Inspired to take action in action research…

Last week, after reading an article, (Shulman, L., et al, 2006), that thoroughly described the differences between the PhD and the EdD, I was really affirmed in my choice of ASU’s EdD program. The underlying concept of participatory action research of being a line of inquiry that rises out of the need of the local community is something that personally speaks to my personal and professional desires. I joined and continue to work in the field of education because I want to be a force of positive impact that helps those who live in the community I serve.

As we were grappling with elements of scholar and community identities last week, I’ve really begun to consider various aspects of research in general. Who is my community? Am I an insider? Outsider? Or some odd hybrid? Who ultimately is the beneficiary of the research? How do I ensure that they do benefit from the research? If I’m not a “part” of the community, can I even accurately identify what problems exist in the community?

I feel like these questions were not necessarily answered but enhanced from some of this weeks readings. A few texts in particular grabbed my attention and caused me to critically reconsider the above questions.

The first article that really made me reflect on the previous questions was Participatory Action Research and City Youth: Methodological Insights from the Council of Youth Research (Bautista, Bertrand, Morrell, Scorza, & Matthews, 2013). This article followed a project of the Council of Youth Research in Los Angeles as they taught high school youth how to do research and then supported them as they altered some traditional tools and practices to fit their needs. The students conducted various branches of research around schooling in their local community and many of the action research participants had personal connections to findings, experiences and systems it illuminated. I think I particularly connected to this article because it seemed that these students immediately benefited from the process and findings of the research. The students walked away from the experience being more informed advocates for equitable educational opportunities in LA.

Another set of text that confounded the questions that I’ve been grappling with, comes from the book Handbook of critical and indigenous methodologies (Denzin, Lincoln & Smith, 2008). A major component of the text is to analyze the methodologies and practices of traditional research and eradicate practices that reinforce colonization practices. A means of doing that, is to truly allow indigenous cultures and communities create their own research agendas, identify their own problems and conduct the research in ways that uphold their values and practices. This speaks to at least two of my main concerns. Research that is conducted in this manner truly benefits the community because it rises out of a need they’ve established. It also addresses the concept of whether or not an outsider of the community can accurately identify a problem. I think this text has caused me to believe that yes, an outsider might be able to identify elements of a problem that plagues the community but they may not ever necessarily identify or establish the importance, ramifications or depth of that problem themselves. I think the text establishes ways in which “outsiders” can assist communities in research but it really is described as completely altruistic and at the mercy of the community.

One last text that I was particularly drawn to was an article entitled, ‘Keeping Up the Good Fight’: the said and unsaid in Flores v. Arizona’, (Thomas, Risri Aletheiani, Carlson, & Ewbank, 2014). This particular article was crafted and organized very well and took a very interesting view and research stance on the Flores v. Arizona case and its implications for English Language Learning students in Arizona. I think one thing that immediately caught my attention and was present throughout the article, was the very objective and distant feel of the text. I think the authors did a profound job of connecting novel concepts to the plight of ELL students and Arizonans as well as crafting very poignant images that help illustrate that plight even more. However, what I didn’t get from this article that I felt from some of the others is a sense of personal connection. I understand that writing articles in a small group may drown out a strong, individual voice and even the article that this text was written for may demand very removed, distanced writing but I couldn’t help feel that this article was written in a fashion of an outsider looking in.

That may very well not be the case, but upon reflecting on the idea of participatory action research and the role that we as community members have in serving the needs of that community, I can’t help be believe that my research should be something that I’m not only passionate about but personally connected to. I hope to see that my writing reflects that element of community member fervor and that it ultimately benefits my community.

Bautista, M. A., Bertrand, M., Morrell, E., Scorza, D., & Matthews, C. (2013). Participatory Action Research and City Youth: Methodological Insights from the Council of Youth Research. Teachers College Record, 115(10).

Denzin, N. K., Lincoln, Y. S., & Smith, L. T. (2008, May 7). Handbook of critical and indigenous methodologies (N. K. Denzin, Y. S. Lincoln, & L. T. Smith). Sage.

Shulman, L. S., Golde, C. M., Bueschel, A. C., & Garabedian, K. J. (2006). Reclaiming education’s doctorates: A critique and a proposal. Educational Researcher, 35(3), 25-32.

