Mining the archives

As I draft, and mobilise my knowledge to build an argument, I need to refresh my memory of the written work of others, to effectively cite.  I have an impression that so-and-so said such-and-such, but don’t quite know exactly where  (ie committing verbatim text and chapter-and-verse to memory is not something well developed in my childhood, excepting by the accompaniment of music).  But I do have this memory-remnant, and in regularly revisited reading (eg of the three synoptic gospels, or of Paul’s letters to the churches) I have a greater remembrance of basic context, so I can  scan relatively quickly for it, and with concordances or electronic search engines these days I can use ‘key words’ to search efficiently and find.

But not all of the documents I have accessed are in a digital form, yet, and my processing of my reading includes integrating the material into my frame, with its selective attentivenesses, and involves some synthesising re-expression, so that when I go ‘back to the literature’ I cannot always find a sentence, or form of words, that captures the remnant memory impression of how I want to speak of the idea I want to reference.

Going back to the literature, however, and searching again, by reading afresh the detail that has been forgotten, can have its own rewards: sometimes, as today, while re-reading Bateson’s Steps to an Ecology of Mind, I see things in detail that I don’t remember having seen before.  The hermeneutical spiral and iterative process, that is ongoing for me, has prepared me so that I can read and understand the same words read before, in a different way now.

The process of developing a habit of capturing reflective thinking as I work with my practice issue has now built a large repository of similar data.  The task of drafting, and redrafting to be more concise, has given me some polished resources that can be revisited and sometimes it is there that the precise reference, including a page number, is found.

The process of slowing down my reading, of theoretical and technical writing, by transcribing the material that first caught my attention, which I have used since undergraduate days (1963-6) to assist my memory and understanding has been enhanced recently.  Since 1996, I have captured the transcribed material digitally, and since 1998 I have been consciously capturing my contemporaneous reflective thinking about that first read and transcribe, so that now I have another resource of digitised data to search via simple ‘find’ commands (or someday soon, when I have tidied up my archived files of redundant duplication, I might invoke Google to search my desktop).

So, today, while mining the archives, I have found:

To what extent I need to explore disciplines like semantics, linguistics, psychology, xxx, to be able to deal with the issues that arise in my practice, is open, and may depend on whether I can find a group of cooperative inquirers where these disciplinary resources are available, and I can engage with cooperative inquiry with them (May 2004 draft of thesis conclusion)

Ha! I knew it! add to “semantics and linguistics”,  ‘syntax’, and maybe even ‘TESOL’,  and you have some of  the issues that my current practice is throwing up … prepositions, vocabulary and categories and possible ontologies, developing abstractions, literacy, the context of writing,  etc

Prepositions

He (the non-native English speaker) wrote

Teachers and administrators are in the heart of this transition since they are directly responsible for implementing ICT in educational curricula.

I jumped to correct the ‘in the heart’ to ‘at the heart’.

And then I stopped, and thought, and commented to myself:

Interesting aspect of prepositional use .. why am I (21st century Australian) reluctant to say ‘in the heart’, as a metaphor for the critical/key role they play in this change?

Such a little thing, these prepositions.  Such a minor change?  But if we are talking, and thinking, about sociocultural aspects of change, perhaps there is more to it than that.

When I take offense/challenge

In one of my challenges of another’s drafting was in a methodology chapter, when they were describing the process of thematic analysis, and said

The tentative themes were then categorized according to the research questions to reduce redundancy. This categorizing technique helped to make salient the points that the interviewees wanted to emphasize. One of the refining techniques in the process of interview analysis was comparing two interviews only to show similarities and differences between two teacher participants so that common themes and contrasts could be clearly identified.

I reacted badly to ‘This categorizing technique helped to make salient the points …’

My first reaction was ‘what does ‘salient’ mean?’ – I don’t know, without checking, what it means, how come this non-native English language speaker is using it?

Then I remembered: when I was working with my thesis drafting, and working intensively with the literature, I found my writing ‘mimicking’ the vocabulary of the writers I was reading.  At the time, I shared, with a peer, my complaint with myself over this process, with: “whose thesis/ thinking is this anyway?”

One of my key perceptions of what science teaching (to school certificate learners, undertaking compulsory studies) involved, was that one aspect of the task is to teach vocabulary (eg carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, fibre: what they are; why and how they are different; and, then, what is the value of knowing this – how does it apply to an understanding of good nutrition?).

Similarly, I am seeing thesis studies being about (a) self-directed learning; and (b) functional literacy.

Research, for a learner, is going into the unknown.  In the first instance it is an unknown to them, but may well be known by the ‘field’.  Consequently, one of the roles of the literature review is to take this novice into the field, and to find out what the field already knows about the phenomenon being explored.  Then, if the learner still has an unresolved question, the next step is to design the investigation and take themselves into that new territory, to explore it, and to come back and tell the story (write the report).

