Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Reflecting Back

Reflecting back on my experience in Mexico, there are three really important lesson I learned from my experience. They are: 1) How to deal with the unexpected, 2) How t and when to take the initiative and 3) The importance of befriending everyone. I want to talk about each of these and give a few examples how I came to learn these valuable lessons.
From the very start of my project I realized that now matter how well I planned ahead I was constantly being bombarded with the unexpected. I could start from the many challenges I faced in simply preparing my proposal for my study; because they were many, but I want to start with the my first weeks in Mexico. I will admit I arrived a bit naive thinking that everyone around me would automatically understand my good intentions and allow be to conduct my project in the manner I wanted. It seemed logical that I could march into a school and explain that I was there to do a study for the benefit of the immigrants in the United States and that they would readily comply- drop whatever they were doing, and help me get started on my project. It's easy to tell that that was inexperienced thinking.
When I arrived at my first school I was asked for documentation of permission from qualified professionals, clear explanations of my intentions and methods and how was it that the school would benefit from participating in my study. The professionalism and seriousness they asked for surprised me, and to be honest, it seemed a daunting task to rise to the level they were expecting. To make a long story short, with the help of my host mother and my mentor I was able to put together a packet of three documents: Letter of presentation, Letter of consent from my mentor (In English) and it's translation, all written in formal Spanish diction to present to the school. With that packet and some divine help, three schools accepted to allow me participate in their high school to conduct my research.
After getting into the schools I assumed everything would be smooth sailing from there. I was in the school I just needed to arrange a schedule with various teacher so that I could observe their classroom and interview them and their students. I asked the director if he knew any teachers that would be willing to do this. The director is a great worker and I don't judge him, but my request didn't go much father than though his ears. I decided that besides waiting for him to find time to ask which teachers would volunteer, I would go to the teacher lounge and get to know a few of the teachers. Before long I had five or more teachers willing to help me with my research. From then on I constantly informed the school staff of my intentions and actions, but I stopped hassling them with extra chores that I could do with my own initiative. That became an important pattern for the rest of my experience.
The last lesson I learned stood out to me in a despret time of need. Towards the end of my project I was having an extremely difficult time finding parents willing to participate in interviews. My original plan didn't work and I was left with virtually no parent contacts. Luckily I had made many student friends during my time participating in the schools. These students and a few of the teachers became necessary gatekeeper for the last part of my project. Through them I was able to acquire the necessary contacts for parent interviews that I needed. I learned that by befriending everyone, those I least expected became some of my most important gatekeepers.
By the end of my experience I truly reflect on my experience with aw. I started a project with very little understanding of what I was truly attempting to undertake, but though the help of those around me and God, it seemed that everything worked out better than I could have imagined. I lived my experience in Mexico and I know it has strengthened my character beyond what I could have hoped for.  

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Prominent themes

At this point in my research I have collected 95% of my data and I am more involved in transcribing interviews and conducting taxonomic, componential and theme analysis on what I hear. That is of course mixed in with reading, writing essays and finishing up the assignments for my course classes.  
Though my analysis is still in its primitive stages, I feel confident in mentioning a few of the prominent themes I have noticed in my inquiry research.
1.       The background research I did stated that the teachers in Mexico were relatively authoritarian and took charge of the majority of the responsibility of the education of the youth. I have found this not to me true. Parents typically want to be involved in the education of their children, but often the system restricts their level of involvement.  The preparatory school (High School) is considered a higher education and those who choose to go are expected to take charge of their own education.  A this level the teachers have less communication with the parents of the students and the entire triangle relationship (teachers, parents and students) take the form of what one would expected in the university.  This is of course varies among the different types of schools. I have found the more public t and urban the school, the less teacher-parent communication. Technical schools try to maintain a bit more communication than the public school, and private schools seemed to have the most. The rural school I visited had a lot of communication with the local families from the same town, but the parents of the students that had to travel far have less contact with the teachers.

2.       It has been interesting hearing the various views of what parents feel is the responsibility of the teachers in respect to the orientation they should give to the students. My observations show that the less amount of schooling the parents have, the more they believe the schools should be in charge of teaching morals and values. It is as if the parents who finished high school or went to college realize that school is mainly academic instruction and the parents who have less experience in school expect the teachers to be more like parents and incorporate moral instruction in their classes.

