6th Israeli Conference on Qualitative Research

Last night I returned from a two day conference in Beer Sheva at the Ben Gurion University. The conference, The 6th Israeli Conference on Qualitative Research was organized by the Israeli Centre for Qualitative Research.

bskenes poster

This was the third time I have been to the conference and the second time I have participated. The conference is different from other conferences I have been to as it has a much more local feeling to it. All presentations are in Hebrew and apart from one guest speaker from overseas (Professor Juliet Corbin), all lecturers were Israeli.

Four years ago, when I went to this conference for the first time, I didn’t know anybody. I spent most of the time time wondering what a conference on methodology really means and I felt an outsider. Last time I participated I felt more involved, I also knew some people through my doctoral writing group and the interest groups I participate in at Mofet. This time I felt part of a community, a vibrant learning community in which I definitely have a place. It is fascinating to hear about the work of others and to try to locate my own research in relation to that of my peers.

One of the highlights for me was to hear top quality researchers present their work and to have the opportunity to enter into a dialogue with them. One spectacular session dealt with the boundaries of qualitative research. Each of the panel members explained how she views the limitations – what is included and what isn’t and how we define the requirements of research under this title. Much of the discussion was about testing the boundaries. Professor Einat Peled summed up by saying that we have to be aware that experienced and recognized scholars can allow themselves to test those boundaries far further than doctoral students. We watched a fascinating video – an autoethnographic movie made in a Masters program – part 1 and part 2 (we saw part 2). Made me think!


My paper dealt with translation in qualitative research and presented my own experiences translating in my PhD study.

The Hebrew abstract:

התרגום במחקר האיכותני: דילמות לשוניות, תרבותיות ומתודולוגיות

לעתים מתייחסים לתרגום נתונים כתהליך ניטרלי ואובייקטיבי, עניין טכני של העברת חומרים משפה אחת למשנה. חוקרים אחרים, רואים את השפה כחלון לזהותו של האדם, מחשבותיו ודעותיו. המכירים בתפקיד הפרשני של התרגום, מבינים ששפה היא יותר מהמשמעות הבסיסית של כל מילה ומילה וטוענים שתהליך התרגום משפיע על  טיב המחקר. לפי גישה זו, מתרגמים הם שותפים פעילים בהפקת ידע במחקר.

בזמן עריכת מחקר פעולה נרטיבי על למידה של מורים בישראל, התעוררו בי שאלות הקשורות למקום התרגום במחקר האיכותני. העיסוק בתרגום מעלה שאלות לשוניות, תרבותיות ומתודולוגיות. כדוקטורנטית באוניברסיטה באוסטרליה, החוקרת את עבודתה החינוכית בישראל, מחקרי נערך בעברית ויוצג באנגלית, שפת אמי.

בהרצאה זו אדון בדילמות המתודולוגיות הקשורות לתרגום במחקר. שאלות אלו מתייחסות לשלב שבו נכון לתרגם, איזה חלק מהנתונים יש לתרגם וכיצד מתמודדים עם ההבדלים בין השפות, הבדלים לשוניים ותרבותיים. בנוסף אתייחס לשאלות האפיסטמולוגיות הקשורות למי מתרגם טקסטים במהלך המחקר והשפעת הרקע השפתי והתרבותי של המתרגם. אדגים את המורכבות הטמונה בניתוח נתונים מחקריים שנוצרו בשפה אחת ומועדים לפרסום בשפה אחרת. דוגמא לדילמה שמלווה את עבודתי היא הקושי לחזור למשתתפים על מנת לשמוע כיצד הם מגיבים לפרשנותי, אם אינם שולטים בשפה האנגלית.

בהרצאה זו אביא דוגמאות מהמחקר שלי המציגות את תפקידי כחוקרת דו-לשונית. אציג את ההחלטה לתרגם את הנתונים בעצמי כחלק אינטגרלי של תהליך הניתוח. שפה אינה ניטרלית, היא משקפת את ההקשר בו נוצרה. הבחירות הלשוניות של האדם מייצגות את תהליכי החשיבה הייחודיות שלו. אדגיש את הצורך בהצגת מעשה התרגום באופן גלוי במחקר על מנת  לאפשר דיאלוג פתוח סביב הבחירות השפתיות של המשתתפים.

