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Student voice and engagement in high school improvement

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Student voice and engagement in high school improvement individual learning and organizational change
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Educational change -- Case studies -- United States ( lcsh )
High schools -- Case studies -- United States ( lcsh )
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Includes bibliographical references (leaves 314-322).
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by Brooke Holden Johnson Brown.

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i\
STUDENT VOICE AND ENGAGEMENT IN HIGH SCHOOL
IMPROVEMENT: INDIVIDUAL LEARNING AND ORGANIZATIONAL
CHANGE
by
Brooke Holden Johnson Brown
B.A., Boston College, 1995
Ed.M., Harvard University, 2004
A dissertation submitted to the
University of Colorado Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy
School of Education and Human Development
2010


2010 by Brooke Holden Johnson Brown
All rights reserved.


This thesis for the Doctor of Philosophy
degree by
Brooke Holden Johnson Brown
has been approved by
L
Alan Davis
Honorine D. Nocon
Benjamin R. Kirshner
/J?. /o /o
Date


Brown, Brooke Holden Johnson (PhD., Educational Leadership and Innovation)
Student Voice and Engagement in High School Improvement: Individual
Learning and Organizational Change
Thesis directed by Professor Deanna J. Iceman Sands
ABSTRACT
This was a qualitative case study that investigated a unique strategy for
high school improvement: involving students as leaders across a school district in
identifying problems at their schools and working, along side adults, to address
those problems and help improve their schools. This study emerged from a lack of
research on how students could be supported to be active, continuous participants
in reform at both a district and a school level, and a question about whether
student voice activities could realize outcomes aligned with district-level reform
strategies. The research looked at how student voice, through activities of
student expression, participation and action to improve their schools, impacted
individual learning and organizational change, and whether those changes
promoted aspects of school engagement. Findings from the study were that
student voice activities helped promote youth-adult partnerships, leadership skills,
agency, improved relationships, changes in school and district organizational
structures, and aspects of school engagement that were aligned with the districts
high school reform strategy.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates thesis. I
recommend its publication.
Signed
Deanna J. Iceman Sands


DEDICATION
I dedicate this thesis to my family, and especially to my husband, Bill, for all the
support and encouragement they have given me over the five years it took to
complete this degree. I also dedicate this thesis to my grandfather, Wallace E.
Carroll, for having always prioritized and supported education, setting an example
for the entire family of the value of continuous learning and growth. I give my
deepest appreciation to all of the family, friends, and colleagues who have helped
education to become the staple not only of my personal life but also of my
professional life.


ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
I give great thanks to my advisor, Deanna J. Iceman Sands for her contribution
and support to my research. Deanna has provided great guidance, insightful
feedback, and many helpful edits. I also wish to thank all the members of my
committee, including Honorine D. Nocon, Alan Davis, and Benjamin R. Kirshner,
for their invaluable perspectives and inputs into my work. Kelli Pfaff has also
been a tremendous supporter of my work and provided wonderful access and
information related to this study. Without Kellis leadership this research would
not have been possible. Additionally, Whitney Milliken was of tremendous help
in accessing document data and I thank her for her support of my research as well.


TABLE OF CONTENTS
Figures.........................................xiii
Tables...........................................xiv
CHAPTER
1. INTRODUCTION....................................1
Introduction.................................1
Problem Statement............................2
Purpose of Study.............................3
Theoretical Construct of School Engagement...4
Conceptual Framework.........................6
Research Questions..........................13
Overview of Research Methodology............13
My Biography................................15
2. LITERATURE REVIEW
Introduction......................................17
Origins of the Term Student Voice...............17
Political Concepts.........................18
Social Concepts............................22
Educational Concepts.......................23
Theoretical Arguments for Student Voice in
Education.........................................24
Trends in Education Research.................24
vii


Typologies for Student Voice Activities
26
The Role of Voice in Learning.................27
Empirical Outcomes of Student Voice Activities.....28
Key Research Projects.........................29
Student Learning..............................32
Adult Learning................................42
Improved Relationships........................45
School Change.................................47
Potential Pitfalls.................................50
What is Missing from the Literature................52
Need for this Study................................54
3. RESEARCH METHODS
Introduction.......................................55
Research Design and Rationale......................55
Methodology........................................56
Research Questions..........................56
Sampling....................................56
Data Collection.............................65
Organizing Data.............................72
Coding......................................75
Data Analysis...............................85
Internal Validity and Reliability...........89
viii


Assurances and Confidentiality................95
Limitations...................................96
4. FINDINGS FOR RESEARCH QUESTION 1
Introduction.........................................97
Year 1 District-Level................................98
Year 1 District Goals: School Engagement......99
Year 1 Participants: Roles and Responsibilities.. 102
Year 1 Student Voice Activities and Outcomes.. 107
Year 1 District Challenges....................121
Year 1: School A.....................................121
Year 1 School A Participants: Roles and
Responsibilities..............................122
Year 1 School A Goals: School Engagement......124
Year 1 School A Student Voice Activities and
Outcomes......................................125
Year 1 School A Challenges....................128
Year 1: School B.....................................128
Year 1 School B Participants: Roles and
Responsibilities..............................128
Year 1 School B Goals: School Engagement......130
Year 1 School B Student Voice Activities and
Outcomes......................................132
IX


Year 2 District-Level
134
Year 2 District Goals: School Engagement........134
Year 2 District Participants: Roles and
Responsibilities................................136
Year 2 District Student Voice Activities and
Outcomes........................................141
Year 2 District Challenges......................159
Year 2: School A.......................................159
Year 2 School A Participants: Roles and
Responsibilities................................159
Year 2 School A Goals: School
Engagement......................................162
Year 2 School A Student Voice Activities and
Outcomes........................................166
Year 2 School A Challenges....................169
Year 2: School B.......................................172
Year 2 School B Participants: Roles and
Responsibilities................................172
Year 2 School B Goals: School
Engagement......................................174
Year 2 School B Student Voice Activities and
Outcomes........................................175
x


Year 2 School B Challenges.....................177
Summary...............................................179
Year 1..........................................179
Year 2..........................................180
5. FINDINGS FOR RESEARCH QUESTION 2
Introduction..........................................182
Impact at the Organizational Level....................182
District........................................183
Schools A and B.................................198
Impact at the Individual Level........................211
Adult Learning..................................211
Student Learning................................227
Summary...............................................237
6. DISCUSSION OF FINDINGS
Introduction..........................................239
Review of Conceptual Framework and the
Literature............................................240
Findings Similar to those in the Literature.....241
Findings Different from those in the Literature.250
Original Contributions..........................251
Particularly Surprising Findings................261
Implications and Recommendations for Application......265
xi


District-Level Implications
265
School-Level Implications.....................266
Design principles.............................271
Recommendations for Future Research..................273
A Study of Student-Teacher Communities of
Practice......................................274
A Study of Sustained Adult Participation Over
Time..........................................275
A Study of Adult Agency within Student Voice
Work..........................................275
APPENDIX
A. Invitation Script for Participants......................277
B. Parent Consent Form (English)...........................278
C. Parent Consent Form (Spanish)...........................282
D. Participant Consent Form................................286
E. Example of Entire Coded Intervie........................290
F. Example of a Coded Document.............................302
G. Example of Triangulating Different Data Sources.........303
H. 2009-10 Work Plan for the Student Board of Education....306
I. Three Proposed Models for the Student Board in 2010-11..310
REFERENCES.........................................................311
xii


Figure
1.1 Conceptual Framework
LIST OF FIGURES
6
xm


LIST OF TABLES
Table
3.1 2009-10 Core Team Participants from Schools A and B..........59
3.2 Total Participant Sample for this Study......................60
3.3 Focus Groups Conducted.......................................66
3.4 Guiding Questions for Student Board Member Focus Groups,,....67
3.5 Guiding Questions for Core Team Participant Focus Groups.....69
3.6 Interviews Conducted.........................................69
3.7 Guiding questions for District Liaisons to the Student Board.70
3.8 Guiding questions for Board of Education Members.............71
3.9 Example of Face Sheet Data Table.............................73
3.10 Example of Organizational Identification and Role Coding for an
Interview...................................................74
3.11 Example of Organizational Identification and Role Coding for a
Focus Group.................................................74
3.12 Excerpt from my Codebook, Illustrating Three Levels of
Themes/Codes................................................76
3.13 Example of a Data Table with all Information Except Codes....78
3.14 Example of Entire Response Fitting into One Code Category... .79
3.15 Example of Breaking Down Responses into Multiple Code
Categories..................................................81
xiv


3.16 Example of Coding Entire Duplicated Passage and the Sequence
Numbers.................................................82
3.17 Example of Coding Duplicated Excerpts and Assigning Sequence
Numbers...................................................83
3.18 Matrix used for Four Different Perspectives of Data
Analysis..................................................85
3.19 Example of Edited Codebook with Frequency Tallies..........87
3.20 Excerpt of Revised Codebook used by Independent Coder......93
4.1 Overarching Goals for 3-Year Initiative and Objectives for Year
1........................................................101
4.2 Objectives for Year 2 of the Initiative for Student
Engagement...............................................135
4.3 Roles and Responsibilities of Student Board Leaders
2009-10..................................................139
4.4 Roles and Responsibilities of Core Team Adult Advocates
2009-10..................................................145
5.1 Responsibilities of the Student Board Liaison Position in 2010-
11.......................................................197
xv


CHAPTER 1
INTRODUCTION
This was a qualitative case study to investigate a unique strategy
for high school improvement: a district-led effort to engage students as
leaders in identifying problems at their schools and working, along side
adults, to address those problems to improve their schools. The research
questions focused on two things: (i) what happened with one districts
efforts to engage students in leadership development, student voice
activities, and youth-adult partnerships to improve their schools, and (ii)
what the impacts of that work were on the individuals and organizations
involved. My literature review informed my definition of student voice
here as activities of student expression, participation, and action to
improve schools. Fredricks et al.s (2004) work informed the definition of
school engagement for this study as a students connection to and
involvement in school.
Driving this research was an interest in answering two more global
questions not yet answered in the literature, including how students could
be supported to be active, continuous participants in educational
improvement both at district and school levels, and whether such work
could realize outcomes that are aligned with district-level reform
strategies. Through the interpretation of the findings of this study I argue
that high school students should be participants in and leaders of school
improvement work, their work can realize important aspects of individual
learning and organizational change, such impacts can increase students
school engagement, and school engagement is important for increasing
successful educational outcomes. I argue, too, that student-led school
improvement work can be not only aligned with but can also help increase
the success of high school reform strategies.
There are 8 sections in this chapter, including the problem
statement, purpose of the study, theoretical constructs, conceptual
framework and a brief review of the literature, research questions,
overview of methodology, limitations of the study, and my biography.
This chapter sets the stage for the rest of the paper. Chapter 2 presents the
literature review. Chapter 3 explains the methodology used in the study.
Chapter 4 presents the findings for the first research question. Chapter 5
presents the findings for the second research question. And, Chapter 6
discusses how the conceptual framework and literature review were used
to interpret the findings, outlines the implications of this study, and
suggests what future research should be done.
1


Problem Statement
The educational problem at the heart of this study is the pervasive
level of academic underachievement at the high school level in the district
studied; as measured by the 2008 state standardized test just 42.6% of 9th
grade students and 45.8% of 10th grade students scored proficient or
advanced in reading; 18.6% of 9th grade students and 15.5% of 10th grade
students scored proficient or advanced in math; and only 27.4% of 9th
grade students and 28.5% of 10th grade students scored proficient or
advanced on writing (district website, retrieved January 1, 2008). In
addition, the local dropout rate (i.e., the number of students that leave
school over the course of one school year) at that time was 10.4%, and the
graduation rate (i.e., over a four-year period with a cohort of 9th through
12th graders) was only 52% (district website, retrieved January 1, 2008).
Faced with such levels of academic underachievement at the high
school and other levels, the district worked to create a new strategic plan;
that plan outlined the new vision statement of the district which read, We
will lead the nations cities in student achievement, high school
graduation, college preparation, and college matriculation. Our students
will be well prepared for success in life, work, civic responsibility, and
higher education (The [District] Strategic vision and Action Plan, 2009).
However, that plan did not state that students would be active partners in
realizing that vision for the district. The literature suggests, however, that
the underachievement of many high school students is related to the fact
that the voices of students, the customers of schools, have been largely
missing in educational research and reform (Cook-Sather, 2002b; Fielding,
2004), despite the fact that scholars and practitioners alike increasingly
acknowledge that students have a valuable perspective about schools and
what helps them to learn (Rodgers, 2006), and student input can help
realize better organizational and educational outcomes (Fielding, 2001b;
Levin, 2000; Mitra, 2004; Rudduck & Flutter, 2000).
Educational research tends to be about students, not with them
(Fielding, 2004; Levin, 2000), even though involving students in research
about schools and learning can add important perspective to the research
and thus can help inform both how problems in education are defined, and
how solutions are conceived of and designed (Fielding, 2001a; Rubin &
Jones, 2007). There is even research that suggests that many reforms are
actually unsuccessful because students themselves have not been involved
in creating or implementing the reform strategies (Lee, 1999). Therefore,
if students are not engaged as partners in school improvement strategies
2


the strategies may fall short of achieving their intended goals of
supporting increased achievement.
Purpose of Study
There have been studies that found that student voice activities
could help to improve schools and support learning. I found no studies,
however, that looked at a coordinated effort across a district, to organize
and support student voice activities in each high school as part of a broad
school improvement strategy. The primary purpose of this study,
therefore, was to gather data from a two-year pilot project in one district
that was designed to engage students as leaders in school improvement
efforts and to develop new knowledge and understanding about the
impacts of those efforts. Specifically, this study looked at how student
voice activities could promote school engagement and other aspects of
individual learning and organizational change,
Joselowsky (2007) argued that schools and districts generally lack
infrastructure to institutionalize student engagement in school
improvement work, despite the fact that students are arguably the most
important stakeholders in reform. I believe from my review of the
literature that research of student voice activities has not looked at how to
move beyond one-time projects to create sustainable, replicable student
voice activities that become a part of the ongoing strategies for high
school improvement across a district. Joselowsky also argued that in order
for student voice activities to really hold promise for school improvement
they must be connected to broader district-level strategies for reform.
Therefore, the secondary purpose of this study was to develop new
knowledge and understanding about how to sustain and even
institutionalize efforts to engage students as partners in school
improvement work, and whether those efforts could be aligned with
district strategies for high school improvement.
Next I address the literature on school engagement, the primary
theoretical construct underlying this study. I explore its different facets,
and what the indicators and outcomes are of both high and low levels of
engagement as related to achievement. I also discuss what the literature
outlines as antecedents to engagement as a way to introduce my review of
the literature, and my argument that student voice activities can be tools to
influence levels of engagement, individual learning, and organizational
change.
3


