Thanks for submitting your paper 'Formal English Without Tears: Rewriting the Narrative of Developmental Students' to EJOLTS and for your positive comments about the open review process. The editorial team are delighted that Pip and Joan have agreed to review your paper and the review process can now begin.
I have made all the final corrections suggested by Pip and which I could find! The paper is still lengthy because I have included within the paper excerpts that would normally be (I think) appendices. I think the paper loses when they are so attached, though. Please let me know what my next steps are, if any.
Thank you for inviting me to review your paper, which I am delighted to do.
I very much enjoyed reading about your work, which demonstrates clearly the enormous impact your teaching has had on the learning of your students. What an inspirational vision you had when you came up with the idea that students’ language skills could be improved through listening on a regular basis to formal English as spoken through audio books.
You write clearly and passionately about the problems faced by the students, and provide a contextual understanding of how these problems arise as a consequence of the colonising influence of traditional educational programmes. You also talk about what a liberating experience it has been to feel able to 'drop'‘ the objectivist perspective, and introduce the ‘I’, and the nature of the process that the ‘I’ engages in, as integral parts of the account of your research.
I guess, though, that this takes me to what I feel is the greatest weakness in your paper: I want to hear more about that ‘I’. I want firstly to hear more about your values, and what drives you. I thought this was going to happen in your section on ‘Personal Context and the Generative Role of Living Theory’; but although you write about your reflections concerning why the students had difficulty learning formal English, and you take first steps to address this, the process of creating your living theory seems to end here. From pages 8-18, you give a detailed account of the strategy you used, including its rationale and outcomes. This is extremely informative and interesting; but there is nothing within it which demonstrates how your living theory is developing, what (for example) are the educational influences on your learning along the way and how these are influencing your relationships and interactions with the students you are working with; there is no indication of the ‘standards of judgement’ to which you are holding yourself accountable, which allows the reader to assess the validity of your claims to knowledge concerning your own living theory.
In your final section “Post Script: From the Subjective, the Objective” you again talk fluently about the need for academia to recognise the place of the subjective in research, and provide a strong argument for recognising (for example) tacit knowledge. Again, though, what this means for you in your ongoing action research process is largely missing.
Sara, we have had considerable communication, and I know how passionate you are about your work, I know something about your deep engagement in the processes of working with your students, and your commitment to transforming their learning experiences. I also know from what I have read in this paper, as well as your communications elsewhere, that those transformations have been achieved; your influence on the lives of the students has been phenomenal. Your writing is articulate and powerful. In addition to learning about the method of working with the students that has been effective, and the scientific basis for this, I would like to learn more about you in this process: what have been the values and experiences that have influenced how you approach your work with the students; how (other than offering your students audio books to read) are you influencing their attitudes and behaviour (perhaps include some case studies?), what you learned as a result of your interactions with them, etc.
It would also be good to have more information about the literature that is informing your thinking and actions – for example, you say that you now recognise the value of action research and living theory. What actually do you mean by these terms (there are so many different understandings of action research for example), whose ideas (and what specifically are they) that have influenced your thinking; and what have you learned about these approaches to research through your own experience of them?
I am sure all of what I am suggesting you write about is there in your consciousness already, Sara. I think probably what I am proposing is that you take the next step in this ‘Brave New World’ of introducing the subjective into your research account, and share with the reader even deeper levels of your thinking, reflections, experiences and learning!
In conclusion, I am truly admiring of the work that you do. I just think that you can do more to influence the world of the academy through making more explicit the internal processes that are inspiring your external actions; and in so doing, you will be developing and giving an account of your own living educational theory.
I hope my observations are helpful and make sense. Please do come back to me if you either want to challenge any of my comments, or require further clarification of what I am saying.
P.S. I am not sure if you have read Jean McNiff’s My Story is my Living Educational Theory, but if not, I think you might find it an interesting paper to read (see attached)
Thank you so much for this. I think I grasp the gist of what you're saying. I am very aware of how difficult it has been for me to honor my relationships and understandings as the core and context of my own theory and practice in an academic paper. I had not realized until now how difficult it *remains* for me to disclose myself, as well as the powerful and deeply personal elements of what is as much, (or more), a set of relationships as it is an action research process. It is going to take me a little time to work through that resistance but I will do so and rework those sections of the paper. I certainly understand what you mean about the omission of the 'standards of judgment' to which I hold myself accountable and that will probably be the easiest thing for me to add!
