The Art and Science of Educational Inquiry: Analysis of Performance-Based Focus Groups with Novice Bilingual Teachers

Oct. 28, 2009

Source: Teachers College Record, Volume 111 Number 11, 2009.


For over two decades, the boundaries between the social sciences and the humanities have become blurred. Furthermore, numerous articles and books have been written about the infusion of the arts in qualitative research as a means to collect and analyze data and to represent findings. Yet these arts-based research processes, although present in the social sciences, are still largely invisible in a research climate that privileges (e.g., through publication, funding, and recognition) work claiming to be exclusively scientific.

Purpose of Study

To fully develop the potential of the arts for a transformative educational inquiry, the synthesis of scientific and artistic methods must be fully explicated through clear examples that address theoretical and empirical concerns. This paper focuses on explicit arts-based approaches that the authors employed in a 3-year teacher education study of professional conflicts experienced by novice bilingual teachers. Authors describe how they used the arts and to what end, addressing questions of artistic processes, expertise, and research validity.

Research Design: The research design included theatrical and literary techniques alongside more traditional qualitative methods of inquiry (e.g., participant observation, audio- and video-recorded focus group interactions, interviews, and surveys). Authors initiated performative focus groups based on the work of Paulo Freire and Augusto Boal in which participants share and act scenes from power-laden experiences of conflict, rehearsing strategies for personal and social revolution. This embodied data enabled the research team to focus empirical and pedagogical attention on both participants’ physical and verbal “scripts” or trans/scripts: compressed renderings of original transcripts that utilize techniques from poetry and the dramatic arts to highlight the data’s emotional “hot points” and heightened language from the original discourse.


This study illuminated the range of experiences and emotions involved in novice bilingual teachers’ professional lives, signaling the value and validity of research that is both artistic and scientific. Such hybridity may at first appear to make for unexpected and potentially haphazard methodological mergers. The authors do not claim to have resolved these epistemological tensions, but to have exploited both traditional and artistic research methods to broaden the notion of what counts as “research” in teacher education and to conduct research that is engaging to researchers and participants alike.


Updated: Mar. 18, 2009