Research Guidance for School Staff

In the heart of every classroom lies the potential to change lives and shape futures – and nowhere is this more true than in the realm of special education. As teachers and teaching assistants, you are uniquely positioned to make a profound difference. You are the experts, the ones on the front lines, nurturing abilities and unlocking potential every single day.

We are excited to announce our new blog series, designed specifically to support and empower you in this vital mission. This series, “The Research-Ready Educator: Enhancing Special Education Practice” is all about harnessing the power of research to enhance your practice.

Perhaps you’ve felt intrigued by research but unsure where to start. Or maybe you’ve wanted to delve deeper, but been daunted by the complexities of methodologies and data. That’s why this series breaks down the process of research into manageable steps, taking you from reading and understanding studies, all the way through to designing and evaluating your own small-scale research projects.

Through this series, you’ll not only gain the confidence to engage with research, but also to conduct it in your own classrooms. You’ll learn how to take those research findings and apply them to real-world teaching situations, and importantly, measure the impact on your students.

You are already shaping the future of special education with your dedication and passion. Now, you have the opportunity to enhance your professional development, underpin your teaching strategies with research, and contribute to the wider knowledge base in our field.

Remember, in this journey, you are not alone. There are vast resources and networks available to support you. This blog series is just one of them. We firmly believe in the power of collaboration and peer feedback, and we look forward to growing and learning together through this process.

So join us as we embark on this journey into research, strengthening our practice, enriching our classrooms, and ultimately, making an even greater difference in the lives of our students. Because in special education, every step we take is a step towards a more inclusive, understanding, and empowering future.

You’ve got this. We’re here to help.

Let’s make a difference, together.

Introduction to Research and Special Education: Why It Matters+

Research is at the heart of professional development and progress, especially in the field of special education. The role of research is twofold; it not only informs effective practice, but also drives innovation and improvement in teaching and learning strategies.

According to the Department for Education’s Teachers’ Standards in England (2011), educators are expected to engage in their professional development and adapt their practice where necessary, in response to advice and feedback (DfE, 2011). In the context of special education, this professional development often involves staying abreast with the latest research findings.

Reflective practice is a key tool that aids professional development. It involves looking back on teaching experiences and decisions, considering them in the light of research evidence, and then utilising these reflections to inform future teaching practice (Schön, 1983). This cyclical process of action, reflection, and change promotes continuous professional growth.

Research in special education is particularly significant. It provides invaluable insights into the effectiveness of different teaching strategies and interventions for diverse learning needs. Moreover, it offers opportunities for teachers to test and evaluate their strategies in their classrooms, thereby contributing to the broader knowledge base (Cook and Odom, 2013).

In essence, engaging with research empowers special education practitioners to offer the best possible support for their students. It provides a scientific basis for practice, promotes innovation, and fosters a culture of curiosity and lifelong learning. As we embark on this series, we hope to guide and inspire you on your research journey, enhancing your practice, and ultimately, enriching the learning experiences of your students.


  • Department for Education. (2011). Teachers’ Standards. Retrieved from:
  • Schön, D. A. (1983). The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action. New York: Basic Books.
  • Cook, B. G., & Odom, S. L. (2013). Evidence-Based Practices and Implementation Science in Special Education. Exceptional Children, 79(2), 135–144.
Reading and Understanding Research in Special Education+

Diving into research might seem daunting, but it’s essentially about curiosity and the pursuit of knowledge. To support you on this journey, let’s demystify the basics of research methodologies, guide you on how to critically read and understand research papers, and explore ways to find and access relevant research.

Understanding Research Methodologies

Research methodologies in education are diverse, but they primarily fall into two categories: quantitative and qualitative (Punch and Oancea, 2014). Quantitative research involves numerical data and statistical analysis, often used to test hypotheses or measure the effectiveness of interventions. Qualitative research, on the other hand, delves into experiences, perspectives, and meanings through methods like interviews or observation.

In special education, ‘mixed methods’ research, which combines both qualitative and quantitative data, is quite common (Powell and Driver, 2013). This approach offers a holistic view of the research question at hand, providing rich, contextual insights alongside measurable outcomes.

Critically Reading and Understanding Research Papers

When reading research papers, the abstract provides a succinct overview, but it’s essential to delve deeper to critically evaluate the content. Look at the methodology: is it appropriate for the research question? Assess the results: do they answer the research question convincingly? Scrutinise the discussion: how do the authors interpret the results, and do they acknowledge the study’s limitations?

