Educational Disruptions

Changing Gears?

I had these grand plans for where the project is headed in Year 2. I saw getting more teachers to join in, having students create artifacts about their experiences, and, eventually, having a public exhibit to share and discuss the work.

All of that is still a good idea, except lately I’ve been noticing a few things that have given me pause about it….

1. The nature of doing research via a social networking platform (this year) has shown me that is changes what research looks like. In some ways, it becomes more collaborative as teachers can talk to each other and share information and ideas. In other ways it’s easier to check out. Teachers can disappear from the network (one has for sure and a second one is currently on maybe status in my eyes). I’m not showing up in their classrooms on a regular basis. It’s easier to drop out for any reason. I don’t know you. I likely won’t see you in the future in person. Of course this is a superficial understanding at best. The key point is that research through a social networking system changes the game.

2. I’m just recycling the old. Ok, so yes, I am changing the game a bit by not giving a reading assessment and by wanting to create a public exhibit. However, I am still playing the same old game. I am still being very logical. I am still proceeding about doing research in a very orderly manner. I may succeed in identifying and creating a community of teacher with similar goals, but many components are just business as usual.

3. I am so tired of barries. Do you know how exhausting it is to get into a school district, let along multiple districts, and collect student data? One year I had a teacher in a local community that wanted to participate in a pretty straight-forward research project I was leading. I had university approval for the project when I filled out the paperwork her district wanted. I filled out the paperwork in April for a project beginning in September. I was told the district would review my documents and make a decision in October because, apparently, they only review such documents twice a year and October was the next go around – no exceptions. So I had to find someone else. In short, the amount of red tape that exists between universities and school systems is making it more and more difficult for us to work together.

I was wondering today about simply launching a social networking site through a ning that was intended to foster a particular community around empowering readers K-12. It could be a research site in that anyone who signs on agrees to allow what they post to be used as evidence and data (barring anything from students of course).

I do think such a site has potential, and it is of course inline with doing an engaged scholars project. It does not however look like traditional research at all. I also run the risk of getting NO ONE to participate, and that terrifies me. Of course, I also know that if I am scared I’m probably doing something right. The thing is, there can still be a public exhibit based on what is developed in a community ning. I can still do a lot of the big ideas I thought were interesting. It’s risky because I do not know what it takes to grow such a network. I’ll have to look into that, but it’s time well spent.


Let Go of the Shoulds

I’ve applied for two grants to support the second year of the project. I heard back from the first today, and the answer was a no. I wasn’t totally thrown by this. I had found out about the opportunity at the very lasy minute and had to throw the application together. It wasn’t terrible, but it certainly wasn’t my best work. The feedback I got from the two reviewers was interesting. Both pointed out how my application could have been strengthened (beefing up the case for why my study was needed and what kind of knowledge would be produced). But they also noted that this was an interesting and unusual project that was outside the traditionl university research-based box. I’m glad that they see that and appreciate it. It does give me a bit of an emotional boost to know that the reviewers saw some creative and important merit in my work even if it ended up not being funded.

I do have a second proposal out, but I will not hear back from them until May. In between all this, I am utilizing the resources I have on campus to try to track down money. I feel like a girl who just needs someone to cut her a break. I just need someone to take a risk and trust me that good things will happen if they give me a little bit of money. I’m asking for just under 40,000.00. In the world of research, that is like asking for pennies and nickels. I have a track record that shows I’ll do the work, and I’ve accumulated enough internation awards (3!) at only eight years into my career that I’d like to think someone would have some confidence in me.

Getting rejected today prompted me to wonder how to proceed with next year. What if I get no money????? How will I manage to accomplish anything?????

I wandered off to get some lunch with these questions pounding in my head. As I waited for my order to be made, I started reading a blog. The title of the post struck me: If you’re terrified, you’re doing it right.

I am not 100% terrified. Things will work themselves out. But on a certain level I am terrified because I am not used to navigating the research and scholarship waters in the manner I currently am. As I kept reading, the author (this is a yoga blog) pointed out a famous saying from Bikram Yoga. You don’t have to know anything about Bikram Yoga to understand it:

As long as you are giving 100% effort, you will receive 100% of the benefit.

