Posts Tagged ‘education. youth’
I was teaching a Psychology of Adjustment course to undergraduates. Most of them were 18 and 19 years old. It was a college in Georgia with a class demographic of about 2/3 who were White and 1/3 Black. We got to the section on cultural diversity awareness. Because it was the South, we began our discussion about racial differences. At one point during the discussion, an attractive, blond, former high school quarterback said, “America is a free country. I have the right not to live next to any Blacks if I choose.” I contained my gasp, horror, and anger. I believe in freedom of speech in my classes even those that are vastly different from my own. So I bit my tongue and attempted to take a neutral stance. Even though his opinion nauseated me, it was his opinion. He made no threatening nor overtly derrogatory comments.
Fast forward one class session, I did the “White Privilege” activity with the students. It contains a series of statements such as, “I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed” and “I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race.” As I read each statement, I started with “You may sit down if this applies to you.” Not surprisingly by the end of the activity, two Black young women remained standing. I simply asked, “How does it feel to be still standing?” One of the beautiful (both physically and from within) women began her articulate, passionate response with contained tears in her eyes, saying things such as, “You cannot know what it is like to walk into a store with your friends and be closely followed by a White clerk the whole time. You cannot know what it is like to be walking down the street in broad daylight, step off of a curb, and witness the White driver overtly slam down the lock of his car door.”
I told this story to a colleague. She said maybe the young man heard the voice and the story of a Black person, who he got to personally know through the class, for the first time in his life. Maybe he might has changed his prejudicial views just a bit. So did my neutral, accepting responses to both these students permit them to express their honest perspectives possibly resulting in some attitudinal change? I cannot be sure, but hope so.
Given the way the US politicians communicate regarding the country’s issues, they could have benefited from learning how to communicate, listen, debate, and compromise over diverse issues and ideas. So I ask and try to address in this post, “If students aren’t learning how to do freedom of speech in school, where will they learn it?
Topics covered in this post include:
- A Rationale for Learner Voice in School
- The Role of the Teacher
- Suggestions for Establishing and Encouraging Student Voice
- Learning Voice in Online Environments
- Socratic Seminars for Learning Civil Debate and Discourse
A Rationale for Learner Voice in School
Schools in the United States (as well as in many other countries) propose that a major purpose of education in learning and engaging in principles related to democracy.
In 1916 Dewey wrote extensively about the necessity of engaging student experience and perspectives in the curriculum of schools, summarizing his support by saying,:
The essence of the demand for freedom is the need of conditions which will enable an individual to make his own special contribution to a group interest, and to partake of its activities in such ways that social guidance shall be a matter of his own mental attitude, and not a mere authoritative dictation of his acts. http://www.soundout.org/article.100.html
To do so, school personnel need to be intentional in promoting and living the ideals of democracy.
Schools should endeavor to be relevant and inclusive of students’ daily lives. Educators and students alike benefit when schools open dialogue on contemporary issues of race and justice. To do this, schools should be deliberative in broaching difficult issues with students, in age-appropriate ways. They should focus on opening up discussions to multiple points of view. http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2013/09/25/05knight.h33.html
The benefits to the learner as well to the entire school culture cannot be understated:
In its simplest form, voice is characterized by the ability to speak one’s opinions and ideas. However, simple should not be mistaken for trivial. In fact, the act of empowering a young person to express her opinions and ideas is powerful. When students are consistently encouraged to ask questions, wonder aloud, and offer opinions, they develop an ability to see the world as endlessly full of options and a place where they can confidently approach problems and seek out solutions. http://www.ascd.org/ascd-express/vol8/825-fox.aspx
But as McDonnell, Timpane, and Benjamin state in Rediscovering the Democratic Purposes of Education
Public schools were envisioned by the Founders as democratically run institutions for instilling civic values, but today’s education system seems more concerned with producing good employees than good citizens. Meanwhile, our country’s diversity has eroded consensus about citizenship, and the professionalization of educators has diminished public involvement in schools.
The rest of this post proposes some concrete actions, ideas, and activities for making the learning environment a place for freedom of speech.
