What Counts

On Thursday night, I was helping to introduce the concept of teacher research to a group of teachers in my school district.  And it happened.  The thing that often happens when you introduce qualitative methodology.

We read a sample teacher research study that Michelle and I are fond of.  I like the study, a short piece on a teacher wondering about the value of a pullout literacy program in her school, because it emphasizes three things I think are essential to consider, and often re-consider, when ot comes to teacher inquiry specifically and qualitative research generally:

  1. Teacher research is an opportunity to dig into the “I wonders” and the “what ifs” that come up from time to time in your classroom.  But it’s not the same as “what good teachers do every day.”  It’s more intentional and purposeful than that.  And that’s a good thing.
  2. Teacher research is contextual.  It comes from you, the researcher.  The classroom you teach in, the students you know, the wonderings you have.  That works two ways – both the questions and your answers to them are contextual.
  3. Teacher research involves “data” that doesn’t show up in a quantitive study.  Stuff that doesn’t count because it can’t be counted.  Or, at least, not as easily.  And what matters, or at least what should, when it comes to measurement and paying attention is not either/or but yes and.  Qualitative and quantitative measures are friends.  Honest1 .

And it’s the third point that usually involves controversy.  Things get heated.  And that troubles me.

Folks make statements, when we start to fiddle with traditional notions of “data,”2 about their stats professors, or n values, or other things that suggest that Math Is THE Way of Knowing The Universe.

While I find lots to like in science and math, it’s not the only way to go after what’s right and good and true in the world.

Teachers, of all people, should have a good and always developing sense of this: they should know and understand what it means to measure, and how measurement affects the thing you’re measuring, and how there are ways other than percentages and standard deviations to explore vital areas of life and living and learning.

If you think that’s wrong, and that cold, hard numbers are the only way to Know Something, well, consider this –

How do you know you love your spouse?  Your best friend?  Your children?  Your parents?

Prove it.

But you only get numbers.  I’ll wait here.  Take your time.

  1. As I write this, I’m in the middle of a mixed-methods study.  The two go nicely together. []
  2. And the air quotes make appearances usually at this point in the conversation. []

19 thoughts on “What Counts

  1. ah. this is one point that pains my heart.
    mathematical thinking vs school math.

    ie of mathematical thinking – fractals.
    zoom out, see that scientific thinking, mathematical thinking, communicative thinking – writing/reading …etc.. are all the same. they are all life. if we take the time to notice. if we give up the urge to control and prescribe. let’s question the fact that we’re prescribing rather than spinning our wheels to prescribe better.
    zoom in, see that i am my thumb print, as are you. why in the world would we think some statistical data could possibly compare us. [Ellen Langer: prejudice decreases as discrimination increases.]

    mathematical thinking is natural. school math is prescribed. there is power in the natural because it’s intrinsic. no gimmicks needed.

    mathematical (scientific, communicative, etc) thinking allows us to be/live/do/make. it matters. trying to measure it compromises its essence.
    monika hardy´s last blog post ..mentor alongside

    1. School math, if it’s done well – and admittedly, that’s a little word that makes a big difference! – helps lead the way to mathematical thinking.

  2. Hm. I will offer two quibbles: first of all, math isn’t “just numbers,” as you imply. Second, while it would certainly be a challenge to prove that I love anyone using math, I think I could do it as well that way as verbally.

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