Research Brief: 2016-17

When I sat down to write my research plan for the upcoming school year, I began my re-reading my brief from last year. I realized that much of last year’s brief still applied; I also realized with some embarrassment that I had written some sections last year and then completely failed to follow through with them.

So, rather than write a new brief, I’ve updated last year’s brief:

The text in italics is new.

The text in blue indicates plans from last year’s brief that I failed to complete last year but want to pursue this year.

Dates are updated to reflect this year’s calendar.


How can I involve students in setting their own learning outcomes and meaningfully pursuing these outcomes?


How do the power relationships at my school affect (or even constrain) efforts to create democratic spaces?

Can teaching practice that is non-coercive or non-deficit influence student motivation positively?

If students are involved in co-designing curriculum with teachers, will students have more meaningful learning experiences?

What is a meaningful learning experience?  How can teachers collaborate with students and families to determine what a meaningful learning experience is in their context?

What scaffolding or support is needed for students to design and pursue self-determined outcomes?


I am hoping to discover and describe practical ways to empower students and create a learning space that is more democratic. I am also hoping to include families in an authentic (non-coercive, non-deficit) manner.

Literature Review 

As I conduct the inquiry, I will conduct a limited research review by blogging about relevant research.  (I did not do this last year. It would be fun to do a monthly “research corner” post.)


We will use James Beane’s Curriculum Integration model as a starting point for inquiry.  In particular, we will use the approach described in Chapter 4.  I will blog about this model at greater length in future posts.

I am going to modify this somewhat, in part due to this year’s special circumstances.

In the spring, our district and teachers’ union agreed to end the Fall 2016 semester at Christmas – an excellent idea, in my opinion, given that our previous model had two weeks of class plus finals after winter break before the change of semesters, which made January seem rushed and disconnected from what came before break. However, because an earlier start to the year was deemed too disruptive, we will have an 81-day fall semester with a 99-day spring semester. 

Another special circumstance is the presidential election, which has ramifications for all of my classes but especially, I think, for U.S. History.
As a result, I plan to use the following modifications this year:

  •  In the fall, seniors (English) will work in groups complete a project that is smaller and less student-directed than I would ideally like. I will structure our workshop time more carefully and spend more time up front helping the students think about time management and outcomes
  • In the spring, seniors will work more independently to pursue a project that is closer to the ideal described in Beane’s work.
  • In the fall, juniors (U.S. History) will deepen their research skills by writing Letters to the Next President.
  • In the spring, juniors will complete a Common Core Project, as described by Peter Paccone of San Marino High School. I will blog about this project later in the year.

We will create a Class Constitution and attempt to build a collaborative, non-coercive classroom culture that is based on honoring our agreements to each other.  We will also have brief but regular “check-ins” to discuss how well our Constitution is working for us. Check-ins will take place on Mondays/Tuesdays (i.e., the first meeting of the week in our block schedule).
I will use surveys, interviews, and perhaps sociograms to gather data from students on their perceptions in October, January & May.  I did surveys last year but not interviews or sociograms. 

Data collection 

  • Field notes
  • Teacher blog posts
  • Student questionnaires/interviews/sociograms re perceptions of power
  • Student work
  • Student blog posts

Data analysis  
I will analyze my field notes daily using a version of Shagoury & Power’s method of “cooking” notes, or reflecting on notes shortly after you take them (page 45-50).

I will reflect in writing in my inquiry journal regularly – daily, if possible; otherwise at least three times weekly.

I will blog weekly about the inquiry’s progress.

I will meet twice monthly, or weekly if possible, with our instructional coach, Jennifer Yoo-Brannon, and/or my lesson study group, to reflect on the data collected.


August 22 – publish research brief on my blog
August 23 – September 2 – obtain permissions from students, revise research brief as needed
September 5 – September 23 – initial data collection (student perceptions of power); implement strategies; begin field notes
September 26 – December – implement strategies, collect data, analyze data, blog, meet with Jennifer and/or lesson study group
December, end of semester – ask students to comment/write about perceptions of power
January, February, March, April, May – continue to collect & analyze data, implement strategies, blog, meet with Jennifer and/or lesson study group
May – ask students to comment/write about perceptions of power
May/June – final data analysis
June/July – draft report


I will publish the report on my research on my blog & at Digital Is by the end of August 2017.

Reflection before beginning
I learned a lot last year, but I failed to make the inquiry systematic and organic. That’s my goal for this year: to establish inquiry – and especially writing in public about my inquiry – as a part of my professional routine.