The pages from 8 - 18 are intentionally general and non subjective. I am not sure that what I want to do is really possible but I would still like to attempt it. I want to present 'two papers in one'. I heard numerous arguments recently, among Action Research 'luminaries', about the usefulness or otherwise of Living Theory. The chief of these was that there is nothing useful or generalizable - that others people can learn and apply - in the accounts of the personal transformation of individuals; that the lack of discipline and structure also means a lack of any generalizable knowledge or understanding that can be discussed, tested and validated. I wanted to show that *without* a fundamental, personal process - questioning who you think you are, what your values really are (what are you really doing and why), and who you think you are dealing with - you will only see what you expect to see. And you keep doing the same things in a different guise and getting the same results! Any great breakthrough is impossible because you just retrace the same patterns you expect to retrace. But through that personal process, as your eyes are opened, then what you see may have implications that are very wide reaching indeed. (Such as: we have been teaching formal English absolutely the wrong way. There is another way that leads us back to human-based learning.) Those far-reaching observations can, and possibly should be, be completely objective and testable (which is what pages 8 -18 are about) but they were only possible because of the process of becoming vulnerable, of questioning and of being willing to be confronted by one's own inauthenticity so as to break the existing 'models'. So, I wanted to try to demonstrate the inextricable relationship between those two things by presenting the living process and the testable discovery together. I also wanted to present that research in its own right, the case for language acquisition instead of de-constructivism in the classroom. And thus I wanted to keep that section, (the objective offspring of the personal process), as propositional as possible. Any suggestions as to how to do this successfully? (I suspect that, at the very least some major reorganization might be required here?)
I have some difficulty with the explicit, written influences on my own action research and living theory. I was introduced to AR as part of a professional development option in fall of 2009. My instructor and mentor was Dr Annie Gray and I formed my initial understanding and appreciation of AR through sessions and conversations with and feedback from her. I had done little or no reading on the subject when I completed the project. (Though of course it's actually ongoing because it is spreading though the Dept. and will be the subject of an IDC grant next semester.)
Then, in 2010 I heard Jack Whitehead deliver a plenary session at the San Diego ARC. I also attended his workshop and was incredibly lucky to spend about 40 minutes after that in conversation with him. That was when everything began to come together; there was a context and a language for the love and relationship I had been experiencing in my classroom and for the source of my students' wounds (colonization). It was electrifying. (And I can see that I have barely articulated that.) It is also when I really began reading, when I joined his AR list and began having conversations that, like Jack himself, have informed the person I am today. Now, I often read to help me understand what I see, to articulate that understanding and to widen it. I never do it the other way around; I am a skeptic, wary of seeing only what I expect to see - the mental model I have read about and to which I am liable to make my own experience conform. So, if I am to source my influences authentically, I may have to consider including those living sources and that may mean going back to some of the emails from Jack's list? What do you think? (On reflection that could be very exciting!)
Something that's missing from the paper is that I had a strong negative reaction to the 'theory preceding action' phase of the inquiry. I had about sixty students who, I knew, needed more than the educational prescription I was expected to write and couldn't wait for me to design a research model that would be in place for the next group of students and not for them. Instead of developing and substantiating a basis for the research project, I began implementing the audio strategy as soon as the light bulb went on. I 'retro' researched it. so to speak, by getting written and oral feedback from my students as we went. (I was extremely fortunate that Dr. Gray was the instructor/facilitator for this project and not someone less creative or courageous!) One of the things that is not in this paper is how intensely I feel that my students aren't theories and their need is too urgent to wait for the perfect 'design' to be in place. More than that, the healing and empowerment of a single, living human being is more important than proper method, protocol or even what can be learned from the exercise. Action Research has become, for me, the heart and soul of my classroom, a process I am almost running to keep up with as I go through the recursive cycle: 'what am I seeing? - how do I meet this/what can we do differently? - plan and adjust my practice/curriculum - is this working and how do I know? - what am I seeing now? I have a feeling this should be part of the paper but I can't see where and how.
Thank you again, Joan.
