[AAACE-NLA] Professional wisdom: part one (of a two part discussion)
hbeder at rci.rutgers.edu
Mon Jun 23 09:01:14 EDT 2008
Looking for evidence on what constitutes wisdom,
I consulted the dictionary: "The quality or
state of being wise; knowledge of what is true or
right coupled with good judgement."
Is what is true or right what people believe is
true or right or must there be an external
standard, empirical research for example?
There is a current belief in adult literacy that
our learners have low self-concepts because they
have lead lives of failure. Because it is
believed that low self-concept is a barrier to
learning, some teachers bestow lavish praise,
rarely criticize, and perhaps fail to enforce
standards. Several years ago, one of my
colleagues--Ana Lipnovich-- did a study that
found that the self-concepts of adult literacy
learners were no different than a sample of
doctoral students. We presented that research
multiple times, and confronted with the evidence,
many teachers refused to acknowledge that the
study even "might" be true. The prevalent
attitude was that I "know" my learners have low
self-concepts and nothing is going to convince me otherwise.
This is not to indict teachers. It is only to
make the point that what people believe to be
true often substitutes for truth itself, and that
is why beliefs must be examined by knowledge
external to those beliefs. Without that
examination, there is no wisdom, professional or otherwise.
At 09:03 AM 6/22/2008, you wrote:
>An e-mail discussion on professional wisdom in
>the field of adult education and literacy,
>between Dr. John Comings and me, took place by
>e-mail in November 2007. John was the Director
>of the National Center for the Study of Adult
>Learning and Literacy (NCSALL) at Harvard. For
>many years, I was the Director of the Adult
>Literacy Resource Institute at the University of
>Massachusetts Boston, part of the Massachusetts
>System for Adult Basic Education Support. We are
>both now independent consultants. Our discussion
>grew in part from an observation that I had made
>to John a few years ago, when I had been called
>for jury duty, that in our society given that
>juries make life and death decisions based on an
>examination of evidence, perhaps a jury model
>might enable our field to judge professional
>wisdom in adult literacy education. Through
>this discussion we hope to promote greater
>interest in how our field might build a model
>for achieving a body of professional wisdom that
>teachers and administrators might use to improve
>basic skills teaching, learning and programs for adults.
>I will post this discussion in two parts on the
>AAACE-NLA list, one today, and one tomorrow.
>John and I welcome your comments, suggestions
>and questions. Consider, for example:
>Do you agree with the definition proposed for professional wisdom?
>Does the hierarchy of evidence John Comings
>proposes make sense to you as a pactitioner? As a researcher?
>Do you agree that our field needs a systematic
>way to identify professional wisdom?
>Do you agree this should be done by a jury of
>well respected practitioners and reaserchers?
>David J. Rosen
><mailto:djrosen at comcast.net>djrosen at comcast.net
>Professional Wisdom: Part One
>DAVID: John, I am looking forward to our
>discussion about professional wisdom in adult
>literacy education, how it should be defined,
>why it is important to the field, what its
>relationship is -- or should be -- to research,
>how professional wisdom should be developed,
>judged and shared, and where professional wisdom
>fits in a hierarchy of evidence that teachers
>could consider and test out in their own practice.
>Let's start with the name, professional wisdom,
>also referred to as practitioner wisdom and
>practitioner knowledge. What does professional
>wisdom mean? Why should it be important to
>teachers and other practitioners? What does it
>have to do with evidence-based practices? Why is
>important to the U.S. Department of Education?
>Why is it important to you as a researcher?
>JOHN: David, here are my answers to your questions:
>What does professional wisdom mean?
>Professional wisdom, which is also called
>practitioner wisdom and practitioner knowledge,
>has been defined by the Department of Education
>as the judgment that practitioners acquire
>through experience, consensus views, and the
>effective identification and incorporation of
>local circumstances into instruction
>Why should it be important to teachers and other practitioners?
>Professional wisdom is a component of
>evidence-based practice, and the Department of
>Education is requiring practitioners to engage in evidence-based practice.
>What does it have to do with evidence-based practices?