It was an enormous honour for me to present in a session chaired by Professor Amia Lieblich, one of the scholars I admire most. As expected, there were many people in the audience, despite the fact that it was the last session of the conference. Amia spoke about her recent book, Arak for Breakfast, a non fiction book (for the general audience) based on her research into a group of older residents of Tel Aviv who meet daily on the beach at a coffee shop, early in the morning. She told that Oxford Uni Press has invited her to translate the book and transform it into an “academic” text. She described this process which is far different from any other academic writing I have encountered. As this is participatory research (Amia is part of the breakfast community), it will be extremely interesting to see how the text is transformed. I was interested to hear that the final chapter, that which Amia described as autoethnographic has been replaced.


I feel that my session was well received, questions were asked and I had a real opportunity to discuss my work. Although my experience with translating research data and doing research in one country and presenting it for examination in another is fairly rare, in Israel, all academics have to deal with translation issues when preparing their work for publication in English journals and presentation at international conferences.

Other relevant and interesting sessions I attended dealt with analysing data, narrative in real life situations, narrative inquiry, ethics in qualitative research, and action research.

As always, when I return from a conference, I have a burning desire to get on with my thesis!

kenes sikum

moshav kenes

kenes 11


Thought Provoking Email

Last night I received this email from L after I sent out the assignment rubrics and marks yesterday morning.


הי ניקי, לראשונה מזה  14 שנות עבודתי בהוראה, קיבלתי התייחסות כזו אישית ממדריכה בהשתלמות.

 תודה ושנה מצויינת


Translation: Hi Nikki, This is the first time, in my 14 years teaching, that I have received a personal response such as this from a leader in a professional development course.

Thank you and have an excellent year,


Answer same day:

ל, ריגשת אותי!

שבת שלום,




You moved me!

Good Sabbath,



Most of the teachers wrote back and returned my blessings for a good new year and a few remarked that they hoped I would run additional courses in the future. Some commented again on the positive learning experience they had received.

I was struck by L’s response but realized quickly that instead of smiling to myself and enjoying the compliment, the remark troubled me and opened up a flow of questions:


What did I do that was seen as being so personal?

Is this really (so) unusual?

What causes a teacher to feel seen and heard in a learning framework?

What does the Education Department have to say on these issues? Are there guidelines? Is this an issue?

Why is personal response so absent in many professional learning frameworks?

and maybe more importantly: Is this the dialogue that is so missing in the eyes of a few of the teachers I have interviewed for my PhD. It is indeed becoming more and more apparent that this is a key concept!


I have complained in the past that the decision to shorten courses to 30 hours makes it far more difficult to form significant relations with the lecturer and within the group. I have written often that it bothers me that I don’t know all the names of the teachers in these groups and I don’t always know how to match the narratives I read on the online campus with the faces I see in class.

What is the connection between personal attention and response to significant learning? We talk about it all the time in reference to pupil learning and it is somehow disregarded when considering teacher education.

Where do I place emphasis on personal and professional relationships in these courses?

I begin my courses with the letter I write to participants. The letter, inspired by the work of Dr Julian Kitchen, tells about myself and the way I see the course. In my experience, it immediately forms a sense of intimacy between myself and the teachers individually. The letters I receive in return have a personal tone to them and many teachers remark that they were excited to read my letter and to have a chance to present themselves in their own words.

Another feature of the course is the opportunity to write a narrative about the teaching of writing. Teachers are invited (required) to compose a text which describes a successful project, lesson or interaction, to present a dilemma or a problem or to describe another aspect of their work in detail. Teachers are given the stage on the online forum and then receive significant feedback from peers – compliments, thoughtful questions, ideas, advice, empathy etc. In addition, I respond, in length, personally to each and every teacher narrative. A face to face session invites the teachers to further engage in peer conferencing and evaluation surrounding the narratives before revision and reposting on the online forum.

