Focus Groups Questions

Focus Group Questions_brainstorming.doc

These are VERY preliminary.

Writing on the Margins

Bartholomae, David. 2005. Writing on the Margins: Essays on Composition and Teaching. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

Tactics of Hope

Mathieu, Paula. 2005. Tactics of Hope: Street Life and the Public Turn in English Composition. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook Publishers, Inc.

Focus Group Interviewing


-origins in marketing
-social scientists tend to use a less structured format than marketers
-shift from survey use in 1950s to focus groups at the end of the century "to get closer to the thoughts and experiences of smaller and more specific segments of society"
-cheaper than large-scale projects
-focus groups can also help develop survey instruments by bringing out key characteristics of a social issues (in our case, they can help us identify key perceptions and motivations of students, which can then be translated into course instrument development)
-can bridge social and cultural differences (can force different types of people to interact -- we can then observe these interactions in addition to the basic responses to questions)
-"The ideal group would start with an opening question that was designed to capture the participants' interest, so that they themselves would explore nearly all of the issues that a moderator might have probed. Then, just as the allocated amount of time for that question was running out, one of the participants in the ideal group would spontaneously direct the others' attention to the topic for the second question by saying something like, 'You know what really strikes me is how many of the things we're saying are connected to...'"

PublicandPrivate The Trialectics of Public Writing on the Street, on Campus, and in Third Space.pdf

-"public writing must identify the actual places and material practices where boththe public and the private are experienced physically and spatially, not just socially and rhetorically, if public writing is to have an embodied effect on everyday life. Public writing expresses the idea that composition teachers and students have an obligation to engage with conversations in the public sphere in order to address other readers, writers, and participants in everyday life." (He then gives examples of "public writing," and I wonder why they have to be so separate from "private" writing)
-"Part of public writing is to help writers and readers to construct and identify certain notions of the public and the public sphere through social and discursive practices that extend past the closed bubble of the process classroom into more pragmatic and civic areas of shared inquiry and involvement (Wells 335)." (yes!)
-"Hegemonic power is implicit in the construction of the 'public,' and cannot be removed from public spaces or discussions of the public. Because of this relationship, certain people and groups in society are included or excluded from these spaces and debates." (agreed, although I think many Americans would not agree with this characterization)
-"Because of this lack of a universal, stable site for public engagement, elements of risk, transgression, and confrontation are often elements of public writing. Public writing texts need to address real problems through using a variety of discourses that both include and critique, simultaneously working with and against an amalgam of local and global publics." (This is a particularly difficult struggle for U of M students)
-"Where do students locate themselves in public spaces in order to write themselves into or against the public? Where do notions of public and private act reciprocally on each other to aid students in the tasks of public writing?"
-"These investigations of how public spaces are influenced by private interests and how private spaces are shaped by public experiences are intrinsically important to locating the where and why of writing."
-"assignments need to focus on the actual lived connections between the public and the personal as ways of understanding how th espatial, the social, and the discursive produce the practices of public writing, teaching, and civic participation." (But how do we get beyond the individual, personal experiences? In a sense, according to the philosophy of this article, we are all always writing at least a bit of our personal selves.)
-I'm not sure I understand how his definition of streetwork is different from participant observation. This is what we ask our students to do, and it still doesn't bridge the private/public gap. Also, how do we make this mesh with traditional "academic" research?
-How do we make students realize that "public writing is not only rhetorical and social, but also material, "real," a crucial part of the actual conditions of public life writ large on the spaces that people inhabit and dwell in throughout the course of everyday life" ?
-"private people need to get together to form neighborhood publics in order to solve the problems of their communities." (Can the university be a site of the formation of neighborhood publics?)
-"Public writing projects need to suggest private reflection and personal investment in the spaces, people, and discourses affected as a shared physical, social, and textual experience."

The death of the Social Refiguring the Territory of Government.pdf

-"'society', in the sense that began to be accorded to it in the nineteenth century [...] has also begun to lose its self-evidence, and 'sociology', as the field of knowledge which ratified the existence of this territory, is undergoing something of a crisis of identity. [...] Are we witnessing not just a temporary shift in political and theoretical fashions but an event: 'the death of the social'?"

-"'The social', that is to say, does not represent an eternal existential sphere of human sociality."

-"'the social' may be giving way to 'the community' as a new territory for the administration of individual and collective existence, a new plane or surface upon which micro-moral relations among persons are conceptualized and administered." (purely economic thought -> now involves a social aspect in "community")

-community means identifying with individuals rather than the state?

-"what began as a language of resistance and critique was transformed, no doubt for the best of motives, into an expert discourse and a professional vocation"

"Today, in contrast, a diversity of 'communities' is thought to, actually or potentially, command our allegiance [...] Such communities are construed as localized, heterogeneous, overlapping and multiple."

-"One's communities are nothing more -- or less -- than those networks of allegiance with which one identifies existentially, traditionally, emotionally or spontaneously, seemingly beyond and above any calculated assessment of self-interest. [...] Yet our allegiance to each of these particular communities is something that we have to be made aware of, requiring the work of educators, campaigns, activists, manipulators of symbols, narratives and identifications." (So, if we want our students to write for their multiple publics, we must let them identify these publics? Or is it our duty to make them aware of their communities?)

