Reflecting on Reflection
One woman’s thoughts on being asked to spend time reflecting on her experiences: “My life is so hectic I barely have time to breathe, much less reflect, and if I take time for reflection, something else in my schedule is going to have to go. There is no way to get everything done!”
When this person finally “schedules” time for reflection, one questions the quality of the reflection she will be able to engage in. For such a person, who embodies the modern anxieties too many of us feel, is it possible to “schedule” time for reflection? Or is it only possible to set aside time for the body to remain immobile while one allows one’s mind to race about? While many of us feel the need to take more time to think, to ponder, to reflect upon our experiences, too often we reach the end of the day so exhausted that we don’t even take the time to reflect upon the lack of reflection during our day. And too often we construe the problem in terms of limits on our time, resources, and physical strength. Do these limits define us, or do we define the limits? If the limits define us, then the answer is technological, but if we define the limits, perhaps the problem is spiritual, and the only answer, moral.
On the side that argues for technological solutions, are those who resist the idea that modern man is not reflective. They assert that surely the progress made by modern man in science, technology, law, government and world order are evidence that at no time more than the present have men and women been more anxiously engaged in thought. Of this type of thinking, one of the most important 20th century philosophy, Martin Heidegger, wrote:
Man today is in flight from thinking. This flight-from-thought is the ground of thoughtlessness. But part of this flight is that man will neither see nor admit it. Man today will even flatly deny this flight from thinking. He will assert the opposite. He will say‹and quite rightly‹that there were at no time such far-reaching plans, so many inquiries in so many areas, research carried on as passionately as today. Of course. And this display of ingenuity and deliberation has its own great usefulness. Such thought remains indispensable. But‹it also remains true that it is thinking of a special kind.
Its peculiarity consists in the fact that whenever we plan, research, and organize, we always reckon with conditions that are given. We take them into account with the calculated intention of their serving specific purposes. Thus we can count on definite results. This calculation is the mark of all thinking that plans and investigates. Such thinking remains calculation even if it neither works with numbers nor uses an adding machine or computer. Calculative thinking computes. It computes ever new, ever more promising and at the same time more economical possibilities. Calculative thinking is not meditative thinking, not thinking which contemplates the meaning which reigns in everything that is.
The kind of thinking Heidegger criticizes in modern man coincides with the type of thinking one imagines can actually be scheduled into one’s daily planner‹the kind of thought one questions is really thoughtful at all, in the sense of having the quality of care, concern, and passion. Somehow, the words reflection and thought have been transmuted by the modifier of “calculative.” This transmutation, not at all isolated at this particular instance, should be of concern to all of us. As Neil Postman claims:
Technology imperiously commandeers our most important terminology. It redefines “freedom,” “truth,” “intelligence,” “fact,” “wisdom,” “memory,” “history,”‹all the words we live by. And it does not pause to tell us. And we do not pause to ask.
And why do we not pause to ask? Is it really a matter of time? Is not “thought” in fact as inescapably a part of daily life as breathing? If so, then perhaps, as Heidegger suggests, it is the kind of thought that we are concerned with here.
Could there be something in the kind of thought that compels us to “pause to ask” that we are afraid may require more of us as people than we are willing to give? By pausing to ask are we not in danger of hearing something we may not want to hear? Something that may call on us to give‹not just our time‹but our souls: our care, our concern, our passion? And perhaps even more than this, our willingness to change in the face of those things we might see in ourselves‹those realizations we might come to when we pause long enough, not just to still our bodies, but to also still our minds and hearts? Are we perhaps afraid of something within ourselves, something we are not sure we are ready to give up and so are not sure we want to face? If so, then the problem with reflection is not technical at all, but spiritual.