As someone who has a regular Bikram yoga practice, this statement was familair to me, but I only thought about it in the context of yoga. I knew that if I should up to class and did the postures to the best of my ability (100%) that I was getting the same benefits as someone else who was going more or less deeper in a particular posture. But now, I read those words and something rang in my head about this project.

I am giving 100% effort on this project maybe even more (I can barely keep up with it sometimes). So following the Bikram logic, I should be receiving 100% of the benefit. Here’s where I get in my own way: I try to make up and enforce what that benefit looks like.

Does that make sense?

So for me, 100% benefit would be getting both my proposals funded. Although I only wrote the first (rejected) one in three days, I gave it 100% of my effort. I didn’t slap it together even though it was far too rushed for my personal taste.  This is where my stumbles happen. I decide how things should be and what those benefits should look like, and if the universe doesn’t match what I’ve made up then I am convinced I am not getting my benefits!  I have to let go of the shoulds. The truth is, I don’t know what the benefits are right now or will be in the future. When this whole thing is over, I could maybe figure out some of them, maybe many of them, but I bet I will never be able to articulate all of them. There will be so many it will be impossible to know them all.

I have to accept that since I am giving 100% effort on my work that I am already receiving 100% of the benefits. I have to start accepting how those benefits are manifesting themselves and not try to force them to be something they are not.

How Social Media Changes Research

Social media has a lot of potential to change the way we do educational research. To date, I haven’t seen a lot of evidence about how researchers use it effectively.

There are two ways to think about social media in research that come immediately to my mind:

1. Studying the use of social media itself in education. For example, designing a study that looks at what happens when teachers or students blog or when they are organized around a ning.

2. Thinking about social media as a methodlogical tool. This isn’t something I’ve seen done.

I’ve dabbled a bit in idea #2. In looking for people who wanted to work on this project, I put out a call through various social media networks (all with permission granted of course!). I *think* the use of the ning for the project counts as a methodlogical tool. It’s the only way I have to systemically collect data.

But going off on a tangent, there are other ways technology is changing research – or can. For example, I have relationships with about half of the teachers in the project. This just means I have worked with them in other capacities. At least one of them has worked on a research project with me, presented with me at conferences, and co-authored a paper. What this means is, I have this person’s phone number.

Recently I found myself texting this individual, we’ll call her Maggie, to help her out with an issue related to the project. Maggie had tried some new ideas out in her classroom as part of the project and had blogged that things were not going as well as she would have liked. I later read a blog by a different person, we’ll call her Susan. Susan’s blog seemed to be doing what Maggie was struggling with.

Now, I could have left a comment for Maggie in the appropriate comment box on the ning, but I didn’t. Instead, I picked up my phone and texted her, “Read Susan’s blog 2 think about your student e-books. Could help.”

Maggie responded, “Will do. Thanks.”

And now I’ve got texting as a form of data collection.

I will also text the doctoral students that work on the project and direct them to help one or more teachers if I think it looks like someone needs extra help fast. The messages get to them faster, and they respond faster. It’s a much better system than emailing.

However, I want to be clear that I’m not super systemmatic in my approach to texting people. I certainly would not ask for everyone to send me their phone numbers so I could text them whenever I felt like it! Plus, I am pretty sure ning allows people to send alerts to their phone. So I am pretty sure someone could find out immediately that they received a private message through the ning if they set it up that way.

But, my actions suggest that some people are likely to receive more attention than others. Maggie is likely to receive more help, or get it more efficiently, because I can just pick up my phone and text here as soon as I get an idea about how to help her with her issues. Other people may not benefit from that. Is that a limitation? Yes. Is that a limitation I should be concerned about OR is it a natural consequence of engaged scholarship and using social media as a part of it?

I’m writing about all this for a couple of reasons:

1. I think we could do a better job thinking about how to use social media as a methodological tool.

2. I want to make sure I remember I collected data via text messaging!

If you have ideas about how to use social media as a methodological tool I would love to hear about it!

Where’d My Data Go?

In this project, teachers are expected to blog once a week. They can blog about anything they want to so long as it’s related to the broad topic of dirsupted instruction. Anyway they slice it is fine with me.

I have 14 people in the project. About half of them can be counted on to post every week. The other half is kind of all over the place. One week they blog, the next week they don’t. Then two weeks in a row they blog. Then they disappear. I reach out to them, offer support, tell them it’s ok, and often hear nothing in response. Then suddenly another blog posts pops up, and I have no idea what’s going on.

