Educational Research: The Challenge of Using an Academic Discipline

Feb. 01, 2012

Source: Teachers College Record, Volume 114 Number 2, 2012.

Focus of Research

In this article, the author described his own use of an academic discipline—linguistics and its varied tools of discourse analysis—in conducting research at the College.

The author focused on two major areas of research:
(a) ethnocultural variation in processing spatio-temporal information in languages throughout the world and
(b) children’s interaction with multiple-choice tests of reading comprehension, with particular attention to the ways in which their ethnocultural background affects how they respond.

Research Design and Findings
The first area of research used experimental methods developed by a research team that the author directed.
The major finding was that distinctive patterns of processing spatiotemporal information by speakers of African languages (e.g., Hausa) and Asian languages (e.g., Chinese) are preserved when African Americans and Chinese Americans speak English in the Western hemisphere.

In addition to ethnocultural identity, the research team revealed other factors such as age and gender that are reflected in the preservation of these patterns.
The author draws on the model structured heterogeneity (Herzog, Weinrich, & Labov, 1968) to show that what may appear to be random variation in language use can be accounted for by attending to sociocultural factors.

The second area of research used quantitative methods (experimental probes) and qualitative methods (interviews).
The major finding was that children, especially African Americans who live in the inner city, often make inferences when responding to a multiple-choice task, which, although stimulated by features in the test item, lead them to select a choice, which, given the test makers’ highly restricted model of literacy, cannot be justified.

The research team drew on the model ethnography of communication (Hymes, 1962) in identifying the contrasting interpretive norms used by test makers and test takers.
The research team then developed a model grounded constructivism (Hill, 2004) that was used to build an alternative approach to assessment.


An academic discipline can provide greater depth and rigor in educational research, but those who draw on one must seek to make their research intelligible to an informed public concerned with educational policy.

Updated: May. 23, 2012