The final assignment of the course is mainly reflection on what happened in the teachers’ classrooms and what significance the learning experience had for them personally and professionally. Maybe this opportunity to look inward and to communicate those thoughts with others contributes to the feelings of sharing and personal connection.

I return the assignment with a rubric explaining the grade and a personal comment. Usually I write which part of the assignment I found most interesting. After reading L’s email, I ask myself  how other lecturers communicate with teachers about their assignments. Are the assignments returned? Are marks sent by email? What kinds of comments are written?

It seems I have little knowledge about what really goes on in other courses. I need to follow this lead as it will throw a lot of light on the stories I am hearing in my interviews with teachers.



My presentation at the conference: Professional Writing in Many Voices: Exploring My Learning from a Bakhtinian Perspective

This morning I want to write about my own conference presentation for the 6th International Conference on Teacher Education: Changing Reality through Education. I feel that for me, this conference was about taking risks. I decided to send in an abstract at the very last minute and sat down to write it the day the call for papers closed. I thus had no time to consult with others or to receive feedback on my writing. In time, I was notified that my abstract had been accepted.


As usual with my writing, I decided on a topic which needed a lot of reading, writing and thinking, a topic which is connected to my PhD and that the preparation for the presentation would directly contribute to my doctoral work. I decided to write about the ways in which I am beginning to explore my own professional writing from a Bakhtinian perspective. This was the first time that I was attempting to publicly articulate my knowledge and understandings of the complex materials I have been reading. I knew it was time to start verbalizing those understandings but was extremely wary of the task. There were similarities between this paper and my last: “Academic Blogging as a Dialogic Process” at the 2012 “Academic Writing and Beyond” conference.

Diving in again to the writings of Bakhtin and those that provide commentary on his theories, I began to extend my understandings. Each engagement with those complex materials is challenging and leaves me with a sense of uncertainty.

My “way in”, as usual, was to try to relate the concepts to events, conversations, thoughts or practice. In order to prepare the conference paper I thought about my major aims and directions in the talk and then returned to my own writing. I reread my own blog posts from the past few years and my freewriting in my research journal. I was searching for snippets of text in which Bakhtinian concepts afforded me an additional understandings or allowed me to see myself and my work differently from the way a first reading portrays. I found many sections of writing which were suitable.

The next stage was to return to Paul Sullivan (2012) and to reread the chapter:  “Using Dialogue to Explore Subjectivity” a number of times and then to return to the sections of text I had chosen and to start articulating the connections I found. Sullivan’s book is very clear but the task of making sense of my own identity and practice in light of the theories presented was not easy.


I did not know how familiar my audience would be with Bakhtin so I need to add some introductory comments.

The 15 minute time limit on my paper made the work “doable”, and I do believe the audience received a taste of the kinds of textual work I am doing. I believe I showed how dialogue and other Bakhtinian concepts can indeed be useful in text interpretation.

 The session I was placed in was titled “Writings and Narratives in Self-Development” and was chaired by Dr Orna Schatz-Oppenheimer. Orna has written a great deal on the role of narrative in teacher learning and has worked with teacher stories in particular. In addition, she was my pedagogical teacher 20+ years ago when I was a dip Ed student and I have fond memories of her work with me. The papers were all interesting and relevant to my own work but I particularly enjoyed the paper by Gili Talmor from the Branco Weiss Institute who talked about their project called “Writing based disciplinary pedagogy”. I will indeed look further into this projects which involves teacher writing and student writing in the disciplines as a school culture. Another interesting paper was presented by Etti Gordon Ginzburg. She discussed letter writing in the learning of new immigrants training to be teachers in Israel.

My major excitement for the day was when I discovered that Professor Michael Connelly was present in our session. Orna had invited him to take part. Connelly remarked that he was impressed by what he had heard in the papers and told me that Dr Julian Kitchen (who I mentioned in my paper) had been a student of his. I feel honored that an academic of Connelly’s status, a respected writer who I have read and reread, heard my paper on this occasion.

 Following this positive learning experience, it is time to continue on and to utilize this knowledge in my close reading of the interview transcripts I have collected so far. The conference paper gave me confidence in my growing understandings and paved the way for my next steps.

