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Research Method Lab

Research Method Lab

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Research Method Lab

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  1. Research Method Lab Participant Observation- Taking Field Notes

  2. Step One: Jottings

  3. Jottings • Taking jottings is a strategy used by researchers to minimize the interruption of taking longer field notes while in the classroom • Think of jottings as impressions, using key words and phrases to capture the essence of what you are seeing • A word or two written down while something is happening is usually all you’ll need to jog your memory

  4. Jottings • Every teacher/researcher will have his/her own style of jottings- you’ll find yours with practice • A good way to orient yourself to the note taking process is to practice with your classroom setting • Start by making a list of initial impressions- details like size, space, noise, colors, equipment, movement, people in the space, etc.

  5. Jottings • While observing or taking jottings, be sure to only focus on “how” or “what” NOT “why” • Do not try to predict or guess the motivation of the people you are observing • If you only focus on your own judgments, you will interfere with your ability to capture critical information • The idea behind field notes is that collected over time, they begin to contain certain patterns and themes that you can analyze later on • You may end up not using every single jotting in a full-fledged note

  6. Example #1 Jorge=at lunch Doesn’t make eye contact Now only speaks Spanish Example #2 (excerpt from a conversation) Parents aren’t answering phone Haven’t seen Mary for a week Missing homework grades Jottings

  7. Jottings • 1. Jot down details of what you sense are key components of observed scenes or interactions • 2. Avoid making statements characterizing what people do that rely on generalizations (like calling someone “inefficient”)

  8. Jottings • 3. Jot down concrete sensory details about actions and talk, details that show rather than tell about people’s behavior • 4. Do not ignore emotions, but avoid the temptation to identify motives or internal states (anger can result from illness, sadness, frustration, a power struggle, etc.) • 5. Jot down sensory details which you could easily forget but which you deem to be key observations about the scene

  9. Jottings • 6. You can also write down unimportant details as reminders (you won’t use these in your finished notes, but they can help you remember what happened • 7. Jottings can be used to signal general impressions and feelings, even if you are unsure of their significance at the moment-place these on the margins of your paper

  10. Step Two: Expand Notes

  11. Expand Notes • Writing up your jottings into notes requires a block of concentrated time • An event that maybe took a few minutes to happen and jot can take longer to write up • The most ideal situation is when you can write expanded notes later that same day • One week is the maximum time to spend between jottings and write-up

  12. Expand Notes • Stance includes how you identify with who you are observing—Teachers tend to write more fully about events they see as relevant • Stance also includes your intended or likely audience • Teachers can shift stance from personal observations to professional ones • Some notes can include one’s own reactions while other notes can be about how you adapted curriculum to meet a student’s needs

  13. Expand Notes • Concentrate on remembering and getting words on the page, not on editing or revising • The writing at this stage is going to seem unpolished • When you go back and edit the first draft of your expanded notes, you can reflect on what happened- is there anything missing, is the note too judgmental or interpretive?

  14. Expand Notes • Imagining an interested reader who wishes to know more encourages longer and more vividly detailed notes • The process of turning a jotting into a note involves what to include as much as what to leave out • In general, it doesn’t hurt to include more details-this way you’ll have more material to use when it comes to the editing and write-up stages • See handout for sample jottings turned into an expanded note

  15. Expand Notes • First person- this is the “I” telling the story, from the perspective of the teacher/researcher • This is effective for the researcher who also works in the setting they are observing • See handout for sample first person note

  16. Expand Notes • Third person is used for describing what others are doing and saying • You can also combine this point of view with the first person • The focused third person limits the descriptions to what those observed, saw, did, and said • Using a focused third person gives the reader a sense of only what the student saw

  17. Expand Notes • Real Time Descriptions- the writer seeks to characterize events using only what is known at certain points as the event unfolds • Basically, you structure the note as if you are encountering the event for the first time • See handout for example

  18. Expand Notes • End point descriptions- the writer makes full use of what they came to know when they witnessed the event • If a teacher describes the first day of class, then an end point perspective would list all of the students’ names, even if he/she wouldn’t know everyone’s names until later in the class meeting • This is basically the storytelling mode of writing

  19. Step Three: Analysis

  20. Analysis • At this stage, you will have collected many expanded field notes • Now it is time to do a systematic reexamination of what has been written and to identify themes • Rereading is recommended until you can no longer think of new ideas, themes, or issues • It also helps to read through your notes as if they were written by a stranger

  21. Analysis • The coding process begins with the researcher mentally asking questions of specific pieces of the field note data • The secret of coding lies in turning answers to these questions into a word or short phrase that best captures an overall theme

  22. Analysis • Some helpful questions that lead to coding include: • What are people doing? What are they trying to accomplish? • How, exactly, do they do this? What specific means/strategies do they use? • How do members talk about, characterize, and understand what is going on? What assumptions are they making? • What do I see going on here? What did I learn from these notes? Why did I include them?

  23. Analysis • These questions give priority to processes rather than causes or internal psychological motives • You want to ask questions that identify what is occurring and in what order, rather than “why” questions that ask about causes • These questions focus on practical concerns which means paying attention to patterns that emerge from the mundane rather than the dramatic

  24. Analysis • Open coding- the idea is not to use pre-established categories, but to write down any category that comes to mind • You can always go back and limit the focus to just the categories you see repeating

  25. Analysis • Memos- notes to one’s self that concern why you chose a particular theme or category- this can help you narrow down your codes • Themes- you want to select themes that can also relate to other apparent themes- this will make your write-up easier

  26. Analysis • Focused coding- after you have done an open coding and identified potential themes, re-read your notes, using the new codes you have created, based on these themes • For example, you might have had 20 different codes for a field note, but only 5 relate to your research themes- these 5 codes would be the ones you use throughout the rest of your analysis

  27. Step Four: Write-up

  28. Write-up • Selecting field note excerpts is not a simple matter of finding the most interesting examples to use in your write-up • The themes you selected in the coding stage will help you to organize your write-up • You can then begin to isolate excerpts from your field notes that demonstrate examples of these themes

  29. Write-up • The more detailed and vivid your field notes, the easier it will be to let them speak for themselves by using them as block quotes • An excerpt provides a starting place for collecting a body of excerpts bearing on a common theme

  30. Write-up • Integrative strategy- weaves together interpretation and excerpt, typically written as a single paragraph • Field notes and ideas are then merged into a single, flowing text written as a single voice • The integrative strategy is well-suited for longer, continuous field notes • See handout for example

  31. Write-up • Excerpt strategy- visually marks field notes excerpts off from accompanying commentary, usually by intending or italicizing • The excerpt style lets readers see for themselves the situation presented in the write-up • See handout for example • Note that the author begins with an analytic point, then orients the reader before setting up the situation for the excerpt, which follows • The author then ends with analytic commentary

  32. Write-up • When writing an excerpt-commentary, the researcher must closely examine his/her strategies to check whether idea and description reinforce each other • Your job is to convince the reader that your interpretation is justified

  33. Write-up • Editing is the last necessary step of the field note process • When editing, the researcher has to consider length and relevance • Excerpts should not ramble on- if you must use a super-long excerpt, divide it into shorter paragraphs and intersperse with commentary • Keep in mind the importance of relevance- are your edited excerpts related to your themes and ultimately your research goals? • See handout for example of an edited note