Looking at the Adolescent
We assume that we understand human development, for each of us has first
hand knowledge of what it means to learn and to mature. Some of us have
a knack for math that seemed to come naturally to us, while other skills
were more difficult to establish. We each have our own unique finger print,
DNA sample, and personality. We have much in common with others, but we
also are different from everyone else. We developed skills, abilities
and interests at our own pace, too.
The idiosyncratic nature of our development is very exciting, but also
frustrating. It helps explain why we can experience development without
fully understanding it in children. Isn't it startling, in some sense,
to recognize how little we understand of the developmental process? I
felt as though I unfolded anew, as I watched my children take different
routes through walking, talking, peer pressure, school problems, first
loves, heartbreaks and disappointments. I went through them, but they
had a different meaning for me when I was the intimate observer rather
than the participant. It was like the difference in what you see and experience
as a driver or as the passenger in a car.
As we look for answers about human development, we certainly give credence
to case studies and material that focuses on one person's vantage. We
honor personal accounts and journals of life experiences. Piaget's findings,
and many of his ideas came through observing his own three youngsters.
Different stories, different lives, and we combine them to come to understand
who children are and how they develop. How do you suppose Sigmund Freud
saw children? What kind of a life did his daughter, Anna, have. What about
B.F. Skinner's two children? Did the one who spent her infancy in a box
develop normally? Do we see Skinner referring to her as a developing child?
Did he see what I see when I look at children? Probably not.
This is how I came to be interested in research. How did Bandura determine
that aggression could be passed from a model to the observing child? How
did Lorenz or Bowlby decide that bonding was a critical early step? How
did we arrive at the notion that children are ready to read by kindergarten?
How many teachers realize that fourth graders need to talk, that early
adolescents are both sure of themselves and so splintered that a chance
remark turns them into a bundle of toothpicks? Do teachers of second graders
see whining as part of the development of an internal sense of right and
wrong, or just get worn thin with hearing it?
We have thousands of pieces of research published each year. Are the studies
we depend on to inform our practice, sound? Are we learning from the research,
or using it to inform our practice? When two studies of a classroom come
to very different conclusions, which are we to believe? Learning how to
evaluate research is a critical piece of furthering our own understanding
of children and a savvy way to increase our expertise. The following guidelines
were developed recently for examining experimental studies.
Critique of Experimental Research
- Identify the independent variable and the dependent variables. Did
the author identify all the dependent variables? (Did they hold the
right thing constant and did it make a difference?)
- Was a relationship identified between the variables - (Did the thing
they switched around actually have a bearing on the person's behaviors,
or was it a coincidence, explainable another way?)
- How appropriate is it to conclude that changes in the independent
variable caused the changes in the dependent variable - (Did changing
one thing really change the other?)
- How strong is the relationship between the variables and could it
be a function of the size or particular group chosen - (Did this happen
because only three kids were studied, or because it was a girl's school
in Denver, or because it was right before lunchtime, or did the treatment
really make a difference?
- How important is the finding in relationship to the question - (Is
this going to tell us kids should not watch violence on TV, or did somebody
go through an exercise, find something for themselves, but not really
come to any conclusions from which generalizations might follow?)
- What other things may have affected the outcome - (can other people
do the same thing and have it come out the same way, or were there circumstances
that make this unique to this one study?)
- Review the following chart.
Description of Study
||Provides detailed description of
one person's behavior.
||Compares two specific associations
for a relationship.
||Looks at a group of characteristics
over a long period of time or at intervals that follow through
the life of a behavior or subject.
||Children of different ages are studied
to see if a characteristic is age specific, when it first emerges,
or increases or decreases at different ages.
||A cross-sectional sample is studies,
and then restudied at several points to see if the effects are
||Participants are matched on a number
factors and then one variable is manipulated while everything
else is kept as close to the same as possible.
- Find a research study focusing on adolescents for each of the designs.
- Read each study and make a list of strengths and weaknesses you found.
- Relate those to how useful the research will be to you as a consumer
-- parent, teacher, person on the street.
- Send a summary paper that identifies the six studies, using APA style
references, and briefly critique each one for
- quality of research,
- strengths or weaknesses, inherent in the type of study or apparent
from the way the author conducted the work,
E-mail J'Anne Ellsworth
Course developed by J'Anne
Copyright 1998 Northern Arizona University
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED