Barbara Davidson, Julie Greenberg, and Susan Pimental: Avoiding Confirmation Bias When Implementing Evidence-Based Instructional Practices

The phenomenon of confirmation bias has received increased attention in the current era of partisan politics. Defined as “the tendency to process information by looking for or interpreting information that is consistent with one’s existing beliefs,” the term has been used to describe the resistance of individuals on one side of the political spectrum to the arguments of the other. We recently found ourselves reflecting on a similar tendency, which we observed in our work introducing new instructional practices in schools. Of course, we don’t suggest that we encountered resistance per se, but rather an inclination to fit what is new into what is familiar.

The project, Cultivating Excellence in English Learner Instruction (CEELI), was designed to bring evidence-based practices for improving English-learner literacy into classroom routines in five medium-sized urban or suburban school districts. Introduced to relevant research by scholars and experts at an initial convening, participating district teams then identified a specific instructional strategy, based on the research, that they wanted to tackle. Districts worked together as a networked improvement community (NIC) to implement their strategies, gathering virtually on a monthly basis over a six-month period. The work of the NIC was intentionally classroom-based. The goal was to see how research actually made its way into classroom practice versus how it was designed to do so.

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