When researching the lives of people

When I think about qualitative research, I remember a group of Salvadoran teachers sitting on the floor talking about the challenges of teaching in a rural setting. They talk about their frustrations with the younger ones who have never lived in a time of war and all the loss and violence that was so much a part of their lives. They talk about crossing the Sumpul River to get away from the soldiers and their makeshift classrooms in the forest where they went to school.

Sumpul River Massacre – “there were so many vultures picking at the bodies in the water that it looked like a black carpet,”

I haven’t thought about these stories for a long time, but I am thinking about them now. The memories have been stirred up by the reading I have been doing on qualitative inquiry and what it means to use a narrative approach to conduct research. For me, the only meaningful study of the lives of these people would be through a rigorous qualitative study. Using the criteria that exists to conduct qualitative research we could learn a great deal from these people’s stories.

This was not what I was imagining when I started my courses in the fall. Now I am thinking about John Creswell and what he says about listening to the participant in the study and working to understand the lived experience of those you are talking to Creswell (2015).

I am also thinking back to the first article I read, Tracy’s ‘Big-Tent’ criteria for excellent qualitative inquiry (Tracy, 2010). The first criteria – Worthy topic –  really struck me and this is challenging me to think in a different way about my own research.

Studies of worth excite interest and go places that are unexpected (Tracy, 2010, p. 841). That is what I want to do and this is certainly what good qualitative research should do. I have read and reread Samantha Cutrara’s book Transforming the Canadian History Classroom: Imaging a New We (Cutrara, 2020) and I now understand why this book is having such an influence on me. In my opinion, this is excellent qualitative research. It tells the story of four classrooms where the author attempted to turn conventional history teaching on its head.

Rather than teach the standard curriculum revolving around the two founding peoples, Cutrara allowed students, mainly from urban racialized schools in Toronto, to develop their own narratives. She calls this methodology Historic Space, and it focuses on deconstructing the historical narratives that are meaningless to the students she is working with (Cutrara, 2020, p. 168). The richness or rigour of her research comes from the stories she tells of her conversations with different students and also the pushback she experiences from some of the teachers she works with.

Cutrara is a very reflexive writer who has taken the time to write about the anger and frustration she encountered while doing this work. She wrote this book because after four years, she felt compelled to honour the voices of the students she worked with and to ensure that their voices were heard (Cutrara, 2020 p. ix.).

The research really resonates with me, not just because at one point I was a history teacher, but because she is telling the stories of the voiceless, another key component that Tracy identifies as good qualitative research (Tracy, p. 844). 

Tracy also writes that good qualitative research should make a significant contribution. I do need to read more about how Cutrara’s arguments are being received. She goes against conventional thought on the use of historical thinking concepts in the classroom so while I consider this excellent qualitative research there may not be many academics who share my belief.

Returning to the classroom in El Salvador, I can imagine a researcher using Tracy’s model and Cutrara’s story-telling ability to get at the heart of good qualitative research. What an exciting challenge to bring such important stories into the light.

References

Creswell., J. (2015). Doing qualitative research [Video]. In SAGE Research Methods Video https://dx.doi.org/10.4135/9781506363448

Cutrara, S. (2020)Transforming the Canadian History Classroom: Imagining a New We. UBC Press.

Tracy, S. J. (2010). Qualitative Quality: Eight “Big Tent” Criteria for Excellent Qualitative Research. Qualitative Inquiry 16(10) 837-851. https://doi.org/10.1177/1077800410383121

My Researcher’s Journal – an introduction

This is a different type of post, it may go on for years.

One thing I have been charged to do is to write every day. One of the writing challenges is to start a researcher’s journal. Everything in a Ph.D. program focuses on the end goal, the completion of a dissertation. There are many layers to this process, I am unpeeling one of them here.

I am very grateful for the writing prompts I have been getting over the past two weeks. My writing had dried up and while I love to write, I really did not see much to write about. Now I have a focus and I need to reserve time every day for writing.

I have two supervisors which is wonderful. I met with both of them last week to start work on this journey. Very slowly I think, I will develop some ideas on what I should focus on in my research.

What do I know so far?

I got into all of this because of historical thinking concepts. I love the idea that as teachers our first task is to help our students to think.

While much has been written over the past 20 years, some areas like the ethical dimension have received less attention. This gives me a clue on where I can start.

One of my advisors told me to read everything by Peter Seixas, the preeminent writer on historical thinking concepts in Canada. So, I need to go back and follow the train of his writing for the past 20 years. I can’t see how I am going to truly understand the philosophy and epistemology behind historical thinking without this deep dive.

Peter Seixas

As I learn new things and read more articles, I will have to find a system for keeping a record of all this. Over the summer I used this chart along with summary notes to start documenting the articles I am reading. The chart is a good way to clarify my thinking so I will start using this again with some modifications.

content or topic with matching
photo article on gallery walk – pedagogy,
methodology, epistemology
text – big ideas/concepts
  ← relates to my thesis?
← applications for own teaching/inspirations
I have added epistemology and Methodology to the chart, also changed other resources to relates to my thesis
I have to look at articles critically – what is the epistemology, the methodology? the method?

The chart will continue to change and eventually there will be hundreds of articles, but putting down something here helps me to commit.

Apart from historical thinking, I am really interested in how we choose the stories we are going to tell our students and how this changes over time. This week, I am going to work on Reverberating Echoes: Challenging Teacher Candidates to Tell and Learn From Entwined Narrations of Canadian History (2011)
by Kent Den Heyer and Laurence Abbott. Narrative is something I am really interested in, so this is another clue.

I am learning about qualitative research, and this is something I want to understand better. There is more of a story-telling approach in qualitative research and this immediately appeals to me. I am also learning about oral history which is fascinating.

Can I combine oral history with qualitative research?

I also have to work on my academic writing and how to do citations and references properly. The only way to do this is to keep writing and listen carefully to all the advice I get.

These are early days, so my journal is a collection of random ideas. I have decided to put this out on my regular blog so that I can keep this process visible. I also hope that along the way I will get some sage advice that might help.

This is the introduction, the next post will be a chapter 1.