In general the word ‘mess’ gives me some anxiety, I am not going to lie. Also, when I think of messy, I think unorganized. I am not a person to be unorganized when it comes to anything school related. However, I am finding out that when it comes to “messy” research, I think it means the data coming together as one final entity. Here is a quote that made me think about the work that is ahead.“…a lot of it is casting around and then something grabs you. I’ve got the piece of the jigsaw but I’ve lost the top of the box, so I don’t know quite what these bits add up to. I can feel the strong shape, but I don’t know how certain bits go (p. 102).So like a puzzle, fitting the little pieces of data together may take more than one try. Pieces do not fit together with one try. It takes multiple tries before one piece fits another. I think the “messy process” in the research means just this and not the unorganized mess. The triangulation of data may take more than one try to make sense of everything I want to say. I think for the most part connecting all my data to make a cohesive flow may take the majority of time. I will handle this by giving myself enough space to allow me to see all the data I have gathered. Like a puzzle, I will have to piece the bits of information to find the perfect fit. I feel that this will be the most time consuming, not the actual writing component. “…being comfortable about working without outcomes ... we haven’t got an end, and it’s a process It’s about trust in the process to deliver without hurrying to a conclusion… Our world is not systematic and linear, one thing does not lead directly to another. (p.104).I think “systematic and linear” is the world I like to live in and stepping out of this comfort zone makes things a little uncomfortable. So in order to help me handle this will be to take my puzzle pieces (with patience and understanding) and create the final conclusion.
Ken, this puzzle analogy is spot-on. I think Cook's article also reminds us that we may end up with some puzzle pieces that don't fit the big picture of the puzzles we are trying to build, and that's ok too.
I agree with Kristina, the puzzle analogy is great. I also agree that this sifting through the data will be one of the tough, messy parts about this type of research. I think that it is very important to give yourself the time and the space to get the puzzle pieces to line up.
if I haven't used this term already, you'll be hearing it from me: this is a nonlinear, recursive process. It's really hard to be okay with this, as we are trained to think that learning (and research) are more orderly than that.
Is there anything more frustrating that finishing a puzzle, and having 13 pieces left over that belong to another puzzle, and 4 missing from the one you just finished? Or shuffling a deck of cards only to find out that there are only 47, and three of them are "Skips" from Uno. Anyone who has worked long enough with young people knows that we are making Jambalaya, not grilled cheese, and I am hoping that the longer we let it simmer, the more it will come together.
“Our world is not systematic and linear, one thing does not lead directly to another”(Cook 104). In my opinion, this idea pretty much sums up the idea of messiness in action research. Nothing we see, hear, plan to do or do is ever straightforward or “neat and tidy.” For example, I needed gas in my car yesterday, so I drove to the gas station to fill up. For some reason, however, the gas was not filling the tank. The pump kept starting and then stopping. I thought to myself, “that’s weird…I must be doing something wrong because obviously the problem is that the car is low in gas, and I’m going to solve this problem by putting gas in it.” That’s it. End of story. I then have my husband take the car to a different gas station to try to put gas in it. Guess what? Same problem. It turns out that something fell into the gas tank which was making it impossible to put gas into the tank. I had to take my car to my mechanic to get it fixed; he informed me that my shocks and struts needed to be replaced as well. What started out as a simple task of filling up a gas tank turned out to be messy, confusing and expensive. It wasn’t the expected outcome, but an outcome nonetheless with a different solution. The gas tank solution was only achieved with a necessary messiness of process. This is a real life example of what Cook tries to understand in “The Importance of Mess in Action Research.” Tina Cook tries to come to terms with the problem of “how the writing of the work onto ‘hard copy’ in a relatively linear, coherent form had really been at variance with my experience of research work”(93). Cook uses the term messy to describe action research and the necessity of acknowledging this messiness as an organic part of its process. She focuses on this acknowledgment as a way to find a starting point in the mess of research and to sort out one’s thoughts and the thinking process in general. “Some of the words we have used as a group to describe how we made meaning from our ‘mess’ include knowledge, experience, judgement, creativity and intuition”(101). The making of a mess, according to Cook, is instrumental in developing those intangible observations that lead to any deep understanding. This intangibility may never truly be recorded accurately; however, the mess is what leads to the closest form of true expression.In terms of my own research, I am already thinking about and noticing some messiness in my data and observations. However, I am not afraid of it at all. The reason I say this is because the way I plan and develop my lessons and day to day activities is undulating and evasive. Nothing I do is ever fixed in rigidity, and sometimes I don’t even understand the decisions I am making as I make them. Sometimes, I have to stop on a dime and totally rethink where I am going with a lesson or a unit or a conversation with a student. Life is inherently messy. Living and experiencing life is totally different than writing these experiences down and analyzing them and I realize this as well. Clara Park, in Cook’s article so eloquently states: “I must analyse and as I analyse I falsify. Experienced as analysed is not longer experience as lived”(105). So, I will do the best I can in my research. I will utilize models and conceptual frameworks, but I will also understand that through description of messy thinking I will make the best meaning of my data.