Thomas, M. H., Risri Aletheiani, D., Carlson, D. L., & Ewbank, A. D. (2014). ‘Keeping Up the Good Fight’: the said and unsaid in Flores v. Arizona. Policy Futures in Education, 12(2), 242-261.

Learning from youth

What happens when marginalized and oppressed youth are invited to participate as equal partners in research about their educational experiences?

The Council of Youth Research, based in Los Angeles and highlighted in an article published in the Teachers College Record (2013) , provide compelling testimony. This team of researchers, comprised of students and faculty at both the high school and college level, is doing amazing and innovative research on educational inequity in their city.  The team’s methods, insights, and reports serve as a model for the awesome potential of youth participatory action research.

The authors describe a comprehensive research plan that entails various forms of qualitative research in conjunction with quantitative data analysis.  The research team is also intentional about making sure all voices are included and represented equally.  For me, the most impressive aspect of the team’s work is the variety and creativity of ways in which the youth share their findings.  They use a multimedia approach that includes articles, PowerPoint presentations, video documentaries, and even rap.

I am inspired by the variety of methods the team uses to convey knowledge.  The multifaceted approach is intentionally inclusive, aimed so that a multitude of stakeholders can access the research findings.  It is accessibility at its finest.  This appeals to me both as someone who values inclusion and as a researcher committed to conducting research that benefits people.  Too often, research results are confined to arcane academic journals or conferences that only a privileged minority can access.  Sadly, social science research that actually could make a positive difference is not shared with people in positions of power who could implement interventions.  I am drawn to the idea of disseminating knowledge gleaned from action research in multiple ways so that more people can be exposed to and benefit from it.  Thus, one of the key lessons I learned from reading this article is that it is not only important to use a variety of methods to conduct research; it is paramount to use a variety of methods to distribute research findings.

After reading this article, I am excited about the possibilities offered by youth participatory action research and eager to try it in my own work.  My goal is to ultimately produce an innovative intervention to improve the retention, satisfaction, and success of ASU freshmen, and it seems that the most effective way to do this would be to partner with this population in designing a study to better understand their needs and experiences.  I am convinced after reading this article that involving individuals in all phases of research intended to benefit their community is the best way to achieve success.

My main concern is regarding how I could possibly replicate the practices used by the Council of Youth Research.  The time commitment required by university researchers and the high school students is enormous.  As noted by the authors of the article, Council members met for approximately 40 hours per week.  I wonder how the adults were able to get students to agree to such an extensive time commitment.  Even if I were able to figure out a way to get a group of ASU freshmen to agree to a similar schedule, it would be impossible for me to do so, given my status as a full-time employee.  I wonder what alternative arrangements might be feasible for arriving at results similar to those presented by the Council.


Bautista, M., Bertrand, M., Morrell, E., Scorza, D. & Matthews, C. (2013). Participatory
Action Research and City Youth: Methodological Insights From the Council of Youth
Research. Teachers College Record, 115(100303),1­23.

Joining a new community

We’ve all had the experience of walking into a new environment and wondering how best to fit in and succeed. We are experiencing it now as we start this program. In “Communities of Practice and Social Learning Systems” (Wegner, 2000), the author presents the complexity around learning and outlines the scope and purpose of learning communities. It presents definitions and explanations of how communities are formed and knowledge is built. It discusses the complexity around learning and how learning is not just about displaying competence.

As I read the article, it put an experience of my own into context. Two years ago I was laid off from a job. I had worked in that school for 12 years. I had been actively involved in creating many of the tools, processes, and resources we used in student support. I was extremely active with a professional network and had a reputation of success throughout our industry. Then, I moved to a completely different School within ASU. I realized an entirely different community existed within undergraduate advising. Although I had worked at ASU for 12 years, it was as-if I came into a brand new organization. Our communities of practice shared some basic technology resources and facilities, but other than that, were extremely different. It was shocking.   It required that I modify my own definition of my success based upon new criterion. As the article stated “we define ourselves by what we are not as well as by what we are, by the communities we do not belong to as well as by the ones we do”. And, my community was entirely different. As I read the article, I pinpointed much of what I had experienced: the boundaries of moving within communities, the jargon, the internal tools and resources, etc. On the other hand, I’ve also been able to bring a new perspective to my new community. It was a growth experience, but I have definitely broadened my own ‘knowledge’ and can now exist within these two communities.

