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Communication patterns of learner-centered teachers

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Communication patterns of learner-centered teachers
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McCord, James Russell
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English
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xii, 214 leaves : ; 28 cm

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Communication in education -- Case studies -- Colorado -- Denver ( lcsh )
Classroom environment -- Case studies -- Colorado -- Denver ( lcsh )
Teacher-student relationships ( lcsh )
Interaction analysis in education ( lcsh )
Classroom environment ( fast )
Communication in education ( fast )
Interaction analysis in education ( fast )
Teacher-student relationships ( fast )
Colorado -- Denver ( fast )
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Case studies. ( fast )
bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )
Case studies ( fast )

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Bibliography:
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 201-214).
General Note:
School of Education and Human Development
Statement of Responsibility:
by James Russell McCord.

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University of Colorado Denver
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Auraria Library
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41470901 ( OCLC )
ocm41470901
Classification:
LD1190.E3 1998d .M36 ( lcc )

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Full Text
COMMUNICATION PATTERNS OF LEARNER-CENTERED TEACHERS
by
James Russell McCord
B.A., Colorado State University, 1986
M.A., University of Colorado at Denver, 1993
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy
Education
1998


This Thesis for the Doctor of Philosophy
degree by
James Russell McCord
has been approved
by
Linda Damon
fhnrU^
Laura Goodwin
----~2y7,dL-e^
Barbara McCombs
Ellen Stevens


McCord, James Russell (Ph.D., Education)
Communication Patterns of Leamer-Centered Teachers
Thesis directed by Professor Alan Davis
ABSTRACT
The purpose of this study was to identify three middle level learner-
centered teachers and collect, describe and analyze the content of their
classroom interpersonal verbal communication. The study was an
examination of the content of verbal communicative patterns utilized by three
learner-centered teachers in two suburban Denver schools. The guiding
question of the study was: What are the characteristics of interpersonal
verbal communication of teachers who are perceived as learner-centered by
students?
The study proceeded in two phases. In the first phase, teachers were
identified for observation through use of a survey instrument, the Learner
Centered Battery (McCombs et al., 1997). In the second phase, the
identified teachers were observed and videotaped and the content of their
verbal interactions with students was analyzed to reveal patterns of verbal
communicative interactions. This study explored the content of verbal
communication of teachers who were distinguished by their students as
learner-centered.
in


The study revealed insight into the characteristics of verbal
communicative patterns of teachers who practice a learner-centered
philosophical approach to their teaching. The communicative interactions
were transcribed and coded using domains of practice considered to be
indicative of learner-centered teaching. Four of the domains emerged from
review of the literature pertaining to learner-centered teaching and three of
the domains emerged from data analysis.
The data indicates the communication of learner-centered teachers is
not generic in nature and communication is very unique and influenced by a
teachers individual style and personality. The cross case findings of the
three teachers verbal communicative interactions indicate the three
perceived learner-centered teachers establish and maintain strong
relationships with students, encourage higher order thinking skills, are
supportive, encouraging, and caring and are unique in their approaches.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates thesis. I
recommend its publication. I f\
Signed <7
Alan Davis


CONTENTS
Tables ........................................................xii
CHAPTER
1. INTRODUCTION.................................................1
Design of the Study........................................5
Research Question..........................................8
Significance of the Study..................................8
Overview of Chapters.......................................9
2. REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE
Introduction..............................................11
Students Perceptions An Overview.......................11
Students Perceptions of Teachers and Teachers Practices.16
Student Perceptions Differ From Teacher Perceptions...18
Utilizing Student Perceptions to Improve Teaching.....19
Variety Within Students Perceptions..................21
Accuracy of Student Perceptions.......................22
The Learner-Centered Classroom............................25
Student Perceptions Within Learner-Centered
Classrooms............................................28
Multiple Learning Styles Within the Classroom.........29
v


The Effective Learner-Centered Teacher..................30
Utilizing Student Perceptions in Learner-Centered
Classrooms..............................................31
Classroom/Environment Interaction............................35
Interpersonal Relationships Within the Classroom.............37
Classroom Communication Between Teachers and Students.......39
Summary......................................................44
3. METHODS
Introduction.................................................46
Research Question............................................47
Identifying Teachers for Observation.........................47
The Learner-Centered Classroom and Teacher..............48
Validation Process of the Learner Centered Battery -
Phase One...............................................50
Validation Process of the Learner Centered Battery -
Phase Two...............................................51
Survey Data Collection.......................................52
The Eleven Participating Teachers Individual Survey
Results.................................................54
Results for the Survey Cohort...........................57
Selection of the Three Teachers for Observation..............59
Observation and Data Collection..............................61
Data Analysis................................................63
The Four Domains of Learner-Centered Practices...............66
Domain One: Creates Positive Interpersonal Relationships.....67
VI


Is Supportive and Encouraging............................75
Conveys Caring for the Students..........................75
Treats Students With Respect.............................76
Domain Two: Honors Student Voice.............................77
Allows Students to Express Their Own Thoughts and
Beliefs..................................................77
Encourages Students to Examine Other Points of View.....77
Encourages Students to Develop Their Own Ideas and
Opinions.................................................78
Domain Three: Encourages Higher Order Thinking...............78
Helps Students Organize Their Learning...................78
Pushes Students to Think Through What They Are
Learning.................................................79
Helps Students Connect Past Learning to Present Ideas...80
Allows Students to Direct Their Own Learning.............80
Domain Four: Adapts to Individual Differences................81
Supports Students in Pursuing Their Interests............81
Adapts Assignments to Fit the Students Differing
Learning Styles..........................................82
Gets to Know the Students and Their Backgrounds..........82
Pattern of Functional Language One: Influences
Student Behavior.............................................83
Pattern of Functional Language Two: Uses Humor...............84
Pattern of Functional Language Three: Uses Flexibility.......84
Inter-Coder Agreement........................................85
VII


Development of Classroom Portraits and
Cross-Case Analysis.........................................88
4. RESEARCH FINDINGS: JULIE HENSON
Introduction................................................90
Julie Henson, 8th Grade Language Arts Teacher..............92
The Four Domains of Learner-Centered Practices.............95
Domain One: Creates Positive Interpersonal Relationships....95
Is Supportive and Encouraging...........................95
Conveys Caring for the Students.........................98
Treats Students With Respect...........................100
Domain Two: Honors Student Voice...........................101
Domain Three: Encourages Higher Order Thinking.............103
Helps Students Organize Their Learning.................103
Pushes Students to Think Through What They Are
Learning...............................................105
Helps Students Connect Past Learning to Present Ideas...106
Allows Students to Direct Their Own Learning...........106
Domain Four: Adapts to Individual Differences..............109
Supports Students in Pursuing Their Interests..........109
Adapts Assignments to Fit the Students Differing
Learning Styles........................................111
Gets to Know the Students and Their Backgrounds........112
Pattern of Functional Language One: Influencing Student
Behavior...................................................114
Pattern of Functional Language Two: Uses Humor.............115


Pattern of Functional Language Three: Uses Flexibility......116
5. RESEARCH FINDINGS: MARK LENIGER
Mark Leniger, 8th Grade Geography Teacher...................118
The Four Domains of Learner-Centered Practices..............121
Domain One: Creates Positive Interpersonal Relationships....121
Is Supportive and Encouraging..........................121
Conveys Caring for the Students........................123
Treats Students With Respect...........................125
Domain Two: Honors Student Voice............................125
Domain Three: Encourages Higher Order Thinking..............127
Helps Students Organize Their Learning.................127
Pushes Students to Think Through What They are
Learning................................................127
Helps Students Connect Past Learning to Present Ideas...130
Allows Students to Direct Their Own Learning...........131
Domain Four: Adapts to Individual Differences...............133
Supports Students in Pursuing Their Interests...........133
Adapts Assignments to Fit the Students Differing
Learning Styles.........................................135
Gets to Know the Students and Their Backgrounds........136
Pattern of Functional Language One: Influencing Student
Behavior.....................................................136
Pattern of Functional Language Two: Uses Humor...............138
Pattern of Functional Language Three: Uses Flexibility.......139
IX


6. RESEARCH FINDINGS: BEV SEMORE
Bev Semore, 8th Grade Language Arts Teacher...............141
The Four Domains of Learner-Centered Practices............143
Domain One: Creates Positive Interpersonal Relationships..143
Is Supportive and Encouraging.........................143
Conveys Caring for the Students......................144
Treats Students With Respect..........................146
Domain Two: Honors Student Voice...........................147
Allows Students to Express Their Own Thoughts and
Beliefs...............................................148
Encourages Students to Examine Other Points of View 148
Encourages Students to Develop Their Own Ideas and
Opinions..............................................150
Domain Three: Encourages Higher Order Thinking.............152
Helps Students Organize Their Learning................152
Pushes Students to Think Through What They Are
Learning..............................................154
Helps Students Connect Past Learning to Present Ideas...155
Allows Students to Direct Their Own Learning..........156
Domain Four: Adapts to Individual Differences..............157
Supports Students in Pursuing Their Interests.........157
Adapts Assignments to Fit the Students Differing
Learning Styles.......................................158
Gets to Know the Students and Their Backgrounds......158
x


Pattern of Functional Language One: Influencing Student
Behavior...................................................159
Pattern of Functional Language Two: Uses Humor............160
Pattern of Functional Language Three: Uses Flexibility....161
7. INTERPRETATIONS AND IMPLICATIONS
Introduction...............................................163
Cross Case Findings........................................164
Domain One: Creates Positive Interpersonal Relationships..167
Domain Two: Honors Student Voice...........................170
Domain Three: Encourages Higher Order Thinking.............173
Domain Four: Adapts to Individual Differences..............177
Pattern of Functional Language One: Influences
Student Behavior...........................................179
Pattern of Functional Language Two: Uses Humor.............181
Pattern of Functional Language Three: Uses Flexibility.....183
Discussion of the Cross Case Findings......................184
Implications of the Research...............................187
Limitations of the Study...................................188
Areas of Further Research..................................191
APPENDIX
A. STUDENT SURVEY AND RELATED INFORMATION.....................193
B. PERMISSION FORMS...........................................198
BIBLIOGRAPHY.........................................................201
XI


TABLES
Table
3.1 Learner-Centered Principles: Student Assessment of
Classroom.................................................56
3.2 Comparison of National Validation Sample Data to Top Five
Teachers Survey Results..................................58
3.3 Rank Order of Composite Scores in the Four
Learner-Centered Domains..................................60
3.4 Domain Coding Chart.......................................68
7.1 Domain Coding Count and Percentages for the Three
Teachers.................................................166


CHAPTER 1
INTRODUCTION
The purpose of teaching is to bring about as much individual student
learning as possible. Effective teachers produce high levels of learning in
each of their students. The difficulty often lies in the inability of teachers to
teach in ways which meet all of the diverse needs that individuals bring into
the classroom. Though often very difficult to conceptualize and implement,
current educational views stress the need for teachers to adapt their
teaching approaches to meet the diverse needs of all students.
Students actively interpret their learning experiences within the
classroom through an accumulation of their past learning experiences and
anticipated expectations. Students who feel empowered to control or
actively engage in their classroom experiences will often experience higher
learning gains than those without active engagement in their classroom
learning (Schunk & Meece, 1992). Teachers who have a focus on
empowering the students and actively engaging students in their learning
are learner-centered teachers (McCombs & Whisler, 1997; National Board of
Professional Teaching Standards, 1990).
Learner-centered classrooms and teachers often transcend
curriculum or lesson format to focus on maximizing the learning of each
individual student. In learner-centered classrooms a rich learning
1


experience centered on the students beliefs and perspectives rather than
the teachers beliefs and perspectives is created. The learner-centered
classroom focuses on learning and the learner rather than on delivering
instruction or covering the curriculum (Darling-Hammond, 1992, p. 9).
Good learner-centered teachers take each learners unique perspective
seriously and realize that a comprehensive understanding of the student as
a whole person are essential for sound teaching and learning processes
(McCombs & Whisler, 1997; Lave and Wenger, 1995). The ultimate goal of
the excellent learner-centered classroom is always a focus on heightened
student learning.
According to McCombs and Whisler (1997), a classroom which
operates according to the principles of a learner-centered philosophy should
result in students higher levels of learning, achievement and actualized
potential than non learner-centered classrooms. A learner-centered
classroom is effective because teachers create and maintain positive
interpersonal relationships, honor students voice, encourage students to
think and reason and work with individual student differences. In other
words, learner-centered teachers strive to enhance learning using excellent
teaching practices coupled with a comprehensive understanding of each
students background, abilities and expectations. Many teaching
approaches, including the learner-centered approach, can result in learning
gains; however one significant problem to meeting the individual needs of
the students, and thus producing learning, is the fact that students often
perceive the classroom strikingly differently than the teacher.
2


Teachers and students do not always have concurring perceptions of
what is happening within the classroom a factor that may influence the
students learning (Hargreaves, 1975; Phillips et al., 1974; Fraser &
Treagust, 1986). Teachers may believe they are very learner-centered in
their practices but the students may not have similar perceptions. Teachers
often see themselves as better communicators and more effective teachers
than the students (Norton, 1977). These differences in perceptions can have
a profound impact upon the classroom because it is the students
perceptions which are most closely tied to learning, yet it is the teachers
perceptions which generally dictate the happenings within the classroom.
Researchers have studied student perceptions that have influence on
students learning such as perceptions of their abilities, the tasks they
engage in, the interests they hold, their motivation, their teachers, etc. The
research indicates that the perceptions students have are more powerful
indicators of learning than the perceptions their teachers have regarding
similar items (Schunk & Meece, 1992; Newman & Schwager, 1992; Ames,
1992; Allen, 1983). In other words, a students perceptions, more than a
teachers perceptions, influence his/her motivation and subsequent learning.
Educators must understand the learners reality in order to maximize the
learning potential of the learner. Thus, teachers who wish to improve the
learning of their students, possibly through learner-centered approaches,
would be well served to use their students perceptions of learner-centered
classroom activities and teaching as a basis from which to examine their
classroom.
3


