Monday, June 14, 2010

Selective Coding Memo 6/14/10


I think I could do another couple weeks of selective coding, but I don't know that I will necessarily see that much new. I'm feeling a bit saturated, so it is time to start pulling my findings together. This selective coding stage has pulled together as I never imagined it would. It has provided a very interesting lens through which to view my data. 

It originated in some of my abstract thinking about why Writing Reviews were not providing the stimulus for reflective thinking. It has increasingly become clear that I will have to articulate more clearly what I consider to be "reflective" and what is not. I would need to be able to identify within my data instances of reflective thinking and non-reflective thinking. So I went back to some basics about the dynamics of reflection. There are different levels
--thinking
--thinking about something (what is the difference between these first two?)
--thinking about your thinking about something

It is this third level that I would consider to be reflective thinking. There is a certain level of reflection involved with thinking about something, particularly if that something involved some degree of previous thinking, so it can be hard to draw the line and clearly identify "thinking about your thinking about something." 

So armed with this concept of what defined reflection, I went back through slice 2 data (14 WRs), reprinted fresh copies, and used yellow highlighter to identify examples of thinking about your thinking about something. I then copied and pasted all of these together and did a comparative analysis where I noted similarities and differences in these examples. 

From a list of the concerns of each of these reflective episodes, I can state that what they were thinking about what highly rhetorical. Many wrestled with audience and how best to reach or persuade them. A number were about finding the best information (to best persuade their audience). I don't think this insight says a whole lot except that they are dealing with important writing issues. But the WRs as a whole do this, so I don't think these reflective episodes are different except in the manner and depth with which they engage with these rhetorical issues.

The reflective gaze is one of comparison and assessment in terms of essay success.

I wrote this statement, and it seemed to encapsulate my insight into these reflective episodes. To test this statement, I made a chart where I had three columns:

Comparison          Assesssment              Essay Success

I allowed two rows for the comparison cell, so I could list the two things being compared. I then went back to see if I could chart out these reflective episodes into these three columns, and I could. In most cases, the comparisons articulate some sense of not fitting in bounds sort of like trying to fit a square peg in a round whole. The comparison involves often a coming to know that is rooted in an assessment or judgment about the situation. This assessment/judgment is made based upon the writer's sense of essay success. I thought it was very interesting that the term "judgment" came back into my thinking at this point. Through this reflective thinking, students are making some judgment about their writing situation and from that judgment determining a new course of action. The reflective episodes divide neatly into two halves: the "no fit" half and then the "to fit" (as in what to do to fit). Significantly, the basis for this judgment is the writer's concept of essay success. 

Let's look at one as an example, and I will "code" it.  

Example:
A solution for my research paper has been hard to come by. The problem is my claim supports the current status quo, and it is the public at large that disagree with the status quo. So at this point in the draft cycle my solution will be to look for a compromise between the two sides.  

I put in bold what I consider to be the  reflective portion of this statement. The writer starts by telling/reporting their problem. The next sentence expresses their thinking about this problem. Notice how this reflective statement is an evaluative statement containing their judgment about the source of the problem. Also, notice that there seems to be comparison going on: Claim supports X >><< public does not support X. The writer certainly could have written more about this problem, but through this comparison they are seeing how their claim is mismatched with the public view on the claim. The last line is their expression of what they will do to work through this problem in order to make their claim “work” in terms of essay success. Their way to solve this problem with their claim is to find a solution that each side can agree on—they want to please everyone. The important thing is not their particular revision goal but to see how the writer is working on fitting in bounds. We see in these reflective episodes a neat division between the no fit/to fit.

Armed with these insights into reflective episodes inside these WRs, I began to ask the question: What, then, distinguishes “non-reflective” episodes. Looking back at the data to identify non-reflective episodes, I noticed that they remain at the level of reporting/telling. They may express an awareness or even self-awareness of something, but they don’t dig deeply into questioning or explaining this awareness further.

