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ESE504 : The Class : Adolescence : Research


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

  1. 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?)

  2. 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?)

  3. 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?)

  4. 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?

  5. 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?)

  6. 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?)
Research Links
Experimental research Social Research
Cross-sectional research Hypothesis
Longitudinal research Case study


  1. Review the following chart.

    Design Features
    Description of Study
    Case Study Provides detailed description of one person's behavior.  
    Correlation Compares two specific associations for a relationship.  
    Longitudinal 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.  
    Cross-sectional 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.  
    Cross-sequential A cross-sectional sample is studies, and then restudied at several points to see if the effects are lasting.  
    Experimental 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.  

  2. Find a research study focusing on adolescents for each of the designs.
  3. Read each study and make a list of strengths and weaknesses you found.
  4. Relate those to how useful the research will be to you as a consumer -- parent, teacher, person on the street.
  5. Send a summary paper that identifies the six studies, using APA style references, and briefly critique each one for
    1. quality of research,
    2. strengths or weaknesses, inherent in the type of study or apparent from the way the author conducted the work,
    3. usefulness

Excellent    Six different designs are indicated by the titles of articles chosen, each is critiqued as to usefulness, strength of the type of research and individual differences that occurred through that particular piece of research and the way it was conducted or reported.
Good Six different designs were identified, but critique is not incisive.
Marginal Appear to have difficulty identifying distinguishing characteristics of the types of research. Student will be given additional guidance in recognizing and critiquing research.

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Course developed by J'Anne Ellsworth


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