The Struggle to Define Powerful Purposes for Documentation

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Teachers analyze different kinds of evidence in order to construct hunches that help them serve learners well. Clear answers are rare, but if we pay attention, we know when we’re getting closer to understanding the challenges learners face and better at designing solutions.

The questions we ask often make all of the difference.

Traditional research processes often begin with the identification of driving questions. Intended to focus our work, driving questions can help us define powerful pathways through the research process. They also tighten our vision, inspiring us to seek and study what seems most relevant.

Things are not always as they appear, though.

As I began a new inquiry cycle with teachers yesterday, this understanding informed our approach. We began by sharing our wishes for this work as well as the worries that threaten to undermine it. Then, we were transparent about the hunches we were already bringing to the table, long before examining any evidence. This helped us establish a purpose for our work, and it also revealed our expertise. Most importantly, it made us sensitive to our biases.

How often do data and inquiry team meetings begin this way?

How often do we discuss the influence of our own biases on our purposes for documentation?

How can we be sure that the driving questions we choose to pursue aren’t compromised by our assumptions about the strengths and needs of learners and what we believe might matter most?

I was compelled by grounded theory methodology because in practice, all are data. Rather than beginning with a driving question or a hunch, researchers document everything they can relevant to a particular topic. Then, they look for trends. Those trends refine their studies.

Grounded theory helped me discover unexpected things about the writers I support. Had I begun with driving questions or hunches or theories or applications of best practices borrowed from others, I don’t know that I would have learned similar things. As I continue helping teachers document for learning, I’m reminded of this often.

How do you establish purposes for documentation?

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2 Comments

  1. What a super idea, the ‘wishes, worries, and hunches’ approach. I might have mentioned in a previous comment that I always look at the title of a post or article pretty much the same way, even if I don’t break it down that way; really helps me view the actual post or article through deeper Considerations – because I have some expectations that will be addressed, countered, or not included. I was going to suggest adding expectations to your three but decided hunches were the expectations.

    On the specific topics of purposes, I once again note the late Stephen Covey’s ‘four needs’: physical, social, academic, and what I refer to as internal. In the academic of course are my learning purposes; while I don’t truly keep a written updated mission statement, I do have one in my head. It’s kept mindful through the internal need. Weekly, I reflect on the other three needs – how things are going, how they might go better. So weekly, the academic mission statement (purposes) is reviewed, reflected upon, and revised if appropriate. This keeps it alive for me.

    As I re-read your post, I’m not sure my first paragraph aligns with your intended message. Need to Consider this post more closely…

    • Angela says:

      It’s quite relevant, John. Your focus on Covey’s needs reminds me of the importance of having a clear vision and reflecting often to insure that whatever “work” we’re doing aligns with that vision and not merely academic standards or mandates imposed by others. For instance, if I’m devoted to student-centered learning, regardless of how I choose to implement standards, my sensitivity to this will insure that the approach is student-centered. I’m wondering how documentation can support this approach…and yours as well. You’re expanding my thinking here…

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