During this course, we learned about research methods and design, and developed action research proposals based on questions that we generated from our own practices. This process has helped us to value our own voices and engage in structured inquiry as a strategy for enhancing our learning environments. As I reread my inquiry journal from the year, I noticed that my wonderings returned to student voice and building a democratic classroom multiple times. Therefore, my action research question was: what happens when student voice and student reflection guide my teaching and our learning?
How can we enable students to feel ownership of their learning, without bribes or punishments? How can we give up control and let students lead the way? I confess, I am a recovering control freak. Every year I encountered students like my Andy and Anna, students who responded to my efforts to control their learning with anger, or by checking out. This year, I put away my behavior chart, erased the table points and worked with my 19 first grade students at Audubon K-8 School, a public school in Southern California, to develop a democratic classroom where student voice guided my teaching and our learning. I empowered my students to define learning that was meaningful to them, and I learned to listen and respond to their needs. I guided my students to practice solving problems with each other in authentic ways through community meetings. Through it all, I discovered that when students have choice within a project, you don’t have to convince them to learn. They take the work home, they have a reason for engaging with their peers, they feel listened to, and they enjoy it more, even when the work is hard. I also found that when I slowed down, asked my students how they felt about their learning, and focused my teaching on the areas they identified, they were more invested in what we were learning. These findings indicate that when students experience a student-centered classroom, they develop confidence to persevere in the face of challenges, rely on one another, and are able to create innovative solutions – if educators ask questions and truly listen to what their students say.
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Why this research question? My introduction will share a bit on how I arrived to this question and how I hoped to be less controlling of my students and instead empower them.
My understandings section sprouted from many sub questions that were rooted in my action research question. Here you will find where I began exploring the deception of control, leaning on intrinsic motivators, defining a democratic classroom, how reflection is a tool to build a democratic classroom, and how my students and I co-created our own democratic classroom.
I teach incredible first graders at Audubon. Audubon is a K-8 school within the San Diego Unified School District located in the Lomita Village area near Spring Valley. We will take a closer look into the Audubon school community and its guiding principles.
My methods involved inviting my students as co-researchers as we collected data and analyzed how they used their voices and reflections to be empowered, achieve academic success, and build community. The data collection involved a preliminary survey, interviewing a focus group, student and teacher journals, work samples and formal district assessments.
I took down the behavior chart and erased the table points! You will find what I discovered when I let go of control and asked my students what felt comfortable and uncomfortable to learn. Discover what I found after interviewing them while they played, analyzed surveys, observed how they collaborated in teams as they pursued their wonderings in projects, and solved problems in our community meetings. What happened to my compliant and non-compliant focus students in this democratic classroom?
Was it hard? Yes. Were there times of chaos? Sure. Did I ever fall into my controlling habits? Some times.Was it worth it? Absolutely. Every unpredictable and uncomfortable moment was worth it because I needed to listen to my students. I learned that teachers don't see everything, so we must ask the students. I also found that compliance does not equal learning. When students have choice, they don't need to be convinced to do the work, even when it's hard. Finally, if given the freedom and trust to solve their own problems, students create innovative solutions together.
How can we move from a teacher-centered classroom to a student-centered classroom? Here you will find some classroom norms and routines I found to liberate students in the areas of classroom environment, behavior management, and curriculum. These structures helped me reach the Andys, Annas, Charlies, and Abbeys in my class, the non-compliant and compliant students we encounter year after year. As you try these structures, adjust them to the voices of your own students.
My action research became a discovery of my own transformation. How did I deal with my ugliness as I learned how to let go of control? How did I discover my voice throughout this action research process? I am convinced that action research enables us to discover how to reach both the hardest and easier to reach students. It is us, educators, who become transformed. We become transformed as we listen carefully to our students and respond to what they say. Only then can we witness the empowerment we hope for and reach all students.
Here you will find the preliminary survey, curiosity wall questions, and interview questions for my methods. I administered these research instruments to help me measure data around my action research goals: empowerment, academic achievement, and community. Click here for the pdf of my research instruments, student consent form, and parent consent form.
When did I fit in all of the important components of my action research? My action research kicked-off on the first day of school in September. Although my data collection and analysis formally ended in January to complete the writing of my thesis, the actions my students and I co-created were implemented throughout the rest of the school year.
Who have influenced my thoughts around student voice, reflection, intrinsic motivation, and democratic classrooms? I looked at the literature surrounding my research as a “cooperative work of scholarship”. I thought of them as mentors where I could learn how to use their methods, organization/format and ideas to guide me along the journey of my research.
Contact: melissahan411 [@] gmail.com