Integrating practice-to-theory and theory-to-practice

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  • This article was downloaded by: [Ume University Library]On: 12 November 2014, At: 06:52Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

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    Integrating practice-to-theory andtheory-to-practiceR. Burke Johnson a & Tres Stefurak aa Department of Professional Studies, College of Education ,University of South Alabama , Mobile , AL , USAPublished online: 19 Jun 2012.

    To cite this article: R. Burke Johnson & Tres Stefurak (2012) Integrating practice-to-theory andtheory-to-practice, High Ability Studies, 23:1, 77-79, DOI: 10.1080/13598139.2012.679098

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  • COMMENTARY

    Integrating practice-to-theory and theory-to-practice

    R. Burke Johnson* and Tres Stefurak

    Department of Professional Studies, College of Education, University of South Alabama,Mobile, AL, USA

    In Towards a systemic theory of gifted education, Ziegler and Phillipson offer auseful critique of current research and the current paradigm in gifted education. Theauthors provide an interesting and useful merging of systems theory with theiractiotope model, and using this paradigm the authors suggest many fruitful areasfor future research. However, we disagree with the authors if they intended to sug-gest that gifted education should only have one paradigm. In general, we believethat social and behavioral science disciplines should be multi-paradigmatic, at leastin the current stage of development. Nonetheless, at a meta-theoretical-level, thearticle offers an important vision for connecting many current theories and practices.In the US, it is not uncommon for a single school system to have many isolatedimprovement programs implemented concurrently, and integration of programs intoan overall, meaningful, systematic whole should help improve outcomes. The sys-tems way-of-thinking offers an excellent meta-theoretical strategy for integration,especially for producing long-term changes.

    We will offer a few categories and areas of research that we think will comple-ment what the authors have provided. For example, we think that both a nomotheticand an idiographic view of science can be useful when they are viewed together.The goal of traditional science has been to provide the nomothetic view (or the law-ful view, or the view from nowhere), but local, complex, and intentional causa-tion is where practitioners operate. A general or theoretical or nomothetic levelshould inform the local or idiographic level of practice, but the complement isequally true: the local or idiographic should inform the general or theoretical ornomothetic. This too is a systems concept because these two processes should inter-act continually in a cyclical fashion. The two levels must operate in together (theoryand practice) if we (experts at both levels) are to learn from each other and pro-duce science that works.

    Regarding the first link, from theory-to-practice, we recommend readers examinethe translational research literature to better facilitate the nomothetic/theory to idio-graphic/practice link. The US National Institutes of Health, for example, has definedtwo areas of translational research. Type I translational research seeks to apply basic

    *Corresponding author. Email: bjohnson@southal.eduThis commentary accompanies an article published in High Ability Studies, A. Ziegler andS.N. Phillipsons Towards a systemic theory of gifted education, doi: 10.1080/13598139.2012.679085.

    High Ability StudiesVol. 23, No. 1, June 2012, 7779

    ISSN 1359-8139 print/ISSN 1469-834X online 2012 European Council for High Abilityhttp://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13598139.2012.679098http://www.tandfonline.com

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  • laboratory science findings to developing applied programs. Type II, and more rele-vant to the current discussion, seeks to enhance adoption and implementation in realworld settings (Rorhrbach, Grana, Sussman, & Valente, 2006). Type II is analogousto the authors urging research that evaluates the interaction between person andenvironment. Type II research seeks to directly address how the contextual systemsin which programs are delivered hinder or enhance the impact of the program onthe person. Traditional research paradigms have focused on either (a) factors withinthe person, or (b) factors within the program/intervention. The translational para-digm shift demands that the context in which programs occur become a target ofinquiry.

