FROM PRACTITIONER TO RESEARCHER AND BACK AGAIN: AN ETHNOGRAPHIC CASE STUDY OF A RESEARCH-INPRACTICE PROJECT by Betsy M.E. Alkenbrack B.ES., University of Waterloo, 1978 M.Ed., University of the Witwatersrand, 1999 A THESIS SUBMITTED IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY in THE FACULTY OF GRADUATE STUDIES (Educational Studies) THE UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA (Vancouver) June 2009 © Betsy M.E. Alkenbrack, 2009 ABSTRACT This ethnographic case study documents the joys and challenges of a Research in Practice (RIP) project conducted by five adult literacy instructors that lead to the report Hardwired for Hope: Effective ABE/Literacy Instructors. (Battell, Gesser, Rose, Sawyer, & Twiss, 2004). As the practitioner-researchers were nearing retirement, they set out to conduct a research project that would put the experience of long-term instructors on record, describing the background, beliefs and strategies they bring to their work. The resulting study serves as a legacy to instructors who are committed to effective practice, student success and social justice. I had the privilege of participating in this project over a three-year period. The experience gained as participant-observer is one source of data, along with document analysis (minutes, emails, reports and the study itself, Hardwired for Hope) and interviews (with project participants and two other informants). Three sensitizing concepts influence this study: the centrality of gender (Code, 1991, 1995; Luttrell, 1996), the notion of “field” (Bourdieu, 1985, 1989, 1993), and the concept of “communities of practice” (Lave & Wenger, 1991, 1999; Wenger, 1998b). But more importantly, the research was shaped by the rich body of practitioner research that has blossomed in BC over the past decade, and by my own participation in the Hardwired for Hope project, the Research in Practice movement and the Adult Basic Education field over a 25-year period. Thus “insider research” is a key feature of the methodology. Five themes emerged: collaboration, knowledge creation, recognizing and valuing practitioners as researchers, supporting practitioner-research and promoting a research-inpractice culture. I also found that ABE practitioners bring to their work leadership, innovation, commitment to collaboration, an adventurous spirit and a willingness to challenge taken-for-granted assumptions about what research is and who has the right to create knowledge. I provide recommendations to practitioner-researchers and universitybased researchers who want to contribute to the RIP movement. ii TABLE OF CONTENTS ABSTRACT....................................................................................................................... ii TABLE OF CONTENTS ................................................................................................ iii LIST OF TABLES .......................................................................................................... vii ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS .......................................................................................... viii DEDICATION................................................................................................................... x CHAPTER ONE: HARDWIRED FOR HOPE – THEIR STORY, MY STORY....... 1 Research Questions and Approach ................................................................................. 4 Research in Practice in Adult Literacy ........................................................................... 6 Significance of the Study .............................................................................................. 13 Dissertation Structure.................................................................................................... 16 Welcome to My Dissertation ........................................................................................ 17 CHAPTER TWO: SENSITIZING CONCEPTS ......................................................... 18 Gender at the Centre ..................................................................................................... 18 Women Practitioners and Women Learners ............................................................. 20 Women Researchers.................................................................................................. 24 The “Field” of Adult Basic Education .......................................................................... 29 Habitus ...................................................................................................................... 32 Capital ....................................................................................................................... 33 Communities of Practice............................................................................................... 36 Concluding Comments.................................................................................................. 40 CHAPTER THREE: THEIR RESEARCH, MY RESEARCH –METHODOLOGY AND METHODS ............................................................................................................ 42 Methodology ................................................................................................................. 43 Ethnography .............................................................................................................. 43 Reflexive Ethnography ......................................................................................................45 An Ethnographic Case Study.............................................................................................47 Feminist Research ..................................................................................................... 48 Methods......................................................................................................................... 51 Linking Up to the Site and Participants .................................................................... 54 Data Collection ......................................................................................................... 56 Participant Observation .....................................................................................................56 Document Analysis............................................................................................................58 Interviews ..........................................................................................................................59 Data Analysis ............................................................................................................ 61 Timeline .................................................................................................................... 63 Ethical Considerations .................................................................................................. 66 Confidentiality .......................................................................................................... 66 Member-Checking .................................................................................................... 67 Getting Close to the Research Participants ............................................................... 68 Insider Research............................................................................................................ 70 iii My Critical Stance ........................................................................................................ 77 Concluding Comments.................................................................................................. 78 CHAPTER FOUR: THE BC RESEARCH IN PRACTICE MOVEMENT ............. 80 Practitioners and Learners: Challenges of ABE in BC ................................................. 81 Start with a Strong Field ............................................................................................... 89 Support for RIP: People and Structures ........................................................................ 94 The Projects and the Reports ...................................................................................... 101 Concluding Comments................................................................................................ 110 CHAPTER FIVE: THE HARDWIRED FOR HOPE TEAM.................................... 115 The Practitioner-Researchers: Rich Descriptions in a Poor Field?............................. 115 Evelyn Battell.......................................................................................................... 117 Judy Rose ................................................................................................................ 123 Diana Twiss ............................................................................................................ 129 Leora Gesser ........................................................................................................... 136 Jan Sawyer .............................................................................................................. 141 The Research Friends.................................................................................................. 147 Marina Niks ............................................................................................................ 147 Bonnie Soroke......................................................................................................... 152 Betsy Alkenbrack.................................................................................................... 154 Concluding Comments................................................................................................ 158 CHPATER SIX: THE TEAM AT WORK – COLLABORATING TO CREATE KNOWLEDGE ............................................................................................................. 161 Overview of the Research Process.............................................................................. 162 Analyzing the Autobiographies .............................................................................. 164 Journals ................................................................................................................... 165 Interviews................................................................................................................ 166 Framing the Data..................................................................................................... 167 Writing .................................................................................................................... 167 Collaboration............................................................................................................... 169 Commitment to Collaboration ................................................................................ 170 Two Innovative Approaches ................................................................................... 173 Writing and Analyzing Autobiographies.........................................................................174 Journals and “Conversations with Intent” .......................................................................176 Magic Moments ...................................................................................................... 178 Where the Collaboration Broke Down ................................................................... 179 Two Strategies that Did not Work ...................................................................................180 Different Styles and Speeds.............................................................................................185 Process Issues ..................................................................................................................187 Even if They Cried: A Final Thought on Collaboration ......................................... 191 Knowledge Creation ................................................................................................... 192 Uncovering New Knowledge (And Documenting Old Wisdom)........................... 192 A Rigorous Process................................................................................................. 195 Collecting, Analyzing and Organizing Data....................................................................195 Being Purposeful and Transparent...................................................................................201 Debating the Literature Review.......................................................................................202 A Shared Process .................................................................................................... 208 iv Presentations ....................................................................................................................208 Online Conversations.......................................................................................................209 The Report .......................................................................................................................212 Concluding Comments................................................................................................ 213 CHAPTER SEVEN: “I’M GOING ON THIS JOURNEY WITH THEM”: CHALLENGES AND SUPPORTS TO RESEARCH IN PRACTICE .................... 215 Recognizing or Challenging Practitioners as Researchers.......................................... 218 Self-recognition: I am a Researcher! ...................................................................... 219 Recognition in the Field.......................................................................................... 221 Recognition from Outside the Field........................................................................ 222 Funding Proposals ..........................................................................................................224 Defending the Autobiographies .......................................................................................230 Facing The Ethics Review Board ....................................................................................232 Support for Practitioners Doing Research .................................................................. 236 Time and Money ..................................................................................................... 236 Mentoring and Education: The Research Friend .................................................... 242 Teaching Research Techniques .......................................................................................242 Helping to Make Decisions .............................................................................................250 Making Us Aware of Options..........................................................................................252 Support for a Research Culture................................................................................... 252 Concluding Comments: So What?.............................................................................. 257 CHAPTER EIGHT: CONCLUSION ......................................................................... 260 Conditions that lead to the Development of RIP and the HFH Project ...................... 260 Gender and “The Field” .......................................................................................... 263 Relational Aspects of Collaboration ....................................................................... 267 Collaboration and Communities of Practice ........................................................... 268 Collaboration and Communities of Practice ........................................................... 270 Learning in Community of Practice........................................................................ 272 Relationships with Academics: Supports and Challenges .......................................... 274 The Research Friend ............................................................................................... 276 Knowledge Production and Theory–Practice ......................................................... 277 Research in Practice: Share the Dream ....................................................................... 281 Practitioners: Jump in! ................................................................................................ 283 Academics: Join in!..................................................................................................... 286 Final Thoughts ............................................................................................................ 290 REFERENCES.............................................................................................................. 292 APPENDIX A: ACRONYMS ...................................................................................... 303 APPENDIX B: CONSENT LETTER ......................................................................... 304 APPENDIX C: INTERVIEW QUEstioNS FOR THIS STUDY............................... 306 APPENDIX D: LIST OF THEMES INDENTIFIED DURING THE ANALYSIS 308 APPENDIX E: THE HFH TEAM’S AUTHOBIOGRAPHICAL WRITING ........ 309 APPENDIX F: INTERFVIEW PROTOCOL AND FACE SHEET USED BY THE HFH TEAM................................................................................................................... 310 v APPENDIX G: UBC RESEARCH ETHICS BOARD CERTIFICATE OF APPROVAL .................................................................................................................. 314 vi LIST OF TABLES Table 3.1 Research Methods ………………………………………………………53 Table 3.2 Research Timelines ……………………………………………………. 65 Table 4.1 RIP Timeline …………………………………………………………...113 vii ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS First I want to thank the women who are “hardwired for hope”: my research participants, Evelyn Battell, Leora Gesser, Judy Rose, Jan Sawyer and Diana Twiss. They welcomed me into their group and shared their triumphs and struggles over a two year research project. They continue to inspire me as researchers, teachers, leaders in our field and friends. Also on the journey were the “Research Friends”: Marina Niks and Bonnie Soroke. Since the day she suggested I join the team, Marina lit the way for me as mentor, scholar and friend, and Bonnie keeps making me laugh and think. Thanks also to Mary Norton and Audrey Thomas who agreed to be interviewed and provided me with their expertise and important contextual information. Thanks to my committee for their wisdom, patience, support and respect. Kjell Rubenson was always just an email away, whether in Sweden or Vancouver, and pushed me to the finish line when I most needed it. Shauna Butterwick and Pierre Walter have supported the Research in Practice movement and this dissertation through thick and thin. Thanks also to Alison Tom, who provided guidance and scholarly tools during the early stages. There were times when I felt like giving up, when life and work seemed to take over and there was no space for my dissertation. But there was a group of women who would not let me do that—they were going to stick with me until I was finished and all of us had reached our goal. These are my Study Sisters—Mary Brooks, Romee Lee, Lisa Moy, Janice Murphy, Deborah Prieur and Debra Sutherland. They read and gave feedback on drafts, cooked and ordered delicious food, set target dates which I sometimes met and even phoned in from Balfour and Korea for our meetings. Most of all, they provided inspiration and friendship that I will keep in my heart forever. Special thanks to Mary Brooks for her careful editing and coaching during the final stages. Thanks to the RIPAL-BC gang—Sandy Middleton, Marina Niks, Suzanne Smythe, Bonnie Soroke and Anneke van Enk—for keeping Research in Practice on the agenda, shaping my thinking, and supporting me during the rough patches. Practitioners in the broader RIPAL movement and the community have inspired me in big and small ways. In particular, thanks to Carol Abernathy, Paula Davies, Anne Docherty, Catherine Minchen, and Kate Nonesuch, participants in the “Ground Up” project, and Dee McRae, my personal Research Friend. Practitioner-researchers everywhere know the value of a supportive and challenging team of colleagues, and I am privileged to be part of such a team at Capilano University. Thanks especially to Lucy Alderson who is a constant reminder of what excellent research and practice looks like on the ground. Back at home, another scholar sat beside me with his laptop and his laughter. Moussa Magassa’s diligence in his own work has been a motivation for me, and he was with me every step of the way, as cheerleader, sounding board, proof-reader, cook/cleaner, entertainer and comrade. Moussa, na lingeo. viii Other family members were there at key moments when I needed encouragement and support, a place to work and understanding when I missed important family events. Thanks especially to Beth Alkenbrack and Catherine Alkenbrack. I promise to remember birthdays from now on. This dissertation was completed with partial support from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council. I thank them for supporting good projects and struggling students. I am also extremely honoured to have received the Gordon Selman award. This provided financial support and validation for my work in the community. And finally, thanks to all those annoying people who said, “Haven’t you finished yet?” and to friendly coffee shop staff who let me stay long after my coffee was finished. I couldn’t have done it without you. ix DEDICATION To Wesley McKinnon Alkenbrack, 1918–2008 My father, a self-made scholar, who bequeathed me with his writing skills and an enduring fascination with other human beings. x CHAPTER ONE: HARDWIRED FOR HOPE – THEIR STORY, MY STORY We are a group of five practitioners who have been involved in literacy/ABE1 practice for between 6 and 25 years. We have designed a research project where we, as researchers, can describe, reflect, analyze and define our practice from a research perspective. Although we do not define ourselves as “Master Teachers,” through our lengthy experience we have found that we can sometimes be highly effective and sometimes we are not. We look forward to exploring the nature of this effectiveness. What is happening between the learners and ourselves that makes us feel effective? What does effective mean in the ABE/literacy context? What does effective mean to the learners? And the times when we feel ineffective, what is going on in the class, between the learners and ourselves? What does that look like? (Introduction to Adult Literacy Cost-Shared Grant Application – 2002/2003: What makes literacy instructors successful or effective in their practice?) In November 2001, five women from different parts of BC (Duncan, Salmon Arm, Grand Forks, North Vancouver and Langley) met to plan a collaborative research project and to write a first draft of a funding proposal to the “cost-shared” program, co-funded by the BC Ministry of Advanced Education and the National Literacy Secretariat (NLS), which was formerly a branch of the Department of Human Resources and Development Canada. The proposal was successful and a year later, Evelyn Battell, Leora Gesser, Judy Rose, Jan Sawyer and Diana Twiss began a three year collaborative project to explore the question, “What makes adult literacy instructors effective in their practice?” With them on the journey were three graduate students: Marina Niks, Bonnie Soroke and Betsy Alkenbrack—the “Research Friends.”2 Through a process involving eight face-to-face meetings, twelve teleconferences and hundreds of emails and telephone discussions, they conducted their research. As promised, they reflected on their own practice (and wrote 1 Adult Basic Education. For a list of acronyms used in this dissertation, see Appendix A. A term used in the BC RIP community for the academically-trained guide or helper in a research project. See Chapters 4 and 7 for more discussion about “Research Friends.” 2 1 about it in autobiographical pieces and journals) and also interviewed 17 other instructors from colleges, school districts and community literacy programs. And in the fall of 2004, Hardwired for Hope: Effective ABE/Literacy Instructors (Battell, et al., 2004) rolled off the presses. In their introduction, the team said, This research comes from our hearts and we hope it speaks to yours. . . . We hope that this research document opens up a way of seeing or gives new insight into what many of you experience daily in your work lives. We would like it to serve as a testament to what many of us have seen as our life work and as a legacy for future ABE/Literacy instructors to read and ponder. (p. 1) What happened between the proposal-writing and the final report is the topic of this dissertation. I will tell this story using an ethnographic case study approach, drawing on the women’s autobiographical writing and journals, the interviews they (we) conducted, their conversations and correspondence, as well as the interviews I conducted with each of them, with my fellow research friends and with two other key players in the Research in Practice (RIP) field. I am not the first one to write this story. Diana Twiss wrote a detailed description of the research process in the study's methods chapter entitled, “Wearing the Silver Shorts.” Carrying on in the tradition of intriguing titles in RIP, the title points to one of the key challenges in practitioner research: that people come to the project with different work styles, speeds and levels of availability. Twiss (2004) explains: When one of the practitioner-researchers was having trouble with her piece of writing and was concerned about keeping up with the group, she shared a story from her husband’s soccer experience. In her husband’s soccer league, the older fellows (over 70) wear silver shorts so the other players know to go easy with them. It is a sign of their earned status, age, and potential physical limits. We joked about needing a pair of silver shorts too so we could signal to each other when we needed our limits, however temporary, noted. (p. 24) 2 The other practitioner-researchers wrote chapters discussing the data the team collected: Judy Rose wrote, “Thinking, Feeling and Learning join Together: Characteristics of Effective Instructors,” Evelyn Battell wrote, “A Passion for the Possible: Motivations and Beliefs of Effective Instructors,” and Leora Gesser and Jan Sawyer wrote, “The Tightrope Walker: Styles, Strategies and Skills.” Their study also contains an introduction with historical information, descriptions of everyone who participated in the research and a list of recommendations. This report, too, is part of my data.3 This is their story, and it is also my story, because I was with the group almost from the beginning. Like most of the research participants, I came to the project with over 20 years of experience in the ABE field, having worked in Toronto, South Africa and Vancouver as teacher, trainer, materials developer, administrator and researcher. What I did not have was the long experience in BC colleges—experience which has put these women on the cutting edge of innovative literacy practice. Their stories about building the field and struggling against adversity was a source of great fascination to me, and I have tried to capture some of these stories in Chapters Three and Four. I first “met” many of the participants online, while I was sending letters from South Africa about my work there to the Literacy BC electronic conference system (Alkenbrack, 2000). I then met them in person at conferences and workshops I attended, which is also where I began to work with Marina Niks. She introduced me to the group and suggested I might want to collaborate with them. The research team generously allowed me to join them, first as a 3 See Chapter 5 for more discussion of the report. 3 research assistant and later as a participant observer, and I shaped my dissertation around their project.4 Research Questions and Approach In this study I will explore three questions: 1. What are the conditions that led to the development of the RIP movement in Canada generally and the Hardwired for Hope (HFH) project specifically? 2. In what ways is RIP supported and challenged by university-based researchers, and in the specific case of HFH, what were the relationships between the practitioner-researchers and academics? 3. What would help to further support and develop the RIP movement in the field of literacy and as a respected field of inquiry by academics? The first question was an essential starting point. I needed to understand what practitioner research is before I could look at what it is not or what it could be. To answer this question, I started by looking at the conditions that surrounded the HFH study, including RIP studies that came before and after it (see Chapter Three). I then looked at the practitioners who engaged in the study—the skills, knowledge and experience they brought, how they experienced the project and how it has influenced them (see Chapter Four). Finally, I explored what happened during the research project, focussing especially on the collaboration and knowledge creation (see Chapter Five). With the second question, I wanted to look at how the practitioners reached out to the world, as researchers, and how they were supported and challenged by universitybased researchers. This is described in Chapters Five and Six. In seeking answers to the 4 See Chapters 2 and 4 for descriptions of how my role was negotiated and how I repaid the team for allowing me to work with them. 4 third question, I hoped to support a practitioner research movement that would become stronger, richer (in information and resources), and respected both in the field and in academia. Those ideas are explored in Chapter Seven and in the conclusion (Chapter Eight). Data Presentation As noted above, I have used the women’s autobiographical writing and journals, the interviews they (we) conducted, minutes from research team meetings, correspondence, and interviews with each research team member and two other informants. These will be represented in the text as follows: I will use plain text to show quotations from printed text, including published and unpublished reports, meeting minutes, autobiographical writing, journals and correspondence. I will use italicized text to indicate quotations from interviews and emails. I will refer to research participants by their first name when quoting from their interviews, emails, comments in meetings or unpublished autobiographical excerpts, and by their last name when quoting from published reports they have written, as I would with any other publication. For example, (Diana, interview, December 17, 2004) identifies an excerpt from my interview with Diana Twiss, and (Twiss, 2004) refers to the chapter she wrote in HFH. I have chosen to use first names in most cases, rather than initials and last names, because I think this gives a more realistic reflection of the relationship I had with my research participants and they with each other. I also think it is in keeping with feminist research principles, which promote the use of first names in order to show exactly who is speaking (Hayes & Flannery, 2000). 5 Research in Practice in Adult Literacy In some ways, the research project which resulted in HFH is typical of this thing that goes by many names: “practitioner research,” “practitioner inquiry,” “teacher research,” and “Research-in-Practice” to name a few. All of these refer to practitioners engaging in research with the primary goal of improving their practice. The expression “Research in Practice” first became a recognized term when Mary Norton and Jenny Horsman wrote A Framework to Encourage and Support Practitioner Involvement in Adult Literacy Research in Practice in Canada (Horsman & Norton, 1999). They say: Research in practice offers avenues to build and strengthen connections between research and practice with a view to improving practice, building knowledge, extending or shifting perspectives and informing research and policy. Systematic support for research in practice is central to building that connection. (p. 6) They also identify four ways practitioners could engage in research, only one of which was actually doing research: - reading and responding to research reflecting on practice in light of research applying research findings to practice doing research about practice (p. 7) This dissertation is primarily concerned with the fourth way (doing research about practice), but I will also discuss how the other three ways, support and benefit from practitioners’ direct engagement in research. 5 Research in Practice is valuable because teachers can provide unique perspectives and expertise on classroom situations and a “significant contribution to both the academic research community and the school-based teachers” (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1993, p. 5). According to a 1998 report conducted for the NLS, practitioner-research in the context of 5 See Chapter 7 for a thorough discussion of “support for a research culture.” 6 adult literacy is often informed by one or all of the following principles: the primacy of the learner, the importance of partnerships, collaboration between researchers and practitioners, and literacy research for well-being (National Literacy Secretariat & Human Resources Development Canada, 1998, p. 8). This NLS report could have been predicting the approach that became so prevalent in BC practitioner research and the HFH project. As I will show throughout this dissertation, all the BC RIP reports demonstrate a deep understanding and respect for learners and a strong commitment to collaboration. When I arrived in Vancouver in 2001, it seemed like Research in Practice (RIP) had exploded on the literacy community in Canada: a group was planning the second of three national conferences and training events (Norton & Woodrow, 2002), a journal focussing on RIP had just been launched and there were provincial networks in BC, Alberta and Ontario all focussing on RIP. In BC, practitioners were doing research collaboratively and individually and gathering in various locations to exchange ideas. According to Evelyn Battell, who coordinated the HFH project and had been in the field for 25 years, “This is by far the biggest development in ABE work in Canada.” 6 I felt the same way as Evelyn, and naïvely believed that the rest of the world did too. But the national study, Focused on Practice: A Framework for Adult Literacy Research in Canada, (Horsman & Woodrow, 2007) which was conducted by practitioners in every Canadian province and territory, told a different story. They found that, in most provinces, RIP is still quite new and beyond the realm of possibility for many practitioners, who struggle with program survival issues. In the report, Jenny 6 Minutes from a presentation on RIPAL, Malaspina College, Duncan, BC, February 11, 2004. 7 Horsman and Helen Woodrow argue that the conditions that would support RIP are simply not in place: This research study made it clear that the most fundamental support for RIP across the country would be a valued and well-resourced field—one where literacy workers have space for reflection, time to gather with colleagues to share and discuss their work critically, a range of possibilities to enrich their practice through professional development, a chance to influence curriculum and program structures, and the possibility of moving out of reactive crisis mode into a place of creative program development. (p. 11) Still, the Horseman and Woodrow report itself was a testament to the potential of RIP; while it was coordinated and written by experienced researchers, the data was gathered and analyzed by provincial and territorial teams, as well as one team focussing on Aboriginal literacy, and most of the researchers were adult literacy practitioners. Jan Sawyer, fresh from her experience with HFH, was on the BC team. She said, I still feel it’s an emerging art—or that’s what it is for me. It’s becoming clearer, I’m seeing more. I know it’s important and I think for funding in literacy to increase . . . we have to have research. (Horsman & Woodrow, 2007, p. 110) And many others talk about the potential of RIP. For practitioners in Ontario, “research in practice breathes renewal and gives them new creative energy for their work” (Horsman & Woodrow, 2007, p. 66). Helen Woodrow writes that, unlike applied research, RIP captures, from practitioner experience and knowledge, detailed evidence about what works and what does not in ways that can most effectively improve literacy practice. (p. 6) Other scholars have written about the potential of practitioner research or teacher research. In an earlier study of RIP in Canada, Jenny Horsman and Mary Norton wrote that RIP “must be recognized for its potential to improve practice, supporting the field in developing and changing and exploring new directions and possibilities” (Horsman & Norton, 1999, p. 20). Susan Lytle describes a huge amount of practitioner research 8 activity in K-12, adult education, colleges and university-based teacher research, including journals, conferences and on-line chat groups. “They attest to a palpable excitement and widespread interest and to the likelihood that what is occurring is more the status of a movement than a passing fad” (Lytle, 1997, p. 1). I agree with Lytle, and a search of practitioner-research reports from BC and Alberta reveals a diversity of topics and methods. I will describe these reports and the contribution they have made to the RIP movement in Chapter Three, but here I want to comment on the important role that these reports have played in the development of this dissertation, both as literature and data. I disagree with scholars who criticize RIP for not being “real” research (as described in Foshay, 1994; Hargreaves, 1995; Zeichner & Noffke, 2001), and feel that practitioner research fulfills all the qualifications I look for in academic literature: it helps to frame other research; it speaks to me professionally and academically; it stretches and challenges my thinking; it comes from a credible source; and it contributes to thinking in the field. For this reason, I have drawn just as heavily on practitioner research as I have on academic research to frame my data and support my conclusions. When I say it speaks to me professionally, I am identifying as an adult literacy practitioner, and as such I align myself with those who have been critical of the role played by academic research in the past. Practitioners have argued that they do not find academic research accessible or useful. For example, the report, Dancing in the Dark. How do Adults with Little Formal Education Learn? How do Literacy Practitioners do Collaborative Research? (Niks, Allen, Davies, McRae, & Nonesuch, 2003), is famous for the chapter entitled, “The Literature Review We Didn’t Do,” in which the 9 practitioner-researchers explain that writing a literature review was not a good use of their time and that they did not feel represented in academic literature—it did not speak to their long experience in the field.7 For them, practitioners are a more trustworthy source than academics and research should speak to practitioners and help them to improve their practice. They looked for “concrete details about what the researchers do so they can apply it Monday morning,” and did not find it in academic research (p. 9). The tensions described above speak to what some see as a wide chasm between theory and practice. For example, research conducted with school-based research in Sweden (Lindblad, 1995) showed that teachers were most likely to accept innovations based on their own expertise or contact with other teachers, and least likely to be influenced by educational research. Similarly, research with adult literacy practitioners in Texas (St. Clair & Chen, 2003) showed that the two criteria practitioners used most often to identify useful research were (a) source credibility (whether they knew and trusted the author or publication) and (b) relevance and applicability. For many BC practitioners in the field, academics who have never worked in an ABE classroom are simply not credible. St Clair expresses similar concerns in his review of the National Literacy Secretariat’s support of adult literacy research (St Clair, 2005). He found that, while NLS-funded research recognized the needs of the field, the impact was not far-reaching and findings were not getting out to the field. His observation about practitioner research is telling: The archetypal example of this phenomenon is practitioner research, which has enormous potential for the professional development of those involved, but the benefits for the knowledge of the field are far less clear. (p. 72) 7 For more discussion of this issue, see Chapter 6. 