Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Research in Special Education: Using a Research Poem as a Guide for Relationship Building

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Research in Special Education: Using a Research Poem as a Guide for Relationship Building

Article excerpt

It was a beautiful, cool, windy afternoon when I walked to her house to conduct an interview. Erin and I sat on a stone bench in her front yard, surrounded by strawberry bushes, a rusting watering can, wild garlic sprouts, unmowed grass, a patch of cilantro whose heady fragrance reminded me of India, a kid's bicycle with a broken chain, rose bushes and sunflowers. Cars whizzed by on the street across and the sun shone on an azure, clear sky. I pointed to some colorful wild flowers that grew on the shoulder of the street. "Welcome to community housing! They don't manicure the grass here you know!" said Erin, laughing. I shared her laughter, inwardly admiring her perspicacity. This was the beginning of our year-long relationship during my research.

In recent years, there has been a spurt in the use of qualitative research methods in field of social sciences (Wiles, Crow, & Pain, 2011). Education researchers have also begun to use qualitative, creative ways of re-presenting knowledge, with the intention of making data more alive, powerful and closer to reality (Bagley, & Cancienne, 2001, Piantanida, McMahon, & Garman, 2003). In the field of special education, Brantlinger, Gersten, Horner, Thompson, and Harris (2005) assert that the use of qualitative research "... leads to an understanding of individuals with disabilities, their families, and those who work with them (p. 198)." Most special education researchers however, tend to and are encouraged to use conventional forms of quantitative research such as single subject design, considered an "evidence-based approach" (Odom, Brantlinger, Gersten, Horner, Thompson, & Harris, 2005; Mesibov & Shea, 2011). For example, single subject design is popularly used to measure the behaviors of a child with behavior disorders in the classroom and across contexts (Center, Deitz & Kaufman, 1982; Gutman, Raphael-Greenfield & Rao, 2012; Mooney, Ryan, Uhing, Reid & Epstein 2005; Rogers, 2000; Rogers & Graham, 2008; Swanson & Sachse-Lee 2000; Whalen & Schriebman 2003). By using single subject design, it is possible to accurately measure the what, how, why, where and when of a child's negative behavior. The problem is that the design fails to capture the child's feelings and subverts the effect that the observer and the observed invariably have on each other. That is where art based and arts-informed research come to play. Arts based research methods serve as powerful, enabling tools that help capture abstract concepts such as feelings and emotions of the teacher and students that impact the behavior of everyone in the classroom, thereby providing a wealth of information that can help reduce negative behaviors.

According to Eisner (2008), "... not only does knowledge come in different forms, the forms of its creation differ" (p. 5). Arts based research methods such as poetry, songs, photographs, stories and drawings help portray the researcher and the researched as human beings with flesh and blood, who have feelings, emotions and experiences that affect research in powerful ways. There are very few studies in the field of special education that describe the use of arts based research. For example, a seminal study titled Christmas in Purgatory: A Photographic Essay in Mental Retardation (Blatt & Kaplan, 1966) demonstrates how photographs were used to express poignant stories of people with disabilities who were institutionalized. O'Brien et al. (2009) use Photovoice as part of the data to capture the experiences of college students with disabilities. A compilation of narratives by Connor (2009), underscores the need for moving special education data beyond its numerical boundaries. The author facilitated the creation of self-portraits in the form of narratives, rap poems and stories by students of color with disabilities. The result was data rich with perspectives from the "others." Ware (2001) used poetry as part of data and in secondary class room teaching to examine assumptions about disability. …

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