    Regarding the second link, from practice-to-theory, we recommend that readersexamine the practice-based evidence (PBE) literature which serves as a paradigm tofacilitate the idiographic/practice to nomothetic/theory link and as a counterpoint tothe dominant paradigm in biomedical and mental health intervention research evidence-based practice (EBP). The dominant paradigm now present in mentalhealth and biomedical intervention research is evidence-based practice. EBPinvolves a conscientious effort to make decisions and deliver treatments based onthe best available evidence. Part-and-parcel of this model is the assumption of atop-down pipeline (Green, 2008) of knowledge and practice from researchers topractitioners, from lab bench to bedside. In the context of biomedical interven-tions the relative homogeneity of the target phenomenon makes the pipeline the-ory more logical. However, the logic of this approach falls apart when we consider,as Ziegler and Phillipson also argue, that most psychosocial phenomenon are rela-tively heterogeneous and highly embedded in social contexts in terms of their etio-logical development and descriptive presentation. The artificial settings in whichmany randomized clinical trials are conducted yield results with exceedingly poorexternal validity, and typically cannot capture the dynamic systemic interactions asdescribed in the actiotope model of giftedness. In contrast, practice-based evidenceinvolves using data gleaned from everyday practice, or naturally occurring successesto draw conclusions about BOTH process and outcome and about the varied andindividualized ways a target phenomenon manifests and develops (Horn, Gassaway,Pentz, & James, 2010). This emphasis on correcting the narrowness and potentialreductionism of the EBP approach that is present in the practice-based evidencemodel appears in-line with the actiotope approach that emphasizes analysis of natu-ral systems and how they produce exceptionality through interactions among multi-ple systems and the individual child.

    In the case of gifted education a practice-based research paradigm would com-plement and extend the actiotope model. It would complement the model in that apractice-based evidence approach would seek to glean understanding about hownatural systems in schools either promote exceptional trajectories or inhibit suchoutcomes. Rather than seeking to apply an abstraction to an idiographic setting, thisapproach flips this pipeline on-its-head and seeks to use observation of how particu-lar systems function as a means to create commentary on what the larger principlesof program development should be based on this practice-based evidence. This hasadvantages to imposing a presupposed model, such as the assumptions of the actio-tope model, and instead studying natural social systems and documenting how theyactually function around an issue such as giftedness. Such findings can then be usedto confirm or disconfirm elements of a theoretical account of giftedness as is presentin the actiotope model.

    78 R.B. Johnson and T. Stefurak

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  • The authors rightfully cautioned that they do not claim to have ready answersto many of the questions they raise. However, we recommend that the authorsaddress how their criticisms of current gifted education might apply to their ownparadigm. Here are several criticisms offered by the authors of the current paradigmthat should be examined for the proposed paradigm:

    (a) What metaphor should replace the mechanistic metaphor?(b) Component models were criticized, but isnt the new paradigm a four com-

    ponent model (action repertoire, goals, environment, and subjective actionspace)?

    (c) What would research that focuses on non-isolated individuals look like?(d) How will the new paradigm better address the problem of Laplaces demon

    (e.g., Will the new paradigm better predict exceptional performance)?(e) How should practitioners, using the new paradigm, tailor programs to indi-

    vidual needs?(f) Will new-paradigm research produce larger effect sizes?(g) What is high-quality research, according to the new paradigm?

    Our last question is this: How might gifted-education research become more effec-tive in enabling societys least advantaged to have gifted life trajectories more fre-quently? These are challenging questions, with no absolute answers, but we lookforward to the authors thoughts. Furthermore, these are issues that all of us (notjust Ziegler and Phillipson) need to address in our research and practice!

    References

    Horn, S.D., Gassaway, J., Pentz, L., & James, R. (2010). Practice-based evidence for clinicalpractice improvement: An alternative study design for evidence-based medicine. In E.J.S. Hovenga, S. Kidd, C. Hullin, & L. Cossio (Eds.), Health informatics (pp. 446460).Washington, DC: IOS Press.

    Green, L.W. (2008). Making research relevant: If it is an evidence-based practice, wheresthe practice-based evidence? Family Practice, 25(1), i20i24.

    Rorhrbach, L.A., Grana, R., Sussman, S., & Valente, T.W. (2006). Type II translation: Trans-porting prevention interventions from research to real-world settings. Evaluation & theHealth Professions, 29(3), 302333.

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