Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Facing Flower

I have been re-reading Linda Flower's The Construction of Negotiated Meaning and realizing once again how directly Flower addressed reflection as a pedagogical activity in this book. I cite Flower's work as one of the main strands in composition that has dealt with reflection in my pre-diss proposal, and I don't think I did her work justice. This blog post is an attempt to flesh out my perspective on Flower more deeply.

She states EXACTLY (or nearly so) the question that I have for my diss study. In chpt. 8 “Metacognition” she talks about the strong tradition within liberal education that values reflection. She qualifies this tradition: “One cannot merely assume that the discourse practice of reflection is really critical to learning, much less to all students” (224). Reflection's educational significance is an “open question.” She considers that self-motivated reflection has unquestioned value, but she is less clear when reflection is prompted within a class. She calls this reflection “strategic reflection”: “Then reflection as a literate practice, chosen in place of other practices, needs to be accountable” (224). I, too, am focused on “teacher-prompted” reflections within a freshman writing class—strategic reflections.

She distinguishes reflection from “metacognition” and “awareness” by defining it as “an intentional act of metacognition, and attempt to solve a problem or build awareness by 'taking thought' of one's own thinking”(225). Discussing some of the differing perspectives on metacognition, she goes on to zero in on what she will focus on in her study: “I would like to follow the traces of another, less studied, form of metacognition found in students' observation-based self reflections” (228). It seems that she included in what she was doing having students review transcripts of things like collaborative planning and logs of their work in the process of working on an essay, but it includes the general review of work on an writing assignment. Her focus is nearly equal to mine.

She asks: “Reflection is clearly a constructive process, but the question remains: What sort of knowledge or meaning does such reflection create? And do verbal statements (including our assumptions, insights, fictions, and self-observations) actually reflect, predict, or guide the other business of regulating cognition (e.g. Planning, monitoring, managing one's thinking)?” (228).

She goes on to identify two questions that her study will add address:
1)“the problematic epistemology of reflection”
2)“the charge that reflection is merely a luxury” (229)

Aren't these basically the “problems” that I am seeking to address in my own study? Does reflection generate any knowledge that is useful? Is reflection really worth the extra effort to make happen? Does it have enough “value added” benefit to include it into the curriculum?

She continues to refine her study as the chapter progresses. She states again that an “undiscriminating embrace of reflection” is unwise and makes no sense (just as an uncritical embrace of collaboration makes no sense). Acknowleging the highly variable nature of reflection, she repeats the educator's main questions about reflection:
What kind of knowledge is being created through reflection (under a given set of condition) and

How is that knowledge going to guide action? (234)

She then lists questions she will ask to “develop a theory of reflection.” She is about theory generation too!!!! The rest of chapters 8 and all of chapter 9 detail two classroom-based research studies she conducted to “generate a theory of reflection” by asking basically the two questions above (but she has three—1) how is reflection embedded in the educational situation; 2) what is the nature of students' interpretive, constructive process and what is the nature of the knowledge they construct; 3) how does reflection lead to action? (234). She actually digs deeper into question #3 by delving into what kind of action that reflection leads to.

So she is asking basically the same questions I am asking and trying to do the same thing I am doing—generate a theory. I like her questions, but can we interrogate how she goes about generating her theory. This critique of how previous research has sought to generate a theory of reflection in writing is part of the core rationale for my dissertation.

So how does Linda Flower generate her theory? What is problematic, from a grounded theory perspective, in her methodology? Clearly, Flower engages in what Yancey would call “Reflective Research.” It is pretty much case study type qualitative research. She collects data (in the form of student reflective pieces in conjunction with other artifacts from the course related to these reflections such as students tapes and observations of themselves and drafts of writing pieces) and analyzes it loosely based upon her theoretical understandings. She does code the midterm reflections for representations of metaknowledge. As she notes on page 237, teaching in its quest to meld theory and practice in a “hypothesis-creating, prediction-testing process” is theory building too (237). But mainly she observed and analyzed her data in light of her previous theories about cognition and writing to come up with her “understanding,” her theory of what kind of knowledge reflection creates and how it connects to action. Hence her theory building process is a highly dialectic process between the data, her experience, her own goals and experimentations as a teacher, and her theories of cognition. From a grounded theory perspective she has tampered with her analysis of the data by coloring it with preconceived theoretical assumptions. Perhaps she is seeing what she wants to see in the data?

Let's explore that question by seeing what her conclusions were.