To the mind enamored with framing problems within a technological framework, the “problems” one reflects on are problems “out there,” away from us, public, restricted, essentially technical in nature. This “objectification” of the problems divorces us from not only the world, but from each other, and from ourselves. The ability to “schedule” time for reflection in an otherwise hectic, and anxiety producing life-style, posits our ability to reflect as an essentially active, aggressive, calculative role in which one takes on the world‹a role that appears to contradict with the innertransforming effect we might otherwise hope to be the result of serious, deep, and profound reflection. Parker Palmer succinctly analyzes the problem in terms of the academician’s pursuit of truth. But his point is equally poignant for a discussion of reflection:
When academics speak of “the pursuit of truth,” they rightly imply that a gap exists between ourselves and truth. But there is a conceit hidden in that image, the conceit that we can close the gap as we track truth down. In [my] understanding, the gap exists not so much because truth is hidden and evasive but because we are. We hide from the transforming power of truth; we evade truth’s quest for us. That is why [many ancient seekers of truth] went into the desert, into solitude and silence: they were trying to sit still long enough, in a space open enough, that truth could find them out, track them down. The truth that sought them was not an inert object or proposition. Rather it had the active quality of a person who wished to draw them into a community of mutual knowledge, accountability, and care.
By this understanding, I not only pursue truth but truth pursues me. I not only grasp truth but truth grasps me. I not only know truth but truth knows me. Ultimately, I do not master truth, but truth masters me. Here, the one-way movement of objectivism, in which the active knower tracks down the inert object of knowledge, becomes the two-way movement of persons in search of each other. Here, we know even as we are known.
Too often we find ourselves running away from something that we can’t progress without. To sit still long enough, and listen close enough, and care enough to “hear” the problem is to already be reaching into the solution.
Criteria for Judging the Quality of this Study
A discussion of methodology should also include the steps I went through to meet the standards of quality research. Lincoln and Guba (1985) suggest that four types of standards or criteria be used to ensure the trustworthiness of naturalistic inquiries: credibility, transferability, dependability, and confirmability. Below I show to what degree I meet the criteria in this study of the uses of journals for me.
1. Is a meaningful (not trivial) topic addressed?
Yes, it is certainly meaningful for me. I came into the project knowing that journal writing was a way that I made sense of what was happening in my classroom; I came away understanding why this is so and that the process might be valuable for other teachers who also want to improve as facilitators of learning.
2. Is naturalistic inquiry appropriate for the topic?
Yes. Indeed I can think of no other method that would bring about the insights I gained from this methodology. Certainly no experiment would have lead to the same type of discoveries.
3. Is the study credible? This will be addressed by answering the seven questions below:
a. Is prolonged engagement adequate? Yes, the “prolonged engagement” in this case was five years of keeping journals and seven years of thinking about their value.
b. Is persistent observation adequate? Yes, as I went back to look at the journals I spent over 17 hours making field notes over only 10 pages of original journal entries and another 38 hours analyzing the data, much time of which necessitated going back into the journals to “observe” again.
c. Is triangulation used appropriately? I do not know what sources I would have used for triangulation in this case because the question of what are the uses of the journals for me have one source of information, the journals. I submit this criterion does not apply for this study.
d. Is peer debriefing used appropriately? Yes, though I could have done more or it. I shared some of my confusions about what I was seeing in the journals with another doctoral student, a professor, and several people in a class about naturalistic inquiry. However, the encounters were informal and short rather than in-depth debriefings. Nevertheless, they helped me grapple with some difficult assues and I made headway because of their input. I had also planned to visit with a colleague at school but the appointment fell through.
e. Is negative case analysis used appropriately? As I was doing the taxonomy I checked and rechecked the data to see if all instances could fit within the categories. Some new categories merged. What I did not do was look beyond the specific pages analyzed to see if their was evidence for other conclusions about how I use journals. There very well may be other uses. Therefore, I conclude that I could have done a better job of negative case analysis using the “referential adequacy checks.”
f. Is referential adequacy used appropriately? I have plenty of additional journals for this purpose. They are considered archival data and at some point I can go to them to do a negative case analysis. I did not do this; therefore, the answer is no. I am very interested, however, in doing so.
g. Are member checks used appropriately? Yes, I am the only member in this study. I was studying myself as a journal-keeper. Actually this criteria does not apply in this study.
