Kennedy, M. (2010). Attribution Error and the Quest for Teacher Quality. Educational Researcher, 39(8), pp.591-598.

This brilliant paper from Mary Kennedy brings together social psychology and education to look at the Fundamental Attribution Error and how it may be causing us to misunderstand teacher/ing quality.

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The Fundamental Attribution Error is viewing behaviour as reflecting people’s fixed character, rather than reflecting their situation.

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How does this affect teacher quality research? Well, we look for the factors that affect teacher quality: qualifications, care, prior test scores, character.

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But what if teacher behaviour is drive more by situation?

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For example, what if a teacher makes an error for reasons the observer doesn’t realise: like lack of time, and a poor teacher’s guide?  That doesn’t make it OK, but it does change our focus.

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So maybe one reason why many reform efforts have so little effect is they try to change teachers, and ignore teachers’ situations.

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Kennedy highlights big situational factors of time (frees, teaching different subjects), resources (good textbooks?), institutional intrusions (trips, fire drills) reform clutter.

We expect teachers to be great whatever else is going on.

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And we expect them to respond in similar ways to their conditions.

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So we need to be looking at something more like teacher characteristics and situation characteristics.

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And we need to look at teachers’ conditions.

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Sting in the tail 1): PD developers are often wasting teachers’ time too.

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Sting in the tail 2) Researchers are subject to the Fundamental Attribution Error too, when they focus on the records that exist, not what really matters.

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Full paper:

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