Theoretical Construct of School Engagement
The construct of school engagement recently gained attention as a
possible antidote to decreasing student motivation and achievement as
well as efforts to improve schools, as it was seen as something that could
be impacted and influenced by environmental changes (Fredricks et al.,
2004). Engagement is a complex, construct, however, and must be
unpacked in order to better understand what types of interventions and
strategies are likely to positively influence it, and thus help improve
student achievement outcomes.
Fredricks et al. (2004), in their widely cited review of the
literature, discussed engagement as a multifaceted construct that includes
behavioral, emotional, and cognitive engagement, including both positive
and negative indicators of engagement and their resulting impact on
academic achievement. I focused primarily on behavioral and emotional
engagement for the purpose of this study, as I am focused on more macro
school-level, rather than classroom-level, activities and outcomes.
Behavioral Engagement
Behavioral engagement, as discussed by Fredricks et al. (2004),
includes indicators of conduct, involvement in learning and academic
tasks, and participation in school-related activities. They argued in their
literature review that it can be measured by behaviors related to
completing homework, following rules, attendance, levels of effort,
attention and persistence, participation in discussion, and asking questions.
Fredricks et al. asserted that positive behavioral engagement can yield
higher levels of achievement, measured by things such as standardized
tests and grades.
Fredricks et al. (2004) also argued that a lack of positive
behavioral engagement, as indicated by things such as disruptive
activities, disciplinary problems, doing less homework, exerting less effort
in school, less participation in school activities, tardiness and truancy, can
be positively correlated to lower grades and test scores, and greater
chances of dropping out of school.
Emotional Engagement
Emotional engagement, also as reviewed by Fredricks et al. (2004),
includes students affective reactions in the classroom such as levels of
interest, boredom, happiness and sadness, as well as emotional reactions to
4


school and teachers and overall identification with school. They argued
that emotions overlap with constructs in motivational research, which tend
to have more specific definitions than engagement. Because, as they
posited, definitions of engagement tend to be less differentiated and
precise, Fredricks et al. included a discussion of the motivation literature
within their review of the studies on students emotional engagement in
school.
Fredricks et al. (2004) also noted that a lot of research combines
both behavioral and emotional measures, thus making it difficult to
separate emotional factors of engagement out. However, they specified
that high levels of emotional engagement can positively impact a students
work orientation, and that students tend to feel better about school when
they like the content and environment in which they are learning.
Fredricks et al., citing Steinberg et al., 1996, additionally found in their
review that students tend to persevere with difficult work when they have
higher levels of positive emotional engagement in the school, and that
positive school identification was strongly correlated with achievement
test scores for some students (citing Voelkl, 1997). An environment that
fosters a sense of belonging and support can help build peer relations as
well as help students become more successful academically (Fine, 1997;
Flutter, 2006). Students perceptions of self and identity, agency, access to
power and decision-making opportunities can affect their motivation,
engagement, and achievement (Cook-Sather, 2002b; Fredricks el al., 2004;
Smyth, 2006).
Students with low levels of emotional engagement, and who
experience feelings of estrangement or social isolation, noted Fredricks et
al. (2004), are more prone to drop out of school. That, they argued, was
supported by Finns (1987) work, which asserted that lack of emotional
and behavioral engagement lead to lack of participation in school and
learning activities, unsuccessful school outcomes, and less academic
success.
The literature explores how strong school engagement can be
measured by behaviors that support learning and achievement, emotional
connectedness that increases student motivation and effort, and by the
development of cognitive strategies that can support a deep level of
understanding academic content (Fredricks et al., 2004). Likewise, the
literature explores how disengagement can be measured by behaviors that
may subvert learning, as well lead to feelings of alienation and isolation
that may contribute to lack of participation in school and even dropping
out (Flutter, 2006; Smyth, 2006).
5


To frame my hypothesis that student voice may be a powerful tool
to influence school engagement, individual learning, and school
improvement, next I briefly discuss how the literature that shaped the
development of my conceptual framework for this study is positioned to
the larger domain of relevant literature.
Conceptual Framework
In this section I identify the research that influenced the
development of my conceptual framework (Figure 1.1) and I explicate the
relationships between the components of the framework that enabled me
to situate my research questions within the literature.
Figure 1.1. CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK
Forms of Student Voice
As I have already outlined the theoretical construct of school
engagement, it is important too to briefly discuss the literature that shaped
the development of the conceptual framework for this study. As Chapter 2
is a complete review of the literature here I focus on how the components
of my conceptual framework are positioned to the larger domain of
literature.
6


There are political, social, and educational perspectives about
student voice in the literature. Thus, there is a great spectrum of literature
on student voice, ranging from a focus on anti-oppression (e.g., agency,
equity, critical theory, under-represented populations) to a focus on
student voice as a pragmatic approach to educational improvement (e.g.,
to help raise test scores), and many things in between. There is also
literature on student voice as part of learning activities within a classroom,
as well as at a school level focused on organizational issues. My
discussion here is not focused on voice as part of text-based classroom
discussion, but rather on activities at a school level.
My conceptual framework captures the forms that student voice
can take, including activities of expression, participation in joint activity,
and action to make change in schools. The framework also illustrates the
types of impact that such activities can have, including aspects of student
and adult learning, improved relationships, and organizational change.
Tying together all of the components are youth-adult partnerships that are
both tools to realize each part of the work, as well as outcomes yielded by
such work.
Expression
Voice can be looked at through an individual or collective
perspective. At the individual level, voice can be understood as expression
(Cook-Sather, 2006b). Ladson-Billings and Tate (1995) said voice is
naming ones own reality through things like stories and narratives (p.
57). It can also include student perspectives on issues of equity (Howard,
2001; Yonezawa & Jones, 2007), beliefs about the purpose of schooling,
how it impacts students, and what would make it better support their
learning (The Education Alliance, 2004) by offering student perspectives
on problems as well as possible solutions (Ladson-Billings & Tate, 1995;
Mitra, 2004, 2006a; Osberg, Pope, & Galloway, 2006). Students can also
identify aspects of school that make them feel engaged or challenged
(Pritchard, Morrow, & Marshall, 2005; Shultz & Cook-Sather, 2001). It is
about students expressing how they experience schooling, sharing their
perspectives and expertise on how things impact them in schools.
Participation and Action
From a collective perspective, voice can be seen as being realized
through participation in activities with others (Cook-Sather, 2006b), such
as students collaborating with adults (Mitra, 2004) in sharing in decision-
7


making opportunities regarding things such as school governance and
organizational structure (Fielding, 2001b; Joselowsky, 2007), vision,
mission, and curriculum decisions (Mitra, 2008), teacher professional
development (Cook-Sather, 2006b, 2007; Mitra, 2005, 2007), classroom
and school evaluation (Fielding, 2006), decisions about the schools
physical plant (Flutter, 2006), and general joint problem-solving (Ladson-
Billings & Tate, 1995; Mitra, 2004, 2006a; Osberg, Pope, & Galloway,
2006). Students can also collaborate with peers in activities such as peer
mentoring, being school ambassadors, and conducting learning walks
(Fielding, 2006).
Having a voice can also help students move beyond participation
and take action if they choose. Taking action, or being proactive, includes
opportunities for students to make decisions in their own educational
planning (Fredericks et al., 2004), taking leadership in the classroom
(Mitra, 2007), and out of the classroom on school panels or on a school
board (Fielding, 2006), and in extracurricular activities. Having voice
through taking action to improve the school can include designing
surveys, writing grants, and presenting ideas to the school community
(Smith, Petralia, & Hewitt, 2005). Students can also help to create new
elective classes, run activities aimed at improving relationships in the
school, design advisory models and design a new small school model
within a larger comprehensive school (Joselowsky, 2007).
This study looked at how one district worked to develop district-
level student leadership to promote student-led school improvement work
at each of the principle high schools (e.g., not at charter or other quasi-
independent high schools). The focus of that work was to gather data from
student-led forums regarding what students believed needs to improve
about their schools, and to then build youth-adult partnerships within a
core team at the school to respond to the data and make improvements in
schools.
The work that I studied was different from that of an activist
student council. Some people identify student councils in schools as
representative of student voice. Many scholars have argued, however, that
student councils are often tokenistic and unrepresentative of the voices and
perspectives of students within schools (Levin, 2000; Mitra, 2008;
Rudduck & Flutter, 2000; Silva, 2001). Authentic student voice may be
more complex to understand and facilitate, as students may have difficulty
transparently representing their interests due to organizational constraints
or self-censorship (Fielding, 2001a). In addition, there is no one student
voice (Fielding, 2001a). In discussing the methodology for this study
Chapter 3 I will describe how the process of recruiting students to
8


participate in this work distinguishes it from being a type of student
council activity.
Impact of Student Voice Activities
Here I briefly address the impact of student voice activities,
including the key themes in the literature of individual learning, improved
relationships, and school change.
Individual Learning
Expressing themselves and participating in goal-oriented activities
can help students develop meta-cognitive skills and take increased
responsibility for their own learning (Cook-Sather, 2006b, 2007; Fredricks
et al., 2004; Rogoff, 2003), and develop better problem-solving skills
(Fielding, 2001b; Jonassen, 2000), increased motivation, effort, and more
effective learning strategies (Kirshner, 2003, citing Ames, 1992, Eccles,
Wigfield, and Schiefele, 1998).
Through this type of meaningful participation, by sharing their
voices and having adults in power respond to them, students develop
agency and increased ability to direct their own lives (Joselowsky, 2007;
Mitra, 2004; Roth, 2004), as well as a strong sense of efficacy,
responsibility, and knowledge (Osberg et ah, 2006). They can also develop
a more positive self-identity, which can lead to increased academic
achievement (Fredricks et ah, 2004). Participating in activities with others
can also help students develop relationships, both with peers and adults;
relationships, both positive and negative, and influence levels of students
emotional engagement and thus indicators of achievement.
Adults that participate in student voice activities can also learn
valuable things; students can help adults better understand how they
experience schooling (Cook-Sather, 2002a), the dynamics that exist
between school, home, and the community (Mitra, 2006a; Nespor, 1997),
how to make teaching more accessible to them (Cook-Sather, 2006b,
2007), and why students disengage and drop out (Gallagher, 2002; Smyth,
2006). Student voice activities can also help adults learn the importance of
taking on other roles, outside of the classroom, to support students and
their learning (Kirshner, 2003).
9


Improved Relationships
In addition to student voice activities promoting aspects of
individual learning, they can also help to improve relationships within
schools. Peer influence on group dynamics in schools is great (Horner,
2000). Negative relationships with peers can contribute to a students
decision to disengage from or leave school completely (Lee, 1999).
Student voice activities, though, such as action research projects, can help
groups of students to come together and work on common goals; in doing
so they can also improve peer relationships, especially when conducted
with diverse groups of students (Rubin & Jones, 2007; Yonezawa &
Jones, 2007). Students can become role models, mentors, coaches, and
conflict mediators with one another (Joselowsky, 2007). If students to
better understand one another, in terms of their peers experiences and
perspectives, they are more likely to build personal and academic
connections to support each other, their learning, and their school
communities (Yonezawa & Jones, 2007).
Student-adult (e.g., teacher) relationships also impact learning;
students who perceive themselves as being low status in relation to
adults, for example, are often associated with lower student performance
(Flutter, 2006). Relationships between students and adults in schools often
reflect an imbalance of power, which is important to consider in education
reform, since change efforts are often about shifting power relations
(Mitra, 2007, p. 4). Often there is a pervasive culture of adultism in
schools, where adults often privilege their own professional or experience-
related domains of knowledge and skill over those of students (Cook-
Sather, 2002b; Larson et al., 2005; Mitra, 2007). However, participating in
activities with adults, and having positive reactions to teachers can help
students feel valued, connected to school, and more emotionally engaged
such that they become more motivated learners (Fredricks et al., 2004).
School Change
Some of the student voice research has focused on single sites
(e.g., one school) while others focused on multi-site initiatives. Studies of
student voice efforts aimed at school improvement reveal impacts
including changes in school practices and culture (Fielding, 2001b; Mitra,
2005), improved decision-making, and school and classroom
environments designed to better meet the needs of students (Flutter, 2006).
In my conceptual framework I included a component about organizational
10


change, expanding the focus beyond schools because the work I studied
also looked at student voice activities developed at a district level.
The Role of Youth-Adult Partnerships
I want to briefly review the literature on youth-adult partnerships
as it pertains to student voice activities. Mitras (2007) discussion of
building youth-adult partnerships cites the work of many scholars,
including Vygotsky (1978), Lave (1988) and Lave and Wenger (1991),
and Rogoff (1990) in arguing that scaffolding student participation, in part
by building partnerships between students and adults, and between
students of different ages and experiences, can help learning occur. To be
clear, the literature uses the term youth in the discussion of such
partnerships. I use the term student when referring to the work in my
study, as it was particular to schools.
Building partnerships between students and adults in schools can
help facilitate school change; youth-adult partnerships can help improve
curriculum and assessment (Fielding, 2001a; Rudduck & Flutter, 2000),
better classroom learning (Flutter & Ruddick, 2000; Rubin & Jones,
2007), strengthen student-teacher relationships (Shultz & Cook-Sather,
2001), and improve teacher training (Cook-Sather, 2006b; 2007).
Additionally, teacher relationships that provide students with academic or
interpersonal support are associated with higher student behavioral
engagement (e.g., fewer disciplinary problems or disruptive behaviors,
fewer dropouts, more completion of homework and class participation),
emotional engagement (e.g., positive school identification, feeling of
belonging), and cognitive engagement (e.g., use of strategies to regulate
attention and effort, meta-cognition, persistence) (Fredricks et al., 2004).
And, Mitra (2007) found that,
Increasing student voice in schools broadens the notion of
distributed leadership to include considering young people
themselves as capable and valuable members of a school
community who can help to initiate and implement educational
change (p. 237).
However, at the heart of relationships between students and
teachers is often power (Cook-Sather, 2002a), and, as Rudduck and Flutter
(1998) argue profound, lasting changes ....require new structures, new
activities, and a rethinking of the internal workings of each institution (p.
83, citing Watson & Fullan, 1992, p. 219, quoted by Fullan, 1993, p. 96).
11


