Research v. Anecdotal – Their Value in Education

This post is a discussion that has been happening in my head for the last few months. I recently purchased and read Teach Like a PIRATE by Dave Burgess. I found the book to be useful and had some practical ideas within it, especially the little ways for me to incorporate PIRATE into my classroom. I thought that I would share this with a colleague that was new to my building at the time, one that was leaving academia and coming into the classroom.

That colleague handed the book back to me after reading it one weekend, telling me that it is “self-published and not researched.” While she did not say that is was invalid, that is what I heard when she gave the book back. This kicked my brain into high gear, and I began thinking about this topic. Should we only get our advice from the research, those that have conducted studies over years and know what works and does not work in student learning? Or is there a place for the anecdotal in K-12 education.

Over the summer, I had the opportunity to read Sir Ken Robinson’s book, The Element. That book, which is about locating and finding your passion for leading you to more success, is also very anecdotal in nature and theme, following the stories of many people with little research to back up the findings, but it worked for each of these individuals. This book, while not peer-reviewed, is helpful to the classroom teacher, instructional coach, or administrator who is unsure of where they fit into the education world. It is also very applicable to the non-educational professionals as it can help those who may be between jobs.

How much should we focus on the research, and how much should we focus on the anecdotal stories? Do they both have a place in our classrooms and school buildings?

Now, I do not want to throw the baby out with the bath water. I do not think it is purposeful to exclude one or the other. They have their place in education, specifically, in K-12 education.

While I understand the importance of using researched best practices in the classroom, specifically when it comes to representing and teaching the curriculum, but I worry that people are too quick to dismiss or totally embrace the value of non-researched topics. When reading Teach Like a PIRATE and The Element, I did not take every word as something that I must do, instead focusing on the bits and pieces that would fit for me, my classroom, and most importantly, my students.Helpings

Helping a struggling teacher find the passion and love in the classroom with Teach Like a PIRATE can save a career and the education of thousands of students. Handing someone The Element can have them find a way to be truly happy in life. To simply dismiss a set of ideas because they are anecdotal in nature is wrong and dangerous in education. We must be receptive to ideas that are outside the box. We must be willing to run with an idea that works for us. If implementing the PIRATE into your classroom boosts engagement and outcomes, that also has to be okay. Teachers must find their element, as it will be best for the students.


The value of researched best practice and anecdotes is important in education. Teachers must find the balance between doing what they know will work from research and doing what will work for them through anecdote. The marriage of the two will be what will help our students the most. Happy teachers are more engaged with the work and find new ways to implement the researched strategies to increase student outputs. Do not simply dismiss something from your classroom because it is not researched.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.