10 With this comment, he reflects the attitude of many university-based researchers; that practitioners cannot be serious knowledge-creators, which in turn contributes to the divide between researchers based in universities and those in the field. This parallels the more general gulf between theorists and practitioners in adult education. Usher, Bryant and Johnson (1997) explain that all professional practices relate to a body of theory, and that it is the development of this theoretical knowledge that has made the practice into a profession. But, they say, there is distrust and misunderstanding on each side of this practice-theory fence. Practitioners can feel threatened or be suspicious of theory, which they associate with the “unworldliness of the academy”: Theory signifies rigour, a rigour which is supposedly achieved either prospectively, through application, or retrospectively, through reflection. Rigour, the relationship to a scientifically validated body of knowledge, appears therefore to warrant practice [italics in the original]. Yet, it is precisely this rigour which often makes theory seem remote, irrelevant and unworldly. (p. 122) Theorists, on the other hand, recognize that the practitioner has expertise, but see that expertise as un-systematic and of “questionable validity,” linked to the fact that they see practitioners as too easily influenced by common-sense and trial-and-error. The theorist claims their expertise is more powerful and valuable than that of the practitioner, because it is “based on systematic and scientifically-tested knowledge and therefore is naturally superior” (p. 123). This claim to power is, unfortunately, reinforced by attitudes in the general population. However Grace Malicky (2000), an academic who worked with RIP groups, disagrees, and argues that claims of academic superiority are unrealistic and destructive: I have come to believe that thinking in daily life is not essentially different from that in academic life. Although research is more systematic than everyday thinking, everyone who can understand or reflect on education can learn to engage in this systematic process. (p. 36) 11 The following two descriptions of practitioner research collaboration reflect the misunderstanding and suspicion that can arise. In the first one, Janet Miller (2001) describes her experience as an academic working with a teacher-research group. One member felt her participation in research had a negative effect on her work as an elementary school teacher and even caused her to miss out on a job. Working with the research group changed her from “an accepting, docile teacher to a questioning, challenging person” (p. 170), with the result that others feel uncomfortable with her. This influenced her decision not to attend a conference: She had felt too great a discrepancy between the active questioning such a gathering encourages and the passive, submissive atmosphere that was mandated in the elementary school where she teaches. (p. 170) Speaking from the other side of the fence, as a practitioner working with abused women, Jan Barnsley (1995) describes an unsuccessful partnership between her community-based group and some “academic women.” She and her co-workers hoped that the partnership would help them to validate the research grassroots women were doing “without a bunch of degrees, but with grounding in work with women who've experienced abuse” (p 192). But this project was plagued by mismatched agendas and ways of working. While practitioners hoped to produce useful research that would influence bureaucrats and bring funding to their cause, the academics aimed to bring money to their institution, gain access to difficult-to-reach groups and help their careers (or in some cases because they cared about the issue). Barnsley also argues that partnership formation diverts money from where it is really needed (for program delivery, education, lobbying and advocacy) while time is wasted searching for common ground that does not exist, and challenges the tendency to treat frontline activists’ perspectives as just one among many: Because they are directly involved with abused 12 women, their “perspective … must be the grounding for any successful effort to stop violence and change the conditions that perpetuate it” (p. 201). The conflicting attitudes described above reflect different priorities, experiences and locations. For a practitioner/educator, the priority is to teach and create an effective learning environment with particular groups of learners. As the comment above in the Dancing in the Dark report shows, they are interested in what works, so “trial and error” can be an extremely effective way to improve their practice and to build theory. Theorists are coming from an academic perspective, where it is important to be able to generalize their findings more broadly, contribute to theory-building and policy formation, and bring money and prestige to their institution, so they have to pay more attention to methodology and rigour. And, as discussed above, they are writing for their peers in academia, while practitioners are more interested in reaching out to students and other practitioners. Alison Tom and Tom Sork (1994) argue that the tendency (on both sides of the theory-practice divide) to de-legitimize each others’ work is in line with attitudes towards “the other” (part of our dichotomized either/or world) and misplaced: We should rather recognize that “the other’s” knowledge actually enriches ours. This dissertation is a contribution to that recognition and exchange of knowledge, and I will talk about other ways it is significant in the next section. Significance of the Study When I set out to do this research, the two most important goals for my dissertation project were to become an excellent researcher and to make a useful 13 contribution to the field of Adult Basic Education. A third goal emerged as I conducted the research and discussed it with university-based colleagues: to shed light on the experience of an “insider researcher” attempting to straddle the worlds of literacy work and academia. To achieve the first goal, in order to build on my existing experience and expand my skills, I chose a project situated in a field that is both very familiar and very new to me. I have a lot of experience in the field of adult literacy, but I am a relative newcomer in the area of practitioner-research. I have done a lot of research in adult literacy, but this was my first ethnography. You, the reader, will have to judge the quality of the ethnography, but I can safely say I have emerged from the experience as a better—more thoughtful, sensitive, analytical and rigorous—researcher with a deeper appreciation for the researchers that have gone before me. I believe I am well-placed to meet the third goal (to shed light on the insider’s experience): During all the time that I conducted the research, and now as I think, analyze and write, I am deeply involved in the practitioner world, and indeed have participated in two other RIP projects. So I write this as a researcher, practitioner and practitioner-researcher. This perspective has had a significant influence on this dissertation and on my journey into auto-ethnography. In this, I am influenced by Ellis and Bochner (2000) who say: We've opened a space to write between traditional social science prose and literature and to stimulate more discussion of working the spaces between subjectivity and objectivity, passion and intellect, and autobiography and culture. . . . I take that as strong evidence that more and more academics think it's possible to write from the heart, to bring the first-person voice into their work, and to merge art and science. (p. 761) The goal of contributing to the field of Adult Literacy/ABE is the biggest challenge and the one I was at first most uncertain about. As I have already mentioned 14 and will discuss later in Chapter Five, many practitioners do not find academic research accessible or useful and much prefer to read and talk about the work of other practitioners. While I can claim credibility on the grounds of my many years in the ABE classroom, I have had doubts about whether this dissertation—clearly situated in the university—would be useful to the field. As I pondered this problem, my reading and review of the data gave me an idea about another contribution I could make: to contribute to the body of work that promotes adult literacy practitioners as researchers and authoritative voices at the research table. In his description of his beginnings in adult literacy, Allan Quigley (2000) describes a lack of respect for ABE practitioners: When I began as a literacy teacher in 1972, the notion that teachers and tutors could produce “research” was unthinkable. Our job … was to find the best texts and use the best methods available. And, “best” meant the most authoritative. This is, we looked for recent materials and methods from the experts. The experts were those housed in universities or research centres. They thought – we taught. (p. 7) He goes on to say that things have changed, and I would like to believe him. But have they really? In the report, “The State of Learning in Canada No Time for Complacency,” the Canadian Council on Learning (CCL) observes, Little is known about what people spend to improve or maintain their skills, the ideal qualifications for remedial teachers and the kinds of people who participate in remedial programs. (Canadian Council on Learning, 2007) Actually a lot is known about these topics. Practitioners know about it, have reflected on it, written about it and used the knowledge to improve their practice and inform the field. HFH examines “ideal qualifications” for instructors. But who will listen to, and value what they have to say? Clearly not the CCL. Horsman and Woodrow (2007) argue that 15 the current research climate does not value “the insider knowledge practitioners develop from their experience responding to learners’ lives and needs” (p. 11) and ask, How can we structure opportunities for the magnificence of research in practice across the country? If we are unable to do this, will we only see more rarefied abstract or statistical research? (p. 11) I hope that this study will help to bring practitioner knowledge to the table and promote their experience, voice and perspective. I am encouraged to believe this by a comment from Marina Niks, the Research Friend to the HFH project: (I remember saying), “Betsy wouldn’t it be great if you were part of this group?” . . . I wanted someone that I could lean on, but also I wanted these kinds of questions to be raised and addressed. I don’t think I was thinking so much in academia, but I wouldn’t mind at all. I would like for some people in academia to hear these words. (Marina, interview, August 18, 2005) I would like that, too, and it is my hope that the words of practitioner-researchers will shine through in this dissertation. I will conclude this chapter by explaining how I have organized the dissertation. Dissertation Structure Having introduced you to the research in this chapter, I will go on, in Chapter Two, to discuss three sensitizing concepts that have influenced this research: the centrality of gender, the notions of “field” and of “communities of practice.” Following that, in Chapter Three, I will describe the methods I used and my role as an “insider researcher.” Chapter Four, “Context: The Research-in-Practice Movement in BC,” is the first of four chapters analyzing and discussing the data. It describes the context of the research, specifically the context of literacy practice and the Research in Practice in Adult Literacy (RIPAL) organization in British Columbia. Chapter Five, “The HFH Team,” draws on the interviews, personal writing and publications of the research 16 participants to craft “rich descriptions” of each of them: the five practitioner-researchers and the three “Research Friends,” including myself. Chapter Six, “The Team at Work,” describes how the team worked together, looking specifically at how they collaborated and created knowledge. Chapter Seven describes the supports and challenges to practitioner research, focussing on recognizing and valuing practitioners as researchers, supporting practitioners doing research and supporting a research culture. In Chapter Eight, the conclusion, I summarize the findings and discuss them in relation to the sensitizing concepts, as well as the implications of this research for practitioners, program decision-makers and researchers. Finally, I make suggestions for further study. Welcome to My Dissertation In this introductory chapter, I have given you an overview of my research and the approach I took to write about it. I have introduced you to my research participants, my research questions, the context of Research in Practice, the significance of this study and the structure of the dissertation. I conclude by thanking you, the reader, for reading this far. I hope I have inspired you to keep reading, and that when you do, you get a taste of the excitement, frustration, struggle and victory that the research participants and I experienced, and the importance of these victories and struggles. Whether you are here as an examiner, professor, fellow graduate student, literacy practitioner or supporter of Adult Literacy and Research in Practice, I am grateful for your interest and your time. I hope that one day I will be able to enter into a dialogue with you about Research in Practice, past and future, and the role we can all play to promote and support it. In the meantime, read on, and welcome to my dissertation. 17 CHAPTER TWO: SENSITIZING CONCEPTS I want theory to help me understand, not help me pretend to understand or strike a pose. (McCotter, 2001a, p. 3) This comment from Suzanne McCotter speaks to my uneasy relationship with theory. Perhaps this is because, despite 10 years in graduate school, I still identify myself as a practitioner and align myself with practitioners “theorizing from our practices rather than constructing practices from others theories” (Miller, 1992, p. 167). In this sense, I am like the practitioners who wrote Dancing in the Dark (Niks, et al., 2003; described in Chapter One). They found the literature simply did not speak to them. Since I am writing a PhD dissertation, there is no possibility that this can be the “literature review I didn’t write,” but I did find it difficult to fit Research in Practice into one over-arching theoretical framework. Instead, I found three “sensitizing concepts” that influenced my thinking. These are: the centrality of gender (Code, 1991, 2006; Drennon & Cervero, 2002; Lather, 1992, 2001; Luttrell, 1996; Soroke, 2004); Bourdieu’s concepts of the social field, habitus and symbolic capital (Bourdieu, 1977, 1985, 1989, 1993; Carrington & Luke, 1997; Maton, 2005; Reay, 2004); and the notion of Communities of Practice (Lave & Wenger, 1991, 1999; Wenger, 1998a, 1998b; Wenger, McDermott, & Snyder, 2002). I will discuss these three sensitizing concepts in this chapter. Gender at the Centre Umuntu Ngumuntu Ngabantu. (A person is a person because of other people.) This is an expression that every South African knows: Written here in Zulu, it is echoed in African languages all over the continent, and everywhere it refers to the concept of “Ubuntu,” which claims that people are connected and defined by their relationship with 18 others. A similar concept in the feminist literature is the relational view of gender (Belenkey, Clinchy, Goldberg, & Tarule, 1986; Goldner, 2002; Hayes & Flannery, 2000), and because relationships are so important in RIP and in the work and lives of my research participants, I would like to start this section with a brief discussion of a relational view of gender. Danielle Flannery (2000) describes this view as follows: The relational view proposes that women develop and gain a sense of identity in a context of connections with others rather than through individuation and separation from others. In this model, women's sense of self is organized around building and maintaining relationships. The emphasis is positive, with women seen as proactively connecting with others rather than being dependent on them. (p. 60) She also notes that this is a struggle for women “in a prevailing social context that promotes autonomy and separation” (p. 62). She links this to the notion of “connected knowing” as promoted by Carol Gilligan (1982) and Mary Belenkey, et al. (1986). Gilligan links connected knowing to moral decision-making and Belenkey et al. talk about connected teaching and learning. In her discussion of a relational theory of gender as it relates to psychoanalysis, Virginia Goldner says Insofar as gender relations are power relations, contextualizing gender in this fashion can illuminate the mechanisms by which gender not only organizes mind and relationships but organizes them hierarchically (with men and masculinity in the elevated position. (Dimen & Goldner, 2002, p. 79) The relational view is not without its critics, and Flannery points out some of the specific problems related to this position: It can be seen as essentialist, paying limited attention to politics and social forces; it downplays the fact that women can also engage in “procedural knowing” (as opposed to connected knowing) and learn in ways that are not linked to relationships or their gender. She argues that we need a more complex understanding than one that places men's ways of knowing in opposition to women's 19 ways of knowing. I will revisit some of these criticisms later in the chapter and explore how the relational view has influenced the HFH project later in the dissertation. There are three things that make gender important in this research: First, the RIP field has been almost entirely shaped by women, and indeed all of the participants in my research, and 15 out of the 17 instructors they interviewed were women. I will discuss this, drawing on the work of Wendy Luttrell (1989, 1996). Secondly, although teaching is not a focus of this study, it is the focus of the project I am studying, so I will look briefly at the situation of women learners in ABE programs and how their situation affects my participants. Finally, I will explore the implications of the fact that it was women doing the research, drawing principally on the work of Lorraine Code (1991, 1995). Women Practitioners and Women Learners All the researchers who participated directly in this research are women, and the HFH study notes, “The ABE/Literacy field in BC, as well as in Canada, is predominantly women” (Twiss, 2004, p. 31). Horsman and Woodrow (2007) discuss the fact that, like many other types of “women’s work” the field is de-valued. Similarly, Bonnie Soroke (2004) describes how practitioners talked to her about “the marginalization of literacy programs within the university-college setting, and the marginalization of themselves as teachers, and their students as learners” (p. 2). Wendy Luttrell (1996) describes how both women’s work as literacy teachers and learners gets devalued and discounted because it is not considered to be intellectual or political. Women tend to be in positions that require them to care for learners (as practitioners), while men care about the literacy problem (as administrators or 20 academics)—and that type of caring is given more value. Even literacy teachers themselves “do not count as intellectual their own empathy, intuition, or knowledge or care” (p. 356). This observation about devaluing reminds me of a comment by one of the volunteers at Carnegie Learning Centre where I work. He came to our centre, first as a tutor, then “moved on” to do political organization around poverty issues. He commented, publicly, that being a tutor was a “good start” and laid the ground for him to move on to more important community organizing work. He expressed hope that other tutors would follow him. The implication was that tutoring was not as important as political work. Of course, many argue that volunteering itself is an indication that adult literacy work is de-valued. Luttrell comments that volunteerism “helps to maintain private, elite control over literacy provision” (p. 347) and gives the example of the “literacy movie,” Stanley and Iris, in which Iris volunteers to help Stanley learn to read and they fall in love in the process. For Luttrell (and I agree) this helps to perpetuate messages that literacy work is a personal rather than a political project. It also underlines the “cherished assumption” that anyone who can read can teach others to read: “Good woman instincts” are sufficient for Iris. This devalues the professional nature of literacy work, and it is no coincidence that the majority of literacy volunteers are women.8 However, the volunteer at Carnegie was not comparing volunteer and paid work, he was comparing teaching with political organizing—and clearly believed that teaching was just a stepping stone, rather than a worthy occupation in itself. Luttrell also writes about how teachers talk about how much they love their work—helping another person to develop, facilitating growth, et cetera. It is important to 8 See Chapter 3 for more discussion on the role voluntarism plays in BC literacy work. 21 help learners feel good about themselves and build positive self-concepts. But some did not see themselves as “professional” because they associated this label with “lack of personal involvement with students” (p. 356). They, like the HFH team and other ABE practitioners, understand that relationship-building is key to good teaching. Many adult literacy instructors—including the “effective” ones described in the HFH report—would identify to some extent with what Daniel Pratt (1998, 2002) calls a “nurturing perspective.” Teachers with this perspective tend to focus on building a learner’s selfconcept. According to Pratt, instructors who teach with this perspective often face criticisms: Its very name has feminine connotations and to some, suggests lower standards. Yet, for those who are most exemplary of this perspective, there is no lowering of standards. Quite the contrary; they make reasonable demands and set high expectations for their learners. For them, caring does not negate having high expectations. (Pratt, 2002, p. 8) The fact that “feminine” is linked to “low standards” reinforces arguments that the ABE field and instructors are delegitimized. According to Lorraine Code (1991), women are seen to be stronger when it comes to characteristics such as care, sensitivity, responsiveness, responsibility, intuition and trust—characteristics that society should encourage. But, she warns, this can be dangerous: It is not easy to separate their appeal from the fact that women—at least women of prosperous classes and privileged races—have been encouraged to cultivate them throughout so long a history of oppression and exploitation that they have become marks and acquiescence in powerlessness. Hence there is a persistent tension in feminist thought between a laudable wish to celebrate “feminine” values as tools for the creation of a better social order and a fear of endorsing those same values as instruments of women's continued oppression. (Code, 1991, p. 17) Adult literacy practitioners may be aware of these “persistent tensions” but they also find a way to balance the nurturing and political aspects of their work. This is 22 discussed in HFH, and also by Bonnie Soroke, who was one of the Research Friends on the project and conducted her own study of adult literacy. Here she is referring to the report Naming the Magic: Non-Academic Outcomes in Basic Literacy (Battell, 2001) to which two of the HFH team members contributed: Their work names both the care-giving knowledge of people working in the literacy field as well as the student outcomes of that applied knowledge. This naming and politicization works against the existing undermining of literacy practitioners’ knowledge and expertise that are strongly based on relationship within education. (Soroke, 2004, p. 47) Another reason gender is central to this research is the special consideration practitioners give to women students. Discussions about their special needs and the violence and other challenges they face infuses the research team meetings and some of their writings. This is not the first group of practitioners to pay special attention to women learners. In the 90’s, the Canadian Congress for Learning Opportunities for Women (CCLOW) coordinated and published several documents with stories and curriculum ideas for women practitioners and the women learners they teach (Atkinson, Ennis, & Lloyd, 1994; Canadian Congress for Learning Opportunities for Women, 1995, 1996; Lloyd, 1991; Lloyd, Ennis, & Atkinson, 1994a, 1994b). In, “What is a Feminist Curriculum?” Kate Nonesuch (1996), describes some of the elements of a curriculum that would meet women’s needs: putting women at the centre of the curriculum, a concern with issues of diversity and power, making space for women's experience, a concern with emotions, trying to tell the truth when the truth is hidden or difficult to tell, and encouraging women to speak in their own voices. She goes on to say that it is NOT telling women what to think, how to live or what to do. More recently, Jenny Horsman and colleagues have produced work focusing on violence and learning in literacy programs (for example, Horsman, 1996; Horsman, 1998, 2000; Morrish, Horsman, & 23 Hofer, 2002; Norton, 2004). And in BC, Lucy Alderson and Diana Twiss (2003) explored how literacy activities could stabilize the lives of women in the sex trade.9 Since literacy learners are not the focus of this research, I will not discuss the content of this work, except to note that the authors have both influenced and been influenced by studies such as HFH and the women practitioners who created them.10 I have introduced you to two things that make gender important in this research: women instructing and learning together, and women facing outside forces that both support and criticize their field because of the strong role they have played in shaping it. Gender played a strong role in shaping the HFH project, both in terms of the content of the final report, the way the women worked together, and the challenges they faced. I will now discuss the influence of gender on their roles as researchers. Women Researchers I joined this research project because I saw it as a rare opportunity to do something new and exciting, and to be in the continuous company of some amazing women, women who have helped to create the ABE/literacy field in BC. (Diana’s self-description in “Who are we? Battell 2004, p. 186) This is one of many places in the HFH study where the research team is described as an exciting, committed group of women who have played a leadership role in the ABE/Literacy field.11 I have already noted how women have shaped ABE/Literacy in BC and throughout Canada, and how there is an ongoing focus on, and commitment to women learners—both of which make gender central to this research. Now I want to look more specifically at the team as women researchers and to explore Lorraine Code’s 9 This and other BC RIP reports are described in Chapter 4. In Chapter 4, I will discuss how the creation of Hardwired for Hope fits into the BC and Canadian RIP movement. 11 Chapter 5 provides rich descriptions of each member of the Hardwired for Hope team. 10 24 (1991, 1995) argument that “the sex of the knower is epistemologically significant” (Code, 1991, p. 13). This idea runs contrary to traditional epistemology, which claims that the knowledge generated is the only thing that matters; the knower or researcher is irrelevant, just a channel for the knowledge that is generated. Code’s assertion is linked to a number of criticisms of mainstream hegemonic research: It suppresses female or feminist knowledge, excludes women from knowledge-making, denigrates women’s authority, lacks relevance and usefulness and ignores the role of community surrounding the researcher. Also, because of the high esteem paid to scientific method, “ordinary” women’s voices are not heard and/or not taken seriously. She also points out that it is difficult to keep facts and values separate (something scientific method relies on) “when some ‘facts’ . . . are so clearly the product of power-based knowledge construction processes” (Code, 1995, p. 14). Also, Code describes feminist research as value-laden (which is criticized by mainstream epistemologists because values cannot be verified empirically and are therefore not objective). Code defines objectivity as “a perfectly detached, neutral, distanced, and disinterested approach to a subject matter that exists in a publicly observable space, separate from knowers/observers and making no personal claims on them” (1995, p. 15). Sandra Harding (2004) argues against feminist views that objectivity should be abandoned because it is “hopelessly tainted” (p. 138) by a history of racist, sexist, imperialist and homophobic projects, and rigidly divides subject and object. For her, the problem with conventional approaches to objectivity is not that they are “too rigorous or objectifying . . . but not rigorous enough” (p. 128). A more rigorous approach would be 25 to use “strong objectivity,” which is linked to strong reflexivity and “requires that the subject of knowledge be placed on the same critical, causal plane as the objects of knowledge” (p. 136). Many traditions of research would not allow this level of scrutiny. Harding gives the example of researchers who benefit from institutionalized racism and sexism: If the community of “qualified” researchers and critics systematically excludes, for example, all African-Americans and women of all races and if the larger culture is stratified by race and gender and lacks powerful critiques of this stratification, it is not plausible to imagine that racist and sexist interests and values would be indentified within a community of scientists composed entirely of people who benefit—intentionally or not—from institutionalized racism and sexism. (p. 137) Another feature of mainstream epistemology, described by Code and also by Wendy Luttrell (1989, 1996), is the emphasis on dualisms (qualitative-quantitative, objective-subjective, male-female, culture-nature, university-community, theory-practice, etc.) which in turn implies excluding and giving different weights to different types of practice. Code argues for an alternative “knowing-others” knowledge relationship, in which knowledge is constructed as a series of mutual and dynamic interactions. This theme came up in my research, particularly when the practitioner-researchers described the continuum between practitioner research and university-based research. Code (1995) presents two approaches to feminist research: feminist empiricism and feminist standpoint theory. Feminist empiricists support rigorous, yet value-laden research informed by feminist ideology but preserving many aspects of the scientific method. It is criticized, according to Code, for not making room for “diversely located knowers, researchers and activists,” and because it does not address questions about what counts as evidence and what evidence is repressed (p. 40). Feminist standpoint theorists, on the other hand, pay more attention to the different historical and material conditions 26 and the positions of women as researchers. Harding’s (2004) description of “strong objectivity” (described above) is a good example of this. She adds another layer to standpoint theory, describing it as “starting off thought” from the lives of marginalized communities, which are “better places from which to start asking causal and critical questions about the social order” (p. 130). In the case of women, she explains: There is no single, ideal woman's life from which standpoint theories recommend that thought start. Instead, one must turn to all of the lives that are marginalized in different ways by the operative systems of social stratification. The different feminisms inform each other; we can learn from all of them and change our patterns of belief. (p. 131) A feminist standpoint is different from women's standpoint because it is a “hardwon product of consciousness-raising and social-political engagement—more than just another perspective on the world” (Code, 1995, p. 41). The problem with this approach is that, because there is no one single unified feminist position, the diversities and differences in women’s experiences are not highlighted or accounted for: “Its ‘locatedness’ produces a version of social reality that must be as limited as any other” (p. 42). Because both these approaches have their limitations, Code supports “crossfertilization across a range of approaches” (p. 39). In her study of collaborative research projects, Marina Niks (2004) found standpoint theory to be a useful analyzing tool because it highlights the importance of experience and because knowledge is developed both through individual reflections and collective conversations. It is “not a given, but a potential to be developed” (p. 34). For the most part, the women researchers Code discusses are “privileged, educated white women who have been simultaneously attracted to philosophy and uneasily positioned within it” (Code, 1991, p. xi). As I will show throughout the 27 dissertation, the practitioner-researchers are also uneasily positioned; while they are in a position of privilege as practitioners, this is not necessarily true of their role as researchers, or of the field they work in. Code also talks about the need for external validation. No matter how sure researchers are about their knowledge or their “right to know,” there will come a time when that knowledge needs to be corroborated. In the case of RIP, this situation came up when the group needed funds, and the external validation came from friendly, supportive academics.12 Making similar points, but looking at a group a bit closer to the HFH team, Cassandra Drennon (2002) discusses “the politics of being knowers” in the context of practitioner inquiry groups. She writes about the “dismay” practitioners feel about the lack of interest in their research, and how they want to “ward off the threat of trivialization as well as cooptation” (p. 69). Drawing on the work of Tisdell (1998) and Maher and Tetrault (1997), Drennon argues that it is important for teachers and learners to explore the connections between identity and social structures in learning environments, because these connections affect positionality and shape construction of knowledge. Similarly, Battell (2004) says instructors with a political perspective are “aware of our own position of privilege, whether it is privilege attached to whiteness, earning power, education, gender, class or sexual orientation” (p. 76).13 In this section I have argued that gender is central to this research and have discussed some of the ways that it influenced the research project. The HFH team does not explicitly identify their work as feminist research, but the intent and approaches they 12 Examples and discussion of this issue are provided in Chapter 6. The extent to which these types of explorations took place in the Hardwired for Hope inquiry will be discussed in Chapter 5. 