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Making the 'correct' interpretation

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There may be a number of relevant theories we can draw on to interpret data. No one theory is the "correct" one, although we may believe that one theory enables us to make a more comprehensive, consistent and coherent interpretation than the others do. The confidence we have in our interpretation will be reflected in the language that we use. Look at the following:

In mental maths, I observed a very high level of interest and motivation, where students appeared enthusiastic and willing to participate. It was evident that students were more motivated when they worked in teams than when they worked alone. One possible explanation for this is that teamwork increases children's confidence in their own ability to complete a task. They develop an 'internal locus of control' and this has been found to increase an individual's motivation when approaching a task (Rotter 1966).

The writer says "One possible explanation for this is that teamwork increases children's confidence in their own ability to complete a task." Here she acknowledges that there could be a number of possibilities, and this is one of them. She is not indicating that this is, in her view, the best or most credible explanation. However, we may feel that some explanations are more plausible or credible than others, and we can indicate this in the explanation we offer.

Look at the following explanations. Each one reflects a different degree of commitment by the writer to the explanation made. Place them in order, from the one with the greatest degree of commitment to the one with the least. Choose your response by selecting from the options beside each statement.

a) One possible explanation for this is that teamwork increases a child's confidence that they can accomplish the task.
b) The most likely explanation for this is that teamwork increases a child's confidence that they can accomplish the task.
c) A probable explanation for this is that teamwork increases a child's confidence that they can accomplish the task.
d) The explanation for this is that teamwork increases a child's confidence that they can accomplish the task.
e) A plausible explanation for this is that teamwork increases a child's confidence that they can accomplish the task.

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The correct order is:

  • a) - 5
  • b) - 2
  • c) - 3
  • d) - 1
  • e) - 4

d) This one states it is "the" explanation, implying it is conclusive. It is only very rarely that we can be so sure, and therefore this phrasing needs to be avoided.

b) "The most likely explanation" suggests there is little reason to doubt this explanation and it is very unlikely that other explanations could challenge it.

c) "A probable explanation" suggests a strong case, but does not discount the possibility of another explanation emerging with a strong case.

e) both e and a are quite close: A plausible explanation suggests it is quite acceptable, but there is no reason to suppose it has stronger claims than other plausible explanations.

a) "one possible explanation" again suggests it is only one of several, but 'possible' has weaker force than 'plausible'.

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