Research as Curriculum Inquiry: Helping College Students with Anxiety

Research as Curriculum Inquiry: Helping College Students with Anxiety

Jennifer Lynne Bird (Florida Atlantic University, USA) and Eric T. Wanner (Florida Atlantic University, USA)
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 23
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-7409-7.ch014
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Research sometimes leads to new discoveries and new directions other than the ones originally intended. This chapter began as a study using both quantitative and qualitative methods to learn about the connections between writing and healing. College students who wrote in journals throughout the semester as part of normal classroom practices for an education methods class in reading and writing completed surveys answering questions about their writing and their health. The original goal was to add insights to studies completed a quarter century ago by other researchers to assess similarities and differences. Initial analysis of the data echoed the findings of previous studies: writing is healing. However, the more important observation became that on one of the health survey questions, 92% of the subjects reported experiencing anxiety or stress. Consequently, the research evolved into a social action project to help college students cope with stress and anxiety.
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Curriculum Inquiry Using Research Narratives

Curricular change begins when researchers develop ideas with the purpose of implementing enduring effective change. It is one thing to notice a problem, another to solve it. Researchers can benefit from envisioning ideas from different perspectives and borrowing ideas from other fields. The field of city planning follows a research process that leads to implementation of detailed plans; city planning shares similarities with the qualitative interpretive research fields of narrative inquiry and curriculum inquiry, since both rely on narratives to illuminate issues. Illuminating issues can lead to bringing purpose to life, whether a city planner looks at a piece of land and uses plans to create a new housing development or an educational researcher looks at data indicating college students experience stress and anxiety and uses plans to create a curriculum of healing.

Education endures multiple curricular incarnations throughout the decades, since the only constant in the curriculum of schools remains change. Marshall, Sears, and Schubert (2000) discuss the evolution of curriculum and provide the history that “more than any other philosopher, John Dewey influenced the thought of curriculum scholars throughout the twentieth century, and at the century’s end curriculum questions remain easily related to his definition of education. The enduring curriculum question thus becomes “What adds meaning and direction or purpose to experience?” (p. 2). The question still remains today. What experiences bring purpose to life?

While researchers often study texts or programs from an existing curriculum, the stories of the people participating in a curriculum add another dimension to the inquiry process because looking at policies and procedures cannot take the place of witnessing the implementation of such policies and procedures when adding people to the process. Marshall, Sears, and Schubert (2000) believe, “through biography as curricular text we can see how individuals reconstructed themselves and their work, including the need to reread past decisions and changes” (p. 199). An idea may appear one way in theory on paper, but watching the idea unfold in practice may tell a different story. Educators want their stories to possess purpose; students may repeat the words of an excellent teacher years after that teacher’s lifetime.

This curriculum inquiry research story alternates from the perspectives of the researchers being both participants and observers. Narrative inquiry is the qualitative interpretive discipline which encourages researchers to use first person when describing events and intertwine their own narratives with the narratives of the research participants. Clandinin and Connelly (2000) define narrative inquiry and explain, “it is a collaboration between researcher and participants, over time, in a place or series of places, and in social interaction with milieus. An inquirer enters this matrix in the midst and progresses in this same spirit, concluding the inquiry still in the midst of living and telling, reliving and retelling, the stories of the experiences that make up people’s lives, both individual and social” (p. 20). Therefore, in narrative inquiries, researchers learn about a story, report on the story, and subsequently seek to offer their own contribution to the story already in progress. The sharing of stories serves as the methodology as Clandinin and Connelly elaborate, “in our work, we keep in the foreground of our writing a narrative view of experience, with the participants’ and researchers’ narratives of experience situated and lived out on storied landscapes as our theoretical methodological frame” (p. 128). Think of it as the researchers reading a poem and then adding their own verse at the end. The researchers are changed by the research setting and also change the setting by being part of it.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Curriculum Inquiry: A form of narrative inquiry made popular in the field of research by F. Michael Connelly and D. Jean Clandinin, curriculum inquiry is a qualitative interpretative form of research that focuses on the telling, retelling, and sharing of stories through the lens of curriculum to implement program changes.

Artistic and Technical Writing: English teachers design rubrics which incorporate both artistic and technical writing when evaluating student essays. Artistic writing is the writer’s tone of word choice, also known as voice, while technical writing is the writer’s specificity of word choice.

Planning Process: Used in the fields of city planning as well as curricular change, this process encompasses the following steps: survey, analysis, plan, implementation, and feedback.

Community Development: Designing a place where people feel welcomed and supported, whether it is a neighborhood, a classroom, or a network of colleagues who provide support for an individual.

Writing as Healing: Although numerous studies have been conducted investigating the influence of writing on physical and emotional health, James Pennebaker is considered to be the pioneer in this field that discusses the health benefits of writing.

Writing Voice: Voice in writing highlights a writer’s word choice and tone to compose a journal entry or other written composition that reflects the writer’s personality. Every writer has a unique writing voice, just like each person has a unique speaking voice.

Journal Writing: The process of a person responding to prompts and writing about his or her thoughts and feelings. Even though journal writing is typically associated with writing classrooms, writing teachers including Julia Cameron, Natalie Goldberg, and Donald Murray advocate that journal writing can be done by anyone, anywhere. Journal writing can also be used as a catalyst for change, as when Erin Gruwell and the Freedom Writers used journal writing as a social action project.

Anxiety: Different clinicians have different definitions of anxiety, and someone who lives with anxiety will describe it from a different point of view than a clinical definition in a textbook, but the general consensus is that anxiety is chronic fear or stress that can result in panic attacks and a person feeling an inability to cope with life’s stressors.

Lean In Circles: Sheryl Sandberg’s movement to encourage community support and discussion groups that motivate participants to face their fears and lean in to life.

HRQOL (Health Related Quality of Life) Survey: A general health survey in the public domain and able to be used by researchers without securing permission or paying copyright fees.

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