction of knowing I assisted in a successful Brain Sciences research, and my work mattered.

Finally, I attended the Infant and Early Childhood Conference, held in May of this year in Tacoma, Washington. I didn’t know what to expect, but I assumed some of the sessions would be helpful to education advocates as well as educators. My favorite session was with Jocelyn Manzanarez of Musically Minded.

She taught us, mostly educators, the importance of rhyme, rhythm, surprise, and music starting from infancy through kindergarten. And, she provided us with copies of some of the songs she uses with children and other early childhood educators. It brought to mind the dual coding theory followed by Lindamood-Bell, which again, I’ll focus on in a follow up blog. I have since followed her on her mailing list, Facebook, and Twitter. Her staff includes those who have completed degrees in music and/or music education, but their work is based on sound peer-reviewed research. She happily sent me the research she is currently following as she continues to craft her career. I highly recommend parents of young children and early educators to check out her website. If you’re not local to the Puget Sound, I am confident she can recommend organizations that are similar to hers.

So, that has been my last twelve months. I’m still living in the Seattle area and finding more ways to hone my career, and I hope to share more excitement as 2017 continues. Thanks for reading, and keep coming back for updates!

Exciting news for me!

I received my MS in educational psychology back in 2005, and after a failed attempt toward earning my PhD in the same subject matter, I had all but resigned myself to “some day I’ll be a researcher, but I don’t know when or how”. A lot has changed since 2012 when I was forced to abandon my PhD studies, specifically in the past year.

In September of last year, the parents of a child with mild learning and behavioral difficulties offered me the opportunity to be a one-on-one aide for that child during the entire school year. It was a tremendous experience and one that I really felt unprepared for on a daily basis. But, I learned a lot from the “trial by fire”. And, once the school year ended, I began working at an organization that emphasizes sensory learning. I truly believe that my one year of intense in-school work prepared me for this new role. I now worked with up to 8 kids a day using sensory teaching techniques to improve their literacy skills. It was terrifying to be working full time after not having done so for five years, and luckily, I was able to reduce to significant part-time hours after only about a month! But, I was working with kids in an educational environment. This is something I didn’t think would ever happen because I saw myself as over-educated and under-experienced.

Since I finished my MS degree, I had a desire to work with researchers at the University of Washington’s Institute for Language and Brain Sciences. Of course, I wasn’t known to the University. I didn’t earn my degree there and had never taken even one course there. So, presenting myself with just a degree did not make me a likely candidate for a research assistant position. My only opportunity was as a volunteer but financial difficulties had never made that possible, until now.

At the end of September, I will start volunteering with a post-doc at UW’s ILABS for, what I hope, will be long-term or at least until I’m able to restart a PhD program. The post-doc student informed me I will start with the basics – participant recruitment – and move up through developing research protocols and eventually learning how to do an EEG. This is incredibly exciting for me, and I really hope I will continue to have back up financial resources so that I continue volunteering without anxiety over my financial responsibilities.