Monday, May 11, 2009

What to Study

A colleague of mine was pondering what research question to ask next, which got me thinking about what I believe really needs to to be tackled.

If I were my colleague, I’d be curious about the actual amount of intervention children get—what we sometimes call the dosage question. Usually, this is measured in terms of the amount of time a child attends a program, but I’m interested in (a) how much intervention, typical or compensatory, does a child get from his natural caregivers and (b) how much program time is actually what Fisher, Berliner, et al. called “academic learning time” or true instruction. Part of my question is a political one: I simply don’t believe that only professional time counts. And I believe that a lot of professional time is incomplete teaching.

So what? First, if we could measure what children get from natural caregivers, we could count this as a buffer or asset that the child has. Second, if we could show that complete incidental teaching (setting up an engaging environment, following the child’s lead, eliciting elaboration, and ensuring there’s a consequence) is better than incomplete incidental teaching, which is better than nonelaborative responses, which is better than nonresponsive directives, we’d know more about the whole package of interventions children get and need.