Additionally, researching certain characteristics of classrooms which
are perceived as learner-centered by students would prove valuable for any
teacher wishing to become learner-centered. In particular, there is a need to
understand how teachers communicate with students within learner-
centered classrooms. At the heart of a good learning environment, where a
teacher effectively teaches and a student profoundly learns, is excellent
communication. A students educational experience is dependent upon the
communication he/she receives and perceives. Because the teacher and
students do not always have concurring perceptions of what is transpiring
within the classroom, is important to base a study of teachers
communication on the perceptions of students.
Communication within the classroom is essential for learning;
however, the processes of communication are very complex. Hills (1986)
notes, If teaching were merely a matter of communicating the content of a
course to a student without worrying too much about what happens at the
student end, ...lecture might be considered to be an ideal way [of teaching]
(p. 13). Teachers interpersonal communication is instrumental in the
students perceptions of the teacher, classroom environment and learning.
If a students perceptions of the learning environment are greatly influenced
by the communication of the teacher, it becomes important to study the
content of teacher verbal communication. Clearly, communication is a very
complex human process not easily understood or studied; however
researching the content of teachers communication may help provide a
glimpse into the complexity of communication. This study will center on the
4


content of verbal communication of teachers who were perceived to be
learner-centered by their students. Examining verbal communication of
three learner-centered teachers will provide models from which teachers
who wish to adopt the learner-centered approaches can learn.
Design of the Study
The purpose of this study was to identify three learner-centered
teachers and then collect, describe and analyze the content of the classroom
interpersonal verbal communication used by the teachers. The methods
and procedures I incorporated to conduct the research were a combination
of quantitative and qualitative approaches. The combination of qualitative
and quantitative methods in studies were important for several reasons.
Fraser & Tobin (1991) write:
First, the complementarity of qualitative
observational data and quantitative classroom
environment data add to the richness of the data
base as a whole. Second, the use of classroom
environment questionnaires provides an important
source of students views of their classrooms...
Third, through a triangulation of quantitative
classroom climate data and qualitative information,
greater credibility can be placed in
findings...Clearly, a confluence of qualitative and
quantitative methods is a desirable future direction
for research on learning environments (p. 290).
First, the inquiry sought, by use of a survey, to evaluate teaching
practices that were learner-centered from the perspective of 8th grade
language arts and social studies students. The survey was referred to as the
5


Learner Centered Battery (LCB) and was developed and analyzed to obtain
estimates of reliability and validity by McCombs, Lauer & Peralez (1997).
The Learner Centered Battery yielded data on how students perceive their
teachers practices in four domains of learner-centered practices: (a)
develops strong interpersonal relationships, (b) honors student voice, (c)
encourages higher-order thinking and (d) adapts to individual differences.
Additionally, survey data were collected on the students perceived difficulty,
challenge and learning within the class. I utilized students perceptions of
the teachers classroom practices because it is through the active perceiving
and interpreting of teachers actions by students that those actions effect
learning (Wittrock, 1986). The intent of the survey was to identify teachers,
as perceived by their students, who fit a previously developed, researched
based, definition of learner-centered (McCombs & Whisler, 1997).
Second, upon identifying three teachers who were perceived to be
learner-centered, I observed and videotaped the classrooms of these
teachers to collect data on the content of teachers verbal communication
with their students. The intent of this data gathering process was to capture
naturally occurring daily verbal interactions which take place within the
context of a learner-centered classroom. The research had a primary goal of
describing, as naturally as possible, the content of communicative
interactions within an educational milieu of a classroom. This study was not
a confirmatory study that focused on confirming the presence of learner-
centered practices; rather, it was descriptive in that it described the content
of the teachers verbal exchanges within the student perceived leamer-
6


centered classrooms.
Third, the data were used to determine if the content of
communicative interactions matched the ideal of what a learner-centered
teacher should practice. Learner-centered teachers work from a theoretical
stance (though they may not be aware) that emphasizes an in-depth
understanding of their students, both collectively and individually, which
promotes the highest levels of learning for their students. A more detailed
definition of learner-centered is provided in Chapter Two. The learner-
centered teacher should employ a core philosophy which results in excellent
communication within the classroom and heightened learning for his/her
students. A framework which was developed to help describe and analyze
the content was developed using the four domains of practice assessed
through the student perception survey. These four domains provided
preexisting categories which helped identify examples of verbal
communication which were clearly representative of the domains. The four
domains did not provide a framework which allowed for most of the
examples of verbal communication to be categorized; thus, three additional
categories of verbal communicative patterns were created to allow for most
of the verbal communicative interactions to be categorized. These
additional categories brought to light specific communicative interactions not
bounded by the learner-centered theory, yet utilized by the teachers in
creating and fostering a learner-centered classroom. Thus, the research
process of adequately detailing the content of the verbal exchanges
necessitated the development of grounded theory. A description of the four
7


preexisting domains of leamer-centeredness, the additional threo patterns
created from grounded theory and specific descriptors of verbal
communication which represent the seven domains is detailed in Chapter
Three.
Research Question
The central question of the study was: What are the characteristics of
interpersonal verbal communication of teachers who are perceived by their
students as learner-centered? A detailed list of characteristics I searched for
and coded was derived from the four domains of learner-centered practices
assessed through the LCB survey and a profile of a learner-centered
teacher's practices as outlined by McCombs and Whisler (1997).
Additionally, information from the 1990 National Board of Professional
Teacher Standards publication was utilized to help provide the framework.
Three other patterns were created to allow for much of the verbal
communicative interactions to be categorized.
Significance of the Study
There are numerous factors which make this study significant. First,
grounding the study in students perceptions of effective learner-centered
teachers practices places the study in a unique position to help understand
the students perspective. As Turley notes (1995, p. 6) By listening to the
voices of students it is hoped that professionals in the field of education such
as researchers, staff developers, teacher educators and classroom teachers
8


will become more sensitive to the perceptions of the students for and with
whom they work. Second, exploring data on the content of the
interpersonal communicative language of a learner-centered teacher will
help educators understand the content of communication which leads
students to perceive the establishment of a learner-centered classroom.
Third, practical information pertaining to purposeful communication, gleaned
from the research, will help classroom teachers understand effective ways in
which to communicate with their students. Research in education is
conducted for numerous purposes. One purpose for conducting educational
research is to discover how to heighten student learning. This research will
provide insight into how to improve student and teacher communication
which may result in heightened student learning.
Overview of Chapters
Chapter Two reviews the literature relevant to the concerns of this
study. There are three focus areas of literature explored in Chapter Two.
First, an exploration of students perceptions of their classroom experiences
and teachers practices is discussed. Second, the theoretical frame for
learner-centered teachers, practices and classrooms is included. Third, a
discussion of verbal communication within the context of a classroom is
explored.
Chapter Three describes the design of the study. The first phase of
the study is explained and the sorting process for determining the three
teachers chosen for the focus of phase two of the study is detailed. All
9


I
pertinent data utilized to determine the three teachers observed and
videotaped are included. An explanation of the data collection, data
description and data analysis for phase two of the research is also included.
Limitations of the study are identified.
Presentation of data gathered from observations and videotaping are
offered in Chapters Four, Five and Six. Each chapter is a presentation of
data from each of the three teachers: Chapter Four contains data on Julie
Henson, Chapter Five contains data on Mark Leniger and Chapter Six
contains data on Bev Semore. The data are presented utilizing the four
domains of practice framed by learner-centered theory as well as three
additional domains gleaned from analysis of the data. Each teacher is
profiled with an emphasis on presenting verbal exchanges which fit patterns
of communication present within their classrooms.
Chapter Seven contains an analysis of the general findings from the
study. The content of the three teachers verbal interactions are described
and analyzed using the seven domains as a framework. Also included is a
discussion of the cross case findings, implications of the research and
limitations of the study. Additionally, areas of further research are explored
and a summary concludes the chapter.
10


CHAPTER 2
REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE
Introduction
This review of the literature is divided into three focus areas. First, an
examination of perceptions students hold regarding their classroom
environments and their teachers practices is explored. Second, literature
pertaining to the learner-centered approach to learning and teaching is
examined. Third, information related to communication within the classroom
is investigated.
Students Perceptions An Overview
Piaget (1954) believed that healthy humans from infancy are active
participants in learning about, and constructing, views of the social world
they encounter. Students thoughts and actions are directly related to their
perceptions of their environment as they are constantly reassessing their
environment in order to make decisions on behavior and attitude (Gorham,
1987). Because student perceptions of their classroom environment can be
powerfully influential, over the past decade the number of studies examining
students perceptions of their classroom experiences have increased
dramatically (Schunk & Meece, 1992). Students perceptions can refer to a
variety of things such as what individual messages students perceive they
11


receive, what students evaluate is going on within their classrooms both with
the teacher and their peers, and their perceptions of how they, as students,
control their learning. Students perceive the same classroom differently;
thus, it is important to investigate the variety of student perceptions to help
educators better understand their students.
Numerous studies have examined a wide variety of influences on and
consequences of students perceptions. Some studies center on the
students self-perceptions that include perceptions of students own abilities,
self-concepts, affect, goals, competence, effort, interests, attitudes, values
and emotions (Schunk & Meece, 1992; Pintrich & Schrauben, 1992;
Zimmerman & Martinez-Pons, 1992; Meece & Courtney, 1992; Hackett &
Betz, 1992; Kicht, 1992; Wentzel, 1992; Weiner, 1983; Wang, 1983; Entwisle
& Hayduk, 1983; Brophy, 1987; Dodge, Asher & Parkhurst, 1989). Also,
researchers have looked at the perceptions of students regarding tasks and
other classroom factors that influence their learning (Schunk & Meece, 1992;
Newman & Schwager, 1992; Ames, 1992; Slaven, 1983; Allen, 1983).
Much research had indicated that student perceptions account for
appreciable amounts of variance in learning outcomes, often beyond that
attributable to background student characteristics (Fraser, 1989).
Researchers have examined the social perceptions students hold
regarding their peers abilities, self concepts, goals, (Bemdt & Keefe, 1992)
as well as perceptions of various qualities of teachers such as attitudes,
competence, opinions, etc. (Schunk & Meece, 1992; Bemdt & Keefe, 1992;
Graham & Hudley, 1992; Wigfield & Harold, 1992; Nicholls, 1992;
12


Jagacinski, 1992; Levine, 1983; Wubbels & Levy, 1993; McCombs &
Whisler, 1997; Schunk, 1989). Additionally, studies have searched for the
influences interpersonal communication and behavior in the classroom have
upon students perceptions (Levy, Creton & Wubbels, 1993; Brekelmans,
Wubbels & levy, 1993; Wubbels, Brekelmans & Hooymayers, 1993; Fisher,
Fraser & Wubbels, 1993; Wittrock, 1986). Students have powerful
perceptions of their classroom environment and factors such as teachers,
layout, materials, learning strategies, etc., have influence upon their
perceptions (Schunk & Meece, 1992). An overview of research on student
perceptions shows that a number of studies on various topics have
examined perceptions students hold and that these perceptions have an
impact on the totality of the students experience within the educational
environment and subsequent behavior resulting from their perceptions
(Weinstein, 1983; Maehr, 1989).
Researchers have studied students perceptions to find connections
or influences between perceptions and motivation (Pintrich & Schrauben,
1992; Wentzel, 1992; Ames, 1992; Lepper, 1983; Pittman, Boggiano &
Ruble, 1983; deCharms, 1983; McCombs & Whisler, 1997). These
researchers argue that if student perceptions affect motivation, this in turn
may influence student achievement. Pintrich and Schrauben (1992) posit
that perceptions influence the three general aspects of individuals
motivated behavior: (a) what activities they choose to become involved in,
(b) the level of intensity in which they engage in an activity and (c) their
persistence at the activity (p. 150). Ames (1992) believes a student who
13


perceives in the classroom environment a sense of mastery goal orientation
will be more motivated to achieve learning goals than a student who does
not perceive a sense of mastery goal orientation within the classroom
environment. Research indicates there are powerful connections between
students perceptions and their motivational processing (Lepper, 1983;
Schunk & Meece, 1992). In other words, a students perceptions can have a
powerful influence upon his/her motivation and subsequent learning.
Research conducted on students perceptions has also dealt with
attributions students hold regarding their experiences (Weiner, 1983;
Weiner, 1992; Sweet, 1997; Wittrock, 1986). A students attribution is his/her
perception of what influences an event in his/her life. In attribution theory,
success must be perceived to be caused to a large extent by student effort,
or other student processes, under the control of the student and having
influence upon learning outcomes (Wittrock, 1886). Students must perceive
the causal relation between their effort and their success or failure in school.
Students also hold attributions about others behavior as a way of making
sense of ones social environment (Levine & Wang, 1983). They hold
attributions about how their behavior influences their environment,
experiences and outcomes in school. Weinstein (1986) and Maehr (1989),
believe it is the students perceptions of attributions that are the influential
elements of achievement. In other words, if students perceive they have
have influence over what is happening within the classroom, they are
inclined to believe they have control over their achievement within the
classroom. These researchers conclude that student perceptions and
14


interpretations of their perceptions are powerful influences on student
performance. They focus on student perceptions of ability and teachers
perceptions of students ability and how teachers and students influence
each other in this regard. They do not, however, examine the perceptions
students hold about teachers abilities, communication, or actions and how
this might influence their attributional process in evaluating their
experiences in school. Berliner (1989) explains:
It is the tasks that students perceive that determines what
they will do. It is not the tasks that a teacher or researcher
sets that is nearly as important. Teachers and researchers
must keep in mind that the most important version of reality is
not the task we think we set for students (nor, as in
Weinsteins work, is it the communication we think we direct
to students), rather, the important version of reality is the
students perception of the task (p. 326)
Students cannot have perceptions of experience in isolation. Lave
and Wenger (1995) argue that the activities, tasks and understandings of
students do not occur in isolation but are meaningful only in the broader
systems of relations in which they are a part. One of the most powerful
influences on students perceptions is the teacher. Schunk (1992) noted
that it is clear that students perceptions of teachers affect classroom events.
Weinstein (1989) writes research on the perceptual process in general and
student perceptions in particular suggest that the perceptions of others
appears to be jointly determined both by the perceiver and by the person
who is the object of attention (p. 195). Students interpretations of teacher
behavior influence outcomes such as motivation, performance and behavior
15