13 28 used place it firmly in that camp. This project and all the other RIP research in BC has been initiated and led by women, using a democratic, supportive approach to knowledgeproduction. The knowledge of women instructors—the “knowers”—has been valued, promoted and interrogated. Clearly “ordinary” voices form the backbone of this research; they are not only taken seriously, but celebrated—and indeed they are shown to be far from “ordinary.” The research is useful and relevant because the researchers themselves decide what and how to do the research. Beyond this observation, I will not analyze the project in terms of the extent to which it followed feminist principles. In this, I am guided by these words from Lorraine Code: I am shifting the focus of my inquiry away from the normative practice of determining what an ideal knower ought to do, and towards a critical analysis of what historically and materially “situated” knowers actually do. (Code, 1995, p. 21) This dissertation tells the story of what these “situated knowers” did, given their historical, personal, political and pedagogical positions before, during and after the research. In the next section, I will build on that by describing how Pierre Bourdieu’s (1977, 1985, 1989, 1993, 2001) ideas have influenced my thinking about the field as a whole. The “Field” of Adult Basic Education To employ field as a tool of analysis, … is to use a concept that by definition is dynamic and ever-changing. The source of that change can lie within the field itself or (and) occur in response to outside influences. (Grenfell & James, 2004, p. 511) When I read this article, which applies Pierre Bourdieu’s ideas to the field of educational research, I thought of all the changes that have happened in the field of adult 29 literacy—some as a result of experience, creativity and innovation inside the field and others in reaction to pressures from government, institutions and funders (outside influences). Research in Practice (RIP) is an example of one of those changes. Some argue that it was a survival strategy—a way to keep programs going when funders seemed more interested in research than on day-to-day teaching. But these same critics, and others who are not so cynical, have said RIP is an exciting and a promising form of professional development arising from within the field. But is Research in Practice a field in its own right? Before I “met” Pierre Bourdieu (1977, 1985, 1989, 1993, 2001) and those who have used his ideas, a “field” was a place where my grandfather grew tomatoes, or where I watched soccer or worked with colleagues to teach adults. Those descriptions still hold true, and in Chapter Three I describe some of the things that have made the field I work in strong and innovative. But Bourdieu’s ideas helped me think about it in a different, more analytical way. He describes a social field as “a multi-dimensional space of positions” composed of agents who have varying degrees of power based on the assets (or capital) they hold—assets which are valued by that particular field. Arching over the different social fields is a “field of forces” which he defines as “a set of objective power relations that impose themselves on all who enter the field and that are irreducible to the intentions of the individual agents or even to the direct interactions [italics in the original] among agents” (Bourdieu, 1985, p. 724). The struggle for resources has been an ongoing saga in the ABE field, as in many professions that work with the marginalized, and over the years, practitioners have had to deal with “objective power relationships” (p. 724) imposed on them by different players 30 outside the field. But Bourdieu also talks about struggles between agents within the field. In Sociology in Question (Bourdieu, 1993), he states that a field has its own stakes and interests, which are not of interest to those who are not part of the field, and that there have to be people prepared to “play the game” based on rules set out by that field; that agents in the field share fundamental interests—and, in fact, can only struggle against each other because they agree that something is worth fighting about. These struggles take place over the capital which has been accumulated and which is valued in the particular field (I will discuss capital in more detail below). At first when I thought of RIP as a field, I could not separate it from Adult Literacy and Basic Education, any more than the participants in my study would think of their role as researchers separately from their role as practitioners. But reading Grenfell and James (2004) reminded me that RIP is also a form of educational research and could, in fact, straddle the two fields. It is definitely embedded in Adult Literacy, and I do not think this is a sign of weakness. I am encouraged in this belief by a comment (and then a warning) from Karl Maton: A field's autonomy is illustrated by the way it generates its own values and markers of achievement but the relative nature of this autonomy means these values are not alone in shaping the field; economic and political power also play a role, albeit in a form specific to each field. (Maton, 2005, p. 690) The field has indeed generated its own values and markers of achievement, and as I will describe in this dissertation, the HFH team and others in the RIP movement have recognized the importance of documenting those achievements. According to Bourdieu, this is a good sign: One of the surest indices of the constitution of a field is the appearance of a corps of conservators of lives—the biographers—and of works—the philologists, the historians of arts and literature . . . These agents' interests lie in conserving what is 31 produced in the field, and in so doing to conserve themselves. (Bourdieu, 1993, p. 74) The HFH study has taken on that biographical role, and this dissertation is a salute to the biographers. Habitus The term “habitus,” according to Bourdieu (1989) refers to “the mental structures through which [people] apprehend the social world” (p. 18), and he argues that they are a product of internalization: As perceptive dispositions tend to be adjusted to position, agents, even the most disadvantaged ones, tend to perceive the world as natural and to accept it much more readily than one might imagine—especially when you look at the situation of the dominated through the social eyes of a dominant. (p. 18) I will show throughout the dissertation that the HFH team and other practitioners they work with do not necessarily take these structures for granted. Some have made it part of their life’s work to question and challenge dominating structures, both on their own behalf and in solidarity with their students. Many researchers have used the notion of habitus as it applies to participants in educational programs (whether they are adults or children). For example, in her study of advice to mothers about literacy, Suzanne Smythe observes: It is from this attention to interplay between institutional and local uses of literacy that the concept of habitus comes into play as shaping the social rules surrounding whose literacy practices are considered more valuable. Habitus, a “way of being” that encompasses people’s belief systems and ways of thinking and acting in the world, is also expressed in the ways people use literacy in their everyday lives. Dominant discourses may privilege forms of habitus that “count” and “matter” (such as the ubiquitous bedtime story), but habitus can also be a force of resistance against dominant discourses and indeed a lens for highlighting the local “everyday-ness” of literacy and indeed, of mothering. (Smythe, 2006, p. 32) 32 But what about the educators? The habitus will vary with the field; while instructors have many things in common, the habitus is shaped by their upbringing and education, and the community they work within is also an influence. I was struck by this when I read Erin Graham’s application of Bourdieu’s theories to harm reduction in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver: I realized that, because a lot of my work takes place there, my habitus has changed: Once someone finds themselves in the DTES, there are certain rules of conduct which are required and which vary according to the relation of the habitus to the field. The habitus is in the walk, the language, and the jargon common to a particular field. (Graham, 2007, p. 97) The habitus is not just for individuals, but also for collective bodies. Bourdieu says: “The construction of social reality is not only an individual enterprise but may also become a collective enterprise” (Bourdieu, 1989, p. 18). This is reassuring for me, as it is clear that the collective experience is important to practitioners. Diane Reay explains: It appears that Bourdieu is conceiving of habitus as a multi-layered concept, with more general notions of habitus at the level of society and more complex, differentiated notions at the level of the individual. A person’s individual history is constitutive of habitus, but so also is the whole collective history of family and class that the individual is a member of. (Reay, 2004, p. 434) Capital Of all the types of capital that I have encountered, the one that interests me most is what Bourdieu (1985, 1989, 1993) calls “Cultural Capital.” I find it interesting because, as Carrington and Luke (1997) explain, its power lies in its ability to facilitate the uptake of other forms of capital. For example, one sub-category of Cultural Capital is Institutional Capital, which refers to academic qualifications, awards, professional certificates and credentials—clearly necessary in some circles if one wants to obtain 33 Social Capital—access to institutions, networks and relationships which in turn helps to facilitate the uptake of Economic Capital (money and material goods). The practitioner-researchers who participated in this study have a range of different types of capital: their location in colleges brings them economic capital, and to some extent Institutional Capital in the form of degrees. Their strong social skills, commitment and position in their communities means they have a wealth of social capital. However, while they may have rich stores of capital, their learners are often described in terms of the capital they lack, especially by those who support a Deficit Model of literacy. For example: It is well known that low literacy skills adversely affect employment, earnings, health, social interaction and civil participation, [italics added] to name just a few critical aspects of everyday life. (Standing Committee on HRD and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, 2003, p. 83) Similarly, Green and Preston (2001) claim that education is a powerful predictor of things like joining voluntary associations, interest in politics and civil cooperation (p. 248). But critics of this approach (Beder, 1991; Bhola, 1998; Fingeret, 1983; Luttrell, 1996; Martin, 2001) and most practitioner-researchers, would argue that it serves to de-politicize literacy work, among other problems: Blanket statements are made over and over about students’ low self-esteem, so that we stop seeing evidence of self-confidence and self-advocacy. Furthermore, these either/or dichotomies—peasants and urban poor as fatalistic and passive or actively resistant, education as domesticating or liberating—obscure the complexity of subjectivity and processes of change. (Martin, 2001, p. 51) Vicki Carrington and Allan Luke (1997) use Bourdieu’s framework to challenge both “neoliberal claims about literacy as a pathway to individual growth . . . and past neoMarxian claims about literacy as a pathway to social emancipation and revolutionary action” (p. 98). They identify the gaps in typical “common sense formulae,” such as: If a 34 learner understands the code, he/she will have increased self-esteem which will lead to increased school achievement. They also draw on New Literacy Studies (Barton, Hamilton, & Ivanic, 2000; Street, 1984) which promote a social construction of literacy that takes political context and social relationships into account, rather than seeing literacy as just a cognitive activity. According to Carrington and Luke, this poses some challenges to teachers: The practical problem lies in their inability to predict, with any consistency of outcome or vocabulary, what forms of literate practices—and hence what relevant curriculum selections of texts and discourses, events and genres—will consequentially ‘count’ in students’ subsequent life trajectories. . . . Here models of universal language function and development patterns, however useful they might appear for curriculum development, are problematic because of the institutionalized, historical character of literacy practices and of their striking variability in sequence, development and in articulation across cultures and historical periods. (Carrington & Luke, 1997, p. 99) If capital, like habitus, can be applied to the collective, then the field of Adult Literacy is under-capitalized. Horsman and Woodrow’s (2007) research, noted above and discussed further in Chapter Three, showed that the field as a whole is not valued. Some practitioners have reached out to “more respectable” fields by, for example, lobbying at government level and reaching out to business sponsors. Others have ignored those notions of what is respected and worked effectively and with dedication to build the field. Some have proved to be extremely good at manoeuvring between fields, and sometimes playing what Nick Prior compares to a chess game: Here, we might find the metaphor of a game of chess useful, where players possessed of specific capabilities (or in Bourdieu’s terminology, a sum of capital, composed chiefly of economic and/or cultural resources which energize the habitus) engage in strategies appropriate to their location in the game. (Prior, 2000, p. 143) In this section, I have described how Bourdieu’s concept of “field” has helped me to think about the field of ABE and Research in Practice, as well as how the practitioner35 researchers in this project “played the game” of RIP. This concept, like that of gender, speaks mainly about who the research participants are and how they are influenced by forces around them—as women, instructors and researchers. In the next section, I will describe how the notion of “communities of practice” shaped my thinking about them as learners. Communities of Practice When I think of the people who work in adult literacy across BC and Canada, words like friendly, supportive, committed and innovative come to mind. It is easy to call this group a “community”: We care about each other and care deeply about the work we do and the learners we teach. But is it a community of practice? In this section, I explore this concept, drawing principally on the work of Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger. In their study of apprenticeships, Lave and Wenger (1991) found that the most important source of learning developed, not from the “teaching” done by masters, but by interaction between apprenticeships, with the newcomers learning from the more experienced peers. The newcomers gradually moved from situations on the periphery to more central positions as they become more competent. This type of learning they called “legitimate peripheral participation” and they argue that learning is located in social relationships (rather than just in acquisition of knowledge) and “that engaging in practice, rather than being its object, may well be a condition of the effectiveness of learning” (p. 93). This led Lave and Wenger to coin the term “communities of practice.” They point out that the term “community” does not necessarily mean a well-defined group with visible boundaries, but it does imply “participation in an activity system about which participants share understandings concerning what they are doing and what that means in 36 their lives and for their communities” (p. 98). In a more recent work (Wenger, et al., 2002), it is noted that once the concept was developed, they began to see communities of practice in other situations that did not have “learning” as the focus of their existence, but in which people did learn in that community. The authors offer this description: Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern, a set of problems, or a passion about a topic, and who deepen their knowledge and expertise in this area by interacting on an ongoing basis. (Wenger, et al., 2002, p. 4) According to Etienne Wenger (1998b), a community of practice has three dimensions: What it is about (its joint enterprise as understood and continually renegotiated by its members). How it functions (mutual engagement that bind members together into a social entity). What capability it has produced (the shared repertoire of communal resources— routines, sensibilities, artefacts, vocabulary, styles—that members have developed over time) (Wenger, 1998b). The “communities of practice” concept has been used to frame many different learning situations. Probably most pertinent to this study is Ralf St Clair’s (2005) review of Canada’s National Literacy Secretariat (NLS)14 support for literacy research in which he uses the three dimensions above to describe the literacy community: If the Canadian literacy field as a whole, including researchers, practitioners, policy makers and learners, is seen as a community, then there are three areas that research must clearly contribute to. These are joint enterprise (the shared aims of the field), mutual engagement (the degree to which researchers work with each other and others involved in the field) and shared repertoire (understanding how things can be done in the field). (p. 69) This is a helpful way for me to think about practitioner-research, which St Clair includes 14 The NLS was formerly a branch of the Department of Human Resources and Development Canada, but has been disbanded. 37 in his review, but I would build on his “shared repertoire” category by including some of the “communal resources” that Wenger calls for. These would include the reports and curriculum that have been developed, the shared ways of talking about adult learning and literacy, and the many workshops, courses and networking events which have contributed to our “understanding of how things work in the field.”15 There are three features of the communities of practice approach that seem to be pertinent to my study, which I will briefly describe. First, negotiating meaning is a very important aspect of learning in community of practice, and is in fact the source of meaning itself. Wenger describes it as “the process by which we experience the world and our engagement in it as meaningful” (1998b, p. 53). Lave and Wenger (1991) describe how people either talk about or talk within a practice: Talking about involves stories and community lore, while talking within involves exchanging information about the progress of ongoing activities. They point out that the purpose is not to learn from talk as a substitute for legitimate peripheral participation; it is to learn to talk as a key to legitimate peripheral participation. (p. 109) Secondly, identity formation is crucial to learning and participating in the community of practice. In his description of the “apprenticeship” perspective on teaching, Pratt (2002) describes how teachers with this perspective see leaning as “developing competence and identity in relation to other members of a community of practice” (p. 5). He also points out that, as new members join, a community can change how it defines and enacts roles, relationships and responsibilities. Finally, learning is situated. For Lave and Wenger (1991), all activity is situated 15 These are discussed in detail in Chapter 4. 38 and even so-called “general knowledge” only has value in certain situations. Learning involves relationships, engagement, dilemmas and is a “comprehensive understanding involving the whole person rather than ‘receiving’ a body of factual knowledge about the ‘world’” (p. 33). After this brief discussion of how people learn in communities of practice, I now want to turn my attention to the role of the educator. In the Encyclopaedia of Informal Education, Smith (2003) says educators facilitate participation in communities of practice, while Jean Flynn (2004) describes how they link the community of practice to outside groups. In her study of safe injection sites as communities of practice, Flynn, drawing on Wenger (1998b) describes how educators do the “crucial” work of brokering: Brokering entails the translation, coordination and alignment between perspectives. . . . Because edges surrounding social communities are not solid, brokering is an opportunity to find a way in to promote new rules or shape new spaces. (Flynn, 2004, p. 159) In the five apprenticeships that Lave and Wenger (1991) studied, researchers did not observe “teaching”; instead, they found that the practices within the community created the “curriculum.” They differentiate between a “teaching curriculum,” which focuses on instruction and is “mediated by the instructor’s participation,” and the “learning curriculum, which provides “situated opportunities”: “Learning curriculum consists of situated opportunities . . . for the improvisational development of new practice” (p. 97) and is linked to social relations. In the case of practitioner-research, the “educator” is the Research Friend, and so it seems helpful to look at how this role is described in literature on practitioner-research and action research. Greenwood and Levin (1998) write about the “Friendly Outsider” in 39 action research projects, who provides direct feedback, written reflections and information on comparable cases and literature, and also speaks “the locally unspeakable” from an outsider’s perspective (p. 105). Cassandra Drennon (2002) describes “research facilitators” who “develop and sustain a learning community within groups” (p. 62) by recruiting members, setting agendas, promoting collaboration and facilitating groups. She notes that they are “almost always involved in the effort to advance the status of inquiry and practitioner knowledge in programs and the profession” (p. 62) which they do by guiding report-writing, helping to get reports published and setting up presentations. As I will show, the Research Friend who worked on the HFH had some things in common with the “Friendly Outsider,” although she was also sometimes an insider. Unlike Drennon’s Inquiry Facilitator, she did not so much set the agenda and teach practitioners as assist practitioners to set their own agenda then respond to their needs. She provided similar expertise but in a less directive way. In all these cases, the concept of “brokering” seems to be relevant, as the educator is facilitating links between the research project, other “communities of practice” and the outside world. Concluding Comments In this chapter, I have discussed three sensitizing concepts that will help me to tell the story of the HFH Research-in-Practice project: Gender, the Field, and Communities of Practice. I will conclude with brief comments on how each of them is helpful. Viewing adult literacy work and RIP through a gender lens helped me to understand how adult literacy instructors do their work and how this particular group of adult literacy practitioners came to the HFH project and conducted research together. 40 Also, as Patti Lather points out, I can use this lens to examine the power relationships that infuse adult literacy and RIP in BC: Through the questions that feminism poses and the absences it locates, feminism argues the centrality of gender in the shaping of our consciousness, skills, and institutions as well as in the distribution of power and privilege. (Lather, 1992, p. 91) Power and privilege are also central to the notion of “field.” Seeing Adult Literacy as a “field” in the way Bourdieu and his followers describe it has helped me to understand the forces that have worked for and against adult literacy practitioners, practitionerresearchers and the learners they work with. The third sensitizing concept, communities of practice, helped me to understand how practitioners learn together and “build the ‘knowledge base’ of the field” (Taylor, 2008, p. 183). Early in this chapter, I mentioned the African belief—referred to as Ubuntu—that people are defined and find meaning in their relationships with other people. This relational view is a key element in all three sensitizing concepts: It is as central to gender as gender is to RIP, it influences the power balance within and between fields, and it is one of the forces that powers communities of practice. I will re-visit the sensitizing concepts in the Conclusion (Chapter Eight) and explore relationships in detail throughout the dissertation. This brings me to Chapter Three, where I will describe, among other things, the relationships I formed as I did the research. 41 CHAPTER THREE: THEIR RESEARCH, MY RESEARCH – METHODOLOGY AND METHODS As I type this transcript, I realize that I am in the process of creating data, but at the same time, the data is revealing itself to me as the transcript unfolds. My fingers type automatically, so I am like a channel for Jan and the others giving me the knowledge which in turn I will give back to them and eventually to the world. (Betsy, research journal, February 17, 2005) As I read this excerpt from my research journal three years later, I feel like someone else wrote it—someone quite naïve and starry-eyed, discovering this wonderful data as it appeared on the page. Now that data is like a lover who has hung around for too long. I need to let it go—back to the practitioners who gave it to me and anyone else in the world who can use it. My comment about channelling the knowledge is also naïve; as I have come to discover, I am not just revealing things I have discovered, but shaping it according to my own experience and feelings about the research participants, the stories they tell and my own personal and professional experience with the content of the research. My job is to tell the story the data reveals to me as researcher, practitioner and fellow traveller on the research journey. But first, I need to explain how I conducted the research. As discussed in Chapter One, my research questions are: 1. What are the conditions that led to the development of the RIP movement in Canada generally and the Hardwired for Hope (HFH) project specifically? 2. In what ways is RIP supported and challenged by university-based researchers, and in the specific case of HFH, what were the relationships between the practitioner-researchers and academics? 42 3. What would help to further support and develop the RIP movement in the field of literacy and as a respected field of inquiry by academics? Methodology I will begin this chapter with a discussion of the research traditions that have influenced my choice of methods. I am calling this the methodology section, following Sandra Harding (1987), who distinguishes between methodology, “a theory or analysis of how research does or should proceed” (p. 3), and methods, which refer to the techniques used in the research. There have been many influences, but the traditions I will focus on are ethnography and feminist methodology. Ethnography The bottom line about ethnography is that it is about forming relationships: it is about the search for connection within and across borders. The text is a record of a particular set of interactions between a particular observer and her/ his particular subjects. Those interactions can never be exactly reproduced again. Ethnography is reinvented with every journey. (Behar, 1999, p. 477) I believe that good teaching is all about forming relationships, and so as someone who has taught for twenty years, I was drawn to a research approach that is also about forming relationships. I was further encouraged in this belief when I read the description of an ethnographic evaluation of two literacy programs in Vancouver (Tom, et al., 1994). In it, Allison Tom and her colleagues describe parallels between ethnography and adult literacy. They list key beliefs in learner-centred adult literacy that are echoed in collaborative ethnographic evaluation, such as: valuing learner's experience, language and culture, partnering with learners to develop curriculum that builds on their strengths and meets their goals, and approaching literacy as an ongoing process that promotes 43 sharing of knowledge, rather than filling “blank slates.” All of these are principles I try to live by in my teaching and my research. I was also attracted by the notion of putting the program at the centre, as the authors describe here: Learner centred literacy instruction quite literally puts the learner, his or her concerns, culture, background, prior experience, existing skills and current goals at the centre of attention in the curriculum. Our ethnographic evaluation practice likewise strove to put the programs, rather than outside theories or pre-existing questions, at the centre of our attention. . . . We focused on addressing goals and concerns articulated by program staff and learners rather than addressing issues which came more abstractly from “the literature” or from outside notions of accomplishment and achievement in adult literacy instruction. (p. 24) I found that ethnographic methods were particularly well-suited to the study of this practitioner research project; document analysis and participant observation helped me see the inner workings of the project, and the interviews gave me a practitioner-eye view before, during and after HFH. According to Lather (2001), ethnography’s appeal is in “getting close to the practical ways people conduct their lives and a deeper understanding of how the everyday gets assumed” (p. 202). The book Sidewalk (Duneier & Carter, 1999), written by Mitchell Duneier with photos by Ovi Carter, is a beautiful example of this. It is a lovingly-written ethnography of street venders, based on a lengthy period of participant observation. While there are clear differences in the participants (middle class ABE instructors in BC/Black street vendors in New York) and in the writer’s position (mine similar, Duneier’s very different), I was impressed with the careful, respectful approach, the beautiful writing, and the attention paid to memberchecking. Like Duneier, “I should never publish something about an identifiable person which I cannot look him or her in the eye and read” (p. 352). An important aspect of ethnography is the length of time spent with research participants (Tedlock, 2000; Tom, et al., 1994). Tom and colleagues explain: 44 Fundamentally, and simplistically, ethnography is a commitment to a way of understanding and explaining the shared meanings of a group of people. This means that ethnographers spend extended amounts of time with people they study, trying to learn as much as possible about their everyday lives in order to learn about and be able to tell other people about the shared meanings and ways of getting on with daily life that work for this group. (p. 15) As a participant observer, I was able to get close to the practitioners learning about and doing research, and was able to participate in discussions and correspondence about beliefs, assumptions, passions and everyday activities. I was with them for the duration of their project, and also participated in follow-up workshops and presentations when their research was complete. Implications of this will be discussed in more detail below. Reflexive Ethnography The reader will decide the extent to which this is a reflexive ethnography, but it is definitely something I aimed for, for two reasons. First, as shown in this definition, it helps to keep the research honest: Reflexivity, broadly defined, means a turning back on oneself, a process of selfreference. In the context of social research, reflexivity at its most immediately obvious level refers to the ways in which the products of research are affected by the personnel and process of doing research. (Davies, 1999, p. 4) Charlotte Davies shows that research is more honest and transparent if it explains how the experience and perspective of the researcher may have led to particular findings or conclusions. Laurel Richardson (2000) points out that we have a responsibility to both the reader and the research participants and suggests we ask ourselves two questions to ensure “high standards of reflexivity” (p. 936). First she suggests we ask if there is enough self-awareness and self-exposure for the reader to make judgments about the researcher’s point of view. Secondly, she suggests we ask if the researcher holds herself 45 accountable “to the standards of knowing and telling of the people he she has studied” (p. 936). The second reason to strive for reflexivity is to add depth and richness, or as Caroline Ellis and Arthur Bochner say, to “illuminate the culture under study” (2000, p. 738). Michelle Fine (1994) talks about “working the hyphens,” which she says happens when “researchers probe how we are in relation with the contexts and with our informants, understanding that we are multiple in those relations” (p. 72). A central idea here is that the researcher’s experience is a resource. According to Nancy Jackson (2004), this is in keeping with the interpretive philosophical tradition, within which qualitative research (including ethnography) falls. She contrasts that with the positivist approach to research in which the researcher’s experience and involvement is seen as a “contaminant”: These [qualitative] schools of thought adopt the view that the subjectivity of the researcher is the primary tool and resource for discovery or for making sense in any form of research. Thus they don’t try to eliminate subjectivity, but to employ it fully and make transparent how this is done. (p. 12) So in keeping with the idea that my experience is a resource, I describe my professional background in detail, along with all the other research participants.16 I have also used my experience and reflections on my own practice to help me analyze the data. Davies (1999) and Weis and Fine (2000) warn me not to become too self-absorbed or lose sight of the participants. I can see that this is a danger, but I also need to be careful that I don’t lose sight of myself. In “The Problem of Speaking for Others,” Linda Alcoff (1992) explains that “who is speaking to whom turns out to be as important for meaning and truth as what is said” (p. 12 ). I do not in any way claim to be speaking for 16 See Chapter 5. 46 practitioner-researchers (and the group did not ask me to speak for them). Also, while I have drawn on the ideas of the participants, it is my voice that will sing the loudest. Mary Brooks (2008) puts it this way: Throughout this study, my voice and my experiences are continually present although not always acknowledged or recognized. . . . although I listened to the voices of my participants and took what they said into consideration, there is no question that this dissertation was written from my perspective and in (one of) my voice(s). (p. 131) An Ethnographic Case Study It seems logical to call this a case study, because it is, after all, a particular example of a RIP project, and my reading of Sharon Merriam’s work (1988, 1998) confirms this choice. She defines qualitative case study research as “an intensive, holistic description and analysis of a single instance, phenomenon or social unit” (1988, p. 21) and presents four “essential properties” of case study research, all of which are congruent with my study: It is particularistic (dealing with particular groups of people, problems or institutions), descriptive (having a rich, thick description),17 heuristic, (illuminating the reader’s understanding by facilitating discovery of new meaning, extending the reader’s experience, or confirming what is known), and inductive (here she includes the “discovery of new relationships, concepts and understanding” [p. 13]). She also distinguishes case study research from other research according to the kind of knowledge that it generates: It is, among other things, more concrete, contextual and open to reader interpretation. Merriam notes case study research does not have a distinct set of methods, but 17 Merriam describes this as a term from anthropology that means “the complete, literal description of the incident or entity being investigated.” Other words used to describe it include “holistic,” “lifelike,” “grounded” and “exploratory” (p. 13). 47 borrows from different methodological traditions, depending on the purpose of the research. So ethnographic methods such as interviews, participant observation and document review, seem to be particularly appropriate, because, like case study research, they shed light on the particular. But simply using the techniques does not make it ethnography: “Concern with the cultural context is what sets this type of study [ethnography] apart from other qualitative research” (Merriam, 1988, p. 23). I agree, and the cultural, social and political context is explored throughout this dissertation.18 Having explained the influences and choices that have led to the development of this ethnographic, reflexive case study, I will now move on to examine the influence feminist research has had on this study. Feminist Research In Chapter Two, I argued that gender was central to this research, and so it makes sense that the research methods I chose would also be influenced by gender, and by my position as a woman and a feminist. How to do this was not straight-forward, because, as Reinharz (1992, p. 51) points out, feminism is a perspective, not a method. She lists three common goals of feminist research: 1) to document the lives and activities of women; 2) to understand the experience of women from their own point of view, and 3) to conceptualize women's behaviour as an expression of social contexts. The first two goals seem to be congruent with this study. I have documented the research, and to some extent, the teaching and personal lives of a group of women, and I have tried to make their point of view central to this study. The third goal is also relevant because 18 In particular, see Chapters 4, 7 and 8. 