Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Hi, kiddies, guess who I am today: teacher or researcher or both?

Wow, I have so much to say that I can't blog it all in one entry (SIDE NOTE: I'm trying to give myself permission to write shorter entries so that I'll post more regularly :). In fact, this entry started out as a comment on Rebecca's blog that was just going on far too long. Incidentally, you should go read that entry because it's a really good one.

Her entry brings up the question: In any given classroom situation--say, student making and commenting loudly on his dragon drawings in book club while other students are trying to talk about the book--how do you manage the observant researcher with the dutiful teacher? Because they often aren't the same thing.

This tension between the dual roles of the teacher researcher comes up on a regular basis in teacher researcher Karen Gallas's work, too [see NOTE below]. She's done her t-r in a primary classroom, and she's usually looking at some pretty hot-button issues like race, gender, and class and how these get played out among young children.

My teacher research group in Oklahoma and I used to talk about the dual-role tension in her work because we sometimes questioned whether or not the teacher in us would let a particular activity go on to the extent it did in Gallas's classroom all in the name of collecting data.

I just now looked at what "the Marians," as Bud calls them, had to say about this tension [Marion Maclean and Marian Mohr are the authors of Teacher Researchers at Work]. They describe an almost identical scenario to the one Rebecca describes where a kid is being disruptive during writing time. Here's how the Marians describe the teacher researcher's reaction:

"As a teacher researcher, you are trying to observe, describe, and reflect on what is happening in the classroom: to question, not to make assumptions. In your research log, you write your observations of Jeff's behaviour and make notes on reactions or the lack of reactions by the rest of the class. You jot down your own feelings and reaction, too. Finally, as a researcher, you make a note to ask jeff a question later that will help you understand the function of his pen-tapping during that day's journal writing.

But you are also the teacher, and in that role you have a responsibility to make the classroom an environment in whihc everyone can work...As a teacher, you want Jeff to be quiet and to get his writing done even though you may wonder why he isn't writing. In this situation you experience a tension between your responsibilitites as a classroom manager and classroom researcher, but your examination of Jeff's writing practices adds insights to your teaching as well as data to your research" (p. 107).

That pretty much hits the nail on the head, doesn't it? The Marians don't offer any easy answers, but they go on to say that the researcher stance is helpful in that it provides what they call some "involved distance" that allows the teacher researcher to view the kid's behavior at hand as "something of interest...points of change, informative shifts, and important clues to the learning process" (p. 108). They suggest, and I think I agree, that "(t)he research process, while it requires immersion in classroom tensions, helps [the teacher researcher] gain some control and authority over her work from an involved distance....For a teacher researcher, the shift in stance is not a shift away from being a teacher toward being a researcher. It is more a shift away from being only a participant, even a thoughtful and conscientious one, toward being someone who has the distance to take a look at the participant role. That means being prepared to address the tensions and questions that characterize the experience of doing both at the same time. Addressing those tensions and questions is one source of the depth of understanding that results from being a teacher-researcher. We are not teachers OR researchers, but both" (pp. 114-115).

So what should the teacher researcher do? Step in and insist that the kid quit disrupting others or keep observing as long as things don't get out of hand and see what the kids themselves will do? I'd say it depends--on what the teacher research question is to begin with (e.g., does it have to do with social interaction in a book club setting?) and what else I can predict about where this behavior is likely to head based on prior patterns I've observed in the classroom.

Regardless of the decision, however, clearly, ethics become an issue the minute you set out to conduct teacher research in your classroom.

One last word from Marian Mohr's "Teacher-Researcher Statement of Ethics" in Jane Zeni's Ethical Issues in Practitioner Research, a chapter we'll probably read in the summer session of the CSUWP Advanced Institute:

"1. The Teacher-Researcher Role. Teacher-researchers are teachers first. They respect those with whom they work, openly sharing information about their research. While they seek understanding and knolwedge, they also nurture the well-being of others, both students and professional colleagues."

So who are you today:)?

*NOTE: You can find a really interesting review of Gallas's book Sometimes I Can Be Anything in Education Review. In it, William Pawluck comments on the dual roles of a teacher researcher and also has a good deal to say about how the seeming insularity of Gallas's teacher research methodology is tempered by her involvement in the Brookline Teacher Research Group.

Friday, April 20, 2007

dragon drawings and other social postures

Rebecca and I observed the first book club of this next round in her class last Monday, and it was fascinating as usual. This conclusion comes after several days of reflection and an afternoon of scintillating conversation on Wednesday (Rebecca is so dang smart).

We didn't necessarily feel that way on Monday post-book club, though. In fact, when we thought about how it went that day, both of us wound up fixating on the loud, at-first-glance off-task group in the corner who're reading a great YA sci-fi book called Feed. This group is comprised of 4 boys and 1 girl, who I'm pretty sure was ruing her book choice by the end of the period. When Rebecca and I thought about how different this group's reaction to the book was from the group's last semester, we were baffled. I mean, this is a great book, one of the best choices of those we're making available in terms of its tailoring to an adolescent audience. It should've been right up this group's alley.

