Tuesday, 12 April 2011

The complexities of practice

 They make you think

A couple of days ago Susie Mallett's Conductor blog carried a long posting, called 'Let us be careful about aphorisms, principles and proverbs', expressing concern over some of the simplistic and potentially misleading terms in which conductors' work is often described. This was couched in a characteristically complex account of actual conductive practice. I commented under this iconoclastic and challenging piece yesterday, but it would not let me go.

It made me think. I do hope that some who read my words here will take the time to read this posting. You too may find it though-provoking, as I did:

One of the things that it had me thinking about was the (to me) ever-interesting problem of 'Conductive Education research'.

CE-research: find the paradigm

What implication might the complexity of the mechanisms of conduction hold for empirical outcome-evaluation (which is all that many mean when they talk about 'CE-research')?

One of the problems  for adopting the sort of research methodology that is so often called for under the call for 'evidence-based practice' is how to ensure that would-be comparative groups receive comparable input. In the past, taking the lead from the critical research review by Due Ludwig and her colleagues in Alberta, I have often (somewhat mischievously, I admit) advocated the proposal of using 'treatment manuals' as a step towards achieving this. I am not altogether sure, but I rather suspect that Susie Mallet's referred to here rather explodes this possibility – not that anyone has tried out treatment manuals in CE-research over more than ten years since that research review was published).

I doubt that there is anything new in what I am writing here. This problem must have been apparent since the dawn of research into teaching processes, of any kind. Of course it must be widely known (and probably deeply theoretised too) that every instance of teaching and learning is unique, of itself, never to be repeated. I do not consider there to be anything profound in expecting that it could ever be anything else, given circumstances that are of their nature so multifactorial, interactive and dynamic. I really wonder whether a 'treatment manual' can really match the continually flexing nature of good conductive pedagogy – so why bother to try? Why try to jam conduction into the Procrustean bed of clinical-style comparative evaluation? And if one cannot manage a treatment manual, how can one pretend to be comparing treatments?

So what is a poor empirical evaluator to do about this? This is not immediately my problem – but I do not consider a satisfactory answer  to be 'Ignore it'. Perhaps a start would be 'Admit it', then dip deeply into the phenomenon to be studied, and come up with something altogether new, sufficient to the task. Perhaps this might involve asking some very different questions.

As usual, I wonder what others think.


Ludwig, S. and others (2000) Conductive Education for children with cerebral palsy, Edmonton, Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research.
Specifically relevant here are their mentions of 'treatment manuals, see pp. 27, 27, 30, 31 and 36

Mallett, S. (2011) Let us be careful about aphorisms, principles and proverbs, Conductor, 10 April

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Blogger Andrew Sutton said...

Emma McDowell writes –

I am sure you all know one of Hári’s favourite quotation of a Hungarian proverb: “Jó bornak nem kell cégér”. (Good wine needs no sign-board; translated in my big Országh dictionary as “Good wine needs no bush”.) Isn’t it absolutely outdated in this day and age of marketing? OR IS IT?
That’s the whole thing about proverbs and aphorisms. They are by no means rules – neither do they necessarily fit all times and social circumstances – some of them go outrageously out of fashion -;but there are some very good ones that have in them what makes literature and oral communication livelier, more interesting. A kind of inherent contradiction which makes you think. It stirs up associations. You weigh them up – does the comparison fit? Why does it not quite fit? A picture is given to you in words – you contrast it (backwards and forwards, many times) to the idea that it is used to illustrate. This is part of the literary experience!
Susie is perfectly right in arguing that no two human situations are the same, not even in a conductive group, hence conductors must be careful how they usesthe tools of their trade. Such as that wonderful Pető invention, the sticks that the child holds on to and is lured into walking, holding them as if they were sticks to lean on. They truly worked wonders with my George, right from the beginning.

There are many such “tricks” in a conductor’s bag, but only she can be the judge of what to use, how and when. Provided, she “doesn’t fall over to the other side of the horse” (translation, please!!) and remembers the group setting. Because that is another one of the Pető „magic”. “The bigger the better”? Here I cannot comment, apart from my positive experience of the group spirit in the common singing, rhythmical-intention-counting, the energy it seems to have created.  I have seen Hári’s “good groups”.
With another clichéd saying: I was nice to talk,


Monday, 18 April 2011 at 15:19:00 BST  
Anonymous Andrew said...


I did not know that Hungartian proverb. She would have plenty of grounds for using it today!

The nearest English equivalent that I can think of is 'Fine feathers...', nearly but not quite the same. Perhaps sombody else can oblige.

I agree wholeheartedly with your central point. Proverbs (and parables?) are surely not there to stand in the place of thought, as articles of faith. Instead they point up paradoxes, contradictions that one has to resolve, they are a stimulus to thought.

Without a properly developed tradition of supervision/mentoring, CE presents the danger (often realised!) of going for the former process rather than the latter.

Fine feathers cannot hide this.


Monday, 18 April 2011 at 16:52:00 BST  
Blogger Susie Mallett said...

Andrew and Emma

Was Mária Hári saying with her proverb about good wine not needing to be advertised that CE is so good, as good as the good wine, that it does not need someone to go around with a sandwich-board advertising it?

Or did she mean something else?
Was she talking about the goodies, and the not so goodies, that came to visit her:

"An ape's an ape, a varlet's a varlet, though they be clad in silk or scarlet."

Or as my lovely, well brought up Mum surprisingly used to say: “Red hat no knickers”


I found the proverb below while looking for the source of others. It has nothing to do with Dr. Hari or Emma just one that I have never heard before and it seems quite appropriate today as I am nursing a cold that all my colleagues say I should take to a doctor. Having been brought up by that lovely Mum I have been doing what these three docs suggest and I am now off to bed:

"The best doctors are Dr Diet, Dr Quiet, and Dr Merryman

Monday, 18 April 2011 at 20:07:00 BST  

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