Students need adults to support their work to some degree if it is to be
embraced within the existing power and decision-making structure.
Students do not have the time or desire to participate in all tasks;
adults can participate in these activities through coaching, guidance,
modeling behaviors, sharing tasks, and scaffolding activities (Camino,
2005). Kirshner (2003) also suggests that adults take on additional roles,
such as advisors, program directors, facilitators, fund-raisers, employers,
drivers and even meal-providers in an effort to support student learning
and goal completion. One reason adults should want to support students in
this work is that when working on issues of school reform the more buy-in
the students have, the more likely the reforms are to take hold; the
adoption of innovations or reforms requires buy-in from student
stakeholders (Zeldin, Camino, & Mook, 2005).
Bringing the Conceptual Framework Pieces Together
This discussion provides background as to the development of my
conceptual framework. Through the conceptual framework I connected the
concepts of school engagement with the literature on student voice. There
are indicators in the literature and this study that student voice activities -
through expression, participation, and action can serve as tools to
promote emotional and behavioral school engagement. My conceptual
framework illustrates the concept that student voice activities and
outcomes are the tools through which to promote that engagement.
The goals of school engagement and the student voice activities as
tools to help accomplish those goals are together intended to realize
certain impacts on the individuals and organizational involved in the work.
The impacts are represented in the right part of my conceptual framework.
The conceptual framework also reflects the role of youth-adult partnership
in supporting the relationship between student voice activities and school
engagement, as well as in the learning and school change that can result
from such activities. The framework has a graphic of circular arrows
encircling the school engagement goals, student voice activities, and
impact of the work to illustrate that this work is promoted and supported
by continuous interaction and feedback between students and adults in the
school system. All of this work was framed by the role of youth-adult
partnerships both at district- and school-levels. Again, the literature refers
to youth in the discussion of these partnerships, but I use the term
students when talking about participants in this particular work, as it is
specific to schools.
12


Research Questions
As demonstrated in my discussion of how the literature guided the
development of my conceptual framework, there have been some attempts
to include students as participants and drivers of school improvement.
However, there has been insufficient attention to the question of how to
sustain student engagement in this work, and how doing so might actually
improve and accelerate school reform efforts. Additionally, there have
been few, if any, attempts to look at how to engage students systematically
in the school change process, or to connect such work to broader systemic
reform goals of a district (Joselowsky, 2007). The need to answer this
question is urgent.
My research focused on one districts work to support student
voice and participation in high school improvement, in alignment with the
districts school reform plan. They did this by working with a district-wide
student board of education to hold student voice forums at each high
school, support the development of student-adult teams to respond to the
forum data, and to realize concrete school improvement projects. The data
from the study is from the first two years of this pilot project. My first
research question was, what happened during the first two years of this
student voice and leadership projectl My second research question was,
what impact did the work have on the individuals and organizations
involved?
Overview of Methodology
In this section I review the design of the research study, the
sampling procedures, the data collection and the analysis methods.
Research Design
I did a qualitative case study with embedded, single case designs
(Yin, 1994), studying a district-wide effort to engage students as active
participants in school improvement. A case study was appropriate because
the work was bounded in time (Creswell, 1998) with a fairly clear
beginning and end. I chose the district because they were doing unique,
significant work around a new trial model (Creswell, 1998) of how to
engage students as participants in school improvement, the results of
which could help develop new knowledge and understanding of how a
district might leverage such work to help realize successful high school
improvement strategies.
13


My research of this work built upon previous research that
suggested that while students are increasingly regarded as valuable
contributors to high school improvement, efforts to engage them must be
connected to broader systemic goals for reform in order to realize
significant impact (Joselowsky, 2007).
Sample
Site Sample
For this research I used a purposeful sample (Creswell, 1998). The
district I chose is the only district in the state that I found to be attempting
to support student leadership and voice as one lever for improving high
schools. My research of the work in this district also directly addressed
Joselowskys (2007) recommendation for future research on how student
voice efforts can be supported in alignment with a district-wide vision for
high school reform. The district worked with student leaders from 14
different high schools, but I purposefully chose two schools to study
within this work, based on selection criteria that I describe in Chapter 3.
Participant Sample
At each of the two schools that I selected as my site samples there
was one core team of students and adults driving this work. I invited all
participants on each core team to take part in my study. There were 8
participants from the core team at School A, and 8 participants from the
core team at School B. At the district level I invited each of the senior
student leaders who participated in the pilot for two years, and five chose
to participate. I also invited four staff from the district office that
supported the pilot, and all chose to participate. Finally, I invited 4 adult
Board of Education members to participate, and three chose to. I will
describe that selection process in much more detail in Chapter 3.
I am an outsider to this work. I had no supervisory role or
relationship with the participants in this study. I neither provided financial
support of this work nor received financial compensation for this research.
Data Collection
The primary methods I used to gather data in this case study
included documents, focus groups, and interviews. In Chapter 3 I will
explicitly describe the methods that I will use for each of my research
14


questions, and articulate why each particular method helped me to collect
the data that I needed. In summary, I collected a great number of
documents, did six focus groups (i.e., four with core teams, including a
student and an adult focus group at each of the two schools, and two focus
groups with second-year student board members). I also conducted seven
interviews (i.e., four district adult support staff, and three Board of
Education members). In the focus groups and interviews I used semi-
structured questions (Creswell, 1998) and audio-recorded responses.
Data Analysis
To organize my data I coded it (Creswell, 1998) according to a-
priori categories derived by the literature, as well s a-posteriori codes that
emerge from the data itself. In Chapter 3 I explicate my coding methods in
detail, including how I organized all of the data, developed a codebook,
and assigned codes to the data. To help establish internal validity and
reliability I looked for relationships and patterns in the data by
triangulating my different sources of data, and I engaged an independent
person to engage in an exercise of inter-rater reliability. A more detailed
description of these methods is in Chapter 3.
My Biography
I include a brief biography here so that the reader has a sense of
my background and what led me to this study. I was a high school Spanish
teacher for 7 years before I became the director of a charitable foundation
that is primarily focused on education-related granting. I thoroughly
enjoyed teaching and over time became increasingly interested in finding
ways to create high quality educational opportunities for all students.
Working for a foundation has enabled me to work on pushing educational
change from the outside. I am engaged in work that helps leverage
community and other resources to support schools and districts to offer
better educational experiences to students, and particularly those in poor
and working class urban schools.
When I started my doctoral work I was looking at issues of school
culture and how it could be a means to either to support or detract from
student learning and achievement. Through my reading and writing about
issues of school culture I found my way to the literature on student voice. I
came to understand, through my reading of the research and my own
personal and professional experiences, that student voice activities were
not only closely related to aspects of school culture but that they might
15


also be a means to both accelerate and improve school reform work so as
to better meet the needs of students and support their learning and
achievement.
As a result of this focus in my doctoral studies, I co-founded a non-
profit organization dedicated to empowering and supporting students to be
active agents of change in their own schools. I spent 3 years helping to run
and develop the organization while continuing my doctoral studies and my
work for the foundation. I left the nonprofit as an active leader more than
two years ago and have since continued to deepen my work through the
foundation on various projects related to school reform. I contribute to the
community by serving on the boards of other nonprofits as well. The
common denominator of all the hats I wear is that I am passionate about
and dedicated to the relentless pursuit of helping to realize high quality
educational opportunities for all students.
I come from an upper middle class background, which is a
different sotio-economic background than many of the students involved
in the work that I studied. That bears upon my professional and research
experience, as well as my personal interests and commitments to equitable
education for all. I have had many years of experience working and
interacting with people from very diverse backgrounds, including my own
extended family, students, members of my local community, international
communities through volunteer work, and youth in the non-profit I co-
founded. I have engaged in a practice of self-reflection and introspection
over the years, which has helped me to make meaning of my experiences,
appreciate what I have learned from all those people and experiences, and
how to consciously and intentionally apply all that I have learned to my
personal and professional life. I can better recognize what I do not know,
how much others can teach me, as well as the biases I may bring to my
work.
Having had access to high quality educational experiences
throughout my life I understand the imperative of helping support the
creation of such opportunities for all youth. When working with youth
from other backgrounds and experiences, I can empathize with their often
complex and difficult lives, as well as appreciate their experiences and
perspectives as strength- or asset-based, valuing their contributions to my
learning and work.
16


CHAPTER 2
LITERATURE REVIEW
Introduction
The educational problem that frames this study is the great level of
student disengagement from schools, as illustrated by pervasive student
underachievement in the district of focus. The research problem is the
exclusion of students, particularly in high school, in the work of creating
and implementing strategies and interventions aimed at increasing student
engagement in school. In this review of the literature on student voice
activities in schools I argue that the literature misses an important aspect
of the problem: whether student-initiated and directed activities aimed at
school improvement can impact individual learning and organizational
improvements that better support school engagement. My research
questions, and the resulting data and analysis, aim to more adequately
frame the issue and give those invested in education reform new tools to
improve schools so that they may better support student learning and
engagement.
I have organized this literature review into six sections. First, I
discuss the origins of the concept student voice, including political, social,
and educational perspectives that have influenced the concept. Second, I
discuss various theoretical arguments for student voice, including trends in
the research, typologies of student voice activities, and the role of voice in
learning. Third, I outline the empirical outcomes of student voice activities
represented in the literature. In that section I discuss the examples of
student learning, adult learning, improved relationships, and school
change that have resulted from various multisite and individual projects.
Fourth, I review the potential pitfalls of student voice work. Fifth, I
identify what is missing from the literature base. Sixth, I articulate the
need for this study.
Origins of the Term Student Voice
Student voice is a term that is used in various social science
perspectives and literatures. It has roots in the political perspective, as a
term that is used in relation to concepts such as civil rights, civic
engagement, and democratic participation. The student voice concept also
has roots in a social perspective, such as identity formation and the field of
positive youth development. Additionally, student voice is an important
17


concept in various education-related fields, including numerous learning
theories, writing and practice of critical pedagogy, and work around
school engagement and organizational improvement. While I will briefly
review examples of student voice concepts related to all of these
perspectives, my principle focus in this literature review is on student
voice as it relates to learning, school engagement, and school
improvement.
Political Concepts
Cook-Sather (2006b) explores the emergence of the term student
voice and the various meanings it has and practices that represent it. She
argues that the concepts of rights and respect represent a two-part
framework of the underlying premises of student voice work. I will review
her views of student rights in this discussion of the political perspective of
student voice work, and her ideas of respect in the next section on the
social perspective of the work. Levin (2000) offers another perspective on
the history of student voice work; he argues that during the 1960s and
1970s in the United States the student power movement focused on the
idea of rights, which I will explore here. Levins argument is that in the
1990s and into 2000 student voice was framed around ideas of efficacy
and attempts to realize more successful school reform work will be further
explored in the section of the educational perspective of this work. Power
is also a concept that is weaved throughout student voice work, both from
a perspective that students do not have enough or are in some cases
disempowered in schools, but also from the perspective that they have the
power to resist changes and thus derail efforts to change or improve
schools (Lee, 1999).
Rights
MacBeath, Myers, and Demetriou (2001) argued that student voice
in an inherent justice, as a human right (p. 78), and Cook-Sather (2006b)
cited various examples of national frameworks in the United States that
support the concept of student rights. These include the fact that all
students are entitled to a free public education, a result credited to work of
people such as Thomas Jefferson and Horace Mann. She also cited various
legislative and judicial acts that were realized to address institutionalized
segregation and marginalization of certain students; Brown vs. Board of
Education (1954) addressed inequities related to race, Title IX addressed
inequities related to gender, Title I and the Elementary and Secondary
18


Education Act (1965) addressed socio-economic inequities, the Education
for All Handicapped Children Act (1975) addressed students physical
abilities, and No Child Left Behind (2002) addressed achievement levels.
There is some disagreement however, as to whether or not those
national frameworks have promoted change in schools in the U.S. Levin
(2000) noted that the student power movement, focused on the idea of
student rights, had little impact on schools. Cook-Sather (2006b), in
reflecting on her broader account of the history of student rights
throughout the last century, acknowledged that various critics have
challenged results of each of these acts, but she argued that each act is
nonetheless an example of creating guidelines to intentionally mitigate
inequities within the educational system. In that way, each was intended to
promote student rights in different ways. Intentions, however, may not
yield intended results. Much of the work around student rights and the
legislation intended to protect those rights lacks student input. Research
and interventions are often done on and to students, rather than with them,
thus missing key inputs that could make it more meaningful (Cook-Sather,
2006b; Fine et al., 2003; Thiessen, 2006).
Examples of student rights frameworks in England that Cook-
Sather (2006b) suggested include a consultation paper, Working together:
Giving Children and Young People a Say (2004) by the Department of
Education and Skills in England, as well as work within Englands Office
for Standards in Education (OfSTED) that is meant to guide educational
practices that are responses to international resolutions, and which
explicitly assert the rights of children and young people to have a voice
and an active role in decision making and planning in education (Cook-
Sather, p. 371, citing Cruddas & Haddock, 2003, p. 5). Rudduck and
Flutter (2000) also cited the National Union of School Students (1972) as
a declaration of rights that students in the U. K. can demand and have the
right to expect.
Additionally there are various international frameworks cited as
examples of student rights frameworks. Rudduck and Flutter (2000) cited
the Declaration of the Rights of the Child (1924), as a measure to protect
children that was related mostly to conditions outside of schools and
spurred by the toll that World War I caused children. Rudduck and Flutter,
Cook-Sather (2006a), and Kirby (2001) also cited the United Nations
Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) as an example of an attempt
to both protect children and to encourage their participation in society.
19


Democratic Participation and Civic Engagement
Lincoln (1995) argued that adults should seek out and listen to
voices of students because doing so includes them in a democratic process.
She stated that,
In an emerging political context, we are beginning to understand
that the support of a democratic, just, and economically viable and
prosperous society requires active participation and critical
thinking skills far beyond what many of our students experience in
school. The laboratory where such skills are learned or not is the
largest public social institution remaining in the United States: the
public schools. Exercising voice in public affairs or the normal
duties of citizenship requires that individuals have found their
voices. Evaluating and synthesizing information about important
social issues requires not only literacy in a narrow sense but also in
a broader sense, and vast experience with critically analyzing a
variety of materials. These are intellectual habits of the heart
acquired (or not acquired) in the process of schooling (p. 89).
Levin (2000) wrote that participation is a requisite for
commitment to change, suggesting that facilitating students participation
must occur in order for schools to really change and improve. Zeldin et al.
(2005) also argued that for innovation to be adopted (e.g., school reform
initiatives) a diverse group of stakeholders, including students, must be
mobilized and coordinated. In youth organizations and schools youth must
have new roles that engage them meaningfully, so that they share the same
vision as the adults for innovation and commit to making it happen.
Critical Theory and Power Perspective
Many scholars have argued that instead of standardizing conditions
for academic success, many schools across this country institutionalize
educational disadvantage for minority students (Bartolome, 2003; Fine,
1997, 2003; Freire, 1970; hooks, 2003; Kozol, 1991; Mercado, 2001).
There are disproportionate numbers of students of lower socio-economic
backgrounds and students of color in special education, remedial courses,
and the disciplinary system (Klingner et al., 2005; Oakes, 1985), as well as
more dropping out (Fine, 1991; Gallagher, 2002). Fine and Weis (2003)
argued that,
20


