As well as having read some of the academic literature in the field on the use of narrative in the classroom, I wanted to talk to practitioners and learn about their experiences with the technique. I posted a description of what I was doing on The Hub, an electronic conferencing service for the literacy community in BC, and invited other literacy practitioners to share their experiences with me.
I received no responses from practitioners to my request to share teaching experiences using students’ personal narratives. I felt very disappointed about this at the time, but in retrospect, it is probably not a surprise that no one responded. On a personal level, computers are “not my thing.” I do little with them besides word processing and e-mailing. I do not participate in on-line conferencing or discussion forums. Knowing how to be part of this kind of information and idea exchange is just not something I am familiar or comfortable with. I am not sure then why I thought talking with other practitioners this way would work for me. I guess that I just hoped it would. As a consequence of my lack of experience with the medium, I produced a message to practitioners that was probably not very inviting or clear. As a result, there were no responses to this form of engaging in a conversation with the field about this specific topic.
As I wrote this literature review chapter, I struggled more than I did with any of the other sections of this research report. I felt awkward as I referred to the work of other researchers. My connection to their words did not feel real.
In contrast to a previous research project I had been involved with, Dancing in the Dark (Niks et al., 2003), I decided to do a formal literature review for this project. Had I not been doing this research project, however, I do not honestly think that I would have done this reading before I tried using students’ personal narratives in my English classroom. I did the literature review to meet a requirement, not because I was genuinely motivated to do so. That said, I did find many of the articles interesting and stimulating. They provided me with background information and useful vocabulary to think and write about my own research. I have always enjoyed reading about teaching and literacy and in particular about successful teaching strategies. I have valued this process for how it informed my daily practice in the classroom. But doing the reading this time in order to write about it felt artificial and forced.
While working on Dancing in the Dark (Niks et al., 2003), we struggled to explore why we had balked at doing a literature review for that research project. We talked about feeling that citing names of other researchers and formally referring to other research often felt like we were simply sprinkling our work with a condiment and that these references were not really ingredients germane to our work.
I had these same feelings as I wrote this literature review. I am interested in the work of others, both practitioners and researchers. I do want to give credit to that work and how it informs my work. I am not sure why the traditional process of conversing with the field through a literature review felt so uncomfortable.
After I had completed the first draft of this research report, I asked Diana Twiss, a respected colleague who has also been involved in practitioner research, to be a reader for me. When she returned my draft with her feedback, one of the things that she commented on was the tentativeness and apologetic tone of the Literature Review. It stood out to her in stark contrast to the confident and convincing voice of the other chapters. Why was this? Was it a case of the Emperor’s new clothes? Would ‘real’ academics see me as naked in my conversation with the field through literature? What did a fully clothed and therefore acceptable conversation actually look like and why did I feel that mine really wasn’t one of those?
Diana cheered me on to take out the tentative voice in this chapter.
purposes, you learned from the literature what you needed to. Don’t apologize
for that. Practitioners don’t climb into research for theoretical concepts,” she
argued. In the end, I decided to leave this chapter the way I had originally written
it, apologetic tone and all. For some practitioner/researchers the issue of a
Literature Review and the exploration of other ways of conversing with the field
remain thought provoking concerns and so I add my experiences to the debate.