Monday, December 27, 2010

trying to study

I have been trying to reread some articles for my prelims--which I will be taking in August--but it seems like I work better under a little-just a little--pressure. Since there is a long time until my prelims I am going a little slow but here are some articles I have been rereading in addition to Erickson and Geertz.

Harklau, L. (1999). Representing culture in the ESL writing classroom. In E. Hinkel (ed.). Culture in second language teaching and learning (pp. 109-130). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. 

I think this article makes a good case for showing that culture plays a central role in language classrooms whether we address it or not. It also shows what happens if we ignore it. I especially enjoyed reading the ways students resist. From a teacher's point of view it was helpful to read about these because this way I can recognize the symptoms better the next time my students resist. I think these moments are excellent learning opportunities both for students and for me. You know, after a while you start thinking that you have seen all possible student responses but students find a way to surprise you each time, sometimes in a good way sometimes not in such a good way. For example, I have never thought one of my students would tell me "Why do you care? Just pass me, nobody will know," when I told him that he might fail if he does not improve his performance, or when one of my students suggested to have a picnic (I ask my students for their feedback around October or Spring break) and when I actually said why not they showed up even though I have told them that coming to the picnic was optional. Between you and me, even though I sometimes complain, I love my students and I get sentimental at the end of each semester.
Sorry, back to the article

Despite these students’ diverse instructors and different institutions, several strikingly consistent potential areas of contention ran throughout their experience in the classroom where: (1) Cultural orientation provided through reading and writing assignments was inappropriate for those already immersed in American culture; (2) assignments and class activities implied a polarization of cultures and cultural identity; (3) students’ efforts to shape and articulate their own cultural identities conflicted with other classroom agendas; and (4) depictions of culture and cultural mixing were reductionist or one dimensional. (p. 113)
I wonder if I commit any of these 'crimes'. I try to position myself as an international student just like them, maybe just a more experienced one since I have been here forever whereas my students are usually first or second year students. I let them choose their topics though I assign them genres for each assignment. Sometimes not assigning a topic makes my students uncomfortable I guess because their previous experience with teachers is that it's the teacher's job to assign topics. It seems like there is no way to satisfy all students. Actually this reminds me that one day one of my students said "Well, you are the teacher" when I asked him what he would like to focus on that day during a conference. I guess his expectations regarding conferencing were different from mine. Even though these examples are not about cultural identities I believe they are about cultural expectations. Culture is a tricky issue for sure. Anyway, one more quote

In sum, then, while explanation and discussion of culture were not an explicit instructional goal in these ESL writing classrooms, they were nonetheless a substantial, and perhaps inevitable, part of the curriculum. When representations of culture in these classrooms took predefined or assumed form, they potentially engendered resistance. In some instance, the version of culture forwarded by the instructor or the curriculum did not match students’ needs and experience. In other cases, it did not allow for multiple or non-“mainstream” views of culture, or for a dynamic and contentious view of cultural mixing. At times representations, perhaps reflecting dominant sociocultural norms, implicitly dichotomized cultures and alienated students who were already a part of American culture. Finally, students’ countering representations of culture sometimes were tacitly rejected. (p. 124)

Van Lier, L. (1990). Ethnography: Bandaid, bandwagon, or contraband? In C. Brumfit & T. Silva (Eds.). Research in the language classroom [British Council ELT Documents 133] (pp. 33-53). London: Modern English Publications (for the British Council).

I have to say I always enjoy reading van Lier, it's not because I agree with him all the time but perhaps because of his tone or maybe I find his ideas stimulating, who knows. Anyway back to the article. In his words this chapter is about
In this paper I first want to place ethnography in the context of scientific enquiry in general and then focus on its current status in SLA research. Finally I will speculate on various ways in which the application of ethnography can be fruitful in teaching praxis, teacher development, and the language learning process. Overall, then, I aim to present a top-down dissection of ethnography, from its theoretical underpinnings to its practical uses for the classroom teacher and learner. (p. 33)

In this chapter van Lier criticizes mainstream normative research methods and advocates an interpretive approach or ethnography. After addressing some criticisms against ethnographic methods, van Lier pointa to two strengths of ethnographic methods, an emic perspective and " a holistic treatment of cultural facts or, in other words, a concern with context (p. 42). I wish he had mentioned ecological validity too but I guess it is part of a holistic view. The principles he proposes for ethnographic work are
  1. First, every study needs to be scrutinised for its adherence to the emic and holistic principles outlined above.
  2. Secondly, the notion of context needs to be examined in great detail, and the role of context in interpretation must be explicit
  3. Thirdly, ethnographic research must be open.
  4. Fourthly, analysis must be either broad (longitudinal) or deep (micro-ethnographic). (p. 45)

Rather than saying that the two types of research are combinable (and perhaps implying that the differences are minor), therefore, we regard them as alternative ways of knowing both of which are necessary to arrive at a better understanding of the reality of the language classroom. (p. 50)

 It is a nice article. And finally another article about qualitative research methods

Atkinson, D. (2005). Situated qualitative research and second language writing. In P. Matsuda & T. Silva (Eds.). Second Language Writing Research: Perspectives on the process of knowledge construction (pp. 49-64). Mahway, NJ: Erlbaum.

In this article, Atkinson do not criticize one research method or champion another but rather advocate for "relentless questioning," reflexivity, and flexibility for research in general, though he seems to feel closer to "situated qualitative research." Most of the chapter is about a very interesting interview (and I think like Harklau's chapter it illustrates resistance in action) and this interview is used to show the complexity of interviews as a research method. I like this quote so here it goes

In terms of the particular methodology I have been highlighting, however, there is a special charge to welcome human behavior in all its richness and diversity, even if doing so works against the smooth functioning of the methodology itself. This, I would argue, is the special contribution that situated qualitative research can make—as a research approach that is maximally flexible, maximally adaptive to the always-in-process, always-in-flux individuals-in-society and social situations that it attempts to study. And it can only do so, in some sense, by being almost anti-methodological. Only by giving priority to individuals and their individual behavior are we able to do it. Only in this way—and this is just one of the many paradoxes endemic to situated qualitative research—are we able to understand how individuals lead social lives. This is because the individual and the social are not separate things, but rather two aspects of the same thing, each of which contributes to defining the whole (p. 63)

So after reading these articles and chapters I think I have a better idea how to answer questions like these though I have a lot to read or reread before I can actually write my answers for them. Wish me luck.
What are the advantages of qualitative/ethnographic research?
What are the characteristics of qualitative/ethnographic research? Same for quantitative research
What is ecological validity?
What is the role of culture in language classroom?
What is thick description?
How do people do QR? 

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