The Role of the Educator
First and foremost, the educator has to believe that student voice and discourse, regardless of the age of the students, has a place in the learning environment. Voice does not translate into students shouting out answers to content-related questions posed by the educator. As Catherine Cronin noted:
But what do we mean by student voice? The term tends to signify a set of values and behaviors which includes Sound (the act of speaking), Participation (student presence and involvement), and Power or Agency (see Cook-Sather, 2006). Making space for student voices confronts the power dynamics within schools, classrooms, and the relationships between teachers and students. Without addressing the notion of power in these relationships, student voice initiatives may be simply window dressing. When we truly value and create spaces for student voices, students feel respected and engaged, teachers listen, and students and teachers learn from one another. http://catherinecronin.wordpress.com/2013/05/28/making-spaces/
The role of the educator also means establishing a safe space for student voice (specific suggestions are discussed in the next section). Of special note, though, is the attitude and perspective of the educator. It is my belief that the educator needs to convey an attitude of acceptance even of those perspectives different than her-or herself. It is taking a neutral stance but permitting learners to voice whatever thoughts and opinions they value. As such, I do not believe the educator should express personal values and beliefs related to religion, politics, and similar value-laden topics. The educator in promoting freedom of speech and democratic values understands the power differential between him-herself and the learners, that expressing such opinions may shut down students whose values are different than him-herself.
Suggestions for Establishing and Encouraging Learner Voice
The bottom line for establishing and encouraging student voice is creating a safe environment of acceptance and that all voices are important and will be heard. Soundout: Student Voice in School recommends the following:
- Encourage mutual accountability between students and adults.
- Engage student voice in as many topics as possible, and don’t ignore it regarding others.
- Create ongoing opportunities to listen to student voice and engage students as partners.
- Encourage building-level and classroom-level student voice activities.
- Encourage different students to participate across education activities.
- Create “safe spaces” where students can share student voice.
- Engage adults and students as full partners in taking action on student voice. http://kcydn.pugetsoundoff.org/node/34967
Additional Suggestions are offered in Chalkface:
- Be aware of power imbalance between teachers and students. Offer choice to share voices in ways that suit their culture and preferences.
- Students are aware if their voices won’t make a difference – how will it be used as evidence for change? How much are we using it to reinforce trends, compliance, and productivity?
- To do student voice using different structure takes time and care to bring about change, and to challenge existing discourses and structures. http://karenmelhuishspencer.com/2013/06/12/from-voice-to-dialogue-meaningful-student-voice/
Learner Voice in Online Environments
A discussion during the recent Reclaim Open Learning Conference began around the following comment/question related to posting ideas and opinions online:
How can we post our “information without signature” . . . how do we create safe classrooms sharing where students opinions aren’t recorded?
For me, the larger discussion is not necessarily about “recording” voices in the online forum as any comments made online is virtually recorded. Strategies for creating a place for learner voice include, first, creating a safe online space to do so, and second, creating platforms where elements of privacy and anonymity can be afforded.
Catlin Tucker, in Creating and Maintaining a Safe Space Online, stated:
To be effective, an online learning platform must be a safe space where students feel their voices will be respected, supported and heard. Establishing clear guidelines for online interactions is a critical step in creating an online forum that will be successful long term.
The strategies she proposed for creating and maintaining a safe space include:
- Read questions and conversational postings carefully to avoid unnecessary confusion.
- Compliment your peers when they post strong responses or contribute original ideas.
- Ask questions. If anything is unclear or you want further information or insight on a topic, just ask. If you have a question, there are probably other members of the group who are confused and need further clarification as well. Remember: There is no such thing as a dumb question!
- Be considerate. Remember that your peers cannot see your body language or hear your tone of voice, so you need to keep your language direct and respectful.
- Avoid slang, jargon, and sarcasm. Some slang or jargon terms may be familiar to you, but not to others. Sarcasm is negative and can lead to rifts in what is meant to be a comfortable, safe online forum.
- Listen to all ideas presented. Remember there is no right or wrong in a discussion. A variety of perspectives adds depth.
- Stay open minded. If you expect others to respect and consider your comments and ideas, you must do the same for their comments and ideas.
- Respond instead of reacting. Do not write a response if you are angry or upset. Instead, wait until you have had time to calm down and collect your thoughts.
