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Challenges, Opportunities and Advice in School-Based Intervention Research

Nancy Creaghead

DOI: 10.1044/cred-int-bts-001

I’m Nancy Creaghead, and I am faculty at the University of Cincinnati. I have been there for 40 years.

So, over the last ten years, we’ve had a number of projects going on in Head Start. And our goals primarily are to collaborate with teachers and to enhance the language and literacy education in the preschool classroom.

What are some of the common challenges in conducting research in school settings?

We have a long standing relationship with this Head Start program, so we’re able to go in there, and we’re able to be accepted, and we have our entree as a group. But being able to design the study and have it go the way you want it to is not easy. Because when you’re working in real life settings there are many things that happen.

We’ve tried to do projects across the year, some of them have been six weeks or eight weeks. We’ve had six-month projects. And so some of the challenges are that the teachers may not stay, we’ve lost teachers when we’re working on projects. The children may not stay. So when we’ve tried to do a project that’s across a whole six months, or even a nine-month time frame to really see change in what happens with children, then you have this challenge. Especially when you’re working in areas where there’s a lot of moving and children changing schools and changing centers. The challenges are to maintain those settings.

Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) are always hard, too. That’s another — that’s the first challenge that you have to get past, is getting an IRB, which is more difficult when you’re working with children. And also even more difficult with you’re working in an outside setting.

Another huge challenge is getting good recordings. When you’re working with children around in a setting where you don’t have control of the sound environment, there is lots and lots of noise. So that is one of the biggest challenges — that we come back and say, “Oh my gosh, we don’t have recordings we can actually hear.”

What advice do you have for new researchers working in school settings?

Going back to advice about — first of all, start out with more subjects than you need. That’s for sure.

And being sure that you do have a setting where you know you’re going to get buy-in. I say “be sure” and that’s oversimplifying. I don’t think you’re ever sure you’re going to have total buy in, and that it’s really going to work.

In regard to the recordings, having children individually miked is just critical. And sometimes we have not done that from the very beginning — but having a microphone in the setting without individual mics is just difficult. More and more, we’re able to use more sophisticated systems within our own clinic for recording, and then for tracking and tagging the information. New technology is coming on every day to make that easier.

Another thing that’s sometimes surprising to me is when, especially if you’re in a setting and you’re videotaping — or video recording, I’ve got to get this taping word out of my head — when you’re video recording or recording period, there’s an amazing wealth of data that you can get or that you can use in so many ways. Sometimes when you have this recorded data, what you studied over here, you may be able to study this other thing that’s just incredibly useful. You see things when you have that recording — that, “Oh, we should look at this” — that’s exciting and surprising.

What else should new researchers know about research in authentic settings?

Learning from teachers — because my area is primarily schools — is huge. In another recent project, where we were looking at reading comprehension in a classroom. This was a third, fourth and fifth grade classroom. One of the things that we really learned in that setting from that teacher was what’s really possible in that classroom.

What we were trying to look at was faithfulness to the intervention and what kind of difference that made. The intervention was put in place, and then we had a single subject design to look at faithfulness. We had to make a lot of changes in there to say, “You can’t be that faithful. This is what you have to do to be real in that setting.”

I think that’s really what you learn from being in those settings. To me, it’s so hard. And it’s so messy. It’s so incredibly messy. But, it’s just not real if we aren’t in there in the real setting where it really happens. Not that we don’t also have to have that background research to say, “Well, let’s try this and let’s see if it works here.” But, to me, the exciting part is really trying to see how it plays out in the school settings.

The interest for doing authentic research, and doing research that is related to the environment and takes into account the environment — that new interest is really exciting to me. Because it’s going to help us make changes in the real world. In the real world where — in my case — children go to school, where people are actually treated in hospitals, and where the team is a part of what’s going on. The fact that implementation science is really something that is coming to the forefront — I guess that’s really the most exciting thing. To actually hear people talking about implementation research and implementation science and raising the bar. Increasing the amount, raising the bar, and having a commitment to implementation research.

Nancy Creaghead
University of Cincinnati

The content of this page is based on selected clips from a video interview conducted at the ASHA National Office.

Copyright © 2015 American Speech-Language-Hearing Association