3.9 Reflection activity 3
Reflection activity 3: Project proposal
This is an activity in creating a proposal for a practical investigation of an aspect of language or literacy which particularly interests you, related to an issue or issues in this unit.
Please note that you will only be preparing a proposal; this will not lead on to a full-scale project.
You should aim to write 2000 words (excluding appendices and references).
Your project proposal is an opportunity for you to set out a plan for a small scale piece of research on an area you might like to explore further.
A small-scale research project provides an opportunity for you to explore and reflect on one or more issues in this unit, to relate them to educational or wider concerns in your own context and to give you experience of and insights into the realities of conducting research into language and literacy. Whatever topic you choose to examine, and whatever approach you adopt, it will be essential to locate your project work in the context of your study of the unit material.
You need to:
- develop your project topic
- identify key questions or issues you wish to investigate
- locate ideas in the unit material which will underpin the project
- decide which method or methods would best enable you to collect and analyse appropriate evidence
- map out the practical details and timescale for the project, including the collection of data.
There is no feedback for this activity.
Please note – these notes are only provided to show how a proposal would extend into a full-scale research project. The following information is provided for your information only should you choose to undertake this particular activity; you are not being asked to undertake the tasks listed below.
As you review the material, consider which aspects of it have most relevance to you and your interests. Consider also how you could investigate a particular topic: you should choose a topic that links the content of the unit to your own professional circumstances or personal interests. You will need to narrow down from a number of potentially interesting topics to one that is manageable.
Choosing a topic
You can choose a topic from any section of this unit, including section 4. Below are a few general suggestions to give you a sense of the scope you should aim for. Resist the temptation to be over-ambitious: this is a proposal only, not a full-scale project.
Sample project topics might include:
- a study of classroom talk
- an investigation of the role of talk in learning
- a comparison of language/literacy practices in two or more contexts (within and outside school, for example)
- a study of family or community literacy practices
- an analysis of policy issues in some area of language and literacy
- a study of the ‘voices’ in one or more texts
- a study of some aspect of language and identity
- a study of a multimodal text
- a study of the role of computers in a particular sphere of education.
Clearly, these topics differ in many respects – in the amount and kind of fieldwork they demand as opposed to their reliance on documentation, for example, as well as in the parts of the unit from which ideas and concepts are drawn. They are expressed here in deliberately general terms, so that you may consider ways in which the idea can be adapted to your own interests and circumstances.
Please note: It is not acceptable to use existing data that you may have collected for another purpose (for an MA course or for professional purposes, for example). You must propose to collect new data, that is, data collected specifically for the purposes of this investigative project.
Specification for the project proposal
Your proposal should be structured according to the following headings:
Title of proposed project
This should be a concise description of your proposed project, such as in the examples above, and convey how it would be well supported by a range of material from the unit.
The aims of the investigation
Here you will need to set out clearly what you wish to find out through your project work. Project aims are often more effectively expressed in the form of one or more specific investigative questions. When such questions are posed in a suitably clear way, they will help you to reach an understanding of the purpose of your project, and help you to evaluate your project when it is completed. These questions need not be formal hypotheses which you aim to prove or disprove: they may just as easily be expressed in exploratory or open-ended terms. Bear in mind that it is probably inappropriate for you to pass evaluative judgements on the people you are researching, or to appraise people’s practices, attitudes or opinions: express your questions in a way which will enable you to raise issues rather than pass judgement. For example, project aims might be expressed as:
- What differences can be observed in the ways boys and girls use talk when they are engaged in computer-based activities in the classroom? or
- How do history textbooks make different use of visual and linguistic modes of communication?
The rationale and main conceptual themes for the investigation
Here you should discuss the significance of the project you are proposing, and your reasons for choosing it. You should discuss these issues in both academic terms (by providing an outline of relevant theory and research) and, where appropriate, professional/practical terms (by indicating how your project fits with the theory and research). One way to approach this would be to answer such questions as:
- Why have you chosen this topic to investigate?
- Why is it an important and/or significant topic to investigate?
- What are the relevant ideas and issues in the unit material?
Identify the main conceptual strands running through the unit which relate to your topic. Identify, also, some more specific ideas and issues in unit readings which support your rationale and may provide the ‘tools’ for analysing your evidence after you have collected it.
A description of the setting(s) in which you would plan to collect your evidence
This section should be brief, but the information you provide here will enable your tutor to understand the context of your investigation.
Description of the evidence you would intend to collect
You should give careful thought to the kinds of evidence which will help you to answer your research questions, but at the same time are feasible to collect in the time available and in the settings to which you will have access. By ‘kinds of evidence’, we mean, for example:
- observation notes
- responses to interviews (notes and/or recordings)
- responses to questionnaires
- documents, possibly including writing from community contexts, examples of students’ work, policy documents, research reports, school texts, etc.
- audio or video recordings
- personal research diary/notebook.
