How does your investment in your RQ and the students’ background about your topic affect the research?
I think it hugely affects the book club research, but I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing as long as we come clean about it. During Jason’s Researcher’s Chair yesterday, he verbally sketched out an outline for an article on his topic, and he was adamant about starting with the “why.” As he explained his rationale for this approach, I remember thinking that his passion (think positive connotation here) for this subject would drive the piece, its voice, and, eventually, its impact on the reader.
Teacher research is just too intensive (again, think positively) to take on if you aren’t invested in the topic. And while this goes against the traditional notions of the Researcher in the white coat with the pocket protector and his (and, yes, the image has historically been male) supposed objectivity, there’s got to be some passion back there somewhere.
In the physics wing of the engineering building where we’re holding the summer institute, there’s a terrific quotation by Einstein that I’ll get and post here, but the gist of it is that his outlook was driven by passionate curiosity, something he considered a terrific strength. So, yeah, I think the passion’s gotta be there, both to prompt and sustain the work.
In the case of the students’ background on engaging in civil discourse via book clubs, again, we’ve discovered that this is hugely important. One thing that’s been interesting to me is that the premise I had going in to this work—that students don’t have a plethora of civil discourse models to glean from in this culture—is proving to be true. At first, Rebecca and I actually tried to emulate the traditional white-coat mentality, I suppose, because we didn’t let the kids in on what we were doing. We just observed while they read edgy books to see what happened. And basically, what happened was that they while they did have mostly well-behaved book club conversations, when edgy topics came up, they either giggled their way through them or ignored them altogether. So our more distanced approach was useful in this regard.
But the next semester we ran book clubs, we wondered why we’d been so secretive. Why not tell them what we’re interested in, see how they respond to that premise, and let them reflect those thoughts from the very beginning as they set their book club norms?
It made a difference, so it did shape our research, but deliberately so. And our documentation of that process is part of our data set, so it’s something we can account for as we share our findings. We learned more from that book club sequence that we want to shape our next round of our teaching and research as well. But that’s what teacher research is all about. Teaching to understand and make well-informed adjustments as a result.