A reflection template based on Parker Palmer’s “There is a season”

Use this reflection template whenever you are ready to pause and take stock before proceeding either: from one phase to another; on from an activity or event; into dialogue with others; or at a branch point when choosing an activity or path to pursue. Copy the template page or print it out, then for each of the items, note “plus-delta”—one thing you did well during the phase/activity/event and one thing that could be developed further next time.http://ptaylor.wikispaces.umb.edu/PalmerSeasons

Reference: Palmer, P. J. (2000). “There is a season,” p. 95-109 in Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation. San Francisco, Jossey-Bass.


Creativity, curiosity, reflection within a frame of “engaging with distributed complexity”

My pulling-together-the-pieces form of curiosity  led me to assemble schemas from past work and try to integrate them in a coherent account.  Rather than wait till I had time to write and revise the ideas, I speak about them in this 34-minute video podcast:

On meanings of “reflection”

As I seek ideas for evaluating the effect of the workshop on reflective practice, I am finding that reflection or reflective practice is often discussed in close relation to problem-solving (especially analysis of problems that managers face).  I am more interested in “the creation of meaning from past or current events that serves as a guide for future behavior.” In that frame, “[r]eflection is the process of stepping back from an experience to ponder, carefully and persistently, its meaning to the self…”

These quotes are from a much-cited article of Daudelin (1996), who nevertheless goes on to emphasize problem-solving, not simply meaning-making. I have suggested the term “refractive practice” to highlight the desired sense of reflection distinct from problem-solving (Taylor 2012), but this post explores different senses of reflection rather than making use of the neologism. Read more of this post

Group meetings that are reflective and generative

Meetings in person or by conference call, as short as 30 minutes or as long as an hour, can make space for reflection and be generative of new work, even without a conventional agenda.  The format to follow evolved first in a weekly writing support group, was adapted for monthly conference call meetings to continue interactions initiated in an annual workshop, and continue to be refined with a weekly group of students writing their final Masters papers.

1. Freewriting to: a. get present (clearing away distracting concerns form our busy lives), and b. begin to consider the topic of the day (if there is one, e.g., in the Masters course).

2. Check-in: Short account of news or progress in writing since previous meeting + concern or question about the topic of the day (again, if there is one).  (No responses during the check-in.  Instead, write down any thoughts you have or tips of topics for one-on-one conversations.)

3. Dialogue process, i.e., listening with structured turn taking, that builds on the check-in.  Through inquiry more than advocacy (or rehearsal of previously formulated ideas), including inquiry of one’s own thinking, themes usually emerge.

4.  A few minutes writing to gather thoughts that have emerged as they are meaningful for you.

5.  Closing go-around:  Something you plan to address/get done/think more about before we meet next.  (Having this aired in the group–having it witnessed–makes it more likely to happen.)

Feel free to adopt or adapt this, and to report back on variants that work for your group.

Cycles and Epicycles of Action Research: Elaboration and Useful Tools

Elaboration on the Aspects of Action Research
in the Cycles and Epicycles framework.  Tools useful in the different aspects of Action research are described through the links further down in the post. Read more of this post

Action Research: A cycles and epicycles framework

Action Research begins when you (as an individual or as a group) want to do something to change the current situation, that is, to take action.

  • “Action” refers to many different things: a new or revised curriculum; a new organizational arrangement, policy, or procedure in educational settings; equivalent changes in other professions, workplaces, or communities; changes in personal practices, and so on.

Action Research then progresses through stages of Planning and Implementing some Action to Evaluation of its Effects, that is, Research to show what ways the situation after the action differs from the way it was before.

To this traditional cycle of Action Research we can add reflection and dialogue through which you review and revise the ideas you have about what action is needed and about how to build a constituency to implement the change. Your thinking about what the situation is and what needs changing can also be altered by inquiring into the background (e.g., what motivates you to change this situation?) as well as looking ahead to future stages. Constituency-building happens over time like the basic cycle of Action Research, so we can think of this a second cycle. The other additions, however, often make us go back and revisit what had seemed clear and settled, so we can call these the “epicycles” (i.e., cycles on top of cycles) of action research.