I observed little to none moral instruction from teacher in the classroom. However I did participate in an assembly on sexuality and hear of classes based on ethics and civil culture.  Uneducated parents seemed to be more naïve as to role of teachers as instructors of moral values. The more educated parents wished the schools would teach more moral values but were more aware or accepting that schools were mostly academic instruction.

3.       The last observation was about the teacher-student expectations. Teachers knew that they were only teaching a portion of the material to the students in the classes. Their goal was to “plant the seed” and then the students were to “cultivate it.” The students who exceeded in class were those who understood this best. They dedicated themselves to find other resources outside of class to learn the material; they were less dependent on the teacher. The students that were failing often relied solely on the in-class instruction and did little of their own reinforcement.
It will be interesting to see what other themes emerge from my interviews and field notes.  The research thus far has been very interesting and very rewarding.  I’m excited to extract all the results. 

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The power of Reflection

My personal journals about my personal feeling and reflections has really helped me grow and learn. By the simple act of deep reflection on paper, you can capitalize on your experiences of life and gain wisdom that can otherwise take long years to develop. I always hear Elder Bednar say that we can choose to be agents and act for ourselves or choose to be acted upon. It’s cool that we can choose to learn wisdom at a deeper level and at a younger age by choice.  I feel this field study experience is giving me a greater capacity to reflect and think. In my perspective I'm becoming more capable of learning from the world around me. 

Sometimes we let life just fly by without stopping to think about everything that's happening and how it's affecting us. When I sit down to write in my field journal every night I think back and every once in a while I realize things I hadn't noticed.  Maybe I come to understand better what a student told me about their how they wished teachers taught or why a teacher feels it ok that over half of his class is failing. I read a inquiry the other day about the benefits of teachers conducting inquiry projects or keeping teaching journals. I was impressed by this quote:

"Everyone is constantly telling stories or expressing interpretations of all their experiences. Teachers face entire rooms full students telling stories that may be very foreign to the teachers’ experiences.
Part of the challenge of qualitative inquiry and other education is to learn to read the stories others are telling, to understand them, to have compassion for them.  Qualitative inquiry is about helping educators invite the people they work with and sells to tell their stories more powerfully. It is all about helping educators find better ways to “here” or “read” those stories and share what they learn up through those readings with people they want to help."

This Field study is teaching me how to read and tell the stories of others. While we think and try to understand, we learn. I know for a fact that if someone else presented to me a write-up of the same inquiry project I would learn little form it. It has been my the means not the conclusion that I have been learning. 

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Analysis

The last few weeks I have been transcribing my interviews and highlighting the different subjects mentioned. This process was pretty tedious, but luckily I bought Dragon software which allowed my to transcribe my interviews by talking to the computer rather than simply re-typing everything. 

I sent an e-mail out to my professor and my inquiry research class. I explained my plans of analysis and asked for some advice. He sent me back an e-mail and I realize how much more work you need to do and the analysis I should have been doing but have not yet started. To be specific I should have been analyzing interviews as I did then to know what questions to ask so my data is not left incomplete. Well, that didn’t happen, so I have to quickly analyze the interviews I’ve done and probably returned to the schools to fill in the blanks. This is frustrating to me, but I’m glad I’m getting the help necessary to make my project the best it can be.  I’m realizing that this project will take a lot more work than I ever imagined.

The plan to analyze is to put everything on a pedigree chart that allow me to look at it as a whole picture and then focus in on small details. This is called Domain and Taxonomic analysis.  I can then create comparison charts and look for patterns and relationships- Componential and theme analysis. I have started making my taxonomy charts, and it’s going to be lot of data to analyze, but I am seeing how it’s going to help me make correct conclusions. 

The daunting part of all this is that all this analysis with for my interviews with teachers. I still have o repeat this process two more times with my students interviews and my parent interviews (which I haven't started yet.)  It's a lot of work, but I'm learning a ton, so it's worth it. 