Critical reading is not about finding fault, but about engaging actively, questioning, and thinking deeply about the research (Wallace and Wray, 2016).

Finding and Accessing Relevant Research

Relevant research can be found in academic journals, databases, and research repositories. Google Scholar, ERIC, and JSTOR are excellent starting points, but don’t overlook the British Education Index and the British Journal of Special Education for UK-focused research.

Many studies are behind paywalls, but you can access a significant amount of research through Open Access journals, repositories like PubMed Central, or by contacting authors directly.

In conclusion, reading and understanding research is a skill, and like any skill, it improves with practice. As you engage more with research, you’ll become increasingly adept at deciphering methodologies, critically evaluating papers, and sourcing relevant studies, enriching your professional development journey.


  • Punch, K. F., & Oancea, A. (2014). Introduction to research methods in education (2nd ed.). London: SAGE Publications.
  • Powell, A., & Driver, S. (2013). Working with Mixed Methodology in the Social Sciences. International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 16(3), 245–258.
  • Wallace, M. J., & Wray, A. (2016). Critical reading and writing for postgraduates (3rd ed.). London: SAGE Publications.
Applying Research to Special Education Practice+

The power of research in special education lies in its application. It’s about taking the insights gained from studies and translating them into effective classroom strategies. Let’s explore how to do this, consider some successful examples, and understand the role of context in applying research.

Translating Research Findings into Classroom Strategies

Applying research in the classroom is an art in itself. It starts with understanding the research findings and considering how these can be adapted to your unique teaching context (Muijs and Reynolds, 2017).

For example, if a study suggests that visual aids can enhance learning for students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), you might consider incorporating more visual cues in your lessons. Remember, the aim is not to replicate the study’s methods, but to use its insights as a guide to inform your practice.

Case Studies of Successful Application

One successful example of research application comes from the SPELL framework developed by the National Autistic Society (NAS, 2020). Derived from research insights, the SPELL approach (Structure, Positive, Empathy, Low arousal, Links) has been successfully applied in classrooms to support students with ASD, leading to improved learning outcomes and well-being.

Another example is the implementation of phonics-based instruction for students with dyslexia, based on research demonstrating its effectiveness (Torgesen, 2004). This approach has led to significant improvements in reading skills for many students.

The Role of Context in Applying Research

Context is key in applying research. Every student, classroom, and school is unique, and what works in one context may not work in another. Therefore, it’s essential to adapt research findings to suit your specific circumstances (Biesta, 2010).

In sum, applying research in special education practice is a dynamic, reflective process. It’s about harnessing the power of research to inform your teaching strategies, always with an eye on your unique context and the individual needs of your students.


  • Muijs, D., & Reynolds, D. (2017). Effective teaching: Evidence and practice (4th ed.). London: SAGE Publications.
  • National Autistic Society. (2020). SPELL. Retrieved from
  • Torgesen, J. K. (2004). Lessons learned from research on interventions for students who have difficulty learning to read. In P. McCardle & V. Chhabra (Eds.), The voice of evidence in reading research (pp. 355–382). Baltimore, MD: Brookes.
  • Biesta, G. (2010). Pragmatism and the philosophical foundations of mixed methods research. In A. Tashakkori & C. Teddlie (Eds.), SAGE handbook of mixed methods in social & behavioral research (2nd ed., pp. 95–118). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.
Designing Classroom-Based Research for Special Education+

Classroom-based research, also known as action research, is like being a detective in your own classroom. It’s about asking questions, looking for clues, and finding solutions to improve your teaching and help your students learn better. Let’s explore what this means, how you can start your own classroom investigation, and the importance of doing things right and fair.

Understanding Classroom-Based Research

In simple terms, classroom-based research is when you investigate something in your own teaching setting. You might be curious about a teaching strategy or want to understand a challenge your students are facing. By doing this type of research, you can find out what works best in your classroom and make your teaching even more effective.

Your Step-by-Step Guide to Starting a Classroom Research

1. Ask a Question: Think about something specific you want to find out. For instance, you might want to know how to help your students with dyslexia improve their reading skills.

2. Learn from Others: Look for what other teachers or researchers have found out about your topic. This will help you shape your investigation and save you from reinventing the wheel.

