Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Qualitative Methods In Research by Fred Erickson

I wanted to begin this blog by writing down a few thoughts and questions about "Interpretive" Research. Unlike other literacy research that I have become familiar with, this kind of research seeks to know and understand a local and immedate set of actors, their meanings, and motives. It's not a technique, Erickson claims in his classic piece, but a "method."

Grounded in a historical interest in the meanings of the people, also framed by a Marxist reading of class struggle, Erickson seems to want to make the hidden meanings of everyday people more visiable, "to make the familar strange..." (1984). He is after local meanings: particularizability, not generalizability. The research questions under Erickson's model are of a different sort than by "standard" research. For example, rather than trying to pinpoint a factor that creates optimal learning and generalize that point out for other settings, he would suggest that we ask questions like, "How is it that it can make sense to students to learn in one situation and not in another?"

A basic assumption is that both formal and informal social systems operate simultaneously in any local setting, within a mircoculture--be it a classroom or other natural group. The "enacted curriculum" is worth examining.

Before going to my next post on Erickson's fieldwork methodology, I want to pause and ponder and ask a question or two.

If we are truly seeking to help our students to learn--to acquire not only the content of our courses but also the habits of mind that will help them to be independent and successful learners in the future, what is the benefit of interpretive research? How does it support or reflect on "standard research"? Why not formulate policy on a wide range of researched methodologies?

I guess the problem lies in which interpretive studies one locates as relevant to a given policy question. I guess this is one of the reasons why I begin this blog today, because too few classroom practitioners really get a chance to read research and to influence the literacy research community.

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