- Really read your peers responses. Avoid skimming. Respect the time your peers have spent articulating their thoughts by reading carefully and thoughtfully.
- Reread your messages before sending them to ensure that your ideas are clearly communicated and supported.
- Critique the content, not the person.
- Do not present your personal opinions as fact. Back up your ideas with information to strengthen your statements.
- Make I statements when respectfully disagreeing. Sharing an opposing opinion or idea is an important part of discussion, but it needs to be presented in constructive manner that encourages further discussion.
- Do not use all caps when writing. It is interpreted as yelling.
- Avoid emotional punctuation, like exclamation points, unless you are complimenting an idea shared. http://catlintucker.com/2011/03/blended-learning-creating-and-maintaining-a-safe-space-online/
The conversation of posting information without signature also had me rethinking about open content. I practice and promote using open platforms. As such, I keep my blog, Facebook page, and Twitter account open and public. But I am an adult, understand consequences, and as such, am quite intentional about what I post online. I promote having students use public sites to create a positive digital footprint. But now I see value in using closed and private platforms to discuss more controversial issues. Closed Google Docs, Padlets, Todaysmeet, Primary Pads, or Blogging Platforms can be established for learners to discuss more controversial issues. They can (should) be given the option to use a pseudonym. Added to the list that Catlin provided would be a promise of confidentiality – that what is said in the online forum stays in that forum. Also, the educator can commit to and insure that the forum is deleted after a given amount of time. It then becomes a form of Snapchat for education.
Socratic Seminars for Learning Civil Debate and Discourse
The Socratic Seminar is a more formalized instructional strategy that can assist learners in developing skills for intellectual and civil debate, giving them a voice in a structured environment, using rationale debate techniques to do so.
The Socratic seminar is a formal discussion, based on a text, in which the leader asks open-ended questions. Within the context of the discussion, students listen closely to the comments of others, thinking critically for themselves, and articulate their own thoughts and their responses to the thoughts of others. They learn to work cooperatively and to question intelligently and civilly. http://www.readwritethink.org/professional-development/strategy-guides/socratic-seminars-30600.html
To learn more about the specifics of running a Socratic Seminar, see Scholastic’s Higher Order Comprehension: The Power of Socratic Seminar and Hubpages’ Socratic Seminar Guidelines: A Practical Guide
Socratic Seminars in Online Learning Environments
This post is also concerned with how to have a voice, develop civil discourse skills in online environments. Several technologies, including mobile learning apps, can be used to facilitate Socratic Seminars. These include Edmodo, Socrative, and Cel.ly. For specific uses and examples, see:
So I’ve offered lists of suggestions and suggestions, but the bottom line is twofold. First, a purpose of education, regardless of whether it is online or face-to-face, is to assist learners in developing civics education through respectful and genuine discourse, and second, it is the educator’s responsibility to develop and maintain a community and environment where it is safe for learner voice.
What follows is an informal questionnaire I use to evaluate if an educator is doing it right:
- Do the learners’ eyes light up when they see your?
- Do your eyes light up when you see your learners?
- Do the learners excitedly enter the classroom?
- Do the learners hesitantly leave the classroom at the end of the day/lesson – often saying, “Is it time to go already?”
- Do learners feel comfortable asking you questions about what, how, and why they are learning in your class?
- Do you see learners’ eyes flicker with new understandings?
- Because of what they are learning in your class, do learners want to tell you about what they have read, created, seen, and/or thought about?
- Do the learners ask if they can get on the computer to learn more about a topic being covered in class?
- Do learners critically examine and question topics being covered?
- Do you see your learners’ sense of wonder – the sense found in young children as they discover the world around them?
- Do learners get to tap into, explore, and use their personal passions during your class?
- Do learners propose learning projects to you – things they’d like to do in your class?
- Do learners spend extra, not-required time outside of class studying and/or working on topics covered in class?
- Does your heart break at the end of the school year when you say goodbye to your learners?
- Do learners contact you after your class has ended to share difficulties and successes?
- Do the learners contact later in life to say you have made a difference? (Note: This is more realistic given social media. I have had several students do so and it is an amazing gift.)
Doing it right is never about the worksheets, tests, textbooks, or scripted curriculum.
Others? Please suggest them!
