The segment we were given to read from the book Developing a Research Plan was an excellent chapter– one that I wish we’d been given a lot earlier in the course (or at least, earlier in the field study). It has tons of great ideas for HOW to conduct data collection. I took a lot of notes in the columns, and also took issue with a few pieces of the article.
In particular in music class, where I am literally unable to pick up a pencil for the duration of a lesson, collecting meaningful data has been a difficult task. In class I am almost always leading in instrumental playing or in singing. Taking out a pencil to jot notes (even on Post-It pads as suggested by the article) would not only ruin the artistic integrity of my lessons, but it would also lead a lot of kids to “shut down” as they would be singing and playing with no direction.
Thus, unlike Alpert’s suggestion that “daily classroom activity” naturally generates a “paper trail” (101), the music classroom often doesn’t. I would suggest this might be similar to a shop classroom or a physical education environment where students “do” more often than they have work written down.
With this said, in the past, I’ve often used audio to inform my upcoming lessons, and even maintain a full “audio library” of students’ work on my website at www.lucastds.com. Students can download songs there for listening. This audio library contains both finished and slightly incomplete recordings from the past seven years of my teaching career, but it represents a very small fraction of the amount of audio I actually take in my classroom. I usually use my iPhone to record at least three classes a day, usually with students playing incomplete fragments of songs. Most of these clips are later deleted — but I use them to inform future teaching of the students (to remind me of where corrections can be made). I often have students self-evaluate their own performances by listening to audio as well.
However, as the article points out, I’ve often had lots of issues with keeping “audio data” on students. The two difficulties the article points to are that students are “afraid to talk if they thought they were being recorded” (95), particularly because they think their voices “sounded dumb” and that audio recording tends to capture “more than we needed to capture.” (95)
I often have piles of recordings that I both need to throw away and yet I want to keep them, thinking that somehow they may give me a further insight.
Additionally, in a music context I often have quite the opposite problem that the author has. While I, too, have students who don’t want to be recorded, I also have students who want to be THE LOUDEST and the MOST NOTICEABLE on a recording. These students, instead of singing, shout loudly above the voices of their classmates and hope to be “heard” on the recording.
I had some success in quelling this desire in some of my louder students this week when I compared singing as a group to mixing paint.
“Imagine you are mixing paint,” I said to them. “You want to make the colour pink. So you take the red and the white and mix them together. You get a nice pink colour. But sometimes,” I continued, “you don’t quite mix the paint and there are blobs of red sticking out. They aren’t nice to look at. That’s what happens when we are trying to sing as a group and all we can hear is one person shouting.”
In music, I have found audio data collection to be extraordinarily useful. However, this year, I’ve gone one step further in doing a lot of video recording– a passion that was ignited by Carlo and my joint inquiry project last term. This year, however, my video inquiry has actually focused on recording students to better and more accurately grade and evaluate their instrumental playing. Evaluating children’s playing is always hard to do because they often need to follow a leader (me) in order to play at all — and when I stop playing in order to record them, their playing suffers greatly.
One of the difficulties Alpert et al. touch on with technology is the “cool” factor inherent in using new technology. They note a program for iPads that “filled quickly and has an enormous waitlist.” The program is full of excited teachers who, no doubt, hope the iPads will be fun new gadgets to play with. I often find that while technology can enhance the classroom it can also be a disruptive aspect. It’s nice to just play for the pure joy instead of being distracted by being on camera, but perhaps constant surveillance is a new reality that kids are used to nowadays. My two year old probably has had 4000 photos of her taken in the first 750 days of her life.
When it comes to paper-driven data, I was very excited by Alpert et al.’s example of focus groups. This is a method I often use in my class, and I particularly liked the questions included by Ramirez (105). The categories “Reasons Why I Like”, “Reasons why I don’t Like” and “Ideas or Suggestions” is something I already use — in fact my students did a sheet with these headings last week — however, it was a useful reminder.
Perhaps my favourite section of the article was a piece of text I will quote at length:
“Departing from your original data collection plan is a natural part of the inquiry process. If you find as your inquiry unfolds that forms of data collection you employed need to be adjusted — adjust accordingly! If you find as your inquiry unfolds that different forms of data collection you hadn’t planned on using may be insightful to your wondering — use them! Just keep track of the decisions you make as an inquirer along the way, as articulating changes in course can also be an important piece of what you are learning.”
I feel that my Field Study project has changed quite a bit from where it first began. A lot of what I was thinking about during the summer washed away as an area of interest when the school year got underway, and, what I did with my students changed to match my new areas of inquiry. I will speak with Don more about this journey over the course of the next few days, but now sleep is calling.