finding the language

One of the challenges of doing postgraduate studies is understanding other people’s ideas and trying to generate personal ideas from those about how to approach one’s own research. Another fancy word for this is finding a theoretical underpinning for ones research or an approach to explain the phenomena or people one will be working with. I have been on the verge of tearing my hair out trying to find the relevant theory to explain the classrooms I hope to do my research in. My proposal writing got to a point where I could show that I understand the issues and complexities around teaching literacy in many South African classrooms. I exhausted relevant research explaining literacy as a social practice and my supervisor was satisfied with this but it was not sufficient to explain the research I am looking to do. I was left with the question “And then what?...So what if I understand the issues?”

The trick has been finding the language that speaks to what I see in the classrooms. How can I explain what I know? Why is it important to explain what I see in the classroom? The essence of my research is a response to the literacy results in SA that show that learners are performing below the international benchmarks when it comes to reading and writing. An extension of this has been trying to understand what is happening in South Africa’s foundation phase classrooms where learners are taught in their mother tongue (particularly African languages)> This has not been without the understanding of what is happening in SA’s education system as a whole as education is implicated in the social and political structures we have currently. My thinking has been that if we can understand the different facets of education we can begin putting the pieces together and making the right decisions whe it comes to education especially where mass education is involved as it is in SA. We boast high learner enrolment but poor results on all levels...something’s got to give. I chose the teacher as my focus because apart from the blame heaped on teachers, very little attention has gone into understanding how they make sense of their role as teachers especially in the foundation phase. This is also at a time where teacher numbers are dwindling and the teachers in the system at the moment are reaching retirement age or taking early retirement. So learner numbers are increasing but teacher numbers are dwindling. How does this affect the teacher who, despite OBE and a learner-centred approach, is still central to teaching and learning in the classroom in spite of the external factors that affect many of the learners in SA?

So I stumbled across a book that is beginning to unpack the issues for me. Understanding reflective teaching might be the approach that I am looking for. This is an entire field that has been used to help understand the teachers and how they understand their practice. This has also help give an understanding into teacher education, which should be the bigger picture for research where teachers are concerned. I am assuming that if we can understand how teachers make sense/meaning from their teaching, then we can make informed decisions about the reforms (pedagogic, policy or curriculum related) that we needed in SA to make sure that learners are reading and writing for meaning at the end of Grade 1.

So this is just the beginning. I’m seeing my supervisor next week, and she might have other ideas, but this is my story for now.I doubt this blog will be of interest to many people unless they are conducting research or have done so before. And if my supervisor reads this, I hope she will agree with what I have found so I can stop wishing this Masters research away!

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