At the dawn of the 21st century, public schools are in crisis. Their
souls are being fought over, with children, especially poor children
of color, held hostage to a series of political struggles around
vouchers, high-stakes testing, abstinence, evolution,
segregation/integration, whole language, bilingualism, governance,
and finance (in)equities (p. 1).
In the wake of these political battles over schooling, argued Fine
and Weis (2003), voices of students particularly those who are poor and
of color are of utmost importance; students must have opportunities to
weigh in about how such issues impact them both personally and
academically. Without students voices, it will be hard to fill schools with
visions of justice, possibility, and imagination; to engage every child in
ways that allow for his or her genius to shine (p. 2). Ladson-Billings and
Tate (1995) called voice a first step on the road to justice (p. 58).
A powerful example of students sharing their opinions and
enlightening adults on such topics can be found in Howards (2001) study
of how poor and affluent student perceive academic achievement. In that
study he found that students believe that schooling opportunities are not
equal for both groups, and that the differences in achievement result from
differences in schooling. Howard argued that underachieving schools tend
to lack a sense of community, and that community and voices are divided
by the dominant often the more affluent culture. Organizing different
voices helps to build power, he argues, and can help to create positive
change in schools.
Lincolns (1995) research demonstrated that seeking students
voices can uncover views of the world that may not represent the
dominant experience, and may provide a counter-narrative to combat
hegemonic beliefs or practices in schools. Fine and Weis (2003) argued
that,
(Schools) can be repressive and toxic, and they can challenge
social (injustices by opening the doors that race and class
hierarchies have glued shut. Schools typically reproduce brutal
social stratifications, but occasionally create the very wisdom with
youth and by youth that enables and even encourages challenge to
social arrangements (p. 3).
Furthermore, they argued that educational research must elicit and respond
to students ideas and perspectives; if it does not, the research and
21


resulting reform strategies could reinforce existing hierarchies and
oppressive practices schools.
Cook-Sather (2006b) argued that an important element of a critical
pedagogical perspective is that power must be distributed within a
classroom, both between students themselves as well as between students
and adults. She added that post-feminist perspective also focuses on
power, how to redistribute it, and how to change oppressive practices.
Power is also a foundational idea to community and youth organizing, as it
is something that people, especially adults, are hesitant to give up.
Empowering youth to make decisions challenges what are typically
hierarchical relationships between youth and adults (Kirshner, 2003). If, as
Fielding (2004) asserted, location, status, and power bear upon meaning
and truth, and issues of voice are... embedded in historically located
structures and relations of power (p. 300), students and adults are likely
to have different perspectives and beliefs about what happens in schools,
and in turn are likely to act upon those beliefs in different ways. If power
were to be distributed between students and adults, as Cook-Sather
suggested, then classroom relationships may be better able to mitigate
many of the aforementioned inequities found in schools.
The concept of power is an important part of those politically,
socially, and educationally oriented perspectives. As such, I will further
discuss power through the literature on youth-adult partnerships as a way
to support learning and achievement later in this review.
Social Concepts
There are various social concepts that relate to student voice, and
many of them (e.g., identity, agency, youth-adult partnerships) overlap
with the educational concepts that I will discuss later in this chapter. Here,
though, I will briefly discuss the concept of respect and its link to student
voice. I will also address the literature on identity, agency, and youth-adult
partnerships, but later on in the discussion of educational outcomes of
student voice work.
Respect
Cook-Sather (2006a), in her argument that the concept of student
voice came from broader concepts and legal frameworks of rights and
respect, asserted that respect is key to fostering positive, productive
relationships with students. She defined respect as relational, reciprocal,
and radial, and suggests that it is connected to empathy, understanding,
22


and being truly connected with others (2006a, 2006b). Cook-Sather
(2002b) said that,
These three qualities of respect have direct bearing on what
students want in school: attention and human interaction; sharing
of power and responsibility; and recognition and balancing of the
angles of difference that converge in classrooms (p. 170).
Cook-Sather (2006b) argued, though, that despite the importance
of this concept, popular culture has essentially co-opted the term
respect. Student voice can be a powerful tool to help frame discussion
and work around building respect such that it can be a tool to support
teaching and learning in schools. Students can feel more respected if they
are given a chance to express themselves (Cook-Sather, 2006b, citing
MacBeath et al., 2003; Crane, 2001). Cook-Sather (2006b) suggested that,
Rights are more a priori, acontextual, more about givens, attributes
of being an individual; respect is socially negotiated, relational,
more fully contextual. Both are about honoring the dignity and the
distinctiveness of young people (p. 376).
Fielding (2004) referred to a similar concept as radical
collegiality (p. 310), and, through his analysis of different schools and
approaches to school leadership (2006), he explored the centrality of
relationships to facilitating learning and effective schooling.
Educational Concepts
My focus in this review is on the literature on student voice from
an educational and school perspective what Mitra (2005) argued is a
newer perspective that has replaced the previously discussed political
perspective about student voice being about rights. Levin (2000) also
believed that a focus on student rights, prevalent in the U.S. in the 1960s
and 1970s, was replaced in the 1990s and into 2000 with a focus on
student voice as tool to increase educational efficacy and school
improvement.
Thiessen (2006), in his review of the literature, argued that
research on student voice in schools tends to fall into one of two camps,
student voice as a tool for learning, and student voice as a tool for school
improvement. In my own review of the literature I have found four distinct
categories of scholarly review of the outcomes of student voice work, (i)
23


student learning and engagement, (ii) adult learning, (iii) improved
relationships, and (iv) school improvement. I will review each of these
three in detail later in this chapter, and in doing so will focus special
attention on what I have found to be the principle educational concepts
underlying the student voice work in schools, learning theory and school
engagement.
Theoretical Arguments for Student Voice in Education
To foreground my review of the research on student voice in
schools, I want to address the various theoretical arguments for why
student voice is an important and powerful tool to improve educational
outcomes. Having already discussed in Chapter 1 the various forms that
student voice can take, I begin this section by outlining 3 things, (i) trends
in education research, (ii) typologies of student voice activities, and (iii)
theoretical student learning outcomes of student voice activities. This part
of the review will help to foreground the review of the empirical studies of
student voice in schools, and what scholars argue are important teaching
and learning outcomes that have resulted from student voice activities and
initiatives.
Trends in Education Research
Student voice tends to be under-theorized (Mitra, 2008) and is
largely missing in educational research (Cook-Sather, 2002b; Fielding,
2004) and reform planning and implementation (Lee, 1999), despite the
fact that student voice can help realize important school reform outcomes
(Fielding, 2001b; Mitra, 2004; Rudduck & Flutter, 2000). Educational
research tends to be about students, not with them (Cook-Sather, 2006b;
Fielding, 2004; Levin, 2000). Cook-Sather (2002a) argued that,
Since the advent of formal education in the United States, both the
educational system and that systems every reform have been
premised on adults notions of how education should be
conceptualized and practiced. There is something fundamentally
amiss about building and rebuilding an entire system without
consulting at any point those it is ostensibly designed to serve (p.
3).
24


Such exclusion of students voices and perspectives, she argued,
represents a type of institutional marginalization. Cook-Sather (2006b), in
her review of educational research and reform, also concluded that,
Educational research that does not elicit or respond to students
ideas violates students rights, and educational reform that does not
include students as active roles reinforces the U.S. school as a
locus of social control that keeps students captive either to
dominant interests, notions, and practices...or to adults notions of
how to empower students (p. 372).
Research and reform that excludes students voices, Cook-Sather argued,
has had limited impact on that which is intends to explain and improve.
She said that,
The driving force behind research and reform is, it is claimed, the
improvement of schools, achievement, and (sometimes) learning.
The disconnect, then, between what we know and what we do,
between federal law that is not accountable and local conditions
that render success virtually impossible, between the espoused goal
of supporting student learning and the reality of ignoring students,
points to a profoundly disabling and potentially very dangerous
discrepancy between the claims behind federal legislation and the
policies and practices that result from it (pp. 372-373).
Engaging students in research about schools and learning can add
important perspective to the research and thus can help inform both how
problems in education are defined, and how solutions are conceived of and
designed (Fielding, 2001a, 2001b; Rubin & Jones, 2007). This view is
supported by Joselowskys (2007) analysis of the Schools for a New
Society initiative, in which she stated that,
Young people themselves are crucial assets in this equation.
Therefore, engaging them in both improving educational
environments and taking responsibility for their learning is an
essential foundation for the success of education reform efforts (p.
259).
Levin (2000) made a similar argument. In his review of the student
voice literature and school reform he put forth a 2-part conceptual
framework of why student voice is key for successful organizational and
25


educational outcomes. Organizationally, he argued, schools should involve
students because effective implementation of reform requires participation
and buy-in from all stakeholders, students have unique knowledge and
perspectives that can inform the reform process, students views can help
mobilize others, including staff and parents. Educationally, he added,
students should be involved because doing so can facilitate constructivist
learning, as well as improve student motivation and engagement in school.
Levin also argued that students are the producers of school outcomes. As
such, learning is the fundamental element of schooling and students
must (shape) their own production of educational outcomes (p. 163).
Typologies for Student Voice Activities
Fielding (2004b) outlined a four-part framework for student voice
as a way to illustrate ways in which students can engage their voices in
schools in powerful ways: students as (i) data sources, (ii) active
respondents, (iii) co-researchers, (iv) lead researchers. Fielding (2001a,
2001b) offered a descriptive conceptual framework that could be used to
analyze conditions for student voice in schools as well as to track changes
in conditions that may result from student voice activities. The framework
included questions to help pinpoint things to look at in schools, including
who speaks, who listens, what the school culture is like, how space is used
in the school for interactive or dialogic activities, what systems may or
may not exist within a school to support student voice activities.
Other frameworks for student voice included Holdsworths (2000)
student participation ladder. It progresses from students speaking out, to
being heard, to being listened to seriously and with respect, to
incorporating students views into actions taken by others, to shared
decision-making, implementation of action, and reflection on action with
others (p. 358). Inherent in this framework is the importance of listening.
For students to have voice in schools people must listen and respond
(Cook-Sather, 2002a, 2006b; Fielding, 2001a, 2001b, 2004b; Holdsworth,
2000; Lee & Zimmerman, 2001; Mitra, 2007). Cook-Sather (2006a)
pushed this concept even further, arguing that, voice signals having a
legitimate perspective and opinion, being present and taking part, and/or
having an active role in decisions about and implementation of
educational policies and practice (p. 362, citing Holdsworth, 2000, p.
355).
Mitra (2007) outlined three types of student voice work, especially
as related to school reform, including listening, collaboration, and
leadership. She argued that listening activities occur when adults listen to
26


student perspectives as a form of raw knowledge for either research or
reform; collaboration illustrates activities that focus on research, and
where students and adults work together to conduct research and/or to
develop changes; leadership activities focus on change, where youth are
in charge of the activity and make most of the decisions and adults help
them do it. Much of the research about student voice looked at the use of
participatory action research as a tool for gathering and responding to
student voice in schools.
Levin (2000) looked at educational research and reform around
the country and in his review lists specific ways to engage student voice.
He argued that adults, at an organizational level, could involve students in
formal management processes, training, thus supporting them to be able to
participate in school improvement work. He further argued that adults can
also help students organize and run their own parallel processes (e.g.,
discussions of school change, defining problems, gathering evidence,
analyzing data, writing proposals, working in teams, and developing their
own leadership skills) that compliment the work of adults. At a classroom
level, he believed, adults can ask students about their views and ideas
(e.g., what issues face students, what would students like to change, how
schools could be better learning environments), and engage them in
learning about schooling as part of the curriculum, bringing together
learning and reform (e.g., having students do action research, debate
opinions, consider alternatives). Levins arguments summarized the idea
that gathering and analyzing data is key for students both at organizational
and educational levels. Even so, one of the challenges remains the lack of
empirical research about ways in which adults can facilitate the
development of student voice and leadership within schools (Mitra, 2005).
Though student voice is largely missing in educational research
(Cook-Sather, 2002b; Fielding, 2004) and reform planning and
implementation (Lee, 1999), there is growing attention to its potential
contributions to education design and evaluation. Students should play a
part in improving schools, as they are the ones for whom schools exist
(Cook-Sather, 2002a; Doyle & Feldman, 2006).
The Role of Voice in Learning
Engaging student voice is consistent with participatory and
dialogic learning strategies (Wells, 1999, 2002). Wells (1999) argued that
learning should be viewed as engagement in joint activity, and that
discourse (e.g., between students themselves or students and adults) is a
way to realize deep learning. Wells (2002) also suggested that school
27


should be connected to the real world by being focused on dialogic
inquiry as well as semiotic apprenticeship. He defined semiotic
apprenticeship as when students investigate issues, problems, questions of
personal and cultural interest and represent the processes, results of their
knowing-in-action, in contributions to a multi-modal dialogue that is
principally aimed at increasing their individual and collective
understandings of the issues and problems addressed (p. 45).
Understanding, Wells (1999) argued, is what one develops by
participating in activity, and change or transformation is the focal object of
knowledge building.
Support for student voice, then, must not be just rhetoric; student
voice must be understood as a powerful learning tool, particularly in the
form of dialogue and discussion (Fielding, 2001a). For one, Fielding
(2004) argued the importance of understanding that discourse is not about
speaking/or or about others but rather is about speaking with others.
Wells (1999) argued that dialogue is more than sharing opinions, it is
sharing, questioning, revising opinions so that collectively everyone
building on previous understanding. In this way, it pushes the concept of
student voice as limited to expression and suggests that voice in discourse
promotes participation in collective activity. Furthermore, argued Wells,
progressive discourse is a means of knowledge building and it should be
used in the classroom. Engaging student voice through scaffolded or
supported activities, and by listening and responding to what they say,
provides a way for students to participate in goal-oriented activities that
can help them build their own and others knowledge and contribute to a
collective understanding about how to improve schools so that they really
do support meaningful learning and skill development.
Engaging student voice and participation in decision-making can
also help increase student motivation and effort (Kirshner, 2003;
Newmann, 1981), which in turn can help facilitate student learning and
achievement (Fredricks et al., 2004). Engaging student voice provides a
powerful means of supporting student learning.
Empirical Outcomes of Student Voice Work
This overview of the research focuses on scholars findings of
outcomes of student voice activities in schools. There has been extensive
student voice work in many countries, including the U.S., Canada, and the
U.K., and my review of the literature will highlight studies from each. I
review scholarly work on projects at various levels of the school system,
including in classrooms, schools, and districts through multi-site
28


