Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Countdown to Comps

My advisers told me that I can't take any more classes after I finish these in May.  Certainly I need to know more.  A huge body of knowledge waits for further investigation and exploration.  But I have to complete comprehensive exams sometime, and June looks like the time.

Has anyone else suffered more nervousness in the last semester of coursework than in the beginning?  I have only begun the process of walking through the exam requirements and I don't feel ready.  Have I really gleaned all I could from every class experience and every teacher who has taught them?

I think I have seen some signs that perhaps I am ready or nearly there.  Usually my classmates and I latch onto the theories or methodologies presented in the current class or fall in love with particular research topics.  That has been true for me until very recently.  During the summer and fall, we learned about various qualitative research traditions.  During the fall, I noticed a change in some of us.  Instead of oooing and ahhing over each one, we each showed distinct passions for different traditions.  We expressed our own opinions and even wrinkled our noses at some different methodologies chosen by our colleagues.

Recently, a friend of mine sent me an article link that showed the artistic side of State of the Union Address, clearly an arts based researcher's dream.  But I have trouble understanding that tradition.  I love stories.  Narrative inquiry and discourse analysis intrigue me.

Teacher agency and voice.  This is the story I want to learn and want to tell.  What helps the teacher find a confident voice?  Will confident voices inspire teacher agency and advocacy?  These are questions I have today.  They may change slightly tomorrow, but I will still search for the story.  And I will be ready.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Story as a Fossil and the NCTE Proposal Title

As I struggle with the right conference proposal title, I think about the aha moment I had just an hour ago while reading Stephen King's On Writing.  I bought this book some years ago and enjoyed reading it then as I am enjoying a reread of it now.  But the section about fossils and symbolism made me pause:  "If you can go along with the concept of the story as a pre-existing thing, a fossil in the ground, then symbolism must also be pre-existing, right? Just another bone (or set of them) in your new discovery" (p. 198).  Stories, he said, are fully formed and need the proper excavation tools.  And maybe symbols and deeper meanings are much the same.

What this comes to is my narrative stance in research.  I want to study, to write about, inquire into the idea of transformation experiences in teacher development.  Why do certain professional development experiences transform some teachers and not others?  How might narrative inquiry help us know the entire story that answers that question?  It seems that there is a fossil that must be discovered, unearthed, and polished for us to understand why some teachers respond with renewed vigor for the profession and others decide that one more hoop just won't do it for them.  I suspect transformation has to do with the validation teachers finally feel as professionals when they attend learning opportunities that honor their capacity as leaders.

Recently, I learned about another kind of transformation.  By listening to interviews, reading transcripts, and focusing on the story being told, I found a thread running through many conversations between one teacher and myself.  I created a narrative research/literature review that uncovered an interesting element that could lead to the teacher's exploration of new classroom strategies.  Seeing the story of our work, the teacher realized our conversations, more than class reflections, were intelligent talk that moved learning and discovery forward. That story is still developing.  But it may be key to figuring out the transformation piece.  Perhaps the transformed teachers discovered a fossil--their mission, teaching story, or leadership ability, perhaps--and were able to polish it with renewed strength and insight with the right excavation [PD] tools.  That, too, remains to be seen.

There may be no easy formula to determine the best professional learning opportunity.  It most likely is dependent on the disposition of the attendee and his or her context.  If that is true, even the well-designed PD may fall short of delivering (or deliverance).  This inquiry goes deeper than examining professional development feedback databases or administering surveys.  The story begins at the fossil, in the classroom before the professional development experience.  Either polishing happens or it doesn't, but we have to know the fossil from the beginning.

So I am still stuck with no title for my NCTE proposal and am only a  little clearer on my narrative stance in research.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Writing for Publication Fears

It is finally here--the last semester of coursework before I conquer comprehensive exams, submit a proposal, conduct research, write a dissertation, defend the dissertation, and finish.  So perhaps the end is not really in sight at all.  The strange thing is I am more worried about successfully completing one of my classes this semester than I have been about coursework since my first few weeks in the literacy program.  As a qualitative researcher, I would have thought statistics might rank as the biggest scare, but it so far has not come close to what I fear in "Writing for Publication."

In this class, we are expected to submit a polished manuscript to a journal (in addition to reading, responding, discussing, etc.).  Why is this task so frightening?  In previous semesters, I have gathered data, coded, used data software, written memos, and summarized findings.  I have written literature reviews, compiled digital portfolios with extensive hyperlinks, and mindmapped my heart out.  I have submitted conference proposals (and presented), redesigned a course syllabus, and planned workshops.  The journey to this point has been rich with incredible learning experiences.  So what makes this class different?  The audience just got tougher.

First of all, I have no idea what my topic might be.  My inclination is to pick up a narrative I worked on last semester about co-teaching with a friend of mine.  Yet, even though it has embedded research, it is still a narrative which may not find a journal home.  Another thought is to flesh out the experiences of last summer's institute attendees as we begin planning for next summer.  This appeals to me right now in ways it didn't before I had to think about what to write for this class.

Next, I am not sure which journal I should woo.  Most familiar are Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, English Journal, Voices in the Middle, and Language Arts.  Others are probably more appropriate for what I will write, though.  I am not really interested in writing about strategies at this point but about experiences in particular learning conditions--especially the adult learners (teachers) during professional development.

All these obstacles will be overcome with time.  Fortunately, I know the professor pretty well.  She, along with the others in the class, will do what we always do in this PhD program--support and push.  I have already made progress in pushing away the fears of writing by, yes, writing.  My phantom audience has allowed me to voice my concern, list my strengths, and discuss some action items (thank you).  I feel the familiar release that writing gives me.  And for now the fog clears.