Teachers analyze different kinds of evidence in order to construct hunches that help them serve learners well. Clear answers are rare, but if we pay attention, we know when we’re getting closer to understanding the challenges learners face and better at designing solutions.
The questions we ask often make all of the difference.
Traditional research processes often begin with the identification of driving questions. Intended to focus our work, driving questions can help us define powerful pathways through the research process. They also tighten our vision, inspiring us to seek and study what seems most relevant.
Things are not always as they appear, though.
As I began a new inquiry cycle with teachers yesterday, this understanding informed our approach. We began by sharing our wishes for this work as well as the worries that threaten to undermine it. Then, we were transparent about the hunches we were already bringing to the table, long before examining any evidence. This helped us establish a purpose for our work, and it also revealed our expertise. Most importantly, it made us sensitive to our biases.
How often do data and inquiry team meetings begin this way?
How often do we discuss the influence of our own biases on our purposes for documentation?
How can we be sure that the driving questions we choose to pursue aren’t compromised by our assumptions about the strengths and needs of learners and what we believe might matter most?
I was compelled by grounded theory methodology because in practice, all are data. Rather than beginning with a driving question or a hunch, researchers document everything they can relevant to a particular topic. Then, they look for trends. Those trends refine their studies.
Grounded theory helped me discover unexpected things about the writers I support. Had I begun with driving questions or hunches or theories or applications of best practices borrowed from others, I don’t know that I would have learned similar things. As I continue helping teachers document for learning, I’m reminded of this often.
How do you establish purposes for documentation?