Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Voices That Matter

By Andrew Wintner

I recently had the privilege of presenting my research at the NCTE conference in Washington DC. First, let me make the generic claim that participating in events such as these; whether as a presenter or as an audience member is revitalizing. In my last post I touched upon the idea of the "teaching profession", while at NCTE teaching felt like a profession that people wanted to study and master. During our day to day as teachers it is easy to get bogged down and forget about the mission that drew us into the profession; educating children to the best of our ability. Being at these events reminds the individual teacher that they are apart of something meaningful and powerful, an ideal that is easy to lose.

While at the conference we saw a variety of presentations lead by a variety of presenters. All of the work was incredibly impressive and informative. Moreover, all of the presentations that I attended over the course of the weekend had clear universal implications. What was fascinating was the way in which different presenters, from different walks of the educational world, formulated their studies. Most graduate students / PHD candidates focused the collection of their data through quantitative measures, using clear metrics to compare student growth in a targeted area through the use of pre / post assessments; while many teachers triangulated qualitative data.

The contrast was stark, and the epiphany fleeting, but during these presentations it was clear that regardless of how data was collected and analyzed, the implications for the classrooms were the same. Rather it seemed that the most impressive implications stemmed from qualitative data; motivational words from student interviews, beautiful quips collected through written reflection and amazing growth in student affect towards varied skills left an impact much more lasting than t-tests that showed 99% significance.

The realization was pertinent; the last two years of teaching has allowed me to begin to view myself as a teacher researcher. However, I was so worried with designing the perfect design to track all data points that I lost sight of what was most important, the student. I was so worried about making sure that all data points had a pre and post assessment that it seemed like half the amount of time I spent with my focus group was dedicated to gathering data. Basically, I was not acting as a teacher researcher, I was acting as a researcher and while that has its benefits it is not the end all and be all. This is an important notion to internalize; important research in the classroom does not need to be entrenched in numbers and statistics.

There have been so many instances in which I wanted to study student motivation, or the impact of heterogenous grouping alternating with homogenous grouping every other day or the correlation between stamina and student affect towards a task, but I never studied any of the things that were of great interest in me because I could not wrap my head around how the design would look.

I am not making the claim that you should not triangulate your data or that your work does not need to based on prior research (mainly because a certain professor would kill me), however I am very clearly stating that you need to study what you think is important and will move student learning forward. If the design is not perfect, or the data collected is qualitative instead of quantitative, who cares, don't lose sight of why we want to engage in this work in the first place; to increase student learning. There are plenty of other times when we can let bureaucracy guide or pedagogy, but don't let that transcend into the research you conduct in your classroom because that research is so uniquely your own and so imperative to the profession of teaching and in turn student learning.

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