To “think about” your “thinking about something” (to me) seems to involve questioning HOW or WHY or WHERE or WHEN. Is there a difference between “thinking about my problem” and “thinking about the causes of my problem?” Is it not really “reflection” until I get to my “thinking about” the “thinking about the causes of my problem?”

Going back to my analogy of my son in front of the hallway mirror, the non-reflective episodes follow this dynamic. He walks down the hall, looks in the mirror and sees his collar is up. In his WR, he writes, “My collar is up. I think I will turn it down.” He walks on. Notice there is no comparative assessment involved, and the judgment is simply a direct statement almost of fact. There is no explanation or elaboration about the basis for this judgment. THAT is what I see these reflective episodes providing—some basis or grounds for understanding the problem or for choosing a particular action.

Here’s one example of a non-reflective statement:
“I was told by my peer that I needed to make this story relate to people at my school and that I needed to effectively show that the “entire company as a whole” was ruined to expose the impact of this event on society. … I will have to take these things into consideration for my next draft as I wish to make changes in these areas to improve my grade.”

Notice that the writer simply reports what the peer thinks about their paper. They SAY that they will take these suggestions into consideration, but the substance of this consideration is not included in this WR. If this reflective thinking happens, it happens outside of the WR.

I noticed from my first slice the prevalence of [telling/reporting what is] as well as its counterpart [considering/evaluating what is]. I have roughly held the difference between these two codes as the difference between non-reflective and reflective thinking, and what I have done with this selective coding is dig more deeply into the difference between these two categories and express that difference more clearly.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Approaching Selective Coding

I am feeling more comfortable with the idea that I am approaching the end point of my research. I have attempted to make my research "rigorous" in that I have sought to engage in Grounded Theory research following its methods. I can't say, as a novice, that I have done these methods perfectly, but I have tried to pursue the procedures and objectives as best that I could.

For various reasons, I choose to follow Strauss and Corbin's sequence of "coding" or categorization (I plan to no longer use the term "coding" since I believe, like Dey, that it is a misnomer) from open, to axial, to selective. I think I can say with confidence, especially after the May workshop, that I have pursued axial coding sufficiently. I have worried, however, how to approach selective coding and how to reach the end point with an integrated theory. Now I have a game plan.

Through re-reading Strauss and Corbin's (1998) chapter on "Selective Coding," I believe I have arrived at three things I can work on doing that will integrate my theory:
1) Writing the storyline--using narrative to provide a way to pull concepts and variation together
2) Diagramming--using the drawing of diagrams and models to conceptualize the theory
3) Reviewing and sorting through memos

I realize now that my "Recognition in Slice 5" memo involved all of these three activities of theory integration, so to a degree I may be redundantly pursuing my theory. However, I feel that after the last two weeks I am deeper into my understanding of the data. I also realize that my previous blog post (muddle) is about this first step of using narrative.

Corbin and Strauss talk about how difficult integration is for novice researchers (like myself). They state, "The difficulty students seem to have is coming up with the more abstract theoretical scheme that explains all of their data" (155). They go on to state that unintegrated theory might contain interesting descriptions and some themes, but no theory. What is missing are statements telling the reader how these themes relate to each other. It is an uncovering of the relational terrain and dynamics of a system that distinguishes a theory.

Another question has been which of my key concepts will I label as my "core category": fitting in bounds or essay success. This question is not an easy one for me, since I believe each could work as my core category, and either way they will be deeply intertwined with each other. Strauss and Corbin state that the core category has "analytic power" and that it has the "ability to pull the other categories together to form an explanatory whole" (146). I think fitting in bounds may work best because that is the dynamic--the goal and activity--at work in these writing reviews (and outside them). Essay success is perhaps as strong a concept as fitting in bounds, but it is the concept which regulated and directs fitting in bounds. Hmm.... Does that make it more central? I have to think about it.