Developing quality Narrative S-STEP research requires the use of strong strategies and techniques for design, data collection and analysis, and representation of findings. In this study, we sought to uncover our understandings concerning this. We inquired into what knowledge we as Narrative S-STEP scholars held that guided us in conducting such studies. Our data consisted of our revisiting our own studies and those of others and collecting notes of our interaction and dialogue during the process. In examining our work, we sought to identify the questions that guided us in each stage of the research process and the report of it. We reached consensus as we consistently considered what questions guided our development of a project from design through data collection, analysis, and representation of findings. For each of the elements considered (design, data collection, data analysis, and representation of findings), the article provides a definition, an exemplar, and questions to guide researchers. This study can support those engaging in Narrative S-STEP to create stronger research.
Orientation to the Study
The purpose of this project was to explore our knowing of techniques and strategies for using narratives in studying our own practice as Self-Study of Teacher Education Practice (S-STEP) scholars. To do this work, we re-positioned ourselves as if at the threshold of taking up S-STEP research. We stood therefore in a space of liminality (Heilbrun, 1999) seeking to stand as beginners but with experience as scholars within this methodology and that of narrative research. We feel ambiguous as we position ourselves in an intermediate space between narrative and S-STEP research and as beginners and experienced scholars. Developing rigorous S-STEP research requires the use of strong strategies and techniques for data collection and analysis. As S-STEP researchers, we act but at the same time we also continually question our actions as we take each step in the research process. We must collect and interpret our data and simultaneously question the legitimacy and trustworthiness of each step (see Pinnegar et al., 2010). This challenge is magnified when the researchers are also using narrative as an analysis and representation tool.
Research (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000) argues that narratives capture identity and so analysis of them engages scholars in an additional challenge of examining their narrative data and representing it in ways that are authentic, accurate, and trustworthy for readers. The authors in such cases must be willing to allow stories that may be unflattering but accurate and important in communicating findings to stand. While the benefit of S-STEP in supporting teacher educators to recognize and value their own professional knowledge continues to serve a vital purpose, there are others external to this research community who can profit from the knowledge and understandings developed about research that uses self-studies of practice (Berry, 2020).
As four S-STEP scholars who regularly utilize narrative in data collection, analysis, and representation, we determined to collaborate to explore and uncover knowledge that could guide others in using narrative as a tool in S-STEP research.
Context of the Study
Each of us as researchers works in different contexts within teacher education: we practice in different countries, we are at different places in our teacher education careers, and we have different orientations to and knowledge of narrative research. Shaun is an associate dean over teacher education at his Canadian institution. Celina works as an adjunct professor teaching courses in adolescent development and classroom management in secondary education and methods for teaching English Learners (ELs) for all education majors. Eliza is the director of a child care center and as such is responsible for educating the teachers she employs. Stefinee is retired but has experience in teaching teachers to teach ELs and secondary methods. We encompass different understandings of S-STEP over time. Stefinee has been part of S-STEP from the start, and Shaun and Eliza are primarily narrative inquirers though they have engaged in S-STEP studies as well. Celina has engaged in work that meshes both narrative and S-STEP.
As we pause at this threshold (Berry, 2020), this space of liminality, we consider where we are and have been as S-STEP scholars and how the community has developed. Many S-STEP researchers claim narrative as their data collection and analytic tools; however, we often find ourselves questioning such work. We wondered who we were to question and what it is we know and understand about using narrative in data collection, analysis, and representation that makes us sometimes consider other competent scholars as lacking in terms of the hybrid. Our aim in this study was to uncover our knowledge by exploring the threads, themes, and plotlines that guide our practices as Narrative S-STEP researchers.
Aim of the Study
The call for this conference inspired us to revisit our knowing of narrative research methods and methodologies within the framework of S-STEP. We sought to collaborate, drawing forward our own past work and the work of others to identify, explore, and develop those threads, themes, and plotlines of our knowledge to support others as Narrative S-STEP scholars. The wonder that guided this study was: What knowledge do we as Narrative S-STEP scholars use in conducting such studies?
