I have so much to say from the conferences I attended that it will most likely take multiple posts.
AERA is a big conference for those of us who do anything that has to do with education research. The American Education Research Association (AERA) Annual Meeting is huge. In fact, this year I decided that it might be too huge for me, but it looks good on a CV and it is a good networking event. Of course, the fact that this year’s conference was in San Francisco didn’t hurt–that city is so lovely and I always look for an excuse to go to California.
I didn’t get a paper selected (boo!), but I reviewed proposals (a great learning experience) and I was offered the chance to be a discussant for a panel of paper presentations called “Adolescents and High School Problems.” The directions on how to be a discussant were VAGUE. They read:
Discussant ResponsibilitiesAs Discussant for a session, you are responsible for commenting on papers and presentations to provide professional and constructive criticism and raise issues for broader consideration that connect to these works. Your responsibilities fall into the following two areas:In Advance of the Session
- Download and read the papers for your session after the April 5th author paper upload deadline, in order to prepare comments and organize your thoughts. (Instructions on how to access papers are at the bottom of this email.)
- Prepare appropriate analytical or critical commentaries on the significance and contribution of the papers presented in the session.
- Connect with the session chair, who should have contacted you by email, to review the shape of the session and time constraints on the length of discussion.
I try to tell my students this: That sometimes in academics/school you just have to wing it and hope for the best. You might make an ass of yourself, or you might just rock it. This was one of those cases. I had no idea how I was supposed to structure a response to four research presentations, qualitative and quantitative, from the U.S., Germany, & Austria, within a time limit of 15 minutes. At first 15 minutes seemed too long and then the time seemed too short. I emailed a friend who gave me more vague advice. I had no model texts/examples to draw from. The date grew closer and closer and I had nothing prepared. . .
And then, while lesson planning for peer review in my classroom the week before the conference, it came to me: I could use what I make my students do! Right?
This was a fascinating exercise. Of course, being a reading/writing/composition teacher, my students participate in peer review frequently. I scoured a binder I have of peer review techniques and decided to use the one that gives the most comprehensive feedback. The reviewer provides feedback to the writer by responding to these three categories:
1. What I heard your paper saying (so the author can know what points stood out to the reader).
2. What I liked/what resonated in me from your paper (a bit of praise because we all need it).
3. Where your paper still needs some work/revision/suggestions for improvement (the much needed critique).
And it worked! I wrote a 9 page response to the four presentations. I started with a general intro, did the above for all four presentations, and concluded with some overarching observations that connected the work together. The presenters were very thankful for my feedback, and one young graduate student met with me for 1/2 hour afterwards due to my critiques on her conclusions (Her conclusions were very anti-teacher, and you know I can’t tolerate that! And, perhaps more important than my teacher defensiveness is that her conclusions did not stem from her data at all.).
Going through the exercise that I force my students to engage in–and seeing that it was actually a good structure and helpful to the participants–was a exercise in affirmation that what I do in the classroom has purpose. The next time a student asked, “How am I ever going to use THIS in the real world?!” I will have the *perfect* response for him/her.
Oh, and by the way, I quoted Biggie Smalls in my feedback to a woman from Austria whose research was on society and self- stigmatization from dropping out of high school. I found her work fascinating, and on a run in between writing I was listening to “Juicy” and Biggie Smalls says, “Considered a fool cuz I dropped out of high school” = stigmatization from dropping out! I am sure she didn’t get it, but others did and I felt pretty bad ass. Hip hop pedagogy! That class with Dr. Michael Eric Dyson back in 1996 at UNC is still in me.