In response, I am selecting some of the main points you have made, and am in turn making an attempt to respond to them. I am not saying these are ‘right’, merely my perspective at this point in time. It may be that one of the other reviewers, or someone else reading this, may have a different perspective. I think the points you raise, though, are important, and would merit a wider discussion.
You write …
“The pages from 8 - 18 are intentionally general and non subjective. I am not sure that what I want to do is really possible but I would still like to attempt it. I want to present 'two papers in one. I heard numerous arguments recently, among Action Research 'luminaries', about the usefulness or otherwise of Living Theory. The chief of these was that there is nothing useful or generalizable - that others people can learn and apply - in the accounts of the personal transformation of individuals; that the lack of discipline and structure also means a lack of any generalizable knowledge or understanding that can be discussed, tested and validated. I wanted to show that *without* a fundamental, personal process - questioning who you think you are, what your values really are (what are you really doing and why), and who you think you are dealing with - you will only see what you expect to see………“ I wanted to keep that section, (the objective offspring of the personal process), as propositional as possible. Any suggestions as to how to do this successfully?”
I very much appreciate your wish to make a proper response to the critics of living theory, and to do so in a way that highlights its value as a research methodology. I also do not see any difficulty in integrating a more traditional research project within a living theory account of how that research project came into existence. However I am not sure this can be achieved by writing virtually two different papers, and then placing one after or within the second. I am not sure that you will convert the cynics to living theory by inserting a propositional section in the middle. Unless you can show the ‘living connection’ between your living theory and outcomes which can be reported ‘propositionally’, I would suggest that the cynics would simply suggest you leave out the ‘irrelevant’ sections, and concentrate on what they consider to be the important aspects of the research!
As you are submitting your paper to the Educational Journal of Living Theories, the assumption is that you are writing a paper based on your evolving living theory. This should, I would suggest, take precedence in your paper. It may be (as in your case) that you do some work that can be reported using more conventionally reported evidence . However, rather than create a sandwich such as the one you have made, which starts with the beginning of a living theory account, followed by a more conventional research study, and concludes with your providing an account of your ‘journey’ of writing from an objective to a subjective perspective; it would be good to see if you could write an integrated account. I know this is really hard, but perhaps it is a challenge that living theorists need to take on….
If this is to be a living theory narrative, I think you need to ground all that you write within a living theory context, which can be provided by a version of the following (this framework can be found in articles by Jack, and Whitehead and McNiff’s (2006) Action Research: Living Theory.
· What really matters to me? What do I care passionately about? What kind of difference do I want to make in the world?
· What are my values and why?
· What is my concern?
· Why am I concerned?
· What kind of experiences can I describe to show the reasons for my concerns?
· What can I do about it?
· What will I do about it?
· How do I evaluate the educational influences of my actions?
· How do I demonstrate the validity of the account of my educational influence in learning?
· How do I modify my concerns, ideas and actions in the light of my evaluation?
By following this, you are explicitly identifying what is important to you, and what your values are, what you are concerned about and why. Then in the sections “what can I do about it?”, and “what will I do about it?”, you can explain the rationale for the audio books, what in practice you did, and why (this will allow for your more propositional account to be included). In “how do I demonstrate the validity of the account of my educational influence in learning?”, you can focus both on the ‘objectively verified’ change / transformation in the language ability of your students; and you can also provide evidence to show resonance between your stated values, the ‘standards of judgement’ against which you are holding yourself accountable, and your action-in-the world. In the final section, you have the opportunity to reflect on the totality of your learning, both in terms of your living theory, and in relation to the effectiveness of the practical strategy you have introduced, i.e. the use of audio books. The idea for the latter, as you state yourself, came about because of your reflections on the former. It should be possible to interweave the two through your writing, rather than see them as discrete sections (when I say ‘possible’, I really am not implying ‘easy’ – far from it!!).
You also ask:
“If I am to source my influences authentically, I may have to consider including those living sources and that may mean going back to some of the emails from Jack's list? What do you think?”
I think identifying key influences arising out of your email exchange with Jack would be relevant and could work well. However these should not completely replace the academic literature (books / articles) on, for example, action research / living theory, and indeed in informing your investigation into language acquisition. There is no problem at all in starting from your experience (the writings of, for example, John Dewey would support this) - and then developing theoretical understandings as a result of your experience – but at some point the literature needs to be used as one of the resources you draw on to inform your research and learning; and to aid you in your evaluation of what you have learned through this process.
