My first assignment in my graduate research class was to write a critical review of a research article. The objectives of this assignment were to target reading educational research rather than advocacy literature and second to give us experience in writing, synthesizing and evaluating current research.

I selected the article Contestation or Collaboration? A Comparative Study of Home-School Relations by Amanda E. Lewis and Tyone A. Forman. It is directly relevant to my own investigation of parent engagement in K-12 schools.

This review deepened my learning in areas not all directly related to the subject of the article.

In my studies on parent engagement in K-12 schools, I had encountered readings relating context theory to parent engagement and recently posted about a related book. This study corroborated those other findings about the importance of context in defining and prescribing parent engagement strategies, and went a step further to include social class – of both parent and teacher – in the analysis.

In that regard, this study makes an important contribution to parent engagement research. As the authors note, the role of social class is often discounted as not important in the research. In school practice, however, it may sit as a delicate subject to be avoided. Consideration of social class and concomitant power issues helps build understanding of the phenomenon known as “helicopter parents”, the power struggles between parent and teacher, and the role of teacher professionalism as a defence mechanism that negatively impacts parent-teacher relationships.

Examining the research article with a more critical eye was also a welcome opportunity for me to learn about ethnography as a research approach and methodology. Educational ethnography, a sub-field within anthropology, seeks to understand patterns of human behaviour within a group (group culture) so that the behaviour of other group members may be predicted. Studies that compare two locales are referred to as microethnography. Macroethnography considers the impact of external forces on the group. I determined this work was a study in both micro- and macroethnography. I also learned that the researcher role in this study is an observer-participant role, where the researcher documents in detail observations but also interacts informally with the participants. These informal interactions serve both to validate the observations and develop understanding of the phenomena being observed.

This was a great assignment that achieved its objectives for me. The most difficult aspect of the assignment was keeping it to three pages!

Lewis, A. E., Forman, Tyrone A. (2002). “Contestation or Collaboration? A comparative study of home-school relations.” Anthropology and Education Quarterly 33(1): 30.