3. Plan Your Investigation: Decide how you’ll find out what you need. Will you observe your students, give them a test, or ask them questions? Then, think about how you’ll make sense of what you find.

4. Gather Your Clues: This is where you collect your data. Make sure you’re fair and consistent to ensure your findings are reliable.

5. Find the Answers: Look at your data carefully. What does it tell you? Does it answer your question?

6. Make a Change: Use what you’ve found to try something new or different in your classroom.

7. Reflect and Learn: Think about what happened after you made the change. Did things improve? What have you learned from the process?

Doing Things Right and Fair

When you’re doing research with your students, it’s really important to do things fairly and properly. Always get permission from the children and their parents before you start, and make sure to keep everyone’s information private. Remember, the aim is to help your students, so avoid anything that might upset or harm them.

Lastly, remember you’re not alone in this journey. Your fellow teachers and school leaders are there to help and support you. Don’t hesitate to ask for advice or share your findings. After all, every classroom investigation is a step towards better teaching and learning for everyone.

Remember, doing research in your classroom isn’t just for academics or researchers; it’s for every teacher who wants to make their classroom a better place for learning. So, why not give it a go?

Find more detailed information with resources below:

Data Collection and Analysis in Classroom-Based Research+

Data collection and analysis may sound complex, but they’re all about gathering information and understanding what it tells us. Let’s look at how we can collect data in the classroom, ways to make sense of it, and how we can ensure the information we gather is reliable and truthful.

Collecting Your Clues: Data Collection Methods

In your classroom investigation, data is your clues. Depending on your research question, you might collect data in different ways.

For example, you might:

Observe your students during a lesson and take notes about their behaviour.
Give your students a quiz or test to measure their understanding of a topic.
Ask your students questions in an interview or survey to understand their feelings or thoughts.
Remember, the type of data you collect should help you answer your research question.

Making Sense of Your Clues: Data Analysis

Once you’ve collected your data, it’s time to make sense of it. This involves looking for patterns or trends in the information you’ve gathered.

If you’ve collected numbers (like test scores), you might calculate the average score or see how scores change over time. This is called quantitative analysis.

If you’ve collected words (like interview responses), you might identify common themes or ideas that come up. This is called qualitative analysis.

Don’t worry if you’re not a maths whizz or a language expert – you’re just trying to understand what your data is telling you about your teaching and your students’ learning.

Making Sure Your Clues Are Reliable: Ensuring Data Reliability and Validity

Reliability is about consistency. If you were to repeat your investigation, would you get the same results? To ensure reliability, be systematic and fair when you collect and analyse your data.

Validity is about accuracy. Are you measuring what you intend to measure? To ensure validity, make sure your data collection methods align with your research question.

For example, if you want to know about your students’ reading comprehension, a maths test won’t give you valid data.

In conclusion, collecting and analysing data in your classroom doesn’t have to be daunting. It’s a crucial part of your investigation, helping you to understand what’s happening in your classroom and how you can make learning even better for your students. Remember, you’re not alone in this journey, and there’s always help and support available to you from your colleagues and school leaders.

Evaluating Your Research: How to Measure Impact in Special Education+

Research in your classroom is a journey of discovery and improvement. But how do you know if the changes you’ve made have made a difference? Let’s explore how to measure the impact of your research, techniques for evaluating outcomes, and the importance of learning from your findings.

Measuring Impact in Special Education

Think of impact as the difference or change that results from your research. It could be an improvement in your students’ test scores, a positive change in their behaviour, or an increase in their engagement with learning.

To measure this impact, you’ll need to compare your data from before and after you implemented changes. For example, if you introduced a new reading strategy for your dyslexic students, you might compare their reading scores or their confidence in reading before and after the change.

Techniques for Evaluating Research Outcomes

Evaluating your research outcomes involves looking at your data and considering what it tells you about the impact of your changes.

If you’ve collected numerical data, you could use graphs or charts to visually represent changes over time. If you’ve collected written or spoken data, you might look for changes in the themes or ideas that come up in your students’ responses.

Remember, it’s not just about whether test scores have gone up or down. It’s also about considering the broader impacts, such as changes in students’ confidence, motivation, or enjoyment of learning.

Reflecting on and Learning from Research Findings

Once you’ve evaluated your research outcomes, it’s important to reflect on what you’ve learned. Did your changes have the impact you hoped for? If not, why might that be? What could you do differently next time?

