Effectiveness and Appreciation #1

Now that my submission to Educational Leadership has been rejected, I can re-post the two blogs that discuss TSVOTEP’s chapter 8. Enjoy.

Here is the possibility that drives Chapter 8:

If the social science paradigm is based on the false assumption that it informs practitioners about effectiveness . . . maybe the reason schools do not improve is that our improvement paradigm is the wrong one.

Yes — we use the wrong paradigm, but I should have said it differently. I should have explained that research findings inform practitioners about “effectiveness,” but “effectiveness” in every study has a much narrower meaning than what we commonly give to something we call “effective.”

In common usage, “effective” means several things at the same time. It means successful, meaningful, useful, efficient, desired, or combinations of these. But social scientific “effectiveness” means none of these. It points only to the explicit definition it was given in the study — nothing more, nothing less. Social scientific effectiveness is a good thing, but it never has the luster associated with something that is “effective.”

The best example is a study designed to find whether an instructional method yields higher scores on standardized tests. When I read reports about this kind of “effectiveness,” I always ask, “How many more correct answers deem the method “effective?”

In a classroom of 20 students answering 50 questions on a 75-minute standardized test, the total number of possible correct answers is 1,000. If students answered 550 correctly in the first trial; how many more correct answers would deem a specific instructional method “effective?”

A study might set a high threshold. The total correct would have to be at least 590. A lower, more reasonable threshold would be 570. In the first case, two more correct answers per student, deems the method “effective.” In the second case, one more deems it “effective.” Can you say, “lackluster?”

Another reason to temper my language is that I created a false dichotomy.  I put effectiveness and social sciences at one end of a continuum, with appreciation and aesthetics at the other.

A more useful picture of how teaching and learning are improved is captured in chapter 8’s circle metaphor. I explained that “effectiveness” findings take us to the perimeter of the circle. Thousands of studies have been conducted to determine what is more or less effective. We have findings about teaching reading “effectively,” questioning students “effectively,” grouping students “effectively,” using technology “effectively,” and the list goes on and on. These findings are so numerous and contradictory that they only fit at the perimeter, where they form constellations of improvement ideas.

These findings can’t be at the center of the circle because the center is reserved for what is at the heart of education, for what is essential for any and all improvements. The next post explains why “appreciation” is always at the center.

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