(Brophy & Good, 1986; Crist-Witzel, 1981). A majority of studies on students
perceptions within the classroom are tied to their teachers practices (Good,
1983; Blumenfeld et. al., 1983; Cooper, 1983). Recent research on students
thought processes have examined the effects teachers and their instruction
has upon student perceptions (Wittrock,1986).
Students Perceptions of Teachers and Teachers Practices
At the center of the students perceptions of the classroom
environment is the teacher. Teachers have a profound impact on the
environment of the classroom and the subsequent experiences, perceptions
and/or learning of the student (Adams, 1971). Educational researchers have
amassed a substantial amount of information related to the efficacy of
teachers (Gorham, 1987; Turley, 1995). Teachers are evaluated throughout
their careers by administrators, colleagues and students; however, it is often
the people most affected by their teaching who are consulted the least about
the efficacy of their teaching students. One major stumbling block to the
use of students perceptions of their teachers practices to evaluate teachers
is that students are not often considered qualified evaluators of their
teachers performance. Fraser (1989) believes student perceptual
measures can have some advantages over observational techniques (such
as administrator evaluations):
First, paper-and-pencil perceptual measures are more
economical than classroom observation techniques, which
involve the expense of trained outside observers. Second,
perceptual measures are based on students experiences over
16


many lessons, with observational data usually restricted to a
very small number of lessons. Third, perceptual measures
involve the pooled judgments of all students in a class,
whereas observational techniques typically involve only a
single observer. Fourth, students perceptions, because they
are the determinants of student behavior more so than the real
situation, can be more important than observed behaviors.
Fifth, perceptual measures of classroom environment have
typically been found to account for considerably more variance
in student learning outcomes than have directly observed
variables (p. 309).
Though much of the teacher effectiveness line of research of recent
decades has looked at teacher qualities and methods teachers used, the
nature of the research methodology has excluded the students perspectives
from the analysis (Turley, 1995; Birkin, 1971). Student perceptions of what
is effective for their learning remained disregarded. Research provides little
support for most current teacher evaluation practices. Evaluation by
students may be more valid and reliable than observations by superiors
(Levin, 1979, p. 240). Therefore, teachers who desire a genuine reform of
their teaching should look to students for input. Fullan (1991) notes that
reform efforts generally exclude the students:
When adults do think of students, they think of them as
potential beneficiaries of change. They think of achievement
results, skills, attitudes and jobs. They rarefy think of students
as participants in a process of change and organizational lifd
(italics in original) (p. 170).
Many researchers and educators argue that an understanding of the
students perceptions of the teaching practices within the classroom can
lead to improved teaching and learning (McCombs & Whisler, 1997;
17


Higgins, Jenkins & Lewis, 1991; Rhodes, 1992; Turley, 1995; Crist-Witzel,
1979). As Gorham (1987) writes, By examining the students criteria for
teacher evaluation, teachers are able to broaden their existing base of
understanding as well as develop a greater perception of the complex
dynamics of the classroom" (p. 3). It is important for teachers to come to
know the world of school from the perspective of students because being
aware of students as active interpreters of the classroom events forces
teachers to examine the effects their own behavior has upon students.
Students are at a good vantage point to make judgments about classrooms
because they have experienced many different learning environments and
have enough time in a class to form accurate impressions (Fraser, 1989).
Gage (1971) found strong correlations between the scores of students on a
test of lesson comprehension and students ratings of their teachers
indicated that students were good judges of their own learning.
Unfortunately, even teachers who are largely cognizant of their students
perceptions do not always provide for them in practice. A teacher who is
willing to provide for student evaluations and voice usually must give up a
certain amount of control over instructional methods (Vatterott, 1995; and
Theobald, 1995; Fraser, 1989; Sweet, 1997). However, giving up some
control is worth it because if teachers listen to student voices, it can help
teachers find their own voices (Lincoln, 1995).
Student Perceptions Differ From Teacher Perceptions
In his extensive review of research on teacher evaluations by
18


students, Levin (1979) found that interpretations of the teachers behavior by
the students often are markedly different than what the teacher believes
he/she is intending (Levin, 1979). Fraser (1989), in his review of 20 years of
classroom climate research, concludes that teachers perceive a more
positive classroom environment than students. Weinstein (1989) argues that
ultimately it is the students perceptions that are the influential element on
achievement. Turley (1995) concludes from his dissertation research that
researchers and practitioners are compelled to listen to the voices of
students in the attempt to understand learner perceptions of what teachers
do (p. 33). It appears that the teachers perceptions of classroom
happenings are not entirely sufficient for a clear understanding of what is
happening within the classroom. Understanding students perceptions are
necessary to capture a more complete picture of classroom happenings.
Utilizing Student Perceptions to Improve Teaching
The intent of gathering information on the students perceptions of the
teacher goes beyond mere description. The intent is to help teachers
improve their practice and outcomes by providing information about the
instruction as it is experienced by the learners (Wittrock, 1986) and providing
information on the decision-making of teachers for their instructional
delivery. Emmers (1981) points out that we have all experienced instruction
and know how a student feels but as quickly as a person assumes
adulthood, he tends to forget (p. 1). If we can recapture the perspective of
the child, it is easier to empathize with the students we teach (Kohn, 1993;
19


Canter & Canter, 1994; Javidi et al., 1988). Lincoln (1995) writes as many
competent teachers have found, students who are free to comment on their
lives can often do so, with minimal guidance, in compelling ways (p. 92).
Whether educators agree or disagree with students:
You cant deny that students have experiences and you cant
deny that these experiences are relevant to the learning
process even though you might say that these experiences are
limited, raw, impartial, or whatever... We can critically engage
that experience and we can move beyond it. But we cant deny
it (Giroux, 1992, p. 17).
Mergendoller and Packer (1985), in their work on conceptions of
teachers, found that students are quite adept and perceptive at analyzing the
characteristics and practices of a good teacher. Their research examined
students ideas of how differing types of teachers act: mean teachers, hard
and easy teachers, strict teachers, good teachers, etc. They argue that
students are very capable of expressing their expectations for how an
effective, successful and likable teacher should act and that this information
is sound in light of research on teaching. They found that what the students
described as characteristics of a good teacher matches what the research
literature indicates a good teacher practices. Phelan et al. (1992) conclude
that the views of their student subjects on teaching, learning and school are
in close congruence with those of contemporary learning theorists and
cognitive scientists. Students are generally very serious about their ratings
of teachers and teaching and their input can be of great value to teachers
(Levin, 1979). Student information on teaching helps educators become
more sensitive to the multiple challenges that classroom life poses for
20


students. Also, such information shows that students are enormously
sensitive to the different behaviors that teachers might display. Research on
effective teaching needs to transcend the inquiry into teacher thinking and
practices to include the perceptions and thoughts that make up the world of
the students.
Variety Within Students Perceptions
Given the powerful influence students perceptions have on their
classroom experience, it is also important to note the wide range and
complexity of perceptions that exist among students (Gorham, 1987).
Students do share many common perceptions but they do not all perceive
the teachers actions in the same, or uniform, way (Wittrock, 1986).
Teachers must understand that not all students perceive their teaching in the
same manner; however, teachers can learn from student perceptions of their
teaching. Even with accommodating for the evident individual differences in
perceptions, studies have indicated that there are commonalities in the
students perceptions of a good teacher (Mergendoller & Packer, 1985;
Gorham, 1987; Coats & Swierenga, 1972). They found commonalities such
as: communicates clearly, is organized, helps students understand material,
teaches in exciting and interesting ways, maintains enjoyable and inviting
classes, is nice with appealing temperaments and demonstrates interest in
his or her students.
21


Accuracy of Student Perceptions
Many educators might question the value and accuracy of student
perceptions of teaching. Whitfield (1976, as cited in Gorham) maintains that
students are capable of forming very clear perceptions of teachers and are
capable of describing their perceptions through the identification of
observable behaviors. Levin (1979) believes that fears of student
evaluations of teachers are not well-founded and evaluations can provide
reliable, useful data for teachers. The identification of behaviors by students
can be of great value to an educator who seeks improvement. Lincoln
(1995) argues that we should provide students the opportunity to voice their
evaluative opinions because it is a form of extension of civil rights in this
country (p. 88).
The accuracy of students perceptions can be an arguable point
among researchers. Coats and Swierenga (1972), in their extensive study
of 42,810 students in grades 7-12 across five states, conclude that Students
do not respond directly to specific questions regarding teacher effectiveness.
Rather, a kind of halo effect based on teacher charisma or popularity
determines to a large extent how students react to questions about their
teacher (p. 360). They argue that students ratings are still important and
meaningful and that teacher charisma is probably a function of teacher
effectiveness. Additionally, they determined at least 40 percent of the
variance in student ratings of teachers is independent of the charismatic
factor and probably represents fairly objective student judgments (p. 360).
They conclude that although a portion of student ratings are based on a
22


teachers charisma or popularity, students also can provide teachers an
awareness of sound teaching practices relevant to teacher improvement.
Samuels and Griffore (1980) take issue with the conclusions of past
studies of student perceptions that indicate good teachers are defined by
their personality variables more than by their teaching ability. They argue
that studies conducted evaluating the preferred teacher characteristics in the
1930s and even in the 1960s might not be identical to those in the 1980s.
Samuels and Griffore conducted research utilizing 78 third graders, 98 forth
graders, 80 college undergraduates and 127 graduate students in which the
students were asked to rate the degree to which each of several variables
would describe a good teacher. Students views of good teachers have
changed since the 1940s and the change seems to be that students no
longer define a good teacher by personality variables but see the good
teacher as knowing the subject matter and utilizing effective teaching
methods (Samuels and Griffore, 1980). Samuels and Gifford argue that in
order to be a good teacher one must be more than a good person. Students
are perceptive about their teachers and learning environment; however, a
teacher can only listen to their students if they, as Lincoln professes (1995),
commit to listening to students with empathy:
First, teachers must be convinced that students stories the
storied pasts they bring with them to the classroom and the
storied meaning they make of their lives and their schooling -
are important. Second, teachers must be committed to the
principles of social activism and critique, at least insofar as
such activities are intended to alleviate the conditions of
silencing and oppression normally forced onto children
because of their inferior status in this society (p. 90).
23


Gorham (1987) used open ended questions to evaluate sixth grade
students perceptions of good teachers. The students responses were
examined for consistent or discrepant themes in order to determine if
students were employing common or distinct criteria for the evaluation of
teachers. The themes were sorted and evaluated for frequency and resulted
in her concluding that students perceptions are valuable, accurate and
honest. She also concluded that an assessment of students perceptions
not only provided excellent criteria for evaluating teachers but additionally,
The students needs, desires, fears and motivations are also revealed
allowing educators to sample the complex range of challenges that students
face in the classroom (p. 20). She concluded that personality played a
iesser role in the discussion of good teachers than more professional
teaching qualities such as instructional methods. Such research shows that
students and teachers can leam a great amount from knowing that each
often has different perceptions of the same activity within the classroom.
Gorham writes that when teachers learn of the perceptions of their students
they have a greater opportunity for increased communication and
understanding. Effective teachers have the capacity to accept, understand
and appreciate students in their terms and in their world (Orenstein,1993).
We can only define classroom environment in terms of the shared
perceptions students and teachers hold in that environment. Thus, the two
most powerful players in the environment, students and teacher, should
strive to understand each other for mutually beneficial results. McCombs
and Whisler (1997) argue that good communication and mutual
24


understandings within the classroom may be a result of a classroom being
learner-centered and one of the key components to becoming learner-
centered is to examine the students perceptions of classroom practices. It
is probably the case that truly good teachers have always concerned
themselves with student meaning (Lincoln, 1995, p. 93).
The Learner-Centered Classroom
McCombs and Whisler (1997), in their work related to the
characteristics of a learner-centered classroom, have concluded that
students perceptions of teaching are essential for teachers to understand in
order to become outstanding educators. The classification of learning
environments into learner-centered and teacher-centered is not a novel
idea. Lewin (1939) and Watson (1992) examined the concept of learner-
centered and teacher-centered types of learning environments and
concluded that learner-centered environments often resulted in strong
student gains. Teacher-centered classrooms are classrooms based on the
strengths, desires and needs of the teacher rather than the students. Good,
Biddle & Brophy (1975) note that in the mid-sixties, as the pressure to raise
standards of American schools increased, school officials started to search
for responses to growing criticisms and individualization, or the focus on
the learner, became the new emphasis. Cuban (1993), writes that it is not a
new idea to shift the teachers role from central source of power and
knowledge to the role of coach who guides students with an emphasis on
the individual learners needs. However, he notes that the small tradition of
25


classrooms centered on the learner has usually been reserved for
elementary classrooms. The National Board for Professional Teaching
Standards (NBPTS) (1990, p. 15) note, Chroniclers of teaching often assign
the teachers primary loyalty to the student or the subject, with elementary
teachers often characterized as student-centered and secondary teachers
as subject-centered.
According to McCombs and Whislers perspective, backed by their
research, a classroom which operates according to the principles of a
learner-centered philosophy may result in students higher levels of
learning, achievement and actualized potential than non learner-centered
classrooms. The NBPTS believes a successful classroom is based on
learner-centeredness:
Fundamental to the teachers credo is the belief that all students
can learn. Furthermore, they act on that belief. Accomplished
teachers like young people and are dedicated to and skilled at
making knowledge accessible to all students, even as they
acknowledge their distinctive traits and talents. Success
depends on teachers belief in the dignity and worth of all human
beings and in the potential that exists within each child (p. 17).
The heightened learning and achievement of the student will occur in a
learner-centered classroom because a learner-centered classroom
addresses what is often missing in a typical classroom the personal
domain of the student. The NBPTS emphasizes that outstanding teachers
recognize individual differences in their students and adjust their practices
accordingly. When we move toward instruction focused on the student,
teachers can meet students developmental needs, improve their motivation
26


to learn and promote higher achievement. Teachers adaptation to students
is important in the teaching-learning process yet it remains poorly
understood (Hunt, 1981).
McCombs and Whisler (1997) define learner-centered as:
The perspective that couples a focus on individual
learners (their heredity, experiences, perspectives,
backgrounds, talents, interests, capacities and needs) with a
focus on learning (the best available knowledge about
learning and how it occurs and about teaching practices that
are most effective in promoting the highest levels of
motivation, learning and achievement for all learners) (p. 9).
The NBPTS has as its first of five core propositions that
teachers should be committed to students and their learning. The
board believes that a student or learner-centered classroom is
essential for accomplished teaching. The board lists four aspects of
a learner-centered classroom: (a) teachers recognize individual
differences in their students and adjust their practice accordingly, (b)
teachers have an understanding of how students develop and learn,
(c) teachers treat students equitably and (d) teachers mission
extends beyond developing the cognitive capacity of their students.
Thus, both McCombs & Whisler and the NBPTS believe in
incorporating knowledge of the whole student with the best of
practices we can employ to enhance learning. Vatterott (1995)
believes a classroom which centers on the learning of the student is
one in which the teacher and student work together to create the
specifics of the curriculum (and instruction) based on students needs
27


and interests (p. 31) and that the classroom is much more
collaborative than traditional instructional environments. The focus
within the learner-centered classroom is optimal learning for each
student.
Student Perceptions Within Learner-Centered Classrooms
Recent research on student thought processes has focused on the
idea that a teachers communication and behavior can profoundly affect the
students thought processes (Wittrock, 1986). Within this philosophy lies the
tenet that educators must understand the learners reality in order to
maximize the learning potential of the learner. Teacher awareness of
perceptive differences within the classroom is important for developing and
maximizing student social and emotional growth (Hayes, Ryan & Zseller,
1994). In the creation of a learner-centered classroom, a new conception of
teaching must emerge. The new conception is one that focuses on learning
and the learner rather than on delivering instruction or covering the
curriculum (Darling-Hammond, 1992, p. 9). Learner-centered instruction
provides students a substantial degree of direction and responsibility for
their learning; thus the learner is central to the entire direction and purpose
underlying the educational environment. Good and Brophy (1987) believe
schooling should be adapted to individual differences in a variety of ways,
not just in time allocated to master a fixed set of objectives (p. 390).
Students perceptions of the teacher and perceptions of the learning
environment created by students and teacher, are key components to
28