I hope this all makes sense, Sara, and that it does not all seem too daunting! I am very happy to continue to respond to challenges and/or queries.
Pardon the delay, but I've now found time to read and respond to this very exciting paper (I even mentioned your insights about the use of audio books as an example of relevant action research in a workshop I ran on the subject yesterday! hope that was okay).
I concur with some of Joan's points. You write extremely well - you have what my PhD supervisor would have said is 'an authorial voice', meaning there is a ring of conviction and confidence in what you are saying and how you are saying it. It is clear and accessible. Having said that, and as an ex-primary school teacher, I can see there are still a few points where you need to check some punctuation, referencing etc, but I'm not bothering with those until you get to your final iteration, when I'm happy to edit and send back to you outside this review process.
I found your voice clear and authentic until I got to page 8. Then, as both you and Joan have indicated, you moved to a different style of writing until page 12, where I picked up your voice again briefly until the top of page 15, where you're back to the more formal style. My final comment, having read the entire paper, was 'Overall, too depersonalised" especially for an educational journal of living theories. Your passion is evident, but missing is an articulation of your specific values, and how these have developed and are worked out in your practice. And what evidence do you have that you are practising the values that you claim to hold? I think a lot of this is covert rather than overt as the paper is currently written.
You come close to it when you state on page 7 "This is what I recognized but could not articulate, as I began to understand the truth in the way that my students saw me and what I represented". And later, on page 20, your statement "That there can be any such a thing as an educational process in which human relationship is less than the ground and source of all learning is patently absurd" is clear evidence that you value human relationships (and the health of these, presumably) as integral to student success. But you haven't clearly claimed this kind of relationship and its development as a value, overtly, although as I say it's inherent in your work, and the passion that infuses that work. You just need to be a bit more articulate about these values, how they are worked out in your practice and how you KNOW whether you're being faithful to them or not.
You are clear on issues such as 'who am I, and how am I positioned vis-a-vis many of my students?' which is great (although as a person who shares your Scots ancestry, I would have liked to see your Scottishness declared rather than 'European' - I was delighted when I got to your dialectical speech on page 7!) This incident was obviously a 'break-through' moment for the students and you, in understanding the point that you made about formal English being ONE form of communication, not a hierarchically superior form of communication. On this point, however, when I read the appendices I encountered a potential conflict between the non-hierarchical nature of different forms of communication that you elaborate on early in the paper, and the 'being critical of my own and others' forms of speech/writing' that the students wrote in the appendix. Do you want to unpick this tension, in the paper? At least, I think you should alert the reader to it, as it raised concerns for me when I read those comments, having earlier been cheering for the non-hierarchical approach you'd taken to help the students to want to engage with formal English. They seemed to be saying that they were coming to despise the idiolects that they and their friends use/d?
I was also left wondering about what prompted you to decide to introduce audio books (page 12). You'd just written a largely theoretical analysis of how language is acquired, including the suggestion that new pathways are needed, but I'm unclear what was the nudge for you to introduce these books, that were obviously so effective. Can you tell the reader a little more about this? Was it a bolt from the blue, or something you read, such as a case study of someone who'd done something similar and found it effective? It might be a case of the 'tacit knowledge' that you recognise in page 21, but I was left guessing...
Okay, so I'm guessing this might all feel a bit overwhelming Sara and I'll conclude in a minute by suggesting a couple of possibly useful references or ideas, but I think you have a most exciting paper here that deserves the extra work you'll need to do to synchronise the 'impartial' and 'personal' voices, however you decide to engage with that. I see Joan has made some suggestions and offered further help, so best I leave you to work that out between you. At very least, you should signpost the voice change when you switch back and forth. PLEASE do the work on the paper, it is definitely a paper that deserves a wide audience and I'm hanging out for a final version that I can flick around a few teachers of my acquaintance!