On the question of what kind of knowledge writers construct with reflection, she states:
First, the knowledge that emerges from such reflection is strategic knowledge. Students not only recognize their own strategies, maneuvers, techniques, habits, they described them in terms of the goals that were driving such strategies. ...Secondly, the strategic knowledge the writers built was clearly driven by dilemmas. It emerges out of a sense of problems and desires. (257)

Hmm... . Let's see. So reflection fits neatly within a view of the writing process as a goal-directed, problem-solving activity. What a coincidence? Could Dr. Flower have been seeing what she expected to see in the data or finding what she was predisposed to find? Of course, you could say that she is confirming what she has discovered elsewhere and this is further evidence in support of her larger cognitive theory of the writing process. Could we say that this quest to generate a theory of reflection has really become another way of validating the larger model of the writing process? Perhaps. Perhaps.

She generates this theory from one classroom research study that has only 13 students. Eventually, she elaborates on her theory through a case study of only four students. So she has with a relatively small sample jumped to her sweeping definition of a theory. I suppose I can't really argue with Dr. Flower—she based her classroom practice and analysis of data on a much larger pool of experience and knowledge to that her interpretations in this theory generating process should be considered based upon these merits alone. But it is simply a different process of theory generation than grounded theory.

And why do we need this grouned theory study? For the same reasons she initiated her study—the problematic nature of the epistemology of reflection and charges that reflection has no value-added and is a luxury.

Maybe we can get closer to addressing these charges against reflection with a grounded theory research study.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Version 3.1

Pre-dissertation Proposal

Identify the Problem Requiring Research
The problem I propose to address with my dissertation research can be illustrated through the recent history of Freshman Composition at Texas Tech University. A number of years ago, between-the-draft reflections were included as a core component of the curriculum. After each draft and after each peer response, students were asked to reflect upon their piece of writing and what they might do to improve that draft for the next one. The activity was included in the curriculum based upon the belief that such reflections helped students develop a critical self-awareness and thus greater control of their own writing activity. In Fall 2007, however, these between-the-draft reflections were taken out of the curriculum. They were seen to have no significant benefit and to be extra work on already overloaded students (and graders). The decision was based upon a belief that students wrote these reflections without engagement and without effect upon their learning, their practice or end product.

This back and forth inclusion and exclusion of such in-task reflection speaks to the problem surrounding this pedagogical activity. We don’t know enough about what happens for students as they reflect or about its possible influence on students’ writing and learning within a Freshman Composition class. We don't have a theory that adequately explains and describes what happens for students as they reflect in this way, so that this pedagogical exercise can be used effectively in the classroom. This dissertation study proposes, then, to address this problem by using grounded theory and comparative analysis of student writing and reflections within Freshman Composition to generate such a theory.

The Research Question focusing this study is:

How do teacher-prompted rhetorical reflections performed by freshman students at TTU influence and relate to students’ learning and writing practice?

The purpose of this grounded theory study is to understand the role of reflection for freshman writer's within the activity of writing. Can a comparative analysis of teacher-prompted rhetorical reflections generate a theory to explain and describe what happens when students engage in this activity?

Definition of terms:
“teacher-prompted rhetorical reflection”: refers to a pedagogical activity when a teacher asks a student to reflect upon their writing and writing performance between drafts.
“rhetorical reflection”: designates the in-task nature of reflection and is defined more clearly later.
“learning”: refers to a change and growth in thinking and practice experienced by the learner.
“comparative analysis”: a method of textual analysis used in grounded theory to generate theory.

Review Some of the Basic Literature Regarding the Problem

The problem about reflection in the field of Composition Studies is an issue of pedagogical practice: we have adopted and adapted theories from others and theorized from our own practice a theory of reflection, yet (as the instance of TTU's composition program illustrates) we are ambivalent about it fulfilling its theoretical promises in practice. Barney Glaser and Anselm Strauss present simple criteria for judging the adequacy of a theory: "theory must fit the situation being researched, and work when put to use" (3). Our current theory of reflection--predominantly borrowed from philosophers such as Dewey, Habermas, and Schon--may not fit the writing situation since applying the principles of these theories in practice doesn't seem to work well enough to gain reflection, particularly rhetorical reflection, wider acceptance.

The issue of the adequacy of our current theory of reflection has not come up in the scholarly literature regarding reflection. Reflection seems to suffer the same problem that Joseph Harris noted about the term “community”--it never seems to be spoken up with negative connotations. We approach reflection uncritally. Hence, the brief review of the literature on reflection in Composition Studies will present the three major strands of reflection used in practice and critique how each of these “theories of use” were generated. These strands include: course-wide reflection, the cognitive model of the writing process, and self-evaluation/revision strategies.