-"new modes of neighbourhood participation, local empowerment and engagement of residents in decisions over their own lives will, it is thought, reactivate self-motivation, self-responsibility and self-reliance in the form of active citizenship within a self-governing community." (Maybe we should talk about writing with communities?)

The idea of Community in the Study of Writing

The Idea of Community in the Study of Writing.pdf

-"rather than viewing the intentions of a writer as private and ineffable, wholly individual, they have helped us to see that it is only through being part of some ongoing discourse that we can, as individual writers, have things like points to make and purposes to achieve. [...] We write not as isolated individuals but as members of communities whose beliefs, concerns, and practices both instigate and constrain, at least in part, the sorts of things we can say." (Can they also influence these communities, rather than simply being affected by them?)
-"One seems asked to defend either the power of the discourse community or the imagination of the individual." (Why must there be a binary?)
-he takes issue with the notion of community as ill-defined and empty, yet "hypothetical and suggestive," particularly in the university setting
-i find the section on competing discourses (referencing Bartholomae) compelling: "On one hand, the university is pictures as the site of many discourses, and successful writers are seen as those who are able to work both within and against them, who can find a place for themselves on the margins or borders of a number of discourses. On the other, the university is also seen as a cluster of separate communities, disciplines, in which writers must locate themselves through taking on 'the commonplaces, set phrases, rituals and gestures, habits of mind, tricks of persuasion, obligatory conclusions and necessary connections that determine "what might be said"' (146). Learning to write, then, gets defined both as the forming of an aggressive and critical stance towards a number of discourses, and as a more simple entry into the discourse of a single community. Community thus becomes for Bartholomae a kind of stabilizing term, used to give a sense of shared purpose and effort to our dealings with the various discourses that make up the university. The question, though, of just who this 'we' is that speaks 'our language' is never resolved."
-"common" discourse vs. "privileged" (academic) discourse
-"The task of the student is thus imagined as one of crossing the border from one community of discourse to another, of taking on a new sort of language. [...] we ask our students to acquire not only certain skills and data, but to try on new forms of thinking and talking about the world as well. [...] If to enter the academic community a student must 'learn to speak our language,' become accustomed and reconciled to our ways of doing things with words, then how exactly is she to do this?"
-the article spends a lot of time talking about getting students from "communities" to write in academia, but doesn't address the other direction (which we're also interested in) enough: "Rather than framing our work in terms of helping students move from one community of discourse into another, then, it might prove more useful (and accurate) to view our task as adding to or complicating their uses of language."
-"It seems to me that they might better be encouraged towards a kind of polyphony -- an awareness of and pleasure in the various competing discourses that make up their own." (I like this idea, but I'm not sure how to execute it in practice.)

Writing as Repositioning

Writing as Repositioning.pdf

-"see writing as a process in which the writer positions, or rather, repositions herself in relation not to a single, monolithic discourse but to a range of competing discourses. [...] while teaching students to think and write in ways privileged in academic culture, we should encourage them to examine the dissonance within and between their academic life and their family, gender, work, religious, and recreational life. [...] It can motivate them not only to reproduce but also to contest and change the academic ways of thinking and using language which we teach." (I think this last part is crucial. If teaching the discourse does nothing but reproduce existing power structures, then what's the point? Learning to write within the Ivory Tower allows one to challenge the ways in which the Ivory Tower works. Does this help with challenging hegemony in other publics as well?
-"because we assume such students to be perfectly 'at home' with academic discourse, we often overlook experiences of cultural dissonance in their writing. [...] Signs of cultural dissonance are seen as the cause of the student's inability or unwillingness to try out academic ways of thinking and writing. [...] Both resolutions reaffirm the myth that in order to write within the academy, one must be fully at home with academic discourse and must invalidate any experience and history which might cause dissonance with academic discourse." (Even this argument says that one must reject outside perspectives or choose to live "biculturally." There isn't room for one to inform the other.
-"we remind ourselves and our students that there are both personal and social reasons for contesting and changing the very discourse they are learning to master. [...] we would counter the way dominant culture convinces them that it is to their social, economic, and emotional benefit to believe and act as if their educational life or, by extension, their future professional life, is the only life which is worth living and which they live. Such a classroom would replace the myth of writers necessarily writing either comfortably inside or powerlessly outside the academy with a vision of writers writing at sites of conflict, at borders which divide academic and other discourses but which are contested and constructed anew each time one writes."
-a key question: "how we can acknowledge dissonance in and between discourses without finally treating such dissonance as either a problem to be eliminated or a harmonious polyphony to be accepted but rater as a means to problematize the dominance of the hegemonic."

Family and Community Literacies

Inside Out Analysis of th eInsider Outsider Concept as a Heuristic Device to Develop Reflexivity in Students Doing Qualitative Research.pdf

-"reflexivity as the conscious revelation of the role of the beliefs and values held by researchers in the selection of research methodology for the generation of knowledge and its production as a research account."