Students Make Hats Depicting Favorite Literary Characters
Beginning during my Doctoral studies and continuing throughout my professional career as an educator, I discovered and keep re-discovering how congruent the concepts related to Progressive Education, Participatory Research, and Reflective Practice are with my beliefs about good education, learning, assessment, and research. Conversely, the practices related to Quantitative Testing and Research and Essentialism never worked in my scheme of what good education entails. What I knew, intuitively, to be de-motivating and toxic for me as a high school and undergraduate student, I became able to articulate with words.
I absolutely understand the need and desire for accountability and evidence of efficacy. Concrete evidence, scalablity, and the ability to duplicate best practices actually are the indicators for a profession being viewed as a profession. The problem lies in that the education system’s efforts in demonstrating efficacy occur through quantitative methodologies. There are several problems with this approach:
- Human behavior and learning is complex – assigning numbers to learning is reductionist, implying that learning is a simplistic process that it can be measured in the same manner that blood pressure can be measured.
- Quantifying learning does not provide the in-depth descriptions of best practices for other educators and students. Best practices – the success stories of education cannot be duplicated based on viewing test scores.
- Students become commodities, where their value is measured by the numbers assigned based on test scores.
At the Reform Symposium (an online conference), I had the privilege of listening to Monika Hardy and her students/cohorts (for the archive, see http://reformsymposium.com/blog/2010/07/12/monika-hardy/) . Of special interest to me was the part presented by James Folksmead on Youth Participatory Action Research #YPAR. His Prezi can be viewed at http://prezi.com/kx2njm16ouqy/par/
It became an earth moving AHA for me – the missing piece of my perspective on “good education”. Students should be part of the research process. Note that the emphasis here is on part of the research process not the subjects of the research.
I got motivated to do a search on YPAR. What follows are excerpts from a refereed research conference paper, Students: From Informants to Co-Researchers.
It could be argued that the dominant discourses of schooling, in relation to curriculum, assessment and pedagogy are grounded in psychological, rather than sociological, perspectives. Power differentials between teachers and their students are less often discussed from such a perspective. Students are typically positioned as immature, not yet fully capable children
This power differential between teachers and their students, as manifested in schools and classrooms, is reflected in the educational research processes themselves. Students are at worst the objects and at best the subjects of the research. They are not seen as participants in the processes of enquiry. Indeed, Morrow and Richards (1996) note that within existing ethical guidelines on human research in medicine, children are considered alongside adults with impairments. In other words, they are not seen to have status, but to be vulnerable. They are characterised as relatively incompetent and at risk of exploitation.
Studies centered around the experiences of young people in schools typically position the students as the objects of the research. They are observed, surveyed, measured, interviewed and commented upon in order to inform a research agenda to which they have made little contribution. They are rarely recognized as active agents, who can not only be reliable informants, but also interpreters of their own lives. The positioning of young people in educational research is analogous to that of women within traditional patriarchal research paradigms. They are at worst, silenced; at best patronized.
The authors describe their ideas for Principles for Substantive Participative Engagement in Research by Students:
- The purposes of the research should be in the best interests of the students;
- The purposes of the research should be transparent and consented to by all key stakeholders, including students;
- The research should be respectful of the students’ definitions of the phenomena being examined and incorporate methodologies which allow for varying levels of literacy and oracy;
- Students should be active in providing input and advice regarding the initiation and design of the research;
- Students either directly, or by representation, should be partners in the research’s enactment and interpretation;
- Students should have a voice in determining the implications of the research for appropriate educational policies and practices;
- Students should be enabled, by provision of appropriate resources (such as time, space, technologies and materials) to be fully participative in the research.
The benefits as I see . . .
- Students assess what they learned, how they learned it . . . and reflect on their learning as part of their participation. They learn the skills for reflective practice. They learn to be critical consumers and producers of their own learning.
- The boundaries between assessment and research become blurred . . . as it should be. Assessment becomes naturalistic and descriptive rather than reductionistic and contrived.
- Best practices are described, developed, and disseminated through the collaborative efforts of educators and students, the populations who have the vested interest in these practices. This increases the validity of these practices in the eyes of these stakeholders and the chance/opportunity for implementing these best practices. The quality of education improves.