From a traditional researcher perspective, this has me scared and it is driving me bonkers. In terms of traditional research, I am missing data, and a decent amount at that. It’s all I can do not to freak out and start screaming about my data. And if it was one thing that I was taught, it was to get my data. Believe me, I can get my data and drag a research project across the finish lines like no one’s business.

But then I calm myself down and tell myself that what I am doing here isn’t that. This project isn’t supposed to be about collecting my data come hell or high water. That’s not to say that the data aspect is unimportant. It is important. A significant part of engaged scholarship is mutual benefit. Each participant needs something from the community, and each has something to offer the community.

If people are not participating, then I have to assume they either are not getting what they need OR they think they have nothing to offer. I know of at least one person who believed she had nothing to offer. She sent me an email telling me that she thought she should stop participating because she did not think she had anything worthwhile to contribute.

In this community, there are people with a range of experiences. Some I invited because I knew they were already good at engaging in disruptive instruction. Others said they were very interested but were not sure how to proceed. The woman who thought she had nothing to offer was someone who was new to the type of instruction we were doing.

What this says to me is that no data, at least in this case, is almost a form of data. There are reasons why people participate more or less than others. In some instances, these are due to life circumstance (a death in the family, a medical emergency), but that’s not what’s got me concerned. I was more concerned about people participating in irregular intervals or stopping altogether. However, there are reasons for those kinds of decisions. In some cases, it could be because someone really thought they would be interested in the project and then learned they were not. But in other cases, I wonder if it’s more complex and related more to our perceptions of who we are in relation to others and what we can/cannot contribute to the community. I’m wondering if I can get people to share what makes them participate vs. not at some point.

The other thing I’ve learned is that in a community-based partnership I have to learn to let go of what I have been taught as the “right” way to do research. I have to learn to be more open to things being even more messy and complex than they are in a traditional research project (which was bad enough). I have to adopt new lenses for understand how and why things are happening or not. I cannot force my typical framework into a new situation. This has been a struggle for me, but luckily it’s a struggle I recognize. This project, in part, has been about examining habits of mind around research and trying, trying so very hard, to consider new ones.

It’s Really Simple Actually: Give Voice and Choice

I have to keep in mind that this project can cause teachers to be uncomfortable just as much as it can students. Recently, I have had teachers post about how a particular practice resulted in some students complaining about what they were being asked to do. The complaints were largely grounded in the students not being comfortable with the instruction. They were being asked to do things and think in ways that they were not used to doing in school. In at least one instance, a student asked a teacher to simply give her the directions and tell her what she needed to do. That is, a student tried to recreate a traditional setting as the teacher was trying to break it up a bit.

What I find interesting is that it’s the students who are successful at a traditional instructional approach that complain about it being changd. The teachers are starting to report this on their blogs, and it jives with my own research as well. These students likely will do just fine with a different approach but it makes them uncomfortable to shift out of their boxes.

However, what I also have to keep in mind here is that I’m also asking the teachers to step into spaces that make them uncomfortable. It dawned on me that, for some of the participating teachers, what’s really going on is a change in not just instructional practices but a change in beliefs about how students can/should be taught.

There’s a lot of literature out there on teacher beliefs. What it boils down to is that, for the most part, teachers teach the way they were taught and getting teachers to examine and change their beliefs, and as a result their practices, can be difficult and sometimes nearly impossible. I’m not asking teachers to overhaul their practice. I’m looking for them to find one instance where something isn’t working well for one student, or five, or ten, and then disrupt that practice so that it can work for those students (but not at the expense of others of course). Teachers decide what needs to be changed. Teachers decide what they are comfortable with in terms of making the change. If they need help/ideas, then we go out and round some ideas up for them.

What this means is that not all teachers are doing what I would call radical forms of instruction, but all teachers are engaging in radical forms of instruction for them. Make sense?

For example, someone recently wrote about engaging her students in a jigsaw activity. The concept of jigsaw is not new and hardly seems like something that would fall under the umbrella of this project. However, remember that what is disruptive is also contextual and situational. What is disruptive for me in my context is not necessarily going to be disruptive for you in your context. This jigsaw activity pushed both the teacher AND her students. It was radical for them all and broke down the usual routine. At the end of her post, the teacher was thinking about how to reconfigure her class to support more discussions about texts. This was new to her and her students.