We took up this S-STEP focused on our research practice, to better understand and sharpen our practice as scholars and to contribute potentially helpful knowledge to other S-STEP researchers who use or would like to use narrative within their own research. We are located as self-study researchers within the boundaries of S-STEP. This is a methodology but the strategies and techniques used by scholars vary widely and are not proscribed though they are mainly qualitative (Pinnegar & Hamilton, 2009). Since this study focused on our practice in using narrative within S-STEP the boundaries may differ from other S-STEP work but it remains firmly located within practice and the use of S-STEP in the exploration of it.
In collecting our data for this study, we collaboratively reviewed Narrative S-STEP studies that we have conducted and published and studies from others who have informed our work in using narratives in their work (see Craig, 2006; Coia & Taylor, 2013; Tidwell & Fitzgerald, 2004) As we considered these research projects, we repositioned ourselves within the process of the project, asking ourselves, “What was I thinking?”, “What strategies were used for data collection and analysis?”, “What made the study trustworthy?” The data consisted of our responses to those questions and resulted in notes about our decisions, interactions, artifacts selected for representation, and our imaginings of what and how other researchers seemed to be thinking concerning these issues in their studies. We also documented our conversation about our responses to these issues. Our analysis is ongoing, in that we identified understandings that emerged in our interactions and dialogue with each other.
As we met, we reviewed our understandings and modified and built on them, being careful to anchor them to notes, texts, and artifacts and interrogate the understandings we came to in relation to our data. We continually worked to make sure that our assertions were supported by our data. Our team reached consensus as we consistently considered what questions guided our development of a project from design through data.
In all S-STEP research (Pinnegar & Hamilton, 2009) and in doing narrative research particularly narrative inquiry (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000), while the process for conducting research can be represented linearly, researchers who engage in these forms of research in the process of conducting a particular study find themselves moving among the categories we examine here. We identify each element of narrative self-study of practice research identified in our conversations together (Design, Data Collection, Data Analysis, and Representation of Findings). The questions that emerged as we considered our studies and our examination of them were related to the processes involved in conducting narrative research. We begin by providing a summary of our understanding about the element identified and anchored with commentary in relation to a published work of narrative self-study. We end the consideration of each element with a series of questions we uncovered in our data and dialogue about it which could guide other scholars who undertake such work.
For us, design refers to the formulation of the project and the decisions we made not only about the question guiding the study but also about data needed and the kind of analysis engaged in to enable us to uncover our knowing in relationship to the wonder/question/topic of the study. Usually, the topic/question/wonder emerged as we were intrigued by our experiences within the context of teacher education, our reading, or our interaction with colleagues. In the study by Shaun, Stefinee, and Eliza (Murphy et al. 2011), Eliza was beginning her practicum in teacher education. She contacted Stefinee and Shaun and indicated she would like to do a self-study of her beginnings as a teacher. Shaun and Stefinee were interested as well. Her desire to examine her experience and our desire to use her experience to bring depth to our understanding led us to engage in this study.
In this study, like most Narrative S-STEP work we begin with the questions about how collecting and analyzing narratives might lead us as researchers to uncover what we know. Then once we determined to use narratives, the next questions to be examined follow.
- What literature to review?
- What question prompt will guide the narratives we gather?
- What data and what kind of narrative analysis?
From our inquiry, data collection in these kinds of hybrid studies involves several choices. Just a plan to collect stories is not sufficient. Researchers must decide what narratives they will collect and how they will be collected. Equally important is how to bound them, how to determine what’s a narrative or what narratives from the data will enter analysis (Miles et al., 2016). This means being clear about what type of story will be collected--which might be a kernel, a chronicle, memory work, critical incidents, artifacts such as photographs or awards (accompanied by stories), or a narrative beginning or annals (see Clandinin & Connelly, 2000), etc. Sometimes data collection and analysis occur back and forth--in a kind of check and balance--advancing, adding trustworthiness, and refining. In the study by Pinnegar et al. (2018), we spent a lot of time initially shaping the question we would use to prompt our narratives and how we would collect and store them. For this particular study, we had begun with a thorough examination of the literature on teacher retention (teacher leavers) and teacher identity formation. We also made lists (chronicles and annals) of potential narratives we might expand on (see Clandinin & Connelly, 2000). As we began, we were telling stories about not being teachers in public schools anymore but about evidence of our teacher identity continuing, but we still did not have a well-articulated wonder or question.