I think the answers to the above questions show that this study is fairly credible. There are some steps I can take to make it more so: Go over the data again and do a negative case analysis; do domain analysis on pieces of the archival data to further check the conclusions (taxonomy, components of meaning, and themes) for adequacy.
4. Is thick description adequate to make the study transferable? Yes, I write portrayals of the journals and of me that include lots of stories creating a picture of me as a teacher and of the journals as a record of my observing and thinking. Also I flesh out the domain analysis with examples from the field notes. Furthermore, I list what I learned from the study, what I think will “transfer” for me from this study to my classroom teaching.
5. Is the study dependable and confirmable? I will answer three questions to address this criteria:
a. Is an adequate audit trail maintained? Yes, my audit trail is 31 pages long. It includes every decision I made, the chronology of those decisions, and the time spent. It also is a record of my confusions and struggles and the sources I went to for help. Some of the audit trail is in the fieldnotes also. Those comments are labeled as MN = methodological notes.
b. Is an audit conducted? Not at the time of this writing, but Dr. Williams plans to conduct an audit when he reads this report. The audit trail will accompany the report.
c. Are data collection and analysis procedures adequate? Yes, the descriptions in the first part of this section explain in detail the procedures I went through to collect the data (FIELDNOTES) and how I analyzed the data (DOMAIN ANALYSIS, TAXONOMIC ANALYSIS, COMPONENTIAL ANALYSIS AND THEME ANALYSIS).
6. Other considerations:
a. Is the study conducted under natural conditions? Yes, the journals are real.
b. Are the members treated ethically? This does not apply as I am the only member.
c. Are emic perspectives highlighted in the study? Emic and edic are inseparable in this study. I did try to come to understand the 1985 and 1989 self I was.
d. Are sampling strategies logical and clearly reported? Yes, the audit trail shows that I started too big and had to keep cutting back on how euch of the journals to analysis. I started at the beginning of two school years — 1985 and 1989.
e. Are all contradictions in the report analyzed and resolved? The main contradictions were found as I searched for themes. They became the impetus for some of the themes, namely, the clash of lived theory with espoused theory and the search for “right” ways to do things in the face of wanting learners to find their own way. Otherwise I have not become away of other contradictions.
f. Are emergent issues inductively identified? Definitely. The domains emerged, the taxonomy emerged, the components emerged, and the themes emerged from the analyses of the fieldnotes.
h. Are alternative perspectives/interpretations included? No, other than the thinking I showed in trying to arrive at my conclusions.
i. Is the researcher described clearly? Yes, in the portrayal in the results section. Plus, since the study is about my journal and about me as a learner in my classroom, I am very much put out on the line for all readers to see.
j. Is the report well written? To the best of my ability given the cgnstraints of time.
With a few exceptions this study fits the criteria for a study using naturalistic inquiry methods.
TAXONOMY OF INCLUDED TERMS
Making the world a better place
Understanding learning and teaching
Making sense of classroom events
Using methods to kid-watch
Using a journal for improving classroom practice
Semantic Relationship: FUNCTION
X is a use of my journals for me
1DETECTIVE–help me puzzle through what I am seeing and why I’m doing what I’m doing
1.1make sense of daily experiences so I can make sound instructional decisions
1.2write to learn
1.2.1focus on the anomalies
1.2.2record surprises for later reflection
1.2.3discover ideas for instruction
1.3pull out buried assumptions and verbalize underlying theory
1.4.1ask questions about my concerns
1.4.2record a concern to think about later
1.4.3work through decisions, making progress to solve problems
1.4.4record students’ misgivings about my choices or procedures so I can think about how to deal with them
1.5puzzle over the appropriateness of something I did or did not do
2BOOKKEEPER–help me keep track of what was done and what needs to be done
2.1categorize types of events and thinking
2.2make reference lists
2.2.1make general list of overall events of class
2.2.2record what each class did to keep track of where each class is
126.96.36.199list names of books shared to avoid duplication and remind of who has shared
188.8.131.52record student-voted decisions
2.2.3record what small groups do so can keep track
2.2.4record what individuals choose to do if different from a group so I can give follow up support
2.3remind me of specific things I need to do
3CHEERLEADER–help me keep fired up to keep trying
3.1You can do it!