This is important because I am starting to think that if we want to change practice, if we want to effect change in teachers’ beliefs, then we (as a commmunity of educational researchers, teacher educators, and policy makers) have to stop telling them how they should teach. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying don’t share information with teachers. I do believe we should be sharing information and providing professional development and so on. But teachers have to decide how they are going to evolve their instruction and professional lives. They have to be given the space, and the trust, to make these decisions.

I think back to when I taught 6th grade language arts and social studies in the 1990’s (and in Texas too!). I knew I had more things to learn as a teacher, and I knew I couldn’t do everything at once. So each year I picked something to really focus on. One year I focused on how to help my kids become better writers of informational text. The summer before the school year started, I marked some workshops to go to that focused on my goal. I got some books to help me, and then I went at it.  I made incredible changes to my instruction that year. When the year was over, I knew what I needed to work on to refine things in the upcoming year, and I had picked another new and bigger goal.

Anyways, writing this has reminded me of my experiences in involving teachers in research studies. The teacher sign on, they do great, and they do exactly what is asked of them. They are pleased with the instruction. They are happy with the results, and then they never use that instructional technique again. Why? I don’t know why, but I suspect it’s because they had no say in it from the get-g0. In this project, you tell me what it is you want to change. If you have ideas about how you want to change it, great. If not, I can help think of some. We have to start making communities that support teachers as professionals and that honor their professional growth. If we want teachers to evolve in their practice, giving them voice to do so is a necessary component.



Everything is a Mess

Everything about this project is a mess. I am elbows deep in a gigantic mess right now which probably means everything is exactly as it should be. Seriosuly, when this whole thing is over next year, I am going to write a book. I’ll call it something like Everything’s a Mess or Out of Control: Adventures in Research. Nothing is neat and clean, but when is it ever? Did someone tell you social science research was neat and clean? They lied. Or their projects are not very interesting.

I’ve got a handful of people who are blogging once a week, and they are writing great stuff! I’ve got another person who could not join the project and is writing an undercover counter-narrative. That person seems to be on track and is writing brilliant stuff! It’s very sad stuff, but it gives an amazing look into a different world than what everyone else appears to be experiencing. It will be an important contribution to the project. I hope this person knows that. I have tried my best to communicate it.

Speaking of communication, I cannot figure out what is going on. I thought I was pretty clear in my communcation about the project. I provided sample lessons up front. Created a voice thread to walk people through the project. Sent out an email to everyone with the expectations laid out. Sent out a couple of reminders during week one. I have two doctoral students whose primary job is to help people with planning if they want it or need it. I’ve got participants split into groups and assigned to the doc students so there is consistency in who they interact with. The doc students are contacting them and offering help. They comment on their blogs and offer more help. Some people run with this and others are silent (silent because they don’t need the help and silent because I have no idea why).

We had almost 100% participation in week one. Then I started losing people in week two. I reached out. I contacted people individually. It’s ok if you missed week two! Just jump back in on week three!

Some people did jump back in. Others stayed silent, but as of this morning it looks like most have jumped back in. Then I got an email from one participant saying she was confused about what to do and how to do it. It was such an honest message. I appreciated it so much, and I tried to explain to her how we could help her and how just writing about her confusion would be a big help to us all!

This whole experience has got me thinking about how we prepare teachers to participate in research. I acknowledge that I’m doing things a bit differently here. I don’t have much money and what money I do have needed to go to pay for our project ning and hire two doctoral students. I did not have money for professional development. However, I still think my voicethread approach was a pretty good one. It’s archived and can be viewed by any participant at any time (but does anyone view it? probably not).

But let’s think for a moment about a project that has funding to support professional development for a research project. What do such experiences offer to teachers? How does engaging in a research project change one’s practice? From my limited experience (not including this project in my discussion here), participating in research does not change practice. It changes a teacher’s practice during the project because the teacher is required/expected to teach in certain ways. However, I don’t think most teachers take up the practices they have spent significant time learning about and implementing during a project.