Reflection as a widely-used term and pedagogical practice emerged in Composition Studies in the late 1980s and early 1990s concurrent with the growth of portfolios as an alternative means to evaluate writing as well as increased interest in Composition in writing as a form of constructing learning and “making meaning” (epitomized best by the work of Ann Bertoff). Kathleen Blake Yancey's 1992 Portfolios in the Writing Classroom: An Introduction marks this trend more than any single text. Portfolios contain a reflective “letter” or statement from students, and many teachers began to see that for students to reflect effectively upon their writing and learning experience at the end of a course they need to reflect throughout the course. The exigencies of assessment, then, brought reflection into the middle of writing process pedagogy as a kind of backward filling in of a gap. Yancey, again, was the most prominent theorist in this regard with her 1998 Reflection in the Writing Classroom. In this text, she outlines the theory and practice of incorporating reflection course-wide by describing three types of reflection: reflection-in-action, constructivist reflection, and reflection-in-presentation. The 1990s, thanks in large part to her lead, was a time when much was published on reflection in Composition: Higgins (1992), Bolton (1993), Gleason (1993), Flower (1994), Hughes and Kooy (1997), Qualley (1997), Brown (1998), Underwood (1998), Pope (1999), J. Sommers (1989), Anson (2000).

Yancey explicitly states in her volume that she is retheorizing Schon's understandings of reflection for the writing classroom (Reflection vi). Schon presented the idea of the “reflective practitioner” and ways to improve professional practice. He positions reflection as a form of knowing or “non-technical rationality” appropriate when causal inferences are a judgment call. This situated form of theorizing practice follows a method: 1) reflect on work (know it, review it), 2) discern patterns, 3) project appropriately from these patterns, 4) hypothesize new ways of thinking about the situation (Yancy, Reflection 12). Yancey simplifies this theory from Schon for the writing classroom into this model and method:

Model of Reflection
(look backwards) Review <--dialogue/dialectic with--> Project (look forward)
leads to

Method of Reflection
Multiple Perspectives
leads to

Through the combination of Dewey's notions about reflection as well, Yancey asserts that we have a coherent theory of reflection (20). Interestingly, this theory is presented as a process or procedure: “Reflection, then, is the dialectical process by which we develop and achieve, first, specific goals for learning; second, strategies for reading those goals; and third, means of determining whether or not we have met those goals or other goals. Speaking generally, reflection included the three processes of projection, retrospection (or review), and revision” (6). She goes on to specify three processes that apply to writing:
I.goal-setting, revisiting, and refining
II.text-revising in the light of retrospection
III.the articulation of what learning has taken place, as embodied in various texts as well as in the processes used by the writer (6)
Within these three processes of reflection, we can see my own charting of reflection into two types of reflection: rhetorical reflection and curricular reflection:

Yancey's first two goals of goal-setting and text-revising fit more with “rhetorical reflection” which occurs in-task, is more writer-centered, and is geared toward problem-solving within the activity of writing. Yancey's term for this kind of reflection is “reflection-in-action” (from Schon). The third goal, articulating learning, fits what I am calling “curricular reflection” which occurs post-task for the purposes of constructing learning typically (though not exclusively) for an audience (often for the purposes of assessment). Within Composition Studies, this type of reflection has predominantly occurred in reflective letters accompanying end-of-course portfolios, and most scholarship about reflection has focused on this type of reflection: Yancey (1997, 1998); Black, Sommers, and Stygall (1994); Hamp-Lyons and Condon (1993, 2000); Camp (1998).

Although it may be an overgeneralization, most of the theories and practices of reflection in Composition Studies came out of classroom experimentation or a process that Yancey labels “reflective research.” Below is an outline of the research method described in her book Reflection in the Writing Classroom:

student text (reflection/writing/interview) <--dialectic with--> theory
dialectic with
what we observe and interpret
Then we explain it to others so we can explain it to ourselves--conclusions (17)

Interestingly, student texts as data are first interrogated relative to theory and then held up to the first person experiences and interpretations of the researcher/teacher. Theory, then, in this course-wide strand of reflection has a prominent place in shaping our understandings about reflection.

