We are completing an exercise in class that reminds me just how hard writing can be. The goal of the exercise is to write an introduction to a research question in such a way that it logically leads to the research question.
The introduction should be shaped like a funnel, starting broad and then ending by arriving at the narrowly constructed research question.
I think I may struggle so much with this because my research question may still be too broad, so it’s difficult to narrow my funnel. Yet, here is where I’m at with the exercise.
Step 1 - The Question
I began by writing my research question down; however, I will not post it here in case you want to try and test my funnel yourself. You can see my research question in my previous blog post.
Step 2 - Creating Levels
I began writing the levels that would be needed to introduce my question. Here they are:
Lvl: For many U.S. citizens, education is the focus of the first 18 years of their lives. In fact, most states have Compulsory Education Laws
Lvl: We worry more about outcomes than experiences.
Lvl: But there may be a way to do both.
Lvl: The psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi describes a feeling of complete and energized focus in an activity that has a high level of enjoyment and fulfillment that he calls Flow.
Lvl: Flow Theory states that there are eight mental states that can be experienced during any activity.
Lvl: Researchers have analyzed how components of Flow impact work and leisure, from factory work to surgery, and from active-leisure (e.g., playing a musical instrument, playing a sport, or carving) to watching tv.
Lvl: But little has been done to observe: “The Question”
Step 3 - The Rough Funnel
I then connected the steps into two introductory paragraphs. Here is the funnel:
Education is the primary focus of the first 18 years of most U.S. citizens’ lives. In fact, most states have Compulsory Education Laws that require school attendance for students between certain ages. In evaluating and planning for the education of these K-12 students, social and political forces tend to focus much more on the outcomes of attending school than on the emotional experiences of attending school. Focusing on outcomes is incredibly important; however, because states mandate that students spend somewhere between 8 and 13 years enrolled in an educational institution, we should focus on making these years academically enriching and enjoyable.
One of the reasons K-12 education can be un-enjoyable is because it does not meet the personalized needs and desires of individual learners. Personalizing instruction based on students’ abilities and providing students with clear feedback concerning their progression towards educational goals can both improve educational outcomes and make education more enjoyable. Flow Theory can be used to create a framework for personalizing education in a way that makes K-12 education enriching and enjoyable. The psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi describes “Flow” as the feeling of complete and energized focus, accompanied by a high level of enjoyment and fulfillment. Csíkszentmihályi claims that Flow is attainable during any activity if a task’s difficulty matches a person’s ability level and if a person can receive nearly immediate feedback about the improvement of his or her abilities. Learning in a K-12 classroom is an activity that could also benefit from Flow Theory. Researchers have analyzed how components of Flow Theory affect the outcomes and enjoyment of work and leisure, but little research has been done to observe: ____________.
Step 4 - Test the Funnel
I asked several people to read my funnel to see if they could arrive at my question. My wife had the most success at arriving at my question, but she has a pretty biased perspective and can fill in the gaps my brain makes. I also asked a couple of fraternity brothers; they got pretty close. My classmates and advisor felt like the second paragraph was a bit derailing with all of the Flow Theory stuff, so I worked to cut it down.
Step 5 - Revise the Funnel
I took the feedback from Step 4 and arrived and this new version of the funnel:
Education is a primary focus of the first 18 years of most U.S. citizens’ lives. In fact, most states have Compulsory Education Laws that require school attendance for students between certain ages. In evaluating and planning for the education of these K-12 students, social and political forces tend to focus much more on the outcomes of attending school than on the emotional experiences of attending school. Focusing on outcomes is incredibly important; however, because states mandate that students spend somewhere between 8 and 13 years enrolled in an educational institution, it is important to focus on making these years academically enriching and enjoyable.
Students may find the K-12 years to be unenjoyable because the experience leaves them feeling unfulfilled. Schools can likely change this if they will match individual students’ abilities to the learning tasks they are asked to complete. Csíkszentmihályi (1990) says that matching individual ability level to task difficulty creates Flow, the feeling of complete and energized focus accompanied by a high level of enjoyment and fulfillment. Researchers have shown that components of Flow increased the feelings of enjoyment and fulfillment for work and leisure activities (Csíkszentmihályi, 1994), but little research has been done to answer the question: ______.
Step 6 - Repeat Steps 4 and 5 to Satisfaction
I’m not entirely convinced my funnel is done, but I tested it with many more people this time around, ranging from K-12 and Higher Ed. educators to other graduate students, and I even added a very healthy dose of help from some former students working in education or on undergraduate degrees. There seemed to be much more consensus this time around, and I’m thankful for all the help I received.
Guesses close to the mark included:
“Whether utilizing the Flow approach to education will positively impact students’ success during and after primary and secondary education.” - Former K-12 student and Valedictorian
“If all students were impassioned by the subjects they were studying and projects they were completing, how much more would they learn?” - Former K-12 student working in education
“How beneficial Flow could be to the students of today, and how can it maximize their ability to adapt and learn as they move into the future?” - K-12 pre-sevice teacher
“How can schools increase Flow?” - K-12 teacher
“Where has Flow been show to be effective, and does this research have enough trasnferability to K-12 to show it would be worth the time of [implementation and testing]?” - Fellow graduate student
Guesses further away were:
“Is our current system of education providing enough mental stimulation for our children and teaching them not only to learn but to enjoy the process of learning, or is our primary focus on improving test scores with little to no regard for students mental aptitude and involvement; and if the latter is the case, is it possible to overhaul our archaic system and shift the focus from test scores to mental involvement?” - Rather jaded former K-12 student
“Whether the traditionally structured school day vs. something different has actually led to true achievement.” - K-12 Instructor
“Can we play a game?” - Higher Ed. Instructor
This blog presents thoughts that Cecil has concerning current projects, as well as musings that he wants to get out for future projects. For questions or comments on his posts, please go to his Contact page.
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