Chapter 3 HALR (English 515)

Okay, so my original plans to have less of my notes and more of my comments didn’t pan out so well…as it became difficult to separate the two.  Sorry again for the length of this post.

Chapter 3

Who are Adolescents Today?

Youth Voices and What They Tell Us

Sam M. Intrator

Robert Kunzman

The focus is on “how youth narrate and describe their own experiences of adolescence”.

“The orientation of these studies is grounded in a belief that youth are self-conscious, observant, critical consumers of educational experience. They have sophisticated capacities of discernment and a unique perspective on what happens in school and classrooms.”

“Researchers have found that youth are largely excluded from the discourse around schooling: adolescents possess a consumerist orientation toward engagement; literacy emerges from an ecology of relationships; youth yearn for opportunities to explore and express their distinctive voices; opportunities to refine and develop these voices should be a central goal of education; and this education, this potential transformation, is not limited to formal school settings.”

Psychosocial tasks are being accomplished: psychological-sense of self, social-influencing relationships.

Some research suggests adolescents deal with the blurring of racial/ethnic boundaries of the population better than adults but can still deal with social injustice in single-race terms.

“The etymology of adolescence is derived from the Latin adolescere, which suggests a growing toward adulthood. Adolescence is a series of transitions that involve the emergence of cognitive capacities for more abstract and advanced thought, and the transition into new institutions and social structures results in dramatic and fundamental change for the individual.”

There’s something to be said for a parallel to the “shadow world” experienced in many situations (I’m thinking of Native Americans forced to assimilate in boarding schools), with the experience of adolescents that are not quite children, and not yet adults. Certainly not a “picnic” by any stretch of the imagination.

“Gladwell’s (1997) exploration of the “coolhunters” employed by market researchers to anticipate the next big trend seems as much about figuring out how to tell teens what should be important to them as about genuinely listening.”

“the relationships between teachers and their adolescent students must be dialogical in nature, a cultivation of listening and learning by both adults and teens.”

“Becoming literate in technology means teachers and students must approach the task with a willingness to explore together, recognizing the skills and insights each one brings to the interaction.”

Learning and success depend on active engagement (the degree students are emotionally and psychologically invested), but data shows adolescents are largely bored and disengaged, with commitment at an all-time low.

Labeling causes stratification which leads to kids thinking they are not special, and consistency in perspectives and behaviors is not only different among adolescents, but at times also differs within a single adolescent. Another consequence is that when a low-resource student becomes disengaged, the consequences are often far more severe than when a high-resource student does, the latter having more opportunities for second chances to re-engage.

“Teens are desperate for adults who are about them and for them.” Relationships with adults are critical in the transitional phase, identity-forming phase, and yet they are often neglected or absent.

Youth Voice and the Experienced Curriculum

Typically, adolescents are seen as “passive beneficiaries” of schooling, and are rarely consulted about their experiences or critiques, let alone are their views acted on.

“Cathran and Kulinna (2006) characterize this absence as a critical oversight because current conceptualizations of student learning focus of the influential, constructivist nature of student cognition and the meaning that students assign to their experiences. Adolescents are accustomed to making choices or adopting a consumerist orientation toward experiences.”

“In sum, researchers know relatively little about the social, emotional, and cognitive experiences students have in the classroom setting.”

They are calling the dynamic of “how adolescents make sense of their in-the-classroom literacy experiences” the “operationalized or experienced curriculum because its focus is on the unique events that unfold in a classroom and places the adolescents subjective interpretation of those experiences at the center of study”.

“We are concerned with the stories that youth tell themselves about the character of education they experience within the activities experienced in the classroom.”

Conceptual Roots of Youth Voice Research

Dewey on traditional vs. progressive education: There is one permanent frame of reference, which is the organic connection between education and personal experience. All depends upon the quality of the experiences students have. His conception of experience allows educators to try to make sense of “the transaction between the student and the environing conditions”.

First principle: Experience happens as an unceasing “moving force”, occurring continuously and subsuming everything (both conscious and unconscious behaviors). Experience is both the what is experienced and how, and who is experiencing it; it is the process of experiencing. Dewey: “life goes on between and among things of which the organism is but one”. It is critical to note that the experience itself happens separately from the grasping of the experience. In general, experience denotes a “compelling episode”, or at least something worth describing to another.

Second principle: Experience is not an internal process, but a transaction. “Transaction is the process that encompasses all that passes between an organism and its surroundings.” Dewey: “An experience is a product, one might almost say a byproduct of continuous and cumulative interaction of an organic self with the world”, “it is within experience that learning about self and the world takes place”.

There exists a focus on the educators need to understand the student’s experiences of their relationship to the curriculum as part of their agenda; it is interesting…I wonder when exactly it was that we realized that what the students thought about and got out of the experience of learning really was an important part of the educational process. The shift has certainly been a gradual one, and I wonder if it coincides with the shift to understanding that children are not miniature adults that simply stop being children at the age of 6 or so, and therefore don’t start being smallish grown-ups at that juncture, either.

The Emergence of Student Voice Research

In 1992, Erikson and Shultz observe: “virtually no research has been done that places student experience at the center of attention”.