3.1.1cheer myself on
3.1.2give self a pep talk
3.2deal with the difficulties
3.2.2justify my actions or concerns
3.3Look at the positives
3.3.1record evidence of engagement so I try to understand the magic and keep it coming
3.3.2show the valuable things that are happening
4PEER-LEARNER–let me react to my involvement in the language processes in the classroom
4.1describe my learning from books and creative writing
4.2react to my participation as a language user (reading, writing, speaking, listening
5MENTOR/FRIEND–help me see students as individuals so I can support their learning
5.1record specific observations (timings, behaviors, attributes) so I can learn about students and how to support their learning.
5.2see progress of students over time by contrasting earlier and later observations
5.3placehold events of developing relationships so I can move with students, caring for them as people and supporting them as learners.
COMPONENTIAL ANALYSIS MATRIX
In the componential analysis matrix the numbers refer to the items in the taxonomy (Table III). The letters refer to the dimensions of contrast listed below. 1/2/3 denote which dimension applies. “ei” = can fit in either dimension. “na” = not applicable
1 2 3
A in-coming purpose for discovered while discovered later writing
B obvious underlying
C puzzled, confronting celebrating hard issues
D student-centered me-centered content-centered
E describing hypothesizing categorizing
F where to start place hold for end thoughts tomorrow reflection
G understand to cause understand so can continued change be repeated
H understand teaching understand learning
I student-initiated outgrowth of situation teacher-initiated (intentional) (unplanned)
J forward-looking backward-looking
K over all specific
A B C D E F G H I J K
1.1 1 2 1 1 2 1 1 ei 2 2 ei
1.2.1 1 2 1 1 2 2 1 2 2 2 2
1.2.2 1 2 1 1 1 2 ei 2 2 2 ei
1.2.3 2 2 2 1 1 1 1 1 2 1 ei
1.3 3 2 1 2 2 2 ei ei 2 2 1
1.4.1 2 2 1 ei 2 2 ei ei 2 ei ei
1.4.2 1 1 1 1 1 2 1 1 2 2 ei
1.4.3 1 2 2 2 2 1 1 1 2 1 ei
1.5 1 2 1 2 1 2 ei 1 2 2 ei
2.1 1 1 na na 3 2 ei ei 2 ei 1
2.2.1 1 1 na na 1 2 ei ei 2 ei 1
2.2.2 1 1 na 1 1 1 3 na 2 1 1
184.108.40.206 1 1 2 1 1 1 3 na 2 1 2
220.127.116.11 1 1 na 1 1 1 1 2 1 1 1
2.2.3 1 1 na 1 1 1 3 na 2 1 2
2.2.4 1 1 na 1 1 1 3 na 2 1 2
2.3 1 1 na 2 1 1 1 na 2 1 ei
3.1.1 1 1 2 2 1 3 3 1 2 1 1
3.1.2 1 1 1 2 1 2 1 1 2 1 1
3.2.1 1 2 1 2 1 2 1 1 2 1 1
3.2.2 1 2 1 2 1 3 2 1 2 2 ei
3.3.1 1 2 1 1 2 2 2 2 2 2 ei
3.3.2 1 1 2 1 1 3 2 ei 2 2 ei
4.1 1 1 2 2 1 3 3 2 1 2 2
4.2 2 2 1 2 2 2 3 2 1 2 2
4.3 3 2 na 1 3 3 3 ei 3 1 1
5.1 1 1 2 1 1 1 2 2 2 1 2
5.2 2 2 2 1 1 2 3 2 2 2 2
5.3 3 2 ei 1 1 ei 1 ei 3 1 ei