I speak only from experience of course. And by that I mean that I willingly acknowledge that my prior projects have not changed the ways those teachers teach. I know. I’ve been back in their classrooms. I’ve spoken to them. I never asked them why they didn’t use any of the practices. My visits and conversations were not about learning how they were or were not applying previously used techniques. I didn’t want to seem intrusive. I just noted that it did not appear that participating in research made any changes in instruction. Teachers went right back to what they were doing before I met them. That may be good, bad, or not matter at all. My point is that if engaging in sustained, supported instruction over time (let’s assume the participation is willingly) doesn’t change one’s practice what the heck will?

It is my hope that the community aspect I’ve embedded, or at least tried to create, in my project will provide at least some impetus for teachers to continue on after our official time is done. I don’t think it’s common for research studies to create a community within the people who are participating to exchange ideas. I am hoping this exchange provides support for change and that because the ideas are coming from colleagues people will be inspired to do the work long after this project is over.

What if We Stopped Traditional Testing?

Last week, I talked about how I have been applying for grants to support the second year of my project. One of the things I discussed was how I was asked in one of those application to discuss weaknesses of my project. I noted that one thing that might could be considered a weakness was that I did not have a traditional reading comprehension assessment as part of my project. I said:

I’m not assessing with any traditional assessment measures. If a funder really, REALLY wanted me to, I would be happy to ask for reading scores from state reading exams. I will not impose an additional traditional assessment measure.

I wanted to elaborate on my statement a bit more today because I think it is important. I have spent a large part of this blog discussing how we need to rethink about literacy – or even educational – research is conducted. But within that, I think we need to seriously reconsider how and why we use assessments within our research. We also need to rethink how and why assessments are used in schools, but I’m keeping it focused on research for the moment.

So, first of all, I don’t think I learn anything significantly useful by including a reading assessment in my research. Up until now, I have used them in every classroom-based study I have done. What did I learn? I learned what reading level kids tested at.

How helpful was knowing students’ reading levels? Well, let’s be honest. For my career it was very helpful. People (funders, journal editors, people who review my manuscripts for publication) tend to like it when I can say something about growth. If I can say a class or a student started the year at X and ended at Z and showed growth, people don’t really question that. People don’t question numbers too much (in my experience).

But those numbers don’t tell me as much as observations and interviews do. In my last two studies, I’ve had five focal kids in each that I followed throughout. I would closely observe each focal student 1-2 times per week over the course of an academic year in the context of the project. I would also interview them three times. What I learned from doing this says so much more than a test score ever could.

For example, a young man in 8th-grade tested at a third grade-level at the start of the study (remember, I was still giving these assessments in conjunction with everything else). At the end he was around a fourth-grade reading level. You might say that yes, he made some improvement, but it could have happened without being in the study. You could be right.

But when I analyzed the interviews and classroom observations (and transcribed his talk) I could see a transformation you cannot see in a test score. Those pieces of evidence show a young man who starts to speak up more in class, who starts to ask questions, and changes the way he talks about text. He moved from discussing texts in a more superficial way to a more substantive one. He also started standing up for himself when others tried to shut him down.

Yes, his peers tried to shut him down.

Some of the so called “good readers” actively engaged in trying to keep him quiet, in telling him his ideas were wrong (when they were not), and talking over him. At some point, he – very politely to his credit – told them to cut it out and listen to him.

Test scores do not show you these complexities. I don’t think anyone would disagree with me on this. In fact, I think this is why people argue for mixed-methods which I have largely been a fan of until recently. Because what value does the test score add to this situation? I don’t know. In my opinion, not much, but tell me if you see it differently. I really want to hear your thoughts. The interviews and observations provide a window into how he interpreted what was happening in that classroom and it capture the social events and how they shaped his reading development. As a result, the study is able to look more broadly at what is happening and not scores that suggest good/bad and set up these dichotomies.

Second, these students do not need another test. I’m happy to collect test scores from assessments teachers are already required by the state to administer. Those tests are going to happen anyways. If it would make a funder happy for me to collect them, then fine. It’s more work for me, it’s a bit more work for the teachers, but – and this is important – it does not create more meaningless work and stress for the students. That’s also where I have about had it.

All these assessments that we give as part of our research sit alongside assessments the state requires. If kids take three assessments as a part of my study, they are also taking three or more as regulated by the state of theur county. They get tired of taking the tests. I don’t blame them. They don’t understand why they are doing it.