48 the project under study offers a contextualization of women’s activities that occurred in relation to others on the research team and in their profession, and in a particular social context: the ABE/Literacy field. Michelle Fine’s (1992) description of three stances feminist researchers can take caused me to look carefully at the role I took as a researcher. The first stance she identifies is one I think I have avoided. “Ventriloquy” (p. 219) is described by Fine as using the third person and covering up authorship. The second one, which she names “Voices,” involves appearing to let the “other” speak while hiding “unproblematical” [sic] beneath the covers (p. 215). On first reading, I thought I was off the hook on this stance too: For one thing, I have not, I hope, positioned the participants in this study as “other” and secondly, I have made every effort to make sure the voices of the participants are authentic (see “Ethical Considerations” below). However, on further reading I realized that, in describing this second stance, Fine is not criticizing the use of rich data, but of researchers not being more explicit about where they stand in relation to the voices of their participants. She claims, “Researchers mystify the way we [the researchers] select, use and exploit voices” (p. 219). Have I done this? As I write this chapter, and make edits to the rest of the dissertation, I am searching for evidence of this and checking with others to make sure I have been transparent and reflexive in all my choices The third stance Fine describes—“Activism”—is the one she urges us to take; to be open and “engaged with but still distinct from our informants” (p. 220). However, she also says this stance involves the most disclosure and is the most dangerous. If I take the “Activist” stance, what are the dangers? The research participants and the research project that I am studying are well known in the adult literacy field in BC, and also, 49 nationally and internationally, so there is not much point in using pseudonyms to protect my participants’ identities (and they did not request this). One danger that I have attempted to address through member-checking19 is to make sure their views about each other are presented fairly; as caring, cooperative colleagues, they want to make sure what they say is respectful of other team members. While I cannot identify any obvious dangers now, I need to be cautious about how this research might be used when it becomes public. I will discuss this below, under “Confidentiality.” That next level of danger is to me: Will the research participants be unhappy with the way I represent them as a group, or the conclusions I come to about their work? The danger to me is that I might lose their confidence as a colleague, and, because they are very influential in the field, this could jeopardize future work I might want to do. But more important, I want to contribute to the field and present it in a way that builds on its strength. Towards this aim, I have made every effort to represent them respectfully, and asked for feedback at the draft stage. This brings me to another danger linked to taking an activist stance as researcher. In my effort to build from strength, and being conscious of the challenges faced by RIP practitioners, I may hesitate to point out weaknesses or limitations because I want to further the field, not weaken it. As a result, censoring can occur at an unconscious level. I will return to this later in the chapter under my discussion of Insider Research. Another way that I have been influenced by feminist approaches to research is that, as Lather (2001) says, feminists are often interested in working collaboratively, 19 See “Ethical Considerations,” below. 50 “particularly in an area where efforts toward ‘knowing’ have often been intrusive and exploitative” (Lather, 2001, p. xvi). Like most of the participants in my study, I am interested in collaboration and working in teams. That is one of the things that attracted me to this project and inspired me to work collaboratively with the research participants while they were conducting their research. I also explore the nature of “intrusive, exploitative” ways of knowing—an issue the research participants had a lot to say about.20 While I did not conduct my own research using a participatory approach, I was influenced by the philosophy (Alderson & Twiss, 2003; Cancian, 1996; Maguire, 1996; McRae, 2006; Quigley & Kuhne, 1997) and, as discussed below, I consulted the practitioners at different stages of the writing. These are my methodological influences—the traditions, philosophies, perspectives, and scholars that have influenced my goals and approach. But the devil is in the detail, and I will now go on to describe those details: the methods I used to try to meet the high standards of ethnographers and feminist researchers who have gone before me. Methods In this section, I will describe how I collected, analysed and wrote about my data. I conclude the chapter with a discussion of ethical considerations and my position on the insider - outsider continuum. But first, I want to remind the reader that the topic of my research was also research that was done by the participants in this research project. As Marina Niks says, it is part of a conversation: We are encouraging them to do research, they do research, and then we do research on that with them. You know, it’s a conversation – this is what I see, this is what I think, let’s engage in that. (Marina, interview, August 18, 2005) 20 See, especially, Chapter 6. 51 Between the fall of 2002 and the spring of 2005, the HFH team collected and analyzed data, wrote and published a report, and conducted workshops and presentations about their research. To facilitate this work, they had 20 meetings and teleconferences, wrote funding proposals and reports to funders and communicated online almost daily. This work and the documents and ideas that came out of it became the data for my research. Table 3.1, below, summarizes the research questions, data sources, ethical considerations, and position of the researchers in the HFH project (Theirs) and in my dissertation (Mine). Their research strategies are discussed in some detail in Chapter Five, and I have also listed them in Table 3.1, below, to show how the two projects linked together. Table 3.2 (page 65) shows timelines for the two projects. 52 Table 3.1 Research Methods Research Questions Theirs Mine 1. What makes literacy instructors successful or effective in their practice? 1. What are the conditions that led to the development of the RIP movement in Canada generally and the Hardwired for Hope (HFH) project specifically? 2. How does a group of literacy/ABE practitioners design and carry out a Research-inPractice (RIP) project? 3. What support does a group of literacy/ABE practitioners require to carry out a research project? 2. In what ways is RIP supported and challenged by university-based researchers, and in the specific case of HFH, what were the relationships between the practitioner-researchers and academics? 3. What would help to further support and develop the RIP movement in the field of literacy and as a respected field of inquiry by academics? Data sources Ethical strategies Autobiographies Participant observation Journals Interviews Interviews Document review Consent letters Same, but mediated by university structure. Member checks Participants had option of pseudonyms Position Reciprocity Insiders: Practitioners doing research about effective practice, using their own experience as a starting point, then widening the study to bring in other practitioners Insider/Outsider: They agreed to let me study their project, gave me access to all meeting notes, tapes, documents, etc. I acted as research assistant, taking notes on meetings and helping with literature review, did one interview University-based for this study, but also a practitioner and a practitioner-researcher: I started by studying their experience, but found myself drawing on my own experience as I did the analysis. 53 Linking Up to the Site and Participants I chose this site and this project for four reasons. First, as I mentioned above, I was interested in doing an ethnography. Second, adult literacy is my life and my passion, and I wanted to do research that would be useful to my field. Third, although RIP was a relatively new field to me, I had helped to organize a conference about it in the summer of 2002 and was very enthusiastic about its potential. And finally, I had developed a good working relationship with Marina Niks, who was starting a new RIP project, and she encouraged me to think about joining the group and doing research related to their work. I was intrigued by this suggestion, but of course she first had to get the group’s permission. I sent her an email, part of which she passed on to the team: I guess it has taken me awhile to work through questions about where I really want to be and who I want to work with. But it has just occurred to me that I can learn a hell of a lot from these women, and there are lots of other practical and professional reasons to stay in BC (rather than Ontario or South Africa). So, if it is not too late, YES, I would like to do it. The question now is, do they want to work with me? (Betsy, email, October 12, 2002) The response from the group was interested, but guarded. Those who had met me had nice things to say. Diana described me as an “intelligent and sensitive women with vast experiences in literacy” (Diana, email, October 14, 2002). Judy said, “We could learn a lot from her and I like the idea of having our practice validated by someone else” (Judy, email, October 15, 2002). But the group was just getting started, and many felt they would need to focus all their energy on getting to know each other and deciding how they would work together. How would it be to add yet another person to the mix? As Leora put it, 54 We haven't been together for a year and we had only really met [as a group] once. I guess what I am saying is that yet another person (no matter how terrific) to bond, work, listen, extrapolate, understand, might be one too many. (Leora, email, October 16, 2002) Several emails later, Judy, too, had cold feet—and questions: What does Betsy think she would do around our research? How is what we are doing interesting to her? . . . Sorry to pull back from my clear “yes” of yesterday, but my reservations may be just my own cold feet of what we are heading into! (Judy, email, October 16, 2002) Jan, who had been waiting and thinking before she responded, also had questions: What role do we play? What role(s) do others have? How will more people add to or distract from our goal(s)? I don't have answers to these niggling questions, but I would like the opportunity to discuss them with the group, so I can clarify my own thoughts on the question of “members of the project.” (Jan, email, October 16, 2002) The compromise they settled on was that I would be invited for a meeting during their first team meeting. After some discussion, they allowed me to join the team, but with some conditions. The Research Team minutes recorded the following decision: She will take minutes. She will act as research friend, and not as a fellow practitioner on the team. This would be too many voices [italics added]. She can make suggestions about process where relevant. She can join the (online) list on the Hub. (Research Team Meeting Minutes, October 23, 2002) This sounds very strict, but in fact, it was easy and I felt welcome from the first day. And after about a year of working together, I formally asked permission to use their project as the subject of my PhD. They granted me permission, and gave me access to their correspondence, meeting tapes, and reports. To repay their generosity, and in the spirit of “reciprocity” (Kirkness & Barnhardt, 2001), I contributed to the group in a number of ways: taking most of the minutes, collating data, reviewing literature and acting as an extra ear during their discussions. I also conducted 1 of the 17 interviews with other practitioners. Although my 55 name does not appear as an author or in the credits,21 my heart and soul went into the project, and I was very proud of the group when it was completed. So it is with a sense of pride and in an effort to contribute to their legacy that I offer this story of their project. Data Collection The data sources I used for this study were my participant observations at research team meetings, teleconferences, workshops and conference presentations, interviews with all members of the research team and with two other informants, and all the documents that were generated by the team. In selecting these data sources, I have been conscious of Lois Weis’ and Michelle Fine’s (2000) recommendation to use a variety of methods, not only for the sake of triangulation (Mills, 2003, p. 52) but also “to cross over, converse and tap into different kinds of data, to find contradictions between methods that would most powerfully inform policy” (Weis & Fine, 2000, p. 51). They point out that different methods reveal different kinds of identity, and this could be seen in the different data sources used for this project. For example, emails brought out the “process” people—those who paid attention to what was happening with other group members and how they were feeling, and the task-oriented people who focussed on getting things done. There was also evidence of people taking leadership at different stages in the project. This was particularly clear in the meeting tapes and minutes. Participant Observation While the team conducted their research, I focussed on being a participant observer. I identify with what Mills (2003, p. 54) calls an “active participant observer,” 21 The idea of including the Research Friends as authors was discussed but not carried out. Some of the implications of this decision are discussed in the conclusion. 56 who is fully engaged in the task that is being researched. While the project was underway, I was totally engrossed in the task at hand and it was not until after the meetings, or at meetings with my study group, that I was able to put on my researcher hat. That was probably more a function of my personality than the project design. (I am not a good multi-tasker.) I was interested to hear from participants how they felt about my participation, and this was a question that each of them answered in the interview. Here are three responses that I think are quite representative: You were just part of our team. The only time that I gave any thought to “Betsy’s doing this” was when you brought it to us, asking for our permission. Which we gave you, Betsy! [laughter] And then we talked about it again, the letter of permission, you showed us at the last meeting. (Jan, interview, February 16, 2005) If you’ve been using a magnifying glass the whole time, I didn’t really notice. So, like how did I feel to know I was researched, that you were researching? I didn’t feel you were researching. It never made me act a certain way or feel a certain way. So that’s, I think, very positive. You were an integral member of the team and I’m going to be super interested to see how you read everything. (Leora, interview, April 20, 2005) I didn’t even think about you researching the project. It was like you just disappeared, and that’s exactly what you needed to do. And I would be the one [chuckles] who’d notice it first, like I would pay attention, but you were just very skilled as a researcher. You are intuitive. Its very smooth, very smooth. Probably from working with people from other cultures, from really making an effort to not impose yourself on them. (Jan, interview, February 16, 2005) This level of trust can be dangerous. Davies (1999) points out that participants may not always remember that I am doing research, so “they have a right to be reminded or consulted again about the use of information gained in informal encounters” (p. 48). As described below, I provided them with a number of opportunities to check what I had written after the project was over. However, after I gained their permission to do the research, I did not mention my research again until the interviews began. This may be a 57 weakness in the project. I agree with Merriam’s (1988) observation that the relationship and degree of involvement is likely to change as the project progresses. At first the group needed to get to know me, but as we worked together over the years, the team included me in all their discussions and activities, and I became “one of the team” (Leora, interview, April 20, 2005). And I knew that they had become important to me, but it wasn’t until later in the project I understood something else: They are a significant audience for this dissertation. So, along with the academic masters I have to answer to, I always had them in mind when I chose my words and ideas. I used a journal to document my experience of the research process and to record “ideas, hunches, definitions, items, and concepts at any point in the analysis process” (Schensul & LeCompte, 1999, p. 153). This was also the tool that made the ethnography reflexive (Davies, 1999; Ellis & Bochner, 2000; Richardson, 2000), documenting my experience of the research as practitioner who shares a history with the participants, and also as a member of the research team who actually does some of the same activities as the participants. Document Analysis As the group’s study was drawing to a close I began to analyze the rich store of documents and correspondence they allowed me to use. I had three years worth of email messages, reports to funders, articles written about the project and minutes from meetings and teleconferences. Later, I also used information from their final report, Hardwired for Hope (HFH). 58 After Diana Twiss had finished writing the methods chapter in HFH, she gave me all the tapes from the meetings, with the warning that they were very, very long and I should find something else to do while listening. I strapped on an old Walkman and listened while walking, riding on the bus, and working out at the gym. It was wonderful to listen to their voices again and re-live interesting discussions and key moments in the research. I kept a small notebook that I could shove into my pocket or fanny-pack easily, and I stopped what I was doing and made a note of things that seemed important.22 When I stopped to make a note, I often told myself to check for similar ideas in minutes, interviews or emails. Interviews I conducted one interview with each member of the HFH team as their research project was drawing to a close. I could have done an additional interview in the middle of their project, but decided against it for two reasons. First, I was in conversation with them in many other ways throughout the project, both at meetings and online between meetings. While I was given the task of taking notes, I was also fully engaged in their discussions during the meetings and at social events. So I managed to get a sense of the natural development of the group through my participation in these activities and later through minutes, tapes and emails. There were also logistical issues: the practitioners were too busy during our meetings to take time to do an interview, and all but two were outside the lower mainland.23 I was able to interview the members who lived in Vancouver area at their homes or workplaces, and was fortunate to visit Evelyn Battell at her home and college in Duncan, taking advantage of a workshop that we co-facilitated 22 See my discussion of how I judged things to be “important” below, under Data Analysis. I applied to UBC for a travel grant so that I could interview all the practitioners in their homes or workplaces, but my application was denied. 23 59 with her colleagues. Jan was able to make time for an interview during a visit to Vancouver, and I interviewed Leora by telephone—a method she is extremely comfortable with. As I read through the documents and listened to tapes of the meetings, I identified themes which I used to develop interview questions. After checking my draft questions with my supervisory committee and the research participants, it was time to start the interviews.24 I interviewed all the members of the research team, including the Research Friends, as well as two individuals whom I consider to be leaders in the RIP field: Audrey Thomas, recently retired from the Ministry of Advanced Education, who provided the initial vision and ongoing material and practical support for practitioner research in BC; and Mary Norton, who has taught courses on RIP, facilitated practitioner research groups in Alberta, and provided leadership to the RIP movement across Canada. It was interesting to hear from the participants about how it felt to do this interview and to reflect on the project after it was over. When I asked Jan about this, she started by saying she worried that she would forget details and that some emotions would intrude, emotions that she “did not want in any way to over-ride the overall impressions and feelings” (Jan, interview). But she did very well, and in the end she said the process was positive: It’s been interesting for me, just to see what I do remember, and also I think, you’ve helped me again to perhaps put things in words. Wow, I went through a lot of steps, I have grown intellectually as a result of this experience, I am richer for the people that I’ve met going through the process. So I think you’ve helped me see those areas of richness. So thank you. (B: Oh, thank you). Oh, it’s been good. (Jan, interview, February 16, 2005) 24 See Appendix C for the list of Interview Questions. 60 Similarly, Leora and Marina said they were happy about what they were able to articulate: It’s kind of interesting because I think I did articulate some things that I hadn’t really put my finger on until today. And at the moment I stand by everything I said! [laughter] There are a few disappointments, but overall, I think we did a damn good job. (Leora, interview, April 20, 2005) How does it feel to reflect on the research now? Oh, it’s amazing because many of these things I have reflected on [informally] I’ve been able to articulate the ideas in a different way and know with a distance. (Marina, interview, August 18, 2005) By using these four data sources, I was able to triangulate (Mills, 2003, p. 52) successfully, and I believe this has lead to a more interesting story. Of all the data sources, the interviews and the tapes were the most enjoyable for me. I liked the interviews because it was such a thrill to talk to each woman individually about the project and her thoughts—I felt energized and inspired by our discussions. I liked listening to the meeting tapes because they were a more detailed version of the minutes, revealing tensions and passions to which the minutes could not do justice. While it was quite laborious to make notes by hand and then copy them into the computer, there was something lovely about incorporating the listening into my everyday life. The gym has never been the same since I stopped listening to the tapes. Data Analysis Schensul and LeCompte (1999) advise that data analysis should begin well before data collection is complete, and I took that advice. I began sorting information into categories and themes as I wrote my reflective journals. Also, I typed notes and excerpts 61 from the meeting tapes and interviews into Excel tables organized by themes, and later learned how to use Atlas.ti. 25 LeCompte (2000) says “tidying up” is an essential first step. This means “make copies, file, catalogue, label, index, identify gaps and collect data to fill it” (p. 148). This proved to be important for me, because I had what seemed to be an un-climbable mountain of data. Once I had a clear idea of what was there and how it all fit together, the analysis and writing seemed to snap into place. To determine what data to focus on, I was again guided by LeCompte (2000), who identifies three ways to decide if an item is significant. The first category is “frequency,” or items that occur frequently in the data. For example, in my research, practitioners talked in meetings, emails and interviews about different strategies for collaboration. The second category is “omission,” or items that did not appear even though you might expect them to. For example, I was expecting there would be some discomfort with me being present as a researcher, but found little evidence of this. The third category is “declaration,” or items that participants say is present or significant. For example, Diana Twiss, who wrote the methods chapter of HFH, identified the “literature review” debate as an important issue, and all of the practitioners identified finances as important.26 There were other criteria I used to judge whether or not an item in the data was important, and I asked myself questions like the following to help me decide: Does this speak to themes identified in the document analysis? Does it support or contradict 25 See Appendix D for a list of these themes. 26 LeCompte’s advice about deciding what was significant also proved useful in the HFH research. See Gesser & Sawyer, 2004, p. 146. 62 something that has been highlighted in other data sources? Has this come up in previous RIP projects? Does this resonate with things I have learned through regular contact, that the practitioner-researchers feel passionate or confused about? What resulted was a long, and very cumbersome list of themes and sub-themes, and equally long and cumbersome early drafts. It wasn’t until I had done several rewrites, re-checked my data, had lengthy discussions with colleagues and received critical feedback from my Study Sisters and guidance from my supervisory committee that I was able to shape the document into something that began to tell a story reflecting the practitioners, the project, my arguments and my research stance. This experience seems to be in line with what Laurel Richardson’s (2000) argues: that “writing is not just a mopping-up activity at the end of a research project” (p. 923). Timeline A timeline for the HFH project and my own research is provided below in Table 3.2. I have been forbidden by the members of my study group to apologize for the long gap between the publication of the HFH report and the completion of my dissertation. So I will not apologize—I will simply say that it was challenging to balance graduate work with a full-time job. It always seemed that work deadlines and the needs of my students and colleagues were more pressing than the need to sit down and write. No one understands this better than the practitioners who participated in my study. When I conducted the second round of member-checks (discussed below in more detail), I felt a bit sheepish to be contacting them after such a long time. But their response was friendly. 63 I got an immediate phone call from Leora in Calgary, bubbling over with supportive comments and news about her new life, and this email from Judy: YEAH Betsy!!!! I am so happy to know you were not sidelined by life. (Judy, email, October 6, 2008) The competing demands we face as teachers and researchers is described well by Kate Nonesuch when she muses on her participation in RIP. She talks about having to work within two time-frames: In the world of pure research, I think there is more time—surely this is part of the reason that Royal Commissions and theses and final reports routinely come in late. As an instructor, there is never more time. …. I cannot postpone January classes, not even for one day, because I have not finished thinking about the research I did in the fall term. (Nonesuch, 2008, p. 34) I have found balancing work, life, and the dissertation, with their conflicting time frames, interesting and frustrating. I would like to think that the dissertation, like a spicy stew, will be richer for the long, slow simmer it has had in my head. 64 Table 3.2 Research Timelines Dates Hardwired for Hope team Research Activities October 2002 Project started - to October 2003 5 meetings 3 meetings September – October, 2004 Hardwired for Hope published From beginning to Spring 2005 December 2004 August 2005 2005 - 2006 Summer 2007 Fall 2008 Spring 2009 Data analysis and Writing Presentations and workshops Observation October 2003 - June 2004 Research assistant Participant Data Collection and analysis. My Research Activities I received agreement from group for me to study their project Began document analysis (minutes, tape-scripts, reports, correspondence, my research journal) (Used themes from documents to develop interview questions) Interviews: HFH team, including Research Friends + 2 Leaders in the RIPAL field Analysis and writing First chapters submitted First complete draft submitted Defence 65 Ethical Considerations According to Davies (1999), participating in research should be a positive experience for participants, giving them “a chance to express their opinion or unburden themselves to a sympathetic outsider” (p. 48). As researcher, it was my job to make this experience positive and to guard against potential dangers that could arise in the small, well-connected field of Adult Basic Education. The first step towards this was to gain group consent, followed by individual consent through the consent letter. The consent letter used in the HFH research, and in my research was one way to ensure that the research participants were not mis-represented or harmed in any way. I will briefly discuss other ethical issues I considered during my research. Confidentiality I have observed and read about three approaches to confidentiality in ethnographic research: using pseudonyms for people, places and institutions throughout the text (for example Ferguson, 2001); using real names throughout (for example Duneier & Carter, 1999); or allowing the participants to decide for themselves (Lather & Smithies, 1997). Duneier (in Duneier & Carter, 1999) claims that using real names wherever possible “holds me up to a higher standard of evidence” and encourages him, professionally, to be more accurate, unless it would embarrass the people he is writing about or they will only speak if their real name is not used. He says, “When I have asked myself whom I am protecting by refusing to disclose the names, the answer has always been me” (p. 348). The instructors who were interviewed for the HFH study (the one conducted by my participants) were given the option of using pseudonyms, and one participant did ask for this. I offered this option to my participants as well, but they decided to use their own names for two reasons: As discussed above, the field is small and the project well-known, so it would be easy to deduce who had been quoted. Also, the practitioners were proud that their work was the subject of a PhD dissertation, and it makes sense to give them credit for their ideas. 66 Whatever approaches are used, it is important for the participants to be wellinformed about the research, and have tools to “assess the likely effects of the research on them and to make an informed decision about whether or not they are willing to participate” (Davies, 1999, p. 48). For example, Davies points out that, while I may write a very supportive, positive description of their work, other researchers making use of published work may not be sympathetic. For example, in a critique of the use of storytelling, Sherene Razack (1993) relates how the Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women collects and publishes the stories of immigrant women. She asks, To what uses will these stories be put? Will someone else take them and theorise from them? …. Who will control how they are used? Will immigrant women tell a particular kind of story in a forum they do not control? Such dilemmas are evident wherever story-telling is used. (p. 2) I do not know how the stories in this dissertation will be used, and I have virtually no control over this once it is published. However, if I portray the participants with sensitivity and respect, it is more likely that others will do the same. Member-Checking LeCompte (2000) observes that selectivity cannot be eliminated because it is a factor of any human endeavour: “humans are interested in some things and not others” (p. 146). However, it is important to be aware of what biases and preferences affect data collection and the usefulness of research. I have followed this advice as well as her advice on the importance of checking results with participants, using the process of member-checking (Duneier & Carter, 1999; Lather & Smithies, 1997; LeCompte, 2000; Mills, 2003). Participants were given the chance to read their interview transcripts and 67 sections of the dissertation that refer to them or to their ideas. Their responses, sent by email or telephone, were very positive and helpful. It was lovely to talk with you yesterday and really interesting to see me in print and commented on. (Evelyn, email October 11, 2008) When all the quotes had been approved and the first round of revisions made, participants were offered the opportunity to read the first six chapters of the dissertation. Four people offered to read the draft (in spite of an impossibly tight timeline) and gave me useful suggestions. No one asked for substantial changes. Getting Close to the Research Participants Leora: Because we began to rely on you, and you began to offer! I mean you offered tremendous service. Betsy: But quite often, it tied in with what I was doing at UBC. I also felt like you guys are giving me this amazing amount of insight and access to data, and I think it should be a two-way stream. Leora: I know that. You said it, and yet, I think you put in a lot. And I just thank you very much. (Leora, interview, April 20, 2005) This conversation with Leora was a typical one—all the participants, either during or after the project, told me how happy they were to have me in the project.27 The help Leora is talking about consisted of taking notes at most of the meetings and teleconferences (Bonnie Soroke also did that, but was not able to attend as many meetings as I was), helping with literature searches, and sharing my views at meetings when requested. I also hosted one of the team meetings. For me, as I said, it was a two-way stream. I was given access to an amazing research project which would eventually lead to a doctorate. My increased interest in the project was partly as a researcher, but also as a practitioner who was both fascinated by, 27 I discuss this in more detail in my self-description in Chapter 4. 68 and familiar with, the ideas that were coming out in the group’s discussion and data analysis. So I was learning huge amounts and making a contribution, but I was finding it difficult to stay “neutral.” Was this a problem, or was my close collaboration with the HFH team improving the quality of my research? I was reassured by some of the feminist research literature. For example, according to Colleen Reid (2003), a goal of her interviews was to build rapport and reciprocity between and with the low-income women she interviewed: “I provided feedback to the women in a maximally reciprocal way, and did not presume neutrality” (p. 81). Similarly, Ann Oakley (1981) describes how she “disobeyed” textbook instructions and formed close relationships with the women she interviewed about their experiences with childbirth. She argues that keeping a distance is morally indefensible for feminists and that in most cases, the goal of finding out about people through interviewing is best achieved when the relationship of interviewer and interviewee is non-hierarchical and when the interviewer is prepared to invest his or her own personal identity in the relationship. (p. 41) J. Douglas Toma (2000) supports this view based on his experience studying university football culture in the US. He argues that getting close to research participants improves the quality of research in the following ways: by improving the breadth and depth of the data, including new information and ways of looking at the phenomenon; by providing context to the interviewees, who were then able to think more deeply about their own involvement; and by “[raising] the stakes associated with the study [because] interacting with people who cared about the topic made me care even more” (p. 181). In my case, I came to the project caring deeply about both the topic the participants were investigating and the topic of my research. I emerged from the project with a deeper 69 understanding and even more passion, mainly because of my experience with this group of women. However, Stacey (1991) points out that this approach could also mask deeper exploitation or lead to exploitation. She reminds us that an interview always intrudes on a relationship and the final product (this dissertation) is the researcher’s. A possible way around this is through critical and postmodern ethnographies. However, these do not take the problems away, they just acknowledge and describe them. Her conclusion is that there cannot be a feminist ethnography, only a partial feminist ethnography. She recommends rigorous self-awareness and regular monitoring of potential dangers. So far in this chapter, I have described the methodology, methods and ethical considerations that have led to the production of this dissertation. The last consideration, getting close to the research participants, is closely linked to insider research. Before I conclude the chapter, I will discuss my role as an insider researcher and some of the implications for this study. Insider Research I joined the HFH team feeling a strong affinity for the practitioner-researchers, having worked in the field myself for 25 years. I was also an active participant in the study as Research Friend, minute-taker, literature-searcher and interviewer. This gave me a certain amount of insider status. However, I came to the project as a graduate student, not an instructor, and I had not yet worked in the college system in BC. This situation changed when the project came to an end. When the report was completed in 2004 and I began interviewing the participants, I became an instructor at Capilano College, in the 70 same department as two of the research participants. And as I worked through the data analysis and writing, I became more and more of an insider. By the time this dissertation goes to press, I will have worked at Capilano for five years and participated in three practitioner research projects, as a practitioner (Alderson & Alkenbrack, 2007; Alkenbrack, 2007). Throughout this time, I have continued to work on my dissertation, doing academic, not practitioner, research. So I agree with Justine Mercer’s (2007) description of the insider position as being between two “poles of a continuum which is more or less fluid, depending on the way the end points are conceptualized” (p. 7). With my background, I considered myself to be sliding back and forth somewhere in the middle of that continuum, but usually closer to the practitioner end. When I consider the insider/outsider issue, I identify strongly with what Collins (1991) calls the “outsider within” status that Black women scholars experience in the academy. The only way they could become true insiders was by giving up their own standpoint and assimilating the dominant (white male) worldview. Collins argues that many black feminist scholars have resisted this, and instead developed a particular way of seeing that is enriched by their marginal, “outsider within” position. Like the scholars Collins describes, I also feel very marginal to academia, and have a strong allegiance to practitioners. My thoughts about insider-outsider research have also been shaped by reading and discussing the dissertations of UBC students who had gone before me (for example, Brooks, 2008; Marie, 2004; Murphy, 2005; Taylor, 2000). A particularly interesting one was John Taylor’s ethnography of a teacher education program, which he conducted as a student teacher in the program. He observed: 71 My insider study entailed a great deal of studying up the well-established hierarchies of status and power within the university and the education system. For some of the faculty and school personnel, I was unquestionably a threat, for others I was, perhaps, a hoped for catalyst for change. (Taylor, 2000, p. 40) My insider status was slightly different: While I am an insider in the field, I was not sharing the experience of practitioner-researchers in the project. Taylor was actually a student in the teacher education course he was studying and so it is natural that school personnel would feel threatened. In contrast, I may write critically about the forces that are swirling around the practitioner-research project, but not the practitioners themselves. I was fairly sure that I did not present a threat, but I did wonder if the practitioners felt uncomfortable at any time knowing I was researching their project. They reassured me that this was not the case. For example, Diana said, It didn’t make me feel like there were things I didn’t want to say or places I didn’t want to go because you were researching, I felt totally comfortable and free and safe that whatever you were going to produce is going to be respectful, responsible, intelligent, all that stuff. I had no qualms about that at all. (Diana, interview, December 17, 2004) Marina was in a slightly different position, as the person mentoring and advising the project. She said, I have to say that at times I felt a bit vulnerable because it’s, Oh, someone’s recording me? What are they going to say? But overall, I hope that it was clear that I was completely supportive of it and I think that it’s great. (Marina, interview, August 18, 2005) Being an insider-researcher is not without challenges. For example, as Mary Brooks warns, I needed to be aware of boundaries: This same insider status sometimes kept me from exploring their statements in more depth, either because I assumed I understood what they meant, or because I transferred my concern about the topic to them. In addition, I sometimes lost sight of the boundaries between my research and my life or my position as researcher and the women’s positions as participants. (Brooks, 2008, p. 59) 72 Another important issue related to insider research is that the practitioners I am writing about may be part of my audience, and so I need to pay a lot of attention to language. Academic literature often includes specialized vocabulary and long complex sentences that can be time-consuming to read and understand. While an academic might be motivated to do this work, practitioners often feel that their time would be better spent elsewhere. If I do not write in a way that includes them, they will look for other things to read. Paulo Freire (who ironically is himself accused of writing in inaccessible language) makes this point in his first book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed: Often, educators and politicians speak and are not understood because their language is not attuned to the concrete situation of the people they address. Accordingly, their talk is just alienated and alienating rhetoric. (Freire, 1970, p. 78) bell hooks was a huge admirer of Freire but also said, “Any theory that cannot be shared in everyday conversation cannot be used to educate the public” (hooks, 1994, p. 64), and that theory is not able to transform if it is not directed at daily life. Similarly, William Tierney (2000) urges academics to “develop an intellectual style of writing that engages the broad public” (p. 190), and to present research findings in a style that is more accessible and engaging. Although I find it challenging to write in a way that is both acceptable to the academia and useful to practitioners, I know I do not want to write “ponderous slugs of theory” (Behar, 1999). I was guided by Ellis and Bochner (2000) who say, No matter how you tell the story, the writing has to be engaging and evocative. That's not how social scientists have been taught to write. You'll essentially have to learn how to write by reading novels, and by writing and re-writing and getting feedback. (p. 757) 73 Because I feel so close to the research participants, it is understandable that some would question the trustworthiness of my data. I will describe some of the concerns and also the steps I have taken to ensure that my research is trustworthy. Lincoln and Guba (1985) say trustworthy research is persuasive and worth paying attention to. Applying the idea to practitioner-research, Zeichner and Noffke (2001) argue that the word trustworthy “captures the need for practitioner-research to justify its claims to know in terms of the relationship between knowers and knowledges” (p. 315).28 This rings true for me—both for the research I am doing and for the HFH project. However, there are potential challenges that I need to be aware of. For example, Janice Murphy (2005) points out that sharing a professional background with participants can have advantages and disadvantages: While it was advantageous for me that, because of my 15 years experience working in residential care, I shared both the medical terminology and therapeutic recreation language used in EC practice, it was very important for me to continuously check my assumptions. (p. 63) I also share my research participants’ professional background and need to be careful about making assumptions. Kathryn Anderson and Dana Jack (1991) describe how making assumptions can harm the quality of the interview. Although they are not specifically referring to insider research, the lesson can be applied: As a researcher, I have learned that critical areas demanding attention are frequently those where I think I already know what the woman is saying. This means I AM ALREADY APPROPRIATING WHAT SHE SAYS TO AN EXISTING SCHEMA [capitalization in original] and therefore I’m no longer really listening to her. Rather, I am listening to how what she says fits into what I think I already know. So I try to be very careful to ask each woman what she mans by a certain word, or to make sure that I attend to what is missing. (p. 19) 28 I will examine the trustworthiness of the HFH study later in this dissertation. 