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Validating Ways to
Enhance Learning

Some general suggestions

by Win Wenger, Ph.D.

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Project Renaissance will help, in every way we can, any educator, school or other institution to test the effects of its main techniques, whatever the outcomes of those studies. If these are respectably performed, we will help in their publication.

We will help you become the published world "expert" in that aspect of your professional field.

There are several key theories and a good many hypotheses whose testing will be of considerable value to science. There are literally hundreds of specific techniques, producing unconventionally large improvements in learning, in skills, in basic human abilities, and/or in human well-being, whose validation can be of tremendous, and essential, value to the professions and to professional practice, to say nothing of the value to the students and human beings the professions are serving.

A good many specific techniques are immediately available in self-taught form online, in the T&L Techniques section and the CPS Techniques section of the Project Renaissance website. More in self-taught form can be found in various published books from Project Renaissance, including How To Be A Better Teacher, Today, and Beyond Teaching And Learning. Many others are also available upon request.

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Levels of testing

We suggest three levels of testing:

  1. Informal. The teacher or other professional, school or school system or other institution, should line up the before-and-after tests very quietly and not let word get around until the first results are in hand, to strengthen the experimenter's hand. Those results should make a very strong case for continuing on, into the second and third stages.

    This level should include extensive anecdotal evidence, including not only indicative test performances but demonstration tapes or videos, and demonstrations by students in terms of expressive outputs in essay, poem, newsletter, arts and crafts, and/or whatever modality reflects the effects upon those students of this particular experience or series of experiences.

  2. Informal, but including good standardized tests, before and after the experience or series of experiences and intervention. Controls on the experiment are to be:
    • The rate of progress of the same students over the year or so preceding the experience; and
    • The performance on the same tests of comparable students not in the experimental group.

  3. Formal, involving at least three statistically matched sets of 15 or more students each. One group would be the obvious controls; a second group would be the actual controls, taught by some other special method which seems experimental to the participants but actually of known quantity. The third would be the experimental group.

Please note that even the first-stage, easily-performed, informal testing will be of great help, not only to the cause of educational improvement but to the experimenter's strength of position. The effects of these procedures are easily demonstrated and, indeed, are not very hard to find!

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Measuring effectiveness

We do recognize that by far the most valid measure of the effects of these or of any other procedures is still:  the individual competent teacher's immediate sense of the response of the class (and of most of the individual members of that class) to the enhanced learning experience.

Yet the nature of most schools and school systems is such that these teachers (or any teachers going for better results!) are very wise to gather incontrovertible and highly visible evidence of the benefits of what they are doing — the more so if the benefits are very great.

No one is very bothered by experiments with methods whose improvement is essentially only window dressing. Where the improvement is very great, inconvenient things are implied to other functionaries in the school, and the experimenter is very wise to strengthen his/her hand with solid evidence.

Correspondingly, the more apparent the evidence of the gains, the more freedom the teacher or school will have, not only to continue but to explore further. And in any event, it is a good idea to develop and provide the data which will reassure supervisors and parents that good things are, indeed, happening.

Moreover, such data will provide even the most alert and sensitive teacher with much further insight into what is happening in his/her classroom: — where to expand, where to shore up, what to change. It is not enough simply to experience that immediate sense of things going electrifyingly well.

Very important — use tests which are without ceilings, or which have very high ceilings! Because the experiences themselves are highly individual with many of these techniques, and the effects highly individualized, to get any kind of fair assessment of what is happening you need to allow full expression of the individual developments and breakthroughs which are so characteristic of the main Project Renaissance procedures. Student performances will show uneven improvement, and if the major improvements are masked by low ceilings, test scores will definitely be liars. There has to be room on the tests for improvements to show up, if improvement has a chance to show up on the test!

For the same reasons, we suggest that, in addition to whatever testing, the experimenter encourage student individual expressive and research projects, works of art, taped artistic performances before-and-after, and accumulation of anecdotal experiences or "stories." The choice of these, of course, depends upon what subjects or skills are the teaching context and therefore relate to the "case" being made in that instance and classroom.

On the other hand, supervisors often need simpler, quicker-read, more concrete data. That is where standardized test scores are most useful. There are more than enough standardized test instruments available in most categories, some of them longitudinal as well as immediately before-and-after. Again, though, we emphasize:  these tests should have either very high ceilings or no ceilings at all, because the outstanding individual breakthrough performances are very much a part of what happens and should figure integrally in the evaluation.

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Further note on standardized tests:

Generally, the most popular use of such tests is also the worst and least legitimate — the comparison of groups of students across the country in which local community and ethnic background differences far outweigh the differences in ability ostensibly being measured. The best, most legitimate use of standardized tests is to measure a student's performance in comparison with himself, over time, such as before-and-after an experiment or intervention, or along the course of some program of development or self-development.

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