I used qualitative research for my classroom research class last spring and I felt that it worked well for me. At that time, I researched the need for learning centers in kindergarten. My underlying goal was to find out if my learning centers were engaging. My qualitative inquiry approach was examining a real world situation without manipulating it. I observed my students in one learning center a day. I recorded each interruption and off-task behavior made by students in the learning center and students in other learning centers. I had my students fill out a smiley face survey at the end of our learning center time and I interviewed four students each day. I recorded and then transcribed the interview. I was able to compile my observations, surveys, and interviews into a couple different documents that helped me see which learning centers were the most engaging and which were the least based on student behavior, survey feedback and interviews.
I have to admit, I get a bit confused when asked to define qualitative research. I read our text, but I didn’t find anything that clearly, at least to me, defined qualitative research in simple or easy to understand terms. So, I searched online and found a definition that made the most sense to me. It comes from a California State University Long Beach course description. It states, “Qualitative research is aimed at gaining a deep understanding of a specific organization or event, rather than a surface description of a large sample of a population. It aims to provide an explicit rendering of structure, order, and broad patterns found among a group of participants. It is also called ethnomethodology or field research. It generates data about human groups in social settings” (California State University Long Beach, n.d.)
So, how is it a good lens to view classroom research? The teacher is an instrument in learning and according to the text, the researcher is the primary instrument for data collection. Teachers have to collect data. We do it all the time, from formal assessments to behavior observations. Therefore, it makes sense that teachers, like qualitative researchers, know how to “expand his or her understanding through nonverbal as well as verbal communication, process information (data) immediately, clarify and summarize material, check with respondents for accuracy of interpretation, and explore unusual or unanticipated responses” (Merriam & Tisdell, 2016). The description of qualitative researchers by Merriam and Tisdell is the same as what teachers do in the classroom throughout each day. Besides the fact that teachers are natural qualitative researchers, there are other advantages to using this research method. Qualitative research has the “ability to provide complex textual descriptions of how people experience a given research issue. It provides information about the “human” side of an issue – that is, the often contradictory behaviors, beliefs, opinions, emotions, and relationships of individuals” (Northeastern University College of Computer and Information Science, n.d.). Once again, this ties directly into what teachers are interested in…their students. I know that I must teach my students the curriculum, but I sincerely care about them as people. I know that my students’ behaviors, emotions, relationships, and general life directly impact their learning.
California State University Long Beach. (n.d.). PPA 696 Research Methods. Retrieved September 9, 2015, from California State University Long Beach: http://web.csulb.edu/~msaintg/ppa696/696quali.htm
Merriam, S. B., & Tisdell, E. J. (2016). Qualitative Research: A Guide to Design and Implementation. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Northeastern University College of Computer and Information Science. (n.d.). Qualitative Research Methods: A Data Collector’s Field Guide. Retrieved September 10, 2015, from Northeastern University College of Computer and Information Science: http://www.ccs.neu.edu/course/is4800sp12/resources/qualmethods.pdf