Changing Reality through Education – 6th International conference on teacher education

The school holidays are here! After completing the preparation and delivery of my conference paper for the 6th International conference on teacher education, I can say that the holiday is definitely starting. I will of course be going in to school a few days a week but it will be at my own pace and there will be a lot of peace and quiet there.

I wish to write about the conference this morning. Unfortunately I was only able to attend the second and third days. I really enjoyed being part of the conference in which the atmosphere was positive and dynamic. The organization of the conference was amazing – everybody made a real effort to adhere to the timetable and everything went according to plan. During the breaks, the food and coffee were delicious. The program was clear and helpful and there were very few speaker and venue changes.

Wednesday, the second day of the conference, was held at the David Yellin Academic College in Jerusalem. When I arrived at the gateway, I was overtaken by an enormous sense of excitement. I studied teaching (in a one year changeover course for BA graduates) here in 1987 or 1988. When I studied here I was a very new immigrant, hardly knowing how to get by in Hebrew, determined on being a homeroom teacher in Israeli primary schools, and not “just an English teacher” (as I thought then. I don’t know how much I understood here in the theory or didactics classes, but I learnt from my relationships with the people and from my wonderful 10 hours a week practical experience in two Jerusalem schools. It was fascinating to remember myself walking down the corridors, to be aware of how the college itself has been transformed and how I, myself, have moved on from being a new immigrant enthusiastic to join the world of education, to being a presenter at an international conference, reporting on my practice as a teacher, teacher educator and researcher. I hadn’t been back to David Yellin since I completed my year there, well over 20 years ago and I was indeed happy to have the opportunity to revisit.


I will write about my own paper in the next post, here I want to record some of the highlights for me.

I think the highlight of the conference for me was the opportunity of hearing some of the ‘big names” in research on education and teacher education, some of the most important figures in qualitative methodologies.

Yesterday I attended a keynote by Professor Jack Whitehead from Liverpool Hope University in the United Kingdom. Professor Whitehead, whose respected work on Action research I know well, presented in an enthusiastic and extremely clear manner. In my mind, two of the most interesting points in the talk were when Professor Whitehead urged us to be “true to ourselves” and to start using visual media and not just written text in our research. He went on to remind that description is simply not enough. We must be committed to analysis in order to explain the nature of our influence in our professional contexts. We are obliged to make our knowledge public in an explanatory sense well beyond descriptive text.

Professor Whitehead referred to the conference program and remarked that only 2-3 papers contained the word “I” in their title and focus. He expressed his hope that by the next conference, many more participants will present what they themselves are doing to improve their practice.

I will certainly revisit Whitehead’s web site Action.Research.net, a resource I have used before. The speaker used his site to illustrate his point that this kind of research is now acceptable (there are over 34 PhDs supervised by him and shared openly with readers on the site). The honest sharing of knowledge and materials, together with the passion expressed verbally and non-verbally by the speaker, were extremely inspiring.


I attended a fascinating round table chaired by Dr Shoshana Keiny of Ben Gurion University in which a discourse group was presented. This is a large group of teacher educators / researchers, who have been gathering regularly for the past 12 years. There is no set goal for the group or its meetings and it is not chaired or facilitated by any one individual. The group does, however, research its activity and discourse and tries to learn from the interaction among participants and from the way in which participation in the community influences the practice of members, each in his or her own professional field and context. I can’t say that I reached full understanding of the way the group was established or the way it functions, but the idea of collaboration, sharing and just simply “being” together certainly caught my attention. I was reminded of Mary Kooy’s book clubs, but there she had clear goals and an agenda. There is clearly something extraordinary in the group as it has been maintained over such a long period and members drive extremely long distances to participate. Food for thought!

Other highlights for me were hearing Professor Miriam Ben Peretz, Professor Sharon Feiman-Nemser, and of course Professor Michael Connelly (who I will write about later).

Wordle clouds as a way of looking at my freewriting

Not all of the reflective freewriting is up to sharing on this blog – some of it is just intuitive rambling to start me thinking. This kind of writing indeed helps me identify my knowledge in a specific area and helps me generate the questions I need as I dive back into the literature.

