Saturday, February 05, 2005

Dissertation Rant

I wrote this out of frustration. If you have helpful thoughts, please share them, but I can't answer a lot of detailed questions. That will distract me from more writing. Read at your own peril! It may really bore you! I warned you!

Let me tell you my dilemma. I began my dissertation study using a single-subject (N=1) design called "multiple baseline across participants" with three treatment components: 1) parent support at home, 2) teacher support in class/school, and 3) student self-monitoring. I came up with this type of intervention because I so deeply believed in an ecological model of intervention. I felt (and feel) that it is impossible to take a child out of the system in which they live (primarily at home and at school), fix them, then return them to that flawed system and have their behavior improved. I feel like dysfunctional systems beget dysfunctional behavior. I think I’m right on this point!

So as you may or may not recall, I began my study with enthusiasm way WAY back at the very beginning of the last school year. Although the teachers said they were on board, I had a lot of trouble getting them to reliably nominate kids (one of the kids they nominated had a 100% homework turn-in rate when low homework completion was the primary dependent variable I was measuring!). They also didn’t collect homework data in a reliable way. Hell, some of them decided after agreeing to do my study, not to assign homework at all.

Add to that several parents who didn’t return phone calls, who didn’t seem to understand what I was asking them to do at all, even though I really felt like it was very easy. The more disorganized the child, the more disorganized the parent. I know. This sounds like DUH, but I’m just telling you what happened.

So after about 8 weeks of data collection, the final straw occurred. The primary teacher whose classroom I was working in had promised over and over to provide the grades I needed for my baseline measure. I asked him about every day, and he kept saying he’d get to it. It took so long that I had to begin the intervention without full baseline information. I figured I would just keep asking and hopefully the data would appear as he’d described it. Well, finally, he tells me he doesn’t (and won’t) have it! He’d agreed to that at the beginning of the school year, but he’s a bit of a disorganized sort himself, and he just didn’t get what I needed. I had simplified what I was asking for more and more and more, and when I found that there was no way I could get the baseline information I needed, I sent letters to my dissertation chair and director. We had to have a new plan.

What happened? I wanted to write a dissertation about why research in the schools is so complex. An analysis of what went wrong… Instead, we started over with a brand new, uber-simplified design, one in which I was to collect all of the information. Every bit of data was up to me to get. Relying on parents and teachers was out of the question, but then so was the ecological model which inspired this project in the first place.

So… here I am at the end of it all. More problems have abounded, but I’ve found ways to deal with all of them. The measure of organization I used turned out to be crap. My results weren’t significant. One kid actually got worse! Two got better, and two others stayed the same. This isn’t great. But I can still write a dissertation on it.

But now I’m here writing chapters one and five. Chapter one includes the statement of the problem, the significance of the problem, and the rationale for my study. Well, the reason I did what I did was because it was all I was left with after a series of unfortunate and frustrating simplifications I never wanted.

So right now, I’m trying to find a way to convincingly say that the reason I picked an intervention totally within my control without the participation of parents and teachers was that: Children who are disorganized come from disorganized systems, so it’s important that we test this intervention without the messy variables of home and school. We need an intervention that we know works before we try and teach it to the parents and teachers that have been supporting the disorganized system thus far. It’s a lie, but I’m not really allowed to tell the truth.

I also have to give a rationale for why I used the design I did. Why didn’t I use a second baseline phase? ABAB is a powerful design. ABA is kinda crappy. I didn’t have time to get to the second B, because the truth is, the school year ended. Yes, I started at the beginning of the year, so I should have had time, but between the teachers, the parents, and human subjects, then the resubmission to human subjects, and the whole starting over thing, I was just plain out of time.

How do I come up with a fib saying that I picked my intervention for reasons X, Y, and Z? When the only reason I did such a lame study was all the limitations I had because of the teachers and parents. And how do I discuss those adults without calling them lame and unhelpful?!

Chapter 5 is why it didn’t work, what could have been done better. That’s easy. I describe the study I wanted to do.

My usual MO is full honesty. I’m not really allowed to do that here. I have to say I did what I did because I meant to and why. I need help! Please share your thoughts! I need creativity! I need a miracle! I’m so close... so very close!!! I want this sucker behind me!