My question is: What do these tests really reveal? What do they tell us about students other than a number, and why is this number so important? I get that my more recent approaches (following and interviewing focal students) is more time and labor intensive. But are we really getting anything beneficial out of these assessments? We’ve been doing them for awhile, and nothing seems to really be getting any better. The achievement gap still exists. Adolescents are still considered to have significant literacy difficulties. What is more testing going to solve?

How can we understand the impact of our research differently? What can we do besides test?

Changing How We Engage

Clearly I’ve taken a break from this blog. In December, I had a conference followed by wrapping everything up at the end of the semester. Then I just wanted to take a break. The project itself was in a sort of suspended animation. I knew who wanted to join in, there were some organizational things on my end to contend with, and that was about it. Nothing major.

I’ve been working on getting funding for the second year of the project. I have one grant already submitted, but I am worried it will flop. I found out about it two weeks before it was due. It was a good match, but I had zero time to put it together. My university requires that the grant get reviewed and approved before it goes out which means I had one week to write it. Keep in mind I couldn’t devote seven days straight to writing it and, well, you can see how quickly I had to throw something together.

I am in the process of submitting a second grant now, and this is going much better. I have had nearly three months to pull it together, and it’s not complicated. These are not large, federal grants. They are small grants – I asked for just under 40,000.00 – and they require a bit less paperwork.

With this second grant, I was asked to name three strengths and three weaknesses of my project. Oh, that was pretty easy to do! I thought the weaknesses were actually interesting. I didn’t try to hide them. I don’t remember how I worded them for the application, but here’s a general idea for you:

(a) lack of any sort of control group. There is no comparison group at all to match the instruction up against

(b) no traditional reading comprehension assessment. I’m not assessing with any traditional assessment measures. If a funder really, REALLY wanted me to, I would be happy to ask for reading scores from state reading exams. I will not impose an additional traditional assessment measure. I’ll blog about this at a later date.

(c) a complete, and utter, lack of control. Seriously – to a traditional researcher this project embodies chaos. I’m not even sure if someone who falls on the more traditional end of the continumm would call my plans for Year 2 research, but I do. So there. I pointed out that anyone can participate as long as they are a certified teacher. That is my only requirement – be certified. I might even wave that if an interesting circumstance revealed itself. This means I’ve got teachers from any grade and teaching an subject from anywhere in the world.

Basically, if you’re looking to fund a traditional research project with normal assessments and that are confined in terms of who participates and how they participate I am not your gal.

But, I am banking, I am praying, that these funders will see an opportunity here. I try to make this point in my application. Are my weaknessess really weaknesses? Perhaps. Perhaps they are also strengths. I argue that this is the opportunity for funders to be a part of something different. And just how is this different? Well, I argued in my second application (because I had the space), that a major problem with educational research is that it doesn’t reach and impact its intended audience (teachers, children, families).  I asked funders to take into account how the work would be presented (in multiple public formats). While the funding would not be used to create these public presentations, it would allow me to collect the data and do the analysis that would lead to the public presetations. This is an opportunity, I said, to really get communities connected with research.

And that’s not just a bunch of jibber-jabber. I really do believe that. I really do believe this project has the potential to change not just how research is presented, but how research is communicated to and engaged with by the communities it is intended to serve. I think it’s absolutely critical that we recognize just how limited our work often (unfortunately) is. I don’t mean limited in scope. I mean limited in its impact. If we want to change that, we can’t expect the communities we serve to modify themselves to our ways. I’m also not suggesting we modify and become what the community wants. I’m suggesting we find new ways of interacting and communicatin with each other around research in ways that stretch the notion of collaboration.

Now, if someone has 40,000.00 they want to offer up to support Year 2, you know where to find me.

Musings and Feedback

Things have been a little slow around here lately. I took off blogging the week of Thanksgiving, and the week after I was in San Diego at the Literacy Research Association’s annual conference. I used the conference as a place to test out some of the ideas I have discussed here and get feedback and reactions. What I found was that people either are very intrigued and excited about what I am proposing to do, particularly in the second year, or they are confused or possibly think it’s a bad idea but won’t explictly tell me.