The second major strand of scholarly work on reflection in Composition studies has to do with metacognition and Flower and Hayes' cognitive model of the writing process (1980). Although they developed their model from extensive research, the research since that time has in large part been done to validate this model. Those interested in reflection have looked at the Flower and Hayes model and identified “reviewing” and the “monitor”--as well as “metacognition”-- as synonymous terms for reflection and the activity of reflection. In seeking to understand the thinking processes occurring when we write, they position reflection as one important part of that process, one element in the mechanics of the model's operation. Notice, again, reflection is understood within the frame of process (like Schon and Yancey). Notable research and articles written on reflection from this cognitive view point include: Raphael (1989), Steinberg (1980), Flower (1994), Sitko (1998), English (1998), McAlpine (1999), Alamargot (2001), Efklides (2006). Bereiter and Scardamalia work in their 1987 The Psychology of Written Composition must have a special place in the psychological consideration of writing and reflection. In their own cognitive model of the writing process, they position reflection prominently in relation to “knowledge transforming.” Lastly, John Hayes has gone on to modify the cognitive model of the writing process, putting forward in 1996 a new model of revision that positions reflection as a mediating “Fundamental Process.” Within the process of reflection are labeled two actions: problem solving and decision making (14). The danger I see from this cognitive strand of reflection comes from the potential ways of understanding and using reflection have been generated from and generated to fit a model.

The last lens through which the field of Composition studies has examined reflection has been in relation to student self-evaluations. This work, done mostly by Richard Beach (1976, 1979, 1984) examines the influence of self-evaluation on revision. Joseph Harris' recent work (2003, 2006) follows this same tradition and impetus to find ways to help students become better at revision through what he calls “critical practice.” Although these self-evaluations are not labeled as “rhetorical reflections,” they are similarly situated between drafts and ask for students to review their work with an eye toward the next draft. Other research and scholarship done on self-evaluations in connection to reflection include Moore (1993), Haswell (1993), and Anson (2000). Whereas Yancey's work on reflection-in-action highlights the inventional qualities of these between the draft reflections, work done both by the cognitivist and those done in self-evaluation stress the importance of judgment and how these activities reveal and promote the formation of judgment.

What is the gap in our understanding of reflection in Composition?
We actually have an incredibly rich theoretical understanding of reflection, yet I see two gaps that this research will attempt to address.

1) Our theories and understandings about reflection have been generated from other theories or developed to fit a model. As Yancey's “Reflective Research Method” illustrated, our understanding of concrete examples of reflection have been first interpreted through the lens of other theorist or models. The danger is that those theories and models shape what we see when we examine what is happening when students reflect.

2) The second question we have to ask about the current theory of reflection is whether it truly fits and works as well as we think? It is a beautiful theory and makes perfect sense. Yet, we encounter instances when it doesn't work or doesn't happen. Why? What is going on? I have used the ambiguity about reflection's utility at TTU to illustrate the problem. If reflection worked so well (as the theory states), then why would it be cut from the curriculum? Why wouldn't more people be using reflection in their teaching? What is it about reflection that our current theory doesn't explain?

Outline Goals and Methods of Research for Adding to the Knowledge Regarding the Problem

To fill this gap in our understanding of rhetorical reflection as a pedagogical activity, I propose doing a grounded theory analysis of the writing and reflective texts produced by Freshman writers within the First Year Writing Program at Texas Tech. By focusing on data first and using techniques of comparative analysis and theoretical sampling, I will seek to approach an empirical study of reflective texts in a way that has not been done before in Composition Studies in order to generate a theory of reflection that may fit and work better than our current model.

My study will be an archival study examining texts within the TOPIC database from the academic year 2004-2006, which contains thousands of these texts. This data set offers the unique opportunity to study thousands of texts both through textual analysis, but also through datagogic methods of data-mining. Datagogic within Composition Studies refers to the use of databases as a central site where all writing is submitted in a writing course. “Datagogic methods” refers to new methods of researching writing within this new database setting.

According to Glaser and Strauss (1967), this dissertation research would be considered a beginning step in generating theory. They believe the initial establishment of categories and properties are best established by first minimizing differences among the comparison groups (55). My data set of freshman writers of roughly the same age from the same school represents such a “minimized” group. Only after these categories and properties are established within this relatively homogeneous set of groups should the researcher turn to “maximizing” the differences among comparative groups to further refine and develop the theory. This direction toward maximizing differences among comparison groups points to a possible post-dissertation research agenda.

The first phase of my research will be to do this basic work of generating theory within a minimized group (TTU Freshman Composition, TOPIC). Glaser and Strauss state two criteria for the generation of theory. The theory generated must “fit” the situation and “work” when put to use: “By 'fit' we mean that the categories must be readily (not forcibly) applicable to and indicated by the data under study; by 'work' we mean that they must be meaningfully relevant to and be able to explain the behavior under study” (3). The second phase of my research will engage in confirmation of the fitness and workability of the theory generated by engaging in Content Analysis of a large sample of student writing from TOPIC as well as strategic data mining within the TOPIC database.