74 Another potential weakness is that my familiarity with the research participants could affect how we interact during the research, and this could affect research trustworthiness in two ways: I might distort data or analyze it differently because of my friendship with, or loyalty to, the practitioners—I might want to protect them. A related problem is that participants might “give me the answer I want to hear” because they know me so well. Mercer (2007) describes how this might have happened in her research: At the first site, I had been very vocal on the subject of faculty appraisal [the topic of her research] for 18 months. It was a subject I felt strongly about, and one I discussed frequently with colleagues. Most of my interviewees already knew how I viewed appraisal, and this knowledge certainly affected the information they chose to give me, although precisely how I can never know. (p. 8) As I read this, I thought of a comment one of my research participants made when I asked her a question about RIP politics: “Certainly I expect that question from you” (Jan, interview, February 16, 2005). How much did that expectation, and her familiarity with my political views, shape her response? Like Mercer, I will never know for sure. Not everyone sees insider research as a minefield of trustworthiness hazards. Penelope Davies (2005) argues that research results will be more reliable because the researcher shares a culture with the research participants, and Sarah Evans (2005) agrees. She admits that her examination of the discourses of “worker-centred literacy” “represents an investigation of my own philosophy and practice of worker-centred literacy” (p. 157). She describes how she is deeply involved in the movement she is researching: The interviewees are close colleagues, she co-authored two of the texts she is analyzing, and she has worked in two of the programs—all of which place her pretty firmly on the insider end of the continuum. But far from seeing it as a weakness, she argues that her close relationship with the interviewees and her deep understanding of the 75 issues give the study both internal and external validity. Cokely (1993) makes a similar argument about the practitioner research projects she studied. For her, the fact that research is grounded in real life situations makes it more trustworthy: “A practitionerresearcher is sensitive to the context-dependent nature of the study, and she documents this context as thoroughly as possible” (p. 2). Documenting the context is extremely important, and I have done that in Chapter Four. Merriam (1988) describes several other ways to ensure that research is trustworthy, six of which I have used in this study: triangulating the data, conducting member checks, providing a rich, thick description, conducting long-term observation at the research site, submitting the findings for comment by colleagues, providing a detailed description of the researcher’s position, assumptions and biases, and ensuring that there is an audit trail and that other researchers can use the description to conduct a similar study. I have taken all these steps, but still have a niggling feeling that something is missing. The penny dropped when I re-read LeCompte (2000) who talks about the “goodness” of analyzed data. She argues that no matter how elegant the model, [R]esults lack credibility, utility or validity if the cultural whole presented by the researcher makes no sense to the person or groups whose cultural whole is, in fact, being portrayed. (p. 152) Merriam (1988) and Richardson (2000) make similar points, and Lincoln and Guba (1985) advise the researcher to show that the reconstructions (for the findings and interpretations are also constructions, it should never be forgotten) that have been arrived at via the inquiry are credible to the constructors of the original multiple realities. (p. 296) This tells me that the most reliable judges of trustworthiness are the people who lived the situation I am researching: the HFH team. As described above, four participants agreed 76 to read a near-final draft. There was a suggestion for clarity and a few corrections in the section on RIP history, but otherwise the feedback was encouraging. Here are three comments: It is insightful and very complimentary. (Evelyn, telephone conversation, March 13, 2009) What a opportunity for a trip down memory lane! That was quite a process we went through, all of us . . . .and then some. You have done a marathon of a job to follow our progress and then describe it so carefully and respectfully. WOW! (Judy, email March 19, 2009) My dear Betsy you have not been swallowed up enough, you have not been indoctrinated enough, you have not shifted into academic mindset enough. You have not made your dissertation difficult to read, so of course there are difficulties. And I say THANK GOODNESS, hallelujah! Way to be. (Bonnie, email, March 23, 2009) My Critical Stance As an activist, I am naturally drawn to the notion of taking a critical stance in my research. This has been described in the literature in various ways, including: assuming a political orientation (Lackey, 1997), taking an advocacy approach and being openly value-based (Lather, 1992), and/or placing oneself as writer, participant and interpreter within the text (McCotter, 2001b). These ideas have helped me to think about how I could take a critical stance in this dissertation. But sometimes I was confused about the extent to which a critical researcher should criticize the project under study. John Taylor (2000) said that some of the professors and university personnel felt “threatened” by his presence as a researcher, knowing that he would be critical of the teacher education system. But he writes 77 respectfully about his fellow students. Similarly, Mitchell Duneieur (1999) writes about doing “diagnostic ethnography”: I begin observation by gaining an appreciation of the “symptoms” that characterize my “patient.” Once I have gained knowledge of these symptoms, I return to the field, aided by new diagnostic tools—such as photographs—and try to “understand” these symptoms (which is some amalgam of “explain” and “interpret” and “render meaningful”). I also read in more general literature, seeking ideas that will illuminate my case. (p. 342) On initial reading, this sounded too much like the medical model that critical teachers hate so much. Then I realized that it was not the men who were his “patients”—he has enormous empathy and respect for them—but the “sick” institutions that impose on their lives. In their ethnography of HIV/AIDS support groups, Lather and Smithies (1997), take a stand, not clearly against any one thing, but for women and for women who are HIV positive. This stance is reflected in one of the questions that guided their research approach: “How is it possible that the book might be of use to the women whose stories we tell?” (p. 219). Like Lather and Smithies, I am completely supportive of the people in my research project, but, like Taylor and Duneieur, critical of the forces that surround them. I am inspired by Lather and Smithies to ask the question, “How can this dissertation help the women whose stories it tells and the field they work within?” Concluding Comments I introduced this chapter by discussing two research traditions that influenced my choice of methods: ethnography and feminist research. I then described the methods I used, making frequent reference to the HFH research which was the subject of my study and which was happening in parallel to mine. I discussed site and participant selection, data collection and analysis, and the timeline. I then talked about important ethical 78 considerations: confidentiality, member-checking, and getting close to participants. I concluded the chapter with a discussion of insider research. In doing this research, I am deeply aware of my position as an academically-based researcher writing about practitioner-researchers. I believe that academics should play a supportive, contributing role rather than being a voice of arbitration (Dadds, 1995; Zeichner & Noffke, 2001). In this and all future research, I would like to follow the “Four R’s” described by Verna J. Kirkness and Ray Barnhardt (2001): Respect, Relevance, Reciprocity, and Responsibility. Although they wrote this article in the context of First Nations students in higher education, it strikes me that these four R's would be useful to consider in many other situations, including bridge-building between ABE researchers and practitioners. I hope my research will be seen as: Respectful of all those who came before me, and who work with me now, whether they are based in the university, the classroom, or the community. Relevant to the needs of the ABE field and the practitioners who have built it. Reciprocal, with an exchange of skills and information that empowers all participants. And finally, may I be Responsible for all I write, do and say. 79 CHAPTER FOUR: THE BC RESEARCH IN PRACTICE MOVEMENT Sometimes in the Adult Basic Education (ABE/Literacy) field there is an idea that takes root and grows. It becomes difficult to name the exact source, but the field seems ready for it and the idea is well received. That was the case with the idea of studying effective instructors in the ABE/Literacy field. There are many instructors who have worked in the field since the 1970’s, who have grown and learned and who have shared their experience in many ways over the years. The collective urge to document this generation of teaching practice coincided with the pending retirement of some of those experienced instructors. (Battell et al., 2004, p. 3) The Hardwired for Hope project, and RIP as a whole, were indeed ideas that took root and grew in BC, and that is what this chapter is about. As described in Chapter One, RIP has not been successful in every province in Canada. Horsman and Woodrow (2007) report that most practitioners are “too burdened” with program survival issues to even think about engaging in research, and that “RIP can only develop when the working conditions of adult literacy providers have become ‘normalized’” (p. 11). While this report was a good reality-check for me, I feel that it does not adequately represent the successes that RIP has had in BC. In this chapter, I will argue that, while working conditions may not be “normalized,” RIP has somehow managed to flourish, and is within reach of and relevant to most BC practitioners. I will describe three things that have made this possible: a strong field of practitioners, effective support structures, and an impressive collection of projects and reports. But before I discuss the factors that have contributed to RIP’s success, I need to make an about-face and acknowledge that the BC literacy field as a whole is not flourishing and conditions for practitioners are not “normalized,” I will describe the state 80 of the adult literacy field as a whole in the province, as of November 2008. I will begin, as any good practitioner would, with the situation faced by adult learners. Practitioners and Learners: Challenges of ABE in BC Is anyone else having trouble journaling? Things are so depressing at the college with everyone away and sick, students bowing under welfare pressure and us no longer having control of hiring because of cutbacks and vicious infighting. I just decided today I couldn’t just talk about it for another hour (email, March 4, 2003, recorded in Twiss, 2004, p. 27) This cry for help in an email from one of my research participants to the rest of the research team was echoed by her colleagues throughout the spring of 2003, as they tried to conduct research while their professional worlds seemed to be falling down around them. They were angry and dismayed about the war in Iraq, but closer to home they watched in horror as their class sizes dropped because learners were forced to leave school and go to dead-end jobs due to government restrictions on education. Evelyn Battell writes about the “breakdown in motivation” experienced by the instructors they interviewed. The interviews took place in 2003 when the BC Liberal government’s cuts to education were beginning to take effect in the colleges: Jobs were lost, faculty were scrambling for work, and feelings were high and generally negative. Our students had been hit with welfare cut-offs and loss of daycare and medical and dental coverage. Minimum wage for teenagers dropped and people took extra jobs to make ends come close to meeting. In most colleges, fees were levied in ABE/Literacy for the first time in years. (Battell, 2004, p. 114) For college instructors, a particularly distressing cut was to the Institutional-Based Training fund. In their critique of BC government policy changes around education and training for adults on Income Assistance (IA), Shauna Butterwick and Caroline White (2006) describe this fund as providing support to IA recipients designated as having 81 “multiple barriers” to study while receiving benefits. It was discontinued in 2002. Their findings confirm our research team’s experience: College staff described a bleak picture: without the targeted funds and income support, there were no services geared toward low-income students. The only remaining formal support available to some students facing financial difficulties was the ABE Student Assistance Plan; however, it covered only tuition costs, not application fees, assessment fees, books or childcare. Study participants were dismayed when those IA students who had not yet completed their studies were forced out and pushed into low wage jobs. (Butterwick & White, 2006, p. 24) Butterwick and White also note that single mothers are particular victims of government programs, because childcare services have been withdrawn or drastically cut back. This problem is widespread: an outreach worker in Burnaby described how refugee mothers had to wait at least 8 months to get into ESL programs because of a shortage of childcare support (V. Kreuzer, personal communication, June 13, 2007). A third effect of the policy changes that Butterwick and White describe, and one that I have observed at my college, is “a growing emphasis in some colleges on university transfer (UT) courses” (p. 25). These courses are more lucrative and can accommodate larger classes than literacy and ABE programs. They argue the ABE students are “further marginalized” because they can only apply for student loans if they take post-secondary courses. Judy Rose describes what that looks like on the ground: The trend at our colleges and the political climate doesn’t leave space for the kind of students we work with. They don’t leave space for the complicated difficult problems that take a long, long time to work out. Those kinds of people are being forced to disappear because they don’t generate the right kinds of results. That is the direction that we’re going in and I think all of us see that. (Research Team Meeting, October 22, 2002) Students who cannot access community college programs may be able to join programs funded by the provincial Ministry of Advanced Education through the Community Adult Literacy Program (CALP). However, these programs tend to rely on 82 volunteer tutors, who are well meaning, well-trained, dedicated, and often very skilled. But is it fair to impose a volunteer program on our learners—and to burden these volunteers? One of the Hardwired or Hope team members says no: My objection to volunteers is that these students deserve the best and to get and keep the best, you have to pay for it. These students deserve many hours a week, year round if they choose and no volunteer is going to work full time. These students deserve this chance at education, they shouldn’t have to be grateful to anyone for providing it. It is almost impossible to run a volunteer program in which students are not expected, allowed, encouraged to be grateful. Finally these students deserve constantly growing and learning instructors and it is hard to expose volunteers to enough training, interaction with other teachers, etc and to EXPECT they will take up these opportunities. (Evelyn, autobiographical writing, “The ABEABC Years”) The other possible weakness in the CALP programs is what Judith Walker (Walker, 2007) describes as a disconnect between government assessment requirements and learner needs. The evidence of success community programs are encouraged to document is limited to job preparedness, language improvement and promotion to higher level academic courses. However, many of the successes that learners experience cannot be measured or quantified. 29 Walker identifies a broader and potentially more troubling issue linked to the community focus in Adult Literacy provision: that “an emphasis on community can often be coupled with a withdrawal of state or provincial support” (p. 4). She also argues that the recent shift from core funding to project-based funding will have a destabilizing influence on colleges and institutions. 29 In a footnote, Walker reports that there is a collaborative project between government and community groups to design tools that will measure non-traditional outcomes. See a discussion of the “From the Ground Up” project below. 83 This is a bleak picture, especially when you consider that BC’s Premier is a champion of literacy for all and has set a goal to make BC “the most literate jurisdiction in North America” (Premier’s Advisory Panel, 2005, p.1).30 Towards this end, the province has launched several initiatives: In 2004, “Literacy Now” was launched to promote collaboration between community stakeholders and to raise awareness about literacy issues by supporting the development of community literacy plans and small implementation projects. Also in that year, the Premier’s advisory panel was established to assess the literacy challenges, identify needs and help develop a plan to meet the challenges. In November 2006, the Select Standing Committee on Education released its report, Literacy through Leadership: Outlining an Adult Literacy Strategy for British Columbians, based on hearings and position papers from institutional and community providers from all over BC. In 2007, the Premier held his second “Premier’s Summit on Literacy” and launched the $27 million ReadNow BC project with four key objectives: “increasing the number of children who enter school with the pre-reading skills they need to succeed, and improving reading skills among school-age children, Aboriginal people and adults, including workplace literacy (BC Premier's office, 2007). A large part of this, and a good part, is increased funding to Literacy Now. Another potentially promising development is that in 2007 - 2008, all School Districts will be required to create “District Literacy plans” in collaboration with other community stakeholders. This signals a move towards the Ministry of Education (traditionally responsible for school-based learning) taking a lead role in adult literacy. While this, like the work of Literacy Now, may promote community collaboration, there 30 The date was extended. 84 is also the risk that colleges will get sidelined and all the expertise developed over the years will be lost. With all the money and all the planning that is going into literacy, low income adults still struggle to gain access. Students with the “complicated, difficult” problems will be left out because government policies favour students whose literacy will “result in economic gains” (Horsman & Woodrow, 2007, p. 29). And, as one community educator lamented at a meeting of education providers in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, Income assistance recipients have to “sneak” their education/learning and volunteerism or risk getting cut off. (It) should be a human right to be able to work on improving yourself, keep up your skills, and contribute to your community. (DTES Literacy Roundtable minutes, June 11, 2007) The final problem that needs to be mentioned is the low status of the field. ABE/Literacy work is referred to as the “Cinderella profession” (Horsman & Woodrow, 2007, p. 26). Part of this is because of the low status of the students—they often cannot pay to study and they are not working towards a degree. In addition, the subject matter— teaching someone to read—has lower status and potential for income-generation than academic or technical subjects like biology or film-making. The practitioners are also under-valued, as Joyce Cameron, one of the instructors interviewed in Hardwired for Hope, describes: There seems to be really little value placed on the work that we do by the society that we live in. Our government is so hostile towards education and particularly hostile towards any acceptance for the people with whom we work, so it’s just another layer on things. That greater degree of disrespect manifests itself in the classroom in all sorts of ways—reduced budgets, reduced supports for people. The loss of the IBT31 funding—that gave really good support at our college to our students. All of that work of that support is thrust back on to the instructors now or on to a coordinator. It’s landed in all sorts of places and that makes it just that much harder. (Battell, 2004, p. 117) 31 Institutional-Based Training - discussed earlier in this chapter. 85 The practitioners—instructors, facilitators, coordinators—tend to be marginalized in comparison to their colleagues in the regular school system or universities. Looking at the national picture, Horsman and Woodrow (2007) describe it this way: Many Canadian community-based practitioners work for low wages, often on a part-time basis, in very insecure jobs. There is a wide range in the pay scales and benefits available within different sectors. Though practitioners in institutional settings such as school boards or colleges get paid considerably more than their counterparts in community-based programs, they are often hired as contractors, not employees. The pay of college instructors, for example, may be tied to their teaching hours, with no compensation for preparation time and no access to benefits. Some have to apply for their jobs as often as three times a year. Many people work several jobs in order to make a living. (p. 26) Horsman and Woodrow also point out that the majority of ABE practitioners are women, and so, as discussed by Code (1991, 1995) and Luttrell (1996),32 their work is devalued as other “women’s work” is devalued. One of Horsman and Woodrow’s (2007) informants on this issue is Evelyn Battell. She says, You won’t find many men who will do this work because it doesn’t come with the pay, the security and the status. So it’s not surprising to me that it’s mostly women and the more women that are in [an occupation] the more it’s devalued. (Horsman & Woodrow, 2007, p. 30) As one more example of how the field, and particularly practitioner knowledge within the field, is de-valued, I will discuss two reports that were released in 2008: Learning Literacy in Canada: Evidence from the International Survey of Reading Skills (ISRS) (Grenier, et al., 2008), from Statistics Canada, and Reading the Future: Planning to meet Canada’s Future Literacy Needs (Murray, et al., 2008) from Canadian Council on Learning (CCL). Both are intended to build on the International Adult Literacy and Skills Survey (IALSS), “the leading indicator of how well adults use printed information 32 Discussed in Chapter 2. 86 to function in society” (Atkinson, 2008a). The two reports provide details and suggest program solutions to address the needs of adults who tested at the lowest IALLS levels (levels 1 and 2). In Chapter One, I quoted the CCL as saying that not much is known about adult learners. This is echoed in the introduction to the Statistics Canada/ISRS report which says: Ironically, little is known about the learning needs of Canadians with low literacy skills. National literacy surveys have identified the main characteristics of persons likely to have low skills, where they live, and how low skill influences their quality of life. (Grenier, et al, 2008, p.8) This was an omen that, yet again, practitioner knowledge would not be recognized or valued, and a Special Bulletin released by Literacies magazine (Atkinson, 2008a) made this point very clearly. The Bulletin reviewed the two reports and provided reactions from ABE/Literacy experts. Learning Literacy in Canada provides the results of six tests conducted to measure “reading-related component skills.” These tests required respondents to: identify images that corresponded to spoken words, quickly read a series of random letters, read a list of real words followed by a list of pseudo-words, to repeat, respond to and read simple sentences and short-answer questions, to repeat a series of digits in order and reverse order and to complete a spelling test. The Reading the Future report includes projections of adult literacy levels to 2031, descriptions of the “face” of low literacy, and suggestions for program and policy improvements. In the Bulletin, Tannis Atkinson (2008) notes that the reports “ignore documented research-based and practice-based evidence about how adults learn to read and how to address individual and systemic barriers to learning” (p. 3). Similarly, Richard Darville (2008) warns that, while the reports make some useful contributions, they “are partial, 87 and should be read with a recognition that knowledge and evidence gained in practice are crucial to balance and to assess the knowledge gained through surveys” (p. 7). Of particular concern is that both reports emphasized the investment required to solve the literacy problem. These could well lead policy-makers to decide that some learners, such as seniors and certain ESL groups, would be “too expensive” to support—putting social justice on the back burner. And these numbers make a fetish of level 3, assume it is the only thing that counts, and so divert attention from all the other gains in confidence and involvement that are often central in literacy learning. (Darville, 2008, p. 7) Assessment specialist Pat Campbell (2008) criticizes the ISRS tests because they neither reflect the reading definitions, theories or practices that most Canadian educators support, nor address the complex nature of reading. Campbell points out that the clinical test that requires “reading” syllables and pseudo-words does not actually test the participant's ability to read or make sense of print. She concludes her commentary with: Canadian educators bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to the adult literacy movement. A deep understanding of literacy requires praxis, a cyclical process that unifies theory and practice. Let’s continue to be guided by praxis, rather than statistics. (p. 3) These comments come from people I consider to be colleagues, based in publishing and the university. While I appreciate the praise they give to practitioners, I am saddened—but not surprised—that our experience is not more broadly recognized. In spite of all the problems, or in some cases because of them, RIP has blossomed in BC. In the rest of this chapter, I will discuss three factors that have contributed to that success: a strong field of practitioners, an established RIP support structure and successful products. 88 Start with a Strong Field No one ever grew up saying, “I want to be an ABE/Literacy instructor;” it doesn’t appear in most job classification systems. It is irregular, part-time and in many places simply doesn’t pay. So why are so many deeply attached to this profession? The biographical descriptions in the final chapter, “Who Are We?” (p. 173) show that many of our interviewees and all five of us practitionerresearchers fell into this particular work, but wouldn’t leave it for the world. (Battell, 2004, p. 80) This excerpt from Hardwired for Hope identifies something that many long-time practitioners share: they have come to ABE in a way that may not have followed traditional paths (such as teachers college)—they often come in“through the back door” (Mary, interview, December 16, 2004). This is more than just a colourful aspect of our profession. As Evelyn Battell points out, it has important historical roots: Historically ABE instructors do not come from teachers. The very early history of ABE was Frontier College and working teachers in mining camps. People—not necessarily teachers—would go into mining camps, mine all day and teach at night. In my very early years in the ABE system, we had a lot more people from fields other than teaching than there are now. There has been a slow movement towards including more people who used to be teachers. That was an important part of the historical growth of our field, and I always held on to that perspective. (Evelyn, interview, March 9, 2005) This is one of several ways they are different from their colleagues who teach in the K-12 system. In his study of students in teachers’ college, Taylor (2000) points to another difference: Drawing on Britzman (1991), he observes that teachers often need to suppress aspects of their identity when they take on the role of teacher. In contrast, the Hardwired for Hope team wrote about the necessity of being authentic when they teach, and of bringing their whole selves into the classroom (just as they work to teach the whole person). Here is an excerpt from an email Evelyn sent to Marina about this, and then an excerpt from the chapter she wrote about instructors’ beliefs and motivations: I started with what does a good instructor bring to the practice of 89 teaching? I'd like to explore the question of instructor authenticity in the classroom/or with students. I believe that one major thing that makes a good instructor is when that instructor is present as herself complete with her feelings and attitudes and choices. Good instructors do not choose material that irritates us, we raise issues of importance to us, we lead learners according to our own understanding of what matters in the politics, social, community, cultural, economic and race issues around them/us. We have lines that define what students may say to us and each other and they vary dramatically from classroom to classroom depending on our own comfort. Do you get the drift? Importantly good instructors admit when they are tired, impatient, bored, excited, discouraged, etc. We are respectful in our own understanding of what that means. If we are true to ourselves, authentic, we affect the power relation in the classroom. I don't want to try to prove this – I want to take it and go from there. (Evelyn, email to Marina, September 27, 2001) The connection with students seems to depend on honesty and authenticity. Instructors are people with lives, successes and failures, good days and bad days. Adult students pick up immediately if an instructor is present, involved, and paying attention to them, or only doing a job or playing a role. Students respond more if there is a real person teaching them than if they are being processed like so many numbers. (Battell, 2004, p. 85) The writers identify other characteristics and beliefs that the practitioners they interviewed had in common. First, they usually are open to learning, trying new things and taking on new tasks and responsibilities at work. For example, Sometimes instructors described how they grew to take on another role as they became more experienced in their institutions. Often they became leaders within their departments or with provincial committee work or in curriculum writing. All of the jobs carried with them a set of new skills needed for success. (Rose, 2004, p. 50) They also often have experience with and commitment to mentoring and team building—to support colleagues, to improve student referral and to contribute to organizations such as the Adult Basic Education Association of BC (ABEABC). According to Evelyn Battell, “This feeling of working with colleagues you trust and value has been one of the strong points, the benefits of ABE/Literacy work.” (Battell, 90 2004, p. 119). She also argues that effective instructors have a passion for their work, and a deep respect for the students they work with. As I participated in this research project and, later, read through the report, I was often struck by how their attitude towards learners conflicts with the Deficit Model of ABE, which seems to permeate a lot of education policy. Those who promote this model, according to Beder (1991, p. 138), argue that learners with limited literacy lack the skills they need to survive and move ahead in society. Their failure has led to a low selfconcept. We need to fix the deficit or the failure will be repeated. Critics (Carmack, 1992; Fingeret, 1983; Quigley, 1990) argue that this attitude leads to a patronizing, medicalized approach to teaching. Beder also points out that it perpetuates a myth: there are successful adults who did not finish high school and there is no conclusive evidence that the self-concept of ABE learners is lower than that of the general population. Also, many have dropped out of schools, not because of failure, but to escape an intolerable situation. According to Tett (2003), some of the costs associated with the deficit model are: it stresses the mechanical features of literacy; it associates learning with individual motivation; learners are seen as passive; it promotes the idea that there are only right and wrong answers; it perpetuates the assumption that knowledge is value-free; it promotes standardization: tests, pre-determined core skills and learning outcomes; and it results in a disempowering, non-negotiable learning experience. Carmack (1992) observes that The deficit model often fails to take into consideration the fact that undereducated women are responsible, capable and contributing members of their family and community; instead it defines learner objectives as they relate to the need to correct the student's deficit of knowledge in order to meet predetermined standards of performance. (p. 189) 91 Carmack’s view is more in line with that of the instructors who wrote the report, and those they interviewed. In the classroom, they are skilled at teaching holistically, creating safe spaces to learn and reflecting on their practice (Gesser & Sawyer, 2004). And, sadly but essentially, they are masters at the art of “working off the sides of their desks.” Leora Gesser writes: For the practitioner-researchers as well as for some of the interviewees, the work that is involved to set up connections in our communities happens off the side of our desks, yet we manage to juggle it all. (Gesser & Sawyer, 2004, p. 169) All of these characteristics, beliefs and skills contribute to their effectiveness as instructors—and, I would add, their effectiveness and openness to Research-in-Practice. Another thing that makes the field strong is the solid core of practitioners who have been in the field for a long time. Audrey Thomas, the former projects officer responsible for Adult Basic Education in the Ministry of Advance Education, says, One of the unique things about the literacy field in BC is the number of practitioners that have put in long years of service in the province and have got tremendous experience. And I think we are fairly unique in that in Canada because it is not too many provinces where literacy has primarily been housed in the post-secondary institutions.33 And I think when you’ve got people that have delivered 20-25 years of service in the institution there is a wealth of expertise and experience. And it has been good to see those people willing to put their experience into a kind of a research effort and to bring along people who have not had quite the same experience in the field. (Audrey, interview, February 28, 2005) And with all this experience, many of them are ready to try something new. This Jan Sawyer argues, is one of the things that led her to get involved in the Hardwired for Hope project. Throughout my work, I’ve gone for a couple of years and then I need something else to challenge what I am doing. And it was time again and it seemed like a 33 In addition to colleges, adult literacy and basic education programs are offered by school districts and community groups. 