Ideas in Action: Participatory Health and Literacy Education with Adults

Student Action Research

by Elizabeth Morrish
Young Parents Program, Cambodian Mutual Assistance Association, Lowell





Forming the Health Team (Month 1)

Recruiting students
Students from an ongoing young parents class were invited to apply to work four hours a week on a community education project. This was above scheduled class time and the pay was $6.00 an hour. The classroom teacher and a health educator (who were already working in partnership on health workshops in class under this grant) interviewed all interested students.

There were many students interested but few were willing and able to reschedule day care and make the commitment. Each had to sign a contract and sign in and out just as the regular employees did. We came to a consensus agreement to meet two times a week for two hours. Later some of these hours became individual work hours.

A group of five students and two educators was formed. The students named the team the "Health Patrol."

Planning the work
We began by brainstorming ideas around what to learn, what to teach, and what to make. This was recorded on a flip chart and often revisted.

This process of generating ideas and making decisions was used throughout:

  • brainstorm
  • write-up on flip chart
  • discussion facilitated by educators
  • consensus decision - the group decided they wanted to learn more about violence as a community health issue.

From this process, the students agreed that interviewing older people could be a good way to show respect and that both the interviewer and the person being interviewed would learn a lot.


Doing the Research (Month 2)

Buying the equipment
The group researched and purchased tape recorders for all members. This cost about $30 each for a good Sony portable. We bought each member a camera ($3.00 each for 35mm basic plastic) to “document” violence in Lowell and their lives. The students began taking pictures of anything but found all were related to the project-kids wearing gang clothes, places where gangs hung out, graffiti, arson, their own children. (Often the children were motivation for doing the work.)

Starting the interviews
We tried free form interviews of one another, but this was too hard. So the group brainstormed a list of questions that we used, listened to the responses and revised. Questions were grouped in areas-your past, now, your hopes. The students interviewed family members and friends. Three of the students had lived in refugee camps and some their family had survived through war, flight and resettlement. Some had been in gangs or knew people who had been. We were all surprised how much violence was described in all these interviews.

Interviewing in the community
The team decided who in the community to interview. When we had a commitment from them we brainstormed questions for that interview. As a group, the students interviewed a streetworker working with gangs, and a Cambodian police officer. All the students taped both interviews, listened to them alone, highlighting (either by transcribing or making a note of the counter number) what they considered important.

Designing the Book
By this time a professional graphic designer was working with us, looking at photographs, making suggestions, putting writing onto the computer. She worked about one day a week for three months, but actually working less the first month and more the last.


Making the Book (Month 3)

Working on the computer
We came together at the computer and transcribed the parts we wanted. Sometimes word for word, sometimes the student’s interpretation of what was said. There were many times one of the educators (this included the designer) was typing in what the learners said. We did not have a classroom computer but used a communal office computer, causing tension at times!

Producing the book
The photos taken by the students were scanned into computer. The designer made sample page layouts for the learners to review. They chose paper colors, type, photos and quotes to use. As a group, we wrote an introduction deciding on themes and chosing the layout. We all spent one day in the designer's “studio” (actually a room in a small apartment, on a hot day with no A/C and children in tow) working on the final changes. The computer-generated master was sent out to copy and bind.

Presenting the work
The team described our work and showed the book at statewide conferences and community events, including a Women and Families Health Fair at the local Cambodian temple.

Reflections (The Last Week)
Thinking and writing All participants were asked to briefly reflect on the work. The learners were given a few simple questions to respond to in order to do this. We are all proud and amazed at the audience response and how powerful and professional our book was.

Read about the Spiral Model used in developing this student action research project.

Back to Question Violence Main Page

"When we first got together we were all kind of shy. Now we're ready to conquer the world." ~ Cheryl Valkavitch

"...I have young children, I don't want them to grow up being violent people or living in a violent place. That's why I join Health Patrol." ~ Channy Rom





















"Working with Jane (the designer) didn't seem like much at first until I saw what she could do with a computer. Wow." ~ Roeup Sin
















"I liked the Health Patrol because we decided what to do not the teachers." ~ Pheach Hem