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Adaptation by Design: A Context-Sensitive, Dialogic Approach to Interventions


by Ben Kirshner & Joseph Polman — 2013

Applied researchers, whether working with the framework of design-based research or intervention science, face a similar implementation challenge: practitioners who enact their programs typically do so in varied, context-specific ways. Although this variability is often seen as a problem for those who privilege fidelity and standardization, we argue for the advantages of researcher-practitioner collaborations that encourage local adaptation and ingenuity. We develop this argument for adaptive interventions by discussing two design-based research projects, Critical Civic Inquiry (CCI) and Science Literacy through Science Journalism (SciJourn), which create opportunities for youth to develop civics and science literacy respectively. CCI and SciJourn aim to build curricula that will travel to new schools and districts, but not through standardization. This is a delicate combination: the program must be flexible enough to enable productive adaptation, without being so protean that practitioners’ implementations lack substantive commonalities. We present two cases that show how project designers have sought to distinguish between invariant principles that define the intervention and heterogeneous practices that vary across sites. The cases also show how the model has improved when teachers can adapt it to their institutional context and when teachers and researchers establish social norms that encourage dialogic interactions.


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This article originally appeared as NSSE Yearbook Vol 112. No. 2.


Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 115 Number 14, 2013, p. 215-236
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 18341, Date Accessed: 4/25/2017 10:34:10 AM

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About the Author
  • Ben Kirshner
    University of Colorado Boulder
    E-mail Author
    BEN KIRSHNER is an associate professor in the School of Education at the University of Colorado, Boulder. His research examines how young people from marginalized communities interpret their social context and learn how to exercise collective political agency. Recent publications include “Youth organizing as a developmental context for Latino and African American youth” (2012, Child Development Perspectives) with Shawn Ginwright, and “Learning how to manage bias: A case study of youth participatory action research” (2011, Applied Developmental Science) with Kristen Pozzoboni and Hannah Jones.
  • Joseph Polman
    University of Colorado Boulder
    E-mail Author
    JOSEPH POLMAN is professor of educational psychology and learning sciences and associate dean for research in the School of Education at University of Colorado, Boulder. His research focuses on the design of learning environments to foster disciplinary thinking in science and history as well as positive identity development. Recently publications include “Changing stories: Trajectories of identification among African American youth in a science outreach apprenticeship” (2010, American Educational Research Journal) with Diane Miller, and “Science journalism: Students learn lifelong science literacy skills by reporting the news” (2012, The Science Teacher) with Alan Newman, Cathy Farrar, and Wendy Saul.
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