I have never come to terms with the fact that I am pretty good at writing a diary.
While gearing up for my first day of grad school, I went over some of my old notes from my B.Ed. I completed in 2012. They were bad. Well, bad for the archetype of what notes should look like. Incoherent sentences implying emotional reactions to the subject matter were abound, incomplete definitions littered the page, and highlighter not for the sake of highlighting an important point but rather because it gave the page at least some aesthetic value. All my notes looked like that except for one class, ‘Transformative Inquiry’ 490.
The notes for my Transformative Inquiry (TI) course were different. It turns out I had been writing entries into a diary rather than note taking. The nature of the course made it simple to do; we were required to explore and inquire on subjects in education, then be mindful of how it could/would transform us. What I recorded in my notebook were not the boring and mechanical definitions and procedures I would later memorize prior to a test. Rather, I recorded my thoughts, emotions, hopes, and doubts based on information, experiences, and ideas presented in the course.
Below is one of my first ‘entries’ during a class of 490. These ‘wintercounts’ required us to express our feelings/thoughts on the lesson of the day in an art form and then use text to briefly describe them. We were discussing how a teacher should reflect on who they are on the inside, how they are made up, and how they could change. So I drew/wrote the following down:
You can see how, at the time, I was under the belief that mechanical things work. ‘Why bother being transformative?’ I thought. Throughout the course, I remained rather intractable. The instructor, Dr. Lisa Starr, did her best to show me a way I could grow:
But I rejected her feedback:
It? Cmon. It’s the way I teach. Let’s not be dumb. The way I teach works for me. It has for 10 years. Why bother going through this forced transformation when I already am able to adapt when I need to, whether I want to or not?
As the course progressed, my journal…continued:
My whole problem with this concept is there are two sides.
Just do it. Get the course done and move on. Hasn’t changed from our previous courses. But this course is trying to make the same process deeper. More fluffy. More emotional. It all comes back to the fact that this course will end, this won’t matter. So I basically have to just bull my way through this.
Or, try do dive deep make it real, never look at it again and move on. Pass. Why are we doing this? That’s the question that students ask when they are resisting…Am I resisting?
Or do I just see that beyond the supposed use of the inquiry, the value, the validity or relevance of it, that it is just another hoop I am jumping through now, and once I’m a teacher I’m never going to use again.
I’ve had a job for 10 years [Swimming Teacher] where you go from the keen and transformative in the beginning to the routine and solid. But in that routine and solid, there is plenty of room to grow. I still grow, learn and do things differently.
But what stands out the most of that 10 years [in swimming] is how everything we learned in the courses at the beginning are no longer used. We go to the backroom and JOKE about them.
The parallels in this course are uncanny.
Later, my entries started to become frustrated, angry:
Why can’t the journey show you that this is bogus. You’ve [Lisa] assumed that T.I. will get you somewhere. It’s professionally arrogant. Why is the idea that it will work ‘if we try’ rammed down? Can’t one assume that it may have no bearing or relevance based on an individual’s circumstances?
How the hell am I supposed to listen well when you only have 20 minutes to rifle off a few points or else you don’t get a good mark, maybe not even a completion?
Interesting that I question my resistance every time we have this class and you tend to come to the same conclusion – Not resisting because you don’t like this. Resisting because you think it is wrong. Inherently, characteristically wrong.
In the journal, I had system of categorizing and drafting the entries I would ask/say to Lisa when it was discussion time. Here is one example:
Are we f- serious? Path to the heart?!
I feel like this has no relevance at all to the ‘learn by doing’ type of learner…like myself. Or maybe it totally does, who can tell with this ridiculous content.
Nevertheless, I cannot fathom why being told that ‘I should be in a state of flux in my discovery’ is relevant. Would I be a good teacher I wasn’t already capable of rolling with the punches and growing? This seems to have taken the idea of being dynamic and created an entire pseudo-analysis of what being dynamic is, then thrown in some emotional fluff to make it seem really deep, even though change only happens if someone wants it to.
I obviously felt transformative inquiry was a sham, and I was not afraid to vocalize my feelings about that.
My second practicum, which proceeded this course, proved to be very challenging. I would attempt to use the same styles and techniques which I used in my first, and none were working. My students were of a different demographic (age, ability, accessibility, origin, wealth) which I did not account for. At my breaking point (which happened early in the practicum, thankfully) I spent several days in class teaching what I could, but primarily observed and recorded. What was working for each of my students? What wasn’t? Were there any consistencies among the class?
The weekend came, and I sat down with all my material, all my notes on the students, and a blank page. I analyzed everything. On that page I critically wrote out my thoughts, frustrations, and hopes of how I was teaching the class. When I re-read the page, I saw how and where I would need to change, how I would redesign my lessons, how I would better serve my students. I knew how I would transform my approach to education.
How convenient it was that one of my first course readings in grad school was on the practice of using Research Diaries. The article, Research Diary: A Tool for Scaffolding, is mainly an account and example of how a researcher used a research diary to learn and develop in themselves, but also allowed them to approach their research with a critical eye. When I read of the research diary’s enabling of the critical analysis of one’s own work and the process of writing to organize one’s beliefs, it articulated my experience in my second practicum. While there is a difference in practice versus research, this article allowed me to understand the critical, recursive process of a professional diary.
Being an educator, I cannot help to ask the the question: Is research bound by spreadsheets, quantitative and coded qualitative data, and mathematical averages gathered from a pool of people? Or can research be the recursive analysis of one’s own practices with said group of people? I am sure this is triggering an eye roll from my methodology instructor.
If I were in the position of the researcher (conventional or otherwise), I belief at this point I would *require* a research diary. An expert, impolite, and honest conscious would arise in my journal. After my experiences in TI 490, I know that my ego needs a push. It is a natural flaw to think that one’s practices and ideas are ‘correct’…especially for teachers. The diary would allow for a space to do so. However, the consciousness that would flow in the diary would not just be about the me. Using the example of my second practicum, I was able to consider my students (the researched) an how my teaching, my data collection, and my transformation affected them….or at times, hypothesize about their reaction to upcoming changes.
My last thought on this article is about motivation. Why would a researcher bother putting time into creating a diary in order to scaffold their research? Well, for the audience. The reader. Whether it is an academic department, a department head, a scientific body…a practicum instructor…the research needs to be sound and applicable for them. When the researcher uses a research diary, the knowledge their readers may seek to acquire can be explored throughout the diary entries. That is pretty obvious, when we only consider the aforementioned people as possible readers.
However, my experience in the last week has allowed me to consider a different kind of reader. I began the program by going back seven years in time to read my 490 and practicum diaries. Thanks to them, I’ve already accepted what I will require to do as I conduct research in grad school as I became the Reader of some of my own forgotten research. Perhaps this is circular reasoning, but I’m pretty good at that. Perhaps we can call this scaffolding for the scaffolding?
Link to Article:
Research Diary: A Tool for Scaffolding by M. Engin (2011)
When I wrote this, I reached out to Dr. Lisa Starr through email. I took it upon myself to apologize and explain where I am now and how her course has since become quite relevant to me. I was very happy to receive a response today. She has suggested that we to continue converse about T.I., specifically how dissent played a role in my experience and may do so for others. Later, I hope to write an update about our discussion.