How is Qualitative Research a good lens through which to view classroom research?

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.

References

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

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5 thoughts on “How is Qualitative Research a good lens through which to view classroom research?

  1. That’s awesome that you have completed your own study in your classroom. What were the end results? Did you end up replacing a center with another, keeping all the centers? I teacher kindergarten too, and I’ve been thinking a lot about centers.

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    • I learned how to make centers work for both my students and me. I had to have centers each day for two weeks to get all my data and that actually helped me figure out how to handle the center chaos. I also learned which centers were most engaging for my students and which I shouldn’t go again. I actually love having centers now and I know my students love them too. I also was able to lay out ground rules for centers time to limit interruptions by my students. Your students will love centers too.

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  2. I, too, had a hard time giving a definition of qualitative research after reading the book because it seemed like there was so much information in it, that I couldn’t condense it to a single sentence or two, until after we had our Twitter session on Tuesday, that seemed to really help. I like the definition you found and used in your blog about how it is used to gain a deep understanding rather than a surface. I think that’s a perfect description, tests give us the surface of what students know based on how well they can test and understand how the test questions are written, but with qualitative research we are able to really understand the heart of the students and what they really know based on conversations, interviews, discussions, etc. This can allow us to get a much better understanding of where our students are at, not basing everything on percentages. I enjoyed what you had to say this week!

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  3. Qualitative research has the “ability to provide complex textual descriptions of how people experience a given research issue”. I connected this statement to our change to the Common Core Standards here in Alaska (I know, not quite the Common Core Standards). Like the Common Core Standards, qualitative research allows teachers to go a mile deep instead of a mile wide. Instead of gaining numerical data on a large population, researchers “provide complex textual descriptions” for a small population.

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