92 wonderful time to engage in something new that I hadn’t done before and an opportunity to work with some people who . . . I respected in the field. So why not? (Jan, interview, February 16, 2005) Paula Davies, another long-time practitioner describes similar motivations for participating in the RIP project, Dancing in the Dark. How do Adults with Little Formal Education Learn? How do Literacy Practitioners do Collaborative Research? (Niks, et al., 2003, described below): While I consider myself to be very happy in the classroom, I have also always sought work-related experiences outside the classroom. I have been involved in a variety of Adult Literacy Cost-Shared Program34 projects and I have found that this involvement enhances the energy and expertise that I bring back to the classroom. I felt this research project would do the same thing.(Niks, et al., 2003, p. 92) As I write this, I can imagine practitioners in other parts of the country saying, “Hey, what about me? I’ve worked in the field a long time. I’m committed. I’m a teamplayer and a risk-taker.” As someone who has worked in adult literacy in Toronto and South Africa, I can verify that there are a lot of very fine people who are wonderful educators and potentially wonderful Researchers in Practice. However, in BC, things came together so that this group of practitioners had the right combination of background, interest and opportunities to make Research in Practice take off. In the rest of this chapter, I will describe those opportunities and the resulting research projects. Earlier in this chapter, I said that most practitioners are women, and the comment was made that only women would want to do this work. But at the same time, my research and my own experience as a practitioner, shows that they are powerful, wonderful, interesting women, and totally committed to their work. Here Linda Wentzel, a practitioner in Nova Scotia, explains why she often works overtime or for no pay: 34 Federal-provincial cost-shared programs used to allow programs to apply for money for research and program development through the National Literacy Secretariat. 93 Literacy is my great love and my great addiction. Once you have this addiction it doesn’t let you go. I often compare myself to my father, who was a sailor, and the way he related to the sea—it’s either in your blood or it isn’t. Literacy is in mine. (Wentzel, 2007, p. 48) And some of the same things that attracted women like the Hardwired for Hope team to ABE/Literacy work, and encouraged them to stay for more than 20 years, eventually drew them into Research in Practice. The research participants reflect on this in Chapter Five. Support for RIP: People and Structures I thought, boy, something has happened in the field. People were really interested in research, they had lots of good ideas, they wanted to know the kind of thing they could do, they had ideas about mentorship and so on. (Audrey, interview, February 28, 2005) Here Audrey Thomas is describing what happened when she “put up a trial balloon” at a conference round table session to see if there was any interest in research. She had a long-standing interest in research and had been inspired by national events she had recently attended: a “policy conversation” sponsored by the National Literacy Secretariat in 1996 and a seminar introducing research and practice organized by Alberta literacy practitioner Mary Norton. Both events helped to shape Audrey’s thinking about possibilities in British Columbia. In her capacity as ABE/Literacy officer for the Ministry of Advanced Education, she went on to organize other seminars, which were also received favourably. Something was definitely happening in the field. At the same time, Mary Norton was organizing a collaborative research project in Alberta. When Mary and other practitioners in the group did a presentation in BC, there was a very positive reaction and it also helped to cement close bonds between practitioner-researchers in the two provinces. The Alberta group had completed a project 94 to explore participatory adult literacy, a partnership between The Learning Centre in Edmonton and the University of Alberta Faculty of Education, funded by the NLS. Mary Norton describes the project this way: The project had grown out of interest in the field in participatory practices and people saying, ‘What do you do at the learning centre and how do you do it?’ And of course it was also a project to get funding to keep programs going. In order to get NLS funding we were encouraged to do it more broadly than just our own centre, so it was a collaborative between the university and the learning centre. Grace Malicky taught the research part and I taught the participatory practices part. (Mary, interview, December 16, 2004) One feature of the project that has never been duplicated in BC is that all participants were able to take it as a credit course through the University of Alberta. Six of the practitioners completed research projects on their practice, and this resulted in the report, Learning about participatory approaches in adult literacy education. Six research in practice studies (Norton & Malicky, 2000). For Audrey Thomas, the time seemed to be ripe to launch a project to support research. She remembers, And I thought, well I can’t do research now the way I used to do, being in government, but maybe there is a role I can play in trying to nurture the field and develop a research base in literacy because if we don’t do that, where is our knowledge going to come from? All the community-based groups who receive grants for program delivery, we encourage them to use evaluation in a thoughtful way to try to improve their practice. So it seemed to me that the next step was, if people were doing it thoughtfully, there probably were questions that would emerge out of the evaluation that could become the nucleus of a little inquiry. (Audrey, interview, February 28, 2005) So in 1999, because all the provincial funds were going into program delivery, Audrey Thomas began submitting proposals to the National Literacy Secretariat.35 At 35 When the Hardwired for Hope project was taking place, the National Literacy Secretariat was the federal body charged with supporting projects, such as the Research Friend project and Hardwired for Hope, while the provincial Ministry of Advanced Education and Ministry of Education funded direct service. However, in 2006, the National Literacy Secretariat was disbanded and support for innovative projects gave way to 95 first, she contracted Allison Tom, (a professor in the Department of Educational Studies at UBC with experience in literacy research) to provide support to practitioners, and Allison soon passed this work on to Marina Niks, who became the “Research Friend” to many BC practitioner-researchers. Marina remembers when the term “Research Friend” came into use, at a workshop she co-facilitated at Literacy BC’s Summer Institute in 1999: When we finished one of the two sessions that we did, we said well, we are available for help, and Suzanne Hale said—I remember it as if it was today— “What we need is a research queen.” And everyone pointed to Allison [Tom]. And Allison said, “Well I’m too busy, I cannot take this now, but I can give you the research princess.” I said, “I’m no princess.” So it was probably Suzanne Hale who suggested that “friend” was a good word. (Marina, interview, August 18, 2005) And so, the Research Friend was open for business. Marina’s work consisted of three things: providing workshops to interested practitioners (Audrey estimated that they occurred twice a year), providing support on the Hub (Literacy BC’s electronic conferencing system for practitioners across the province) and providing support to individual research projects. According to Marina, the online work was most difficult of the three, because it made her feel “very vulnerable”: I didn’t know who was reading it, I didn’t know who the audience was. And people wouldn’t respond as much. It was mostly them asking us questions. We wanted to generate more of a dialogue, and that wasn’t necessarily happening. (Marina, interview, August 18, 2005) But it got easier as she got to know who was “out there,” and as some practitioners gave her some guidance along the way: preference to training linked to essential skills. Also, national support for a lot of literacy networking and professional development came to an end. 96 Michelle Wiens was the literacy coordinator in Fort St Johns. And she said, “ I need something shorter, I need larger fonts, I love the bolds, using bold to highlight what the thing is about. Give space between paragraphs.” We’re in academia, and all that matters is THE TEXT! [emphasis in original] (laughs). So I was learning as I was doing it—fascinating! (Marina, interview, August 18, 2005) However, the fact that a provincial government body was applying to the federal government for funds was viewed by some as a conflict of interest and also criticised because the government was competing with community and college-based projects. Marina heard from the critics: I know that some people complained about it, not formally to the National Literacy Secretariat or anyone, but truly it was the government using some of the funds. I think that Audrey had some funds set aside for a different phase, but over the years what happened is that we would put together a proposal just as any other cost-shared proposal, but truly it was the government applying to itself. So I know that it was iffy. I’d like to think that it wasn’t questioned because it was a good project and people thought the money was well used. (Marina, interview, August 18, 2005) In addition to the problem of research grant applications competing with program grants, there was some concern about the amount of control that was attached to the grants. Evelyn Battell comments: If you wanted Audrey’s money you got Marina. And that was fine, Marina’s a wonderful person, but it’s not like you had a choice about how to go about your research. How you went about your research was in consultation with Marina. I think Audrey made a really good choice—Marina is excellent and has had a positive effect with her work, but right from the beginning we knew, you dance through hoops to get money. This was an old familiar story, we will continue to do it. (Evelyn, interview, March 9, 2005) The Research Friend project led to the establishment of RIPAL-BC (Research in Practice in Adult Literacy-British Columbia). This group came out of the organizing committee for a pre-conference on Adult Literacy which was part of the “Portraits of Literacy” conference at UBC in 2002. After some time working informally, RIPAL-BC applied for and received funds that allowed it to formalize its structure and initiate or 97 support a number of Research in Practice projects, in addition to mentoring individual practitioner-researchers. The pre-conference in 2002 was the second in a series of national gatherings of practitioners and academics with an interest in Research in Practice. The first one was in Edmonton in 2001. Sixty people attended, from Canada, the UK, Australia and USA. There were workshops, inquiry groups and discussions about Research in Practice. This meeting really set the tone for others in terms of exploring alternative ways of doing research and collaboration across sectors. Mary Norton organized this event, and she remembers: For me it was just really important to have something in the university but do it differently. I’m optimistic I guess, but I think just because it’s that way, it doesn’t have to be that way. We had a round room, and that was really symbolic. (Mary, interview, December 16, 2004) The Edmonton Gathering is also significant because it was where the idea that became Hardwired for Hope was first discussed. I describe the beginnings of this project in Chapter Six. Those of us who attended the third national event, in St John’s Newfoundland in 2003, left with the feeling that something new and exciting was happening in the RIP movement—and we were proud to be part of it. It was a time of intense learning and exchange, with an ongoing institute on different topics related to adult literacy research happening every morning and different workshops and seminars each afternoon. There was bridge-building between academics and practitioners and mentoring of new practitioners. Many of the presentations at the event were made by people from BC, including the Hardwired for Hope team, so it was also a time for us to promote the good 98 work in our province. And finally, most exciting for us westerners, it was infused with Newfoundlanders’ wonderful spirit and culture—lots of dancing and singing! These events are significant because they give practitioners a sense of an RIP movement and provide opportunities for them to share ideas face-to-face. Horsman and Woodrow (2007) found that this is by far the preferred way for practitioners to gain knowledge. The events have also allowed us to make links with colleagues further afield—mainly in the US, the UK and Australia. We have particularly close links with colleagues in the UK, whose Research and Practice in Adult Literacy (RaPAL) Network was established in 1985 (Jackson, 2004; Quigley & Norton, 2002). In addition to promoting research linked to practice, it supports collaborative research among different players in different settings, campaigns for the rights of adult learners and critiques policy that is “based on simplistic notions of literacy as skill” (Quigley & Norton, 2002, p. 17). RAPAL was founded by scholars who work within the “New Literacy Studies” (NLS) tradition (Barton, et al., 2000; Street, 1984, 2001; Tett, 2003). NLS theorists describe literacies as practices embedded within social institutions. Central to this is what Street (1984) calls the “autonomous” and “ideological” view of literacy. The former, traditional view, describes literacy as a skill you either have or do not have, separate and autonomous from any context. Adherents to this view focus on what literacy can do for the person who has it. For example, Elda Lyster (1992) describes how this view has influenced the promotion of literacy programs in developing countries. She documents the numerous claims made about what literacy can achieve, including: giving the voiceless a voice, cementing socialism, changing thought processes, accelerating economic development, narrowing the gap between rich and poor and improving morals. 99 In contrast, the ideological view sees literacy as a social construct. Scholars who subscribe to this view do careful studies on what people do with literacy. Scribner and Cole describe literacy as “not simply knowing how to read and write a particular script but applying this knowledge for specific purposes in specific contexts of use” (Scribner & Cole, 1981, p. 236). RAPAL has been very influential in the Canadian RIP movement: Their members have been invited guests at our RIP conferences (as described in Jackson, 2004; Norton & Woodrow, 2002) and contributors to our publications. In addition, BC practitioners have presented at a number of RAPAL conferences. There are clear signs that our research has been influenced by the NLS approach, although this is not stated in our promotional material and NLS scholars are seldom referred to in the practitioners’ research reports. But Mary Hamilton and David Barton (2000) describe NLS as an approach that starts by looking at local experience and studying different literacy practices within different domains. They argue that “literacy only has meaning within its particular context of social practice and does not transfer un-problematically across contexts” (p. 379). A study of the RIP reports that were created between the mid 90’s and the present will show that this is indeed the approach that most, if not all, BC practitioners have taken to their research, so it is no surprise that we have found friends at RAPAL. However, this preference could expose the RIP movement to criticism, from both the academia and the field. For example, a practitioner from the Interior of BC once told me that she does not feel welcome in the RIP movement, because her research interests fell into the positivist, quantitative realm, and she felt this was “not allowed” in RIPAL. 100 While this is not the intent of our professional development activities, it is indeed the result: the vast majority of practitioners attracted to RIP are interested in small, qualitative studies. The 2003 gathering has not been repeated, in spite of good intentions and a few funding proposals. There is no appetite, in this conservative time, for such expensive (and subsidized) learning and networking. In the spring of 2008, funding for RIPAL-BC came to an end and we closed the project with a spirited, informative gathering where we celebrated all our accomplishments and projects. In the next section, I will describe some of those projects. The Projects and the Reports The term “Research in Practice” has only been familiar in BC since the late 90’s, and as noted above became a recognized term when Mary Norton and Jenny Horsman wrote A Framework to Encourage and Support Practitioner Involvement in Adult Literacy Research in Practice in Canada (Horsman & Norton, 1999). However, a scan of adult literacy research reports shows that practitioners have been doing research that is grounded in their practice, with or without academically-trained research mentors. They have done research to assess needs (often as part of a start-up grant for a new program), to evaluate programs as part of a report to funders and in many cases, to complete graduate degrees. All of the participants in my research had done some sort of research before they joined the project. My search for examples of research done by practitioners before Research in Practice structures were in place revealed at least 27 reports, falling into three “typical” categories. The first one is research to examine a particular aspect of their practice. In 101 Phonological awareness and adult beginning readers (1995), Joyce Cameron draws on her long experience in the ABE field to examine the relationship between phonological awareness and the reading level, decoding strategies, and progress of adult literacy learners. Another thing to note about this project is that Joyce conducted it as part of her graduate work. So although she was technically “located” in the university (under university supervision and to complete a university requirement) she chose to look at a question that was grounded in her day-to-day practice. The second type of research is needs assessment. There are many examples of this, including large scale ones such as Native Literacy Research Report (Rodriguez & Sawyer, 1990) which surveyed “56 potential literacy learners from 8 geographically and culturally representative communities” (p. 81), and shed light on their perceptions of the purposes and value of literacy, past barriers to learning to read and write, and preferred ways of learning and current barriers to participation. More localized studies focussed on one organization or community, such as Sarah Evans’ (1998) study of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside residents who use the Carnegie Centre. This study is particularly significant to me because some of my current work is at Carnegie. I can see how the needs assessment— and recommendations such as "the learning centre staff needs to see the entire building as their classroom”—has influenced our work today. A third type of research that practitioners do is evaluation. Again, drawing from many examples, I will choose one: It guided me back to learning: A longitudinal research study on calls to the Literacy BC helpline (Middleton & Bancroft Planning and Research Associates, 1999). I have chosen it because the principle researcher was Literacy BC staff member, Sandy Middleton. After she conducted this, her first, RIP 102 project, she went on to conduct another one with learners from across BC, looking at learner leadership (Braathen, et al., 2001). She then became an active member of RIPAL-BC and has initiated and supported several provincial and national RIP projects. One national project that helped to lay the ground for RIP was the curriculum document Making Connections: Literacy and EAL Curriculum from a Feminist Perspective (Canadian Congress for Learning Opportunities for Women, 1996). It was a collaborative project produced by ABE and ESL teachers from across Canada, each one of which wrote a chapter with curriculum ideas. The collaborative nature of this project, combined with the role practitioners played in research meant it provided good preparation for those who would participate in RIP later on. Since the Research Friend project began, 17 research projects have been supported through to publication. Of the ones that came out before Hardwired for Hope, I will describe three that have been particularly influential to the group, the field and my own practice. Naming the Magic: Non-academic outcomes in basic literacy was the project that Evelyn Battell (2001) worked on before she started Hardwired for Hope. She worked with a team of ABE instructors to develop, refine and field-test six techniques for documenting non-academic outcomes. In addition to describing the techniques and how they came about, the report plays an advocacy role in that it makes a strong case for paying more attention to these outcomes, being transparent and building safety and respect into our teaching. One of the recommendations that came out of this report is that more extensive work needs to be done to build a case for Non-Academic Outcomes (NAOs) being a raison-d’être for literacy instruction (p. v). 103 In Literacy for Women on the Street, Lucy Alderson and Diana Twiss (2003) document their efforts to conduct participatory research with one other educator and women at the WISH Drop-in Society, which works with survival sex trade workers.36 In the process of finding answers to their research question (“How can literacy activities empower and stabilize the lives of women in the sex trade?”), they debunk three myths about sex trade workers (see page 53-54) and learn a lot about how to conduct research and measure success with a group of women whose lives are in constant flux. An important aspect of this study was that, while intending to conduct a participatory research project, they ended up settling for “participatory instances”: Although the project did not follow the rigorous definition of participatory action research, we were able to achieve many participatory instances in the research process. We also learned a great deal in our efforts to do collaborative inquiry and analysis with women in transience, addiction, poverty and homelessness (p. 15). Another important finding was that, in an environment that is constantly changing, alternative measures of “progress” had to be found. These included: staying focussed, functioning in groups, regular attendance, participating in collective structures, etc. (p. 52). Like Evelyn Battell’s study, this research recognized the importance of nonacademic outcomes. These projects are important to this study because two members of the Hardwired for Hope team were involved in producing them (Evelyn Battell and Diana Twiss) but they have also had a lot of influence in the field. For example, at a 2008 training session a practitioner from Salmon Arm described how she uses a tool from Naming the Magic as 36 A survival sex worker is defined as “Anyone who can’t exercise their right to refuse performing sexual acts for food, shelter, drugs, money or other survival necessities” (Living in Community Project, 2006, p. 36). 104 part of her regular student intake process, and the report also inspired another RIP project: From the Ground Up: A Research-in-Practice Approach to Outcome-Oriented Program Evaluation (RIPAL-BC, 2007) has assisted practitioners to develop assessment tools to measure non-academic outcomes, and WISH was one of the research sites for the project. Improvements… no less than Heroic: Harm reduction and learning in Vancouver’s downtown eastside (Alkenbrack, 2007) builds on Alderson and Twiss’ work to look at harm reduction more broadly using WISH and another Downtown Eastside centre as research sites, and re-visits the importance of non-academic outcomes along the way. Dancing in the Dark: How do Adults with little formal education learn? How do literacy practitioners do collaborative research? (Niks, et al., 2003) is about a collaborative project which addresses two research questions: In the first, “How do adults with little formal education learn?” the researchers look at learning strategies used by people who did not complete grade 12. In the second, "How do literacy practitioners do collaborative research?" the researchers look at how four literacy practitioners, with no formal education in research, carry out a collaborative literacy research project. The project was influential to the researchers who produced Hardwired for Hope for at least two reasons: It was the first provincial collaborative research project in which all practitioners worked on an equal basis as researchers, and, as described in Chapter One, it takes the revolutionary stand of not writing a literature review—and documenting their reasons in the chapter, “The Literature Review We Didn’t Do.” I will discuss their arguments and the implications for the stand they took in Chapter Five. 105 The role of the Research Friend was different in each of these projects. In Naming the Magic, Marina worked closely with the principal researcher to plan the research, then analyze and write up the data. In Dancing in the Dark, she was the overall coordinator of the project as well as the writer for one section. Each team member wrote one section of the report, but the whole group worked on the analysis together. According to Marina, the group “pushed each other to go deeper in our analysis” but it was a “cumbersome, lengthy” process (Research Team minutes October 22, 2007). In Literacy for Women on the Street, Marina helped the team with analysis and writing at the end of the research. When Hardwired for Hope was in its final year, Marina applied for and received funding to facilitate a new project to support practitioners to carry out small, individual research projects in their workplace and support each other through regular group meetings and email contact. It was called RIPP—Research in Practice Projects. In planning this project, Marina was influenced by a similar set of projects organized by Mary Norton in Alberta (Holt Begg, 2002; Park, 2002; Pheasey, 2002; Steeves, 2002; Still, 2002) and was structured partly to avoid some of the pitfalls that the HFH team encountered. Marina explains, I thought these [previous research projects] are huge projects. They are very expensive, there are too many people, there are very many complications about the collaboration too. I wanted to see smaller projects too. (Marina, interview, August 18, 2005) Unlike the HFH project, RIPP practitioner-researchers were paid lump sums that compensated for the time spent on research, but did not pay them an hourly wage. This was easier to raise funds for, but perhaps not as fair to the practitioners. Secondly, because practitioners were doing their own writing and analysis, they did not have the challenges the HFH team had in collaborative writing and analysis (described in Chapter 106 Six). A third challenge Marina identified was the difficulty practitioners had with writing proposals for research projects.37 The RIPP structure supported them to do this: So what if we ease that process for them, by having the money and then the proposal-writing process would be very supported, it would be part of the project, in the sense of me being paid to support that. They would apply internally to a sub-committee, and they would get the support from each other. So it was similar to what Mary Norton had done, but without the course aspect to it. (Marina, interview, August 18, 2005) For RIPP, Marina was the coordinator and the Research Friend. Over a three-year project, the five practitioners met face-to-face and online to support each other on their research journeys. But the actual research—from proposal to final report—was done individually. Dee McRae, a RIPP practitioner-researcher, writes, My fellow research practitioners in RiPP have offered unending support, empathy, feedback and understanding during the learning journey that is this project. I think I learned as much from their projects as from my own. I had clarity when I looked at their work, and only messiness when I looked at mine. As fellow travelers we banded together and created a space for our individual projects and the RiPP project amidst our swirling lives. (McRae, 2006, p. 10) The result is five separate reports, all set in the practitioner-researchers educational locations. The topics were teaching and supporting students to be selfreflective learners (Beebe, 2005), supporting marginalized youth to make changes in their community (Sondergaard, 2006), using students’ personal narratives in the teaching process (Davies, 2006), practitioners conducting reflection-on-action (Docherty, 2006), and learners conducting research on agencies in their community (McRae, 2006). In the last example, the practitioner was, like me, “researching the researchers.” The last two projects I will describe were ones I was directly involved in. From the Ground Up: A Research-in-Practice Approach to Outcome-Oriented Program 37 See Chapters 6 and 7 for a discussion of how this played out in the Hardwired for Hope project, and a discussion of possible alternatives to formal written reports in Chapter 8. 107 Evaluation (RIPAL-BC, 2007) was a collection of five tools developed by groups in eight communities across BC. The tools were developed to measure things that made sense in the different communities: learning in a group setting, progress adults make with their individual goals, community partnership development, reflective practice and volunteer tutor progress. The process used to develop them was similar to the RIPP process: All practitioners met for initial training in outcomes-based monitoring and then three times after that to share our progress. But we developed the tools in our communities. An additional dimension was that field-testing took place with practitioners around the province, consulting online throughout. The RIPAL role was to initiate and guide the project and to give feedback to each research team. Finally, Improvements. . . no less than heroic: The Links Between Harm Reduction and Learning (Alkenbrack, 2007), was built on Capilano College’s experience working in the Downtown Eastside and our developing understanding of Harm Reduction. We received helpful editorial feedback from RIPAL-BC through Marina Niks and Suzanne Smythe. However, it wasn’t until I began to write up the report that I made an explicit connection to Research in Practice. I wrote: This [RIP] approach to doing research seems particularly fitting for the topic of Harm Reduction. Both RIP and Harm Reduction challenge traditional ways of working and ways of knowing—and whose knowledge matters. Both are, fundamentally, about respecting people on the ground: valuing their expertise and validating knowledge that is learned through experience and practice. (p. 9) The reports reviewed in this section deal with different topics related to adult literacy practice and used a variety of traditional and non-traditional research methods. Most used interviewing, but they also incorporated some more unusual approaches which are worth mentioning: participatory action research (Alderson & Twiss, 2003; McRae, 108 2006), narrative (Davies, 2006), using email for interviews and research journals (Docherty, McRae, 2006), journals (Alderson & Twiss, 2003; Alkenbrack, 2007) and piloting and field-testing (Alderson & Alkenbrack, 2007; Battell, 2001; Davies, 2006) Practitioners also record some interesting challenges and issues related to RIP: engaging learners in research (Alderson & Twiss, 2003; McRae, 2006), collaborating in research projects (Niks, et al., 2003), finding time to do the research and “working off the side of your desk” (Niks et al., 2003 and the RIPP reports), and what seems to be a universal problem—writing up the research. Battell describes it as a lack experience with reporting and reflecting on experience and blames the problem on the fact that we do not have a culture of sharing our instruction. In the general introduction to all the RIPP reports, Marina Niks describes it as “an almost insurmountable hurdle that was hard to make space for in busy professional and personal lives” (Beebe, 2005; Davies, 2006; Docherty, 2006; McRae, 2006; Sondergaard, 2006: Preface). Another common issue is that many practitioners have trouble seeing themselves as researchers. Battell points out that teachers’ knowledge and the contribution they can make is often under-rated and unrecognized, including by the teacher herself.38 Some practitioner-researchers, like Melanie Sondergaard (2006) found it difficult to “untangle” the roles of teacher and researcher. She writes: Writing this report has been a challenge for me, with having to probe and analyze my own practice and weigh my own risks while choosing words to describe my learning in a respectful way. It has felt vulnerable at times. (p. 26) Although they are different, these reports have one thing in common: they are out there, on paper and on the web, being read by practitioners and academics around the 38 I discuss “self-recognition” in Chapter 7, below. 