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Interesting things about teacher-Student-Parent relations

 Let me give a briefing of some interesting things I’m learning.

Students feel that the communication between teachers and parents is non-existent. That there is no one behind their backs making sure they do their work. Not only do both parents work, but they work longer hours.  If the student studies in the afternoon, the only time he would see his parents is from 9:00pm to their bedtime. Therefore they learn to be very independent and they education is fueled by their self-motivation. No one prevents them from skipping classes or leaving the campus. It seems less than a third make it through the prepa without repeating a year of school. The students have to learn to make good decisions.

I was talking with a Trigonometry teacher today (He is LDS and I really respect him) and he said 70% of his students failed the class. He claims it is because the previous teachers didn’t teach algebra well; even though they passed the class. I was thinking that there was a problem because if they don’t know algebra and they will not be taking the class again, who is going to teach them algebra so that they can pass his trigonometry class. He explained to me that it was the student’s responsibility to pick up a math book and train themselves on the subject. I can see that he is very glued to the idea that he was hired to teach trigonometry and it’s not his job to teach the loose ends that other teachers failed to teach.

When students run into problems, they have to find their own solution. Just after turning off the recorder with a group a Juniors, I explained that in the US, I feel like we have more people behind our back making sure we do our work and get our education and here they are encouraged to be very independent. I asked them if they would prefer someone to be more vigilant over their work.  They surprisingly me and said no, they prefer the independence.  This concept is very interesting to me. I want to dig deeper into the question of whether or not students enjoy the independence and freedom given to them or would they appreciate a stricter system and exterior eye on their work?

I am learning that it’s not the quantity of interviews that matters, but more the quality of the ones I do. I have also realized that interviewing is not a simple as I thought. Luckily I feel that the Latin culture is very open and quick to talk about whatever, and I meant it when I say whatever. They are especially easy to interview in groups, their conversations build off each other and I do little talking and more directing the conversations. The only problem is that I’m learning a lot of surface information. I don’t yet feel like I’m digging deep. I’m answering my question my research question, but I feel it is more with general information.  I guess you could say I notice the novicesness in my own work, and that can be frustrating.

I conducted two interviews today, one with an English teacher who taught for some time in the US, and the other with a group of sophomores. Both interviews went very well and I felt like they gave me some quality information. I enjoy the group interviews with the students the most, I don’t feel like my tactics or intentions are judged. Sometimes with the adults I feel they are a bit more reserved.  I very much enjoy talking with the teachers, and hanging out in the teacher’s lounge, but there is a slightly different feeling present under an interview.

At CBTis I walked around talking to teachers and students about different aspects of my project trying to get an idea on what parts of my project needs enriching. I did interview a group of sophomores that provided me a load of information on the changes they experience between middle school and the prepa.  One thing I learned is from the perspective of the students; the teachers have the authority to fail the students for whatever reason. This means that if a student doesn’t have the closed relationship with the teacher, they sometimes fear to question the teacher about a test grade because they think the teacher will lower their grade for questioning it.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Starting in the schools

After over two weeks of talking with school faculty, emailing and even going to the University of Guanajuato, I was able to get permission to start in the schools. Friday the 18th was my first day in CBTis 65; one of the nicer public schools. I was there fro the afternoon classes from three to eight.

At three I went to a physics class with Miguel Vazquez. He’s a good teacher, but it’s true the teaching dynamic here is a bit different. The students stay in the same classroom the whole day, here the teachers rotate classrooms.  The teachers do take an authoritative position. The front of the classroom where he stands is elevated about a foot.  The students stand when the teacher enters, and sit when he permits them to.  They also can’t leave until the teacher indicates; there is no bell. Students are taught to fill up the front seats first, or in other words, if there is empty seat in front of you, you move up. I realized this more during the second class; some students didn’t follow the norm and were asked to move forward.