As I prepare for conducting my own research in a community, I recognized a broader application for understanding communities of practice. It took some time to learn what I did about the new community, but I learned it. In the article about “Participatory Action Research and City Youth”, the authors established the rationale for engaging in Participatory Action Research (PAR). After reading the article by Wenger (2000) I found significant value in considering PAR in relation to communities of practice.

In regards to PAR, the authors discussed the rules, norms, leaders, and boundaries of the youth action research and I found such great guidance for outlining my own approach to my research area. (Bautista & Morrell, n.d.) I’m interested in measuring the effectiveness of advising practices as well as advisor performance. While their case study discussed the engagement of youth, the application to my research that I identified was the need to ensure advisors and students (my communities of interest) are actively engaged. This article even made the clear point that these communities should be engaged in the creation/identification of the problem itself.

With the influence of these two articles, I reflected on various questions. How can I contribute to the action research of my own advising community? What are the parameters (boundaries) by which I can answer questions about my own proficiency? Isn’t that understanding really critical before I start questioning others’ proficiency? And, shouldn’t I be sure to involve them when I start asking?

“Identity is crucial to social learning systems for three reasons. First our identities combing competence and experience into a way of knowing…Second, our ability to deal productively with boundaries depends on our ability to engage and suspend our identities…third, our identities are the living vessels in which communities and boundaries become realized as an experience of the world” (Wenger, 2000, pg. 239)


Bautista, M., Bertrand, M., Morrell, E., Scorza, D. & Matthews, C. (2013). Participatory Action Research and City Youth: Methodological Insights From the Council of Youth Research. Teachers College Record, 115(100303), 1­23.

Wenger, E. (2000). Communities of Practice and Social Learning Systems. Organization, 7(2), 225–246.





Changing the way we research to make change

From working in Title I schools throughout my entire career, I have seen lots of ‘research’ being used to justify why we are making sudden changes to our methodologies and curriculum. However, it does not seem that those who are making these decisions are thinking about whether these changes make sense for our students. For example, did they ask questions such as what was the setting of the study? Did participants share a similar context to our students and teachers? With this in mind, I was pleased to see that our readings this week were connected to action research, as maybe I could find some evidence to support my feeling that action research or traditional research for that matter is not necessarily directly transferable to students within my own context.

To start, it was refreshing to see that the study conducted by Bautista, Morrell, Bertrand, D’Artagan and Matthews (2013), was rooted in the fact that low-income students of color are not only not given the same educational opportunities as higher income students, but that any research that involves these students “consistently lacks the voices of these students themselves” (p. 1). I agree with them on their points that traditionally, we have seen research that simply legitimizes the experiences of some and just ignores the perspectives of others (Bautista, et. al., p. 3). It is because of this that the researches suggest an alternative approach to action research, such as implementing participatory action research, where the subjects are directly involved and invested in the investigation process.

I absolutely can see why having the participatory action research approach is crucial in thinking about my own research agenda. I am interested in the best approaches to teaching kids how to read. I cannot be completely objective in researching these approaches if I do not include student judgment. From the research that is out there, students are coming from multiple contexts; who knows whether or not they are similar to those students that I am trying to help? As students are the ones who I want to help, shouldn’t they then have a voice in the process? Yes they should, as the point of action research is to identify a problem in a particular setting or community and to have the participants be the ones who give us the knowledge from the study (Bautista, et. al., p. 3).

There is absolutely an issue with our most disadvantaged students reaching their full potential due to the barriers associated with poverty. We can theorize and theorize for hours about how to solve the problem, but the reality is that it will not get solved unless those affected are participating in their own research to ensure that their oppressions are overcome (Bautista, et. al., p. 10). This is especially critical when we think about the power ownership of learning has on students and families. As Liou, Antrop-González, and Cooper (2009) show, high achieving low-income students of color identified family as the reason they are successful academically, above school (p. 541). These students had families who supported them because they believed they were going to college; they felt like they ‘owned’ this goal. Therefore, I believe this same notion could be applied to action research. Action research will only be successful if students and families play a key role in the process, as they do not see the school, as the largest influence. If we do not involve students and families, we researchers take the risk that the work we conduct will not increase educational access.


