Qualitative Research on Writing
Seated at his desk in his fifth-grade classroom on a warm September day in Philadelphia, Michael conjured up memories of Cambodia. His assignment was to write a poem entitled "Where I'm From,"1 and he was given examples from his teachers and classmates about the kinds of images he might want to include in this poem. It was not difficult for him to begin. He was reminded every day of where he is from; that aspect of his identity is central to how he introduces himself to his teacher and peers in his urban public school. He began with his own title "I Am From" and continued mixing and blending his old and new worlds:
I am from killing fields, animals all around,
riding bikes, and shared love.
I am from rice, egg rolls, and noodles. I am
from DVDs and songs and CDs, movies
and model cars.
I am from poor and rich. I am from sickness
I am from a loving heart and grandparents
love of us part.
I am from the flag that I love. The flag is of
the love in our country. I am from red
and blue. I am from Cambodia.
His classmate, Samay, who also recently immigrated to the United States from Cambodia, looked silently at Michael's composition and returned to his own writing. Another peer gasped at the opening words, failing to comprehend the meaning of the phrase "killing fields," immediately associating it instead with the steady stream of gunfire and threats in her neighborhood.
Later in the year, Michael was given a different, yet related assignment. For a final and cumulative project, he was instructed to compose a multimedia story of his past, present, and future. He and his classmates were asked to represent where they were from, what they experienced during their fifthgrade year in school, and their aspirations for the future, through images, words, and music. Once again, Michael turned to his family and his home country as a source of ideas. He brought to school a single drawing from home of a relative who had died recently in Cambodia, images and maps from a computer, and several photographs. The drawing exemplified his respect for this relative and represented the essence of where (and who) he is from. The photographs contextualized his life. He selected music from his country and narrated a story into a tape recorder. His final project, a 2-minute iMovie, captured his past, present, and future in a dream-like sequence that embodied the sadness he had carried with him throughout the year.
This brief vignette, drawn from a yearlong study of multimedia storytelling (Schultz & Vasudevan, 2005), suggests several of the possibilities for using qualitative research methodologies for the study of writing. The vignette points to current and future direc