Sunday, January 13, 2008

Notes on Narrative Inquiry Discoveries

Ever since participating in a Narrative Inquiry group at the IDIERI 2003 Conference in Northampton, UK, I've found it's approach accessible and expansive for my 12th Grade literature students. I have to admit I didn't know what Narrative Inquiry was when I signed up for the research module--I just like the sound of it. To me it said "story."

True enough story is part of it, but it's how the story is told or discovered that makes the research approach deliniated by Connelly and Clandinin (1990) so worthwhile for my classes. Students generally know one way to represent information--a straight outline or Cornell notetaking form. The Narrative Inquiry model provides a less linear, more layered approach. Albeit offputting at first, the layered approach is much more fitting with our postmodern times, our multi-multi thinking, and moves away from either-or analysis of things.

As their publisher notes:
"Understanding experience as lived and told stories--also known as narrative
inquiry--has gained popularity and credence in qualitative research. Unlike more
traditional methods, narrative inquiry successfully captures personal and human
dimensions that cannot be quantified into dry facts and numerical data."
It takes students a while to become accustomed to thinking of texts (at least in school--don't they do it all the time elsewhere?) in four directions (forward, backward, inward, outward) while considering three points (time, action, place). Add to this the fragility of memory and they are not sure at first that they can trust that they are doing it right--but it's hard not to do it right as they begin metacognition on a text. Some students rely on facts without feelings at first, and need to be nudged into trusting their visceral notions of texts.

Then widening the definition of "text" to any element one can consider is another stretch at first for students, but soon they are using the text-reader-author conceit as well as any graduate student. And constructing concepts that make sense out of the curricular content unlike--and unlikely--as with traditional models.

Students like the subjective aspects of the "inward" and what they "remember." They love the drawing outside the outlines, once they do it and see my smile not reprimand.

We've recently returned from a tour of the U of Pittsburgh's Nationality Rooms. Here's part of one student's meaning-making.

I like the qualitative thinking and expression it evokes and gives me a better measure of the depth of student thinking than regular reporting of knowledge and comprehension. Narrative inquiry calls a student higher up Bloom's ladder of the cognitive domain and integrates some of the affective domain as well. I find, as a reader of thousands of projects a year, I welcome the variety and depth of thinking. Much more interesting reading.

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