Saturday, October 20, 2012

Research Journal--Contemplating Ellis

Ellis (2006) cites Smith (1991) as saying that "being hermeneutical entails awareness that each person has a standpoint, horizon, perspective, forestructure, or prejudice and that dialectical engagement is needed to support a 'fusion of horizons' with others (Ellis, 2006, 112). She also describes that hermeneutics describes the ongoing cycle of the part-whole relationship that plays out in all parts of human life. The hermeneutic circle, for the purposes of this article, explains how a possible research subject's experience of a particular situation is related to their experience of the whole context of the situation.

This goes hand-in-hand with the idea that Ellis states at the very beginning of the article, the "recognition that children are social actors in their own right rather than pre-adult beings" (Ellis, 2006, 111). We see adults as situated within the context of their lives, but often children are seen as less full, or still developing, beings. By recognizing them as social actors in their own right, we also recognize the importance of the broader context of their experiences to whatever is actually being researched.

Ellis is suggesting that researchers need to have good social skills, be comfortable in their own skin, and also comfortable working with children and youth. She says that qualitative researchers must also have the ability to draw stories out of people and to sit with those stories, in order to gain deep and meaningful information that truly represents what the interviewee experienced. One possibility that she suggests is researching a participant throughout the process, rather than just at the end. This aids in the researcher's larger contextual understanding of the participant.

This is similar to what de Groot talked about in the lecture discussing her experience working with kids who were part of a library summer reading program. She sought out certain students and their families at the beginning of the summer and spoke with them throughout the summer, rather than waiting until the end of the summer to learn about their experiences. This also allowed her to conduct interviews and then transcribe them throughtout the summer--transcribing many interviews all at once is a daunting proposition.

The pre-interview activities that Ellis lists remind me of components of play therapy that I've heard about. These type of activities are designed to elicit genuine, personal information sharing from children. Verbal communication is not always effective, or it's not always a good first step with kids, regardless of the context.

Also must us open-ended questioning to not put words in subjects' mouths. All people have different perceptions of the world, and researchers need to spend time pre-interview with children (or really any interviewee) if possible, whether or not they can do this, use open-ended questions to not be leading while they are gathering information. The pre-interviews can set the stage for understanding the whole context and embracing the idea of the hermeneutical research process. (I like this concept but I'm still not totally clear on how to use the word hermeneutical).

Pre-interview activities will also be an important component of my research proposal, because if I want to understand student engagement and attitude toward certain classes and/or school in general, I will need to engage in the situation long before the devices are introduced into classroom learning. In addition, middle school students can take awhile to trust an adult enough to share their experiences in a deeper, more meaningful way.

I am interested in proposing an action research project but I'm not sure if that will be an acceptable way to do the assignment. I will need to ask about this in the discussion forum.

Overall, I agree that the Ellis article is extremely helpful for thinking about working with children. I can see why it has had a big impact on de Groot's work as well. It really changes the idea of just walking into a room, doing interviews, and leaving, into a relationship and process.

Ellis, J. (2006). Researching children's experience hermeneutically and holistically. The Alberta Journal of Educational Research, 52(3), 111-126.

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