Generally speaking, the evidence base for your project will be stronger if you combine two or three different methods of collecting data. This will also provide several perspectives on the same phenomenon. For example, if you wanted to investigate children’s talk around computers, it might be advisable not only to tape record the children but also to observe them (possibly resulting in observation notes and entries in a personal research diary), and to discuss with them the activities involved, in order to gain a more rounded picture of the processes you are studying. In a project on community literacy practices, it would be advisable to collect examples of the texts produced by the writers, and perhaps also to discuss the writing with them.
When deciding how many ‘cases’ to include in your study, bear in mind that projects range from those which are rich in detail but limited in their general application, to those which are trying to investigate variation across a wide range of cases but not in any great depth. You should design your project in a way which matches your aims. If your project is closer to the first end of this continuum, you should ensure that you collect evidence which is sufficiently detailed and varied to enable you to document the richness of the small number of individual cases. If your project is closer to the latter end of the continuum, you will need to bring a sufficiently robust analysis to bear upon the small number of questions being asked of your evidence.
The methods you would plan to use to collect your evidence
Language and literacy in a changing world is not a unit on research methodology, and you will not be expected to construct a sophisticated research design or to justify your methods in the light of the literature on research methodology. However, it does have an emphasis on learning a range of tools for practical analysis of language and texts, and understanding the rationale for different approaches to analysis, and you should be able to explain why the methods you chose to use matched the aims of your project. In other words, why did you feel that the methods you chose would help you to find out what you were attempting to find out?
The notes that follow outline some of the main methods you may consider using if you were preparing for a full-scale assignment. You should also at this stage examine those readings in the unit material which refer to or use the method or methods which you are contemplating adopting.
Interviews: These can vary from a highly structured format to an open conversation covering a list of topics. Depending on the nature of your project, you may want to collect some fairly specific information, or to explore children’s or adults’ ideas on a topic. Try out at least two pilot interviews if you possibly can, and record them if possible. Listening to the recordings should help you decide if questions need to be reworded, or if you are doing too much talking yourself.
Recording relieves you from having to take notes during the interview and often throws up interesting information which might otherwise be missed. (Audio recordings can also be an effective way to supplement your other means of data collection. Even if you do not transcribe any part of your recordings, they provide an additional perspective which brings its own particular insights on any observation or interview work you have done.) If audio recording is not possible, then decide beforehand on the best way of making notes.
When interviewing, it is usually much more productive to relate your questions to specific people, events or practices than to ask generalised questions. For example, asking teachers how they go about assessing children’s writing is understandably likely to produce idealised and unfocused responses, whereas asking a teacher to look over a particular piece of writing and to explain the kinds of points they would want to bring to the writer’s attention will give a clearer indication of the kinds of criteria implicit in the teacher’s assessment practice.
Questionnaires: Like interviews, these range from the highly structured to those with more open-ended questions. The questionnaire may be completed in your presence as part of an interview, or in your absence. When constructing your questionnaire think about how you intend to analyse the results you obtain. If you are hoping to make some quantitative statements then the questions cannot be open-ended. You will need to consider the reply options that you provide, so that people can, for example, tick a box or circle an answer.
Observation: A variety of methods can be used to observe and analyse interaction, for example taking detailed notes of observed events, or making transcriptions of recorded events in classrooms.
If you are using audio or video recordings in a classroom there are certain things you need to consider. The sound quality is likely to be important if you want to reflect on the language being used. How you set up your audio or video equipment to make recordings is going to be affected by who it is that you wish to hear or see most clearly. Depending on the type of lessons involved, you may want to focus on the teacher’s talk at the front of the class, the teacher’s talk with individual students around the class, student responses to the teacher, students talking to each other in groups, or a whole-class discussion. If you are interested in student–student interaction in groups, for example, you may need to use a number of cassette recorders placed with each individual group. You also need to be aware of the effect of an additional person and/or recording equipment in the classroom on the behaviour of both teachers and students. You are strongly advised to pilot your recording techniques. By this we mean that you should try out your data collecting methods in a classroom situation and see if they work. After making a recording, watch or listen to it carefully. Can you hear and see everything you need to? If not, can you position your equipment differently to improve things or do you need to modify your data requirements?
Collection of texts: All sorts of ‘texts’ – spoken, written, multimodal – can be collected and analysed, for example, policy documents, advertisements, informal conversations, visual images.
The ethical issues you have to consider
You should include some reflection on ethical issues, and indicate ways in which you will respect the privacy of individuals and the confidentiality of data relating to them. You should also consider, if necessary, whether you will need to inform parents about your project or seek their permission to involve their children in the work. You might also like to consider what purposes your findings could be put to. If you work in a school, for example, is it expecting some kind of outcome which can be used to direct policy?
The methods you expect to use to analyse the evidence you collect
You should give a clear account and some justification of the ways in which you will relate your evidence to your aims and initial questions. In some cases the most useful conceptual frameworks for analysing evidence will emerge after the evidence has been collected and initially examined. However, even at this relatively early stage you should begin to consider the kinds of frameworks you might devise to categorise your evidence, and the kinds of themes and issues which you might adopt as organizing principles for your analysis.
The timetable for the proposed project
You should include here any practical difficulties you face in carrying out your project (e.g. school or college holiday times coinciding with critical stages of your data collection), so that potential readers may be aware of how it has been shaped by your local circumstances.