Sunday, December 27, 2009

Notes on Tim Small (part 2)

This is part 2 of a series. Back to part 1

In this post I focus on Tim Small's analytical methods and compare them to the approaches I've developed.

In his article, Small describes a method for analyzing students' responses to poetry that he developed for his doctoral thesis. He created a model for "analysis of written responses to poetry on the continuum between text and self" (p. 256), shown in Figure 1 below. It shows the dimensions of possible responses, ranging from the "efferent", outcome-based responses such as "spotting technical devices" or commenting on a poem's form, to aesthetic and experiential responses such as visual associations or even a student's making observations on the way they responded to the poem, such as "I was amazed how much my appreciation of the poem grew, the more I explored it." (p. 259).

Figure 1: Small's model for analyzing responses to poetry (Small p. 256)

He then applies this model to instances of actual responses to poetry by graphically mapping specific responses (taken from students' own writing about the poems) onto the model's dimensions, as shown in Figure 2:

Figure 2: An example of one of the analyses (Small p. 258)

This approach has a family resemblance to some of the analysis methods I've developed, particularly the "framing analysis" and the "CEU" tool. CEU diagrammatically represents the flow of practitioner/participant/representation coherence, engagement, and usefulness in a particpatory representation session, as seen in Figures 3 and 4:

Figure 3: Portion of a CEU analysis

Figure 4: Summary ("heat map") form of CEU analyses

The 3 dimensions of the CEU analysis are more limited than the 6 principal segments (with 24 sub-segments) of Small's model, which is more similar in form and intent to what I've called my "framing analysis" (Figure 5). I use this to characterize practitioner actions during a session in aesthetic, ethical, and experiential terms. It looks at how the practice and context interweave, and in what ways the aesthetic and ethical dimensions of the practice intertwine. I use this as the basis for a normative or ideal model to hold situations of practice up against. The model used in framing analysis provides a set of components, elements, and exploratory questions to help determine how a context of service, the unique set of people, goals, constraints, situation, and subject matter, can inform the "shaping" the practitioner performs on the representational object(s), and vice versa.

Figure 5: Components B and C of framing analysis model

I've applied the framing analysis in a textual rather than diagrammatic way (see an example in Figure 6), though it might be interesting to try that. I use it as a set of prompts or lenses on the way a practitioner acts in a session, answering the questions as a way to make sure I'm looking hard enough at what happened in a particular instance of practice.

Figure 6: Example of component A.2 from a framing analysis

justifies the analytical approach he took in his doctoral research by saying that the the findings themselves are tentative, but that it was concerned "as much with testing the model on a range of 'real' responses as with drawing firm conclusions from what it revealed." (p. 255) That resonates for me with how I am feeling about all the analysis of videos I've done. What is valuable about all that is not the hard and fast ideas of what constitutes 'good' practice or "lessons for practitioners", although there is certainly some of that there. Rather, doing all the cycles of analysis, reflection, and framework-building have been a testing and strengthening of the framework, finding in the data the constructs I've developed (or seeing ways to refine them).

What I've come up with is a way of looking at practice (as Small looked at poetry students) that highlight the aesthetic and ethical dimensions of the practitioner experience and a set of tools that provide representations of those dimensions, grounding them in repeated empirical analysis of actual practice. The question became "do I find what I think should be there" (and the answer I believe is "yes"). Now I'm beginning to see if practitioners themselves could do this kind of analysis of their own practice.

Some of these ideas make me think that I don't so much need to focus on "sensemaking moments" per se in my approach, but rather moments when the type and quality of attention and movement shift in some way from what came before (often, but not exclusively, in response to a sensemaking trigger).

Small provides a nice way to describe the potential value of analytical tools/visualizations of practice: "metaphorically creating a third dimension and offering a perspective from which to view the continuum" (p. 260), which offers "the means by with the reader gains access to a perspective from which to view the very response process he or she is engaged upon". This can result in "the mental space for viewing, understanding and communicating about the movement of his or her selective attention". Analytical artifacts, as "viewing instruments", create a "common vantage point ... for evidence to be included and shared in a peer or joint assessment dialogue." If and when I next try some of my tools out with practitioners evaluating their own practice (as the IFVP session was a first step towards), these considerations could provide a way to assess the success of the effort.

In the next and final part of this series, I'll look at the ways Small applies his work to self- and peer- learner assessments, and how that might be useful for my research.

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