initiatives. There are some recurring themes in the research that paint a
picture of the outcomes of student voice in schools. Therefore, I structured
my review of this empirical work by doing three things, (i) briefly
highlighting some key research of student voice, (ii) organizing the
findings of all the reviewed studies into categories of student learning,
improved instruction, improved relationships, and school change, and (iii)
integrating the reviewed studies into my discussion of the different
categorical outcomes.
Key Research Projects
There are numerous examples of empirical studies that have been
done on student voice activities and what impact they can have on various
aspects of student and adult learning, and school change. Key projects that
have informed my thinking include two multi-site initiatives as well as
various individual school-based projects.
Two Multi-Site Initiatives
There have been a couple of key multi-year and multi-site efforts
to improve schools in the U.S., particularly at the high school level, with
student voice as an explicit part of the framework. I briefly outline them
here, and then I will integrate further discussion of the projects within my
review of the outcomes of this work as documented in the literature.
Joselowsky (2007) argued that, School districts alone cannot
maintain the momentum and resources needed for systemic change (p.
259). An example of efforts to engage student voice and participation in
school reform is The Carnegie Corporations Investment in High School
Reform and Youth Engagement initiative sponsored a 5-year, $60 million
Schools for a New Society (SNS) project. Seven sites were part of the
SNS work, including Boston, MA; Hamilton County/Chattanooga, TN;
Houston, TX; Providence, RI; Sacramento, CA; San Diego, CA; and
Worcester, MA. The SNS project challenged the participating
communities to reinvent all of their high schools and to redesign central
offices to support them (Joselowsky, 2007). A core principal of the work
was to make youth engagement and participation a key element of the
change framework. An evaluation of the project demonstrated that, despite
overarching challenges in engaging youth in these efforts (e.g., needing to
act on student feedback, needing training to build and sustain youth-adult
partnerships, and the need to connect student work to district-level work),
29


youth involvement in the various site initiatives helped create various
examples of change.
The outcomes of the SNS work included things such as student
involvement in the local small schools initiative (e.g., helping choose
school and learning community designs, hiring school leaders), creating
school-based advisory systems, a Teacher Rally (i.e., student-driven
professional development for school teachers and leaders around building
relationships), school-based student groups who contributed to policy
decisions, alternative student-centered disciplinary programs, a new high
school class, and student-driven development of Individual Learning Plans
(ILPs) to improve and develop core academic skills (Framework for
Success for All Students, 2006; Joselowsky, 2007).
Another multi-site effort that Mitra (2007, 2008) reviewed
consisted of 13 schools in the San Francisco Bay Area that got funding
from a local foundation to build student voice initiatives at their schools.
An analysis of the student voice work concluded that among the outcomes
were the development of new relationships; opportunities for students and
adults to learn from each other, share power, contribute meaningfully to
learning activities, develop increased respect for one another, and joint
responsibility for learning; shared language, common norms; examples of
change in schools, including the development of more electives, students
presenting workshops to their peers on questions of racism, classism,
nativism, and adultism; the creation of a unity council to promote dialogue
across racial groups, peer mediation and conflict resolution structures and
practices, and anti-bullying campaigns. The evaluation showed an overall
sense that relationships between students and adults improved, that school
environments became safer and more caring spaces for students, and the
development of shared repertoire to help develop communities of
practice between students and adults that were useful in facilitating
educational change.
This work is not easy, and it does not happen quickly, but it can be
a powerful lever for change in schools (Smith et al., 2005). Smith et al.
argued that,
Student voice can be a powerful tool when students are engaged in
the process and believe that their work and effort will result in
positive changes. The process will not happen overnight. Its
success depends on finding situations to build trust, being patient
with students when they want to talk about the physical school, and
then creating new opportunities for student participation. Systemic
changes that involve students in new ways can happen, and
30


whatever new relationships emerge will strengthen your school (p.
33).
The examples of school change cited here offer hope that student
voice can be an increasingly leveraged tool to improve school
improvement efforts and increase student learning and achievement. The
body of research on engaging students in this work is growing; though
there is room for further development of the ideas and practices of making
students participants and partners in the work, the results of work to date
demonstrates many powerful examples of how students have helped create
positive change in schools.
School-Based Projects
Fielding (2001b), in his work with the Students as Researchers
Project in the U.K., argued that when students identify issues they believe
are important to their school experiences and then suggest (and even insist
on) ways to change those issues in order to better support students in
school that learning environments can better support students needs.
Fielding noted that after three years of this project there were,
...profound cultural and structural changes in to the professional
identity and working practices of a large, very successful
secondary comprehensive school, changes that (were) student-led
and sustained by the richness and attentiveness of a dialogic
culture (p. 128).
Mitra (2005) examined three years of data from one school with
strong examples of student voice efforts as a part of the Bay Area School
Reform Collaborative (BASRC), a $112 million education initiative
supported by the Annenberg Challenge and the Hewlett Foundation. Mitra
noted that there was explicit development of a group culture of power
sharing within the participating group, particularly as related to students
and adults developing common skills (e.g., using action plans and
delegating tasks to address problems, learning how to plan and facilitate
meetings, and developing a shared education/school knowledge base),
common language (e.g., a mission statement), and common norms.
Outcomes documented from the project included changes in teachers
perspectives, reduced tension between teachers and students, and teachers
partnering with students to change classroom pedagogy.
31


In addition, Flutter (2006) cited the School Works Project as an
example of how engaging student participation in school change could
realize benefits including improved decision-making in schools,
development of new skills for students and teachers, improved
communication with outside professionals, faster development of
improvement projects, and school and classroom environments designed
with a better fit for purpose.
Student Learning
Engaging student voice is consistent with participatory and
dialogic learning strategies (Wells, 1999, 2002). Wells (1999) argued that
learning should be viewed as engagement in joint activity, and that
discourse (e.g., between students themselves or students and adults) is a
way to realize deep learning. Engaging student voice and participation in
decision-making can also help increase student motivation and effort
(Kirshner, 2003; Newmann, 1981), which in turn can help facilitate
student learning and achievement (Fredricks et al., 2004). Engaging
student voice, then, through meaningful opportunities for self- expression,
participation in decision-making activities, and/or action to improve the
school, provides a powerful means of supporting student learning,
including meta-cognition, problem-solving and critical thinking, agency,
identity, and school engagement and achievement.
Meta-cognition
People learn by doing (Wells, 1999). Expressing themselves and
participating in goal-oriented actions or activities can help students
develop meta-cognitive skills and take increased responsibility for their
own learning (Cook-Sather, 2006b, 2007; Fredricks et ah, 2004; Rogoff,
2003). Getting to make choices about their learning can be closely
correlated to developing active problem-solving skills (Fielding, 2001b;
Jonassen, 2000). Problem-solving activities can also greatly increase meta-
cognitive skills (Cook-Sather, 2002b; Fredricks et ah, 2004; Jonassen,
2000), which Jonassen (2000) describes as awareness of how one learns,
the ability to judge the difficulty of a task, the monitoring of
understanding, the use of information to achieve a goal, and the
assessment of the learning process. Such strategies promote greater
cognitive engagement, which helps students to better summarize, elaborate
to remember, organize, and understand academic material more deeply
(Fredricks et ah, 2004). Cognitive engagement also promotes the
32


psychological investment required to comprehend and master knowledge
and skills explicitly taught in schools (Fredricks et al, 2004, p. 64, citing
Wehlage et al., 1989, p. 17), as well as helps students increase their
involvement, engagement, and integration into school activities (Fredricks
et al., 2004, citing Newmann, 1981).
Joselowsky (2007), in her review of the School for a New Society
Project, found that students at various schools in the 7 initiative sites
helped develop, manage, and access their learning progress and learning
goals while improving and developing core academic skills (p. 265).
Cook-Sathers (2006b, 2007) study of the Teaching and Learning
Together (TLT) project captured students own perceptions of how they
gained perspective about themselves as learners by participating in a pre-
service teacher preparation program. These are various ways in which
students can develop meta-cognitive skills by participating in student
voice activities. Adults, in addition to facilitating opportunities for
students to participate in such activities can also support student learning
by helping students to develop the appropriate language to talk about their
learning and how they are as learners (Rudduck & Flutter, 2000).
Complex Problem-Solving
Jonassen (2000) argued that in general neither educators nor
researchers understand the breadth of problem solving activities well
enough to engage and support learners in them. Consequently, Jonassen
argued that even though adults say that they want students to develop
critical thinking and problem-solving skills, the understanding of how to
scaffold learning opportunities that would lead to such outcomes are often
poorly conceptualized. Complex problem-solving skills, developing from
tackling what Jonassen called ill-structured problems require the
integration of several content domains (p. 67); they are complex
problems with multiple solutions, and often require the learner to apply
subjective criteria (e.g., personal beliefs or opinions) to the process of
creating solutions. Sharing subjective views and beliefs are connected to
voice, and within this activity system student voices are integral to the
exercises aimed at building problem-solving skills. Different learning
outcomes require different instructional strategies (Jonassen, citing Gagne,
1980). Student voice activities can create a new type of learning space,
where student voices are engaged, so that this can happen.
Within classrooms dialogic activities, such as discussion of text,
provide students with opportunities to hone their questioning abilities,
think critically come up with various interpretations of meaning
33


(Commeyras, 1995). In other types of structured activities with teachers
students can share their ideas with adults on what makes a good learning
environment, how the learn best, and how to make learning more
enjoyable; what students can learn from doing so includes critical
analytical skills, constructive thinking, and inspiration to be more engaged
in school (Cook-Sather, 2007). Flutter (2006) documented similar
outcomes in her study; she argued that by inviting students to share
feedback on their ideas for improving their school,
It inspires students by putting them in the driving seat, giving them
control and responsibility as clients. Through this experience they
discover creative and life skills such as problem solving, team
working, communication, negotiation and citizenship, all of which
engender self-belief and confidence (p. 188, citing The Sorrell
Foundation, 2004, p. 1).
A group of students, focused on action research activities aimed at
improving schools for students, for example, can tackle Jonassens (2000)
so-called such ill-structured problems. A fundamental idea of action
research is to engage people in understanding their own situations so that
they can act upon them to solve problems (Carr, 1997). Carr studied user-
design in the creation of learning systems. In speaking about stakeholder
engagement in research, particularly within their own learning
environments (i.e., students in schools), Carr argues that Stakeholder
engagement is essential to the success of design, adoption, and
implementation of broad innovations such as new educational systems (p.
6, citing Banathy, 1991; Jenlink, 1995; Reigeluth, 1993). Student voice
and participation in efforts to improve schools certainly can create
opportunities for students to develop complex problem-solving skills,
while at the same time making positive contributions to their learning
environments.
Learning environments are inherently dynamic activity systems,
within which there is what Engestrom (1987) calls double stimulation.
Students are constantly changing the nature, direction, or form of their
activities because of the tools that they are using, and they are also
simultaneously being changed as a result of their participation in the
activity (Brown & Cole, 2002; Engestrom, 1987). Such a dynamic
environment presents participants with consistent opportunities to
problem-solve while they evaluate and reevaluate the difficulty of the
tasks they undertake, to learn about their own learning processes and how
to evaluate whether their actions help them to meet their learning goals.
34


This is it the heart of developing meta-cognitive skills, which, argued
Jonassen (2000) are a driving force behind becoming a really good
problem-solver.
Of last note in this section, I want to touch upon the learning of
complex problem solving skills through different modes of inquiry. Wells
(1999) argued that dialogic inquiry in particular is essential for real
world learning, as it is a tool for investigating issues, problems, and
questions of personal or cultural concern students enter into a semiotic
apprenticeship that helps them to (increase) their individual and
collective understandings of the issues and problems addressed (p. 3).
Agency
Student voice and participation in decision-making have been
looked upon by scholars as important elements for youth in the process of
identity and agency development. Joselowsky (2007) defined agency as,
The power to understand, act on, and effect positive change in
ones personal and social contexts; embodying the sense of hope
and possibility (grounded in an understanding of social reality) that
one can make a difference in ones own life, family, school, and
local community and in the broader national and global community
(p. 260, citing The Annenberg Institute for School Reform at
Brown University, p. 2, 2000).
Joselowsky (2007), in her comprehensive review of the Schools for
a New Society (SNS) Project, argued that engaging students as an explicit
part of a school change framework can yield significant learning
outcomes. She analyzed the SNS work, which involved 7 partner-cites
around the U.S. to develop systemic strategies and structures to engage
youth as co-constructors of their learning environments and experiences,
and concluded that including students as participants in school change
efforts engages them in their own learning, in their peers learning, in
improving educational opportunities, and in community and civic life.
Through this type of meaningful participation, by sharing their
voices and having adults in power respond to them, students develop
agency and increased ability to direct their own lives. As such, student
voice can improve educational practice while fostering student
empowerment and motivation to participate constructively in school
(Cook-Sather, 2002a, 2007). This, Joselowsky (2007) argued, directly
links to increased student engagement in school. She concluded that,
35


In the end, the path to student engagement starts where young
people are and helps them chart a course that will take them where
they need to go. On the way, the more they can find and use their
voices to express who they are and what they want, the greater is
the likelihood that they will seek and find what they need (p. 273,
citing Youth Development Institute, in press, p. 10).
Additionally, Roth (2004) argued that at the core of activity is,
the transformations of individuals and their community, which
result from the fact that human beings do not merely react to their
life conditions but that they have the power to act and therefore the
power to change the very conditions that mediate their lives (pp. 1-
2).
Mitra (2004) also looked at the development of agency in her study
of school change efforts in which students and adults worked together on
shared activities. She discussed student voice within this context as the
ability for students to share the opinions on problems in schools and
solutions to address them, as well as the opportunity to collaborate with
adults in doing so. In that study Mitra found that students participating in
such work develop a sense of personal empowerment, through increased
agency (e.g., being heard and speaking up, developing an identity as a
change-maker, learning leadership and new sources of support), belonging
(e.g., relationships with caring adults, improved interactions with teachers,
increased respect and attachment to school), and competence (e.g., ability
to critique the environment, problem-solving and facilitation skills, getting
along with others, and public speaking). Mitra (2006a) found similar
outcomes in her study of student voice and parent involvement as
strategies for change in schools.
Cook-Sather (2007) studied 13 years of data from the Teaching
and Learning Together (TLT) project, a program at Bryn Mawr and
Haverford Colleges education programs that require pre-service teachers
to engage in a semester-long project with local high school students in
order to get their teaching certificate. The data from the TLT project
indicated that students who participated as partners in the teacher-training
program became more active agents in creating positive school
experiences for themselves, becoming more empowered, motivated,
analytical and inspired students.
36