Our question emerged as we paused in our rush to share stories, and decided how we wanted to record our stories, consider them, what we wanted to examine, and what specific question prompt would guide the stories we would record and examine. Our examination of the literature enabled us to open a space for this study, but the data collection process needed to target the study’s purposes as well. Careful consideration of data collection possibilities (see Goodson et al., 2013) helped us determine to each expand on a story from our list, meet together to share and engage in analysis, then continue with more data collection. This strategy allowed us to hone our research question per Pinnegar et al. (2018). As a group, we were four researchers who had worked as public school teachers but had left the profession, not necessarily for negative reasons. The question that guided us in our data collection had purpose and focus. “How is our teacher identity still present in our lives?”
Some guiding questions for other researchers might be:
- What are the constraints on data collection in terms of time, context, access, and participants?
- What question will guide our collection?
- How will we elicit narratives rather than exposition?
As scholars that use Narrative S-STEP work, we have experience with and know of many techniques and strategies for analyzing narrative data (see Pinnegar & Hamilton, 2011). Analysis of narrative data can involve a wide range of strategies and techniques such as creating a taxonomy of story types; examining plotline, character, symbolism (or other literary modes); engaging in positioning analysis; using the three dimensional narrative space, fictionalizing, etc. Indeed, the kinds of strategies used in data collection can shape the kind of analysis utilized. In a study on the contribution of our experiences as mothers to our work as teachers (Pinnegar et al., 2005), the authors chose to use story cycles. Because the researchers are also involved in using S-STEP methodology, they have a personal connection to the stories. The analysis utilized should be very attentive to the potential for inauthenticity. In this study, we used story cycles where we presented individual stories and then responded to the collection of stories and then collected responses to the response. Using the strategy of story cycles, we were supported in the analysis and in attending to accuracy and interpretation. When we as researchers have collected artifacts, expository accounts, or other kinds of data, we move toward interpretation. In our work, we find ourselves asking:
- Given the data collected, what analysis would be most productive?
- How accurately do the stories actually account for the experience?
- What elements of the story should the analysis highlight (theme, plotline, character, positioning, story, etc.)?
- What story of the phenomenon has been revealed?
- How trustworthy is our interpretation?
In addition, we use a strategy of consistently asking these questions during analysis of the data: What does this mean? What is the story this data tells?
Representation of Findings
When we have engaged in Narrative S-STEP, representing the narratives in a way that allows the meaning to unfold and be anchored in evidence is always a complex endeavor. The narratives and the exposition surrounding them needs to link evidence and meaning in ways that capture the narratives and the understandings emerging. In Lay’s (2021) study of teacher educator knowledge, when she came to the space for representing her findings she was overwhelmed by the amount of evidence she had and the length and complexity of the data. She was confronted by how to provide evidence of her findings being true to the narratives collected without overwhelming the reader. She determined to use Saldaña’s (2016) guidelines for constructing narrative vignettes. By combining the narrative data and reforming it as vignettes, she could then present the vignette and unpack its meaning. The vignettes also enabled Lay to present the nuanced meaning of her findings. She was confronted by the same questions all Narrative S-STEP researchers must consider when they decide how to represent their findings using narratives. Indeed, we consistently wonder as we present findings:
- How clearly do the forms we are using present, clarify, and capture the meaning of the data?
- How do the forms of data representation we are using holistically hold together multiple threads or themes, characters, or the findings of the data?
- How can we succinctly represent the threads, themes, and plotlines, knowing what our analysis has revealed?
- How trustworthy are our representations in terms of the data being presented?
The purpose of this study was to provide exemplars of Narrative S-STEP research in ways that would support those engaging in it in developing strong research articles. We used our work to represent the questions and dilemmas as well as strategies and techniques used by us in our Narrative S-STEP work. The elements of Narrative S-STEP research which S-STEP researchers must attend to and the questions they could consider support us and others in developing as stronger narrative researchers. The questions can guide those who engage in such work. As we completed this work, we wondered if similar work could be done with those who use autoethnography, arts-based methods, or other intimate scholarship (Pinnegar & Hamilton, 2015) within the frame of self-study methodology.
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