How can I Create an Evidence-Based Classroom?

Every teacher sets out to make a meaningful difference for students in his or her classroom. Teachers want to use the best methods to safely and effectively promote learning, including strategies with solid evidence and support.  Despite the number of teachers who strive for this goal, understanding how to create an evidence-based classroom can be a big challenge for educators.

Advantages of evidence-based practices in education

There are many advantages to using evidence-based practices in the classroom including improvements in student outcomes, efficiency, and overall satisfaction.

Research-based strategies produce better student outcomes.

The number one advantage of choosing evidence-based practices in the classroom is improvements in student outcomes.  Evidence-based practices aren’t just based on a whim or an idea of what works.  They’re shown to be effective with different teachers, a variety of different students and across different educational settings. Evidence-based practices for the classroom produce substantially better outcomes than doing nothing or using practices that are not backed by research.

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Spend less time wasted on strategies that don’t work. 

Without a doubt, time is one of the most valuable resources for teachers.  There’s never enough of it, and there’s certainly not enough time to waste on methods that don’t produce high-quality outcomes for students. Teachers that rely on well-researched methods spend less time on ineffective strategies.

Better satisfaction for parents, teachers, and students.

Finally, evidence-based classroom strategies tend to produce greater satisfaction from all stakeholders.  Students like to feel supported and successful in the classroom.  Parents want to see progress and that any classroom challenges are being addressed with a thoughtful plan for their child.  The same applies to teachers, who desire to be successful and feel like their work has value and meaning for students.

How do I know what’s considered evidence-based?

Whether you’re in your first or twenty-first year of teaching, staying up to date on evidence-based teaching methods becomes an important part of professional development.  With so much information available to teachers, sifting through what is considered evidence-based and what’s not can be a daunting task. When evaluating if a particular technique comes supported by sound research, teachers and parents should ask the following questions:

  • Who created this content?  Was it written by an educator, a parent, an organization like a university or teacher’s association? Does the person or organization receive any benefits or profit if I begin using this evidence-based technique?
  • What type of classroom or learner was this strategy created for?  Has it been tested with students with similar needs as my own?
  • How was it tested?  In a laboratory or university setting?  In classrooms? Or does it only come from someone’s anecdotal experience?
  • How much training does it take to implement this technique?
  • What data was collected to support these results?

Evidence-based practices in education

With several key questions to evaluate evidence-based practices in education, consider some of these options to begin to create an evidence-based classroom.  Consider some of the strategies below developed through the U.S. Department of Education’s What Works Clearinghouse and Cornell University’s Center for Teaching Innovation:

  • Start by knowing your learners and their history. Not all evidence-based behavioral strategies and practices fit for every learner.  What works for younger students might not be suited for teenagers. Students that have a history of failure in the classroom or have experienced past traumas may not respond to traditional pencil-to-paper teaching methods.  What works in one classroom might not work in another because of the learning history for those individual students.  Before teachers begin to evaluate evidence-based practices, get to know learners and their history.
  • Set learning outcomes. Regardless of the needs of each student in the classroom, one critical component of building evidence-based practices in education is to clearly outline learning outcomes and objectives.  Whether these outcomes take the form of three to five clear ‘classroom rules’ for all students to follow, or they are structured as individual goals for each student, a good evidence-based implementation requires a teacher to know the end goal of education.
  • Provide frequent opportunities for active learning. Another strategy for evidence-based classroom management relates directly to the number of opportunities students have to respond during learning activities.  Students benefit from high rates of active responding including individual or group question asking (e.g. “Raise your hand if you know the answer to problem #25”), choral responding (e.g. “Altogether, say the answer to problem #25”), or nonverbal responding (e.g. “write down your final answer for problem #25 and hold it up”).  Evidence-based classrooms also provide students with high rates of active engagement and learning.
  • Collect data. Once learning outcomes have been set and active learning begins, evidence-based classroom management requires teachers to collect data on the effectiveness of a particular strategy. Counting the number of times a behavior occurs, timing a particular student response, or estimating how often a particular learning objective occurs by collecting interval data allows teachers to know if what they’re doing works.  If data supports that a strategy produces results, teachers can continue moving forward with confidence.  If data does not provide that conclusion, a teacher can quickly pivot to a more effective strategy.
  • Recruit regular student feedback. One final strategy that often goes overlooked when implementing evidence-based education strategies in the classroom is recruiting student feedback. While we often do this for post-secondary students in the form of course satisfaction surveys, much younger students can also provide valuable feedback to teachers on a regular basis.  Asking students what they find valuable or what contributes most to their learning can help drive future course design and instruction.  By avoiding teaching strategies that students do not find helpful or find aversive, teachers ultimately may have more buy-in and subsequently better learning outcomes.

Evidence-based behavioral strategies

Along with the evidence-based practices in education listed above, teachers may also find evidence-based behavioral strategies help support student outcomes just as much, if not more.  The questions used to evaluate if a technique is evidence-based can also be applied to behavioral classroom management.  In fact, many of the same tools apply directly to challenging behavior in students, including establishing clear expectations and collecting data on outcomes. Some additional strategies to address problem behavior in the classroom include:

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  • Focus on function. Teachers should focus on ‘why’ a problem behavior occurs or the behavior’s function.  If a behavior functions to gain a peer’s attention requires a different response than behavior that functions to escape a difficult task.
  • Address specific behaviors. It’s easy to give global labels to student behavior as being ‘naughty’ or ‘bad.’ Problem behavior in the classroom can also be quickly swept aside as part of a diagnosis or a learning delay.  Yet evidence-based behavioral strategies suggest that identifying the key behavior with as much specificity provides more success.  Avoid talking about a label and instead talk about the behavior in as much detail as possible.
  • Create consistency. Whenever possible, create a plan to respond to problem behavior consistently. Train teachers, paraprofessionals, parents, and classroom supports to respond the same as well.
  • Time-sensitive responding. Finally, evidence-based behavioral strategies suggest that responding to problem behavior in the classroom immediately or as soon as possible afterward results in the best outcomes. Consequences are more powerful if delivered immediately after the problem behavior occurred.

Amy Sippl

Applied Behavior Analysis | Saint Cloud State University

Bachelor of Arts (B.A.), Psychology | University of Minnesota

March 2020

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