Osberg et al. (2006), in their study of the Stressed Out Students
(SOS) intervention and how students can be involved in school reform,
looked at how students, by giving input about problems, helping design
reforms, and sharing implementation strategies with adults, develop a
strong sense of efficacy, responsibility, and knowledge. MacBeath (2006)
studied a project designed by a teacher in the U.K. for students to spend a
gap year living for 4-6 weeks each in South Africa, Sweden, Scotland,
Japan, Korea, and the Czech Republic as visiting researchers. At the time
he published his study, the Learning School Researchers Project had been
going on for 6 years. While participating students studied ways in which
student voice in those sites was either supported or constrained by the
various structures, practices, and expectations of schooling, MacBeath
looked specifically at what Giroux referred to as border crossings, and
how the participating students experienced their own changes in agency
and identity as a result of this experience.
Making meaning of different experiences links to ones sense of
self and identity. Oldfather (2001) conducted a 5-year longitudinal study
of the link between having voice and motivation for literacy learning. She
found that engaging student voice in schools, specifically as related to
ones own learning, can lead to a sense of what I call epistemological
empowerment: a sense of intellectual agency and ability to know that
emerges from a strong sense of the integrity of ones processes of
constructing meaning (p. 132, citing Oldfather & Dahl, 1994). Students
voices quoted in the study affirm this belief. This transformative concept
of knowledge which emphasizes its power to give learners a sense that
they can act on the world (pp. 469-470) is what Young (1999) argued is
the curriculum of the future.
The focus on creation of new knowledge in school, in addition to
the transmission of existing knowledge, will help students to learn,
develop agency, and become active constructors of their own world
experience. In addition, Rudduck and Flutter (2000) studied student
participation in and perceptions of school in the U.K. They found in this
data, as well as in previous data (Flutter, Kershner, & Rudduck, 1998;
Rudduck & Flutter, 1998) that students want to change structures that
marginalize them and limit their agency.
Identity
Students personal development can either be helped or hindered in
schools, and engaging and responding to students voices can support the
construction of positive self-identities (Fielding, 2006; MacBeath, 2006).
37


Positive self-identity, and self-identity of being a learner, can lead to
increased academic achievement (Fredricks et al., 2004). Thiessen (2006),
in his review of student participation and voice in education reform,
argued that the primary purpose of research on student voice as related to
identity formation is to understand how identity is influenced by what
happens in class and school. He noted that many studies investigate the
interplay between student identity and how they adapt to structures,
expectations, and school work. Thiessen wrote that in studies of students
who have difficulty in school student voice can provide an important
window into why students struggle, why they do not succeed, why they act
contrary to rules and expectations, and why they reject school. Weis &
Fine (2000) also looked at how student voice can help adults understand
the interplay between identity and school success.
In discussing various concepts of agency and identity in this work,
MacBeath (2006) wrote that, In Foucauldian terminology, identity and
agency arise through discourses which generate different ways of knowing
self and give rise to multiple identities, located in the larger structures of
class, race and gender (p. 197). The participating Learning School
students themselves experienced the reforming and redesigning of identity
in the schools in which they did their research, the hosts with whom they
stayed, and the peer group with whom they traveled. MacBeath also stated
that,
The broader lesson from this study for teachers is to recognize the
hidden agency of the young people they teach and how their sense
of self is shaped by the borderlands and construction sites they
inhabit. The challenge for schools is to reappraise their own
identity and to discover what it means to become a genuine
learning community (p. 195).
Weis and Fine (2000) also looked at border crossings and how
things such as race, class, gender impacted student identity and experience
in school. They argued that students form and re-form identities both in
and out of school, and, as a result, that educators needed to better
understand the contexts that impact students if they were going to engage
better with students both ethically and intellectually.
Mercado (2001) wrote about identity development, particularly
related to how race, ethnicity, and language influence students
experiences in the classroom. She argued that the treatment of difference
among students results in differential treatment of students; societal
ideologies related to race, ethnicity, and language combine with
38


institutional policies and practices to limit academic rigor for some. As a
result, she asserted, students may internalize their experiences and develop
self-conceptions of more of less worth than others, impacting how they see
themselves. Mercado argued that,
Current scholarship suggests that teachers need to be
knowledgeable about the social lives of the children and the
conditions of their lives outside of school. What teachers know
about the lives of children outside of school affects their
pedagogical practices. Inquiry needs to become a common
pedagogical practice (p. 690).
Therefore, she said, creating opportunities for students to share stories and
perspectives about their lives and experiences can help Redefine
students social worlds as sources of knowledge, wisdom, and emotional
support, rather than as obstacles to overcome (p. 686). Schools, by
soliciting and responding to students voices can better support students to
learn, develop positive self-identities, community, and belonging. Smyth
(2006), in his study of student engagement, voice, and dropping out,
asserted that if students see school as negative or unable to support
positive identity formation or life plans, they may school as irrelevant and
choose to leave.
In Howards (2001) study of poor and affluent students
perceptions of academic achievement he found that students without a
positive identity in school or sense of community membership tend to be
low achieving. Smyth (2006) in his study of student engagement and voice
as related to dropping out of school, argued that students are involved with
complex issues of identity formation, and as such make political
decisions regarding staying in or leaving school.
School Engagement and Achievement
Student voice and student action research are also particularly
strong means by which to engage disenfranchised youth (Rubin & Jones,
2007). Student voice can help adults better understand what makes them
feel included and supported, or conversely, what makes them feel
marginalized or motivated to disengage (Smyth, 2006). Cook-Sather
(2006) argued that,
If we listen carefully to these young informants we can get a clear
picture of what it is that is dysfunctional about much of what
39


transpires in schooling, why it is so many young people decide to
exit, and how schooling might be different for them (p. 375, citing
Smyth, 2006).
Furthermore, a review of the literature on school engagement revealed that
disengaged students tends to receive the least interesting, most passive
forms of instruction, and are given the least opportunity to participate
actively in their own education (Levin, 2000, p. 164).
Gallagher (2002) studied what youth said about why they dropped
out of school. She argued that student perspectives could greatly help
adults understand about personal and environmental factors that impact
student attendance. In addition to learning about why some students
disengage or exit school, she asserted, student voice could help to bring
them back. Doyle and Feldman (2006) argued in their study that having
voice can help to re-engage alienated students, particularly by fostering a
stronger sense of ownership of their experience. Mitra (2006a) found
similar outcomes in her research of how student voice can bridge home
and school experiences, as well as help to mediate peer problems (Mitra,
2008) that may contribute to disengagement.
When their voices are solicited and supported students can feel
empowered, engaged, and motivated to participate constructively in school
(Cook-Sather, 2002b). Motivation can be promoted by meaningful tasks, a
reasonable degree of autonomy in how to carry out the tasks, and a setting
that challenges as well as supports and respects students (Levin, 2000).
Fredricks et al. (2004), in reviewing Newmanns (1981) work, argued that
among the school-level characteristics of high schools that help increase
student involvement and engagement in school are making choices,
participating in cooperative endeavors with staff, and participating in
school policy and management decisions. Opportunities to make decisions
that affect their schooling experience tend to positively influence students
behavioral and emotional engagement (Fredricks et al., 2004). Fredricks et
al. argued that studies show that behavioral engagement supports positive
conduct, involvement in learning and academic tasks, and increased
participation in school-related activities.
Cervone and Cushman (2002) also argued that having a voice
helps students take on more active classroom roles. Emotional engagement
promotes positive affective reactions in the classroom, expression of
positive emotional reactions to school and teachers, and positive
identification with school (e.g., belonging, value of success in school-
related outcomes) (Fredricks et al., 2004). Having a voice helps increase
students connection to school; achievement resulting from various forms
40


of school engagement can be measured by higher rates of homework
completion and following rules, higher scores on standardized tests and
higher grades (Fredricks et al., 2004; Howard, 2001).
It is not enough to let students express themselves, but adults must
also respond to what they say (Cook-Sather, 2002a; Joselowsky, 2007). If
after students voices are solicited they see no indication of response to
what they have said there is an increased risk of students disengaging
(Cook-Sather, 2006a). However, adults need not do everything that
students suggest but there must be some indication that the exercise of
sharing their voices or opinions was not hollow or tokenistic (Rudduck &
Flutter, 2000). Creating opportunities for students to express themselves
and for adults to listen and respond can help students feel a more shared
sense of community where they, like adults, can participate in the
dialogues and decision-making structures.
Positive peer and youth-adult relationships are important to
promote and support student learning; personal connections can help build
engagement by addressing issues of equality, relating to others as fellow
human beings, demonstrating flexibility and recognizing students as
individuals (Cook-Sather, 2007). Joselowsky (2007) documented in her
analysis of the Schools for a New Society Initiative (SNS) that,
It is increasingly clear that learning to high standards cannot take
place if students are in schools where they are anonymous, where
they feel no stake in the life of the school and classroom, and
where there are no shared expectations for responsible conduct by
students and adults. It is also increasingly clear that learning to
high standards cannot take place where students are bored, have no
opportunities for experiential learning and civic action (be it civic
education or service learning), or have limited opportunities for
group and extracurricular activities. The challenge then is to create
a vision of schools middle and high schools in particular where
students learning and growth are supported across all these
domains (p. 258).
Student voice benefits extend beyond the students themselves; it
can help adults build instructional skills and expand their own capacity to
better facilitate student learning. Student voice can also help to not only
build individual skills, be they for teachers or students, but also to identify
levers for school improvement.
41


Adult Learning
Some student voice structures that do exist within schools, such as
student councils, are often tokenistic (Rudduck & Flutter, 2000) and do
not provide significant feedback or decision-making opportunities to
students. Rudduck and Flutter (2000) say that student council can become
an exercise in damage limitation rather than an opportunity for
constructive consultation (p. 83). If student involvement is tokenized in
schools it can further lead to student alienation (Levin, 2000, citing Silva,
1999).
Other structures may also be inequitable, affording different
opportunities to different students; inequitable structures (e.g., tracked
classes, the bell schedule, the physical uniformity of classrooms, and types
of tests) may need to be changed in order to truly improve schools for all
students (McGee Banks & Banks, 1995). Schools and researchers are
charged, therefore, to more authentically solicit and respond to student
voices in new, creative, diverse ways so as to have a more complete
picture of how students really experience schooling and what would make
it better meet students needs. Various research projects have documented
the role that student voice can play in instructional improvement; many
scholars argue that student voice provides a unique data source that can
supplement adults understanding of what happens in schools.
Students as Data Sources.
Students are important data sources (Fielding, 2001b), and they
have unique perspectives, as compared to adults, about how they
experience many aspects of schooling (Cook-Sather, 2002a). Fielding
(2001a) argued that this information is of utmost importance; in his study
he found that (Students) remind us of the bodily preconditions (hunger!)
and the emotional foundations (friendship, showing your feelings) for
learning, as well as the range of ways it can be encouraged... (p. 101).
By being able to express how they experience schooling, students can also
help teachers learn how to better meet the needs of their students,
therefore making teaching more accessible to students (Cook-Sather,
2002a; Commeyras, 1995; Lincoln, 1995). Students can inform adults
understanding about how they learn (Rodgers, 2006) and about student
attitudes towards learning (Fielding, 2001b).
Additionally, students have a unique view of what happens in
classrooms (Cook-Sather, 2002a, 2002b; Cook-Sather & Shultz, 2001;
Oldfather, 2001), as well as of the dynamics between school, home,
42


community (Mitra, 2006a; Nespor, 1997). For these reasons and others,
there have been efforts to engage student voice not only for improving
learning conditions within schools, but also in the training of pre-service
teachers so that they enter schools with this inclusive mindset.
Teacher Preparation
Cook-Sathers (2006b; 2007) work over 14 years with Haverford
College and Bryn Mawr College with the Teaching and Learning Together
(TLT) program created space for students to be both teachers and learners
in working with pre-service teachers, and illustrated the value of student
voice in teacher preparation programs. TLT was a program in which pre-
service teachers engaged in a semester long project-based course that
included weekly email exchanges with high school students, weekly
conversations amongst high school students, weekly discussions in the
college-based seminar, an analysis papers done by the college students.
The purposes of this project included giving students a voice in the context
of teacher preparation, challenging typical hierarchy in schools (e.g.,
positioning teachers as listeners, promoting greater student agency), and
promoting interpersonal communication, collaboration, and participation
between high school students and pre-service teachers. Cook-Sather said
that the program,
...challenges pre-service teachers to engage in two mutually
informing and recursive processes that move them toward this
model of leadership: (1) learning to listen and (2) learning to speak
and act differently (p. 349).
Cook-Sather (2007) argued that there are benefits to all
participants; students who participate gain a critical perspective into
teaching and learning, develop their voices in talking about what works for
them in schools and what would make schooling better, and become more
active agents in creating more positive school experiences for themselves,
and pre-service and partner teachers and administrators in the schools gain
opportunities to have new types of conversations with students that help
them develop stronger, more productive relationships with students. She
also asserted that students could also contribute to on-going teacher
professional development by helping teachers to better understand the
connections between their home and school experiences (2006a). That was
important, argued Lee (1999), because,
43


