The uses of writing in action research

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Case Study
In helping Justine and others in the preparation of her Final Report, we had a conversation on 31.5.92. about the value to others of writing up in systematic detail her findings from her teaching practice. Although sadly, the conversation was not taped (which it should have been, but unfortunately it was not possible and neither of us was wired for sound!) I made notes on it afterwards which she verified as being a true account of the gist of what we said. I reproduce extracts of it here. We started by talking about a recent address to the AERA Conference in San Francisco in 1992 by Lee Shulman (*see below) who talked about ‘the landscape of cases’ that educational students could write and share as they come to know their own practice and the process of education more thoroughly.
J. What I want to ask is, where do I put Shulman in all this?

M. He is saying that you’re creating a part of the landscape of cases. There is a landscape out there. It is our educational world and we need to make sense of it. And it’s not just the map we need, it’s an analysis of the use of that map in the actual landscape itself...

J. But I don’t see that. I’m writing this for me. It’s about me and my classroom. You can’t say, ‘oh well, someone else will read that and then they’ll know how to do this or that.’ It’s not like that.

M. Yes, your insights are unique, your classroom, your children are unique. You are unique, but you work in a context and that context is education...And that’s the whole thing about Action’s about how do I move the world to a better place?...You see, I’m not saying that what you’re doing is generalisable in the sense that what you say can be another setting, another individual.

J. Then what’s the value of writing this? I mean you talk about this work being significant, but I’m not seeing this, other than helping me to explain what I’m doing with my students in my setting.
* Schulman, L., (1992), “Knowledge, Integration and Application in Teacher Education: Development of Cognitive Flexibility in Complex Domains”, address as AERA Conference, San Francisco.

M. It’s a question of what we think we’re doing in education. If it were a technicist activity then all we would have to do would be to give a list of instructions which anyone could follow, And everyone could predict outcomes from input. But education is, I believe, ‘a practical value-laden activity’ (Jack Whitehead) and it is through the values that we need to communicate our values. We need to show cases of people negotiating the mine-fields of values which constitute a teacher’s practical life so that we can understand them. It is surely in the written explanation of our values and practice in which so much meaning lies hidden and can be drawn out.

J. Yes, I suppose that writing this now means I am explaining about my values and about what they mean...
Writing up one’s findings at the end of an Action Research cycle is not just about dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s. It helps the researcher to understand her/his practice even better and it is a method whereby practitioners can publicise and share their knowledge and understanding. Justine and I were to have many conversations about how she could best relate what had happened to her on her teaching practice, what she had learnt and begun to understand, and how best she could communicate this knowledge to herself and others.

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