Beyond the Book Review—Expanding to Programs and Curricula

Dawn Cassidy, M.Ed., CFLE, Director of Family Life Education
/ CFLE Network, Summer 2018

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For many years, book reviews have been a regular feature in the Certified Family Life Educator (CFLE) Network newsletter. The reviews cover a range of resources from textbooks and scholarly works to popular press and children’s books. The reviews benefit CFLEs by alerting them to relevant publications and provide feedback regarding the book’s strengths, weaknesses, and potential usefulness in Family Life Education (FLE) settings.

As NCFR continues to look for ways to better serve the practitioner audience, we are considering expanding reviews to FLE programs and curricula. Clearinghouses like the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Registry of Evidence-based Programs or Blueprints for Healthy Youth Development are helpful in locating evidence-based programs, but we think there would be value in providing a platform in which Family Life Educators could share their impressions, experiences, and opinions regarding specific FLE programs.

Before implementing this new feature, it is important to take some time to consider what we would want it to look like and what information we would want to include in a program review. For the book reviews, reviewers are asked to consider the relevance of the publication to the practice of FLE; to identify themes that are applicable in teaching, learning, and/or practice within the larger framework of FLE; what makes the publication unique; and their overall impression. Similar questions for program and curricula would increase the usefulness of the review and contribute to consistency in the information included.

In attempting to identify a structure that could be used for program reviews, I considered the Family Life Education Materials Quality Assessment Tool (FLEMat QAT), created by NCFR member and CFLE, Judy Myers-Walls, Ph.D., and housed on the Purdue University website. Originally created to help Extension staff and undergraduate students understand program review criteria, it provides a framework helpful in assessing a variety of FLE materials including newsletters, online articles, magazines, websites, books, curriculum guides, and workshop outlines. Users identify basic components including scope, target audience, and philosophy or theoretical orientation, and then consider the quality of the program by reviewing factors such as the author or sponsor qualifications, research base, objectives, appropriateness for target audience, and program focus (awareness, enrichment, prevention, and intervention) as well as other criteria that result in a final rough score and narrative evaluation. The FLEMat QAT tool could definitely be a useful guide in the creation of a program review template separate from outcome evaluations.

I also took advantage of my access to Deb Gentry, Ph.D., CFLE, NCFR’s Academic Program Liaison. Deb is very knowledgeable in all things curricula, so I asked her to share her thoughts on the type of information we’d want to include in a program review template. Not surprisingly, there was overlap with the information included in the FLEMat QAT tool, but she presented some new concepts and alternate phrasing, among other suggestions. Some of the questions she posed included

  • What need or problem does the program address?
  • Is the program evidence-based/evidence informed?
  • What is (are) the stated goal(s) of the program?
  • If there are stated objectives, to what degree can they be measured?
  • What are the anticipated outcomes and to what degree can they be measured?
  • In what ways does critical content have both depth and breadth of coverage?
  • What suggested means of delivery, if any, are posed?
  • To what degree is there flexibility in implementation?
  • If there is a training component, how extensive is such training?
  • If providers are expected to have formal training, what kind is it?
  • What direct and indirect costs, if any, are associated with this program?

These could all be important and helpful concepts to include in a review template for an FLE program or curricula within the context of a newsletter review limited to about 1,500 words, the scope of information included would need to be limited. Although it would be helpful to have reviewers provide information that is consistent across reviews, an important component of a review outline would be the opportunity to share subjective information. What was the reviewer’s experience in implementing the program? What did they like about it? What would they change? There is a lot to be gained by providing more opportunities for CFLEs to share their knowledge and experience with each other.

It’s important to note that a review of FLE programs in the CFLE newsletter would not be a comprehensive program evaluation, nor would it imply any kind of endorsement on behalf of NCFR. I think we have a good start in creating a template for use in reviewing FLE programs. However, I would welcome the input of other Family Life Educators in finalizing the series of questions and format used in reviewing FLE programs going forward. Please contact me if you would be interested in helping with this quick, but important, project.