The findings of this study demonstrate that students experiences
with home, peer, and especially schooling structures can directly
clash with the priorities established within reform movements (p.
216).
There are ways, however, to mitigate potential clashes of priorities.
One way in particular is by students taking teachers on tours of their
neighborhoods (Joselowsky, 2007; Mitra, 2005) in an effort to have
teachers better understand students and where they come from. Smith,
Petralia, and Hewitt (2005) found in their study that students, by
describing their own experiences and explaining personal issues to
teachers, could help teachers better understand things that prevent students
from learning, and as a result challenge their own (perhaps misguided)
perceptions of students. Lee (1999), in his ethnographic study of low
achieving students, found that An important goal of using student voices
as a research and evaluation tool is to challenge educators about their
assumptions and understandings of low-performing students (p. 217).
Rudduck and Flutter (2000) also found that students can talk about
conditions of learning, forms of teaching and learning that do not work.
Such data can help change teachers conceptualization of teaching and
learning in order to better support students. In essence, this creates
opportunities for students to be professional developers.
Improved Instructional Practice
Student voice can help improve school quality (Doyle & Feldman,
2006; Levin, 2000), and can better help adults understand why students
disengage and drop out (Gallagher, 2002; Smyth, 2006). An example of
how student voice and participation have helped improve schools include
Levins (2000) work on how student data can inspire otherwise skeptical
teachers to make changes. Student voice can also make teachers make
instructional changes such that teaching becomes more accessible
(Rudduck & Flutter, 2000) and school and classroom environments are
designed with a better fit for purpose (Flutter, 2006).
A focus on youth-adult partnerships can also help adults rethink
their roles as teachers and move from a sage on the stage to a guide on
the side; adults can participate in learning activities with students through
coaching, guidance, modeling behaviors, sharing tasks, and scaffolding
activities rather than relying on a model of transmission of knowledge
(Camino, 2005). Kirshner (2003) suggested that adults take on additional
roles, such as advisors, program directors, facilitators, fund-raisers,
44


employers, drivers and even meal-providers in an effort to support
students differently. Those, he asserted, are nontraditional ways in which
teachers and other adults could help to support student learning, both in
and out of the classroom.
At the heart of relationships between students and teachers is often
power (Cook-Sather, 2002a). A severe imbalance of power many
contribute to students lack of buy-in to school. Lee (1999) found that
Many of the values, attitudes, and behaviors that students display are
often shaped in direct response to the organization of the adult-governed
world, including the authority and power associated with the structures in
the classrooms (citing Dyson, 1993, p. 242). On the other hand, students
who feel like valued members of the school community who are
empowered to participate meaningfully in the design of the learning
environment, tend to demonstrate more school engagement (Fredericks et
al., 2004). Mitra (2007) found that,
Increasing student voice in schools broadens the notion of
distributed leadership to include considering young people
themselves as capable and valuable members of a school
community who can help to initiate and implement educational
change (p. 237).
In the next section on how student voice can contribute to overall school
improvement I will further address the role of youth-adult relationships
and partnerships as a key tool for improving educational outcomes for all
students.
Improved Relationships
Engaging student voice and participation in decision-making can
help improve student-teacher relations and partnerships (Camino, 2005).
In my introductory chapter I discussed the prevalence of so-called
adultism in schools the tendency of adults to privilege their own
professional or experience-related domains of knowledge and skill over
those of students (Cook-Sather, 2002b; Mitra, 2007) while discounting
student perspectives and participation in decision-making. Here I will look
at what scholars argue are important reasons to build relationships with
students in a different way, challenging the typical hierarchy of youth-
adult relationships, so as to better support students learning and
development.
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Wells (1999) argued that learning is the gradual but cumulative
development of expertise through participation in the activities, and that
students can engage with adults to learn from their expertise. That
semiotic apprenticeship, as Wells called it, can help shape both attitudes
and values about what are worthwhile activities to engage in, as well as
increase understanding about the practices involved in particular activities.
Fredricks et al. (2004), citing Newmanns (1981) work, argued that
engaging students in meaningful activities, such as participating in school
policy and management decision-making with adults, could increase
students involvement, engagement, and integration in school.
Mitras (2007) discussion of building youth-adult partnerships
cites the work of many scholars, including Vygotsky (1978), Lave (1988),
Lave and Wenger (1991), and Rogoff (1990) in arguing that scaffolding
student participation, in part by building partnerships between students
and adults, and between students of different ages and experiences, can
help learning occur. Building partnerships between students and adults in
schools can help facilitate school change; youth-adult partnerships can
help improve curriculum and assessment (Fielding, 2001; Rudduck &
Flutter, 2000), better classroom learning (Flutter & Ruddick, 2004; Rubin
& Silva, 2003), strengthen student-teacher relationships (Shultz & Cook-
Sather, 2001), and improve teacher training (Cook-Sather, 2006b; 2007).
Additionally, teacher relationships that provide students with academic or
interpersonal support are associated with higher student behavioral
engagement (e.g., fewer disciplinary problems or disruptive behaviors,
fewer dropouts, more completion of homework and class participation),
emotional engagement (e.g., positive school identification, feeling of
belonging), and cognitive engagement (e.g., use of strategies to regulate
attention and effort, meta-cognition, persistence) (Fredricks et al., 2004).
Peer influence on group dynamics in schools is great (Horner,
2000). McGee Banks and Banks (1995) argued that,
The school culture and social structure are powerful determinants
of how students learn to perceive themselves. These factors
influence the social interactions that take place between students
and teachers and among students, both inside and outside the
classroom (p. 153).
Negative relationships with peers can contribute to a students
decision to disengage from or leave school completely (Lee, 1999).
Student voice activities, though, such as action research projects, can help
groups of students to come together and work on common goals. In doing
46


so, they can improve peer relationships, especially when conducted with
diverse groups of students (Rubin & Jones, 2007; Yonezawa & Jones,
2007). Students can become role models, mentors, coaches, and conflict
mediators with one another (Joselowsky, 2007). If students to better
understand one another, in terms of their peers experiences and
perspectives, they are more likely to build personal and academic
connections to support each other, their learning, and their school
communities (Yonezawa & Jones, 2007).
Pritchard, Morrow, and Marshall (2005) studied how student
voices and achievement reflect both school and district culture. Of the
three factors identified by students in their study as the most important to
distinguishing positive and negative school cultures was the social climate
at the school and the people that they are around. This was significant
because the study demonstrated that students in districts with high cultural
ratings outperformed those with low cultural ratings, particularly with
levels writing achievement.
School Change
Rudduck and Flutter (2000) noted that,
School improvement, as Ruth Jonathan (1990, p. 568) has said, is
not merely a matter of rapid response to changing market forces
through a trivialised curriculum, but a question of dealing with the
deep structures of school and the habits of thought and values they
embody. To manage school improvement we need to look at
schools from the pupils perspective and that means tuning in to
their experiences and views and creating a new order of experience
for them as active participants (p. 75).
Rudduck and Flutter also argued that profound, lasting changes will not
happen by accident, good will or establishing ad hoc projects. They
require new structures, new activities, and a rethinking of the internal
workings of each institution (p. 83, citing Watson & Fullan, 1992, p. 219,
quoted by Fullan, 1993, p. 96). All stakeholders must be involved, and that
includes students.
My framework for identifying components of school change
includes practices, policies, structures, and aspects of school culture (e.g.,
symbols, rituals, interactions, etc). These elements impact the construction
of teaching and learning, relationships between people, how work is
organized, rules, decision-making, and many other aspects that bear upon
47


students, their learning and engagement, and ultimately, achievement.
While some of the following examples may logically fit into more than
one category, I want to differentiate to some degree in order to illustrate
various ways in which student voice can help realize school change.
Policies and Practices
There are many different types of policies within schools and
educational systems, such as those that govern adult behavior (e.g.,
number of days in the building, professional development requirements,
licensure requirements, discipline protocols, how to enforce rules, use of a
particular curriculum, pay schedules, hiring or dismissal, etc), and those
that govern student behavior (e.g., required classes or credits, disciplinary
policies, dress codes, etc). Some policies are created at the school level
and others at the district, state, or even federal levels.
Examples of how policies have changed as the result of student
voice activities have been documented primarily at the school level. Some
include the creation of alternative policies governing discipline and the
inclusion of students in decision-making structures such as hiring and
disciplinary committees (Joselowsky, 2007).
I have already discussed Cook-Sathers (2006b, 2007) research on
how student voice activities can help teachers to improve their
instructional practice. I also want to highlight other ways in which
practices can improve in schools that engage in such work. These include
the development of power sharing (Fielding, 2001b; Mitra, 2005) and
shared decision-making (Flutter, 2000), related to things such as school
design, teaching hiring, and school policy (Joselowsky, 2007). Other
examples include students becoming involved in peer mediation and
conflict resolution (Joselowsky, 2007). Adults have also stepped up to
help students develop skills and knowledge to become more active
participants in decision-making and school improvement, what Mitra
(2005) called engaging in joint enterprise and mutual engagement. She
noted that such partnership helps improve teaching and learning practice
through shared repertoire skills, language, and norms.
Structures
Structures also help to organize how people interact with one
another. Such structural issues that impact how people interact with one
another are important to consider when looking at ways to improve
learning outcomes in schools. Examples of school structures that have
48


changed as a result of student voice activities include the creation of
student advisories, new classes and electives, small learning communities,
and various types of committees (e.g., disciplinary committee or a peer
court) (Joselowsky, 2007).
Culture
In addition to various policies, practices, and structures that I have
discussed, school culture is of enormous importance to teaching and
learning. I have discussed how positive relationships can support learning,
and I will address here other reasons why school culture is very important
when trying to improve students learning outcomes. The school
environment can positively and significantly influence students beliefs
and attitudes towards learning (Flutter, 2000).
Equity is important issue in school, particularly whether students
perceive their schools to treat people equitably or not, as students want
schools to be fair (Rudduck & Flutter, 2000), and they can be significant
contributors to the creation of more equitable schools and learning
environments (Mitra, 2006a, 2007, 2008). Mitra (2007) found that
students can raise equity issues that tend to get swept under the rug by
administrators and other adults in the school who would rather avoid
controversy, and that they make it harder for adults to place blame for
failure solely on students. McGee Banks and Banks (1995) warned of a
hidden curriculum, structures within schools that maintain inequalities,
and argue that student voice can help to identify and correct such
inequities. Mitra (2006a, 2008) found that student voice can help to
mitigate issues of injustice in schools; one school that was a part of her
study (2008) of student voice initiatives even created a unity center to
temper racial tensions and address school-wide inequities.
Mitra (2008), in her study of multiple school sites participating in
intentional student-adult partnerships, documented ways in which student
choose to improve their schools that are closely tied to creating a safe and
inclusive school culture; these include improving student unity, self-
esteem of minority (i.e., Polynesian) students, championing gay rights,
peer-to-peer conflict resolution and honoring students who work to reduce
bullying.
There are also other aspects of school culture that have changed as
the result of student voice activities, including the development of greater
respect between students and students and adults, more positive language,
and shared norms of behavior (Joselowsky, 2007; Mitra, 2007, 2008).
Cook-Sather (2007) found that helping students and adult to build
49


engagement through personal connections also helped them relate to each
other as fellow humans, to demonstrate more flexibility, and to recognize
students as individuals and diverse learners, helping teachers to
differentiate instruction and honor the unique strengths and needs that
each student brought to the classroom.
Mitra (2007, 2008) documented many important outcomes of
student voice activities, including the emergence of student-led workshops
to improve aspects of school important to them (e.g., racism, classism,
adultism), the emergence of student-led anti-bullying campaigns, and
improved relationships overall throughout the schools she studied.
Fielding (2001b) also noted a new sense of professional identity in a
school that began to develop student-adult partnerships in engaging
students in the process of improving their school.
As discussed above, the literature illustrates that there are many
powerful ways in which student voice activities can impact schools and
learning environments. I have highlighted examples from research
regarding how student voice activities have contributed to improved
student learning, instruction, and relationships within schools. I have also
looked at various aspects of how schools can change in ways that may
better support students. There are, however, also examples in the research
of potential pitfalls of student voice in schools.
Potential Pitfalls
Youth-adult relationships are typically hierarchical (Kirshner,
2003). In particular, there are inherently asymmetrical power relationships
in schools, such as those between students and adults (e.g., adults have
fiduciary and fiscal responsibility) (Zeldin et al., 2005), as well as those
between students (e.g., related to socio-economic differences) (Fine,
2003). Many adults do not even believe in the idea that students should
have a voice (Cook-Sather, 2002b). Adults may also tend to subjugate
student voice and perspective to their own professional or experience-
related domains of knowledge and skill over those of students (Cook-
Sather, 2002b; Mitra, 2007). This may happen as a result of adults not
believing that students have ideas of value to contribute; it is often
difficult for all members of school community to buy in to the idea of
involving students meaningfully, as participants in things such as school
improvement work (Mitra, 2007). In addition to adults potentially
doubting the value of students contributions, student voice may also push
adults to listen to things they may not want to hear (Bragg, 2001; Cook-
Sather, 2006a; Fielding, 2004).
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If adults do believe in student voice, there are various other
potential problems with how they may solicit or engage it. Student voice
may be used, though unwittingly, to actually maintain current power
structures within schools (Cook-Sather, 2002b; Fielding, 2001a; Zeldin et
al., 2005). Traditional structures for student voice within schools, such as
student councils, are often tokenistic (Fielding, 2001a; Rudduck & Flutter,
2000) and do not provide significant feedback or decision-making
opportunities to students. It may also be difficult for students to
transparently represent their own interests, as voice is often constricted by
self-censorship or organizational guidance (Fielding, 2001a). When
students do share their perspectives adults often translate them, or
oversimplify them (Cook-Sather, 2002b) and in the process may end up
betraying the students interests (Fielding, 2001a, 2001b) and reinforcing
their own frames of reference (Cook-Sather, 2006a). Gentilucci and Muto
(2007) warned that, ...adults assign meanings and motives to student
actions that fail to explain accurately why students relate to school the way
they do (p. 223). Citing Denzin (1978) Gentilucci and Muto call this the
fallacy of objectivism (p. 223). Additionally, students input is often not
acted on when it is solicited (Joselowsky, 2007).
There is also a danger of what Cook-Sather (2002b) calls
overindulgence (p. 368?). Adults do not need to do everything that
students say (Rudduck & Flutter, 2000, citing Nieto, 1994, p. 398), but
adults must respond to what they say (Cook-Sather, 2002a; Joselowsky,
2007). Cook-Sather (2006b) cautioned that adults may tend to have an
overly romantic view of youth and of student voice, rather than appreciate
it as a serious contribution to educational thinking and development (p.
380, citing Pollard et al., 1997, p. 5). Camino (2005) argued that adults
may erroneously think of youth-adult partnerships as a zero-sum game.
She said that empowering youth to participate in traditionally designated
adult activities (e.g., meetings, decision-making) does not mean that adults
have to (get) out of the way and give up power (p. 78). If adults do
this then students may not benefit from the experience, expertise, or
support of adults that could help them learn and accomplish their goals.
Camino also argued that students may not actually want to engage in all
tasks, or take responsibility for all planning, decisions, or actions.
The term student voice may also be problematic in that it takes
on a potentially monolithic quality (Cook-Sather, 2002b; Fielding, 2001a).
There is no one student voice, just as there is no one adult voice; diverse
voices make up the multiple realities of student voice (Cruddas, 2001,
p. 62). Attention must be paid to how to solicit or engage various students
voices and perspective; efforts to do so should specifically attend to
51


engaging a diverse group of students voices. If not, those whose voices
may be engaged could represent students who tend to be engaged and
viewed as leaders in the school. If adults really want to understand
students perspectives, as related to their views, engagement, and
involvement in school, the voices of the marginalized or disengaged are
extremely important (Oaks & Rogers, 2007; Rubin & Jones, 2007). Even
so, there must be a way for students who choose to have voice by
remaining silent (Cook-Sather, 2006a).
Additionally, student voice work within schools is also hard to
sustain, as there is often a lack of a faculty or staff person dedicated to
supporting the work (Mitra, 2006b), and it can be hard to sustain student
participation without incentives (Mitra, 2005). As a result, student voice
activities tend to be difficult to institutionalize or align with longer-term
reform work related to larger district initiatives (Joselowsky, 2007).
Despite these potential pitfalls or dangers of student voice work,
the efforts to promote, support, and respond to students perspectives and
ideas are important. If school reform work is to realize deep, meaningful,
and impactful educational improvements for all students, it must be
undertaken with input and participation of students themselves. Carr
(1997) argued that,
One way to address the frustration of dynamically changing
organizations and bureaucracies is to engage stakeholders in the
design of their own systems. Stakeholder engagement is essential
to the success of design, adoption, and implementation of broad
innovations such as new educational systems (p. 6, citing Banathy,
1991; Jenlink, 1995; Reigeluth, 1993).
What is Missing from the Literature
There are multiple gaps that can be identified in the literature on
student voice. First, Mitra (2006a) argued that the literature base on
student voice does not sufficiently address how it can help better develop
connections between schools, students homes, and communities. That is a
problem, she argued, because parent involvement benefits students,
parents, and teachers, and student voice can help bridge family and school
perspectives.
A second gap in the literature is that it does not sufficiently address
the ways in which educational leaders or schools can strategically build
the capacity of adults to buy-in to and support meaningful student
participation in constructing and evaluating schooling and learning,
52


