Visualizing Community: Understanding Narrative Inquiry as Action Research

Dec. 01, 2010

Source: Educational Action Research, Vol. 18, No. 4, December 2010, 481–496.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

Throughout the 2002/03 school year the author invited all 14 children in a Grade Two/Three learning strategies classroom to participate in a visual narrative inquiry (Bach 1998, 2007; Caine 2002).
All the participants were boys.

The intention was to explore children’s knowledge of community in artful ways, and through this to more deeply attend to the children’s thoughts of community.

The children photographed and wrote their understanding of home and self.
Through this project the author and the participants tried to create opportunities for the children to share with others both inside and outside of school their understandings of community, as well as to embrace and celebrate multiple ways of knowing.

As part of this project the children in this classroom at Canadian school created visual narrative composites of their community using the Roman alphabet, assigning words and images to each letter (Ewald 2001).
By drawing from the children’s stories of experience it became clear that their understanding of community was shaped by a curriculum of lives (Huber and Clandinin 2005; Clandinin et al. 2006); the children understood community as relational and as lived experience.

Situating the inquiry

The work in the classroom was guided by the author's understanding of narrative inquiry as both a research methodology and a phenomenon (Connelly and Clandinin 1995); phenomena of being in relationship, of engaging with both the children and the teachers, of living alongside and also experiencing with the children how they understand community in their lives and in our lives together.
Narrative inquiry allows the author to understand experience in relational ways, over time and across place.
The study of narratives often reveals aspects of social life because culture speaks through an individual’s story and is embedded within each lived story.

Visual narrative inquiry allowed the children to become actively engaged in the making of their narratives, the classroom became a place of self-expression and active collaboration; the intent was not only to understand classroom practices, but to explore alongside the children new ways to think about these (Burbules 2004).

Visual narrative inquiry

The aim of this inquiry was to make sense of and explore the experience of community – both through text and visually – of the children, who lived in the learning strategies classroom; to perhaps turn experience into a way of seeing (Sontag 1973/1977).

Understanding through a curriculum of lives
The children’s relationships with each other strengthened as a result of getting to know each other. In many ways they built a classroom community throughout the year that was strongly influenced by the collaborative project we had undertaken.
It also gave parents, siblings and others an opportunity to become part of the children’s exploration of community.

Narrative inquiry and action research

The use of visual narrative inquiry within a classroom opened up the possibility for a deeper understanding of the children’s understanding of community, and the possibility to challenge the mandated curriculum, as well as to change classroom practices.

Bach, H. 1998. A visual narrative concerning curriculum, girls, photography etc. Edmonton, AB: Qualitative Institute Press.

Bach, H. 2007. Composing a visual narrative inquiry. In Handbook of narrative inquiry. Mapping a methodology, ed. D.J. Clandinin, 280–307. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Burbules, N.C. 2004. Ways of thinking about educational quality. Educational Researcher, 33, no. 6: 4–11.

Caine, V. 2002. Storied moments: A visual narrative inquiry of aboriginal women living with HIV. Unpublished master’s thesis, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB, Canada.

Clandinin, D.J., and F.M. Connelly. 2000. Narrative inquiry. Experience and story in qualitative research. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Clandinin, D.J., J. Huber, M. Huber, M.S. Murphy, A. Murray Orr, M. Pearce, and P. Steeves. 2006. Composing diverse identities. Narrative inquiries into the interwoven lives of children and teachers. New York: Routledge.

Ewald, W. 2001. I wanna take me a picture. Teaching photography and writing to children. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Huber, J., and D.J. Clandinin. 2005. Living in tension: Negotiating a curriculum of lives on the professional knowledge landscape. Advances in Research on Teaching 11: 313–36.

Sontag, S. 1973/1977. On photography. New York: Picador USA.

Updated: Jun. 20, 2012