109 world, and as such, they are both evidence of, and inspiration for, the development of RIP in BC and elsewhere. In addition, engaging in these projects has helped practitioners to look at their practice in a new way. As Anne Docherty says, I have been pushed to explore my practice and my beliefs and approaches to practice beyond that of reflection. I have come to realize that the rigour demanded of research challenges me to change the lens in how I look at my practice. . . . Without this research, my activities and use of tools would have given me only experience. I believe by having to write this report I am creating knowledge rather than only experience. This is a key element in practitioner research. (Docherty, 2006, p. 15) Concluding Comments It is about a legacy, it is about articulation of some ideas, conceptualizing some of the things that they do and why they do it. So it’s almost maturity for the field. And also, I think it has created a space for people who think about literacy in a particular way to come together, to re-connect. (Marina, interview, August 18, 2005) There are many ways RIP has been beneficial to practitioners and to the field as a whole. I will try to articulate some of them, with guidance from the HFH team and practitioner-researchers who have been involved in other projects. As Marina says in the quote above, practitioners are often drawn to RIP by the opportunity to work with others, to make connections with like-minded colleagues from different programs and regions. This would not be possible without the logistical and technological resources that provincial networks or research grants can provide. RIP also provides a challenge and a new adventure for those who may be looking for something new. Horsman and Woodrow (2007) say that it “decreases burn out and may lessen staff turnover” (p. 105). At first I wondered how this could be, given the amount of extra work that is often required. But again, Marina provided some perspective when she reflected on her experience working 110 with the RIPP group. She told me about a practitioner-researcher whose children had recently left home and was looking for a new challenge: [S]he came to the workshop the first time and she said, “I’m 50 now, my younger kids are finishing high school next year, they’re going to university, I want to start planning my next stage in life.” So I think there is something about that too, as well as for many of them, they’ve been teaching for so many years, and it’s nice to see that they see this as an option or a way of staying in the field, but with a different goal. (Marina, interview, August 18, 2005) As I will show in Chapter Five, HFH team members had similar experiences. They used phrases like “jumping at the chance” and “new opportunity.” Also, Jan and Leora, who both come from smaller communities, talked about how much they valued the reduced isolation. There was also significant learning for most of the team members. For example, Jan said, “I felt that I was getting some higher learning as well and for me that was important. I mean it was a growth process” (Jan, interview, February 16, 2005). Diana found it valuable because it “pushed her thinking” in significant ways (Diana, interview, December 17, 2004). Also, it gave them a chance to reflect on their practice from a distance. There was geographical distance, because they left their programs to come to team meetings, distance in time because they were looking back over twenty to thirty years of practice, and the kind of distance that research can provide—where they look at their practice through a new lens. Practitioners also said that, in spite of the criticisms they had to face,39 they felt recognized and respected as a thinkers and knowers––because they were doing research. RIP also benefits the field as a whole. As discussed in this chapter, it provides a documented record of issues, teaching approaches and ideas that other practitioners can 39 Discussed in Chapter 7. 111 use to improve their practice.40 Also, it was important to the team that the research would benefit learners directly. Judy argues that RIP has provided a vehicle for advancing an important issue that affects how colleges serve ABE learners: With the colleges now having block funding, it looks to me as if one of the things that some colleges would like to do is just push their ABE programs out completely. And so if there is research and that research is celebrating what ABE accomplishes, then it means that places that were thinking of getting rid of it can’t. And that’s a huge thing. Because our people are not, we are not going to have our students go on and become academically-successful people, necessarily. . . . I think they are the people who most of all need more support, most of all need the help. And their complexity just makes it more interesting. And so when you force people to see it, then you force people to pay attention to that complexity and to maybe start to address it. (Judy, interview, December 17, 2004) In this sense, RIP is a political act, because it is a way, not just to improve practice, but to make a difference in BC and across Canada. In this chapter, I have discussed why I think the RIP movement has been successful in BC. In spite of difficulties in the field and in the working lives of practitioners, it has survived and thrived for three reasons: First, the practitioners are strong, committed, experienced and enthusiastic about RIP. Secondly, support structures were set up to encourage and work with practitioner-researchers. Finally, a body of work has been developed which is publicly available, is a satisfaction to the practitionerresearchers who created it and an inspiration to those who might like to follow in their footsteps. As a final offering, I present a time-line showing how the events and projects discussed in this chapter fit together chronologically (see Table 4.1, below) Throughout the chapter, I have mentioned some of the practitioners who were involved in my research and who worked together to produce Hardwired for Hope. In the 40 How HFH was shared and responses from the field will be discussed in Chapter 7. 112 next chapter, I will introduce each of them to you before I go on, in Chapter Five, to describe how they worked together. Table 4.1: RIP Timeline Years 1985 1999 Events and Reports - 1990-98 19962000 1998 RIP Networks Around the World - RAPAL Network and Bulletin (UK) - Virginia Adult Literacy Research Network - Action Research network in Pennsylvania - ALNARC- The Adult Literacy and Numeracy Australian Research Consortium Practitioners doing RIP on their own - Native Literacy Research Report (Rodriguez & Sawyer, 1990) - Phonological awareness and adult beginning readers (Cameron, 1995) - Making Connections: Literacy and EAL Curriculum from a Feminist Perspective Canadian (CCLOW, 1996) - Carnegie Literacy Needs Assessment (Evans, 1998) - It guided me back to learning. . . . (Middleton & Bancroft Planning and Research Associates, 1999) RIP seeds planted in Canada - Making Connections: Literacy and EAL Curriculum from a Feminist Perspective. (CCLOW, 1996) - Policy Conversations and Seminars in Ottawa and Edmonton - A Framework to Encourage and Support Practitioner Involvement in Adult Literacy Research in Practice in Canada (Horsman and Norton, 1999) - Learning about participatory approaches in adult literacy education. Six research in practice studies (Norton & Malicky, 2000) - Research in Practice in Adult Literacy (RiPAL) Network established in Alberta … and germinate in BC Audrey Thomas and the Minister of Advanced Education sponsor 2 RIP seminars 1999 The Research Friend opens for business - 2000-01 Workshops twice a year and support to practitioner-researchers. Projects supported by the Research Friend - Literacy-Based Supports for Young Adults with FAS/FAE (Raymond & Belanger, 2000); - Literacy in isolation (Wiens, 2000); 113 Years Events and Reports 2000-01 - Naming the Magic (Battell, 2001); - Making Connections (Braathen, et al., 2001) 2000-01 The beginning and end of the Literacy Research Circles 2001-02 2 National RIP Gatherings - The Edmonton Gathering (2001) - The Vancouver Pre-conference (2002) 2002 RIPAL-BC established 2003 3rd National RIP Gathering - 2002-08 2008 The St John’s Institute RIP blossoms in BC - From Incarceration to Inclusion (Hobley, 2002) - Dancing in the Dark (Niks, et al., 2003) - Literacy for Women on the Street (Alderson & Twiss, 2003) - Hardwired for Hope (2004) - Research in Practice Projects (RIPP) (2006) - From the Ground Up (RIPAL, 2007) - Improvements . . . no less than Heroic (Alkenbrack, 2007) So What? Closing conference for RIPAL-BC: But the spirit lives on! - A Traveller’s Guide to Research in Practice, 2nd Ed (Norton, 2008) - Moving research about addressing the impacts of violence on learning into practice (Battell, et al, 2008) 114 CHAPTER FIVE: THE HARDWIRED FOR HOPE TEAM I am a kind of product of my time. There were opportunities and limitations that have constructed my life as it is, and that is going to be a part of my story, just because of the life I’ve lived and how my teaching has meandered from this point to that point. (Judy, Research Team Meeting, October 23, 2002) Judy Rose made this comment at one of the fist research team meetings, when the group was doing autobiographical writing as a first step in their research. They were beginning to construct the story of their lives and their experiences as ABE instructors. In this chapter, I will draw on that same writing and other data sources to describe the seven women who worked on the Hardwired for Hope project: the five women who took on the research project and the two women who travelled with them as Research Friends. I conclude the chapter with a description of the third Research Friend—myself. The Practitioner-Researchers: Rich Descriptions in a Poor Field? In previous chapters I have described research reports that highlight the deprived nature of the adult literacy field (for example, Horsman & Woodrow, 2007), and this aspect of BC literacy work definitely came up in research team discussions and the report they produced. A lot of discussions were about poverty: the poverty of their students, the poverty of resources and the poverty of imagination and sensitivity on the part of policy-makers. But they also talked about lives and work that has been rich in creativity, professionalism and relationships. And by writing “rich descriptions” (Toma, 2000; Zeichner & Noffke, 2001) of each woman, I hope to portray some of that wealth, while at the same time looking critically at the problems and struggles they have faced over the years. 115 In the early stages of the research process, each team member wrote autobiographical pieces and journals, excerpts of which have been published in the final report. I have drawn on this published and unpublished material, as well as their emails, minutes and tapes from their research team meetings, the interviews I conducted with each of them and my journal reflections to provide each research participant’s story. I have decided to write very detailed descriptions for two reasons: The first relates to my understanding of feminist ethnographic research. According to Reinharz (1992), feminist ethnography commonly has three goals—all of which seem to be congruent with rich descriptions: 1) to document the lives and activities of women, 2) to understand the experience of women from their own point of view, and 3) to “conceptualize women's behaviour as an expression of social contexts” (p. 51). My second reason for going into such detail is that I want to honour the women who worked on this project and do that, as much as possible, in their own words. The report Hardwired for Hope documents the characteristics, beliefs and motivations and the styles, strategies and skills of effective ABE/Literacy instructors. In some ways, the descriptions in this chapter parallel that report. As they did, I will describe the research participants’ characteristics, beliefs and skills as teachers and leaders in the field of Adult Basic Education and Literacy. What is missing in these chapters, but very present in their autobiographical writing, journals and interviews are their descriptions of the rich and interesting lives they have lived outside the classroom, as daughters, sisters, mothers, partners and community members—their lives before and outside of ABE. Some of this will be included in each description. The research participants also comment on their experience in the project and the role they took 116 within the team. I will touch on this here, and deal with it much more detail later, when I describe the nature of practitioner research. Evelyn Battell I started being someone when I was eight years old and I am still constructing that person. And that person is an ABE instructor. It’s real clear to me that many pieces led to my being an ABE instructor, and that’s what I’m going to be when I die. . . . It’s real clear where this awareness and that awareness comes from, all of which I use every day in the classroom. (Evelyn, Research Team Meeting, October 22, 2002) This comment made at a team meeting shows the passion and clear thinking that Evelyn Battell brought to the Hardwired for Hope project. I will start this chapter with Evelyn because the research project started with her—she was the one who first conceived of the idea, pulled the team together and did most of the coordination work that lead to what many consider to be a ground-breaking report. And a survey of the literacy work that has taken place in BC and Canada over the past 30 years will show that a lot of ground-breaking projects have been initiated or touched by Evelyn Battell. The central core of all her work, whether it was on the streets, in the classroom or in her community, is social justice, and Evelyn learned about this at a very early age, with her sister Jeanie. Although she was bright and capable, Jeanie lived in a wheelchair and was unable to care for herself, and Evelyn was her constant companion and source of locomotion. In Hardwired for Hope, Evelyn writes: Finding out how and when the world was prepared to accommodate Jeanie, how and when she was taken seriously in spite of being in a wheelchair ,shaped all my early years. We encountered discrimination in terms of physical access, patronizing attitudes that assumed she was mentally handicapped as well, financial restraints because her condition and the necessary accommodations were costly, and distorted tales of what was possible and available for “everyone.” I learned very early to distrust the media and government claims. Soon I knew that 117 our society wasn’t “fair” around all kinds of people, not just the physically handicapped. (Battell, et al., 2004, p. 174) Aside from her description of life with Jeanie, Evelyn does not write about her early life, and was quite surprised by teammates who wrote in detail about their childhood and families. She felt they didn’t explain how it was relevant to their roles as effective instructors (which she understood was the point of writing the autobiographical pieces). What Evelyn does write about, incredibly eloquently, is her work and her politics. Before she worked in ABE, she did street work in Edmonton for many years with the United Church of Canada, first with women and then with children, and like Jeanie, these people showed her “how the world looks for them.” She writes, I started to learn respect for those who make a life out of nothing but hardship and continue to come up for air after being knocked down again and again. I started to learn that each person constructs themself as somebody—they may not be somebody to anyone else but they are somebody to themselves.(Battell, et al., 2004, p. 174) After teaching for a year in Alberta, she came to BC and worked in literacy and ABE classrooms for 27 years. She taught math, English, science and computers on reserves, in prisons and in classrooms, including at Vancouver Community College and Malaspina College. She designed new courses, worked on government-sponsored projects and was an early member of the Adult Basic Education Association of BC, where she worked on the newsletter, Groundwork, with fellow Hardwired for Hope researcher, Rose. She also worked on the provincial Literacy Materials Bulletin and participated in several research projects including Discovering the Strength of Our Voices: Women and Literacy Programs and Naming the Magic: Non-Academic Outcomes 118 in Basic Literacy, as well as a report on ABE and First Nations Students, which surveyed First Nations-oriented programs throughout BC 1991. Unlike many other instructors, who she says “have never known anything outside BC” (Evelyn, interview, March 9, 2005), she always saw the field developing in the national context, and has participated in a number of national projects. My first encounter with Evelyn was when I read the book Making Connections: Literacy and EAL Curriculum from a Feminist Perspective (Canadian Congress for Learning Opportunities for Women, 1996). I first saw this book when I was working in South Africa, where politics and literacy were so intertwined, and was excited to read curriculum materials from Canada that did this too. And according to Evelyn, it was an exciting project to work on. Her work with the Canadian Congress for Learning Opportunities for Women involved writing, research and conferences, which, she writes, “sparked and transformed the way I did my classroom work. I grew into political maturity in that I combined my politics and classroom work more than ever before and with more confidence” (Battell, et al., 2004, p. 175). Evelyn’s politics shine through all her writing. Her critique of certain “taken for granted” literacy “norms” continues to influence me as a literacy practitioner. I have already shared her views on voluntarism (see Chapter Four). In these excerpts taken from her autobiographical pieces, “The ABEABC Years,” she writes about two other issues: On group work: I deeply believe in group work wherever possible. . . . The majority of students find real power, not to mention pleasure, in finding they are not alone, they have situations, problems and learning challenges just like others. They can also learn from each other and become politicized by each other. (politicized = begin to see things as located in the culture/society/ community, not just in them, but begin to see in more specifics how this might work and how they might work to change things) 119 On being community-based: We are a community based campus. We are in a small town, what changes go on in the town are immediately reflected in our program offerings. As we get more students kicked off welfare, we up our efforts to provide food and clothes through the college. As job openings appear in forest management, we review our prerequisites for the math and science course this new crop of students will have to have to enter Resource Management Officer Training. When we need to offer Home support Resident Care Aid to a group of long time workers in the field who don’t have a credential, we devise a work up course and an altered assessment to get them into the course they need. Then we offer alternate methods of delivery to meet their learning styles. These kind of adjustments go on daily in our ABE/literacy classes. It is a matter of attitude, not the size or resources of the offering agency that makes something communitybased. Along with her political perspective comes clear criticism of individuals and institutions that stand in the way of social justice. Like others on the team, she is particularly critical of systems and instructors that don’t do their best for students. And along with the political battles is an ongoing battle to stay healthy. Throughout the project and beyond, Evelyn was in constant pain due to arthritis and/or dealing with heavy medication. In a message to an online discussion about Violence and Learning she wrote: Women and First Nations folks have always been huge foci for me. . . . The violence in their lives and the larger systemic violences in life are a whole lot of what wore my body out. (email introduction to “Violence and Learning” online conference, April 2007) And, like most other things she experiences, she applies this to her practice as an ABE/Literacy instructor: How can I urge students to do more than they are doing, not knowing what their limitations are? I think it is disrespectful to urge people to greater efforts; so often they are already doing the best they can figure out. Their “failure” to do whatever, pass the test, come on time, learn how to spell, isn’t aimed at us. It isn’t aimed anywhere. It is what they can figure out how to do right now. We insult them when we suggest they aren’t trying hard enough. (Battell, et al., 2004, p. 176) Evelyn said more than other team members about weaknesses in how the team worked together and the final product. But she was also the rock and the driving force of 120 the group—she initiated it, coordinated most of it, held it together. In an early email to the group, Jan Sawyer wrote: “Evelyn, you are such a motivator and certainly know how to get me into ‘get with it’ mode” (Jan, email, November 6, 2002). At the same time as she was holding and inspiring the group, she was also the first to challenge assumptions she felt were not well-thought out, or object to conversation that seemed frivolous (for example, about clothes, shoes). But when we discussed politics she became animated and articulate. Diana admired her for both her straightforwardness and her politics. She describes her as a “very different kind of literacy person (who) wasn’t afraid of anybody”: Most literacy people are just nice, really kind and really sweet and would never hurt anyone’s feelings, you know that warm nurturing model, and Evelyn didn’t seem to care about that, because her politics and the essence of what she believed was stronger than that. And also she believed that if we couldn’t handle that, we should get out of the kitchen. And I think she’s right, like I think there is a time and a place to delicately step around people and issues, but not when you are with your peers. (Diana, interview, December 17, 2004) Evelyn describes herself as “blunt,” and was unapologetic about this, right from the start. In an email to the group after a difficult meeting, she was apologetic, but still clear about her reasons. By one of my definitions, community is a place where you can speak your politics - you guys qualify. I realized I seldom argue for my politics. I tell them and wait to see what comes back but arguing for them is arguing for Jeanie [Evelyn’s sister who lived her life from a wheel chair] - that's pretty deep . . . I know I have a history lots of places not just with this group - of putting stuff out - pretty persuasively I know - then emotionally walking away if it doesn't seem safe or I don't have the heart to spend. . . . You really drag me kicking and screaming to very hard places. I don't resent it but I thought you should know why it seems so hard to make me do it. (Evelyn, email to the group, March 7, 2004) As I will describe in Chapter Six, Evelyn was disappointed with the level and quality of collaboration. To help me understand this disappointment, I read the 121 description of the editing process used in another collaborative writing project she had been part of—the national project that produced Making Connections: We went over the chapters in great detail. We worked alone, in pairs, in groups, and in whirlwinds. The feedback which we had been largely unable to give over distance during the past year flowed from us. Assumptions that had been made at the last meeting were cleared up. Small and large changes were made to the chapters; some were completely re-written, others tightened up. (Canadian Congress for Learning Opportunities for Women, 1996, p. 8) If this is a true reflection of Evelyn’s experience, it is easy to see why the editing process in Hardwired for Hope was a disappointment. She says that in HFH, “I don’t think we had time to collaborate. We . . . didn’t have a chance to agree or disagree with what anyone was writing at any meaningful level. We were too busy” (Evelyn, interview, March 9, 2005). So I was left to wonder, did anything good come out of the project, for Evelyn? Yes: “The interviews were fabulous. And reading the other interviews was fabulous” (Evelyn, interview, March 9, 2005). And, although the process was frustrating, she learned a lot about research—and has carried that knowledge to at least one other research project that will benefit the field (Battell, et al., 2008).And, although she was not always happy about the process, she was very happy about the group members: I liked the group I picked, I liked those women. They are typically wonderful ABE people, and when we got little tidbits of how they teach, I was absolutely fascinated. (Evelyn, interview, March 9, 2005) I was not sure if Evelyn was complementing the group or her own skill in choosing groups. When I checked with her, she said, “I wasn’t complimenting anybody—I was naming my pleasure in the group: I’m delighted with those women who are out there teaching ABE” (Evelyn, personal communication, December 15, 2008). 122 Although she could be blunt, she was also a caring, nurturing person. She sent out regular emails asking how we were doing (and not just with the research), was keen to socialize during the research meetings—and introduced me to Crantinis. 41 And she was also quite sensitive about her role as coordinator and the power relations that were involved, as this email shows: I’m going to start acting like coordinator a bit during this next part—I’ll keep posting and checking but if I'm overstepping bounds please let me know. (E. Battell, email, January 2003) In Making Connections, Evelyn wrote the section entitled “Role Models,” and collaborated on the chapter “Women and Work.” Both are full of stories and activities that demonstrate the holistic, nurturing approach to literacy education that is promoted in Hardwired for Hope. In “Role Models,” Evelyn writes: When we are young we might have said, “I want to be just like her.” As adults, we no longer feel so open to possibilities. We are pretty much fully formed and we may feel trapped by our circumstances. But we are influenced, guided and inspired by women around us and by those we read about or see in the media. (Canadian Congress for Learning Opportunities for Women, 1996, p. 121) Reading this again almost ten years later, I realize that, in many ways, Evelyn and the other practitioner-researchers I am writing about are role models for me. While I have been in the field for a long time, I am relatively new to BC and Evelyn’s legacy is a beacon for me. I admit it: I want to be just like her. Judy Rose Hey Jude . . . this songs for you Take our last song and make it better Remember . . . working for BC Tel, it must have been hell Ain’t Cap College better, better, better, better . . . 42 41 42 A martini made with cranberry juice—a drink Evelyn enjoyed when the group went out for dinner. Song re-created by colleagues at staff retreat to celebrate Judy’s many years of work, May 2008 123 As I joined my colleagues in the department where I now work with Judy Rose, writing silly lyrics about Judy’s long history at Capilano College, I thought about how she and her “generation” have made life easier for practitioners like me. Judy has been a mentor to both students and fellow practitioners (including me!). Her writing is infused with comments and stories about mentoring: It is something she feels very passionate about, and I can attest, from experience, it is something she excels at. So, because I have had direct experience with her mentorship, it is there that I will begin Judy’s story: Mentoring for me is the most natural thing in the world. It is a philosophy. It is a way of working based in cooperation and sharing and identifying with the group. Mentoring is successful when there is a combination of those that know a body of knowledge and those that want those knowledge or skills or attitudes. (Judy’s autobiographical writing: “Mentoring”) And many others have benefited—partly because of her long and rich experience in the college (touching the areas of literacy, First Nations, financial aid, income assistance and many others) but also because she has a natural inclination towards mentoring. She has valued the mentors in her own life and has passed this on to new instructors, like me. She has also encouraged mentoring in her classroom: Whenever there is a group of adults together there is a range of skills within the room. I will always have an old student take the new one to show her around the college (or) place students together creating their writing. . . . Affirming someone as an expert is tied up in sharing their knowledge with someone else. No one can demand generosity from you so the mentoring cycle has to be a willing thing. (Judy’s autobiographical writing: “Mentoring”) She also describes herself as being very community-oriented, whether that community is the close-knit rural area she grew up in or the community of educators at the college: As I wrote about my early years, I recognized that I have a deep understanding and appreciation of community. I grew up in Ontario in a small place surrounded by extended family and people who had lived in the area for three or four generations. My experiences from those early years helped me to move into other communities later and to recognize familiar patterns. The 124 community theme resurfaced in other forms for me during the writing when I chose to write about mentoring and the work family. (Battell, et al., 2004, p. 181) Judy began her teaching career at 20, working in an elementary school. Her first class was “in a tobacco growing rural Ontario area. I had a classroom full of 45 grade 3, 4 and 5 students with a range of needs, no resources and no trouble from parents” (Judy’s autobiographical writing: “Mentoring”). She continued doing this for eight years, and learned about “the complexity of teaching and the importance of preparation and organization.” During that time, she attended university part-time during the summer, so that she had a BA by the time she left the public school system in 1976. Her hard work and determination was partly fuelled by a desire to be independent and to see the world: I developed a passion for traveling as I became a young adult, at least partly as a way of establishing my own identity and looking for the adventure offered by exotic, faraway places. I had all the confidence of youth and so it was fun to remember that period of my life. The travel was a huge motivation for me as a young adult. I was always curious about people in all areas of the world and I had a sense of wonder about the way they lived. (Judy's autobiographical excerpt in Battell, et al., 2004, p. 181) She is still fascinated by the people she meets, many of whom are in her classroom. She describes an “intense interest in people and their lives, especially their stories” (Judy’s autobiographical writing: “Emerging Themes”), and an ongoing curiosity and fascination with the students she teaches. This is a theme that the other team members touch on, and in fact is described in Evelyn’s chapter of the report on beliefs and motivations. 125 In 1978, after travelling around the world, she decided to settle in Vancouver, and got a job with Capilano College at their Mount Currie campus.43 This was both a difficult time and a time of great learning: I had so little knowledge about the background of First Nations people, specifically in Mt. Currie. However, the setting was not unlike many other places I had experienced before and very like the village where I grew up. (Judy’s autobiographical writing: “What makes me an effective instructor?”) It was also in 1978 that she began working with Evelyn on Groundwork, the newsletter of the Adult Basic Education Association of BC. This collaborative friendship continues to this day, and it was through Evelyn that she got involved in the Hardwired for Hope project. After three years in Mount Currie, she moved to the campus in North Vancouver, and “pieced together a job in ABE/Literacy.” Judy, along with Jan, write more than the others about the precarious nature of their work in the early days. Judy writes about the feelings of disappointment and lack of validation I experienced. Like other temporaries at my college and other colleges, I was always looking around for another job or trying to balance two jobs to keep my options open. I was always thinking that I would be without a job very soon, and then one day, when I had been hanging on the edge for nine years, I was regularized. However, it took a long time to recover from the attitudes developed during my time as a temporary. (Battell, et al., 2004, p. 182) As I read this and other descriptions of constantly changing jobs and insecurity from one year to the next, I thought about how things are different in the ABE field today, and how they are the same. Sometimes I feel that we are still fighting some of these battles. But I also know that my professional life is easier now because of the battles Judy and her colleagues fought before me. 43 Mount Currie is a First Nations community in the Pemberton valley, north of Whistler, BC. 126 Judy worked full-time while completing both her BA and MEd, completing her MEd in Adult Education at UBC during her maternity leave. This gave her a special insight into her students’ lives: My own history of always going to school part time while working has helped me to appreciate the level of commitment required by ABE/Literacy students who struggle to balance their lives when they decide to take on upgrading. (Battell, et al., 2004, p. 43) Another life experience that has given her a strong sense of empathy for her students is mothering two sons with learning difficulties. She writes, I have learned about the ways my sons encounter the world. I see first-hand how the medical and education system excludes, ignores and discriminates against them. It makes me a more effective instructor because I can appreciate what it is like for our students to learn when they are affected in similar ways and have learned to cope in different ways. I think all of us might understand on a cognitive level, but to live with it with loved ones, provides a more profound understanding. I feel optimism because I know my children can learn so when I encounter something similar in my students, I work with it and figure it out like a puzzle. (Judy’s autobiographical writing: “Emerging Themes”) Judy has recently completed a term as chair of the Faculty of Developmental Studies at Capilano University. She has worked with the Adult Basic Education Association of BC (ABEABC), the Literacy Materials Bulletin, the Selection Committee for the Learner Events, the Articulation Working Committees and the CostShared Selection Committee. One program within the college that provided her with “great learning and personal growth” was the Career Access program, which she describes as a “giant student success program (that could) support students enough to make a difference to their ability to persist” (Battell, et al, 2004, p. 182). She still maintains a strong belief in the value of “working with a group in a collegial way.” This work is not without its challenges, as she comments in Hardwired for Hope: 127 At its best it works really effectively, and, although decisions may be slow, people participate and feel a sense of ownership of the process. However, sometimes the process becomes distorted. There is lobbying and bickering and bullying which poison the atmosphere, leaving everyone feeling tense and defensive. (Battell, et al., 2004, p. 183) Judy brought her skills and beliefs to the research project, invited by her old friend and colleague from ABEABC days, Evelyn. While others joined the project to participate in and experience the collaborative process or to learn about research, that wasn’t Judy’s motivation: The product was what interested me; that got me hooked. We’ve gone through all this time as ABE instructors and we know a lot about it—how to approach people—and I don’t want that disregarded. And I’ve just watched a lot of people damage learners for years and years in that kind of systematic way. So it was the ability to put something together that was constructive, and to pay attention to those kind of details that we haven’t paid attention to for years. That was very compelling. And I guess because all of us are getting older, we want to say something. That last ditch effort, that swan song! (Judy, interview, December 17, 2004) She was also interested in the opportunity this project presented to “dig deeper and try to articulate some things that I had never put into words before,” and she wrote about this in the final report. What she didn’t write about was the struggle to juggle this project with her very demanding family and work responsibilities. I was working double time before I went to the meeting, then I went to the meeting, then I was working double time after the meeting. So for me, just being there, just having gotten that bum in the seat, was a huge deal, and all of my family was affected.44 (Judy, interview, December 17, 2004) The project became even more stressful when Judy was called on to be the peacemaker, to negotiate and smooth the waters when discussions became emotional. And she, in turn, was able to call on the group when she needed emotional support: Then in the middle of our process, my mother died. After that, I carried the weight of my grief through the remainder of the research, but at the same time I felt the 44 Also known as the problem of “working off the sides of our desks,” this is discussed in Chapter 6. 128 support of the group and I carried on. This loss, and the support that went with it, became part of my journey through the research project. (Battell, et al., 2004, p. 183) As I re-read this excerpt, I think about a time last year when I had just returned to Vancouver after helping to bury my father. Judy arrived at my home with flowers, a card from the department, and lots of time to sit and listen to my stories of my father. The ability to support people through both personal and professional struggles is something I will always remember about Judy, and something that every “effective instructor” should learn and prioritize. The personal support provided to team members was important, and it will be discussed in more detail in the next chapter. But there are still several players to introduce. The next one is Judy’s (and now, my) Capilano University colleague, Diana Twiss. Diana Twiss My interview with Diana was scheduled for a few days after she and her colleagues had interviewed me for a faculty position at Capilano College. I thought, when I set the date, how awkward it would be if I didn’t get the job, or didn’t know whether I had the job. But luckily, when we sat down in Diana’s office, it was with the happy knowledge that we were now colleagues in the Community Development and Outreach department. I was brimming over with excitement, and it was difficult to stop talking about the work and start the interview—in fact, our work conversation spread into our interview time, and we had to re-schedule another time to continue. This “spreading over” has continued in all my interactions with Diana. The many different projects we have worked on together and our personal lives seem to blend together, so that one 129 minute we will be discussing a budget or research project, and the next she will show me a new creation made with her hand-spun yarn, phone her kids or sell me some fresh eggs from her farm. She has become a friend and colleague who inspires me to follow her lead in doing what she describes as“cutting edge work” (Diana, interview, December 17, 2004). Before I describe some of that work, I will tell you a bit about her beginnings. Diana was born in Augusta, Georgia in 1961 and moved several times with her family before settling in Espanola, a pulp and paper town in northern Ontario. She devotes a lot of her autobiographical writing to her early life: her love of and success at school, her teachers, her difficult family life and her experience with being the new kid in school, to name a few things. She describes a feeling of “not belonging” which has stayed with her: Feeing like an outsider, that's been a constant theme in my life. . . . In many ways I have felt like I was missing something that many people had, an extended family that was readily available. I have had to create my family wherever I was living. And I have moved many, many times in my life. (Diana’s autobiographical writing: Good Teachers I Have Known”) Throughout her writing, she constantly connects her early experiences to her work as an ABE instructor. For example, she writes about the “magic moments” when teachers read to the class, used stories to teach history, or generally showed how much they liked kids, and about the Ojibwa boy in her class who had a great sense of humour and good heart, but struggled with school, perhaps as a result of FAS. “I hadn't realized, until I wrote about it, the extent to which those early experiences had shaped my view of how good teachers need to behave and react to their learners” (Diana’s autobiographical writing: “Good Teachers I Have Known”). 