contact Catalpa | home           
Join Catalpa's email list:

Tom WilsonAll About Practice-Based Inquiry® 

Necessary Constraints to Ensure Rigor Component of Practice-Based Inquiry®

Necessary Constraints to Ensure Rigor provide the boundaries and structure to the visit so that the three Foundation Elements are the central research elements of the visit and so that that the interaction between them maintains the balance necessary for actual and perceived legitimacy of the findings.

Clear Description of Purpose and Context of Inquiry

The purpose of the inquiry includes a description of the work of the practicing professionals, the organizational structure they work within and the knowledge that is expected to be generated by the inquiry.

A clear description of the background of the inquiry explains the history and reasons for conducting the inquiry, the reasons for using Practice-Based Inquiry, the action that is expected to result from the findings, whether and how the inquiry and its results are linked to accountability and support systems and the capacity of the managing institution to manage the visit inquiry.

Defined and Connected Inquiry Questions

The overall inquiry questions must be limited in number (three is ideal), stated extraordinarily clearly and directly, e.g., How well do the students in this school learn? The connections between the questions and the Focus Areas of the inquiry should be direct and obvious, e.g., student learning. The outline of the final report that the team will write is the final tool for defining the purpose and focus of the inquiry.

The interplay between the Foundation Elements is complex as is the social dynamic of the team. Sharp, simple and clearly connected inquiry questions should give the team boundaries that do not defuse or limit its thinking about what is happening.

Appropriate Construction of What Conclusions are

Practice-Based Inquiry is conclusion driven.

Writing conclusions about a school, a program or an organization is the operational description of what a visit team does. The visit is a "conclusion-driven" process.

Conclusions are a paragraph, usually 3-7 sentences long, on an issue that the team judges, based on its observations of the institution, is an important issue for the institution. Each conclusion must include evidence from the school and show what the team thought about the issue (team judgment).

The following points usually mark the nature of Practice-Based Inquiry conclusions.

The team writes its conclusions in response to the question of "How well do(es)..?

Conclusions answer about the performance of practice usually answer the question, "How well …?" This common stem builds a useful coherence across the set of conclusions for team and reader. Further, it pushes the team to include its judgment in the conclusion, a requirement of Practice-Based Inquiry .

Report conclusions are about the actual life of the organization at the time of the visit.

Report conclusions do not include prescriptions for improving the practice of the school. They do not speculate on either the history of the school or its future possibilities. The do focus on how the team construes the evidence of practice it actually finds and not on speculations about the past or what might happen.

Criteria for Testing Conclusions and Report

The team must know the tests and how to use them. The tests are also well established. The team must agree by consensus that each conclusion meets the tests. They also serve as tools for the team's writing of both the conclusions and the report. They ensure that the team builds the critical balance between the Foundation Elements into itsconstruction of each conclusion and the full report. They insist that the team scrutinize its work.

The tests for each conclusion are:

Is this conclusion accurate?
Is it important?
Is it set in the present?
Does it show the team's judgment?

The tests for the report are:

Is the reportuseful?
Is it fair?
Is it persuasive?

Intentional Visit Schedule: Design of Events and Use of Time

Because the visit is a live event, the team's use of time has a direct bearing on how well it is able to form its conclusions. The design of the visit schedule demands choices that are consistent with Practice-Based Inquiry technology. This varies considerably across protocols.

Purposeful Team Composition

The size of a visit team and the composition of its members are important both to the conduct of an actual visit and to how valid many perceive the team's findings to be. Criteria for team composition must be set. This will vary across protocols and depend considerably on the substantive focus of a particular visit.

Effective Plan for Visit Logistics
Suitable Expectations for Team and Team-Institution Dynamics

Since the visit is a live, interactive social event, the day-to-day logistics that ensure the welfare of the team, its internal dynamics and the manner in which the visited organization and team interact are important. Logistics that are poorly planned or implemented can have a negative effect on the quality of a team's findings. Of course, logistics will vary across protocols, partly to address the realities of the organization to be visited.

ˆ back to top

Next: Procedures to ensure legitimacy »

Back: « Foundation Elements of Practice-Based Inquiry