Using Research in Your Grant Applications

Besides being a grants manager, I have also been a Library Media Specialist. In fact, if I’m really honest with myself, my heart belongs in the library. Contrary to popular opinion, libraries are not dead; in fact, they are becoming more relevant every day as the huge ocean of digital information appears online. Someone has to index it all, and make it more accessible to the public. Enter the librarian!

I try to stay abreast of educational research, when you’re writing grants it’s important to be aware of trends in how we view academic achievement. We are always looking for ways to improve learning, especially among vulnerable populations. That’s why a paper in the Review of Educational Research (March 2015), a peer-reviewed journal of the American Educational Research Association (likely available through your library), caught my attention this week.

The paper is about executive function. It’s been relegated to buzzword of late, but there is seductive logic in trying to apply what we know about it to improvements in learning. Executive function is the traffic control of the mind – if it is functioning correctly, our thoughts flow in a logical order and we come to reasonable conclusions from our ideas. It is how we stay focused when distracted, resist urges, control our emotions, and stay goal-oriented.  Can we mold and strengthen executive function through targeted training?

In the meta-analysis, 67 studies of school-based programs that target executive function were reviewed. This latest research found no support for the idea that improving EF skills can lead directly to better test scores in reading or math. This is a shocker because schools have spent millions on programs that “strengthen” executive function skills in classrooms.

What is the point in bringing up this frustrating bit of information for grant writers? Don’t be swayed by hype surrounding the newest learning fad or buzzword. It is so tempting to do just that. Another one that people are using for grant writing is “blended learning”. This one is a little different because it’s so vague. It’s really just short for integrating technology into your regular classroom curriculum. Blended learning is, however, the new thing, and it might be a good idea to avoid using the term in your grant applications, unless the funding agency specifically uses it in their application package.

Funding agencies in the private sector (foundations and corporations) pride themselves in staying abreast of research in the fields they have targeted for assistance. They are generally averse to fads. Try to stay within the realm of what we know for sure in your narratives. If you do stray into fad-land, be sure to footnote your application with authoritative references to the evidence you present for your ideas. Think like a librarian. Brush up on your MLA styles handbook, it does look professional if you format footnotes and bibliographical references correctly.

When we stay within the bounds of reality, a grantor knows we are serious about learning. They want to know they are providing resources to educators who are careful about how they approach improvements in academic achievement. We’re all working together for the same thing, we want kids to flourish and be successful, and it’s a personal and a societal mandate.

Some resources for formatting narratives:

Let me know how you’re doing. You may network with me by leaving a comment below.


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About Neva Fenno

Neva Fenno, M.S.Ed., MLIS, has been a special education teacher, school library media specialist, curriculum specialist and grants manager for several urban school districts in New York and Massachusetts for 30 years. As grants manager for 7 years, she managed up to $28,000,000 a year in federal, state, foundation and corporate grants from application through fiscal administration. She has hundreds of stories to tell, not all successes, but from each story there is a lesson to be learned.

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