Transcribing, and more transcribing

I have finished nine of the interviews I need to do for my Masters research project. Three students from the Language School, three interviews each. It was incredibly important I get them finished within this term, as the students will all move on to mainstream schools in Term 4. I was in Bologna at the ISME conference for the first three weeks of term, so time was really of the essence once I got back.

I filmed each of the interviews and recorded them on tape as well. I am currently transcribing every word from the tapes. This must be one of the most time-consuming single tasks of the research project. However, I am quite enjoying it. The interviews happened so close to each other, there was no time to really process and consider what each participant had said prior to the next interview taking place. Thus, as I transcribe, I also get to think about what they are telling me.

I still need to interview their teacher, to get her thoughts on their perceptions of the music activities (according to her own observations, also informed by the fact that she teaches them every day of the week, so knows them well) and the interpreters (to get some further perspectives on any culturally-specific responses the students may have given me).

One question that is coming up a lot for me is about how I have conducted the interviews, and the way I have phrased questions. It is important to avoid ‘leading’ the interviewee towards a particular answer. ‘Leading’ tends to happen in the way you phrase the question, or by putting words or possible responses into the interviewee’s mouth.

However, with ESL students, it is usual to set up the context of whatever it is you are talking about. Usual in an educaiton context anyway. I never found any articles or books or printed information about interviewing techniques specific to primary school-aged non-English speaking students, so I had to go with my instincts somewhat. As I write my transcripts, I am uncomfortably aware of how much I assist them with words and phrases, as I try to make the context of my questions clear.

It is a real dilemma.

I am starting to think that a big part of this research project is just trying to figure out the most appropriate methodology, and reseach methods, for eliciting responses from ESL students about something as esoteric and abstract as their perceptions of their music learning.

Maybe the whole research question (which took so long to figure out) is wrong, or inappropriate, for this age group.

I have certainly realised that the methodology I was originally pointed towards is not right. Or at least, the more I read, the more it doesn’t seem to fit. If in fact my methodology should be something different, there are a whole lot of pre-data collection tasks I should have done. Which I will do now.

It all feels a bit of a mess. It is frustrating to be such a beginner. Why, when there are older, wiser researchers around me, is it necessary for me to go so far down the wrong path, just as a learning experience? I have so little time! The quality of what I learn will not be diminished simply because I have been steered in the right direction, rather than the wrong direction! I believe it would mean I simply spend the time I have reading things that are interesting and relevant, rather than whole books that are interesting but much less relevant.

I console myself constantly that it is just a Masters. It is about learning, and about being a novice. If I were to do another research project (and I have many ideas for other projects!) then I will be better at it.

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