understanding and meeting individual learner needs and developing a
learner-centered environment. In meeting individual learner needs,
teachers must understand that because students learn at different rates and
in different ways, there will never be one best system of education, or a
singular set of teaching prescriptions that can meet all of their diverse
needs" (Darling-Hammond, 1992, p. 13). A good class is one in which
students and teacher feel at ease and learning is centered on the student.
Students who have reflected on a learner-centered classroom say they
prefer the active role they play over the usual passive role of the student in
traditional educational settings (Phelan et al.,1992). For Vatterott (1995), the
essence of learner focused classrooms is that students will become eager to
learn and take responsibility for learning if they are provided a say in what
and how they learn.
Multiple Learning Styles Within the Classroom
Joyce and Weil (1986) grapple with the issue of matching teaching
method with the multiple learning styles of students. They note the
impracticability of teachers adjusting to every student in the class and
conclude that teachers need to rely on the adaptability of most of the
students in a class and believe that student learning is heightened when
students are discomfited. They believe that students respond to a wide
variety of teaching strategies and teachers should continuously differ their
instruction to insure all learners styles are accommodated. The NBPTS
believes that a good teacher keeps a finger on the pulse of the class,
29


teachers decide when to alter plans, work with individual students, or enrich
instruction with additional examples, explanations or activities (p. 17).
In this regard, student perceptions in the classroom and teachers
attempts to meet individual student needs, are similar to the Total Quality
Managements (TQM) emphasis on customers ideas. Many educators have
adopted the TQM model for education with the intent of improving their
practice through an understanding of the customer (student) (Rhodes, 1992;
Higgins, Jenkins, & Lewis, 1991). Referring to the TQM model, Higgins et
al., wrote the same approach can be applied to education. If you want to be
a good teacher, you must listen to your customers (p. 12). McCombs and
Whisler (1997) have researched students perceptions because an
understanding of students perceptions is essential for a teacher to
understand and subsequently act upon in creating a learner-centered
classroom. Knowing the students point of view is essential for Lincoln
(1995) because they are, in a very real sense, the primary stakeholders in
their own learning processes (p. 89). The NBPTS agrees: Proficient
teachers learn from their experiences. They leam from listening to their
students, from watching them interact with peers and from reading what they
write...They must strive to acquire a deep understanding of their students
and the communities from which they come that shape students outlook,
values and orientation toward schooling (p. 17).
The Effective Learner-Centered Teacher
McCombs and Whisler (1997) refer to effective teaching and students
30


perceptions of good teaching throughout their book. Their research
indicates that effective teachers are teachers who enjoy what they teach, are
understanding, friendly and humorous, make things clear, are organized,
enthusiastic, fair and, most importantly, effective teachers produce in
students high levels of learning. Levin (1979), Phelan et al. (1992) and
Bosworth (1995) found similar results. The numerous studies they cite on
quality teaching make it apparent that various studies turn up a variety of
teaching strengths, yet the studies have overlapping themes of what makes
for a good teacher. Turley (1995) and Omstein (1993) would both argue
effective teaching and teacher characteristics transcend subject or lesson
format and focus on the learning of each student. McCombs and Whisler
(1997) point out that research on good teaching aligns with their ideas of the
teacher who is learner-centered which, in turn, aligns with the perceptions
students hold regarding excellent teaching. If we dont listen to our
students critiques, we dont have to leam the shortcomings of our own
teaching" (p. 32). Strong, Silver & Robinson (1994) note As teachers, the
first thing we should try to score is our own performance (p. 12). And one of
the best sources to help us score our performance is the students.
Utilizing Student Perceptions in Learner-Centered Classrooms
Often teachers are reluctant to take heed of what their students have
to say about their teaching. Research has shown that although teachers are
often cognizant of what their students think of their teaching they do not
always utilize this information to improve teaching (Wigfield, 1997). For
31


Lave and Wenger (1995), learning involves a comprehensive understanding
of and involvement of the whole person. If we break down boundaries
between teacher and student we will learn what students want and need
(Strong et alM 1994). Students say that teachers who are sensitive to their
problems in mastering subject matter make a big difference in their feelings
about school and their ability to achieve academically (Phelan et al., 1992,
p. 700).
McCombs and Whislers research on learner-centered environments,
students perceptions and quality teaching characteristics lead them to
conclude that potentially the most powerful influences on teaching and
learning are the ideas and evaluations our students can share regarding
their educational environment. The willingness of teachers to listen to their
students is often referred to as acknowledging student voice. It is important
to listen to students because according to Nolen (cited in McCombs &
Whisler, p. 31) by listening to students, educators are more able to (a)
transform schools to better educate students, (b) understand the sense
students are making of the curriculum so as to decide how to change it, (c)
understand diverse perspectives that need to be part of the theories of
learning and teaching and (d) demonstrate respect for students that is likely
to be returned. Students value opportunities for input and decision making
in the classroom.
Teachers often evaluate the learning environment exclusively through
their perspective; thus teachers create a classroom which is centered on the
teachers beliefs rather than creating a richer learning experience centered
32


on students beliefs. Hanks (cited in Lave and Wenger, 1995) writes,
learning is a process that takes place in a participation framework...it is
mediated by the differences of perspective among the coparticipants (p. 5).
Good teachers take each learners unique perspective seriously and
consider these perspectives part of the learning process (McCombs &
Whisler, 1997). The NBPTS note that an effective teacher responds to
individual differences through know(ing) many things about the particular
students they teach and that this kind of specific understanding is not
trivial" (p. 17). This approach also insures that learning is a shared
responsibility between teacher and students.
The NBPTS clearly believes that everyone remembers good teachers
they had in the past and these teachers can help current educators become
better.
We each remember the great teachers who touched our lives,
kindled our interest and pressed us to do our best. We hold
powerful images of such teachers. They exhibited a deep
caring and love for children. They conveyed a passion for the
subjects they taught, captivating their students with that
passion. They approached their work with creativity and
imagination, striving constantly to improve. As committed
professionals, they were proud to be teachers, (p. 15)
To lend credence to their research on students perceptions of
teaching, McCombs and Whisler (1997) asked adults what they perceive to
be the contributing factors that led to a positive learning experience during
their school years. A comparison of the active students perceptions to the
perceptions of adults reflecting on past school experiences revealed similar
results. They found that what most people remember are the teachers
33


concern and support, enthusiasm, high expectations, trust and respect.
Teachers asked to reflect on their past noted that they believe the qualities
and characteristics of their best teachers centered on caring, challenge,
acceptance and respect. The authors summarize by indicating that most
students (current or graduated) perceptions lead to three needs that must
be met: the needs to belong and feel supported, to have personal control
and responsibility and to demonstrate personal competence through
challenging educational experiences (p. 40). These findings should be of
no great shock to most educators; however, there are educators who do not
reflect upon the perspectives of their students and do not create a learning
environment which meet these three student needs.
McCombs & Whisler (1997) and the NBPTS (1990) lay out sound
arguments for the strength of learner-centered classrooms being
outstanding learning environments. McCombs & Whisler assess the
learner-centeredness of teachers and their classrooms through a survey
instrument known as the Leaner-Centered Battery (LCB). The LCB
measures four domains of practice which are central to a teacher being
learner-centered in their methodologies: (a) teacher creates positive
interpersonal relationships, (b) teacher honors student voice, (c) teacher
encourages higher order thinking and (d) teacher adapts to individual
differences. These four domains are interrelated and have far reaching
influences on the classroom learning environment. Learning is never
simply a matter of the transmission of knowledge or the acquisition of skill"
(Lave & Wenger, 1995, p. 116); rather learning takes place within a complex
34


milieu involving multiple facets. The four domains of learner-centered
practices are interwoven into a classroom environment influenced by
classroom interactions and interpersonal relationships between the teacher
and students. A learner-centered teacher should communicate with
students in an effective manner to create an excellent classroom
environment or climate as well as foster and maintain strong interpersonal
relationships with students. The last part of this chapter centers on
classroom environmental interactions, the impact of interpersonal
relationships within classrooms and communication between teachers and
students.
Classroom/Environment Interaction
The interaction between people and their environment has been the
focus of research in a wide variety of social settings including educational
environments. Lewin (1939) was one of the earliest researchers interested
in the interaction between people and the environment in which they lived
and worked. Lewin believed in the importance of social factors for
practically every kind and type of behavior. For Lewin, the social
environment is as important to the child as the air that he/she breathes and
the social environment directs, to a great extent, the direction a child will
proceed with his/her life. The environment and its interaction with personal
characteristics of the individual are important determinants of human
behavior.
Classrooms are complex environments, and careful observation and
35


analysis of teacher and student behavior can yield greater insight about
effective instructional procedures (Good & Brophy, 1987). For Hanks (as
cited in Lave & Wenger, 1995) learning is a way of being in the social
world (p. 24). Lave & Wenger (1995) add that an analysis of school
learning as situated requires a multilayered view of how knowing and
learning are part of social practice" (p. 40).
Classroom climate has an important influence on interpersonal
communication and behavior and subsequent achievement (Wang et
al.,1994). Fraser (1986) writes:
having a positive classroom environment is an educationally
desirable end in its own right. Moreover, the comprehension
evidence presented here also clearly establishes that the
nature of the classroom environment also has a potent
influence on how well students achieve a range of desired
educational outcomes (p. 25)
The full milieu of the classroom environment impacts the feelings and
behaviors of the student. The teacher and student relationships are an
important aspect of this classroom milieu. And such relationships...do not
have independently measurable existence; they are realized in the
individual interactions between participants (Neill, 1991, p. 10). These
interactions or processes are very complicated within the context of a
classroom because the process is ongoing complex and interrelated.
Classroom interactions are very complex and can never be understood
adequately through single-dimensional explanations or interpretations by
researchers or teachers. There are, at any one time, a wide variety of
36


influencers affecting the teaching and learning processes present within a
classroom. Even with this in mind, it is important to strive to understand how
individual influences within the classroom help contribute to the entire
contextuality of a classroom. One of the most direct classroom contextual
influences on student learning is the quality of social interactions teachers
have with their students (Wang et al., 1994; Peck & Joyce, 1981; Goodlad,
1983). The very foundation of any learning experience resides in the
nature of teacher-student relationship (McCombs & Whisler, 1997, p. 86).
Interpersonal Relationships Within the Classroom
The education of a student requires more than sound methodologies,
knowledge of subject matter and good pedagogical approaches. Indeed,
some writers emphasize the need to move beyond the prescriptions of
effective teaching behaviors and the technology of lesson format and
delivery to include in their teaching persona a genuine concern for students
as people (Turley, 1995, p. 24). Noddings (1992) argues that the principal
aim of schooling should be to encourage the growth of competent, caring,
loving and lovable people" (p. xiv). Schools should foster nurturing
relationships focused on developing the positive emotions of students
which, in turn, would result in greater cognitive gains (Sylwester, 1994;
Goodlad, 1983; Bosworth, 1995; Chaskin & Rauner, 1995; Phelan et al.,
1992). Bosworth found that students noted such a relationship can be
fostered with something as simple as helping each student with his/her
school work when appropriate. Lipsitz (1995) points out that caring does not
37


substitute for learning, but that caring establishes an effective culture for
learning. At the heart of a relationship between teacher and student, which
fosters an environment of nurturing and caring, are the interpersonal
relationships that exist within the classroom. Chaskin & Rauner (1995) write
interpersonal learning is the basis of academic learning. And it is through
the attempts of caring and responsive teachers to recognize, understand
and respect their students that trust is established and caring interpersonal
relationships are built in the classroom (p. 673).
Omstein (1993) argues that research on teaching is concerned
predominantly with teacher style and teacher competencies; thus what is
missing in research is an examination of the human element in teaching.
The human element is fostered within the classroom environment through
meaningful interpersonal relationships. Strong et al. (1994) write All
students, to some extent, seek...positive interpersonal relationships (p. 12).
These interpersonal relationships create connections that to a large extent
foster or destroy a students sense of connectedness and perception of
caring by the teacher. Goodlad (1984) would concur with this point:
In our data, whether or not teachers were perceived to be
concerned about students appeared to be significantly related
to student satisfaction with their classes. We found that
students in classes where teachers were judged to be
authoritarian were likely to feel less satisfied. No measure of
students relations...was as highly related to matters of student
satisfaction in the classroom as were the measures of student-
teacher relationships (p. 111).
Joyce, Dorr & Hunt (1981) write of the importance of teacher
sensitivity within the classroom and the impact sensitivity has upon the
38


interpersonal relationships and classroom environment. They define
sensitivity as the recognition of the learners frame of reference and a
subsequent adjustment of teaching behavior in an attempt to accommodate
the learners stance. Thus, a teacher can use sensitivity to influence his/her
communication or behavior in hopes of improving the interpersonal
interaction they share with the student. Interpersonal relationships have an
impact on the environment of the classroom and subsequent experiences of
the students.
The interpersonal relationships of the teacher and students, as
perceived by the student, is the focus of Wubbels and Levys (1993) book,
Do you know what you look like? Interpersonal Relationships in Education.
The authors examine, in great detail, the perceptions students hold
regarding the interpersonal communication of students teachers. Drawing
on multiple studies and data from three countries, they conclude that
students perceptions of actual and ideal interpersonal teacher behavior
matches research conducted utilizing other sources of data and that the
teacher plays an important role in establishing the learning environment (p.
44) through their interpersonal relations with students. At the heart of
interpersonal relationships within the classroom is the communicative
practices of the teacher and how this communication influences the
students.
Classroom Communication Between Teachers and Students
Achilles and French (1977) write, Communication, [is] the major
39


ingredient of education" (p. 52). Communication within the classroom is
essential for learning; however, the processes of communication are very
complex. Hills (1986) notes, If teaching were merely a matter of
communicating the content of a course to a student without worrying too
much about what happens at the student end, ...lecture might be considered
to be an ideal way [of teaching] (p. 13). We know communication within the
context of the classroom is never this simple. A students educational
experience is dependent upon the communication he/she receives and
perceives. The teacher and students do not always have concurring
perceptions of what is communicated (Hargreaves, 1975; Phillips et al.,
1974; Fraser & Treagust, 1986) a factor that may influence the students
learning. Teachers often see themselves as better communicators and more
effective teachers than the students (Norton, 1977).
Ingersoll (1991) and Johnson & Johnson (1991) believe that the
environment and perceptions of the environment have a relationship with
the success of the students. The most influential of students perceptions of
the environment are their perceptions of a teachers communication (Norton,
1977). Norton argues that a students perception of the teachers
communication style is associated with achievement. Additionally, students
perceptions of their satisfaction with the class is strongly correlated with their
enjoyment of the interpersonal dynamics of the class. Research appears to
substantiate an argument that an effective teacher is one who has an
effective communication style and creates positive interpersonal
relationships within the classroom.
40