>The Department of Education defines
>evidence-based practice as the integration of
>professional wisdom with the best available
>empirical evidence in making decisions about how to deliver instruction
>) . Empirical evidence is defined by the
>Department of Education as evidence coming from
>scientific research studies that are rigorous,
>systematic, objective, empirical, and peer
>reviewed and that rely on multiple measurements
>and observations, preferably through
>experimental or quasi-experimental methods
>(which are referred to as gold standard methods)
>The field of adult education has very little
>gold standard research to base decisions on, and
>its body of non-gold standard scientific
>research is also small. This leads the field to
>draw on K-12 research and to make decisions
>without the help of empirical evidence.
>Professional wisdom, therefore, plays a bigger
>role in adult education than in K-12 education
>or in fields such as medicine and public health
>that have a large body of gold standard
>research. Professional wisdom is what
>practitioners learn when they a. put empirical
>evidence into practice, b. adapt K-12 evidence
>to adult education, and c. fill in a gap in
>evidence through building a consensus, through
>action research, or through experience.
>Why is it important to the U.S. Department of Education?
>This evidence-based approach to making decisions
>is meant to insure that participants in adult
>education programs receive services that provide
>them with the best possible opportunity to gain
>the skills and credentials they need to be
>successful in the labor market and in their roles as parents and citizens.
>Why is it important to you as a researcher?
>Researchers have two reasons to be interested in
>professional wisdom. The first is that our
>research usually produces "findings" (that is,
>we might say that when practitioners do X in
>their programs or classes students learn more
>efficiently or persist longer) but practitioners
>are looking for "practices" (that is, how do I
>do X in my classroom?). Professional wisdom can
>be the result of practitioners employing
>research findings in their programs and classes
>and describing how they did it, and this takes
>what researchers produce and makes it useful to
>practitioners. The second is that when
>practitioners put research into practice they
>often generate hypotheses on the strengths or
>weaknesses of that finding. When there is no
>research on a subject, the consensus views and
>experience of practitioners provide likely
>hypotheses about what might work. Professional
>wisdom provides researchers with good advice on
>where they should next take their research.
>DAVID: I find those answers very helpful and
>clear, John. We now have a context in which to
>explore professional wisdom in more depth.
>A great deal of attention has been paid by the
>U.S. Department of Education to empirical
>evidence. I am interested in our field now
>paying the same kind of attention to
>professional wisdom. Given how little empirical
>evidence we have now, practitioners will need to
>rely on professional wisdom, yet it seems to me
>that there are many questions that need to be
>explored before that is possible. I would be
>interested to know how you think the field of
>adult education and literacy should elaborate on
>the Department's definition of professional wisdom.
>Specifically, how do you think professional
>wisdom should be developed in our field? How
>should it be judged? How should professional wisdom be shared?
> JOHN: David, here are answers to your new questions:
>How do you think professional wisdom should be developed in our field?
>We need a continuous collaboration between
>researchers and practitioners, and both will
>need training to ensure that the relationship is
>successful. Unfortunately, our field no longer
>has a national research center. We do have many
>fine individual researchers, but they do not
>have the leadership and support to engage in a
>continuous relationship with practitioners that
>would improve research, practice, and policy.
>So, first, we need to fund a national research
>center. Then we need to put that funding in the
>hands of researchers who are committed to a
>broad definition of evidence-based practice and
>to working in collaboration with practitioners.
>The first step for this new research center
>would be to ask practitioners and policy makers
>to clearly state the subjects they need advice
>on, and then begin reviewing all the existing
>empirical research and professional wisdom that
>might provide good advice. Examples of these
>subjects are how can a program best support
>persistence, help participants transition to
>postsecondary education and training, or support
>students to develop their numeracy skills?
>Since some of the research and professional
>wisdom on one subject might be contradictory,
>the research center should establish a jury that
>would review the existing empirical evidence and
>professional wisdom and then propose
>evidence-based practice for the many different
>components of adult education. As in a trial,
>the jury would weigh the evidence and make
>decisions. The ideal members of such a jury
>would be experienced practitioners who have
>significant knowledge of research and
>experienced researchers who have significant
>knowledge of practice. The field has many such
>people. The jury would have to meet several
>times a year to review new research and
>professional wisdom in order to update its
>advice. Out of this review would come the best
>available advice for practitioners and research
>questions that could be pursued by the research center.
>Practitioners could then put this advice into
>practice and report on their experience. This would be professional wisdom.
>How should it be judged?
