Free Write on the Reflective Interview

So, today is day 2 of my goal of free writing. I did not accomplish that task yesterday (I skipped my free write), and guess what? I didn't get any other writing done either. It reminds me of that diet commercial on TV where the marketers juxtapose a woman who makes good choices about food and on the other side when she makes bad choices about food. (I think it's a Special K commercial.) Anyway, their point is that one good choice leads to another, so I am hoping today that by engaging in my free write, I can be more productive with my writing tonight. Free writes seem to be a space for me to jump start my writing and, as Anne Whitney says, clear my throat. I like it, and it sure is helpful.

This morning I read the second chapter of the Stevens & Cooper book on using journals as reflective tools. In the second chapter, they offer their theoretical framework, and they have based their work on three key individuals: Dewey, Kolb, and Schon. It seems as if their main point for the chapter was that learning entails reflection-action-reflection. Reading this chapter made me wonder about my research.

While in the data gathering phase, I remember sitting down at Wegmans with my advisor and one of my participants. He asked her how things were going and what one of the most impactful aspects of this year had been. She commented about how one of the greatest learning catalysts for her was her weekly interview with me.

What an interesting comment...

Her words really struck me, and I wondered what he thought. The qualitative interview is conversation-like, but it is more intentional than a conversation (Weiss, 1994).

I wondered what she was thinking when we interviewed together. To her, it is possible that our time together felt more like a conversation. If so, then I think I achieved my goal. I want the interviews to not feel like an interview, but rather it should feel like a conversation; a conversation occurs in a more trustworthy environment. However, during our weekly chats, I know that my brain is in full gear. I am constantly thinking about the other person's responses and my research and wondering how I can ask a question to understand her point and probe deeper into her thinking.

It was this idea of probing that made me pause.

By probing, the intention is to uncover more meaning - to truly understand the person's story. However, by probing, I was causing the individual to reflect and to analyze her assumptions. Mezirow (2000) suggests that transformational learning occurs when a person encounters a disorienting dilemma, reflects on it by analyzing her assumptions, and then acts on it. These thoughts are very similar to Kolb's cycle of experiential learning. By interviewing her, I was asking her to recall a disorienting dilemma. By asking her questions about the situation, unintentionally, I was causing her to reflect on the situation and analyze her assumptions. She then would return to the context and change her practice. It seems as if these interviews were acting as transformational catalysts.

Is there a problem with that?

I know that I will have to address this point in my research. As a qualitative researcher, I am part of the research and I will influence it by the nature of the research. I will, however, have to address these points.

But her statement of how my questions caused her to reflect on her practice still hung with me.

Most of the time during our weekly chats, I let the participants lead and I followed with intentional questions - they were not preconceived questions, but rather it was not merely a conversation. I asked specific questions to get as the essence of the experience. What I wondered was if I really had engaged in a reflective interview (is there already a term like that out there? Could that be my term?). On the few occasions where I had structured questions to ask, the feeling of the interview was definitely different. It felt more like interviewer and interviewee, whereas I did not always have that feeling at other times. There was more comfort in our conversation-like interviews, and I felt as if the responses were more meaty than in the structured qualitative interviews.

So how then do a qualitative interview and a reflective interview differ? (Again, free writing is a space to take risks and put ideas on paper - so that is what I am doing. I am taking a risk here). At present, I am thinking that a reflective interview is a type of qualitative interview, but the reflective interview asks questions that cause the participant to consider or even challenge personal assumptions. The reflective interview is useful in understanding a person's beliefs, values, and attitudes. The reflective interview requires immense amount of trust and a relationship with the person because beliefs, values, and attitudes are personal. Without trust and a relationship, the participant is less likely to expose those personal intricacies.

I think that I will need to think more about this idea, but here is a start. Guess what? My five minute free write just turned into twenty - Thanks, Stevens and Cooper! You are right again!