Yikes, Melissa!! I feel like discovering one thing is wrong with your car just opens up a whole unwanted can of worms along with it! Nice connection to Cook, though. You bring up a great point here: that as teachers, we are constantly susceptible to a state of mess. We have to take our topics, our students, and ourselves into consideration on any given day when planning or executing something we had already planned. "Our world is not systematic and linear..." reminded me of part of our conversation Wednesday in which Dr. Johnson brought up the idea that we might get halfway through our data collecting and realize we're not asking the questions we should be, and that's ok, because we can still ask those questions too!
I think as teachers we have all learned to be flexible and understanding. Though we spend a great deal planning, our best plans do not always work out. Sometimes we have to scrap a lesson right in the middle of it, or tweak it on demand to go down a path that was brought up by a students that was not expected. This flexibility is also important in action research. I think that this article helped to set us up for this mess, if we know the mess is coming (or already here) then we can be ready for the different paths it takes us on.
I would have to say, I felt some comfort in reading what is "messy" according to what you wrote. I fell the lesson planning process is basically the same thing as AR. I never would have thought that lesson planning is like messy research, but it really is. We take all the components of a lesson, integrate how we are going to teach it, scaffold, understand and read misunderstandings students might have, and be ready to come back with a well lesson that is aligned to the standards. I guess I have been doing this all along, just never really thought about it as being "messy"-- gets me thinking (a lot).
Melissa, I love your real life example! It reminds me that there is no such thing as normal. We develop routines and patterns to make things predictable, but these are mere creations. Understanding and acknowledging how much we don't control is scary stuff. Nice job engaging with the text here as well.
Nice example/connection with the car, sometimes, I feel like if you look closely at almost anything we do, (especially in education) it is like pulling a thread in a sweater. It could snap right off perfectly, or end up as a ball of string in your hand, and understanding this and having the flexibility, patience, and skill set to work through it makes moving forward possible.
I really enjoyed reading this article. I liked how a community of ARers got together to discuss the actual process of research, and they were truthful about how difficult educational action research can be. I also liked that Cook acknowledged “It is important this talking- because it’s the thinking isn’t it? It’s this vague bumbling along process that nevertheless is a process that allows our unconscious thought to materialise” (pg 103). I thought about our last class and how the talking that we were doing was so important, and as a community we worked together to support each other and help define what our goals are and how we would research the questions our classrooms bring up. When it comes to physical messes I can’t stand them, but I think I am ok with mental messes, I love that “we know a great deal more than we can put into words, and that we sense and understand more then we can describe or explain” (pg 103). It is this exact issue that I have, putting my knowledge and sense into words, describing and explaining them. I think that having time and people to discuss this knowledge and these sense will help us take the mess and straighten it out. What I think will be the messy part of my research is “sifting the data and allowing conclusions to crystallise realty” (pg 95). I feel like I will have enough information, but I will be hard for me to get a clear idea of what the data is telling me. I know what my goal is, I have methods to collect data, but it will be the analysing, sifting and writing process that I will most dread, and struggle to make clear. I have always had a hard time putting into words what I know and making my thoughts make sense to others. I think I will lean on my classmates, those English majors, who have a way with words. I have always gone to my mom and writing centers to proof read my papers, for the grammatical, spelling and fluency errors, but I will need the help of my classmates to get on to paper what I have discovered about my classroom.
Jenny, great minds think alike... I had highlighted that same quote on pg 103 about the "talking is thinking" and written in the margin: "our class! :)"...I feel like we all helped each other so much during our time together last week, and am so grateful that we have each other to lean on for support and advice, much like Cook's AR group.