>Professional wisdom should be judged in the same
>way that research is judged, with a peer review
>process. Peer review is a process in which
>qualified researchers judge the quality of a
>study's methodology and the analysis of the
>study's data. Peer reviewers decide if a study
>should be published and often ask for changes in
>a study's report. Professional wisdom needs a
>similar peer review process, though like the
>jury it should have both researcher and practitioner members.
>How should professional wisdom be shared?
>Peer reviewed professional wisdom should be
>shared through an online resource that would
>also have, for each subject, the synthesis of
>research and professional wisdom completed by
>the jury and information on new research
>findings or research underway that focus on the question.
>DAVID: I also favor the idea of an adult
>education jury weighing the evidence of
>professional wisdom and research. In a court of
>law, there is a hierarchy of evidence and the
>jury is instructed to consider some kinds of
>evidence as more valuable than others. I wonder
>if you have given any thought to what a
>hierarchy of evidence might look like for a jury
>of expert practitioners and researchers weighing
>the evidence -- the professional wisdom and
>research -- that would be collected to answer
>questions about persistence, transition to
>higher education, numeracy, English language
>teaching, uses of technology, and many other
>questions that practitioners need to know the
>answers to. We would want the experience or
>reflection of a single teacher, I suppose, at
>the bottom of the hierarchy, and gold standard
>research at the top. Could you fill in some of
>the other levels of evidence in this hierarchy?
>And could you comment on why we shouldn't just
>put all of our efforts and resources into gold
>standard research? Why is a hierarchy useful to
>those in the field of adult literacy education?
>I have found that teachers are most often driven
>to read research when they have a burning
>question from their own practice. I have been
>experimenting with organizing studies for
>practitioners on the Adult Literacy Education
>) so that there are three levels of responses to
>a question posed by a practitioner. A level one
>response is a short answer based on the
>research. At level two one finds a summary of
>the research. At level three is a link to the
>study. A level four response might be a jury
>review of the research, or a meta-research study
>that identifies, classifies, analyzes and
>evaluates the research when there are multiple
>studies. These levels of answers enable
>practitioners to dig as deeply as they wish but
>also, if they have limited time, to get a good
>answer to their question. Does this sound to you
>like a good way to share professional wisdom as well as research?
>JOHN: David, you ask:
>Could you fill in some of the other levels of evidence in this hierarchy?
>Here is a possible hierarchy:
> Adult education gold standard research
>integrated with professional wisdom developed
>when practitioners put that research into practice.
> K-12 gold standard research integrated with
>professional wisdom developed when practitioners
>put that research into practice.
> Adult education non-gold standard scientific
>research integrated with professional wisdom
>developed when practitioners put that research into practice.
> K-12 non-gold standard scientific research
>integrated with professional wisdom developed
>when practitioners put that research into practice.
> Consensus views of a group of practitioners and researchers
> Practitioner knowledge developed through action research
> Practitioner judgment developed through experience
>Could you comment on why we shouldn't just put
>all of our efforts and resources into gold standard research?
>Gold standard research is only worth doing once
>researchers and practitioners have developed a
>theory through observation and exploratory
>research. Until that time, something like a
>consensus view may be the best advice.
>Why is a hierarchy useful to those in the field of adult literacy education?
>It provides a way to make decisions. Of course,
>it is possible that a practitioner could
>develop, through individual experience, better
>advice than gold standard adult education
>research. If the gold standard research isn't
>working for a practitioners class or with some
>of his or her students, then other sources of
>advice should be tried. However, practitioners
>should be looking for evidence that what they
>are doing is working, and working better than what they have tried before.
>Does this sound to you like a good way to share
>professional wisdom as well as research?
>The teacher training faculty at my school
>believe that to be a good teacher, one of their
>students must learn the content they are
>teaching, learn teaching techniques and
>approaches for that content, and learn to be
>reflective. That is, they have to have the core
>competencies to do their jobs, but they must
>also engage in continuous improvement. As
>practitioners come up against problems, they
>should have easy access to the best available
>empirical evidence and professional wisdom in
>ways that make it easy for them to incorporate
>that advice into their practice. Multiple layers
>of detail should be part of that system of
>access. This is another task for a national research center.
>The second part of this discussion will be posted here tomorrow.
>David J. Rosen
><mailto:DJRosen at theworld.com>DJRosen at theworld.com
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