The second class was a two hour long Chemistry class.  When I walked in there were only girls in the classroom, all the guys were waiting around outside. I verified with one of the girls it was the chemistry class and they gave me a puzzled look about why I was there. (I am the only blond one out of 2200 students, I don't blend in super well) I started to explain myself and they all turned to listen. After a minute or so I realized it was me surrounded by 15 teenage girls and I got worried the teacher might walk in and get the wrong image so I left to talk with some of the guy outside the classroom. That class went well, this teacher was also had the class very controlled and attentive.  The dynamic is actually very different in the sense that all the students pay attention regardless of how interesting the material it. I was impressed not to see any students in the back half asleep on their desks (As is common in the Provo schools I visited)   

At the end of Class I spotted Sergio Cornejo, the English teacher I was going to be with next. We still had 15 minutes until class started so I sat and talked with him. He speaks pretty good English but he does have a thick accent. He told me that the school had science laboratories and I thought that was cool. He stood up and I thought we were going  to his class, and when we showed up at a laboratory, I thought that maybe his classroom was going to be in that classroom. The class was full of students with lab coats and when I entered they all stopped and looked at me. I was waiting for something so happen, but it seemed like all the attention stayed on me. I say “Buanas Tardes” and the responded in unison “Buenas tardes.” Sergio did speak up and say he was there to show me the lab. I still felt really awkward so I turned to leave and slightly tripped over Sergio and made a fool of myself.  There was a lot of laughing as I left the room. I don’t care too much, if was a funny memory.

Sergio’s class was very different than the others.  He is a much more relaxed teacher and really lets the students behave how they want. They sat where they wanted and talk among themselves most of the class period. The good thing was that because it wasn’t a formal lecture, I got to go around and be with the little groups as they worked on their book work. All of them were really good to me and I felt comfortable and respected by them.

When I got back home it was only Javier and me. I made some taco filling with chopped chorizo, hot dog, onion and Jalapeños.  That with some reheated rice, special cheese and hot tortillas, it was a wonderful dinner. 

Monday, April 9, 2012

Final Worries

This Thursday we have the Marathon meeting scheduled and I think it would be a good idea to write out all my worries now so I know the right questions to ask.

Internet usage: One of my classes has all the reading material online.  I assume most of my free time will be while I am in Aldama and I worry about the web accessibility in that small town. If this is going to be a difficulty, I have the tedious option of trying to convert the course material from the webpage into a book.  That would of course need to be done before I leave to Mexico.

Recording interviews: I have no idea what the best devices are to record interviews. I know that my phone has an audio recording device, but you have to speak into it to pick up the sound. My vision of comfortable interviews entails a audio recorded set aside and ignored.  I don’t want to have to pass around a recording device during the interviews.

Communication with my family: This also has a lot to do with the internet usage. If internet is accessible, I will be able to Skype or email frequently. I will also be in the schools most days and that should provide me with a resource of communication to my family. On this topic I simply wonder what is best way to maintain communication with my family.

Water usage: I hear the water there isn’t good to drink. I can comprehend buying water to drink but what about brushing your teach, washing my hands to put in my contacts and cooking? I feel unsure about all the implications of how I will treat the local water.

Clothing and appearance: I would feel weird if I got there and dressed dramatically different than the locals. I want to live their culture and I feel that my appearance is the first then that will set me apart. What is recommended? I could buy a few cloths there? What is the standard of dress there?

Food and health: I keep hearing about student who go there and drink Pepto-Bismol on a daily basis. I have tasted then stuff only a few times in my life; is that the recommendation to stay healthy? What are some suggestions so that I stay as health as possible? Should I have a first-aid kit with any specific contents?

Service: If Aldama is an agricultural community, would it be acceptable or expected that I participate in a small portion to the faming? What about the chores of the house, cooking and doing the grocery shopping?  I’m very willing to do service, but I’d like to have a clear idea of what is expected of me.

Village activities: If Aldama is accustomed to BYU students, I’m sure they have a lot of experience with their participation in cultural activities.  I would like to be prepared and know about some activities in which I might be invited to participate; for example, Catholic ceremonies, traditional dances, holidays and sporting events.

Theft: My last worry is about how protective I need to be of my stuff. I recently inherited an I-phone. It would be convenient to bring it and use it to Skype my family and record the interviews. I don’t know how rare an I-pod is for the community of Aldama. I’d like to have a good idea of what precautions I should take to protect my stuff and my data collection.