Brekelmans et al. (1993) analyzed the influence students perceptions
of interpersonal teacher communication had on the attitude of the students.
Their conclusion was that compared with other factors measured, students
perceptions were once again the most important factor. They ran a similar
battery of research questions on teachers to examine if the teachers
perceptions of interpersonal communication influenced student achievement
more or less than the students' perceptions. They concluded that students
perceptions of interpersonal communication are a better measure of the
quality of instruction than teachers" (p. 58). Wobbles et al. (1991) write, It
appears that the relation between students perceptions of interpersonal
teacher behavior and student outcomes is stronger than the relation
between curriculum, teachers opinions and students perceptions of other
aspects of the learning environment and student outcomes (p. 153). This
research lends powerful credence to the influence students perceptions
have in the classroom and subsequent influence their perceptions have on
achievement.
Nussbaum & Scott (1979) and Nussbaum (1984) have studied
interpersonal communication and behaviors of teachers and refer to the
teachers actions as the communication style. The communication style of
the teacher and the perceived effectiveness of the teacher by the students
are the main focus of their research. Nussbaum & Scott (1979) found that
student perceptions of a teachers communicator style are associated with
student achievement, general level of affect in the classroom and intentions
to engage in practices advocated by the teacher. Nortons (1977)
41


conclusion is that perceived teacher effectiveness is related to perceived
communicator style. Nussbaum (1984) believes that effective
communicative teachers used more movement than ineffective teachers,
were more immediate with students and provided a sense of activity within
the classroom. He also found that effective teachers use more humor, self-
disclosure and narrative than did non-effective teachers. He concluded by
noting that there are many constructs involved in human communication and
that an in-depth examination of the various styles and types of
communication is needed to better understand the teacher and student
communication dynamic.
Wubbels and Levy (1993) note that the qualities of an effective
teacher with good interpersonal communication characteristics, as
perceived through the students lens, seem to be related to all other
influential classroom factors. Teachers interpersonal communication is
instrumental in the students perceptions of the teacher, classroom
environment and learning. According to McCombs and Whisler (1997) The
very foundation of any learning experience resides in the nature of teacher-
student relationship and the quality of the classroom climate (p. 86). It is
important that teachers know how their students perceive them and that
educators use such feedback to improve their instruction because,
Interaction between a teacher and his or her students depends heavily on
the teacher as the prime communicator" (Javidi et al.,1988, p. 278).
Classroom interactions, usually controlled by the teacher, are very complex
because teachers must read cues from a variety of learners, synthesize
42


these into a conception of the human beings with whom they are dealing,
generate environments that are tuned both to the learner and their learning
(Joyce et al.,1981).
The educational environment or climate has at its center the
interpersonal communication between the teacher and the student. The
heart of a good learning environment, where a teacher effectively teaches
and a student profoundly learns, is excellent communication. Good
communication is essential within the effective learning classroom. It is often
difficult for researchers and teachers to examine the communication within
the classroom because of the complex nature of communication and the
plethora of influences within the classroom environment which influence
communication. Wubbels (1995) advocates a systems approach for
studying teacher communication from an interpersonal perspective. Every
behavior that someone displays in the presence of someone else is
communication, thus, when interacting people cannot not communicate
The interpersonal relationships between students and teachers are
usually based upon the communication between teachers and students.
Communication within the classroom is very influential and teachers are
usually evaluated using impressions formed through an examination of their
oral communication abilities (Rubin & Feezel, 1986). Norton (1977) found
that teacher effectiveness is shown to be intrinsically related to the way one
communicates both verbally and nonverbally.
Educators have much to learn from students and their perceptions of
teacher communication within the classroom. Jakubowski and Tobin (1991)
43


write Research has established that student perceptions of the psychosocial
learning environment can improve substantially when teachers change their
practices upon receipt of feedback about how students perceive the learning
environmenf (p. 201). The personal elements that are fostered by an
educator who focuses on sound interpersonal behaviors and
communication within the classroom may help students respond fully, both
academically and personally. Students want to feel connected personally
to their teachers (Phelan et al., 1992, p. 699) and a teacher who creates
powerful positive interpersonal relationships will help students feel
connected. It is my contention that students will feel connected within a
learner-centered classroom and that it is the interpersonal communication
that is at the heart of such a class. Through an examination of
communication, my hope is to discover insight into the milieu of the
classroom and the impact communication has on the classroom in hopes
that a deeper understanding can lead to improved student learning. One
way to improve the academic achievement of a class is to improve the class
learning climate (Bhushan, 1991). Improving the climate requires improving
the interpersonal communication of the teacher.
Summary
Three bodies of educational literature were explored in this chapter:
(a) perceptions students hold regarding their classroom environments and
their teachers practices, (b) the learner-centered theoretical framework and
(c) communication of teachers within their classroom. The literature
44


indicates that students perceptions are often accurate, are powerful
influencers on their performance, may often differ from teachers perceptions
and vary among students. Reviewing the literature helps establish the case
that educators could be well served by investigating the perceptions their
students hold.
Literature pertaining to the learner-centered theoretical approach to
teaching indicates that learning environments based on leamer-
centeredness may result in higher learner gains than utilizing other teaching
approaches. The learner-centered approach focuses on the individual
learner and maximizing his/her learning. One important aspect of the
learner-centered classroom is the utilization of students perceptions to
improve teaching and learning within the classroom. Excellent learner-
centered teachers have a focus on establishing and maintaining strong
relationships with students, push students to use higher order thinking skills
and are supportive of their students efforts.
Literature focusing on the communication within the classroom
indicates that communication is a very complex activity which is not easily
understood. Communication impacts virtually all facets of classroom
activities and learning. Communication can lead to the establishment of
powerful interpersonal relationships between teacher and students and
these relationships can be extremely influential within the learning
environment. Verbal interpersonal communication within the classroom is
not fully understood and inquiry into classroom communication may help to
better understand its influence upon learning.
45


CHAPTER 3
METHODS
Introduction
The purpose of this study was to explore the content of classroom
verbal interactions of middle school teachers who were perceived by their
students as highly learner-centered. The guiding question of the study was:
What are the characteristics of interpersonal verbal communication of
teachers who are perceived by their students as learner-centered? The
study proceeded in two stages. In the first stage, teachers were identified for
observation through use of a survey instrument. In the second stage, the
identified teachers were observed and videotaped and the content of their
verbal interactions with students was analyzed to reveal patterns of verbal
communicative interaction. To identify teachers perceived by students as
learner-centered, 8th grade students of 11 language arts and social studies
teachers in two suburban middle schools completed the Learner Centered
Battery (LCB) (McCombs, Lauer & Peralez, 1997). Using a selection
procedure detailed later in this chapter, three teachers with the highest
student ratings were then observed and videotaped in order to explore the
content of their patterns of interpersonal verbal communication. Thus, this
study was not confirmatory in that it did not center on confirming whether the
teachers truly match the definition of learner-centered, nor did it test a
46


hypothesis regarding learner-centered instruction; rather, the study was
exploratory in that the emphasis was on exploring the content of verbal
communication of teachers who were distinguished by their students as
learner-centered.
Research Question
The central question of the study was: What are the characteristics of
interpersonal verbal communication of teachers who are perceived as
learner-centered bv students? I used the instruments of survey to identify
three teachers who were learner-centered and then employed
nonparticipant observation and videotaping to examine the content of the
interpersonal verbal communication used by the teachers.
Identifying Teachers for Observation
To identify teachers who were perceived by students as being
learner-centered I used the Learner Centered Battery (LCB) (McCombs,
Lauer & Peralez, 1997). The LCB is part of an extensive self-assessment
and reflection system, developed by McCombs et at., that assists teachers
and administrators in becoming more aware and reflective about (a) their
basic beliefs and assumptions about learners, learning and teaching; (b) the
relationships of these beliefs to their school and classroom practices from
their own and their students perspectives; and (c) the impact of their
practices on student motivation, learning and academic achievement
(McCombs, Lauer & Peralez, 1997). The portion of the survey I used was
47


the student survey developed for 6th through 12th grade students to assess
their teachers classroom practices. The survey is designed for the teacher
to gain an understanding of the students perceptions of their classroom
practices in hopes that this information can help the teacher improve his/her
methods and subsequent student achievement. A more detailed description
of the survey and its applicability are outlined later in this chapter.
The Learner-Centered Classroom and Teacher
The survey is based on research that indicates student achievement
and learning are increased if a classroom teacher follows learner-centered
practices (McCombs, Lauer & Peralez, 1997; APA Task Force on
Psychology in Education (1997); McCombs, Bishop, Jesse & Peralez, in
press; McCombs & Whisler, 1997; McCombs, 1995). The practices of
teachers within learner-centered classrooms begin with the perspective of
the students and utilizes this perspective to improve learning and
achievement for each student. One of the main focuses of the Learner
Centered Battery is an investigation of the students perceptions because
these perceptions are key for a good teacher to understand, and
accommodate for, in increasing learning and achievement.
Learner-centered is an empirically informed philosophical
perspective that begins with a focus on knowing and understanding each
learner (McCombs & Whisler, 1997, p. xii). The National Board of
Professional Teaching Standards (1990) note that excellent learner-
centered teachers "recognize individual differences in their students and
48


adjusts their practices accordingly" (p. 17). The learner-centered
philosophical perspective has gained powerful support in the 1990s when
the American Psychological Association (APA) appointed a special
Presidential Task Force on Psychology in Education whose purpose was:
(a) to determine ways in which the psychological knowledge base related to
learning, motivation and individual differences could contribute directly to
improvements in the quality of student achievement and (b) to provide
guidance for the design of educational systems that would best support
individual student learning and achievement. One task force was charged
with integrating, from psychology, education and related disciplines,
research' and theory concerned with education and the process of schooling.
The result of the task forces research was the creation of a list of principles
which provide an integrated perspective on factors influencing learning for
all learners" (McCombs & Whisler, 1997, p. 3). The American Psychological
Associations Task Force for Psychology in Education (Nov, 1997) and
McREL (1997) have synthesized the fundamental psychological principles
that pertain to the learner and learning process into 14 overarching
principles. The 14 principles are organized into the categories of
cognitive/metacognitive, affective/motivational, developmental/social and
individual differences. These principles were the driving force behind the
development and validation of the LCB.
My research is based on students' identification of learner-centered
teachers, and thus the survey instrument utilized must have strong reliability
and validity. The following two sections explain, in detail, the two phases of
49


large scale validation of the LCB conducted by its developers. The in-depth
explanation of the validity study results help ensure that the scores obtained
from the survey being utilized in my research have validity.
Validation Process of the Learner Centered Battery Phase One
Phase one focused on estimating the content validity and internal
reliability of the teacher and student surveys. Phase one's purpose was to
(a) verify that conceptual factors underlying items in each of the surveys had
empirical support from factor analysis; and (b) identify those items in each
survey that contributed to the highest internal consistency coefficient
(McCombs, Lauer & Peralez, 1997). Phase two focused on replicating the
results of phase one as well as estimating the construct and predictive
validity of teacher and student variables measured by the LCB relative to
measures of student motivation and achievement.
In phase one, a total of 4,828 students and 672 teachers participated.
The teachers and students were from a wide variety of public schools in four
states. A 70-item self-assessment survey was given to the students to
investigate their perceptions of the degree to which their teachers engaged
in various classroom practices. This survey paralleled the teachers' self-
assessment of teaching practices and used a Likert type scale that assessed
the frequency they perceived their teacher to be performing various
practices (1 = Almost Never, 2= Sometimes, 3 = Often, 4 = Almost Always).
Based on statistical analysis of the questionnaires, items with a factor
loading of less than 0.4 were eliminated. Analyses were used to compute
50


the internal consistence coefficient of the resulting subscales of the surveys.
"Overall, all scales in the validation study demonstrated moderate to high
internal consistencies" (alpha coefficients ranged from 0.67 to 0.96)
(McCombs, Lauer & Peralez, 1997). As a result of the factor analysis, the
students perception of classroom practices survey became a 25 item survey
divided into four subscales: (a) practices that create positive interpersonal
relationships and classroom climate (seven items); (b) affective/motivational
dimension practices that honor student voice, challenge students and
encourage perspective taking (seven items); (c) metacognitive/cognitive
dimension practices that encourage higher order thinking and self-
regulated learning (six items); and (d) developmental/ individual differences
dimension practices that adapt to individual differences (five items).
The conclusion of phase one of the validation study demonstrated
moderate to high internal consistencies and factor structures that were
conceptually consistent with the theoretical framework of the learner-
centered principles and classroom (McCombs, Lauer & Peralez, 1997). The
results highlighted the importance of students perceptions in assessing
teacher practices because the students may confirm or disconfirm the
perceptions the teacher holds regarding his/her teaching practices.
Validation Process of the Learner Centered Battery Phase Two
Phase two focused on replicating the results of phase one and on
establishing the predictive validity and further construct validity of the revised
teacher and student surveys. A total of 4,894 students and 236 teachers
51


participated in phase two of the LCB validation. The samples were drawn
from a variety of schools in five states. The student survey was the 25 item
questionnaire developed from the validation of the original survey and
measured the same four domains of practice as the original survey, (A
second section of the survey assesses students learning variables, i.e., self-
efficacy, effort-avoidance strategies, task-mastery goals, etc. However,
these assessments have no bearing on my research). It was determined that
phase two factor analysis data supported the factor structure that was
derived from phase one data (the four factors accounted for 53.2% of the
variance with eigenvalues of 11.28, 1.18, 1.00 and 0.93) (McCombs, Lauer
& Peralez, 1997). The student survey of their perceptions of the teachers'
practices was found to be a reliable measure of whether the students
perceive their teacher to be learner-centered. "Three of the four teacher and
student perceptions of classroom practices factors (Positive Relationships,
Student Voice and Higher Order Thinking Skills) had Cronbach alpha
coefficients of 0.80 or higher and the fourth factor (Individual Differences)
had Cronbach alpha coefficients of 0.60 and 0.70 respectively" (McCombs,
Lauer & Peralez, 1997).
Survey Data Collection
I utilized the student survey portion of the Learner Centered Battery to
help identify teachers within the two schools who were perceived to be
learner-centered by their students. I surveyed eleven classes with
approximately 25-30 students per class taught by eleven 8th grade
52


