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Qualitative Research Approaches to Educational Inequality in Latin America  

Ana Maria F. Almeida and Sandra Ziegler

International comparisons demonstrate considerable educational inequality across Latin America. Since the return of democracy in the region in the mid-1980s, these educational disparities have become an important object of studies and public policies, not least because educational inequality reflects, and entrenches, deep social inequalities across the region. Studies of this phenomenon are multifaceted, with distinctions between qualitative and quantitative approaches corresponding to distinct disciplinary fields (sociology, psychology, history versus economics, notably), university departments (colleges of education, sociology departments versus economics departments), and gender (women versus men). Qualitative approaches examine a limited number of cases, usually using interviews and ethnographies, to examine a circumscribed space of social action, often limited to a small set of institutions within a single national framework. Studies carried out in this perspective support the construction of hypotheses that can then be tested with a larger number of cases. They are particularly suited to identifying multiple, mutually influencing causalities, thus enabling a dense description of the complex dynamics that lead to the reproduction of educational inequality in the region. At the same time, these approaches have not tackled comparative analysis nor have they addressed the global dynamics affecting education in the region.


Qualitative Research in the Field of Popular Education  

Alfonso Torres Carrillo

Popular Education (PE) is an educational movement and pedagogical current that emerged in Latin America in the seventies. It was a result of Paulo Freire’s pedagogical proposals in a context of radicalization of popular struggle and cultural and intellectual movements. During the past five decades, hundreds of groups, practices and projects have identified themselves as part of the PE movement. As a pedagogical current, PE is understood as an educational perspective and practice, which is critical of institutionalized education and identifies with emancipatory political perspectives. Its purpose is to help populations that experience oppression or discrimination to strengthen their capacity to change their conditions, relationships, practices and ways of thinking and feeling by means of cultural, educational, dialogical, participatory, interactive and expressive practices. With respect to the history of PE in Latin America, its social contexts and educational practices, four stages can be identified: 1. The liberating pedagogy of Paulo Freire at the end of the sixties. 2. The foundational stage PE in the seventies. 3. The re-foundation and expansion of the PE in the eighties and nineties. 4. The reactivation of the EP in the current context. During these periods, a constant interest in PE has been producing knowledge from and about its contexts, themes and practices. From its origins, it has created and incorporated qualitative research strategies in coherence with its political and epistemological options. As evidenced in each historical phase of the PE, the use of a qualitative methodology predominated: thematic research in Freire’s pedagogical proposal; participatory action research (PAR) in its foundational stage; collective reconstruction of the history and critical ethnography in its expansion phase; systematization of practices since the 1990s; and the emergence of innovative and aesthetic strategies at the present century. A set of methodological principles derive from this historical path of qualitative research in PE: 1. Maintaining a critical distance from institutionalized research modes in the scientific world, acknowledging their subordination to hegemonic powers. 2. Assuming PE to be both critical and emancipatory. This option is identified with values, willpower, and projects that involve new meanings of the organization of collective life. 3. Recognizing the place of the cultural and the intersubjective, both in social phenomena and in social research processes. 4. Linking it to emancipatory organizational processes and collective actions. 5. Not subordinating it to the institutional logic of disciplinary research. 6. Promoting group and organization participation in research process decisions. 7. Ensuring that it promotes formation of knowledge collectives. 8. Maintaining a critical and creative use of the theory. 9. Recognizing the plurality of subjects and promoting a “dialogue of knowledge.” 10. Incorporating diverse cultural practices within communities in order to produce and communicate their knowledge. 11. Assuming methodology to be a flexible practice. 12. Assuming research within PE is a permanent practice of critical reflection.


