Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Navigating Sites for Narrative Inquiry

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Navigating Sites for Narrative Inquiry

Article excerpt

Narrative inquiry is a methodology that frequently appeals to teachers and teacher educators. Part of the appeal is, no doubt, the comfort that comes from thinking about telling and listening to stories. This comfort associated with narratives and stories carries into a sense of comfort with research that attends to teachers' and teacher educators' stories. However, this appeal and sense of comfort has advantages and disadvantages. Although it has appeal, some immediately see it as an "easy" kind of research and assume that narrative inquiries will be easy to design, live out, and represent in a storied format in journals, dissertations, or books. Some see narrative inquiry as "just telling stories." For us, and for many others (Clandinin et al., 2006; Craig, 1992; Olson, 1993; Paokong & Rosiek, 2003; Polkinghorne, 1988), narrative inquiry is much more than the telling of stories. The editors of many journals, including the Journal of Teacher Education, are concerned with making more apparent the complexities surrounding all phases of a narrative inquiry; in this article, we take on the challenge of paying particular attention to thinking about the quality and impact of narrative inquiries that focus on teachers' and teacher educators' own practices. Although we want to encourage people to engage in narrative inquiries into their own practices, we do want to show the complex dimensions of such research, for narrative inquiry is a kind of inquiry that requires particular kinds of wakefulness.

The term narrative inquiry was first used in the educational research field by Connelly and Clandinin (1990) in an article published in Educational Researcher. Their conceptualization of narrative inquiry arises from a Deweyan (1938) notion that life is education. Their interest, then, is in "lived experience--that is, in lives and how they are lived" (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000, p. xxii). Although narrative inquiry "has a long intellectual history both in and out of education" (Connelly & Clandinin, 1990, p. 2), prior to 1990 it had been thought about in ways such as MacIntyre's (1981) notion of narrative unity, Mitchell's (1981) comprehensive presentation of the field of narratology, Polkinghorne's (1988) understanding of narrative analysis, and Coles's (1989) literary ideas of narrative. By building from these notions, yet situating their conceptualization as narrative and inquiry, as phenomenon and method, Connelly and Clandinin (1990) established the educational importance of narrative inquiry as a research methodology that brings "theoretical ideas about the nature of human life as lived to bear on educational experience as lived" (p. 3).

As a way to begin to explore the complexities of narrative inquiry as research methodology, we first offer a definition of narrative inquiry and outline three commonplaces of narrative inquiry (Connelly & Clandinin, 2006). We then briefly describe two narrative inquiries undertaken by Murray Orr (2005) and Pushor (2001). Both are teacher educators, and their narrative inquiries emerge from, and influence, their teacher education practices. We then elaborate eight key elements that may be useful in thinking about conducting and representing narrative inquiries. Pushor's and Murray Orr's studies are used to illuminate each of the eight elements.

A DEFINITION OF NARRATIVE INQUIRY

Although there are many ideas about what researchers and practitioners mean when they use the term narrative inquiry, we use the definition offered by Connelly and Clandinin (2006). They wrote,

   Arguments for the development and use of narrative
   inquiry come out of a view of human experience in
   which humans, individually and socially, lead storied
   lives. People shape their daily lives by stories of
   who they and others are and as they interpret their
   past in terms of these stories. Story, in the current
   idiom, is a portal through which a person enters the
   world and by which their experience of the world is
   interpreted and made personally meaningful. … 
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