Reflecting on your research is a powerful way to learn and grow as a teacher. It helps you understand what works in your classroom, what doesn’t, and why. It also encourages you to keep asking questions, keep investigating, and keep striving to make your classroom a better place for learning.

Remember, you’re not alone in this journey. There’s a whole community of teachers and school leaders out there who are also passionate about improving teaching and learning through research. So why not share your findings with them? You might just inspire someone else to start their own journey of classroom research.

Research as a Tool for Professional Development in Special Education+

Research isn’t just about improving teaching and learning outcomes; it’s also a powerful tool for your own professional development. Let’s explore how engaging with research can aid in your lifelong learning, how it aligns with the teaching standards, and how other special educators have harnessed its potential for their professional growth.

Research for Lifelong Learning

As educators, we are lifelong learners. We constantly strive to understand better and apply effective strategies to help our students. Research is a fundamental part of this process. It helps us stay updated with the latest findings, test new approaches, and understand their impact. It allows us to reflect on our practices and continuously adapt them for the better.

Research and the Teaching Standards

The UK Teaching Standards emphasise the importance of maintaining good subject and curriculum knowledge, adapting teaching to respond to the strengths and needs of all pupils, and taking responsibility for improving teaching through appropriate professional development. Engaging with research directly supports these standards.

By involving ourselves in research, we deepen our subject and curriculum understanding, explore varied teaching strategies to cater to diverse needs, and take active steps towards our professional development.

Inspiring Stories of Special Educators

Consider the story of Dan, a special education teacher working with older students aged 18 and 19. He noticed that his students felt that some typical special education methods used for recognising and expressing emotions, such as Zones of Regulation, seemed too juvenile for them. At the same time, he observed that they enjoyed using technology and gadgets.

Guided by these observations, Dan decided to innovate. He introduced colourful, touch-activated hexagon lights as a new medium for his students to express their emotions. This method was especially successful with a student who was a selective mute, providing a non-verbal way to communicate feelings.

Dan was systematic in his approach. He collected data and evidence on both the process and impact of his innovation, turning his classroom practice into a small-scale research project.

The success of his research led him to share his findings not only with his colleagues in school but also at a teaching conference at a local university.

Dan’s story shows the power of classroom research in driving professional development. It helped him innovate and enhance his teaching methods, understand his students better, and also positioned him as a leader and influencer within his school and broader teaching community.


Engaging with research can be empowering, giving us the tools and insights to improve our practice and make a difference in our students’ lives. It promotes reflective practice, fosters a culture of curiosity, and nurtures our growth as professionals. So, let’s embrace research and start our journey of lifelong learning and development.

Looking Ahead: Future Directions in Special Education Research+

As we wrap up our blog series, let’s gaze into the future. Research in special education is ever-evolving, with new trends and technologies continuously shaping the field. Let’s explore what’s on the horizon, and how we can continue to engage with research for our professional growth.

Emerging Trends in Special Education Research

  • Personalised Learning: Every student is unique, and research is focusing more and more on personalised approaches to teaching and learning. How can we adapt our methods to cater to the individual needs, strengths, and interests of each student?
  • Inclusive Education: There’s growing emphasis on creating inclusive classrooms where all students, regardless of their abilities or disabilities, can learn together. How can we design our classrooms to be welcoming, supportive spaces for all students?
  • Well-being and Mental Health: As we recognise the importance of mental health in education, research is increasingly focusing on strategies for promoting well-being and emotional resilience among special education students.

The Role of Technology in Special Education Research

Technology is playing a growing role in special education research. It’s not only a tool for gathering and analysing data, but also a medium for innovative teaching strategies.

For example, assistive technologies are creating new possibilities for students with disabilities, from speech-to-text software for students with dyslexia, to touch-activated lights for expressing emotions, as we saw in Dan’s story.

Virtual reality and augmented reality are also emerging as exciting tools for special education, offering immersive, interactive experiences that can cater to diverse learning styles and needs.

Continuing to Engage with Research for Professional Growth

As we move forward, let’s keep our curiosity alive and continue to engage with research. Whether it’s reading the latest studies, attending conferences or webinars, or conducting our own classroom research, every step we take brings us closer to becoming better, more effective educators.

Remember, research isn’t just a professional obligation; it’s an opportunity for growth, for innovation, and for making a difference in our students’ lives. So, let’s keep learning, keep exploring, and keep striving to be the best educators we can be.


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