Sonic Ethnography in Theory and Practice  

Walter S. Gershon

As its name suggests, sonic ethnography sits at the intersection of studies of sound and ethnographic methodologies. This methodological category can be applied to interpretive studies of sound, ethnographic studies that foreground sound theoretically and metaphorically, and studies that utilize sound practices similar to those found in forms of audio recording and sound art, for example. Just as using ocular metaphors or video practices does not make an ethnographic study any more truthful, the use of sonic metaphors or audio recording practices still requires the painstaking, ethical, reflexivity, time, thought, analysis, and care that are hallmarks for strong ethnographies across academic fields and disciplines. Similarly, the purpose of sonic ethnography is not to suggest that sound is any more real or important than other sensuous understandings but is instead to underscore the power and potential of the sonic for qualitative researchers within and outside of education. A move to the sonic is theoretically, methodologically, and practically significant for a variety of reasons, not least of which are (a) its ability to interrupt ocular pathways for conceptualizing and conducting qualitative research; (b) for providing a mode for more actively listening to local educational ecologies and the wide variety of things, processes, and understandings of which they are comprised; (c) ethical and more transparent means for expressing findings; and (d) a complex and deep tool for gathering, analyzing, and expressing ethnographic information. In sum, sonic ethnography opens a world of sound possibilities for educational researchers that at once deepen and provide alternate pathways for understanding everyday educational interactions and the sociocultural contexts that help render those ways of being, doing, and knowing sensible.


Status, Content, and Evaluation of Lesson Study in Japan on Teacher Professional Development  

Takashi Nagashima

In Japan, various styles of Lesson Study (LS) have been born over 140 years. The first issue is what should be the focus of observation in the live lesson. There are two trends with regard to the target of observation. One is teacher- and lesson-plan-centered observation since the Meiji era (1870s), and the other is child-centered observation since the Taisho era (1910s). The former is closely related to administrative-led teacher training. The latter is more complex and can be further divided into five types. The second issue is which activities are given priority in the LS processes: observation of the live lesson itself, preparation before the lesson, or reflection after the lesson. Furthermore, each activity can be designed as a personal or a collaborative process. Thus, there are roughly six types of LS in Japan related to this issue. Which type is adopted depends on the period, lesson-study frequency, and school type. In addition, it is noteworthy that the type of LS implemented is closely related to which of demonstration teacher or observers are regarded as the central learners. The third issue is whether to regard LS as scientific research or as literary research. Teachers and researchers in 1960s Japan had strong interest in making lessons and lesson studies more scientific. On the other hand, as teachers attempt to become more scientific, they cannot but deny their daily practice: making improvised decisions on complicated situations without objective evidence. Although lesson studies have been revised in various forms and permutations over the last 140, formalization and ceremonialization of lesson studies has become such that many find lesson studies increasingly meaningless and burdensome. What has become clear through the discussions on the three issues, the factors that impede teacher learning in LS are summarized in the following four points; the bureaucracy controlled technical expert model, exclusion of things that are not considered scientific, the view of the individualistic learning model, and the school culture of totalitarian products. To overcome obstruction of teachers’ education in LS and the school crisis around the 1980s, the “innovative LS Cases” has begun in the 1990s. The innovative LS aims not for as many teachers as possible but for every teacher to learn at high quality. In the innovative LS Case, what teachers are trying to learn through methods of new LS is more important than methods of new LS itself. Although paradoxical, in order to assist every single teacher to engage in high quality learning inside school, LS is inadequate. It is essential that LS address not only how to actualize every single teacher to learn with high quality in LS but also through LS how to improve collegiality which enhances daily informal collaborative learning in teachers room. Furthermore, LS cannot be established as LS alone, and the school reform for designing a professional learning community is indispensable. Finally, the concept of “the lesson study of lesson study (LSLS)” for sustainable teacher professional development is proposed through organizing another professional learning communities among managers and researchers.


Writing Educational Ethnography  

Sara Delamont

Researchers who use qualitative methods, especially ethnography in educational settings, have to make conscious decisions about how to write about their results, their methods, and their experiences as investigators. Since the 1980s, initially in the discipline of social anthropology, but later across all the social sciences, there have been vigorous debates about how texts should be written and also about how they should be read. Before that, qualitative and quantitative educational research was written up in a similar way: reported in a passive or anonymous style designed to create an authoritative account. Over the course of 40 years, ethnographic writing has developed new literary forms, polyvocal texts, and authors have become visible and individual in their own texts. A wider range of texting genres is now published, and reflexivity is central to writing and reading. The causes and consequences of those changes are analyzed.


