“What About Rose?” Using Teacher Research to Reverse School Failure
reviewed by Susan Loudermilk Garza - November 15, 2007
Title: “What About Rose?” Using Teacher Research to Reverse School Failure
Author(s): Smokey Wilson
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 0807747874, Pages: 199, Year: 2007
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What a wonderful gift Smokey Wilson has given us with this book! By taking us on an intimate journey with her through her experiencesthe trials, the doubts, the questioning of theory as it relates to practice, the students who made it, the students who didntthose of us who have made the journey from having a question and wanting to research it can look back and better understand our own experiences, and those of us who havent made that journey but want to can look forward and better understand how to make that journey and, most importantly, not be as afraid to take the journey.
There are many books available that can help us understand how as teachers we can take our questions and turn them into research, and Wilson gives examples of several of those texts, but most often these texts offer the how-to of doing research but not the why, the reasons why we do what we do when we do research. Wilson gives us the how-to within the context of the why, further contextualized through her real-life experiences, which provide a clearer and richer understanding of the process of research for those who are trying to figure it out. This book serves to help teachers as they begin to wonder about the why of what they see, and try to find a voice for their own research (p. 157). It shows how instead of limiting our questions to what has already been done regarding a topic or issue, the classroom questions drive the engine while [scholarship] materials merely deepen understandings of the issue (p. 158). Wilson shows us how to find a peg to hang our research hats on (p. 164).
Another part of the context that Wilson provides is historical, as she walks us through the process of finding the question she used for her dissertation research. She personalizes this experience for the reader:
I realized that only by making the answers myself could I learn what had happened to the learners I knew best and discover how to help them. My questions were my own. My task was to create my own connections between theory and practice and then to find other classroom teachers and university researchers who were equally engaged in making this population more visible and more successful in schools. (p. 4)
Focusing on literacy through the lenses of reading and writing theories, Wilson helps us to understand the reasons that have been given for the problems that students face (in this case African-American students) and how those theories can limit our understanding. Wilson provides the theoretical context and analyzes and questions the assumptions and usefulness of each theory. She shows how important it is to connect, compare and contrast existing theories related to our own questions.
The layout of the book, and each of the sections as well, is structured to resemble the process of doing research. The book has five parts:
Getting Started that moment when neither the answers nor the questions are yet clear (p. 9).
Finding a Focus when a clear direction to take for research appears.
Collecting Artifacts when the choice, of course, should fit the question (p. 63).
Analyzing Artifacts where analysis should either affirm or negate the main question of the study (p. 63) and choices must be made regarding the appropriate type of analysis, qualitative/quantitative or a combination of both.
Writing It Up how and why teachers need to reach out to other teachers and speak about what they have learned and what they do not yet know (p. 129).
Each of the five parts repeats the same sections, which represent how Wilson moves through the process of research and scholarship. First she shares the stories of two students, followed by sections on theory, reflection and retrospection. Wilson shares experiences she has had with students over her many years of teaching and trying to figure out why some students make it and others dont. But she doesnt just tell those stories and stop there. As teachers we have all been in that place where something happens, or doesnt, and we wonder why. We find these students/experience these moments, and we know there is something there of great importance but we never do anything with that stuff. Wilson uses these student stories to show how she works through each of the parts of the research process. This is the sharing of the Practice. After the stories she makes connections to the doing of the research by including a section on Theory as a way to use theoretical notions and speculations to examine the practice of what happens between teachers and students. This section is followed by Reflection where Wilson contextualizes the theoretical notions and speculations, both within the larger discussions that these ideas are a part of and within her research discussion. Following these sections, she finishes with In Retrospect where she asks again whether or not these theories and notions say anything of value about her students; she summarizes what she knows now that she did not know before, and based on that, she asks where does this take me, or should I follow these theories or notions or cast them aside having learned how harmful some may be; she determines what holes have been uncovered that require her to look for other theories and notions and/or to ask further questions; and she shows how to use all of this stuff, good or bad, to decide where to go next in the process of doing research. Wilson shows the doing of the process as she talks about the process. Such valuable information!
Wilson concludes the book with a Guide to Classroom Research for Teachers, organized using the same five parts that frame the larger part of the text. She says the guide should limit the anxiety teachers too often suffer as they formulate questions, reflect on them, and locate answers (p. 147). She acknowledges that classroom teachers who do research, often as the solitary teacher-researcher, do it in spite of not having dedicated time, resources, or support for this type of work, so she provides many very practical activities (p. 165). Knowing how it was for her as she figured out the process, she wants to help others:
I needed to know what took place as the research unfolded and how others managed to get through the uncertainties and come out on the other side saying something about their classroom that mattered. Further, I wanted descriptions of the search and the excitement of the chase after answers. (p. 153)
By not being afraid to share things that went wrong, Wilson encourages teachers to not be afraid to do the work to find answers for why things went wrong. About midway through the book she says, a window opened, again sharing the reality of what the research process was like for her (p. 58). Through this book, Wilson opens a window for others.