For teachers who have successfully worked in alternative education programs with students at-risk, what factors do they identify as necessary for students to achieve success? What do the graduates of these programs say about the skills they learned, and how these benefit them after leaving the programs? What factors of the alternative education programs do the graduates identify as supporting their successes? What are the theoretical underpinnings of the common themes in the descriptions of graduates’ and teachers’ experiences in alternative education programs? Constructivist grounded theory was selected as the most appropriate methodology for examining and interpreting the experiences of teachers and graduates of alternative education programs and for identifying the elements of their success.
ConstructivistJM1 grounded theory is derived from grounded theory methodology, which was developed by Glaser and Strauss in the 1960s. Grounded theory methodology is deemed as positivistic in nature: it is largely focused on observing social processes and creating theories from the observations without actively participating in the data creation (Charmaz, 2006). On the other hand, constructivist grounded theory is more interpretivist in nature: it is largely focused on the interactions and interpretations of human behaviour, believing that they create meanings. As the methodology became popular, Glaser and Strauss, took opposing positions on whether the methodology should stay true to its foundational principles or evolve into an interactive approach. Glaser believed that the methodology should be faithful to its original principles, whereas, Strauss became fascinated with the interactions and interpretations of human behaviour, believing that they create meanings. Constructivist grounded methodology recognizes that all participants (researcher and subjects) are constructionist who bring subjective ideologies to the research situation that are shaped by their experiences and positions (Charmaz, 2014).Therefore, this methodology is suitable to explore the experiences of students who were once at-risk and teachers in alternative education programs; to identify and interpret their subjective constructions given in the descriptions of their experiences in alternative education programs. I will construct new understandings and use the experiences and positions (in which they originate) of participants (teachers, former students and researcher) to verify them.
These opposing ideas led the two founders to split; Glaser believed the researcher’s prior theoretical knowledge should have no influence on the phenomenon, focus should be maintained on discovering the data in relation to the phenomenon under investigation (Kelle, 2007). Strauss believed there was need to regard human behaviour in relation to the phenomenon under investigation (Charmaz, 2006). Kathy Charmaz, a student of both Glaser and Strauss, elaborated on Strauss’s ideas and developed constructivist grounded theory, which emphasizes the phenomenon is central to the research process; the researcher retrieves and interprets data through shared experiences with the participants (Charmaz, 2006). According to Charmaz (2006), the way we perceive ideas is influenced by our values; hence, our values affect our interpretations. Charmaz (2006) believes the impression that the researcher’s values make on the research data is fundamental and should be acknowledged in the research process. This methodology supports the subjectivity of the data and scrutinizes the researcher’s reflexivity to support to authenticate the interpretations.
Constructivist Grounded Theory
Constructivist grounded theory takes as its premise that phenomena have meaning given to them by the participants, both the subjects and researchers who perceive and interpret these experiences; according to this view, the researcher engages in reflexive experiences in relation to the phenomena, which involves examining how his or her own background influences the research process (Charmaz, 2006). Thus, both the event that happens and the interpretation given by the persons involved are significant to the meanings constructed in the research. Since, in this thesis, I wish to learn the significance that students at-risk and teachers attach to their experiences in alternative education programs, I will expound below on the appropriateness of the constructivist grounded approach to explore this phenomenon.
Constructivism as a qualitative research approach maintains the ideological assumption that individuals seek to gain understanding within their places of existence, while, creating their own meanings from their experiences and directing their constructions of specific things or objects. Thus, a constructivist researcher focuses on the intricacies of the individual’s account of his or her experiences within that person’s context, rather than generalizing them (Creswell (2014). To unearth the complexities of the meanings that are created, the constructivist grounded theory method assumes that “reality is multiple, processual, and constructed—but constructed under conditions” (Charmaz, 2008, p. 402). In this sense, conditions imply context and circumstances. In my research, the phenomenon being explored—the factors that teachers and students identify as necessary for students to achieve success —will be examined through multiple perspectives from different contexts, befitting the multiple realties assumed by the approach. The reason for seeking the perspective of former students and teachers is that their varied experiences and perspectives are considered subjective, based on the assumption that “humans engage with their world and make sense of it based on their historical and social perspectives—We are born in a world of meaning bestowed upon us by our culture” (Crotty, (1998 as cited in Cresswell, 2014, p.9). In other words, historical background and culture shape the meanings humans attach to their experiences. Fundamental to the ideas behind constructivist grounded theory is that all experience is socially-constructed; put another way, there is no single reality. This methodology supports the revelation of multiple realities and ways of knowing (Charmaz, 2006).