The following chart derived from Creswell (2003) will describe my general research design:
Research Approach
Knowledge Claims
(epistemological stance)

Strategies of Inquiry
Grounded theory
Comparative Analysis of texts
Additionally, possible Content Analysis and data-mining
Theoretical sampling of various groups of Freshman writers and writing from within the TOPIC database. In theoretical sampling, the process of data collection is controlled by the emergence of theory.

A second phase of the study to validate the discovered theory might entail Content Analysis and data mining
Data Analysis
Close textual analysis of texts will be used following grounded theory's method of comparative analysis.

From this comparative analysis, derive a coding instrument for analyzing these reflections by a team of coders. Identify key search parameters for large-scale data mining.

My research process as I see it right now might follow this path.
1.Use grounded theory to discover categories, properties, and their interrelation and generate a theory
2.Derive a coding instrument from this grounded theory analysis
3.Apply this coding instrument to the content analysis of a sample of texts to check the understandings derived from the grounded theory analysis
4.Use large-scale data-mining analysis to further triangulate some of the understandings coming from the previous research efforts

Outline of Chapters
1.Introduction: The Rationale for Studying Rhetorical Reflection
2.Literature Review on Reflection in Learning
3.The Connection of Reflection to Invention
4.Methodology and Methods for Research Study
5.Results from Study
6.Implications for Practice

Explanation of Reading List Materials and Their Relation to the Dissertation Research

The scholarship contained in my reading list will contain four broad categories: reflection, invention, composition/rhetoric and rhetoric, and research methods. Since the focus of my inquiry is on reflection, the bulk of my reading list will contain readings related to reflection. These readings will contain general scholarship on reflection, reflection in education, and reflection within Composition/Rhetoric. Since reflection is so often linked to learning, this section may contain theories of learning that are applicable to reflection. Invention is added as a special category in my reading list because I believe there is a link between reflection and invention, especially as it relates to a writer negotiating their rhetorical stance within the activity of writing. The third category will present foundational text within the field of Composition/Rhetoric as well as in Rhetoric. I don’t propose to present a laundry list of Composition and Rhetoric text, but I will include texts which have been significant in my understanding of writing and rhetoric. In addition, I will include a sub-category of core texts in Technical Communication since this doctorate is in Technical Communication and Rhetoric. The last category will deal with research and research design. Although I will present some foundational texts for researching (such as MacNealy (1999) and Johanek (2000)), I will also include texts focused directly on the methodologies and methods I will use in my study, particularly Grounded Theory.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Version 3.1 thoughts

I have completed version 3.1 of the pre-diss proposal, and I thought I would accompany it with some thoughts and comments.

What's different in v3? (changelog)
--research question has been honed down to one question
--inclusion of purpose statement a la Creswell that defines a grounded theory study
--total revamping of section #2: "Review Some of the Basic Literature Regarding the Problem" to align my review of literature with a rationale for my grounded theory study
--the previous versions of this Literature Review section presented a review of the literature on the SUBJECT of reflection, not the subject of reflection in composition or rhetorical reflection more specifically. I still feel this subject review is important, so I have moved it to the appendix of the proposal as a way of still including it
--gap in understanding section has been refined to two clear rationales for the study
--Methods section outlines in more detail the rationale for using grounded theory and how I will go about the study

In general, I would summarize the shifts in this draft as revisions to refine the proposal as a grounded theory research project.

My main questions at this point are broadly:

1. Does the draft flow as a coherent rationale for conducting the study? Where are there cracks or discontinuities in this rationale?
2. I am confused by my research design--all I've read regarding grounded theory research studies is that they focus on theory generation, yet my study mixed generation and validation.

Some personal reflections on the draft so far--

I am feeling better about the draft. My worry, to a degree, is that I have created a fiction. I suppose all framings of the world are a fiction, but I wonder how fictive mine is. Here is my story in short--

We are having some problems with the pedagogical use of reflection. It works; it doesn't work. Some like it some don't. Some use it some don't. This is a problem. Hmm... Maybe the source of this problem is that the theories we have that guide our practice aren't so good--maybe they don't fit the writing context. As we look at Composition's thinking and practice about reflection you see we indeed have a lot of assumptions about it. A close look also reveals that these assumptions (theories) have been generated from other theories and deductive reasoning (and reflection) from our own experience. We have a beautiful idea of what reflection is and does--but does this idea shape what we see and do regarding reflection. Perhaps this idea of reflection is a bit off. Just perhaps. So riding in on a white horse is a new study--lets cast the theories aside (for a little while) and just look at these reflective pieces and let the data speak. Let's see if we can generate a theory from the data (rather than see the data in terms of another theory). With this new handy theory, then, we will understand better what is going on when students reflect between drafts and we can design activities better. World saved!

