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Reading Reflections

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The conceptual difference between a traditional research “problem” and a teaching “problem” in the Bass piece really resonated with me.  In thinking about my “research problem”, I most definitely began thinking of it as a teaching failure that needed to be rectified.  As a teacher, I see my job as not only to teach my students the fundamentals of biology, but to also teach them to think critically and how to communicate scientific information.  These skills are important, because they embody what scientists do – they ask questions, test hypotheses, critically analyze data, and communicate their findings.  In an effort to accomplish these goals I have incorporated scientific writing into my lab classes.  Over the last five years this has included having students write formal scientific reports of their lab experiments on their own, as well as in group settings that involved peer review.  I have met variable success in these efforts.  Some students seem to “get it” and their writing progresses positively over the course of the semester, while many, if not most, students stagnate and do not improve.  Thus, “the problem” I identified was how do I teach my students scientific writing?  Initially, my goal was to identify and test a method to improve their writing skills.  As I have thought about this issue, I have seen my understanding of my problem change.  Before I can test the effectiveness of different methods to improve student writing, I need to evaluate why some students are having such difficulty learning scientific writing. 


While my initial research questions started as a “what works” type of questions, it has evolved into a hybrid of a “what works” and “what is” kind of question.  My ultimate goal is to find an effective method to teach my students scientific writing.  As I have started to think about this goal more thoroughly, I am coming to realize that before I can do this, I have to understand why the students who are struggling are struggling and why the students whose work is improving are improving.  What are these two groups bringing to the class that is different?  This is the “what is” aspect of my question.  Once I have identified this factors, or at least have a better understanding of my student populations, then I will be able to approach the “what works” aspect of the question.  How can I take what I have learned from my effective student writers and apply it to the portion of the class that struggles?  This is the “what works” aspect of my question.


My concerns regarding this entire process are the following: is my question too big and how am I going to approach my question/research problem effectively?  The scope of a research problem has always been the daunting and overwhelming aspect of research to me.  I am quickly beginning to realize that I need to keep my big picture question in view, but develop smaller questions to address along the way.  I think the idea of classroom action research presented in the Mettetal paper, as well as the accompanying rubric to evaluate a project will be useful to me in reining in my questions/approaches into something that is high quality and manageable for a novice in the area of scholarship of teaching and learning. 


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