130 Sometimes when I read Diana’s autobiographical writing, I think her life and mine intersect in interesting ways. For example, we both grew up in small towns and went to large high schools with kids bussed in from far and wide. I share her opinion that the small town experience can follow you well into adulthood (and I have spent more time living in big cities now than in small towns). Diana writes: I came from a small pulp and paper town in Northern Ontario and was easily intimidated by other people's intelligence. It took years to get over that and to be inspired rather than intimidated by other people. I felt that everyone was much more sophisticated than us from Espanola. If I didn’t understand something I didn’t ask for fear that the answer was obvious and I’d look like a fool. So I hid my confusion for a long time (Diana’s autobiographical writing: “Good Teachers I Have Known”). Diana’s work as an ABE instructor began at the Invergarry Learning Centre in Surrey, BC. But she believes she had been preparing for it for a long time: As I understand it, it’s more of a mind set than anything else. When I was working for the Rainy Lake Ojibwa Education Authority, it was a First Nations high school but the clientele we had were people who didn’t finish the normal high school setting and so I was writing curriculum to try to re-engage this group back to learning. (Diana, interview, December 17, 2004) After Invergarry, Diana began working at Capilano College where she was encouraged to take up a wide variety of interesting teaching projects. As I read through Diana’s descriptions of her teaching life, three experiences stand out for me. First is her experience as a “Writing Out Loud” instructor and trainer. “Writing Out Loud” is a national program which trains literacy instructors to incorporate free writing groups in their classroom practice, and Diana was one of the first group of instructors to participate. When I first read about it in her autobiographical writing, I was inspired to take the course myself, and have found it to be a wonderful addition to my teaching repertoire. It was also an excellent introduction to “best practice” in online learning, and Diana is about to embark on a research project on this topic with the Writing Out Loud director, 131 Deborah Morgan. Here she reflects on a face-to-face workshop she attended with 25 other instructors: The common feature amongst these women is their capacity to nurture, offer compassion and inspire others with their energy and experience. Many of the women themselves are in various stages of healing, as part of their own journeys. It is that struggle, and that awareness that we are all “healing” in one manner or another that seems to be a common feature and that thing that drew them to literacy work. (Diana’s autobiographical writing: “Good Teachers I Have Known”) The second teaching experience that stood out is her critical reflection on teaching a college success class. At the time she wrote her autobiography, she was in her fifth cycle, teaching two classes a term. She felt uncomfortable with it because it is “highly teacher directed” and her students “expect and want me to have all the power”: This kind of teaching is so different from literacy work. I love the power dynamic in the literacy class or learning center. I love the fact that the one of main goals of literacy is to get the learners to take responsibility for their learning. I encourage them to look at themselves as learners, to take into consideration their learning style, and to be kind to themselves. (Diana’s autobiographical writing: “Reflections on Teaching”) The considerate, kind, participatory approach that she so much prefers is exactly the one taken at WISH, a drop-in for women in the sex trade, where Diana taught while the Hardwired for Hope project was underway. It was also the first place I taught when I began to work at Capilano College. Diana worked on a research project at WISH with the team that produced the report, Literacy for Women on the Street (Alderson & Twiss, 2003), an examination of how literacy activities can “empower and stabilize the lives of women in the sex trade” (p. 1). A significant finding in their research, and one that has influenced my work as an instructor there, is how the women described what a “safe” learning space looks and feels like: “We realized that attempts to involve the women in 132 activities designed to bring them into decision-making roles must first address the issue of safety in a non-threatening, non-judgmental, safe and realistic way” (p. 25). Diana finds it surprising that so many ABE/Literacy instructors come to the field without formal training. She is not one of those people. Like Jan and Judy, she chose to go to teachers college because she saw it as an essential way into the teaching profession. She believed she needed to get the piece of paper, the validation, in order to teach, but in retrospect believes that “it hasn't made me a better teacher. It just got me in the door” (Diana’s autobiographical writing: “Teacher’s College). I honestly can't think of anything useful that I learned in teacher's college. We didn't learn about learning styles, we superficially touched on learning difficulties/disabilities. There were so many kids who fell between the cracks, we never looked at them and asked ourselves why. What you need to be a truly effective teacher is not something that can be taught. (Diana’s autobiographical writing: “Teachers’ College”) So if a teaching certificate doesn’t automatically make a good teacher, what does? Since “effective instructors” are the subject of the research project the team worked on, it makes sense that they did a lot of writing, thinking and talking about this subject. Diana had lots of ideas about this, but I will describe just three things she wrote and talked about. First, good teachers are more interested in the process of learning than the content, which doesn’t mean the content is unimportant: “But if a student is having difficulty understanding, good teachers look beyond the stuff they are teaching at a variety of other factors” (Diana’s autobiographical writing: “Good Teachers I have known”). Again, Diana draws on and learns from a personal experience she had in high school when she almost failed some courses. “At no time did any teacher ever sit me down and talk to me about my learning experience, even when I was failing because I 133 wasn't doing the homework” (Diana’s autobiographical writing: “Good Teachers I have known”). This experience has shown her what not to do, and she also believes that having similar experiences to students has made her a better teacher. Sometimes when I hear my students talk about themselves, I hear the same kinds of things that I used to think about myself. And I wasn't a bad learner, or stupid or incapable of learning. I was full of so many other things that learning was crammed into one small cluttered corner of my life. . . . The very fact that I have gone through the same kind of issues, being a single mother, struggling to make ends meet and finding the time for learning, help me to be empathetic with my learners who are experiencing the same challenges. (Diana’s autobiographical writing: “Reflections on Teaching”) Diana has been involved in workplace education, community development literacy, family literacy, as well as regular college instruction—often doing work that requires her to go out on a limb. She is proud of what she is able to do in the classroom, but also clear that this work is made possible by a supportive team of colleagues that do excellent development work and then say, “Yeah, go out on that limb” (Diana, interview, December 17, 2004). Diana came to the HFH project with three other research projects behind her, including a national study of literacy instruction (Hoddinott, 1998) and the WISH study (Alderson & Twiss, 2003). But the one that really brought her in to this project was Naming the Magic and her previous experience with Evelyn. She said when she received the email inviting her to join the project, she barely hesitated before hitting return. She had “no clue of what it was, but confident that it would be something interesting” (Diana, interview, December 17, 2004). And why was she so sure? Because it was Evelyn. I met her at the Naming the Magic weekend, and had recognized her as a very different kind of literacy person—she wasn’t afraid of anybody. And I had also known from other stuff that I’d seen—Making Connections and that—that she had a background, a handle on stuff. . . . I 134 thought, I want to work with this woman, and if she collects people, its going to be an interesting group of people. (Diana, interview, December 17, 2004) Diana is the most junior member of the team, in both age and years of experience. At the time of the project, she had only worked in ABE/Literacy for about 10 years, compared to the others who had worked between 25-30. But what she lacked in experience, she made up for in enthusiasm and drive. She approached Evelyn to see if she could work with her on the Literacy Materials Bulletin, and Evelyn agreed. Unfortunately the funding was cut before they could work together, but Evelyn felt she had made a promise to invite Diana to work on a project. And this is how a person with significantly less experience in ABE got on the team. She later became the chairperson of Literacy BC and is now the deputy director. Like most of the others, Diana speaks glowingly about what she learned. But as the person who wrote the methods chapter of the report, she had a bigger challenge than the others. Everyone in the team was involved in collecting and analyzing data about the research topic (effective instructors) but when it came to describing the research process, or methodology, Diana was usually on her own. This was an important learning process for her: I have learned so much about group process and my own memory from going through the tapes. I realized that it was my reality that I constructed. A methods chapter needs to be about what really took place. Our decision-making was amazing. I had to do detective work to find out how and when we finally made the decision to interview instructors. It took me two days. (Diana, interview, December 17, 2004) I will end Diana’s description with a comment that shows a typical example of a practitioner-researcher working, not only off the side of her desk, but off her kitchen table: 135 And it was a lot of work, like I worked all of May and June. I remember I didn’t even come to the college. Pat would say, “Where are you?” I’m working, I’ve got to get this chapter done.” So I’d get the kids off to school, I’d work all day on it. Pick the kids up after. I spent my whole Christmas holiday listening to the tapes. Listening and listening and oh man. It was great, though there was a lot of anxiety around it. But I know I can do it now. (Diana, interview, December 17, 2004) She certainly can. Earlier in this section, Diana talks about being easily intimidated as a young woman. I cannot imagine that now. As she steps bravely into leadership positions in the BC ABE/Literacy field, I am happy to have someone with her experience, talent, and understanding of the literacy reality speaking for me at provincial and national forums. Other members of the team write in a similar way about their pride in achieving something new, challenging, and a little frightening—but none so clearly as Leora Gesser, the next team member I will describe. Leora Gesser When I interviewed Leora, she was still glowing from successfully completing her blue belt in Karate. “I just got it with full marks. I’ve been doing 10 hours a week. Not bad, for 53—I’m pretty excited!” I could feel the excitement over the phone line (“Let’s do it by telephone,” she said. “I’m a phone person.”) and I was happy for her, but not surprised: Leora was always the active and energetic one in the group. At meetings, she always managed to do a session at the hotel gym and once reported to a teleconference that she had “skated for miles” on the weekend. 136 She is also someone with a ground-breaking spirit who describes herself as a “founding mother” of the provincial ABE articulation system, and who chaired the English committee for several years: BC was one of the beginners in ABE in Canada. I think we were the first even to create the articulation system, which allows us to transfer a course from college to college, and it really bumped up the status. So I was fortunate to be there from the very, very beginning. (Leora, interview, April 20, 2005) Another innovative effort was a collaboratively-written materials project for adult learners, and tutoring a psychology course by teleconference, long before the internet made this kind of long-distance work easy. She has acted as department head and steered numerous successful proposals through the system. So, from a small little town, I’ve been very fortunate to be valued at that time by people at the college and be out there representing the college in a number of forms. A very rich career. (Leora, interview, April 20, 2005) Leora has not always lived in a small town. She talks about her early experience of growing up in “Jewish in Montreal in the mid 50’s” which, in spite of the size of the city, was quite a sheltered experience: I never met a non-Jew until I was in my teens and had pretty much lived an insulated life, embedded, nurtured, and influenced by this community until then. (Leora’s autobiographical writing: “Despair”) I am not sure what took Leora from Montreal to Grand Forks, BC, but as I read and hear about her life in the Interior, I see in it yet more evidence of the fearless, adventurous spirit that I often see in ABE teachers. To settle in a small town where she is the only Jewish person with an African American husband, to me, shows courage and a desire to explore new territory. I was moved by her reflections on racism in her autobiography, and still feel tears when I read about the tragedy she has experienced, losing her life partner to cancer: 137 It was only after my husband’s death that I understood about trauma and fear. I felt that my locus of control had left my inner being and was floating outside of me. My inertia was so great and my confusion so profound that it took me more than a year to begin to function as I had been doing before the event. (Battell, et al., 2004, p. 179) Like others on the team, Leora links her own life experience to that of her students’ and it makes her a better teacher: Through this experience I learnt that a whole set of things must be in place for people to recover from life’s traumas. Many of our students have been traumatized by their experiences. Many of these traumas happened to them during their childhood years and during their school years. Many of them, like me, were paralyzed by inertia and a true inability to proceed because of their confusion and fear. I realized that I needed to help set up an environment that gave them as many of the things that need to be set in place as possible. These things included a place that was safe, did not judge them, with people around them that were trustworthy. (Battell, et al., 2004, p. 179) Although she grew up in Montreal and went to McGill, she has lived for a long time in the BC interior and has worked at Selkirk College for 26 years. Like others on the research team, Leora combines the technical skill with sensitivity to students’ needs and awareness of their vulnerabilities. She writes with passion about the highlights of that work: There are so many reasons for it being such a rewarding job. The key reason for me is that I get to be part of someone’s baby steps into a life change. I get to hear about the dream, help plan a path to get there and sometimes, cheerlead the person to the finish line. We often don’t know that person succeeds in his/her next endeavour, but if we are lucky we will receive a fax, postcard or visit years later that updates us and often is a testimony to his/her hard work and perseverance. (Leora’s autobiographical writing: “Becoming Empowered”) When Evelyn phoned to invite Leora to join the research team, true to form, Leora jumped at the opportunity: Why would I say no? I didn’t really think what I was getting into. It was just an opportunity that if you say no to, it’s a missed opportunity. It tends to be how I operate a lot, when opportunities come to me I think, like in retrospect, I think about my life and my career. (Leora, interview, April 20, 2005) 138 As I got to know Leora, I pictured her as a warm, energetic, articulate woman who has been a leader in her field and grabs opportunities when they come by. So I was amazed, during our interview, to hear her describe herself as a “timid” person. But she maintains that both she and Jan were “the timid ones in the group,” which is one reason they worked closely together throughout the project: Well, we were timid, which is kind of funny because there was no reason to be. But we were. And I tend to, because it’s a brand new opportunity, be timid at the beginning, when I start anything, and then gain momentum, as you’ve seen, as in take over. But I think originally Jan and I thought, “Let’s support each other.” (Leora, interview, April 20, 2005) And they did. Together they wrote the chapter in the final report entitled, “The Tightrope Walker: Styles, Strategies and Skills,” and they gave each other additional support on the telephone between meetings and tasks. Leora is philosophical about the tense moments and difficult times during the project: You know, in retrospect, everything unfolded as it should have. I mean I really think so. We got it in on time, we stayed with our plan, different people wrote at different speeds and at that moment in time it might have been frustrating, but, look, it happened. (Leora, interview, April 20, 2005) All the team members comment on their individual working and participation styles, and how this varies from team member to team member. This has implications for the roles, choices and responsibilities they took throughout the project. For example, Leora admits that perhaps her style was a problem for some group members: I felt at times that I spoke too much, like in the way I interrupt. I don’t know if it’s a good style for collaboration. I mean I think I have passion. And I engage, and my brain works . . . kind of fast sometimes, so I just get in there, and (may seem) to not be respectful. So that is a problem maybe in my whole life, not always just because of collaboration . . . part of it is the way I engage, and you either find me disrespectful or you find me passionate. Diana and I had a conversation about 139 her Italian upbringing and my Jewish upbringing and then Marina is a lot like me, too. (Leora, interview, April 20, 2005) During the last year of the project, Leora was on sabbatical in Calgary, attending art school. This had an interesting effect on her capacity to engage with the research project: You asked me if it was difficult to be out of the loop that year, and I almost want to say that in some ways I had the benefit to not be locked into a job, and maybe it’s the converse that I had the energy, even though at times it was, “Oh, God, I have to think work!” I wasn’t swamped in the same way as Judy was and Diana. (Leora, interview, April 20, 2005) The project benefited from this experience, as Leora designed the cover of the report. She also brought us the title of the research report in one of her autobiographical pieces. Writing about the Holocaust survivors who taught her Hebrew she describes how traumatized she felt by the graphic stories they told. (“I will probably carry them in my heart forever.”) The experience caused her to question what makes people live/survive in a world that is full of atrocities? I would think that some would take the option of suicide. Yet the will to stay and live life seems to prevail in most people. Most of us are hardwired for hope. (Leora’s autobiographical writing: “Despair”) She and Judy later wrote about this in the report’s introduction: We had not yet collected our data and we had not yet attempted to articulate what we felt. What we all knew was that effective ABE/Literacy practitioners have a deep passion for what is possible, and that ABE/Literacy instructors are in awe of their students’ spirit and bravery in the face of hardships. “Hardwired for hope” seemed to consolidate a single characteristic that effective instructors possess. (Battell, et al, 2004, p. 5) Leora went on to take on the coordination of the project at the end, following the report’s printing. After all her experience with coordinating big projects this one was “a nobrainer. I just kind of lurk in the background, making sure things are unfolding like they do.” But in spite of this, when asked if she would consider initiating another research project, she said she was “still too timid at this point” (Leora, interview, April 20, 2005). 140 But participate in another research project? Definitely. One of the things she liked best about it was that it made her feel uncomfortable: When I’m learning something and I don’t get it, I have what I call my dis-ease with it. And it’s a niggling feeling and I think as an adult and a learner, well as an instructor, I can embrace that dis-ease and relate to my students who are struggling to understand something that we might think is basic, but for them is a new concept. That dis-ease, I like. Like it challenges me. So for instance during our research, there were times, well you saw it, where I was confused or not clear or all of us were. And that demonstrates in me an actual almost like physical niggling, I don’t want to say an agitation, more of a niggling. And I have to figure it out. And that’s good for me. (Leora, interview, April 20, 2005) She feels proud that she was able to hold her own in the project, and is pleased at how much she has learned in the process: I am just pretty darn proud of all of us. Like when I look at my first draft, ha-haha! You know, seven drafts later, I’m pretty proud. And I’m proud of all of us not just me. (Leora, interview, April 20, 2005) Like Leora, I am very proud of the group, and proud to have worked with people like Leora. Now retired, she is in Calgary, “Still happily ensconced in art school” (Leora. email, March 5, 2009), taking her creativity and energy to other fields. Finally, I will describe Jan Sawyer, the last of the five researchers. She is Leora’s good friend and, according to her, the other “timid one in the group.” We’ll see if Jan agrees with this description. Jan Sawyer Betsy, I, too, would like to add my voice of thanks [for taking notes at a meeting]. Truly, I don't know how you do it! During the initial part of our conversation, I had started to take notes. However, I was quickly drawn in to the words and emotions, and my writing stopped. thank you, and thank you to all of you out there. i don't feel so alone. (Jan, email, March 12, 2003) This email jumped out at me because it seemed to speak to me about Jan’s warm, supportive nature and also about her position as the other team member from BC’s 141 interior. She lives in Salmon Arm, and at times found this isolating. So she was keen to get involved in a collaborative province-wide project when the opportunity came up. The collaboration that would be involved in Hardwired for Hope was what pulled her in and kept her motivated. I think, living in the Interior, I always had appreciated the opportunity to go elsewhere to work on committees, because I (could) engage with others who were interested in the same things I was or . . . and be part of what was happening. And I saw this as another opportunity, not to be in isolation, but to work and to discuss and be with others who generally cared about the field. (Jan, interview, February 16, 2005) Another thing that brought her into the project was a strong interest in reflecting on her practice. This goes back to her first teaching job, in Musgrave Harbour, an outport in Newfoundland. Here she learned “the beginnings of how to teach.” Through the kids I learned the joy of learning, experiencing, succeeding and trying again. My colleagues were wary and concerned that we were having too much fun; learning was expected to be tedious and arduous. The administration expressed the need for a firm hand, literally, and suggested it would be best for my students if I toughened up. (Jan’s autobiographical writing: “Challenged”) Two years were enough to convince her to go back to university and get a teaching certificate. She found that the experience she had gained in Musgrave turned her into a very different kind of student: I saw learning in a whole different light. . . . I was so much better able to participate and respond, because I could reflect back on my practice and what I had been doing over the past two years. And my teaching experience brought a wealth of knowledge to my learning and just forced me to think. Instructors would be talking about this theory about such and such, and at that point because I had had the experience I also had the confidence to say, “Well you know, that wasn’t my experience.” (Jan, interview, February 16, 2005) Having the courage to stand up to academically trained professors at such an early stage in her career was perhaps an indication of the direction she would take in later years, getting involved in curriculum development and provincial articulation committees 142 in BC—and, finally, in this research project. As I will discuss in Chapter Six, she proved she was able to face a critical college ethics board and stand up for her beliefs and principles. Her experience in Newfoundland was also a politicizing experience—one that she admits was not something she was born into. In Hardwired for Hope, she writes about growing up in a privileged family in Michigan: I thought life was fair. This thinking came from a home where I was taught that if I worked hard, put my mind to it, made good choices, the world was mine. I transferred this notion when I was younger to everyone. . . . I don’t think I was insensitive, but rather [I was] unthinking and privileged, and I had never had this assumption challenged. (Battell, et al., 2004, p. 184) But a choice she made at the age of 19 ensured that her assumptions would not only be challenged, but “shattered” and that she would need to reassess her ideas about what was “fair.” That choice was to journey through life with Don, her future husband, who “constantly challenged [her] thinking” (Jan’s autobiographical writing: “Challenged”). I was gradually becoming politicized. Although I had always been sensitive to people and my surroundings, I had never gone the next step. I had never made the connection between what was happening to people, the poverty, inequities, Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement, to government policy. (Battell, et al, 2004, p. 72) In retrospect, this was a good thing, but it didn’t always feel good at the time. She writes: “Suddenly I no longer had truths. . . . I was losing my grounding. I didn’t know who I was and my only belief at that time in my life was in the goodness of the human spirit” (Jan’s autobiographical writing: “Challenged”). After university, she moved to Lytton BC, which she describes as a time of “transition.” She saw “hunger, desperation, neglect, and the results of rape, alcoholism, 143 hatred, and the loss of one’s language and identity.” But she also describes it as a time when she learned “as much from my students as they learned from me” and worked hard to provide “a classroom atmosphere that was safe and supportive” (Battell, et al, 2004, p. 185). Through the lives of the young people in this community, I saw the importance of connecting learning to the lives of the individuals in the classroom and the knowledge that a person’s life outside school can not be ignored and left on the front steps. We have the “whole person” in the classroom, and if learning is to occur we need to work together inside and outside the classroom so students’ basic needs are met. (Battell, et al., 2004, p. 186) During her participation in the project, Jan was an instructor at Okanagan University College.45 She describes a “love-hate” relationship with the college, full of frustrations and joys. In particular, like Judy she talks about the uncertain position of instructors, and as I read about these experiences again, I am grateful for the struggles she and her colleagues have gone through that have ultimately made my life easier. I will share a few comments from her autobiographical writing here to give you an idea. I never knew from one year to the next if I would have a job. And if I had a job, I never knew if it would be 4 months or 6 months or 8 months, or if it would be through the ABE department or the Continuing Education department. The only guarantee was that if I did have a job it would be part-time, temporary and no pension. This situation continued until five years ago when I was given a fulltime continuing contract. I felt a growing bitterness particularly each spring when my job would end. . . . I was in the same line-up at the employment office as many students, and I had the same disdain for the system that they did. Together in the line-up and in the class, we talked about the humiliation we felt as we tried to manoeuvre through the system. This gave me a first-hand look at one of the obstacles students face on a regular basis. (Jan’s autobiographical writing: “The ABE Years”) 45 When Jan first started there, it was Okanagan College, and now is Okanagan College again, since the university side of the institution has become part of UBC. 144 Although she had a “love-hate relationship” with the institution, she clearly loved the students and the work. She describes a time in 1986, when she returned to Okanagan College after being laid off for over a year: I thrived in the classroom and brought many of the principles that had been a part of my earlier classroom experience. Just as in my first days in Newfoundland, the classroom became a place for experimentation, honesty, trust, support, flexibility, commitment, patience and creativity. I work with students to create an environment that is safe and relevant to their lives. (Jan’s autobiographical writing: “The ABE Years”) She has carried these beliefs and this approach to teaching through her career and into the research project that resulted in Hardwired for Hope, ultimately deciding to write about teaching the whole person and creating safe spaces for learning. Jan’s approach to the Hardwired for Hope project was similar to Diana’s and Leora’s: She went into it without pre-conceived ideas, just an openness to the possibilities that might come up and an interest in taking on a new challenge. Because there will be opportunities there, but I usually don’t attempt to name them until I get involved. Perhaps I used to work the other way and I found it somewhat limiting: Oh, there’s this door here, but I hadn’t planned on that so . . . I tend not to have expectations except to know that opportunities are waiting and let’s go for it. (Jan, interview, February 16, 2005) But she was worried about how her slow, “ruminating” style would fit with the group, and whether, when push came to shove, she would be able to “write on demand” But she was able to do this, as her eloquent autobiographical pieces show. And it was a relief to her that other team members were supportive and non-judgemental. We all approach our writing from very different perspectives and points of view, but that was all honoured, and for me, that was the key point. It set the tone. Realizing I am going to be able to do this, and that the people who I am working with . . . are supportive, that they are encouraging, but also honest with each other. And I think probably in retrospect, moments like that one helped during the more difficult times because we came together and we started building on our 145 strengths. And I think for me in the end, I carried through because we had had those times. (Jan, interview, February 16, 2005) Leora said she and Jan were the “timid ones” but Jan does not emphasize this aspect of her personality. She did see herself as “a listener,” a seeker of clarification (for herself and others) and “a safe place to go.” She also, during those difficult times, found she had to bite her tongue for the sake of the group. This is a lesson that she learned from her daughter (now 28) many years ago: I think very, very definitely I have learned through her to pick those things that for me were worth it. You know really looking carefully and listening and observing and then if there was something I really felt I needed to attend to, I would do it. But otherwise it was, “I can live with this.” With her I knew if I nattered at her or picked on things I would have lost her before she was one. [And] with this group as well, if there was something I really was concerned about, I certainly spoke to it. (Jan, interview, February 16, 2005) During the last year of our research, Jan became a Canadian citizen. She had lived in Canada for 27 years, keeping her US citizenship, but this changed when the Iraq war began in 2004: I was horrified. . . . And there were a lot of things I didn’t like about the States, but I had remained loyal to it all, but I couldn’t do it any more. And so for me this was a real breaking point. And it was interesting too, because one of my daughters was down there, so there was just a lot going on. And some of the students were from other places and they were very upset. (Jan, interview, February 16, 2005) These distressing events affected all the team members and their ability to carry on with the research. I will discuss this in Chapter Six. When the group decided which chapters each person would write, Jan did not know that she would be retiring at the end of the project. In retrospect, she found her retirement made her focus on classroom practices particularly appropriate. I think perhaps I realized but didn’t know, that I might not be in the classroom again soon. And so this was such a rich opportunity for me: What is really 146 working here, and what isn’t? I felt until the last day I taught, that each day was probably richer than the day before. I really felt that going through this process definitely made me a better instructor—there’s no doubt in my mind. And I’ve always been a person who has reflected. I would go home and think about what had happened in the classroom, if I’d done this, if I’d done that, oh wow, this was neat. But I think that with this opportunity, I could go deeper. It was rare. (Jan, interview, February 16, 2005) I can relate to Jan on many levels: as a fellow practitioner who has worked in classrooms and volunteer tutor programs, and as an activist concerned with community, national, and international issues. I relate to her description of being politicized, her passion for social justice and her interest in working internationally—something she has taken on now that she has retired. The Research Friends I have used personal writing (published and unpublished), emails, interviews and my own reflections to describe the core members of the research team. Now, drawing on slightly different sources, I will go on to describe the “Research Friends.” In the previous chapter, I provided background information on the Research Friend position, and in chapters to follow I will talk about how they worked with the team and supported their research. Here I will talk about the people behind the jobs: Marina Niks, the person contracted to provide research support to the group, Bonnie Soroke, who came along because of a strong interest and a willingness to be useful where needed, and me, the “trainee” Research Friend, practitioner and participant-observer. Marina Niks This experience opened my mind to understanding relationships as the source, framework, and location of knowledge production. I became profoundly interested in research methodologies, specifically in collaborative ones. (Niks, et al., 2003, p. 90) I am starting my description of Marina Niks with this quote because, for me, it crystallizes so much of what she is about: collaborative research and relationships. She is talking about the first research project she was part of in Canada, an evaluation of two 147 adult learning centres in the Lower Mainland. She wrote her master’s thesis about team research. She has gone on to be a source of support and information on research, and along the way, she has made good friends throughout BC. Marina Niks began her career as a researcher in 1986 when she became part of a research team that studied the socio-cultural needs of a semi-urban neighbourhood in the city of Buenos Aires, Argentina. This project taught her about working with a team and involving research participants in research—two interests that she carried with her to Canada, where she settled in 1990. After she completed her master’s degree, she went on to work on a PhD, and it was as a PhD candidate at UBC that she became the Research Friend for BC literacy practitioners, and later, a founding member of RIPAL-BC.46 In both these roles, she has worked to support and guide literacy practitioners to doing research. I have led literacy research workshops, consulted with individuals and groups, facilitated electronic discussions about research on an electronic network, participated in conferences, and assisted practitioners to write research proposals. (Marina, interview, August 18, 2005) Marina has been involved in most of the practitioner research projects that happened in BC since 1999. Some of them involved just consulting on the final report, which was t
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UBC Theses and Dissertations
From practitioner to researcher and back again : an ethnographic case study of a research-in-practice… Alkenbrack, Betsy M.E. 2009
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