The thesis is then the evidence of managing that self-directed study, and developing the functional literacy involved in reporting findings back to the field.  Part of the functional literacy task is to learn the privileged vocabulary of the field.  Part of the functional literacy task is to learn how to be able to use that vocabulary, accurately and effectively, and to construct a report, for the field (peer review), demonstrating the achievement of certain standards of (a) data collection, (b) data analysis, (c) argument development and maintenance while retaining an appropriately open and ‘critical’ stance of one’s own work as well as the work of others.

My second reaction to ‘make salient’ was with the combination, and the ‘implicit’, for me, in the term ‘make’.  I was reading this as a forcing process and by (me as) the analyst.

So, was the combination ‘make salient’ an expression of the non-native English language writer, or was it how a writer in the field of methodology had expressed it, which this learner, like me, was finding infiltrating their own native expressions as they worked at becoming an initiate of the field?

And my reaction to ‘make salient’?… Was it my tendency to try and disown bias?  Was it me trying to give the impression of ‘objectivity’ when, in data analysis, particularly,  it is the person of the researcher who is doing the ‘making sense’ of what is there, is doing the choosing of the category tag, etc?

So now, how  do I understand the objectivity/subjectivity divide?

In research there is no capacity to separate the researcher (subject) from the research (object).  Claims that this happens/ can happen are only claims.

And, further, when I am brought up against this issue, in drafting that is dealing with Engestrom’s Activity System Model (ex Leont’ev, ex Vygotsky), [and something which is new to me], how do I now understand how the ASM is seeing subject-object and via a mediating tool like language?

Writing and context

I have been encouraged, previously, to realise that writing is a complex task, according to Scardamalia and Bereiter, 1991 (‘Literate Expertise’).

Now that I am trying to help others to write, I am also finding out a bit more about that complexity.  It has to do with the contextual nature of writing and meaning making.

Bateson, (1972/1969 ‘Double Bind’, in Steps to an Ecology of Mind), suggests that part of the capacity to be creative arises from somehow recognising cues from context .. and realising that in a certain context, something new is what is most appropriate.

It seems to me, as I try and suggest alternatives, of word choice, of sentence construction, for non-native English writers working on thesis drafting, and as I try to explain why what is written is not satisfying me, as a reader, the issue of a range of options of how else to write this, arises.

Those options need to be examined , and by using a range of evaluative criteria, in order to choose, or to design, which one, of the many ways of saying something, best serves the meaning the writer wants to convey.

No wonder, when I tried to construct a email, to share some of this, the email became more and more convoluted …

I needed to be with the writer, questioning, and finding out the meaning they intended,

I needed to help them to settle the choice on one issue before I/we could proceed to the next issue, whether it was immediately consequential, or not.

The choice of options, and all options chosen, needs to consolidate (or coalesce) around the purpose of the writing.  This is what is meant by coherence – a context in which each sentence has its own inimitable part to play.

It seems that I wasn’t far wrong, as an eight-to-nine-year-old, in reading the lot to try and find the meaning of the new word/s, rather than using a dictionary as a first resort.  I was working on understanding a new term, especially, in its context, as well as by its context.

5 Feb 2010: Now I find, from Kate Wilson’s thesis on EAP, that van Lier (2004) puts ‘context’ on the top of his list of ten principles for language learning. [No. Kate puts ‘context’ top; van Lier puts ‘relations’ top and ‘context’ second; though if we are strictly systemic, it willbe hard to order anything as top, because they are all interrelated, so that you cannot have-one-without-the-other.]

Times and seasons

Shane has posted about not blogging, and I have shared Bacon’s ‘Reading makes a man full ..conference, ready .. writing, exact’

Yes, there are seasons for writing .. seasons for preparations before writing.  For me, the last month’s silence here (apart from a brief report in) has been the season of learning, before I have anything to say.  It has also been a season of more intense face-to-face engagement, including some intensive post-graduate writing mentoring.

That has meant that I have also had to forego staying in touch with the electronic media and my collection of watching spaces, via Google reader.  Two weeks ago I took the brave step of ignoring some 60 posts … and finding one poster who offered another device to her readers.  This week, in the interests of balancing work and rest, I expect to ignore another 40 posts.

But before I do that I want to capture, here, one or two that have caught my eye:

The one on healthy lurking has lessons for my engagement at CRIAN and helpful facilitating others’ interactions there.

Michael Jensen’s one on Kevin Rudd’s communication has something to say about communication style and bounces, at church, with what Peter Sholl is sharing, and is about to share, about quality of preaching and that leads back to our Grumpy Bishop .. and the art of rhetoric – something to record to my ‘to do’ list at Tiddlywiki. Now to capture that, elsewhere.