Epistemology and Interviews  

Kathryn Roulston

Interviews are used ubiquitously in everyday life as a source of information about the social world, whether in clinical interviews, parent–teacher interviews, job interviews, or media and journalistic interviews. Likewise, researchers in education have long made use of a spectrum of interview formats to produce knowledge about research problems. Interview formats used by education researchers range from standardized survey interviews to semi-structured interviews to open-ended, conversational interviews. Broadly, data in the form of answers to questions and descriptions generated in interviews are used as evidence in a variety of ways across educational research. Yet researchers have long acknowledged the problems associated with interview research, including those to do with self-reported data, accomplishing mutual understanding, and representation of the Other. How researchers deal with these problems is directly relevant to the value attributed to interview accounts as evidence to support claims. The use to which educational researchers put interviews varies widely, particularly since they draw on a range of epistemological perspectives in their use of interviews—whether or not these are acknowledged. Neopositivist, emotionalist or romantic, constructionist, transformative, decolonizing, and new materialist approaches to interviews are founded in different epistemological assumptions about how interviews are conducted, how interview reports are used as evidence to warrant claims, and how the validity or quality of studies is judged. Although much has been written about interview practice, there are still numerous avenues to explore with respect to using the interview method in educational research.


Ethnographic Inquiry in Teacher Education  

José Ignacio Rivas-Flores

Teaching’s purpose is to build a society’s knowledge and skills through a group of students using a curricular proposal within a social and institutional framework. It therefore takes place in institutions specifically created for this purpose, which, as such, represents a culturally constructed environment that is in line with the conditions of the society in which this process unfolds. Thus professional cultures have been historically constructed according to the working conditions, the teaching experiences transmitted from generation to generation, and the evolution of the educational systems. In addition, institutional cultures are developed according to the particular history of each school. Student cultures also form as social groups within these institutions. This represents a complex system that goes beyond mere instruction by curriculum. Preparing the professionals who will go on to work in these institutions requires an understanding of these cultural frameworks and the competence to be able to act on them. Ethnographic research promotes an understanding of educational reality from a critical reflective perspective, and this is only possible if researchers themselves participate in those frameworks. Ethnography can be understood as a shared construction of places for reflection, aimed at comprehending the cultural, social, and political phenomena that involve participants in the processes of change and transformation. Teacher preparation must, therefore, be established with an ethnographic approach, which reconstructs the school experience from a critical reflective perspective. In this way, the conditions for developing a professional identity based on the reconstruction of this experience are created. The theories, in this case, offer the opportunity to pursue this critical dialogue, breaking away from the prescriptive role that they adopt from a positivist perspective. Ethnography contributes to the tasks through three basic dimensions. First, teacher preparation throughout is an object of educational inquiry: there are many research studies of an ethnographic nature that report teacher training methods in an attempt to understand the processes taking place. Second, ethnographies are a tool for preparing future teachers: in this case, this refers to a curricular use of ethnography aimed at future teachers’ understanding of the educational processes through research. Third is a way of understanding learning—in other words, ethnographic attitude as a learning strategy and the use of ethnographic inquiry strategies and tools as means of learning about educational processes. This last case generally entails staying and acting in schools, and it is what most clearly links research and teaching in a shared process.


Ethnography in Early Childhood Education  

Jenny Ritchie

Ethnography is a qualitative methodology worthy of consideration for application in studies within the field of early childhood education. The long-term, immersive, relational nature of ethnography enables rich, detailed descriptions of the complex interactions occurring, and ongoing engagement with children, families, and teachers provides the opportunity for co-analysis of the meanings that underlie the observed activities and interrelationships. The foremost source of data for ethnographic research is the regular writing of in-depth fieldnotes over a lengthy period of time, which may be supplemented by photographs, videos, interviews, focus group discussions, and analysis of relevant documents. Issues to be considered by those intending to conduct ethnographic research in early childhood care and education settings include: their availability to be immersed in the site that is the focus of the study, on a regular basis over a long period of time; sensitivity to power dynamics between adults and children and to cultural differences; the ethical issues pertaining to gaining and maintain young children’s informed consent; and collaborating with participants, including young children, in co-analyzing the meanings underlying the data gathered. The ethnographic researcher in an early childhood care and education setting can attend to such issues through an ongoing receptivity to the messages, including body language, of participants, along with a commitment to self-reflexivity on an ongoing basis. The nuanced, culturally located understandings that are gleaned by ethnographic researchers offer potential for such research to inform policymakers in relation to delivering conditions that will enable teachers to offer high-quality, culturally responsive early childhood care and education pedagogies and programs.