What a story!?

Writing this story I can see a bit of a surprising element--my advocacy agenda. I want to reform our perspective on reflection and convert. I think the way I have framed the story highlights this evangelical nature, but I think in practice and the development of my research I will need to take a more ethnographic stance toward my data and the uses of my own work. I will need to describe and understand first. Then later advocate, perhaps.

I'm having some doubts, also, about using just the TTU TOPIC database. I think that I will have to follow my nose as far a theoretical sampling goes, but since I am generating theory and not validating it, I think I could try to get data from multiple sources. I just know how much value there is in interviewing and talking to people. I won't be able to do that with just the TOPIC data. But then, that may be the defining constraint that characterizes my study.

So much for now...

Monday, July 21, 2008

Facing Yancey

To a large degree, my research work will have to deal with work in composition and reflection done previously by Kathleen Yancey. That doesn't mean I need to contradict her or necessarily amplify her, but I have to deal with her work. I have been re-reading her Reflection in the Writing Classroom and these are a few of the things right now about her ideas and work I must face.

1) We already have a coherent theory of reflection--so why do we need a new one?
Speaking about how reflection is a good means to create a "student-centered" curriculum, Yancey advocates using reflection because it is "theorized in a coherent way"(20). Implicit in this statement is the belief that the current theory of reflection meets Glaser and Strauss' criteria for a theory--that it fits and that it works. The theory is descriptive of the phenomenon and works when put into practice.

So what is this theory?

Yancey seems to promote what could be called a "model" of reflection. She offers a couple of these models and methods, but they each are similar.

Model #1:
Review (look back) --dialogue/dialectic with-- Project (look forward)
set problem
conceptualize problem from diverse perspectives
check and confirm

leads to

as we seek to reach goals we set for ourselves

Method of Model #1:
Conceptualize Multiple Perspectives (cognitive, intuitive, affective)
leads to

Model #2: from Donald Schon (where Yancey begins to equate professional practitioner with student)

reflect on work
(know it)
(review it)

discern patterns

hypothesize new way of thinking about a situation

I can see now that Schon is proposing this approach to reflection as a means for developing theory! (Sort of like Grounded Theory.)

Without doubt, each method is founded deeply on interpretation, on personal interpretation.

So I come back to my question--with such a well conceived "theory" of reflection, do we really need a new one? What reason is their for pursuing a new theory? I can think right now of two reasons--

1) Our theories of reflection have been generated from our practice in interpretive ways: we have generated this theory from looking at the world, but mostly this "looking" has been a logical/deductive interpretation and theorizing based upon this experience. Much of our theorizing is founded on philosophic thinking about the nature of knowledge and the nature of thought. It has been built on dialectical inquiry between thought and experience. There is no problem with this, but I don't think we can say the theory was built from the ground up, out of the data and out of a wide array of data. I don't know--this is a weak point I think for me because so many thinkers have pursued this theory. We make assumptions, however, that this model of reflection is what happens. So the angle here for my study is HOW I will be coming to some kind of theory of reflection. It will be different than how we have generated our theory before. (See below discussion of Yancey's reflective research methodology.)

2) Second angle--Does this theory really fit and work as well as we think? It is a beautiful theory and makes perfect sense. Yet, we encounter instances when it doesn't work or doesn't happen. Why? What is going on? I have used the ambiguity about reflection's utility at TTU to illustrate the problem. If reflection worked so well (as the theory states), then why would it be cut from the curriculum? Why wouldn't more people be using reflection in their teaching?

These two rationales seem sufficient. Now I have to get them into my proposal.

Reflective Research Methodology
Yancey outlines her methodology for generating her theory and practice outlined in her text. I would say that this methodology is typical for how research on reflection has been done and justified. Here is the approach:

Student Reflection/Text (data) --dialectic with-- Theory
--dialectic with--
what we observe and interpret

then explain it to others so we can explain it to ourselves

The key thing to note about this methodology is the place of theory. Glaser and Strauss would worry that the early dialectic with theory would color and shape what we observe and what we interpret. Yancey herself questions if what she is doing is research (15). She bases most of her theories and discussions about practice on examples from her students, perhaps one to three sections of Freshman Composition.