Yet by the end of the book club, my fieldnotes show that these guys (and yes, it was the guys) were throwing pencils around, laughing raucously about their own clever substitution of the word "expletive" for the characters' swearing as they read passages aloud, and riffing on the term "weasel face" for about 5 minutues straight. At one point, the girl in the group, whom I'll call Hope, disgustedly asked, "You didn't read anything, did you?"

And that's what Rebecca and I initially thought as well, especially when we looked at the dragon drawing one of the particularly rambunctious boys had seen fit to draw on the back of the group's book club discussion record (kids summarize the group's discussion on these things). But then we took a closer look, and actually, once you got over the fact that he'd depicted all the main characters as sword-wielding dragons (he wanted to read a book with a sword, he told us the day they chose books), it was pretty darn right on. It recorded one of the most significant scenes that had occurred in the book at that point and did so in some detail, all of it accurate. What were we to make of this?

Later during our Wednesday conversation, Rebecca said she had a hunch that all the kids in the Feed group probably had read, at least based on their past track records with other books and assignments. So our next question became, then why were the boys working so hard to look as if they haven't? I'll cut to the chase here, but the conclusion we eventually arrived at is that while we have been attentive to social interactions within book clubs ever since we started studying them, we've only recently (okay, as recently as Wednesday) begun to articulate the unspoken question that we think is pretty present in adolescent readers' minds in a book club setting:

"How do I want others to read me?"

In some ways, this is an old-ish question. Peg Finders has been thinking about it for quite some time in regard to gender roles middle-school girls display through their literacy practices, and has long had some provocative things to say about intermediate elementary students' social roles in the context of literature circles. However, I don't know of anyone who's currently considering this question in regard to adolescents (dis)engaged in the more free-flowing conversation of book clubs. So that's good news for us. At least in terms of research.

In terms of actually working with kids this coming Monday? Well, that's a different story. So the experiment we'll try then is based on our hunch that kids are reacting privately to books in ways their more public social roles might prohibit them from sharing during book club. At the same time, their social interactions during book club are likely to shape their private readings in turn.

For instance, if you as a private reader noted on a sticky note that a topic was controversial, yet you got to book club and found that no one else felt similarly, would you say something and risk your response as being marked as alien to that of your peers? If your 15-year-old self was having a particularly high self-esteem day, maybe so. But a lot of other times, we're guessing maybe not.

Here's our pedagogical experiment, then, which hopefully won't be too simplistic. Immediately prior to book clubs on Monday, we're going to ask students to do a quickwrite to identify any challenges, controversies, or difficulties they encountered in this section of the book (incidentally, we're also interested in how they're defining these terms). Then we'll observe their book club interactions and ask them to do another quickwrite post-book club to describe what they think now in regard to these challenges. Did their reactions change, stay the same, or something else, and why?

It's sure to be interesting. We'll keep you posted on what we're finding out.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

check out the new links

To the right, I've added lots of new links to blogs and sites by lots of cool people. One is to the "mother blog" of the new CSU Writing Project Advanced Institute. Starting in a couple of weeks, we'll be conducting an online book club on various articles in Working toward Equity, a recent and terrific new publication by the Teacher Research Collaborative. In fact, the entire book is available for FREE download at this same location on the NWP website. If you can't take part in the Advanced Institute this summer, this would be a good way to participate vicariously and via comments if you're interested.

I'd also like to call your attention to my new baby--my little podcasting show called "This Project's Life," where I'm posting brief interviews with CSUWP members every other week or so. You'll also want to take a look at the rest of the our new website, including the new (and brief) videos of CSUWP members because they're a lot of fun.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

i'm baa-ack...

Even though I haven't been blogging in a while (geez...2-month hiatus), I've been reading a lot of other people's blogs. Does that count for something? If not, I'm a virtual slacker. I'm okay with that.

In reading those other blogs, though, one thing I've discovered is that confessionals are pretty dang common. A lot of people apologize because life gets in the way. I could do that, too, and it might actually be relatively interesting, but I'm going to resist.

Instead, I'm writing from the very first meeting of the very first CSU Writing Project (CSUWP) Advanced Institute. So while I may be a slacker, I also belong to a group of groundbreakers. Balance is the key to life.

As I write, everyone's setting up individual blogs. I'll add them to my links soon so you can check them out, too. In the meantime, let me tell you a little bit more about this really cool group of people and what we're doing in the basement of Mugs Coffee on a snowy Saturday morning. Ever since 2003, CSUWP folks have been wanting to have a summer institute part two. This year, though, we got a grant from those nice people at National Writing Project so we could actually do it. So eleven of us are going to spend a lot of time together (both virtually and F2F) over the next year exploring our own teacher research questions, reading other teacher research, and yes, consuming enormous quantities of food as always (betcha wanna see a group picture now, huh? Trust me, it's a writing project thing).

You can read about their teacher research as well as take a look at our "mother blog," as Bud's calling it. Everyone should be posting an entry today. Since I know this group, I know they'll be asking good questions and answering them in entertaining and insightful ways.

And because the AI co-director Jason Malone and I are asking all of them to post at least once a week for the next several months, I gotta--oops! I get to--do it, too. So if you're interested in my professional life, come back fairly often. I'll be here.