Qualitative research seeks not to gather large amounts of data, but data that are suitable and adequate to produce experiential events (Charmaz, 2006). Data that support the production of experiential events in constructivist grounded theory is sought by scrutinizing the participants’ accounts to gain understanding and identify the social processes involved in the way participants construct their worlds. For instance, my research question (What do the students of these programs say about the skills they learned and how these benefit them after leaving the programs?) is intended to gather data that identify the constructions of the participants who took as their reality the idea that the skills learnt are relevant and appropriate to apply to their lives. The approach aims to elucidate how participants used the skills gained in the programs to inform their assumptions of reality and constructed and applied new realities to their lives. Such understanding will add richness and variety to the data by producing themes that support the overarching research question. In fact, Charmaz (2006) purports that understanding the constructions of individuals can evoke data that gives the rationale for such constructions.
Theory development in constructivist grounded theory is derived from what the researcher perceives and provide opportunities for researchers to enhance and develop new knowledge and unique theoretical understandings of the actions and constructions being studied (Charmaz, 2008). Theoretical interpretations of the phenomenon in constructivist grounded theory rely on meanings derived from the events that will emerge from the investigation (Charmaz, 2008). And so, the theories are within the interpretation of the individuals who are theorizing (Charmaz, 2006). The process of theorizing is inherently prone to influence because knowledge and theories are perceived as “situated in particular positions, perspectives and experiences” (Charmaz, 2006, p.127). According to Cresswell (2014) our interpretations are impressed upon by the experiences of our worlds. Therefore, the constructivist grounded theory methodology requires the researcher to examine his/her position, experience and perspective and their impact on the research process within the same realm of interpreting the experiences, constructions and the underlying reasons for the meanings constructed within the study of the phenomenon.
The constructivist grounded approach was selected to investigate this phenomenon for its aptness to facilitate the non-homogenous nature of the student at-risk population, the variety in program structure and the myriad of pedagogical approaches used by teachers in alternative education programs. Students at-risk are identified and placed in alternative education programs for multiple reasons; hence, success and achievement will vary for each student. Although programs are different in terms of student demography, pedagogical approach and program structure, they share the commonality of success, which is intended to impact the students’ lives beyond the alternative programs. Charmaz (2006) stated that “constructivists study how – and sometimes why–participants construct meanings and actions in specific situations” (p.130). Therefore, constructivist grounded theory will afford me the opportunity to examine the processes of how success was achieved in the alternative education programs, while looking at the why the participants found and constructed meanings from the experience.
The process by which participants construct meanings is a key component of the constructivist grounded methodology. The construction of meanings will depict the value that participants grasp from their experience, which is largely understood and confirmed through the participants account of the event (Charmaz, 2006). The multiple levels of analysis and flexibility with methods, such as the conversational feature, enable constructivist grounded theory to produce rich data and increase the participants’ comfort level. The delicate nature of the circumstances and/or events that often create students at-risk will not favour methodologies with a highly structured data gathering process. Constructivist grounded theory methodology generally is not restricted by highly structured data gathering procedures. Highly structured data gathering procedure may restrict the gathering of rich data. As Charmaz (2006) conveys “what extent the studied experience is embedded in larger and often, hidden positions, networks, situations and relationships, subsequently, differences and distinctions between people become visible as well as the hierarchies of power, communication, and opportunity that maintain and perpetuate differences and distinctions” (p. 130-131). Hence, a participant driven data gathering process will yield more.