If the end point is about pedagogy and practice, we can see that I am proposing to make statements about the pedagogy and practice of using teacher-prompted in-task rhetorical reflections based from a different position of knowing, a knowing generated from the data (student reflections/texts) and a systematic attempt to find a theory which fits and works with this data.

Last note: The other thing I note in her own rhetoric about reflection is the use of the term "dialectic." Dialectic seems to be the crucial intermediary catalyst and means for developing insight and movement in the reflection process. Dialectic is a method of back and forth questioning and dialogue leading to truth or some agreed upon truth. What is interesting to note here is that Yancey obviously is using the term metaphorically--dialectic literally happens between two people, but here there is a silent kind of virtual dialectic between the writer/researcher and the text or data, between the writer/researcher and a theorist. Interesting...

Monday, July 7, 2008

Research Question work

Working on the Research Question

I've just finished reading through Creswell's Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design: Choosing Among Five Traditions. Typical to Creswell, he provides excellent and clear guidance coupled with good examples. He may be faulted for presenting templates for things, but these formats help enormously. I feel as if he provides a solid floor beneath my feet upon which to stand. Ultimately, my research question and research design will need to stand upon its own, but Creswell helps in this process.

From Creswell, I believe I have a good phrasing of my overarching research question:

What theory explains the role of reflection within the activity of writing?

To specify that question more:
What theory explains the role of teacher-prompted rhetorical reflection within the activity of writing for freshman writers (at Texas Tech University)?

Creswell talks also about “subquestions,” and how these subquestions take the form of either issue questions or topical questions. As Creswell defines them, “issue questions address the major concerns and perplexities to be resolved” and “topical questions cover the anticipated needs for information” (101). He mentions that in a grounded theory study the topical questions may refer directly to the aspects of coding steps followed in grounded theory. Here is a version of my research question with the related subquestions:

What theory explains the role of teacher-prompted rhetorical reflection within the activity of writing for freshman writers (at Texas Tech University)? What are the general categories to emerge in open coding? What central phenomenon emerges? What are the causal conditions? What specific interaction issues and larger conditions have been influenced (to include the writer's subsequent draft)? What are the resulting associated strategies and outcomes?

***I should note that the phrasing of these subcategories is pretty much word for word from the Valerio (1995) study quoted by Creswell as an example on page 104. I would need to rephrase this material somehow.***

Creswell also offers a script for the purpose/problem statement. I will fill out his script for my study:

The purpose of this grounded theory study is to understand the role of reflection for freshman writer's within the activity of writing. At this stage in the research, reflection will generally be defined as “teacher-prompted, rhetorical reflection”--that is a pedagogical activity prompting freshman writer's to reflect upon their writing and writing process between drafts.

OK—Thanks Mr. Creswell. This is a nice start to help me revise my research question.Working on the Research Question

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Some thoughts on Grounded Theory

I want to write a couple of things right now while they are in my mind about Grounded Theory.

Generating Theory rather than Verifing It

I have had a modernist premise about research that it should be about validating theories--research should prove something. We "generate knowledge" by seeing if something is "so" and we do that by testing it. In addition, I think I have had a sense of "how I thought things were"--my own assumptions and logical deductions about reality (or in this case, about reflection)--and I wanted to see if they were right.

Thus, my largest adjustment has been to step back and shift into theory generation mode. I believe I am making this adjustment ok, but I am pinched by an aspect of my proposed research design that seems to be all about verification in this modernist sense.

Here's the flow of my research design (much condensed):
--do grounded theory comparative analysis to generate a theory of rhetorical reflection
--from this analysis, create a code or coding rubric
--get coders (not me) to use this code to analyze data to see if the code holds up
based upon a) what they find i.e. do they see what I see
and b) what their inter-rater reliability is
--somewhere somehow in here also is the idea of using data mining in the TOPIC vault to further "triangulate" my "findings"

My big question is whether this is too much. As I read about grounded theory, they assert that theory generation is enough for a study, and that it has its own kind of verification. If done well as far as the process, it should have a level of fit and workableness that precludes the need for verification.

"theory must fit the situation being researched, and work when put to use" (Glaser and Strauss 3).

They seem to imply that if grounded theory has been done well and fully then these aspects of describing and explaining the phenomenon will be almost self-evident. Hence, testing in the traditional way is almost redundant.