In another line of thought, how well researched are the teachers’ experiences of the curriculum and the teachers’ view of what the students both are and should be experiencing?

“It seems ironic that we require young people to attend high school, and yet we know relatively little about what they think of the place.” (Compared to research, a student of students could probably learn a lot more from the music kids listen to and the poetry they enjoy–seriously)

Youth Voice on School Organization, School Policies, and School Reform

Wilson and Corbett: “If substantial reforms to improve what and how much students learn actually occur in schools, then students’ descriptions of their classroom experiences should reflect those changes. Reform, in other words, should become noticeable in what students say about school”. This, to me, raises the issue that is of ultimate importance in the search for true reform: accountability.

Youth Voice on Participating in the Civic Process of Education

So, in keeping with my last sentence up there, there are studies that focus on what students learn through being a part of processes designed to take their voices into account. Yay!

Youth Voice on the Relationship among Community, Culture, and Schooling

Exploring the youth voice on other topics is done, with what students think about school being a part of the narrative when it organically happens.

Youth Voice on Teaching and Learning

Teachers obviously would love a glimpse inside their students’ heads, to find out what they think about their educational experience, and what they are feeling, in order to both accomplish curriculum goals and find out what strategies were working to achieve those goals.

What Do Youth Have To Say About Their Curricular Experiences?

Boring, Boring, Boring

“The pervasiveness of student testimony describing boredom and disengagement with school-related tasks is alarming, because learning depends on active engagement.”

This, to me, is probably the crux of the matter and speaks to what I have found endemic to the school system at large. While a grounding in the liberal arts is important and useful for many reasons; all “subjects” are connected and it is critical to see from differing perspectives, there is no reason (other than something lame and lazy like logistics) that I can understand for why students can’t choose to study that which interests and engages them the most, starting from a relatively young age. Let’s say towards the end of middle school, halfway through 7th grade maybe, students get to choose one of the main subjects (English, Math, Science) for a central focus, and maybe two or three “electives” they would like to study in depth. Now, I still think that English, Math, and Science would need to be taught for several more years…but how much value is gained from causing this problematic boredom, or from learning a bunch of stuff one is never going to use in one’s career? (I need statistics, but not advanced math for anything, really; and they don’t even teach statistics until late in college-depending on one’s major). In so many conversations I have bemoaned the loss of the apprenticeship. Whatever happened to learning how to do one thing you wanted to do really really well, and what is the harm in that, anyway? (Yes, I know, children didn’t often choose who their masters were…still!)

“although schooling is marked by grandiose, humane rhetoric and lofty aspirations, there is a huge gap between such promulgations and what is experienced by students in classrooms” <–this is a good summary, to summarize it: they mean well, but they aren’t listening at all.

Here’s a fantastic quote: “The villain is the organization that has shaped students’ experience by denying their involvement in basic educational processes and relegated them ‘to the position of watchers, waiters, order-followers, and passive-receptacles for the depositing of disconnected bits of information’.”

Hmmm…the idea of imagining the schools as shopping malls driven by consumer choice, with the theme of treaties in effect where while there are any number of goals, purposes, and expectations, the teachers and students accommodate one another to promote mutual goals and keep peace is an interesting one. Too much capitalism and individualism by far, to my way of thinking. Apparently the treaties are not explicit. “The impact of these treaties is that they legislate a mandate against intensity in the classroom experience”. Doesn’t that sort of defeat the concept of getting students actively engaged…what’s a little uproar in exchange for serious interest and application, anyway?

A few related quotes: “More than anything else voiced by students throughout the research, boredom in the classroom infects the experienced curriculum. Only by listening carefully to the qualities and causes of this disengagement can educators consider how the intended curriculum–and more important, its dialogical implementation–needs to change”.

“Smagorinsky’s studies on classroom literacy practices emphasize that teachers face great challenges in constructing classroom environments conducive to engaging diverse students in meaningful transactions with text.” And on the flip side…, “even the most conducive context can be resisted by students whose goals do not include having rich transactions with texts or becoming engaged with school”. This of course brings up a point already made in this chapter about considering the students’ experiences (and expectations) outside of school. If one is thinking all day about how they plan to get their little brother from school and avoid negative situations, and make dinner, for instance, it can be hard to focus on math formulas (to say the least).

Relationships Matter

It has been determined that students value teachers based on how caring they perceive the teacher to be. “They define caring as “acting in the best interests of others” and suggest that students intuitively understand which teachers demonstrate their caring by holding students to high standards and by “refusing to allow them to fail”.”

It is noted that there is a positive relationship between a positive student-teacher dynamic and feelings of school-belonging, and increased academic motivation and achievement. More research points to “the often critical need for nonparental adults to take a sustained interest in teenagers’ lives; as adolescents undergo transitions of social definition (including and emerging sense of autonomy and changes in interpersonal, political, economic, and legal status), they simultaneously undergo significant transformations in family relationships. These transformations are complex, but studies do suggest that many adolescent-parent relationships experience an increase in conflict and a decrease in closeness.”