I have been using the 750 words web site to give me motivation to write every day. It seems to be working and I may reflect in detail on the influence of that tool in the near future. Meanwhile, if I’m not posting some of what I am writing I will present the wordle cloud as a record of what I’ve been thinking about.

I often use Wordle clouds as a way of looking at a text from a different perspective – somehow breaking it up and jumbling the text like that and emphasizing terms and concepts which are high frequency gives me an additional way in to my thoughts.

Question of the day: Why qualitative research?


I’m Back! Grappling with Epistemology and Thinking about Language in my Research

Last night while driving home and engaging in a family discussion on dreams, my children asked me: “Imma, in which language do you dream?” I answered immediately that I have no idea. I explained that I really can’t remember my dreams but that I do know that there are areas in which I think entirely in Hebrew (shopping, home life, pedagogy, literacy, school-life…) and areas in which I think exclusively in English (everything connected to research, methodology, theory, technical instructions…).

After 25 or so years living in Israel, my life takes place in two languages which are now fairly equal in terms of my competence. My PhD study is an interesting mix of the two, demonstrating that my hasty answer to my children, describing clear boundaries between the languages wasn’t exact.

In a discussion with Brenton Doecke at the beginning of my PhD journey, he urged me to emphasize the bilingual nature of my inquiry and not to leave language as a back drop in my research (as I did in my MEd thesis). At that time I did not fully understand this request and could only relate to having sections of text or even specific terms left in the Hebrew original alongside translation. Today I can see how language is a central element in my professional context, permeating all my actions and understandings. My language is heavily soaked with cultural significance.

Yesterday, in a Skype meeting with Graham Parr, my supervisor, we talked about the transcription and the translation of my interview tapes. We agreed that while translating sections of the conversations, I will have a wonderful opportunity to zoom in on the responses from my participants (and my own) and should be able to reach rich understandings of both content and context. We spoke about the importance of being sensitive to the place of my two languages in this study – how I translate my data, how I tell my own narratives of my practice and how important cultural or institutional concepts (whether they are translatable or not) are presented in my writing.

There are many cultural messages playing in my ears as I make decisions about which references to read and their status in the academic world. One of the questions I will need to explore is the place of Israeli researchers in my work.

This morning, I decided to try to clarify my thoughts on the epistemology of my research by rereading a book written in Hebrew:

Tuval-Mashiach, R., & Spector-Mersel, G. (Eds.). (2010). Narrative research: Theory, creation and interpretation. Jerusalem: Mofet and Magnes Press.

I decided to start with this reference as I have heard Gabriella Spector-Mersel explain the theories in many different forums and found them to be clear and accessible.  I must be honest in saying that although I have no trouble reading academic texts in Hebrew, I usually do it only when I have to. I read in Hebrew as a member of my doctoral writing group and read articles and book chapters as preparation for the sessions of the Qualitative research interest group meetings at the Mofet institute. Other than those occasions, I will usually choose English references. I am now becoming aware that this is not only because reading academic texts is still easier and quicker, it is also because of the cultural messages prominent in the academic world (and indeed in Israel as well), that Hebrew references are less important and influential than those written in English.

Embarking on the task, I was hoping that reading what I have heard Gabriella explain and translating the material slowly from Hebrew into English would help me understand more. I expected this exercise would give me ideas for entry points into writing about my own understandings of epistemology. As a result of this reading I found translation to be an interesting way of approaching a text. It slows down my reading and forces me to grapple with the dense carpet of terms involved. I cannot write a sentence until I reach some degree of understanding. Hearing things said (as familiar as they may be) in a different language, does indeed shed light on the ideas expressed. I remember I wrote about this here when I heard a lecture about the ideas of Dorothy Smith on Institutional Ethnography at Bar Ilan University and here after I first joined the interest groups on Action research and Narrative Inquiry at the Mofet Institute.  

Maybe I haven’t dealt much with epistemology but I have spent the morning thinking about language… and then again, much of what I have written is indeed connected to the nature of knowledge and its expression.