Saturday, February 14, 2009

Slow working on the proposal

I've just had a morning session working on the proposal, and I thought I would process it with a bit of thinking on paper about how it is going. It is really interesting to "feel" how this writing is going. First, it goes slowly. My sense of what I am doing is like carving or perhaps it is more modular like building a wall or a lego. I am taking pieces and fitting them in and fitting them together. But it is a bit more than that. I am creating pieces that themselves are often formulated by taking other pieces and shaping them to fit in and together. So it is slow work. I have this image of a mason who builds a rock wall and chips and breaks stone pieces to fit in. The mason also trowels cement into gaps and lubricates the fitting together of pieces. All I can say is it is slow going.

What I think is taking shape better is what this Proposal as a first chapter of the dissertation is about--what it is and what it is for. I believe I have an opening that sets the problem fairly well with a concrete example (as Fred said I should). I think that concern or as Fred says the "friction" underlying my study is fairly clear. I am now working on the "So What?"--the reason why writing teachers should be interested in this study too. My main rationale is based upon premises for how we learn and what we understand the activity of writing is. I'm a bit worried that this discussion about premises may be seen as a digression, especially as right now they are long, but I think these concerns are important. They also happen to be chunks I have been able to import in-whole from my qualifying exam. Again, I don't know if that is a good idea, but there they are. I'm not complete in fashioning and refashioning them to fit and work yet.

My next task will be to clearly define the relatively narrow focus of my study--rhetorical reflection. Again, I have a worthy chunk from my quals I can fit in here, but I believe it will take a fair bit of refashioning. I think this can be followed by a restatement of the significance of the subject of study (the WGRA) and the problem underlying the subject of study. It will be in this section that I will have to gauge how to bring in the inadequacy of current theory and how far I go in delving into this inadequacy in this section or if I leave it to the Lit Review. This recap of the significance and problem will lead into my research question--the guiding direction for pursuing a better understanding of this subject.

What I guess I am seeing now a bit better is how the first chapter is simply setting the problem, clarifying the place this problem/study has for the field, and clearly defining the subject of study. I think I am getting a bit better sense of the difference between it and the lit review.

We shall see if I can reach my 2/20 deadline for this draft. I NEED to make this deadline, so I will do my best.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

On to THE Proposal

I feel to a degree like in this proposal I need to get all the stars to line up. I need to pull together the laser-like focus and clarity of my subject. As a genre, the dissertation has a certain "feel" about it. It has a kind of drama to it that should pull the audience/reader into the story and get them wanting to find out what will happen. The dissertation seems to follow this sequence:

80% of Proposal is Draft of Chapter 1 for Dissertation:
Dramatic illustration of the subject/problem?
What is it? (the subject)
Exploration of the problem
What stabs have others made at the problem/ or inadequate stabs made by others at the problem
With the problem revealed and the inadequate attempts to get at it by others--there is a need to examine this problem further
Mission statement for the inquiry of the dissertation

Remaining Parts of the Proposal (20%)
Summary of chapters or sections:
II. Literature Review--assembling and filtering the ideas of others on the subject/problem
III. Methodology/Methods
IV. Findings/Results
V. Implications (of the BIG SOCKO ending!)

Some thoughts on where I am with producing this Proposal.
If we follow the planets metaphor I mentioned earlier, I feel like the planets are scattered across the sky. I don't need to create new planets at this point; I need to bring them all into alignment. Between my work on the Qualifying Exam and my Preproposal, I feel like I have most all the parts or components to put together the Proposal. It is just now a matter of reconstructing them into the dissertation drama.

Fred emphasized a couple points. He said the dissertation should follow a kind of arch where is starts very grounded in concrete experience and situations. He talked about "anchoring the problem" in a clear example or set of examples. Since my dissertation is one on a pedagogical practice, this has to mean anchoring in a specific teaching situation. Theory is fine and good, but it needs to be brought back to earth. At the end of the dissertation, I will need to bring it back to earth. He also stressed the importance (again) of writing for a general audience. I need to make what I am talking about VERY clear. It might help me to think of a generalized figure for my audience. Who might it be? One of my colleagues at SAC? Perhaps.

I feel like I still am struggling a bit with what the major goal of chapter 1 is. How can I get at the friction without getting too far into my literature review? I suppose I did that somewhat in the Preproposal, but the "Identifying the Problem Requiring Research" section was only two pages long. My "What is the Gap" section came AFTER my literature review. I feel like if I can only frame clearly for myself what it is that I need to do and accomplish in Chpt. 1 I will be fine. Get this clarity for me is complicated by this question of where the literature review fits in relation to revealing the problem (the friction).

It seems like my chpt. 1 needs a section of WHAT IS IT? (definition of rhetorical reflection). I have a pretty darn good stab at this question thanks to the Quals. Perhaps if I think of Chapt. 1 as only revealing the problem and the need to inquiry into it, not elaborating into it thoroughly, that will help. It does help. OK, so here is how it might go:

I. Chpt. 1
--Illustration of the problem, anchored example of "what it is" and "what the problem is with it"
--More detailed description of What is rhetorical reflection?
--Discussion of significance for field
--Revealing the problem
--Charting the path for inquiring into this problem and what drives it (the SO WHAT?)

I still need to dig into a dissonance I am feeling about how to reveal the problem without getting too involved in my literature review, especially as I have a complicated problem that says
--there is a problem with our practice and it COULD be from how we have theorized our practice
That's a two step move. I can't chart my path of inquiry as being about generating a theory without this two step move. Hmm... still thinking.

He also has an analogy to describe the problem. He called it "friction." Chapter 1 establishes that there is friction. Chapter II is how to find out how to make friction less friction.