In what follows, I expand on this brief introduction, then in the next post elaborate on the key Aspects of Action Research and list the Tools useful in the different aspects of Action Research. This text is deliberately brief–a summary more than a detailed guide–because it is primarily through experience conducting Action Research and practice using the tools that the interplay between the cycles and epicycles become clear. (See also a step-by-step presentation of this framework).

Again, Action Research begins when you (as an individual or as a group) want to do something to change the current situation, that is, to take action. To move from a broad idea of the action you think is needed to a more refined and do-able proposal, you may need to review evaluations of the effects of past actions (including possibly evaluations of actions you have made) and to conduct background inquiry so you can take into account other relevant considerations (e.g., who funds or sponsors these kinds of changes and evaluations). You also have to get people—yourself included—to adopt or adapt your proposals, that is, you have to build a constituency for any actions. Constituency building happens when you draw people into reflection, dialogue, and other participatory processes that elicit ideas about the current situation, clarify objectives, and generate ideas and plans to take action to improve it; when people work together to implement actions; and when people see evaluations of how good the actions/changes were in achieving the objectives. Evaluation of the effects of a change or action can lead to new or revised ideas about further changes and about how to build a constituency around them, thus stimulating ongoing cycles of action research.
These cycles are not a steady progression one step to the next. Reflection and dialogue “epicycles” at any point can lead to you to revisit and revise the ideas you had about what change is needed and about how to build a constituency to implement the change. Revision also happens when, before you settle on what actions to pursue, you move “backwards” and look at evaluations of past actions and conduct other background inquiry. Revision can also happen when you look ahead at what may be involved in implementing or evaluating proposed actions and building a constituency around them. Such looking ahead is one of the essential features of planning.

In summary, action research involves evaluation and inquiry, reflection and dialogue, constituency building, looking ahead and revision in order to clarify what to change, get actions implemented, take stock of the outcomes, and continue developing your efforts.

Of course, as is the case with all evaluations and research more generally, there is no guarantee that the results of Action Research will influence relevant people and groups (“stakeholders”), but constituency building–including dialogue and reflection on the implications of the results–provides a good basis for mobilizing support and addressing (potential) opposition in the politics of applied research and evaluation.

Extracted from Taking Yourself Seriously: A Fieldbook of Processes of Research and Engagement

Calhoun's Action research versus a cycles-and-epicycles framework

Since 1999 I have used Emily Calhoun’s 1994 book Action Research in the Self-Renewing School in a graduate course that has evolved and changed its name from Educational Evaluation to Evaluation of Educational Change to Action Research for Educational, Professional, and Personal Change.   The framework I introduce students to I call Cycles and Epicycles and the course now includes an activity in which students compare and contrast Calhoun and the Cycles-Epicycles framework.

It was noted this year that Calhoun may have evolved as well since 1994, so I conducted a web search.   This showed that she was most active in the 90s and co-wrote a 1999 book that is reviewed at http://www.jstor.org/stable/1188898.  The review indicates that the book pays a lot of attention to the multiple players involved in making school change successful (aka “constituency building” in the Cycles-Epicycles framework).  She is still cited often (see http://www.alliance.brown.edu/dnd/ar_websites.shtml) and her work is included in a 2009 anthology on Practical Action Research edited by R. Schmuck (whose own text we now also use in the course).  The following interview suggests that her directional approach is central to her work: “Action researcher narrows focus to broaden effectiveness,” http://www.learningforward.org/news/jsd/calhoun201.cfm

Reviewing the students’ contrasts I arrived at the following schema:

Calhoun book vs Cycles-epicycles framework

1.  School change vs. Education, Professional, and Personal Change

2. Straightforward vs. Explicitly includes full dimensions of Action Research in practice
[Calhoun’s simple schema invites frustration when full dimensions are experienced]

3.  “Just do it!” versus room for development and evolution, for more people to be involved
[but see note above on the 1999 book]

4. Reflection & dialogue: incidental & not examined vs. Integral to AR & needs to be addressed systematically (i.e., tools are needed)

5. Data-centric vs. Data collection & analysis included inside evaluation of past & current action (see Evaluation Clock)

6. results dictate further action vs. constituency building increases the chances that results of your AR will be taken up and extended.

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