Meanwhile, you might want to look at, if you've not encountered it before, Sandra Harding's "The Science Question and Feminism" which debunks the notion that science is objective; I don't know if you've encountered the writing of Pierre Bourdieu, the French sociologist, whose notion of cultural capital well represents the colonised nature of education - can give you a couple of papers where this has been applied in New Zealand to analysing our educational systems and processes if you wish; and where you started talking about rewriting the narrative of the developmental student on page 16, I was reminded of Moira Laidlaw's PhD thesis (on Jack Whitehead's website), where she talks about engaging with alienated students in her Bath school. One cri du coeur I well remember was where she talked of a black student who told Moira she had 'been cast out into a white desert', and how Moira used the poetry and writing of Maya Angelou to attract the students to the study of English, and to show her valuing of them and their ancestry.
Finally, and I promise I will finish now, on page 18 you were fairly critical of current methods of teaching English, and seem to imply that the immersion strategy 'has not been adopted before now...' I immediately thought of the Te Ataarangi full immersion Māori language course I did when I first worked in this part of the country, back around 1985. We spoke NO English the whole time - indeed, we were fined 20c per word if we spoke English, a fund that was used for a joyous post-course graduation meal (yeah, we slipped up periodically!). If you want to know more about the method, go to http://www.teataarangi.org.nz/ Okay, I know you are not talking about learning a 'foreign' language in the paper, but you should indicate where the immersion strategy has been used successfully elsewhere, and since 1979, now you know about it if you think this work is relevant to the point you're making. Katerina Te Heikoko Mataira, one of the founders, passed away only recently.
Good luck, Sara - kia kaha (be strong!) in your ongoing work, not just for this paper which it has been a joy to review. I look forward to the next iteration in due course!
Please, please forgive the horrendous delay in this reply. I began temporary full time teaching this semester, unexpectedly, at the same time that my department introduced attendance and grading for something called 'Learning Commons' hours for the first time... and I feel as though I am still trying to find the time to breathe!
I do see exactly what you are both talking about, (or I'm pretty sure I do). I have copied all your comments to a single document and hope to begin revisions this week. I am profoundly grateful for the readings you suggest and have already started on those.
Pip, I will clarify both the section about immersion strategy and that about students coming to despite their own idiolects. In the case of the former, I intended to suggest that we have not taught Academic English immersively and as though it were a foreign language. This is because it is treated as the normative version of all idiolects instead of the foreign, and unspoken, language it really is. I know that, as soon as I saw AE as a foreign language, was inspired by wonderful Scottish and Welsh immersion programs and my own experience of being fined for speaking English when I went to France at the age of eighteen! In the case of the emergence of the disdain for the vernacular among my students, I think this needs some further explanation and discussion. I was amazed, shocked by it actually and have so far dealt with it by inviting reflection and then self-deprecating humor about the role reversal from oppressed to oppressor. (The prompt was a response to what I was hearing in the classroom.) I see do the potential conflict and the need to elaborate.
More later. I have a class in 5 minutes. Very much love to you both.
Hoots, lassie, ye've done a bonny job of this! Well done for putting in so much time and effort to revamp this paper. I do think that you have absolutely succeeded this time. There is no longer, to my mind, a disjunct between the theory and the practice, and the two interweave well throughout the paper.
I have now read this paper a number of times, as you have worked on it, and it is a telling compliment to your writing that I STILL get shivers down my spine in several places! I do think that this is an important paper that deserves a wide audience. Your willingness and ability to challenge (a) your own practice but (b) the wider educational context and beliefs in which you work is exactly what action research and living educational theories encourage us to engage in. (Grammar! grin!)
There are a very few minor editorial issues that I picked up. On page 2, you need to insert a page number if this lengthy footnote is a direct quote from Jean's work - unclear. The McNiff quote on page 3 needs a year of publication. On page 18, the paragraph in the Silva quote needs an extra 's' in 'asses'. And on page 41 you have misspelled Freire although it's correct in the references, and you should also include Freire's year of publication and page number for this final quote.
I found Jack's 'Creating a Living Educational Theory through...' article online; it was published in 1989, though because you've located it from his website and this is undated, you may be correct in citing it as you have. Over to the editors on this one!