language arts and social studies teachers. The survey was administered in
two suburban schools: Egmont Middle School and Cook Middle School
(pseudonyms). Each of these schools is situated within a growing and
relatively new area outside Denver. They are both fairly new buildings with
positive faculty and students who are seemingly eager to attend and work
diligently. Each school includes grades seven and eight with a population
for each grade of approximately 400 students. Approximately 93% of the
student population is Caucasian at both schools.
For each class of students surveyed, I utilized only the first part of the
student perceptions questionnaire which contains 25 questions directed at
assessing the four learner-centered domains. Additionally, I included
questions regarding the perceived learning, challenge and interest the
student believes he/she has had in the class. The questions investigating
the learning, challenge and interest perceived by the student were intended
to ensure that a teacher is not studied who is perceived as learner-centered
but has a class with little perceived challenge, interest and learning.
Prior to surveying the students in the classes, I sent home an
informational letter explaining my research, its purpose and the role of the
student in my research. Any parent who was concerned with the study could
phone me and remove their son/daughter from the study. No parents called.
A copy of the information letter sent home is in Appendix A. Each student
was given the survey in one of their classes during the course of a regularly
scheduled day. The survey took no more than 15 minutes to complete. The
surveys were administered at approximately the same time of day for each
53


class; thus I avoided comparing student perceptions at different times of the
day as well as overlapping the same students completing the survey in
numerous classes. Student Survey, found in Appendix A, is the survey I
administered to the students.
Upon completion of the surveys, the pool of 11 teachers was reduced
to a smaller pool who scored above certain cutoff criteria. Two cutoff criteria
were employed to create the ranked pool of learner-centered teachers:
(a) The teachers must have mean scores for each of the four domains
of practice that exceed the mean scores of each of the four domains
determined from the national validation sample. Thus, a teacher must have
higher means for each of the following: (a) creates positive interpersonal
relationships > 2.92; (b) honors student voice > 2.96; (c) encourages higher-
order thinking > 2.84; (d) adapts to individual differences >2.16.
(b) The teachers must have a mean score in the top half of all
teachers being evaluated on the perceived amount of learning, challenge
and interest. Teachers meeting these requirements were then ranked in
order of total composite scores for ail four domain means. The top three
teachers were asked to participate.
The Eleven Participating Teachers1 Individual Survey Results
The survey was administered to 290 students within eleven classes
from two suburban middle schools. Within Egmont Middle School all five 8th
grade language arts and social studies teachers were willing to participate
by allowing the surveys to be administered to their students. The second
54


school, Cook Middle School, also had all six 8th grade teachers willing to
participate. I met with each teacher on an individual or small group basis to
ask for their participation and to explain the intent of the study. Teachers
were not only willing to help in the research but seemed genuinely
interested in the survey and its results.
All classes were surveyed between 8:00 AM and noon. Thus, for
comparison, no class of students was affected by differing times of the day
nor did any student take the survey multiple times. All classes were
established through computer randomization and were not affected by any
type of schedules resulting in higher or lower ability tracking. The average
grade point averages for the entire body of students were not available;
therefore, it was not possible to determine if the classes had markedly
differing ability students. However, when asked the make up of the classes,
all teachers responded that each of the classes surveyed were basically
average.
Each class was read the same introduction statement to the survey
(Appendix A). This introduction simply explained why I was conducting the
survey, asked the students to be honest and thanked them for their
participation. Table 3.1 includes the individual results of the survey for each
teacher as well as the total group results. The results include the mean
scores for each of the four domains of learner-centered practices as well as
means for the additional questions of challenge, learning and interest. The
first five teachers are from Egmont and the remaining six teachers are from
55


TABLE 3.1
LEARNER-CENTERED PRINCIPLES: STUDENT ASSESSMENT OF CLASSROOM
Individual Teachers Teacher Teacher Teacher Teacher Teacher Teacher Teacher Teacher Teacher Teacher Teacher Group
Compared With Group 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 1 0 11 Sample
Sample Student Assessment of Classroom Practices M SD M SD M SD M SD M SD M SD M SD M SD M SD M SD M SD M SD

Creates Positive Interpersonal Relationships 2.36 0.81 3.12 0.85 3.66 0.60 3.90 0.29 2.76 0.84 3.23 0.86 2.93 0.88 3.25 0.72 3.22 0.65 3.30 0.64 3.08 0.84 3.17 0.76
Honors Student Voice 3.10 0.76 3.32 0.74 3.42 0.67 3.81 0.38 2.94 0.76 3.12 0.72 2.96 0.84 3.13 0.84 3.28 0.78 3.26 0.71 2.91 0.90 3.20 0.74

Encourages Higher-Order Thinking 2.66 0.83 3.00 0.76 3.12 0.75 3.75 0.48 2.71 0.81 2.93 0.80 2.72 0.91 3.03 0.81 3.21 0.82 3.01 0.80 2.77 0.91 2.99 0.79
Adapts to individual Differences 1.90 0.91 2.39 0.92 2.77 0.83 3.55 0.60 2.04 0.87 2.64 0.95 2.11 0.78 2.27 0.88 ' 2.23 0.96 2.42 0.92 2.16 0.93 240 087
Question 26 Perceived Learning 3.00 0.76 3.83 0.38 3.45 0.60 3.77 0.43 3.30 0.76 3.29 0.69 3.26 0.63 3.32 0.61 3.80 0.41 3.74 0.45 2.67 0.76 3.40 0.61

Question 27 Interest 2.35 0.69 2.71 0.75 2.65 0.75 3.08 0.78 2.13 0.92 2.81 0.65 2.13 0.81 2.57 0.88 2.93 0.64 1 3.111 0.80 2.00 0.88 2.59 0.78
Question 28 Perceived Challenge 2.96 0.66 3.35 0.63 3.50 0.69 3.28 0.71 3.22 0.74 3.13 0.76 2.81 0.70 3.07 0.72 3.161 0.73 3.22 0.75 2.38 0.97 3.07 0.73
Question 29 Compared Learning 2.62 0.75 3.46 0.59 3.15 0.67 3.29 0.68 2.96 071 3.03 0.75 2.81 0.70 2.82 0.82 3.37 0.61 j I i i 3.44I 0.58I 2.25 0.74 3.02 0.69
M = Mean; SD = Standard Deviation


Cook. The classes at Cook have approximately five additional students on
average than the classes at Egmont. These data were utilized by the
teachers to evaluate their students' perceptions compared to the perceptions
of students in other teachers' classes. Also, it allowed me to help establish
the criteria for the three teachers selected for observation.
Results for the Survey Cohort
The nationwide results of mean scores for the four domains of
centered practices were charted to help compare the results of this survey
cohort to that of the nationwide validation sample. This was important for
establishing that the teachers selected by the researcher for observation
were at or above the national means for leamer-centeredness. Had most
teachers who participated not been at or above the national means, the
research into three learner-centered teachers' classrooms might not have
been possible. Also, the nationwide most learner-centered teachers' means
were charted to help ensure that the three teachers selected for observation
were at or above the nationwide most learner-centered means.
A comparison of the top five individual teachers' results to the results
of the national validation sample (Table 3.2) indicates that the top five
teachers participating in this research were at or above the national means
for the four domains of leamer-centeredness. On the surface, there were no
evident independent factors which influenced the results of the surveys.
There was no evident difference between the genders of the teachers and
57


TABLE 3.2
Comparison of National Validation Sample Data to Top Five Teachers Survey Results
National Validation Sample Means Validation Most Learner- Centered Top Five Teachers from Survey Cohort
Sample Teacher 3 Teacher 4 Teacher 6 Teacher 9 Teacher 10
Student Assessment of Classroom Practices M SD M SD M SD M SD M SD M SD M SD
Creates Positive Interpersonal Relationships 2.92 0.82 3.29 0.76 3.66 0.60 3.90 0.29 3.23 0.86 3.22 0.85 3.30 0.84
Honors Student Voice 2.96 0.68 3.21 0.67 3.42 0.67 3.81 0.38 3.12 0.72 3.28 0.78 3.26 0.71
Encourages Higher-Order Thinking 2.84 0.75 3.10 0.73 3.12 0.75 3.75 0.48 2.93 0.80 3.21 0.82 3.01 0.80
Adapts to Individual Differences 2.16 0.72 2.50 0.77 2.77 0.83 3.55 0.60 2.64 0.95 2.23 0.96 2.42 0.92
M = Mean; SD = Standard Deviation


their survey results. There was no evident perceptual differences among
students and the age of their teachers when rating their teachers as learner-
centered. The subject taught, language arts or social studies, seemed to
have no bearing on the results of the survey.
Selection of the Three Teachers for Observation
Criterion one:
Seven of the eleven teachers had mean scores for each of the four
domains of practice that exceed the nationwide validation sample means.
They were teachers two, three, four, six, eight, nine and ten.
Criterion two:
The mean score from the eleven teachers survey results was
established for each of the four additional questions accompanying the
survey. The means were as follows:
Mean
3.40 Question 26 In this class I believe I have learned...
2.59 Question 27 This class has sparked my interest in this subject...
3.07 Question 28 This class has challenged me...
3.02 Question 29 Compared to other classes I have taken this year, I
have learned...
Teachers two, three, four, nine and ten each had a mean score in the
top half of all teachers being evaluated on the four additional questions
Criterion three:
The teachers who met the first two criteria were then rank ordered
according to the composite scores of the four domains as measured on the
59


learner-centered survey. Table 3.3 lists the total composite for the top four
perceived learner-centered teachers on the LCB.
The first two teachers approached were the two who ranked the
highest on the four domain mean composite scores. These two were
teacher four and teacher three. Teacher four was very willing to participate,
however, teacher three was somewhat reluctant but later decided she would
be willing to participate. The third teacher was difficult to select because
there were no significant differences in their scores. The top two teachers
were from the same school so I wished to observe a teacher from the other
school. Additionally, the top two teachers were female and I believed it to be
a valuable distinguishing criteria that the last teacher, all scores being equal,
was a male. Thus, the final teacher selected for observation was teacher
nine a male from a different middle school than the previously selected
teacher participants.
TABLE 3.3
Rank Order of Composite Scores in the
Four Learner-Centered Domains
Teacher Composite
4 15.01
3 12.97
10 11.99
9 11.94
The three teachers selected were: Julie Henson (pseudonyms are
used for all teachers, students and schools) and Bev Semore from Egmont
Middle School and Mark Leniger from Cook Middle School. Julie Henson is
60


a second year language arts teacher in her mid-thirties. She worked in
business prior to teaching but believes "business is about making money for
people and that isn't as important as working with kids.'1 Her previous
experience with kids pushed her to make the switch because she wanted to
work with kids and feels she can make a difference.
Mark Leniger is a third year teacher who entered the profession
straight from graduate school at age 28. During his time at the University of
Denver working toward his masters, he volunteered in a variety of settings
helping children. When asked why he went into teaching he is quick to
respond "for the money." However, when he finishes chuckling he adds, "It
was through the volunteer work that I was happiest and knew that I wanted
to make a difference and teach." He notes, "A lot of people complain about
the world but not many are willing to do anything about it."
Bev Semore has been teaching for 11 years and is in her late forties.
She is one of only two African-American teachers employed at Egmont
Middle School. She worked in private industry for a number of years as a
human resources officer in Chicago and for Ball Aerospace in Boulder
Colorado before becoming a teacher. She states that she went into
teaching because "I wanted to be available for my own kids and these kids
(her students) need me." A more in-depth description of each teacher and
their classroom is provided in later chapters.
Observation and Data Collection
No study has combined the perceptions students hold regarding
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learner-centered teachers with an in-depth analysis of the content of
interpersonal verbal communication used by a learner-centered teacher.
The observation and data collection allowed for an analysis aimed at
discovering the content of verbal communicative interactions used by
learner-centered teachers.
Upon identification of three learner-centered teachers, I then informed
these teachers, informed their classes and secured permission from parents,
students and the teacher to conduct the observations and videotaping data
collection. It was imperative that I received permission from all research
participants since I was videotaping virtually all the classroom interaction
(see Permission Forms in Appendix B). The number of observations and
videotapes of class periods was determined through discussion with each
teacher. Each teacher was videotaped for a minimum of one week of
instruction at least one class period per day. It was determined that the data
collection would be most effective and comprehensive if a "unit" of study or
"unit" project was observed and videotaped. Therefore, each teacher had
differing numbers of lessons which were recorded in order to capture a unit
introduction, initiation and implementation. These units are explained in
Chapters Four, Five and Six. I took some field notes of observations during
my time in the class and periodically asked the students questions for
clarification of their perceptions of the teachers communication.
The video camera was placed in an area thought to be the least
obtrusive, yet located to capture all movement through the class. The
camera was placed on a tripod to help avoid obtrusiveness related to
62


moving the camera throughout the classroom. The first day in each class the
camera and my presence posed a minor distraction; however, the students
and teachers soon seemed oblivious to the videotaping. The filming was
almost entirely focused on the teacher and whomever he/she might be
talking to. The condenser microphone I placed in the room went virtually
unnoticed and proved to be of very little use. The microphone was so
sensitive that background conversations and noise were very difficult to filter
from the focus on the teachers' conversations. A remote microphone
attached to the teacher and the video camera proved to be sufficient to
capture all conversations between teachers and students.
Informal interviews with the teachers were designed only to explore
their reasons for becoming a teacher and information gleaned from the
interviews was used to develop the teacher profiles. It was not necessary to
conduct in-depth interviews with the teachers because the study was
centered on analyzing the content of their communicative interactions which
does not require the teacher's analysis.
Data Analysis
The content of teachers interpersonal verbal communication was
described utilizing a framework developed from the LCB survey and a profile
of learner-centered teachers' practices. The profile was developed using
research conducted by McCombs and Whisler (1997) and is an empirically
informed description of what learner-centered teachers might be expected to
practice within their classrooms. Additionally, the National Board of
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Professional Teaching Standards' (1990) core aspects of a student or
learner-centered teacher's classroom practices were used to help create the
framework for analysis of the data. These profiles of the learner-centered
teacher coupled with the survey questions provided a framework from which
to examine the content of the verbal communication within the three
teachers' classrooms.
All videotaped classroom lessons were transcribed. The
transcriptions included all verbal communication between the teacher and
individual students, small groups of students, or the entire class.
Conversations between students which were not directly tied to the teachers'
communication were not transcribed. Some non-verbal messages were
noted; however, since non-verbal communication was not a focus of the
study they were generally not included. Tone of voice and facial gestures
were periodically noted and are used infrequently to explain the content of
an interaction in the following chapters of data findings. Because the
content of verbal messages was the emphasis of this study, the
transcriptions and analysis of the transcriptions does not focus on non-
verbal communication between teacher and student.
For purposes of coding, the unit of analysis was the verbal exchange.
The unit of verbal exchange was defined as one exchange between the
teacher and a student or the teacher and the class which pertained to the
same topic. In other words, any verbal exchange, whether one-on-one,
small-group, or whole-class, that contained information specifically and
consistently within the context of that discussion was coded as a unit.
64


