Decisions, Decisions… Should I Be Creative, or Stick with Tradition?

I’m a pretty indecisive person, so while I have some idea of the topic I’d like to explore for my thesis, I haven’t yet been able to fully commit. So, I’m going to use this blog to work through some of my thoughts and internal conflicts surrounding the thesis process, and hopefully I can finally settle on a single path to reach my goals. 

My first idea came to me during Dr. Nelson’s research and methods class, when I wrote my final research proposal on conducting a phenomenological study to discover how educators experienced the COVID-19 pandemic. I chose this topic because it’s current, relevant, important, and close to my heart (since I myself am an educator currently experiencing this pandemic). So far, I have a substantial annotated bibliography and literature review covering topics such as hybrid and remote learning, which were obviously pretty prevalent last year when schools had to shut down to slow the spread. 

Here’s the concept map I created to go along with my literature review.

If I choose to continue pursuing this topic, this semester would be the time to start interviewing other teachers about how they experienced this pandemic. I would have to come up with a list of open-ended questions asking educators to share how hybrid, remote, and in-person learning during the time of COVID affected them. I’d probably need to get permission from my district to interview my colleagues, and I’d also have to look into whether a study like this would require IRB approval. 

By the end of the semester, my hope would be to complete interviews with anywhere from one to ten teachers and then analyze their responses to find common themes or experiences. Throughout this process, I would also continually search for scholarly research to support my findings, which I’d then add to my literature review. Then, in the spring, I’d be ready to write a comprehensive narrative about how high school teachers experienced hybrid and remote learning during the pandemic.

My other idea (which at this point, I’m kind of leaning away from) is to continue the memoir I started writing during this summer’s Writer’s Retreat. During those intensive two weeks of writing, I composed three vignettes exploring my experiences as a first year teacher in the 2019-2020 school year. I got some positive feedback from my classmates, so I know it’s a project worth pursuing, but I’m a little hesitant to take a deeper dive into the complex emotions that surround my experiences with teaching. I’m also wary of writing honestly about events that involve teachers, students, and staff at the school where I’m still currently employed as a non-tenured teacher. 

However, if I did choose to pursue this project, I’d have to draft an outline of my memoir, deciding which events from my teaching career are worth including. To do this, I’d look back through old emails, Google Classroom posts, schedules, lesson plans, etc., to create a timeline of my teaching and to help me recall specific events. Hopefully, by the end of the semester, I’d have the entire narrative plotted out as well as a few more vignettes written. 

At this point, I’m leaning heavily towards the more “traditional,” research-based route of conducting a phenomenology rather than writing a more “creative” memoir. When searching for master’s programs, I consciously sought out M.A. programs rather than M.F.A ones, so I really do want to push myself out of my comfort zone by attempting to conduct “academic” research that will require me to get out into the field, collect data, conduct interviews, etc. 

I also kind of doubt I’d ever be able to write a memoir that I’m happy with in just two semesters, especially because the story of my teaching career still doesn’t feel like it has a “resolution” (since I’m still in the midst of teaching during a pandemic and probably still will be by the time I finish this program). On the other hand, the phenomenology seems feasible to finish on time since I already created so many materials in Dr. Nelson’s class last semester. Right now, the pros of writing a phenomenology seem to be outweighing those of writing a memoir, but I still wanted to share my thoughts about both ideas in case anyone has any advice that might help me feel more confident in my decision.  

Where I am Starting…

Photo by Andrew Neel on Pexels.com

After the writer’s retreat ended I had big plans for writing into the summer, however, once summer officially began I realized I needed a break. I was and to a certain extent still am burnt out. I took time away from my work and school to try and regain control of living life without being tethered to work. I did still find myself thinking about my project and taking notes from time to time, but I spent as much time as possible disconnected.

I am looking forward to having a minimum of three solid hours a week to work on my thesis project every Wednesday. I have found a groove of leaving work at exactly 2:55 and arriving on Campus by 3:15. I am going to take advantage of the outdoor campus space for as long as possible to start my writing before class, conference with Dr. Zamora and my small group during our session, and then get into the work zone with my ear plugs. I think this is the “pressure” I have been missing to get back into the writing zone.

I have a working outline for my thesis project below. I have half of my project drafted, four roughly drafted essays, and the whole project outlined. The outline I have on my Google account is color coded and updated whenever I complete another section of an essay.

I am going to set a goal of drafting an essay every two weeks. With this goal it will take eight weeks to draft the entire project. I want to write out all of my own thoughts before diving too deep into the research. I have stacks of sources that I need to read through and pull information from, but I want to get out my own thoughts first.

