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I Like This Interpretation Of “The Hawthorne Effect”

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The Hawthorne Effect is generally interpreted this way:  people will act differently if they know they are being studied.

I’ve previously posted, though, about a somewhat different, less clinical, interpretation written by Joanne Yatvin, a past president of the National Council of Teachers of English:

the Hawthorne anomaly illustrates the fact that human subjects who know they are part of a scientific experiment may sabotage the study in their eagerness to make it succeed. What it really shows is that, when people believe they are important in a project, anything works, and, conversely, when they don’t believe they are important, nothing works.”

I quoted her in the context of my thinking about the effect students knowing I wrote about them in articles and in my blog might have on them.

I was reminded of this topic again this week while I was reading a very interesting article on the role of placebos in medical care in The New Yorker (Unfortunately, most of it is behind a paywall). Here’s a quote from it:

If you believe that doctors are particularly attentive, you can get better more rapidly, even if they aren’t. This is known as the Hawthorne effect.

It seems to reinforce Ms. Yatvin’s view, and one we teachers might want to remember — students need to feel important. The word root of important means to “bring in.”

It’s probably a good thing for us to try to remember — as much as possible — to bring in our students’ interests, goals, hopes, lives to the classroom.

To repeat what Ms. Yatvin wrote:

when people believe they are important in a project, anything works, and, conversely, when they don’t believe they are important, nothing works.”

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Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.

2 Comments

  1. Here’s another interpretation of the Hawthorne effect, one which I particularly like. Ann Brown, writing in 1992, argued “a ‘Hawthorne effect’ is what I want: improved cognitive productivity under the control of the learners, eventually with minimal expense, and with a theoretical rationale for why things work.” Brown, A.L., 1992. Design experiments: Theoretical and methodological challenges in creating complex interventions in classroom settings. Journal of the learning Sciences, 2(2), pp.141–178.

  2. Pingback: Making students feel important | efl-resource.com

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