Intellectual Conversations

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This has been a great first week working from home. I have done a lot of thinking about my data analysis problem, and although I have not figured it out, I feel like I am a bit closer. I’ve been reading about case study methodology (Exciting right? To balance this, I’ve also been reading Ready Player One, a sci-fi, dystopian, pop culture obsessed, awesome novel as well as the Steve Jobs biography which I can sum up in three words: He’s an ass.)

The case study articles have helped me see that (surprise, surprise) I need some more focus and clarity. I need to find a theory that is at the heart of my study and see if the “case school” I’m working with is an example of that theory or not. Find a theoretical framework: easier said than done.

I also chatted with Bruce VanSledright over Skype on Tuesday, and I hope I didn’t come across as a complete moron. He said he would be happy to talk with me again, so I take that as a sign that I didn’t disappoint him too much. He said the same thing– that I need to focus on the 3-5 economic concepts I want to study, and 3-5 elements of student engagement, and only stick to those. He listed a bunch of data that he thinks I should collect, but he reassured me that I don’t need to use everything. He, however, seemed to like a lot of the elements in my study and didn’t want me to cut any research questions.  He also thinks I should lean towards measuring growth– in other words, seeing if the One Hen unit “works”. Although I can’t make any causal claims to that, he thinks a pre and post test will strengthen my study, and he liked the idea of an engagement survey. So, in other words, he liked the things my committee wasn’t exactly thrilled about. I still have a challenge ahead of me if I want to follow his advice. We’ll see. He’s also from Grand Rapids, so I think we were academics that were meant to collaborate!

I think focus is key. In the Bolker book (Write Your Dissertation in 15 Minutes...) she says that the length of a dissertation should be the shortest amount of pages that my committee will accept. It was her way of saying not to try to take on the world with this project. This is also something Erica and Sally mentioned to me during our “intellectual conversation” time on Tuesday morning. Erica, Sally, and I have decided to chat once a week about our projects (we’re all dissertating at the same time, which sounds weird), and talking to them also helps me achieve this focus I so desperately need.

So basically Tuesday was a day of talking to smart people. Today I also talked to smart people by crashing a field trip for Vanderbilt Academy (where I used to teach middle school), catching up with some awesome teacher friends, and relaxing at Lake Michigan. I hoped that staring at nature and going back to my roots would also give me focus:


I don’t need to hole myself up in my office every day, right?


The Committee

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I started reading “Write Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day” by Joan Bolker in hopes that it would offer magical secrets about how I can get away with only doing 15 minutes of work a day. Not so much– turns out the title was only an attention-grabbing ploy to sell books! Who would have thought? Nonetheless, this book is pretty good, and I plan to read it in pieces as I move through the stages of writing as a form of “dissertation therapy”. There is a whole chapter about how to choose a good dissertation committee, which I believe I have already done, so I thought I’d write about them.


“The Committee” is made up of four faculty members at MSU. Their function is to guide me in “The Proposal” stage and then again at my “Defense” a year from now. I chose these four people myself because I have worked with them these past four years at MSU and they have similar research interests as I do and expertise in my topic.

Anne-Lise is my advisor and my Dissertation Director. She’s the lucky one that gets to read a million drafts of my work and be closer to my project than the other members of The Committee. Her expertise is elementary social studies, which is why she’s my advisor in the first place. Not to mention she’s very smart, ambitious, organized, and driven like I am. Well, she’s much more of all of these things than I am. 

Kyle is the member of my committee that pushes me to think about things in other ways, which is why I need his views on my committee. His expertise is secondary social studies and I have worked with him all year with field instructing interns. Peter has the expertise in qualitative methods– I took a great class with him my first year and learned a lot from him about the kind of research I want to do. Cheryl is the literacy professor I worked with teaching the ELA methods course. I only got to know her this year, but I have learned a lot from her already and she brings more expertise in elementary instruction in general.

I think my committee is a very supportive group, which Bolker says is necessary. She gives a lot of horror stories in one chapter about horrible advisers and committee members, and I was relieved to reflect on the fact that this is not the case for me. I like that 3 out of 4 committee members love college basketball and other sports as much as I do (and who knows, Cheryl might too– we’ve never talked about it!). I’ve worked closely with them, and they’ve worked closely with each other, so there’s a friendly, caring vibe to the group. This is good–I’ll definitely need it.

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