I'm still wrapping my mind around the issue of verification and its place in theory generation, and I am awaiting guidance from Rich on this question, but I did find this passage on verification this morning.

I note looking at this passage that the word "validation" is used rather than verification! Hmm...

This is a passage from Strauss and Corbin's Basics of Qualitative Research: Techniques and Procedures for Developing Grounded Theory (1998) in a short section at the end of a chapter on Selective Coding (the end point of the grounded theory coding process):

"When we speak of validating, we are not talking about testing in the quantitative sense of the word. This can be left to future studies, if desired. What we mean by 'validating' is the following. The theory emerged from data, but by the time of integration, it represents and abstract rendition of that raw data. Therefore, it is important to determine how well that abstration fits the raw data and also to determine whether anything salient was omitted from the theoretical scheme" (159)

They propose two ways to validate the scheme:
1--a high-level comparative analysis (i.e. look again at the data)
2--member checking the scheme with the subjects

What they don't propose is to having OTHERS do the comparative analysis using the theory. We shall see. I think this second phase of my research design is still in flux and I may not need to define it absolutely ahead of time. What I think they are urging is that it is important to check how well the theory "fits" and how well it "works."

One other thing I found--the fittingness of grounded theory to study reflection and writing. It is good for studying a process, especially a social process.

Ian Dey in his Grounding Grounded Theory (1999) says this about grounded theory:
"One of the distinctive aspects of grounded theory is it firm location in an interactionist methodology. Hence grounded theory is oriented to explicating 'basic social processes' in dynamic terms--or, to put it crudely, how actions have consequences" (63).

Strauss and Corbin (1998) in talking about axial coding talk about the importance of relating structure to process. They say we must relate structure and process: "Because structure or conditions set the stage, that is, create the circumstances in which problems, issues, happenings, or events pertaining to a phenomenon are situated or arise. Process, on the other hand, denotes the action/interaction over timeof persons, organizations, and communities in response to certain problems and issues. ... Process and structure are inextricably linked, and unless one understands the nature of their relationship ..., it is difficult to truly grasp what is going on" (127).

Now that I look at this quotes I am not sure they are the ones I thought of, but I still think they are pointing to the prominence grounded theory puts on process and how that fits with studying reflection within the process of writing.

OK. Enough for this morning.

Within one day, I read in two different books on grounded theory about how it is a particularly good method for analyzing a process

Identifying Problems in the Pre-Diss Process

Diane Allen has proposed a gathering of others at the pre-diss stage to talk about the process. In my reply to her email, I identified a number of problems I have been dealing with. I thought I would transpose them into here.


What I see happening with my own proposal is that I am refining a kind of logic that should flow

--there is a problem
--I have this question that I will use to investigate something about this problem
--here's what others have said and done related to this problem
--here's what my study should add to our understanding of the problem
--here's my plan for investigating the problem and why I am going to investigate in this particular way

My overall problem or challenge right now is to tie all this logic together. Right now, I don't feel that they fit and flow together into a kind of cogent narrative.

One large problem I've been wrestling with is the framework of "the problem" as defining research. I believe we talked a fair amount about this topic when I took my basic research class because most of us tend to gravitate to a question rather than a problem. Does all research need to be focused on a problem!??? By using the framework of "the problem," it structures how we see research and how we do it. The Problem Frame in Research. (That sounds like a good book topic!)

A second problem I have is in the second section:
Review Some of the Basic Literature Regarding this Problem.

I have interpreted this section to mean a basic literature review on the SUBJECT of my research interest. It is dawning more and more on me that I don't need to summarize all the literature written on the general subject I am writing on; instead, I think I need to be more focused. My personal problem, however, is that there isn't really anything focused exactly on what I am focusing on. I also feel that if I don't have this large lit review-lite, that I won't be somehow validating the overall project. It needs this mass of scholarship behind it. I'm thinking about trimming out the lit review on the SUBJECT of reflection into a kind of appendix to the proposal that I can refer to.

The third underlying problem I have been facing is to determine in a broad sense how I will research--my methodological approach. Part of the logic I think needs also to be this:

--I have "this" understanding about knowledge and how knowledge is created
--I have this problem I am seeking to make knowledge about
--Out of all the tools for making knowledge out there, I am choosing this approach that fits best with my view of knowledge claims and my particular subject of study

For me, this has involved learning more about grounded theory. The more I think about it, the more I see that this month reading and learning about Grounded Theory has not been in vain. I am seeing much more about what GT is and how it fits for my project.
...more about that in another post.

Resolving these problems as best I can is my goal for version 3.0 of the proposal.