Therefore, the learner-centered framework allowed for coding and analysis
of the content of units of verbal exchanges by using the theoretical
description of what a learner-centered teacher would practice. This
approach to coding data also allowed me to find patterns and/or categories
of communication which emerged from the data but did not fit into the
existing theoretical framework. In this case, three additional categories for
coding and analyzing units of data were created.
The framework is organized around the four domains of practice
assessed using the LCB survey given to students. Each of the four domains
has specific categories of communicative intentions the teacher utilizes to
foster a learner-centered classroom. These categories were used as an
initial frame from which units of verbal exchange were coded and analyzed.
The sub-domains of the four domains allowed me to utilize a framework
grounded in what a learner-centered teacher would practice. The sub-
domains are indicative of the information gleaned from the questions
assessing the students' perceptions on the LCB because the questions
directly assess these sub-domains.
Eight patterns of communicative functions or qualities emerged from
the analysis of the data. These patterns emerged as communication which
at least one of the teachers utilized on numerous occasions. Five of the
additional patterns were later dropped because the patterns very closely
matched one of the learner-centered domains or not all three teachers used
communication that fit into these five categories. The five which were
dropped were (a) teacher was kind and helpful, (b) teacher had excellent
65


organization, (c) helped students solve problems, (d) related to students at
their level and (e) pushed students to take responsibility. The three patterns
of communicative function which were utilized by all three teachers and
were used to code transcripts were (a) influences student behavior, (b) uses
humor and (c) uses flexibility. These additional patterns of communicative
function are not separate learner-centered domains, rather they aro qualities
or functions of communicative interaction employed by all three teachers.
The additional patterns were adopted for the coding system because they
were patterns of communication that each teacher utilized numerous times
during the videotaped lessons and are not necessarily indicative of learner-
centered teaching approaches. Throughout this paper, I will use the word
"domain" to refer to the four learner-centered domains and "patterns of
functional language" to refer to the three additional communicative functions
coded for in the transcripts. Each of the domains and patterns of functional
language used to help code and analyze the content of verbal exchanges
will be explained and supported utilizing additional sources of information.
The Four Domains of Learner-Centered Practices
Through an analysis of the data, I not only used four domains of
practice, which were framed within the theory, but also found three other
patterns of verbal communicative functions which emerged from analysis of
the data. Each teacher had units of verbal exchanges which fell under the
four domains of verbal communicative interaction. Four of the seven
domains were the four previously framed domains including: One: creates
66


positive interpersonal relationships, Two: honors student voice, Three:
encourages higher order thinking and Four: adapts to individual differences.
Table 3.4 is a chart which specifically lays out how the verbal transcriptions
were coded for the four domains and the additional three patterns of
functional language. The chart contains an explanation for each of the
domains as well as specific verbal exchanges from the transcripts which are
examples of communication which fit into the domains. Following is an
explanation of each of the domains and patterns of functional language with
references to sources which substantiate the importance of each of the
domains.
Domain One: Creates Positive Interpersonal Relationships
Canter & Canter (1994) argue that, effective teachers put a priority on
building positive personal relationships with their students" (p. 71). Positive
interpersonal relationships with students are a cornerstone of the three
teachers observed. There are four subcategories which framed the domain
of creating positive interpersonal relationships: (a) conveys to individuals
that they are unique, (b) is supportive and encouraging, (c) conveys caring
for the students and (d) treats students with respect. I did not find any units
of verbal exchange for any of the teachers which seemed to be indicative of
conveying to individuals that they are unique. The last three subcategories
of the domain, however, provided numerous examples of units of verbal
exchanges that were indicative of the domain.
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Domain
Example
1. The teacher creates
1.1 is supportive and
encouraging
1.2 conveys caring for the
students
1.3 treats students with
respect
TABLE 3.4
Explanation
positive interpersonal relationships
The teacher uses words such Julie Henson, when looking
as: good", great", "I like this", over a student's work during a
yes, cool", I love this", Im conference: Oh my gosh,
impressed", awesome", "glad, that's great! Is this your... ?
encourage" and weir when
referring to the work of Mark Leniger, when handing
students. back an assignment: Very
good on that, very good.
Teachers ask students
questions about their
emotional, physical, and/or
educational wellbeing.
Teachers ask questions such
as: Whats wrong?", How do
you feel?", How are you
doing?", How is school?" and
use words such as:
sweetheart, sweetie", babe",
baby", and love".
Additionally, teachers
complement students on their
appearance, use physical
contact when appropriate, and
Bev Semore occasionally
hugged students.
Teachers share decisions with
students and respect them
even if they do not perform well
in class. Teachers address
students as Mr." and Miss",
sir and maam, and as
ladies and gentlemen."
Julie Henson, in an exchange
between her and a student:
S: I have a headache."
T: You look like you are
hurting. Do you get
migraines?"
S: Yes"
T: So you are tired and you
dont feel good. Thats no
fun..."
Bev Semore, as a student
approaches:
T: Hi sweetie, how you
doing?"
S: Good"
T: Excellent, well you look
very pretty. I want you to
know that."
Julie Henson, speaking to the
entire class: Our field trip
conflicts with our due date (of a
project) so, I would like to ask
you, may I bump it up?
Teacher and students then
discuss how to solve the
problem.
Bev Semore, at the start of
class one day: Ok, ladies and
gentlemen, first off let me
congratulate this class. I have
to tell you I saw some real
learning yesterday...
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TABLE 3.4 (Cont.)
Domain Explanation
2. The teacher honors student voice
2.1 allows students to express
their own thoughts and
beliefs
2.2 encourages students to
examine other points of
view
2.3 encourages students to
develop their own ideas and
opinions
Teachers allow students to
share and defend their
thoughts and beliefs with the
class or with the teacher.
Teachers use such phrases as:
share your thoughts", share
your ideas, and I want to hear
what you did.
Teachers assign work which
requires students to show both
sides to an argument, various
points of view, or debate over
issues. Students are
encouraged to examine other
viewpoints and become
exposed to different ideas.
The teachers use questioning
to encourage the students to
develop their own ideas and
form opinions. Teachers use
such phrases as: nice to read
your ideas and answer in your
own opinion".
Example
Bev Semore, to her class: Ok,
Ladies and Gentlemen, does
anyone want to share what you
wrote about why we should
remember the Holocaust?
Mark Leniger, to his class
What I would like is to share
ideas... I would like to move
down the rows and have
everyone share."
Julie Henson, speaking with a
student: I just wanted you to
read a few different
introductions. It is good to get
exposed to different ideas."
Bev Semore, during a
classroom discussion:
T: What do you think
happens when ycu are able
to argue effectively?
S: Well you are able to see
other points of view and
understand them.
Julie Henson, discussing a
students work: This is
good.Jt seems like you tried
something different and I like
alphabet poems, too.
Bev Semore, addressing a
students question about
presenting information:
S: Is this a yes or no
question or do you want us to
explain why?
T: That is a good
question...none of them are
yes and no questions, most
of them are your opinion."
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TABLE 3.4 (Cont.)
Domain Explanation
3. The teacher encourages higher order thinking
The teachers provide the
students with outlines,
contracts, check lists, activity
sheets, visual organizers, and
take the students through the
learning process carefully and
step-by-step.
3.1 helps students to organize
their learning
3.2 pushes students to think
through what they are
learning
Teachers question and push
the students to solve their own
problems and answer their own
questions as well as assessing
student work using questions
that require the students to
synthesize" or back up your
opinions". Teacher pushes
student by asking probing
questions.
Example
Bev Semore, utilizing a
paragraph structure called an
l-structure to teach the
students how to write excellent
paragraphs: Ok, we have
talked abut this l-structure
since the beginning of the
year...copy this l-structure
down so you know what it looks
like when your are trying to
prove your point.
Mark Leniger, working with his
students on a research project,
runs through the process step-
by-step: I typed it up to make
it just a little bit more formal and
that is what we are going to
spend a little bit of time before
lunch working on, the research
proposal. Please don't fill it out
yet, just listen..."
Bev Semore, working with a
student on a large research
project on the persuasive
essay: That is why we are
doing all of these things to
make an opinion and leam what
is going on and my hope is that
you can synthesize all this
information into an
understanding.
Mark Leniger conducts a
lengthy whole class discussion
where each student shares the
research topic they wish to
pursue. He pushes them to
think through their topics and
questions their ideas.
Julie Henson has students
create tests for their peers,
thus forcing them to better
understand the information
they are learning.
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Domain
3.3 helps students connect
past learning to present
ideas
3.4 allows students to direct
their own learning
TABLE 3.4 (Cont.)
Explanation
Teachers connect current
student learning to subjects
they have previously learned
within the class or they connect
to historical events of the past.
Teachers have students work
on some learning projects
which are self-directing in both
product produced and learning
demonstrated. The teachers
provide the structure and
expectations but the students
are responsible for directing
their learning and evaluating
themselves
Example
Bev Semore's student wants to
do research on Peart Harbor.
Bev expects the students to
connect the past to the
present: You would have to
explain why we are just as
vulnerable today as we were
back then."
Mark Leniger, discussing
projects with a student:
T: Janet, you wanted to do
Quebec seceding from
Canada, right?
S: Yes"
T: Well, have we talked
about any other country that
is having difficulty with its
people, where people want to
leave the country?
S: Spain"
T: Yes, we have talked
about the Basque."
Every teacher studied allowed
for multiple examples of
students directing their own
learning. Any work where the
students self-directed their
learning is an example.
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Domain
4. The teacher adapts
4.1 supports students in
pursuing their interests
4.2 adapts assignments to fit
the students' differing
learning styles or needs
4.3 makes an effort to get to
know the students and
their background
TABLE 3.4 (Cont.)
Explanation
to individual differences
Teachers provide students with
choices in what they study
which align with the students
interests.
Teachers had flexible
requirements to fit particular
learning styles. For example,
alternate assessments for
special education students.
The teachers discussed with
the students subjects pertinent
to the students lives but
unrelated to the learning or
topic focus of the classroom.
Teacher often asks questions
with the intent of getting to
know students better.
Example
Julie Henson, discussing a
students poetry:
T: Why did you choose
these poems?'
S: Because they rhyme"
T: So, you like poems that
rhyme?
S: Yes
Bev Semore, sending students
to the library:
T: What is your purpose for
being in the library this
Friday"
S: To research a topic we
wanted to do on World War
II."
Mark Leniger worked with a
special education student to
record (into a tape recorder)
answers to a test the class was
taking.
In Julie Hensons class a
discussion ensues about what
students gave up for Lent:
S: I gave up drinking pop
from the time of Ash
Wednesday to the time of
Easter.
T: Oh, so that is what you
gave up for Lent?"
S: I had to, it wasnt my
choice.
T: Who said you couldnt?"
S: My mom."
(The conversation continues
with other students.)
Bev Semore, telling a student
about what she had heard: Ms.
Nicole, I have to tell you I heard
a compliment about you this
morning. Evidently you went
with someone on Career Day
and you were very good..."
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I
TABLE 3.4 (Cont.)
Domain Explanation
5. The teacher modifies behavior
The teachers all used language
to influence the behavior of the
students (usually to change
questionable behavior to
acceptable behavior). Their
use of language to influence
5.1 modifies behavior through behavior was skilled in that
verbal communication they never used
confrontational words or
excessive volumes such as
screaming at the class to shut
up.
6. The teacher uses humor
The teachers used language
which resulted in laughter or
levity for the teacher,
students, or both. The teacher
allows for the students to tell
jokes and kid around.
Language such as just
kidding is an example of
language related to humor in
the classroom.
6.1 utilizes humor in
communication
Example
Bev Semores class is not
settling down to work at the
beginning of class: Excuse
me people...l need you
focused. I don't know what the
deal is today, but there is work
on the board and you need to
be doing it.
Mark Leniger, getting his
students quiet one day by
counting with his fingers: Ok,
listen up please, we are back in
three...two...one."
Julie Henson, speaking with a
student about a drawing:
T: This looks like a dragon...
S: It is my invisible dragon
that flies at night.
T: Well, then I will ask a
perhaps stupid question
(laughing), it if is invisible,
wouldnt it not show up?"
S: Well, it needs to be there.
T: Im just kidding...."
Mark Leniger, as a student is
taking a quiz:
S: I dont know this."
T: Can you guess? If you put
nothing down, you are
guaranteed to get it wrong.
(The student writes an answer.)
T: Thats wrong!"
S: Huh?"
T: No, Im just kidding!
(laughing)"_____________________
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Domain
TABLE 3.4 (Cont.)
Explanation
Example
7.
7.1
The teacher is flexible with time scheduling
utilizes flexibility to meet
student needs
The teachers were flexible with
schedules, due dates, and
assignments when influenced
by occurrences out of the
control of the students or the
teacher. Also, teachers were
flexible with where students
worked and with whom they
worked with as long as it posed
no negative influence.
and assignments
A student wants a break in Julie
Henson's class:
S: Can I take a mental
break?"
T: Believe me, if you need
one, take one.
In Mark Lenigers class a
student is finished with a quiz:
S: Can I work on Science?"
T: Do you have the Science
with you?"
S: Yes."
T: Sure, go ahead, no
problem."
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Is Supportive and Encouraging
This category is marked by the use of encouraging vocabulary
which supports the achievement of students and their work inside and
outside the classroom. Secondary school teachers often have given
too little consideration to the importance of recognizing achievement.
All students like to receive some recognition for their work" (Sund &
Trowbridge, 1974, p. 201). Enthusiasm and support emanating from
the teacher and directed toward the students is very indicative of units
of verbal exchange which were coded as examples of being
supportive and encouraging. Dunkin & Biddle (as cited in Pintrich &
Schunk, 1994) write one critical variable is the degree of emotional
support or warmth provided by the leader" (p. 342). Pintrich &
Schunk (1994) do not use the words support or warmth but certainly
argue for the importance of what they term praise. "Praise given for
success and progress in learning substantiates students beliefs that
they are learning and raises self-efficacy for learning (p. 344).
Conveys Carina for the Students
This category is distinguishable by communicative exchanges which
place the students emotional and/or physical wellbeing at the center of the
teachers communication. Sund & Trowbridge (1972) note, It is becoming
apparent that we must pay attention to the affective area of concern. This
includes feelings, attitudes, appreciations, interest, values and other
subjective areas of the intellect" (p. 106). The teachers have a concern for
75