Observing Schools and Classrooms  

Alison LaGarry

Qualitative observation is an attempt to view and interpret social worlds by immersing oneself in a particular setting. Observation draws on theoretical assumptions associated with the interpretivist paradigm. Thus, researchers who engage in qualitative observations believe that the world cannot be fully known, but must be interpreted. Observation is one way for researchers to seek to understand and interpret situations based on the social and cultural meanings of those involved. In the field of education, observation can be a meaningful tool for understanding the experiences of teachers, students, caregivers, and administrators. Rigorous qualitative research is long-term, and demands in-depth engagement in the field. In general, the research process is cyclical, with the researcher(s) moving through three domains: prior-to-field, in-field, and post- or inter-field. Prior to entering the field, the researcher(s) examine their assumptions about research as well as their own biases, and obtain approval from an Institutional Review Board. This is also the time when researcher(s) make decisions about how data will be collected. Upon entering the field of study, the researcher(s) work to establish rapport with participants, take detailed “jottings,” and record their own feelings or preliminary impressions alongside these quick notes. After leaving an observation, the researcher(s) should expand jottings into extended field notes that include significant detail. This should be completed no later than 48 hours after the observation, to preserve recall. At this point, the researcher may return to the field to collect additional data. Focus should move from observation to analysis when the researcher(s) feel that they have reached theoretical data saturation.


Practice-Focused Research in Initial Teacher Education  

Jane Abbiss and Eline Vanassche

A review of the field of practice-focused research in Initial Teacher Education (ITE) reveals four broad genres of qualitative research: case studies of teacher education programs and developments; research into student teacher experience and learning; inquiry into teacher educators’ own learning, identity, and beliefs; and conceptual or theory-building research. This is an eclectic field that is defined by variation in methodologies rather than by a few clearly identifiable research approaches. What practice-focused research in ITE has in common, though, is a desire on the behalf of teacher educator researchers to understand the complexity of teacher education and contribute to shifts in practice, for the benefit of student teachers and, ultimately, for learners in schools and early childhood education. In this endeavor, teacher educator researchers are presented with a challenge to achieve a balance between goals of local relevance and making a theoretical contribution to the broader field. This is a persistent tension. Notwithstanding the capacity for practice-focused research to achieve a stronger balance and greater relevance beyond the local, key contributions of practice-focused research in ITE include: highlighting the importance of context, questioning what might be understood by “improvement” in teacher education and schooling, and pushing back against research power structures that undervalue practice-focused research. Drawing on a painting metaphor, each genre represents a collection of sketches of practice-focused research in ITE that together provide the viewer with an overview of the field. However, these genres are not mutually exclusive categories as any particular research study (or sketch) might be placed within one or more groupings; for example, inquiry into teacher educators’ own learning often also includes attention to student teachers’ experiences and case studies of teacher education initiatives inevitably draw on theory to frame the research and make sense of findings. Also, overviewing the field and identifying relevant research is not as simple as it might first appear, given challenges in identifying research undertaken by teacher educators, differences in the positioning of teacher educators within different educational systems, and privileging of American (US) views of teacher education in published research, which was counteracted in a small way in this review by explicitly including voices located outside this dominant setting. Examples of different types of qualitative research projects illustrate issues in teacher education that matter to teacher educator researchers globally and locally and how they have sought to use a variety of methodologies to understand them. The examples also show how teacher educators themselves define what is important in teacher education research, often through small-scale studies of context-specific teacher education problems and practices, and how there is value in “smaller story” research that supports understanding of both universals and particularities along with the grand narratives of teacher education.