There’s no one single thing about my project that garners a love/hate (or love/confused) reaction from people because really, this project is messy and not following regular rules in pretty much every capacity. The fact that I’m willing to let my definition of disruptive instruction bend and change over the course of the spring perplexed some people. Others were confused as to why I would even consider letting teachers or students analyze data gathered in Year 2. Not having a comprehension assessment, or really any standardized form of assessment, did not always make sense to everyone. Some people embraced the idea recognizing that these assessments are limited and that while they can have a place in educational research, that does not mean have to include them in every single study. The idea of a museum or performance exhibit raised a few eyebrows. People were either super excited about the possibilities or super confused about why I would do this and what benefit it would offer.

I did get one piece of excellent feedback. Someone suggested that I have students document the making of an artifact in Year 2. This person thought that seeing the actual process would be very interesting. I think she might be right. I could see asking teachers to do this for one or two artifacts. Maybe more if we could figure out how to make it work well. I’m going to file that away and return to it in May.

For the people who were confused or perhaps put off by my ideas, I don’t blame them. I’m not trying to suggest I’m some innovative radical, but the ideas I have been blogging about are not the norm. If you’re a researcher who has been very successful at following the rules, then my ideas may not even seem like “real” research. To be fair, I have been very successful at following the rules. By that, I mean I have done things that are largely considered normal and acceptable in how I design my research and how I present my findings. I have not been the person who gets large grants. I have done my work through small, mostly internal, grants. For the most part, it’s the people who have garnered large grants that give me sideways looks. I can’t say why that is for sure. I’m simply noting it for future reference.

On a side note, is anybody getting bored with how research is being presented at conferences and in publications? Is anybody else tired of sitting through powerpoints and reading work that pretty much follows a written formula? To some extent, I am. I wonder, is anybody paying attention to what it is we’re all saying to each other? Or have we just grown so accustomed to the format of how we share our work that our eyes and brains have glossed over?

Communicating in Research

January is getting closer which means the launch date of this project is getting closer. I’ve got roughly 15 teachers on board, and I was faced with a new problem. They all needed some help understanding what I meant by dirsuptive instruction, and they all needed some help understanding what it looked like in practice.

How could I do this in a meaningful way? The teachers were scattered across several states. There was no money to do a face-to-face workshop. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to do a face-to-face workshop anyways. Wouldn’t that just be a bunch of overload? I had gathered two articles they could read that modeled disruptive instruction, but that was only a start. Eventually I figured it out: I made a Voice Thread.

Although I’ve just sent out one VT, I am hopeful it will work well as a means for communicating information about the project. First, teachers can watch it at their own pace. Second, they can watch it as many times as they want (some of it or all of it). They can also leave comments if they need help with something that others likely could benefit from.

So I made this VT, and it includes a short powerpoint that walks everyone through the current definition of disruptive instruction and its main components. Having done one and sent it out, I am already thinking of ways it could have been better. Like I could have asked people to provide specific input on the definition and the components, but it might be too early for that. It’s probably hard to give input about something you’re just now getting your head around.

I was able to share a lesson that one of my research assistants had written and walk them through how and why it was a model of disruptive instruction. I was able to break it down across grade levels. In this lesson, we focused on helping students learn that having reading difficulties was a normal part of the reading process and that we experience them more or less based on what we are reading and our experiences, prior knowledge, and interest in a given text. Using VT, I was able to show teachers how they could take this idea of struggling being normal and make it play out across grades K-2, 3-5, and 6-12. I was also able to highlight how the components of disruptive instruction were present and why this was considered a disruptive lesson.

I plan to make more VT recordings in the future. I think it has the potential for sharing other sample lessons throughout the study. My goal would be to share one lesson every 1-2 weeks be it one that I or a research assistant created or one that a teacher did that we could highlight. Also, the use of VT as a form of professional development for this project fits in perfectly. VT is not the norm for communicating how to engage in instruction for a research project. But what is normal about this project? Not much. I like that I couldn’t do a face-to-face. I like the challenge of figuring out how to communciate information with my team. I’m not sure that a face-to-face workshop would have gad much to offer anyways. Yes, we could have taken the time to so some planning, and that would have been useful. But otherwise, I’m not so sure. At least this way the recording is there and can be used again as it makes sense for people.


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