On attrition, and new possibilities

This week as I was collecting data for my dissertation research study, I had (another) one of those moments that made me stop and think about why it is that I’m doing this work. In the end, I would like this research to inform teaching practice. In the end, I want this work to help teachers know how to help students. In the end, I want students to benefit from it.

Let me back up to say that although I started with 30 participants in these two first schools, five participants have since opted out. This has meant a little bit of re-jiggering to the dyads — but in some cases, it has been impossible. For one student, Sarah (a pseudonym), it was impossible to match her up with another participant and so, she has been reading alone. Sarah was randomly assigned to the control group — which means that although she is practicing online reading skills and receiving recommended websites as a start for her own reading — she is not receiving the strategies instruction or guided questioning that the treatment group is receiving. During her pre-test and first intervention sessions, I noticed that Sarah struggled to maintain her focus. She started off well, but often perseverated on small facts that would not, ultimately, allow her to construct a persuasive argument on the topic. As I watched Sarah read this week, I realized that even with additional practice, she would not likely benefit very much from the research experience. And so, I’ve decided to take another approach with her. Ultimately, I cannot ethically justify Sarah continuing in the study if she doesn’t receive more guided support for her online reading processes — and I think there will be an upside for both of us.

First, by working one-on-one with Sarah I will be able to guide her reading processes and do what I can to help her develop more sophisticated online reading strategies. For the field of online literacies, more generally, I think Sarah’s case will be a unique contribution. I will be able to see, for an online reader with her profile, how or to what extent the intervention supports her growth. I have seen what she can do independently with only the prompt and a short video with “starter websites” to guide her. Now, I will see what she can do when she is taught a set of strategies.

Attrition isn’t the ideal scenario for my experimental design. However, had Sarah’s partner not opted out, I may not have recognized her unique learning needs or been able to respond in a way that, I hope, will offer her more. Ultimately, I believe that this new direction will offer important perspectives on what does or does not work for online readers who match Sarah’s reading profile.

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2 responses to “On attrition, and new possibilities”

    • Thanks, Kristin. We’ll see how it goes. I read a tweet from #lra12 this week from Mimi Ito’s talk that inspired me to take the leap — focus has been on what a small group of really sophisticated and connected teens do on the Internet. But there are so many kids who probably fit Sarah’s profile whose struggles have, as yet, gone relatively undocumented. As ever, I appreciate your encouragement!

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