Outline for Thesis Essays

Outline of Essays:

Introduction and Personal Background 

Modify as Introduction – Educational Philosophy 

When I Began Teaching – From Educational Portfolio 2007 (not sure if I will revise philosophy statement or insert as is) 

When the transition began from narrator to educator (Year 9 when I began teaching IB, new supervisor, ILT team member)

Now (professional development, practice, IB curriculum, relinquishing control of the classroom, grad school)

Essay 1: Physically and Emotionally Building an Interpersonal Classroom

Physical Space

Freedom to Move Around 

Desk Arrangement and Student Groups

Class Participation

Head Space (with student examples – may just post prompts)

Classroom Management 

Essay 2: The Importance of Teacher Clarity 

Lesson Plans 

Directions

Classroom Expectations

Classroom Procedures

Modeling and Releasing Responsibility 

Meaningful Grouping

Intervention Services 

Essay 3: Assessing Students

Data Analysis 

Preassessments

Formative Assessments 

Meaningful Feedback

Reteaching

Check-ins 

It Takes a Village 

RTI Coaching/Coaches 

Mentor Teachers 

Essay 4: Identifying the Struggling Learner Using RTI Strategies (high level and low level)

RTI Strategies 

Conferences

One-on-one Meetings 

Attendance Records 

Discipline Records and Conference with Principals 

Medical (504)

IEPs 

Check-ins with Other Teachers 

Check-ins with Parents or Guardians 

Check-ins with Guidance Counselors and Social Workers 

Essay 5: How to Create a Writing Process in the Interpersonal Classroom?

My writing process with students

Relatability (Relate the text to students before asking them to analyze the text) 

Paragraph format (RACE and RACE-CE)

4-point rubric for short answer 

Essay format for Analysis 

Outlines for Writing 

Peer Editing – sign-up sheets with times

Writing Conferences -sign up sheets 

Revisions

Essay Rubrics and flexible grading 

Essay 6: Social and Emotional Learning 

Communication Between Student and Teacher 

Communication Between Peers 

In-person Communication 

Virtual Communication

Finding Commonalities 

Invested Interest in Student Lives 

Research Essay 7: Post-Pandemic Teaching 

Self-Reflection from Teacher’s Perspective (beginning to ending) 

What is the Learning Gap 

Strategies for Bridging the Gap 

Survey

Results from Survey 

Research Essay 8: How tracking impacts teacher performance in the classroom

Create survey – multiple choice and open ended questions 

Observations 

Discussions in the teacher’s lounge 

My Own Experience with Various Tracks – first years, middle years, current

Outcome of Survey 

Insert Research into Chapters: Educational Philosophies and Practices that Align with an Interpersonal Classroom

Progressivism

Social Reconstructionism

Delpit 

Elbow

Smith 

Lamott

Freire 

Include in Chapters: Takeaways 

Sample Lessons 

Sample Assignments 

Sample Writing Outlines 

Sample Writing Rubrics 

Where I’m At

After spending my first day at Kean, I was completely inspired by what I had found.  That audio visual room changed my perspective on a million different things.  My thesis project will not change – only the way in which I wish to deliver it.

            I have lost sleep over my idea and how I can pull it off.  My goals have to reasonable, achievable and remarkable – all at the same time.  So here is the run down on what I have accomplished thus far:

            The first thing is that I have completed three out of the four novellas.  Those first three are currently undergoing rewrites, edits and I will incorporate feedback from the friends and family I have enlisted as “test subjects.” The fourth novella is half finished with the second half fleshed out in storyboards and notes.  The final novella is driven by the first three.  My schedule for completion on all four novellas is around the middle of October.  This is both reasonable and achievable.  The schedule will also allow me to make the results on the tales remarkable.  My time over the summer at the Writer’s Retreat was more than beneficial.  The one comment about readers having to care about characters at all times during the story was the one piece of feedback that has helped me the most.  I now crave that type of feedback.

            In order to sell my work, firstly to myself and then to others I had to give my audience a starting point.  That point came to me when I was cleaning out some old boxes.  I found a really old copy of Ray Bradbury’s Illustrated Man. As a kid I loved that book (STILL DO!!!).  As an adult, I taught that book to students and aspects from the book a great many times.  The book is a collection of short stories that center around a man who is scarred for life by the tales his numerous tattoos conjure up each night as he sleeps.  Mine is a world where one man, scarred and scared by the world after a global pandemic and a world-changing meteor storm that alters the course of mankind.  The stories show that man as he travels that history witnessing and taking part in events that happen well after the world has rebuilt during humanity’s Modern Age of Technological of Enlightenment.  These written stories and the subsequent tales that appear and will appear on the corresponding websites come close to 500 pages.

            There will be four corresponding interactive websites that go along with each story.  I have two completed (I of course will want, need desire and ultimately add more.).  Each of the websites contain and will contain for those in the making, backstories of the characters as well as images of everyone. The websites that have been completed also contain links to other websites that offer educational lesson ideas and some scientific support for the many crazy ideas I offer in my tales. 

            By November I intend to be in full editing mode.  I need and will need to have all novellas completed with only finishing touches to go.  It is also during this month that completion of the two remaining websites will be done.  I already have images and storyboard ideas for the look and feel.  During this time I hope to have already spent some time in the audio/visual lab where we had our first class.  The room with the movie screens…I can turn my thesis from Electronic Literature into Emmersive Literature.  I have already begun to collect images and video clips that would work in bringing my stories to life across those big screens.  This goal is also achievable and reasonable – it just takes some time and availability and protocol and a lot of begging, which I am prepared to do. 

            This idea of mine, as I ponder it more and more has so many different educational applications.  Image reading to an entire class of young minds and all around them the story comes to life.  Perhaps even acting out a play with the audience around you.  Better yet, settings and backgrounds for any type of story-telling are there – right there. This just might be a way to advance Differentiated Learning or helping young minds with extra needs.

That’s where I’m at…