their students that goes beyond the required learnings or assignments.
These teachers express caring for their students that goes beyond a focus
on just the classroom. Sund & Trowbridge also write, If an instructor
perceives his role as mainly enabling students to self-actualize through the
subject under study, he tends to focus in first on the student as a person and
second on the content" (p. 75). Teachers emphasize a sense of caring that
focuses on the well being of the student both within the context of the
classroom and outside the classroom. You must work constantly to build
them (students) up by reaching out to students by letting them know you
care" (Canter & Canter, 1994, p. 74).
Treats Students With Respect
This category is marked by communication which places the students
in situations where students perceive they are very important and respected.
Every student deserves to be treated with respect and caring" (Canter &
Canter, 1994, p. 75). Teachers address students as Sir and Ma'am or Mr.
and Ms. as well as include students in the decision making process.
Emmers (1981) argues that excellent teachers treat students with respect
and one way in which to afford students respect is to include them in the
decision making process. Teachers share decisions with students and
respect students regardless of how they perform in class. Sharing
classroom decisions with students helps involve students in the learning
process so they have successful experiences" (Sund & Trowbridge, 1974, p.
9).
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Domain Two: Honors Student Voice
There were three subcategories which framed the domain of honoring
student voice: (a) allows students to express their own thoughts and beliefs,
(b) encourages students to examine other points of view and (c) encourages
students to develop their own ideas and opinions.
Allows Students to Express Their Own Thoughts and Beliefs
A learner-centered class is one where "teacher talk should be kept at
a minimum and students should dominate the discussion with their thoughts
and ideas" (Sund & Trowbridge, p. 68). Teachers allow students to share
and defend their thoughts and beliefs with the class or with the teacher.
Pintrich & Schunk (1996) suggest that an excellent way to run an effective
classroom would be to allow students to "share ideas" that contribute to the
class processes and goals. Canter & Canter (1994) argue that one of the
essential aspects of an excellent teacher's repertoire is to "listen to your
students" (p. 21) so they feel their ideas and beliefs are valued.
Encourages Students to Examine Other Points of View
Excellent teachers assign work which requires students to show both
sides to an argument, express various points of view, or debate over issues.
Such processing pushes students to grasp alternative explanations for what
they are learning. Canter & Canter (1994) believe that it is important to push
students to develop empathy for other people's ideas because this will result
in a more comprehensive understanding.
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Encourages Students to Develop Their Own Ideas and Opinions
Teachers who are adept at pushing students to develop their own
ideas and opinions often do so through effective questioning. Sund &
Trowbridge (1974) write that one of the most effective methods in facilitating
student-centered instruction and helping a student obtain a sense of
directions and use his mind is through questioning" (p. 57). Teacher
questioning focused on students' opinions or students' plans for learning are
examples of questioning which push students to develop their own ideas
and opinions. Joyce and Weil (1986) believe that a student's development
of ideas and opinions is the major ingredient for developing the uniqueness
of the individual. Individual differences are to be prized because they are
the expression of the uniqueness of personalities" (p. 435). Teachers who
encourage the development of student ideas and opinions are pushing the
student to understand that they are unique.
Domain Three: Encourages Higher Order Thinking
There were four subcategories which framed the domain of
encouraging higher order thinking: (a) helps students to organize their
learning, (b) pushes students to think through what they are learning, (c)
helps students to connect past learning to present ideas and (d) allows
students to direct their own learning.
Helps Students Organize Their Learning
A teacher must provide organization for the student within the
78


classroom in order to help the student maximize his/her learning.
Sund & Trowbridge (1974) write, "directions and structure are essential in
student-centered classrooms to avoid total freedom and lack of focus for the
students" (p. 178). If teachers provided little or no organization, the teachers
would not only fall short of educating the students but the students would
leam no self-responsibility. "Learning environments that are effective in
fostering perceptions of self-responsibility need organizational and
curricular structures that allow students to acquire both academic and self-
management skills" (Wang, 1983, p. 243). A major aspect of a learner-
centered classroom is self-directed learning and activities. We need to help
students in self-directed activities "learn to receive diagnoses and
prescriptions and relate them to sequenced activities such that learning is
precise and effective" (Joyce & Weil, 1986, p. 401). Thus teachers must help
the students to organize their self-directed learning to help maximize
learning.
Pushes Students to Think Through What They Are Learning
Helping students think through what they are learning is a
metacognitive process where teachers often employ questioning to push the
student to reflect deeper into what they are learning. This metacognition is
successful when "the teacher listens well and asks the appropriate
questions, assisting individuals in organizing their thoughts and gaining
insights" (Sund & Trowbridge, p. 57). Pintrich & Schunk (1996) believe that
one of the most effective ways in which to help students process through
79


what they are learning is to encourage problem solving and decision
making by students" (p. 347). Having students think about their learning is
an important aspect of excellent teachers' repertoires.
Helps Students Connect Past Learning to Present Ideas
Excellent learner-centered teachers strive to connect student learning
to past learning and between subject disciplines. Sund and Trowbridge
(1974) argue that "school learning is not unilateral" and that it is best to
make connections between the past and present and across subject
disciplines. Such connections between subject matter are often attempts to
push a student to employ higher order thinking skills.
Allows Students to Direct Their Own Learning
Excellent learner-centered teachers allow students to independently
direct their learning. Wang (1983) notes that as students gain increasing
capability to exert control over their school learning, their task performance
improves" (p. 213). Good learner-centered teachers utilize projects or
assignments which allow students to discover and implement their own
plans of action for accomplishing the desired learning. Sund & Trowbridge
call this an investigative approach and believe that the philosophical and
psychological advantages to student directed approaches are numerous
because they increase intellectual potency; cause a shift from extrinsic to
intrinsic rewards; help students learn how to learn...; increase memory
retention; make instruction student-centered, etc..." (p. 54). Students are
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provided general outlines of the requirements but are given leeway as to
how they direct their path to reach the requirements. Joyce & Weil (1986)
consider self-directed learning as essential in students' education.
Domain Four: Adapts to Individual Differences
There were three subcategories which framed the domain of adapting
to individual differences: (a) supports students in pursuing their interests, (b)
adapts assignments to fit the students differing learning styles and (c) gets
to know the students and their backgrounds.
Supports Students in Pursuing Their Interests
The first subcategory of adapting to individual differences centers on
allowing and encouraging the students to cover the required learning
through subject matter or methods which appealed to their interests. Sund &
Trowbridge (1974) stress the necessity of perceiving well the individual
student... and personalizing the learning environmenf because "one of the
three most important steps in the learning process is to spark interest" (p.
106). Students have unique interests and their interests can help motivate
them to achieve more. Pintrich & Schunk (1996) point out that how
quantifiable interest is on student learning is not known; however, interest
does seem to be positively related to cognitive and achievement outcomes.
Thus, teachers might find higher levels of engagement and achievement
when students are supported in pursuing their interests.
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Adapts Assignments to Fit the Students Differing Learning Styles
It is important with the diversity of students within the classroom that
an excellent teacher have the ability to change or modify assignments to
help individuals work within their learning styles. For Sund & Trowbridge
(1974) The instructor must treat every person as an individual with
particular needs" (p. 9). And for Joyce and Weil (1986) a teacher must adapt
learning models "to conform to the characteristics of the learners" (p. 444).
Though difficult, excellent teachers attempt to work with each student's
learning styles to maximize the student's learning.
Gets to Know the Students and Their Backgrounds
Outstanding teachers make an effort to know their students in a
manner which promotes a personal relationship between the teacher and
student. Obviously, the teacher knows where to draw the line, establish
boundaries and set parameters; however, the teacher does allow for
relationships which go beyond mere acquaintance. Canter & Canter (1994)
believe that developing personal relationships means taking the time to
know your students. Discover your students likes, dislikes, interests and
hobbies. Find out what experiences have shaped their attitudes toward
school. Gain insight into the challenges they face outside of your classroom"
(p. 75). Excellent teachers work actively to know their students as people,
not just as students they must teach. These teachers are willing to have
conversations with their students often unrelated to the subject at hand.
One of the most effective ways to demonstrate empathy with your students
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is by sharing conversations unrelated to academics. Talk to them about
issues of interest to them" (Canter & Canter, 1994, p. 82). Students want to
be valued as individuals and one effective way in which to validate students
as individuals is to show a genuine interest in getting to know them.
The next three patterns of functional language emerged from the data
as powerfully influential patterns of verbal communication utilized by the
three teachers. These are patterns of communicative interactions which
were not originally nested in the theoretical framework of learner-centered
practices. They are, however, patterns of communicative interactions which
have strong influences upon the classroom environments created by the
three teachers studied. The three patterns of functional language which
emerged from the data were (a) modifies behavior, (b) uses humor and (c) is
flexible.
Pattern of Functional Language One: Influences Student Behavior
One of the most important aspects of a classroom teachers
effectiveness is his/her ability to control the behavior of students within the
classroom. Sund and Trowbridge (1974) note that for a teacher anticipating
problems in handling his class and controlling the discipline is probably one
of the most serious considerations (p. 309). Students need and want
boundaries within the classroom. The student wants freedom, but freedom
with known boundaries or constraints" (Sund & Trowbridge, 1974, p. 309).
Excellent teachers establish behavioral expectations that ensure a safe and
positive learning environment from the beginning of the year. Teachers use
83


verbal messages to influence the behavior of students more than any other
communicative approach. Sund & Trowbridge note that one powerful
application of discipline is to use your voice to advantage. Your voice can
radiate enthusiasm, soothe a troubled situation or command respect" (p.
320). Verbal messages are a powerful tool for modifying behavior within the
classroom.
Pattern of Functional Language Two: Uses Humor
Humor is a communicative technique which, if used properly, can
help create a more relaxed atmosphere, better relations between student
and teacher and a willingness for students to communicate openly with the
teacher. Emmers (1981) notes "humor can convey that a teacher is friendly
and creates a more relaxing environment in which to teach" (p. 33). An
effective classroom is often characterized by a relaxed and cheerful
atmosphere where students wish to be present. Sund and Trowbridge
(1974) believe teachers should let the students know your are a good-
natured, cheerful and happy individual, capable of laughing with them and
at yourself" (p. 321). Humor is an excellent technique to help foster a
positive and productive learning climate.
Pattern of Functional Language Three: Uses Flexibility
One of the patterns of teaching which became evident upon coding
and analyzing communication was the teachers ability to be flexible.
Excellent teachers communicate to their students a willingness to be flexible
84


with schedules, due dates and assignments. This flexibility is used to work
with all the students to ensure that they are given the best opportunity to
meet the desired learning objectives. McCombs & Whisler (1997) believe
that teachers should use time in variable and flexible ways to match
students needs" (p. 65). Flexibility can also refer to the ability of the teacher
to improvise their teaching approach or alter their plans quickly if a lesson or
activity is not proceeding as expected.
Inter-Coder Agreement
The analysis of the teachers' content of interpersonal verbal
communication was organized using the Macintosh program of NUDIST
'Non numerical Unstructured Data Indexing Searching and Theory-building'
(Qualitative Solutions & Research, 1997). This software allowed for coding,
sorting and organizing the communicative units of verbal exchange between
teacher and students.
The units of verbal exchange were counted for frequency of
occurrence by coded category to help the reader gain a sense of how
predominant the verbal domain or pattern of functional language is utilized
within each of the classrooms. I coded units of verbal exchanges which I
believe were indicative of verbal exchanges which fell into the four domains
or the three patterns of functional language. Table 3.4 was used as the
basis from which all verbal communication was coded.
A single unit of verbal exchange could include several simultaneous
codes; however, this was more often the exception than the rule. During the
85


coding of the verbal exchanges between teacher and students it was
necessary to make judgments about whether certain units of verbal
exchange fit into particular categories. In making such judgments, it was
necessary to use both low-inference judgments and high-inference
judgments about the verbal exchanges. Low-inference judgments were
verbal exchanges which used a high level of specificity regarding the
vocabulary used by the teacher. For example, coding for the domain of
being supportive and encouraging often involved simply searching for
encouraging words used by the teacher in referring to a student's work.
When Julie Henson says to a student "Oh my gosh, that's great" when
referring to a student's work the word "great" is a clear example of a low-
inference example with a highly specific vocabulary. On the other hand,
many examples were high-inference with low specificity of particular
vocabulary. The example needed to be wrapped in a contextual
understanding in order to classify the example into one of the four domains
or three patterns of functional language. For example, many of the units of
verbal exchange which fell into the category of using humor needed high-
inference analysis of the context of the verbal exchange. Thus, when Mark
Leniger says to the class "ok we are back in three...two...one" this exchange
does not have evident elements of humor without knowledge of how it was
delivered and how the students responded. Mark counted using his fingers
and at the end clapped his hands together mimicking the start of filming a
scene in a movie. The data coding involved both low and high inference
interpretations; however, the two small scale agreement tests on the data
86


had such similar results that the inferences appear to not be a problem in
coding and categorizing the units of verbal exchange.
The coding chart (Table 3.4) was used as a guide for two small-scale
studies intended to estimate interrater agreement. A colleague coded two
samples of transcripts which were compared to the results the researcher
obtained from coding the same transcript samples. The first section of
transcripts were ten pages from Tuesday, March 31 in Julie Hensons class.
I provided no detailed instructions for coding beyond explaining that she
needed to read the transcripts and use the coding chart to identify verbal
exchanges which were indicative of the domains or patterns of functional
language. We agreed on 32 occurrences and 29 non-occurrences of
communication representing one of the coding categories; thus we agreed
on 61 accounts. Additionally, we disagreed on 16 accounts. Therefore, the
index of concordance, the proportion of all occurrences in which we agreed,
was 0.79 making the simple percentage of agreement 79%. This simple
percentage of agreement is an indicator of the consistency among the
researcher and the colleague in coding a portion of transcripts using the
coding chart.
Because the percentage of agreement of 79% was less than
desirable we conducted a second interrater agreement estimation using a
different set of transcripts. Nine pages of transcripts from Bev Semores
Wednesday, April 22 class were used. Prior to the second coding
estimation, I explained each of the four domains and three patterns of
functional language and characteristics of communication and what types of
87


verbal exchanges I believed to be examples of each. In a sense, unlike
before the first agreement test, I provided training using the coding system.
We agreed on 42 occurrences and 10 non-occurrences of communication
representing one of the coding categories; thus we agreed on 52 accounts.
Additionally, we disagreed on 8 accounts. The simple percentage of
agreement was 87%. The percentage of agreement may have seen an
improvement due to the more explicit instructions provided before coding the
second set of transcripts.
There are several weaknesses in this estimation of the interrater
agreement. First, the agreements of coding verbal communication were
both occurrences and non-occurrences which might inflate the percentage
of agreement beyond the true agreement which occurred. Second, this
simple percentage of agreement does not take into account the extent to
which agreements occur by change alone. A preferred method of
estimating agreement is Cohens kappa statistic (Martin & Bateson, 1998),
which does take the role of chance into account and, therefore, is lower than
simple percentage of agreement. I was not able to calculate kappa because
it was possible for units of verbal exchange to be coded into more than one
category of learner-centered communication.
Development of Classroom Portraits and Cross-Case Analysis
The analysis of the data using the coding system, full viewing of
video-tapes and notes taken while observing the teachers' classroom
lessons were all used to develop individual teacher profiles and cross-case
88


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