Jenny, I like that you point out how editing is not the same thing as revising/developing ideas. A paper may be clean and error-free, but that doesn't mean it has any wisdom or insight. Perhaps you are giving yourself less credit than you deserve--you understand the thinking/writing process very well :)
Jenny,I don't think you give yourself enough credit for your writing skills and ability. Reading your response, I felt so many connections to how I felt at our class last week, and in reading this article. I have found it is always better to have too much information, and revise by condensing and choosing the most valuable, than not enough, and trying to extract something that may or may not be there. That certainly seems to be where we are headed with the AR.
Just Bumbling AlongI am in a perpetual state of "mess;" anyone that knows me (or has known me for any length of time within the past 25 years) would agree without a second thought. Just ask Brittany, who had to share a room with me at a leadership conference. Or Dr. August, who called me a "hot mess" during one of my first FNED classes at RIC. Or anybody. So it's safe to say mess doesn't really bother me too much. As comfortable as I am with it, however, I have always envied tidiness - or rather, people who make tidiness look so effortless. Which I've come to realize, after reading Cook, might explain my anxiety and hesitation in finalizing and sharing my research process this time around. To say that I loved Cook's article would be an understatement; I felt myself nodding in agreement and even chuckling out loud in the middle of the library. It was reassuring to read someone else's words on paper that described accurately what I so often think in my head: "I can feel the strong shape, but I don't know how certain bits go" (Cook 102). This is how most of my papers, blog posts, lesson plans, and big ideas come to be. I have always been one to "trust in the process to deliver without hurrying to a conclusion" (104), as I feel that the journey is usually more significant than the destination. I've started so many projects and ideas without really knowing what I wanted it to look like or become at the conclusion. I especially enjoyed the descriptions of "bumbling and stumbling" around during research: what I'm most looking forward to about this project (and a couple of others I've got brewing in my head) is finally getting to make sense of all the mess. "The change that has the impact is not the change that we planned for, it is the change that comes out of the mess and the muddle" (104). This is why we do research, this is why we teach. We don't teach to make things perfect and neat and orderly. We teach to shake things up and make people think. I live for the mess. I suppose the messiest part of my research (because, let's be honest, the whole thing will be messy and beautiful and fun) will be making sense of the data, reading and listening and piecing it together. Schatzman & Strauss, quoted in Turner, "the data do not speak for themselves - they only hint at something if you are able to hear" (107), remind me of my favorite Spencer Reid (Criminal Minds) saying: "all I know is what it says, I have no idea what it means." I look forward to sifting through and making all sorts of sense of what the data is hinting at. I've come to realize that you have to just embrace the mess to make your own meaning from it, no matter what is at stake.
My first year with a classroom was teaching 6th grade humanities. The teacher in the other cluster was also teaching at the school and this curriculum for the first time. She was also living in a constant mess, but we were a great team. We spent 4-5 hours after-school every Thursday planning out our lessons for the next week. She was a great ideas person, big picture thinker. I on the other hand helped her take these big, great, grand ideas and make them into manageable, teachable lessons. It was a great partnership. Tina, you often remind me of her, and your enthusiasm and pure enjoyment of our class discussions.
Glad the article resonated with you, Tina! I hope you'll be okay that the mess won't be resolved--there will be further, deeper questions to answer. Jenny, I love that one of your contributions can be helping the conceptual thinkers organize and make sense of their process.
Tina, I also enjoyed the bumbling references, I sometimes bumble along for quite a while before even realizing I am bumbling. I also found myself laughing out loud a couple of times while reading this article, and had to explain myself to those around me. It's always interesting to me to look introspectively at how we relate to what others are experiencing, and between you and Jenny, I am realizing that there are many places where I crave order, and many others where I design mess, which leads to the idea that we never get to the end, and all of this will just bring up more thoughts and questions, so we can start it all over again.