I hope that the paper moves from the 'under review' to the 'published' section of the journal rapidly, and again Sara, offer my warm congratulations for the quality of this work, and the energy you have put into its development.
and many, many thanks for this! (You do know that no Scot ever, ever, really says' Hoots', don't you? )
I'm sorry for the delay in this response but it was first week of semester last week - and I wanted to take some time to write my response in a way that appropriately recognizes you and Joan and your roles in my, (continuing), journey. As you know, I went off and reflected long and hard on the points that you both raised about my paper. I became stuck. I could see important areas and issues I had not touched but, in the end, they were not really central to the paper - part of a future paper perhaps! I stayed stuck for quite a while and finally laid the paper aside for weeks to let things simmer quietly. And then, I suddenly 'got' it. I wrote to you and Joan:
I cannot explain exactly what I am doing... But I can tell you that it lives in the place where justice meets what is really human and life affirming and suddenly lights the way out of the darkness of an oppression that has been masquerading as education. And yes, Pip, this passion and this certainty are what need to communicate themselves in everything I write. They are barely perceptible in the present form of this article.
I quote myself because I wish to acknowledge the role that you and Joan played in helping me reach that breakthrough. It was, in a very real sense, a living process and one that speaks of two remarkable human beings, of their powerful authenticity and generous giving of themselves. I am truly grateful to you both. I think this little history also testifies to the power and authenticity of this review process, in the context of this community. Thank you all for this opportunity and this space.
P.S. Will get on with correcting typos and other errors asap!
I really enjoyed this paper - very powerful writing - clearly a powerful experience for all involved - very easy to read - and you have indeed integrated theory and experience. I would recommend it for publication as it stands.
However......I was also left feeling that there was more to write. Perhaps a second paper? I have had to think carefully to work out why I am feeling that. And it is something to do with the fact that actually I think there is more going on than you are communicating in this paper. Although you talking about living theory - and you feel passionately about the need not to colonise education - I was not sure beyond that what values were motivating your daily practice? The main focus of your writing is on the methodology you used - the immersion technique, and the impact this had on your students. But however good a methodology, I don't think it leads to students coming to say on a regular basis 'I love you Mrs Salyers'. And what I wanted to know more about was what is going on in the interaction between you and them (beyond the methodology that you were giving them) that led them to feel that way about you. I would suggest that there is an energy in your forms of communication that emerges from something more dynamic than just an aversion to colonisation. In the work I am doing, there is a growing emphasis on the concept of mindfulness in the sense of 'Paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally." I feel you must be doing that - being very conscious how you are with these students 'in each present moment' - and it is as a consequence of the quality of attention that you give to them in each present moment that contributes to their affection and transformed relationship with you.
I think being more explicit about this is important, as conventional teachers will believe that all they need to do is find the right teaching method and the rest will be okay. But I guess many could use the immersion technique to improve students' use of English and not have the impact you do. So it is learning more about what else is going on that I am interested in.
Although I am not a great user of multi-media myself, I did find myself thinking that videoing you in practice (if you did not feel that the 'observer' role of the camera would influence the behaviour of yourself or your students too much) would provide you with data that might help you analyse what is going on. There is something about the nature and quality of your relationship with these students that (I think) has yet to be explored. The methodology you have given to them is necessary - and this paper covers it well - but I do not feel it is sufficient - and it is the means by which you relate to the students beyond the medium of the methods, that fascinates me.
You may feel that I am off-key here - and if so please say so. And this really is no critique of your current paper. Just that I can see another one emerging...
With love, Joan
One of my pleasures in contributing to the development of EJOLTS is to share the growth in our understandings as we cooperate in helping each other to take our enquiries forward. With EJOLTS being a relatively new Journal, no one has yet had two papers published that can demonstrate a growth in educational knowledge between the two papers. I think you could be the first contributor to do this. This might include the following suggestion and insight from Joan:
"I would suggest that there is an energy in your forms of communication that emerges from something more dynamic than just an aversion to colonisation.....
There is something about the nature and quality of your relationship with these students that (I think) has yet to be explored."
I've given this a lot of thought. I've responded in more depth to Joan (below) but want to thank you for pushing me gently in this direction. I feel can myself beginning another very challenging journey! It is all the more so in a week where I, and my students, are recovering from the suicide of a class member whose absence has left a hole whose dimensions I could not have guessed at. I'll talk to Joan and a colleague who has been asking me to video some of m y classes and see what I can come up with.
P.S. I remember that when we met in 2010, you told me that I should start looking at what it is that turns some of my classes into families.
Attached is the final version of the paper - minus the correct volume no. and date, which I will add if required!