Saturday, October 02, 2004

the journey continues ...

Some more from mshoff,

Adhering to the George principle that the true value of the research often emerges as you conduct the research, I'm struggling to frame my study in any coherent manner. I know what I want to do, I know the main points I'm interesting in studying, but I can't get my actual questions to say what I want them to say. I always struggle with research questions, not actually asking questions but creating valid research questions with a capital R and Q. I feel like I should know what the research is going to tell me in order to write the research questions, which completely misses the point of conducting research. Maybe I'm not inquisitive enough. Maybe I'm just willing to investigate a general area and see what develops throughout the study. The latter sounds better but it doesn't help me write my proposal any faster.

I remember feeling this way, and still do. Rather than work against this process, which is really a traditional, positivistic type paradigm, qualitative research must make a claim for a differnt type of knowing and development. The idea that you can write the research questions, do the reading and lit review, then go and do the reserach, then write up the 'findings', is I think, insane in some ways. The idea of research in education, and one that investgates reflection or conversation or learning or anything dynamic like that, is one that needs to be wide enough to accept what I would call (and many others before me of course) an 'emergent research design'. Research that 'mirrors' or attempts to reflect the learning process itself. I guess this idea cuts across others like action and practioner research. The kind of work that Johnny Loughran has been doing for years (he is a lovely guy actually, and a wonderful teacher). mshoff continues,

I can deal with the ambiguity of reflective practice, since it keeps the act of reflection flexible. No one really agrees on a definition of reflective practice, although most draw from with Dewey or Schon, and there is constant discussion over whether reflection is individual or collaborative. One thing I'm not finding in the literature, though, is whether reflection must be written to count as reflective activity. Does reflective discussion count? Can a group of teachers - pre-service teachers, too - sit down over coffee, have a thoughtful conversation, replete with past events and solutions for the future, and call that reflective practice? I don't see why not - but it does feel a bit like the "if a tree falls in the woods" argument.

This one is really intersting, as it's basically what I tried to have a go at arguing in my honours thesis. 'Can a group of teachers - pre-service teachers, too - sit down over coffee, have a thoughtful conversation, replete with past events and solutions for the future, and call that reflective practice?' I would say wholeheartedly, YES! I would argue that this is often the best form of professional learning available to teachers in these times of 'PD' that is one-size-fits-all, reductionist, that ignores teacher knowledge and basically 'inducts into ideological compliance' (Locke, 2003). There is a lot of writing on this subject (I can give some refs if anyone wants em).

Sometimes I wonder if I should go back and teach high school again. If I did that before writing my dissertation, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't finish the PhD. And if I went back to teaching after finishing my PhD, I'd probably shoot myself in the proverbial foot - how would I look to a university as a potential professor if I went back to high school rather than scaling the ivory tower? Still, sometimes I really feel the disconnect between university and secondary school. How can I teach students how to be good teachers of high school students if I'm not involved with high school students? I can't draw on my past teaching experiences forever, especially since each year that passes put those years of experience more firmly in the past. Could I teach for a semester while I was writing the dissertation? No, not the way I teach: all or nothing. I wouldn't have the energy or the focus to write after teaching all day - and grading, and monitoring, and cheering, and talking, and walking, and everything else that goes with teaching. I don't want to become one of those professors completely divorced from the reality of high school teaching but I'm not quite sure how to avoid that future without the constant reinforcement of working with teenagers.

Ah, THE CONUNDRUM for beginning researchers-aspiring academics. In the back of my mind I see a change in the way teacher education is set up; a change in the academy-school binary; a change in recognition of the value of teacher knowledge and professioalism; a change in the attitidues of teachers and academics/teacher educators towards each other and towards their work; a change in the conditions of work that might just enable teachers and academics to work together and in tandem; a change that might just enable teachers to talk with one another about their work, and to blog if they choose.

Anyway, thanks mshoff for an hour of thinking pleasure.


At 3:35 pm, Blogger phd me said...

Try explaining an emerging research design to an Institutional Review Board at my university. I have no idea what strictures are placed on research in Australia - and I'm sure it differs from university to university - but the emphasis on quantitative research in the US makes it very difficult to "justify" qualitative anything. To be fair, however, it does differ between universities, so qualitative research does happen, but it is too often of lesser value than quantitative. I often feel the truly interesting research on teacher education and technology is coming out of Australia - perhaps because you have the freedom to be interesting?

Very heartening to see you value reflective discussion, too! I believe Schon did, as well, with his presentation of reflective conversation, but I don't see the idea of conversation as reflection put forward as a viable alternative to new teachers. After a few years on the job, teachers usually figure it out for themselves - strength in numbers - but beginning teachers too often feel they have to go it alone. They're afraid to ask for help, admit any weakness, trade ideas back and forth with other teachers. We need to inculcate collaboration and communication in our new teachers from the very beginning of their teacher preparation - which means teacher educators need to model those same traits.

Leading me to your third point: the binary relationship between university and school. It drives me insane to see the great divide between practicing professors and practicing teachers. I like the changes you suggest, partly because I would like to work in such an environment when I seek my first professorship. A university professor and practicing teacher co-teaching a high school English class - does that actually happen anywhere?

Thanks for prodding me to more thought on these subjects...


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