When I have an assignment to do, I like to gather as much information as I can at the start, read and annotate, then go for a run (literally and mentally). I have a difficult time reading and immediately producing writing that is coherent and insightful since I feel like I haven’t thought about all of the possibilities. When I eventually get back to work, I try to start writing, but often end up on a winding trail of articles, videos, old notes, and conversations with my brother that, on the surface, are usually only somewhat related to the writing I am trying to do. At that point, I recognize that I still am not in a place to write, so I’ll busy myself with cleaning the house or doing laundry - which, to others, might seem like procrastination. But I know this is my process, and an important way for me to make sense of the mess in my brain. I like to think that our research is this process - just scaled up. I am collecting as much data as I can, writing field notes and memos right now, then going for a run (well, not literally this time, but mentally with you all in class). I am already spending a lot of time thinking through all of the possibilities so that I can “attempt [to understand] while engaging in the process of improvement and reform” (96). As I continue to collect more data and add to my writing, I know I will end up on that winding trail of somewhat related articles, video, old notes, and conversations, recognizing that the “‘sorting of ideas’ process is far more difficult to describe and categorise than practical outcomes” (101). Knowing that my own reading/writing/thinking process isn’t done in one shot and involves lots of exploring to achieve some sort of “finished-enough” draft, I feel relatively comfortable with the mess that will be our research this semester. It’s not always easy and I know I will sometimes just want someone to make sense of my data for me (like I did when drafting those pesky research questions), but through this process I know I am pushing myself and learning so much and taking little steps each day to be a better teacher for my kids. I anticipate a lot of mess in the way that Cook describes, “catching the picture when things are always changing” (101). For example, even if my question is, “How does PBL shape relationships and affect academic motivation and performance?” there are other factors that change every day that also affect the relationships, motivation, and performance. How do I make sure I account for this in my data and analysis? As I mentioned in class, my student has had an amazing week, but I also later found out that the special educator had a talk with him about his motivation and performance. Of course, I could deal with this by talking to the special educator, but I was lucky to happen to find out that she had this conversation with him. As teachers, we don’t know all the the interactions a student has during the day and how those might influence what we see in our classrooms. In any case, I like how Cook left off with the quote from Handy: “As individual human beings we should take delight in this lack of certainty since it carries with it a guarantee of ultimate independence” (106). So often teachers are caught up in lack of control they have in their classrooms with mandated testing and curriculum. But this research provides an legitimate opportunity to experiment, play, and make a mess.
I also have a hard time reading/processing/thinking/writing simultaneously, I would think that most people would agree to this. This thought makes me think about what we expect out of our students sometimes. We often teach a new concept or read a passage, then we ask for their response. What if they also need to go for a run first while they think it over? We have the advantage in that situation of already understanding the concept or reading the passage, we have had time to process, think and most like come up with our own responses. This is just a connection that I made, and that I need to remember when I'm teaching and I can't understand why they don't have questions or can respond to my prompts yet.... Maybe we need to allow room for the mess in our lessons and in our student's lives?
Brittany, I am the same way in that I can't read/process/think/write simultaneously...sometimes I feel guilty that I just walk away from the table covered in all of my papers and notes, but then I realize that sitting there staring at it wouldn't really do me any good. So glad we can all "go for a run" together during this process, even if it's just mentally during class and through these blog posts (and our trialogue). I'm excited to see what we all make from our messes.
Maybe we should do a mid-class run sometime! Brittany, I love that you name and describe your own process. It makes me realize what I do, which is a little different--I like to run first to clear my head to make space for the work. But then I have to take breaks, which may involve playing with the cats or snacking :(. I also like that Jenny asks why we are expecting our students to process instantly when we don't work that way.
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Brian CrookesMemo #5In general, I thrive in mess. I am always more than happy to jump right in and start working, then figure out the way to get it right and make meaning as I go along. I start to feel anxious when things are too orderly and straightforward, and will purposefully throw monkey wrenches in systems that operate too streamlined for my liking. My favorite quote from the article was: “it’s a model of bumbling change supported retrospectively by theories.” I believe in experimenting, and change by design, and experiencing what is happening with an authentic perception and feel, then attempting to figure out what was effective and what was not, analyzing the experience and learning from both the successes and obstacles.That being said, I am struggling with this research, despite my world-view on mess. I find myself searching for “hard data” rather than student quotes, descriptions of classroom scenarios, and what I recall from my perception in my notes. I am wary that my perception of the situations may not be the only valid one, and find myself asking more questions than I am answering. It feels like the research I am doing is a slippery multi pronged beast that is moving down a maze that exist on many planes as well as directions. I take refuge in the idea that as someone who likes to cook, often you put a slew of disconnected ingredients into a pot, and end up with a delicious soup. I trust the process, and am inspired by the ideas we all have, and so I push on, writing, and reading, and watching and learning. Knowing all the time that “I don’t think you can ever have the whole because there is always something that is brewing and people don’t always know what they have now…but having enough, knowing that you have enough, is a fairly critical expert quality/ability.” I feel like I have a pretty good read on the situations in my classroom in order to be able to understand most of what I see; and the trust/relationships with my students and co-workers to ask for feedback and clarification for what I may have missed; and just enough optimism to hope it will all come right at the end.
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