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What Are Evidence-Based Practices?
The term "evidence-based practices" made its debut in the field of medicine and healthcare. Physicians and health professionals prefer to have a demarcation line between evidence-based treatment and evidence-based practice. The former is a type of treatment that has been proven effective based on previous tests and experiments. The latter is a type of approach to decision-making.
In the field of special education, the term "evidence-based practice" has a similar concept. The goal of evidence-based practice in special education is to provide the highest quality of teaching and learning. Unfortunately, many teachers make the mistake of regarding "evidence-based practice" as just a set of methods and techniques that have been proven effective in teaching gifted and talented students.
The methods and techniques are just aspects of the whole teaching approach. Another aspect is research. Research is crucial because special education is a complex field. That's why the Department of Education, through the Institute for Education Sciences, supports research that seeks to establish evidence of effectiveness of certain teaching methods. Some of this research attempts to determine whether certain methods would be effective in inclusional classrooms while others evaluate effectiveness based on the type of special needs, such as giftedness and ADHD.
Since evidence-based practice is relatively new, what will be presented next can be viewed as the pioneering efforts of teachers and the birth pangs of introducing this teaching approach in special education.
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Using Evidence Based Practice in Teaching Gifted Students
There is a dichotomy of views when it comes to actually using evidence-based practices in teaching gifted students. One view can be considered as "purist" while the other view is that of a "realist."
From the perspective of the purist, a teaching method can only be effective if the teacher correctly implements it. If the teacher does not remain faithful to the ideal way of carrying out the method, the quality of teaching and learning is considerably reduced. Purists insist that effectiveness hinges on the teacher's ability to stay faithful to the evidence-based method.
On the other hand, the perspective of the realist takes into account the diversity of students. Even if all students are gifted, there is still diversity in other areas of the students' lives. The realists also argue that all special students have their unique needs. This is why there is an individualized education program for each gifted student. The realist teachers modify evidence-based practices to make them more appropriate for and responsive to the unique needs of their gifted and talented students. For example, an evidence-based effective video-strategy for teaching functional skills can be modified for teaching special students to read.
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Challenges of Evidence-Based Practices
The birth pangs of the evidence-based practice are due to the challenges in implementing this approach. Three major challenges have been identified.
- Lack of Criteria - There is no existing criteria or standard for evidence-based practices. For one particular teaching technique, one researcher may deem it effective while another researcher may conclude otherwise. There is a need to establish universal criteria to determine which teaching methods are effective and which ones are not.
- Lack of Evidence - The field of special education boasts that there are more than 30 years of research that can supply evidence for certain teaching methods and techniques. But the bulk of research is skewed in favor of students who are not gifted. Research on teaching gifted students is sadly insufficient. For example, what teaching methods would be effective for gifted students who also suffer from other learning disabilities?
- Lack of Accessibility - Many teachers do not have access to information about evidence-based practice. There are only a few books, journals, and resources available. But access to information is not the only challenge. Another challenge is access to training.
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- Evidence-based Practice in Education, Annual Conference of the British Educational Research Association by Martin Hammersley.
- Best Practices in Gifted Education: An Evidence-Based Guide - book by Ann Robinson, Bruce M. Shore, and Donna L. Enersen
- Evidence-Based Practice, A Critical Appraisal - book by Liz Trinder
- Evidence-Based Practice in Education - book by Richard Pring and Gary Thomas
- Becoming an Evidence-based Practitioner - book by Olwen McNamara