In this lengthy, yet short, self-reflection, after some months-long engagement in the dreadful yet fascinating endeavor called graduate research, I discuss a few topics that need discussing. I reflect on my challenges, perspectives, frustrations, wonderings and understandings. Please enjoy the following chautauquas (inquiries).
The Essential Question and Other Questions
Where do I begin? There is a lot of humor in that question. It seems that I ask myself that question with everything I tend to take on. In this particular instance, the CAPSTONE project that we have been creating has a lot of those where do I begins… However, it all really starts with that essential question (a.k.a. the inquiry question or the research question); the question that sparks thought, forms more questions, and in turn, is answered. The essential question can only arise with the many focus questions that come before it and can only be answered with the many other questions that come after it.
My essential question as of now is, in my upcoming experience as a substitute teacher, how is the design and layout of classrooms in secondary schools affecting classroom management and student behavior? And with that, how might I one day use that information in designing my own classroom? Some of my focus questions for this essential question include: How does it affect behavior? How does it modify the brain? How does it influence the learning environment? How does it impact school/classroom culture? How does it change students’ perceptions of you (the teacher)? How does it affect curriculum? How does it manipulate student engagement? And there are many more questions to come before I feel confident in attempting to answer the overarching question. Who knows though… My big question still has room to change… and it probably will, but only slightly. However, the topic will stick. The research seems endless and it may throw me unwillingly in a quick and unexpected manner towards a reframing of my question. As for now though, my essential question is going to remain unchanged for the purposes of simply having one. Where do I begin in answering the essential question? Well, that would be through research and the construction of the literature review.
The Literature Review: A Short Criticism
Something so confusing for me, yet it is so simple; the literature review is an examination of the research already provided on the many elements of a topic. Thorough examination on my part must be made. In a way, the literature review sounds quite absurd. You are rewriting what others have said in your own words to prove that you know what you are talking about… I mean, it makes sense. We need to convince our audiences that we are credible and that we didn’t just come up with a bunch of baloney. We want the world to listen to us.
Another reason to write a literature review is to make sure that you are using the same vocabulary as others who have researched similar topics. You don’t want to be coining your own words. Again, we want the world to understand us. We don’t want to create a muddled, befuddled audience, but instead contribute to the educational field by being a productive and well-informed researcher.
I’m not sure why I have struggled with this literature review… Perhaps it is because I’m still unsure of my topic. Not the topic itself I guess, but more or less the purpose that exploring this topic serves; it is still a little unclear to me as to what I am researching. Or maybe it is the overwhelming amount of reading I have been doing and still need to do (read, reread, and re-reread) and the reiteration/reinterpretation that follows. Not only that, but half of the readings that you think you will use, tend to get thrown aside because of a change in mind. I understand the literature review… I think. I consider it highly valuable. Nevertheless, a review of literature is a bunch of writing that I will always think of as a pain.
I have been writing my literature review on three themes. The first will be on the definition of classroom design. This encompasses not only what classroom design is, but what aspects of classroom design have been found to be important. Following this, I will have a section/subtheme on classroom design and how it has been found to affect student engagement and behavior. Similarly, I plan to have the next subtheme examine how classroom design has been seen to affect teacher performance. These three themes are necessary in that they provide me with an understanding as to why certain ways of designing a classroom are more productive, beneficial, and fluid, as opposed to others. After this, I will point out how the research is limited in terms of substitute performance in relation to classroom design. Then my personal analysis will commence, where I will carefully reflect on the study I conduct.
The Formidable IRB
The IRB is scary. I am truly afraid of it. The process seems lengthy and I have learned that I don’t deal with anxiety well. Even thinking about it makes me anxious. Hopefully I can carefully consider the parameters of my project so that I can refrain from doing the IRB (avoid it at all costs). But alas, this will probably not be the case.
The IRB (Institutional Review Board) is a group of people who deem whether or not you are allowed to do the study you have planned based on how well you meet the many requirements. These requirements seek to protect the participants of the study the researcher(s) is conducting. When planning one’s study, one needs to consider things concerning the rights of humans, their well-being, the fairness of the study, the dangers, etc. Really, it is just an entity within a college that exists with the sole purpose of protecting the college from the students who are conducting studies for research.
I only intend to be gathering data from surveys/questionnaires, self-writings/reflections, and possibly interviews with teachers or other substitutes through email. I also intend for the data to not allow for the identification of the human subjects that take part in my research/project/study. In other words, anonymity will be in full effect. The questions for my participants (most likely teachers or substitutes) will not have to do with anything sensitive or uncomfortable either. The only thing that really matters in terms of the IRB if the research uses persons under the age of 18 years. I have designed my study to not deal with students at all, but rather the spaces they occupy during the school day. In other words, I don’t believe I will be using any of them as subjects... So, the IRB might be still be required, but I am unsure… I will need clarification on this. It would seem to me that I can get away without having one if I refrain from using human subjects altogether. Either way, I will have to collect data for this project, and that data will have to be analyzed.
Quals and Quants: A Tentative Meditation
Speaking of analyzing data, there are two types of research approaches that data can be obtained: the quantitative and the qualitative. I imagine I will be experimenting with both approaches, – a hybrid of the two – but I am unsure still. The quantitative approach likes numbers, (quantity) and seeks to prove something (closed-ended questioning) using highly structured methods. I don’t know how I will be using this type of approach, but I imagine that will come later.
I do know that I will be using the latter called the qualitative approach. This approach is much more lenient in its questioning (open-ended) and it doesn’t seek to solve or confirm anything. It only looks to explore and give an understanding towards. This is why I like it. I only have a desire to better understand the world. I’ve never been too good at arguing a point or trying to solve an either-or question. My mind doesn’t work well between the black and white; it’s a multi-valued orienteer. This form of research, the qualitative, is also more flexible in its methodology. Because I plan to self-reflect on my time as a substitute, this approach to research will be more favorable for myself.
Research… Specifically, Action Research
Perhaps the most important thing I took from our summer class are the words from Kris Greer concerning what action research entails: “Nothing is a fact. You’re not proving something. You’re only trying to learn something and trying to change your thinking.” I won’t forget these words; not because I wrote them down in my notebook, but because it makes it much more comforting to know that I am only trying to learn something and not trying to show the educational sphere that I am a masterful researcher. I don’t plan on being that.
I do know that I will effectively create something of value. I remember that we discussed how we are to evaluate the rigor of our own research. We start with credibility. What this means is that we need to consider who our audience is. Who is reading and approving it? I have every bit of faith that the Ed Department at Fort Lewis College is credible in their assessing of graduate writing. They will definitely tell me whether my project is a complete disaster or not.
The next thing that we discussed was that of transferability. In other words, is the project transferable (useful) in other settings? Or is it only of use to myself. This will be something that I must think about. At times, I feel unsure as to whether or not my project will benefit the educational field (other educators). I hope it will. I think that I could definitely include a section in my project on advice or steps to effectively combat the varying design of classrooms for substitutes. That might be cool... Or at least something similar to that.
The last thing is dependability. Does it answer the essential question? Does the data and the analyzation of the data properly answer the posed question? Well, I hope it will. That is the goal of the research… is it not?