Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Self referencing

The NYT had an interesting article about failure being a better teacher than success. The underlying research that it picks up on is the idea of what makes children resilient. Having read the books (which have some good parts as far as practical advice on how to impart resilience), I found the literature to be sometimes self referencing/circular:

For instance (I’m paraphrasing from what I’ve read):
Q. What is resilience?
A. Resilience is a characteristic where someone who fails picks themselves up and tries again and eventually succeeds. This person does not let failures overcome them.
Q. What makes these people succeed in life compared to other people?
A. They are more resilient.
Q. Why are they resilient?
A. Because they do not allow failures to overwhelm them.

Eventually, we escape this circle:
Q. Can we teach resilience?
A. Yes. Here’s how....

A similar problem lies in economics and education when defining effective teachers.
Q. Who are effective teachers?
A. An effective teacher is one who raises the achievement score of its class by one standard deviation or more.
Q. How can teachers be more effective?
A. By raising the achievement score of its classroom by one one standard deviation or more.

Again, there is an escape hatch which is the question that matters most:
Q. Can we teach teachers to be more effective?
A. Perhaps.

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