My experience as a classroom teacher in an alternative education program serves as confirmation that instruction on how to teach and manage students displaying risky behaviours is rudimentary in teacher education programs. The effectiveness of the skills taught is determined by how best the teacher modifies and use the skills as is appropriate to the subjective background of the student. On that basis the constructivist grounded theory approach will allow each teacher participant to share details about his or her pedagogical practices and experiences of success with students at-risk. Interpreting the hows and whys of each participant’s experience must be done with proximity to the experience without trying to recreate the experience (Charmaz, 2006). My experience working in alternative education programs is one way in which I will be directly situated in the study; however, my motive is not to recreate the participants’ experiences but to interpret their actions, and analyze the processes involved in creating success stories. The interpretation cannot be exclusive of the circumstance, it must be located within the studied phenomenon (Charmaz, 2008). The relativity and contextual differences of each participant and program will create primary data for the study.
The Researcher’s Role
As a former teacher of an alternative education program, my positioning might be deemed questionable, in regard to the themes and categories I develop or how I interpret the data. Therefore, I must be careful not to transfer or force inappropriate themes. To address this, I will do two things: first, ensure that the themes and categories are specific to the study—that it emerges from the study, and, second focus in the study will be maintained on the setting and demography under investigation, which is different from my prior experience. According to constructivist ideology (as was previously mentioned) our interpretative skills are influenced by our experiences, which we are not always cognizant of; therefore, several steps will be taken to reduce the probability of such occurrences where possible. Memos will be written not only to guide the data interpretation, but to aid in the evaluation and analysis process of my thoughts and actions in regard to the data gathering. The writing of memos that are reflective and analytical of the data collection process reduces the possibilities of forcing data and categories, it supports constructive analysis of the data and intuitiveness about the data (Charmaz, 2006).
The study will be conducted on site with teacher participants at the alternative education location. The intention is to work with at least two alternative education programs for at-risk students and graduates of the same programs.
Program One: Students in this program are enrolled from referrals. The program operates as a part of a high school in a mid-size urban centre on the Canadian prairies. The educational content is at the upper secondary level, and students attend to gain their adult-twelve qualification.
Program Two: This a Grade Eight program for students at-risk is in a school system in a mid-sized urban centre on the Canadian prairies. The students graduate from the program and transition to the regular school system.
Tentatively, the study aims to include three to four teachers and six to eight graduate participants of alternative education programs. The number of participants is indefinite since this methodology collects data as they emerge because there may be need for further theoretical samplings; thus, the number of participants may increase (Charmaz, 2006). In addition, Cresswell (2014) in discussing the emergent design of qualitative studies asserts that the design of the research cannot be tightly structured, and that, the study may change direction after data collection has started.
Program One: one teacher
Program Two: three teachers (only two teachers are currently working in the program, the third created and taught in the program before moving on to further studies).
Due process will be followed to ascertain the necessary permissions from the Saskatoon Public and Catholic school systems for the in-service teachers who will be participating in the study.
Data will be collected from the teacher and the graduate participants using face-to-face qualitative interviews and observations. Interviews will take place at a location that is acceptable to the interviewee, which might be the school, a public library, a coffee shop, etc. The researcher will utilize unstructured open-ended questions in the interview. “Open-ended, non-judgemental questions” serves to elicit candid comments and stories (Charmaz, 2006, p.30). Observations of the alternative education program will take place at the school out of which the program functions. The recording of field notes about the proceedings and behaviour at the research location is described as qualitative observation by Cresswell (2014). The researcher will take on the role of a complete observer (non-participative) with three visits to each program to observe the general classroom climate. No observation will be done for graduate participants. If it is possible and accessible, extant data (documents and records) will be gathered based on data that emerge from interviews, including extant data enabling the validation of field notes or identifying gaps in the data collected (Charmaz, 2006).
Data will be collected using face-to-face qualitative interviews recorded by a tape recorder. Qualitative interviews are unstructured, and participants are asked open-ended questions to get their views and opinions (Cresswell, 2014). For the purpose of recording notes, an interview journal will be kept to record notes about the researcher’s feelings and notions towards the data that is being elicited in each interview. These interviews will be logged using assigned titles and dates as well as probing questions. Subsequently, the tape recordings will be transcribed, field notes will be typed and all documents including extant documents will be sorted in their assigned groups—as per participant.