“the connection to a caring adult proved to be the most important developmental influence for students”.

Cushman’s research revealed that the students found their relationships with the teachers to be the most important in making learning possible, with little focus on curriculum or assessment.

What Can Student Voice Contribute To Literacy Efforts?

So far, they are bored in class, and they need significant relationships.

Emerging themes: “Focus more on classroom dialogue and focus on connectedness.”

Pupil consultation: “defined as “the action of taking counsel together; deliberation or conference” …which suggests that the parties involved in the consultation process have been invited to contribute because they have relevant and important views and information to share” In other words: use collaboration instead of dictatorial methods as those experiencing a method are arguably the best fit in many ways to analyze its effects.

Focus More on Classroom Dialogue

Students favor a teacher that facilitates conversation, thereby enhancing connectedness. “Other youth explain that not only do they want more dialogue, but they yearn for classroom conversation that explores questions of central purpose and meaning in their lives.” I have often maintained (though it depends on the age group at times-of course), that kids do better if you treat them as though capable of understanding deeper contexts and concepts than you thought they could. They aren’t fully critical-thinking, complexly-abstracting adults, per se, but they have valuable contributions that should not be ignored. Otherwise how are they going to come to full understanding, whereupon they start asking the right questions and pondering some reasonable solutions? How do you expect them to be ethical, responsible members of society as adults if you don’t teach them how? Here’s a case for lead by example. I love the idea of more dialogue. Honestly, how awesome is the lesson that we each have a viewpoint and that while not all ideas are necessarily equal in practicality, nor thought all the way through necessarily, we should all listen to one another and consider differing perspectives? Fairly amazing, if you ask me. And yet, “although moral and existential issues arise frequently, they are most often shut down immediately”. Argh!

Focus on Connectedness

“They experience the school day as a series of disconnected classes with little coherence or overarching narrative and describe feeling almost no pleasure in their learning.” This is accomplished in two ways, according to the students: they feel a general sense that the curriculum doesn’t relate to who they are, and they claim that the grind of school renders them unable to derive any intrinsic interest in classroom learning. Obviously, there’s a lot at play in these situations. Teachers are not well compensated and stuck in the system just as the students are in many respects; students have issues beyond the classroom setting affecting their school experience, most of which are ignored despite their obvious contribution to the educational processes. This brings me back to my idea of restructuring courses around students interests, but I am also back to the big picture of what is wrong with society’s treatment of children. It isn’t easy to get to school and be actively engaged when you are hungry, tired, abused, or even homeless. Many things experienced by adolescents are symptomatic of larger issues society as a whole experiences. But I digress. Sigh.

In another personal (sort of) aside, I find on further reflection (more on this in my memoir, I’m sure) that I could be characterized as a student that learned to “do school”. I was rarely asked for my opinion on anything and disengaged in the sense that I saw school as a means to an end. What that end entailed, I have no recollection…but I have always genuinely enjoyed learning (its intrinsic in my personality and in the sense that it’s its own reward). I don’t recall very many “passionate” discussions. Now, I can see where a teacher would want to keep things in the classroom calm…but that is impossible if you are discussing real problems and the students are actually engaged. Seems like misguided practice, to me.

Focus on Higher-Order Thinking

What’s this?! Students like to be forced to think, and like a challenge? Inconceivable! Okay, sorry. I fully respect science and research (more than most, probably), but sometimes I wish there was more common sense in the world. Would an adult be pleased with a puzzle (of any sort) they could solve immediately with little to no effort? Of course not. So what makes us think students want to be spoon-fed information and concepts? It’s a model for disaster, ultimately. (Though it has its uses when you want a uniform body of information imparted to a large number of people…)

Give Us Choices and Build in Flexibility

“Students need opportunity to create their own meaningful connections to school, a process that can be cultivated by giving choices so that students can create bridges between their personal interests and situations and the curriculum.” When there are “deep engagement and engrossment”, “[t]he work the student did in designing her project is described by the researchers as flexible, open-ended within the parameters of a general design task, collaborative, and informed by continual feedback from peers and audiences”.

Promote Opportunities for Students to Go Public with Their Work in Meaningful Ways

Capitalizing on pride, at least in part, I am thinking. How many students write what they think the teacher wants to hear, at a level designed to get them the lowest acceptable grade (to them) on the assignment? Much as I hate it, peer review is another tactic to make connections to one’s work beyond the teacher’s desk. More importantly students are describing that they’re “doing work that brings them into contact with the outside community [and it] makes the academic work feel more real”.

Weaving Together Student Voice and Teacher Wisdom

“What students seek–and what they need to grow as learners and people–is a dialogical encounter with adults.” This involves not only dialogue, “but also drawing upon their own professional wisdom and experience to connect what students already care about with the important growth and learning they need”.

“In order to understand adolescents today or in any era, adults must be willing to provide time and space to listen to what kids have to tell them.”

Words I don’t know or their misuse bothers me:

congener – a whole (a thing or person) of the same kind or category as another

dialogicalof, pertaining to, or characterized by dialogue.

iterative – relating to or involving a single execution of a set of instructions that are to be repeated


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