Bautista, M. A., Morrell, E., Bertrand, M., D’Artagan, S., & Matthews, C. (2013). Participatory Action Research and City Youth : Methodological Insights From the Council of Youth Research. Teacher’s College Record, 115(100303), 1–23.

Liou, D. D., Antrop-González, R., & Cooper, R. (2009). Unveiling the Promise of Community Cultural Wealth to Sustaining Latina/o Students’ College-Going Information Networks. Educational Studies, 45(6), 534–555. doi:10.1080/00131940903311347

Hip-Hop: One Step Away from Youth Participatory Action Research





I love hip-hop! Growing up in Los Angeles in the 1980s and 90s hip-hop was the norm– the culture. Even if you weren’t a B-Boy (beat boy) or B-Girl there were elements of hip-hop youth incorporated into our being. My brother wore squeaky-clean tennis shoes with ironed jeans and ironed t-shirts. For me, hip-hop confirmed my suspicions that something wasn’t right in the world. It also reflected my reality back to me with places, sayings, sights and sounds that I could relate. It affirmed who I was as a brown person in a white-dominated society.

There’s divinity within because we come from the divine,

A force that’s not seen, but you feel it every time:

When the wind blows, and the world turns,

And the rain drops, and the baby cries,

And the bird flies, and the ground quake,

And the stars gleam.

– Q-Tip, “The Remedy,” from Get on the Bus Soundtrack, 1996


I was listening to rap by Q-Tip, Queen Latifa, Heavy D., Salt-N-Pepa, Public Enemy, Wu-Tang Clan, LL Cool J, Mos Def, Run DMC, and of course 2Pac and Snoop Dogg. Hip-hop was a counterculture movement that gave voice to youth who felt powerless against the system, who wanted to expose the system for what it was- historically and currently oppressive to black and brown peoples. Hip-hop was expression, freedom, it was speaking up and bringing attention to our condition but also cathartic, it was a way to keep from going insane. This was also the War on Drugs era when everybody in the ‘hood had a family member, or two, or three, addicted to crack. The police were the enemy. There were drive-bys and “jackings” (being robbed up close and personal) happening every day in South Central. So hip-hop was our sanctuary, our way to “speak truth to power” (Bautista, Bertrand, Morrell, Scorza & Matthews, 2013, p. 4).

Speaking truth to and about systems of power is what youth participatory action research (YPAR) is about (Bautista et al., 2013). It is a research methodology that puts youth at the center of their own lives through research they conduct about their experiences. As Bautista and his colleagues describe, “…YPAR is many things: a pedagogical practice, a form of resistance, a revising of whose knowledge is valuable, a tool of decolonization, and a radical research methodology” (Bautista et al., 2013, p. 5). Like rap, “…youth in YPAR develop their cultural consciousness” (Bautista et al., 2013, p. 6). Unlike rap, YPAR teaches youth tools to conduct multi-modal research about their communities so that they are armed with data to challenge systems of inequity.

I was able to find a presentation on my Los Angeles high school conducted by a California Council of Youth research group. The research about my high school, Manual Arts, indicated overcrowding, lack of or poor quality educational supplies, unavailability of counselors and teachers for guidance and poor preparation for college. Students identified three demands: money must be invested into course and school supplies, easy access to school counselors, and increased after-school and extracurricular activities (Armstrong, et al., 2010). Change takes time, but it is through youth participatory action research that educational equity can be achieved with the input of all stakeholders.


Armstrong, A., Dominguez, G., Herrera, J., McCoy, M., Torres, R. & McClain, R. (2010).  They have learned to live it down as though they did not care [Powerpoint slides]. Retrieved from

Bautista, M.A., Bertrand, M., Morrell, E., D’Artangnan, S. & Matthews, C. (2013). Participatory Action Research and City Youth: Methodological Insights from the Council of Youth Research. Teachers College Record, 115(100303), 1-23