Data Analysis and Observation
The NVivio software will be used to generate initial codes from the interview transcripts, followed by focused coding. In focus coding, the initial codes will be compared to identify relationships (trends, gaps) among the codes to generate hypothetical categories. Categories that show hypothetical relationship and sufficiently supported by data (interview transcripts, field notes, memos or extant data) will be integrated into themes. If there are gaps in data showing theoretical potential, then additional interviews will be carried out, coded and placed in themes. The themes will be interpreted to identify their location in experiences or positions to generate theoretical explanations, which will be integrated to generate theories.
Validity involves checking for accuracy of the findings using acceptable methods (Cresswell, 2014). To ensure accuracy in this study, member checking, and triangulation will be used. Triangulation will be achieved using memos, extant documents, fieldnotes and interview scripts to cross check and validate the data. Participants will be asked to review the transcript of the findings to verify the accuracy of the data.
Reliability in qualitative research implies that your approach is replicable to similar works of other researchers. Reliability requires some measure of generalization, an act that defies the fundamental goals of qualitative research—context and case specific inquiries; therefore, it is approached with prudence and rarely used (Cresswell, 2014). Instead, transferability is recommended as most appropriate for qualitative research. The qualitative method recognizes that data interpretation is key to the research analysis (Cresswell, 2014). Researchers using constructivist grounded theory play the role of interpretivist in the data analysis process. According to Greene (2010) interpretivist knowledge does not support experiential generalizations; therefore, transferability requires the researcher to adequately delineate the context of the study, so that, readers can effectively determine whether the concepts can be adopted and used in the context of their work. To ensure transferability in this research, the researcher aims to provide rich accurate descriptions of the procedures and findings.
Day1, 3, 5- Observe the proceedings of class for one to two hours on the first visit, subsequent visits may increase in duration, contingent on the purpose of the observation. Field notes will be recorded, transcribed and reflected on. From the reflection, memos will be written, and emerging categories will be follow upon until observation is completed.
Day1, 3, 5- Observe the proceedings of the class for one to two hours on the first visit, subsequent visits may increase in duration contingent on the purpose of the observation. Field notes will be recorded, transcribed and reflected on. From the reflection, memos will be written, and emerging categories will be follow upon until observation is completed.
Day 1 Interview teacher of program 1 (the interview questions will be based on categories that emerged from the literature review, as well as from the observations of the class in action), transcribe interview, do reflection, write memo and follow up on emerging themes.
Day 3-5 -Interview teachers of Program 2, transcribe interviews, do reflection, write memos and following up on emerging themes.
Day 1- Interview with teacher who created program 2, transcribe interview, do reflection, write memo and follow up on emerging themes.
Day 3- 5: Begin analysis of data gathered, make initial and focus codes and generate categories that show theoretical potential.
Day 1-5: Do further observations and follow-up interviews if necessary.
Week 6: Continue analysis of categories to create themes from which theories will be generated.
Charmaz, K. (2006). Constructing grounded Theory. London: . Sage Publication
Charmaz, K. (2008). Grounded Theory Method. In J. . Holstein & J. . Gubrium (Eds.), Handbook of constructionist research (pp. 397–412). New York: The Guilford Press.
Cresswell, J. (2014). Research design: qualitative, quantitative and mixed methods approaches (4th ed.). California: Sage Publication Inc.
Greene, J. (2010). Knowledge accumulation. In W. Lutterell (Ed.), Qualitative educational research: Readings in reflexive and transformative practice (pp. 68–70). New York: Routledge.
JM1Tell me the basic of constructivist grounded theory and why it is the appropriate methodology to use?
Not narrative, since you will not be living alongside a few individuals. Not case study, since you are working with a variety of separate cases. Grounded theory examines a phenomenon and attempts to make sense of that. In this study, I am attempting to make sense of programs for students at risk. Grounded theory has split into two very different beliefs about how phenomena work: traditional grounded theory is deemed as positivistic in nature: it is largely focused on observing social processes and creating theories from the observations without actively participating in the data creation (Charmaz, 2006). On the other hand, constructivist grounded theory is more interpretivist in nature: it is largely focused on the interactions and interpretations of human behaviour, believing that they create meanings. Then say why this latter suits your study.
Something like that?