despite the fact that the literature amply argues that such student
participation is important and impactful. There needs to be more research
around how to support opportunities for students to participate in such
meaningful ways, as placing them on committees, or empowering them
merely to make decisions about social functions within schools, as student
councils often do, does little to change the existing power structure that
favors adults and their perspectives.
Third, there are many frameworks or typologies of student voice
activities put forth in the literature, but I have yet to find substantial
writing on student perceptions of what student voice is or why it can be a
powerful tool in increasing positive educational outcomes. Most of the
outcomes documented in the research are still described from an adult
perspective, and assigned value from an adult frame of reference. There
needs to be further research that fleshes out what students think they learn
from participating in student voice activities, and what they perceive to be
the changes in school conditions that contribute to a better learning
environment.
Fourth, there is little, if any, writing about how to move from ad
hoc student voice projects to sustainable practices that can truly transform
schools. Joselowsky (2007) argued that the closer aligned student voice
activities are with district priorities or broader systemic the more likely
they are to realize change. But, she does not delve into specifics as to how
schools or districts can design or support ways for this to happen. Mitra
(2006b) did argue that student voice work tends to be more successful if
supported by inside-outside partnerships, meaning that the work is
supported by an entity outside of the school. But, there is little other work
on how to support schools to develop practices that sustain student
involvement and participation in decision-making such that student voice
is more institutionalized in the operation of the school.
Fifth, there is scant literature on if or how students could be
mobilized and supported to be constructive drivers of positive school and
peer culture, such that a culture of inclusion, high expectations,
engagement and achievement is constructed with or even driven by
students, rather than imposed upon them. The literature does address the
fact that students who participate in creating expectations and norms
within schools tend to buy in rather than exhibit oppositional behavior.
But, I would like to see that inquiry extended further, as such a student-
driven culture could prove greatly influential in raising engagement and
achievement for all students.
All of these areas could be fruitful for future research. I believe
that my research can contribute to the knowledge base by exploring ways
53


to build capacity for students and adults to engage student voice in
education, and do so in a way that meaningfully engages both as partners
with equally important contributions.
Need for this Study
I focused my study on how this work was supported to move from
ad hoc projects to strategic and systemic practices that can help to realize
more effective school improvement strategies. More specifically, I studied
how helping to build the capacity of students to be meaningful participants
in the work of improving schools may be a way to impact both individual
learning and organizational change. I aimed to develop a better
understanding of how this work could be a tool to help schools and
districts increase levels of students school engagement and thus more
successfully realize their goals for high school reform.
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CHAPTER 3
RESEARCH METHODS
Introduction
Fredricks et al. (2004) argued that the construct of school
engagement is gaining attention as a possible antidote to decreasing
student achievement, as it is something that can be impacted and
influenced by environmental changes. Consideration of school
engagement, therefore, should be central to the development of school
improvement strategies. Most school reform work is crafted and
implemented by adults (Cook-Sather, 2002a). I am interested in
understanding, however, what happens when students become leaders of
change in their own schools, and whether the activities that students lead
can help improve schools and promote increased school engagement.
Through this qualitative case study I investigated a unique strategy
for high school reform: involving students as leaders in identifying
problems at their schools and working, along side adults, to address those
problems and help improve their schools. This study emerged from both a
lack of research on how students can be supported to be active, continuous
participants in reform at a school level, and a question about whether this
can realize outcomes aligned with district-level reform strategies.
I studied work in one district that is focused on building district-
level student leadership to promote student-led school improvement work
at each of the principle high schools. Student leaders held Student Voice
Forums in each school, did action research to gather data about what
students believed needed to change about their schools, and then built
student-adult partnerships within a core team at the school to respond to
the data and make improvements in the schools. In my study of these
student-led activities I used the conceptual framework illustrated in Figure
1.1. This framework was derived from my reading of the literature,
yielded my research questions, and guided my data analysis.
Research Design and Rationale
I did a qualitative case study with embedded, single case designs
(Yin, 1994), studying district-level work, and then the student-led projects
at two particular schools within the district. I chose this district because it
is doing unique, significant work around a new trial model (Creswell,
1998) on how to engage students as participants in school improvement,
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which will likely be of both local and national interest. My research built
upon previous research suggesting that while students are increasingly
regarded as valuable contributors to high school improvement, efforts to
engage them must be connected to broader systemic goals for reform in
order to realize significant impact (Joselowsky, 2007).
Case study methodology was appropriate for studying this work, as
it is bounded in time (Creswell, 1998) with a fairly clear beginning and
end. I discuss this model below when detailing my site sample. My study
focused on data from the first two years of a district initiated pilot project.
This district supported model of student leadership and voice as tools for
high school reform was launched in the summer of 2008, and was
completed at the conclusion of the school year in 2010. This project
presented an information-rich case from that helped me address my central
research questions (Patton, 1994). The primary forms of data collected
were documents, focus groups, and interviews. I will describe the rationale
for using each of the research methods below.
Methodology
Research Questions
The following two central research questions guided my study.
1. What happened during the first two years of this student voice and
leadership pilot project?
2. What impact did the work have at individual and organizational
levels?
Sampling
Site Sample
The district I chose for my research was a purposeful site
(Creswell, 1998); I found it to be the only district in the state that was
attempting to support student leadership and voice as one lever for
improving high schools. As such, the work in this district directly
addressed Joselowskys (2007) recommendation for research on how
student voice efforts can be supported to align with a district-wide vision
for high school reform.
The district worked with student leaders from 15 different high
schools, and I purposefully chose the projects at two of those schools to
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research for this study. The criteria for my selection of each of these two
schools (i.e., School A and School B) included the following: (i)
completion of a fairly robust project during the 2008-09 school year
(robust being identified by the adult district liaisons who support this
work as a project in which the majority of the school participated); (ii) a
student board senior representative that served during both years; (iii)
sustained participation of multiple students and adults on the core team
who supported the work over the two years; (iv) stability in school
leadership and design (i.e., the school did not go through a redesign or
reconstitution and the principal did not change); and (v) failure to meet
district expectations for appropriate levels of student engagement (as
captured on the districts student performance framework). Finally, after
meeting these five criteria, I also looked for a student body demographic
profile representative of the districts student population. In the district,
overall, approximately 66% of the students qualify for free or reduced
lunch and 77% are minority.
I do not believe that my selection criteria skewed the data in any
detrimental way. The fact that I selected two schools that had completed
fairly robust projects in which the majority of the school participated
during the first year did ferret out schools whose projects did not work that
first year. However, I felt that it was important to look at schools whose
projects had yielded significant enough outcomes to provide ample data to
study the work over two years. I could have chosen to look at a school
whose project did not work, but that would have been a different research
project. As it was, the schools that produced more robust projects in the
first year were not necessarily the same ones that fit the criteria in the
second year. Because it was a two-year project, though, I felt the criteria
were important to gather a baseline of data for studying the projects. For
these same reasons I felt it was important to choose two schools that had
not undergone significant structural or leadership changes so that there
was a certain amount of continuity over the two years of data for this
study.
School A. I chose School A because it was one of the two schools
that closest met my selection criteria. By the end of the 2009 school year
the student leaders at School A helped to design and implement a two-day
school cleanup and school spirit day. The activities took place over a
Friday and Saturday, and over 600 people participated. I will describe this
project in more detail in the data analysis chapter. At School A
approximately 42% of students qualify for free or reduced lunch and 68%
are minority (1% American Indian, 5% Asian, 42% Black, 22% Hispanic
57


and 30% White, per the 2009 School Improvement Plan). This site also
met the other criteria for selection for my research study.
School A was a large comprehensive neighborhood high school
that also had a magnet program to which students had to apply.
Approximately 26% of the over 1,500 students enrolled in 2009 were part
of the magnet program. The ethnic breakdown of students in the magnet
program in 2009 was less than 1% American Indian, 11% Asian, 12%
black, 9% Hispanic and 67% White (School Improvement Plan, 2009).
There were fairly significant distinctions between the traditional academic
program and the specialty magnet program. Students in the traditional
program represented a greater percentage of students of minority ethnic
and racial backgrounds. The magnet program had been in existence at the
school for approximately 20 years, and the divide between student bodies
and academic cultures existed during that timeframe.
School B. I chose School B because it was the other of two schools
that closest met my selection criteria. By the end of the 2009 school year
the student leaders at School B helped to design and conduct a school
cleanliness project. Their activities took place during one day, and
approximately 1,000 people, almost the entire school, participated. The
fact that both Schools A and B chose school cleanup and community-
building projects was a coincidence, but I describe both in much greater
detail later, including the research projects that led the students and their
core teams to develop each project. Additionally, at School B
approximately 46% of the over 1,100 students enrolled in 2009 qualified
for free or reduced lunch and 72% were minority. The ethnic breakdown
was 2.1% American Indian, 7% Asian, 1.6% Black, 65.3% Hispanic and
24% White (School Improvement Plan, 2009). This site also met the other
criteria for selection for my research study. While the two schools sites I
chose had a lower percentage of students in poverty than the district
average, overall, they most closely met the criteria outlined for selection.
School B was also a large comprehensive neighborhood high school
that had the same type of magnet program as School A. Interestingly
enough, I did not know that School B had that magnet program before
doing this research, as it is a much newer and less well-known program
there. Of the students in the magnet program, approximately 67% were
minority and 39% were English Language Learners.
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Participant Sample
My participant sample included both students and adults, from
both district-level and school-level work. The students included both
district-level Student Board of Education members (i.e., student board
members), as well as students who participated on the core team and
project at each school. The adult participants included a number of people
at the district level: (i) two district employees who acted as liaisons and
support staff to the student board, (ii) two district AmeriCorps VISTA
volunteers, and (iii) three adult school board members, as well as (iv)
adults who participated on the core team and project at each school. In
Table 3.1 I outline the participant sample from Schools A and B. This
includes demarcating the population within each category, on each team,
and the number that chose to take part in the study. There were a total of
16 participants in my study from the two Core Team projects, 11 students
and 5 adults. Table 3.2 is a matrix in which I outline the total participant
sample for this study. This includes not only the school-level participants
listed in Table 3.1, but also the district-level participants (students and
adults) that chose to take part in this study. There were 10 other district-
level participants. Thus, my total participant sample was 26. I will
describe the selection of participants in the next section.
Table 3.1. 2009-10 Core Team Participants from the School A and
School B
Student Board Leaders Other Students Administrators Teachers Staff Total
Core Team A Sample :2 (of 2) Sample: 4 (of 8) Sample: 0 (of 0) Sample: 1 (of 1) Sample :1 (of 1) 8 (of 12)
Core Team B Sample :2 (of 2) Sample: 3 (of 5) Sample:0 (of 1) Sample: 3 (of 6) Sample :0 (of 0) 8 (of 14)
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Table 3.2. Total Participant Sample for this Study
Groups of participants Number of participants Total
2009-10 Core Team participants 16 (of 26) 26 Participants
Other 2009-10 student board members 3 (of 5)
Adult district liaisons to student board 2 (of 2)
VISTA volunteers 2 (of 2)
School Board members 3 (of 4)
District-level participant sample. I will describe the selection of
the participants in two categories, (a) district-level participants and (b)
school-level participants. In this section I will discuss district-level
participants and how I chose to include them in my sample. These
included student board of education leaders, adult board of education
members, district adult liaisons to the student board, and AmeriCorps
VISTA volunteers who worked with the student board and individual
schools.
Student Board of Education leaders. There were two student
board representatives for each high school, one junior and one senior, who
were each chosen to serve a two-year term on the board. Subsequently, I
describe in more detail how those students were selected for their
positions in the data analysis chapter. At this point, suffice it to say that
the selection process was designed to identify emerging leaders with
diverse perspectives and experiences. There was selection criteria intended
to identify students who were not the typical student council leaders. That
is to say that especially in Year 2 of the project the recruitment, interview,
and selection process was designed to choose students who were not the
obvious go-to students who were already over-committee to school
activities. Many were students who had not necessarily taken on
leadership positions in the school thus far. This was relevant to my study
because there were outcomes of the first year of this pilot project that
impacted changes in the recruitment of students to the board for the
second year of the pilot, as well as changes in the character, scope of
work, and results of the of the student board activities. Though I did not
gather demographic information from all of the student board members, I
do believe from seeing them, and listening to and talking with them that
60


they represented a diverse mix of students who seemed to mirror the racial
and ethnic distribution of students across the district.
In my study, I chose student board members for my sample with
one primary criterion: they were second-year senior representatives who
could offer a perspective on the work of the district student leadership
pilot over its two years. Two of those students were the senior leaders at
School A and School B. Both chose to participate. There were also 5 other
students who fit the criteria. All were invited to participate in the research,
and 3 of those 5 chose to do so. I invited them through email (Appendix
A), and followed up in person when I visited a student board monthly
meeting. Students were also given a parent consent form, in English
(Appendix B) and Spanish (Appendix C), to fill out if they chose to
participate in the research.
Adult School Board of Education members. Of the 10 possible
school board members who served over the two-year span of my research,
I invited four to participate, and each for a particular reason. I sent each of
the four an email invitation (Appendix A) and a participant consent form
(Appendix D). Three of the four chose to participate in the study. One
participant finished her term on the Board of Education in the fall of 2009
and served during her tenure as the liaison to the student board. She was
the most knowledgeable of all her colleagues about the activities of the
student board during the first year and a half of this pilot student
leadership project in the district. The second participant was a new board
member and then-current Chair of the school board (as of fall 2009), and
also served as the new liaison to the student board. The third participant
was a 6-year veteran of the School Board (with two years left in his
tenure, at the time) who had a daughter at School A and who participated
in the student board-led school improvement project at School A in 2009.
I also invited the previous Chair of the school board who then had two
years left in her tenure, but she declined to participate. I did not invite the
remaining Board of Education members to participate in my study, as they
had limited background or experience related to the initiative.
District liaisons to the student board. There were staff in one
district office among whose responsibilities was to serve as the liaisons
and mentors to the student board members. There were two adults in that
district office, the Director and the Associate Director of that office. Those
two adults chose to take on that role with the student board, and both were
involved in the development and support of the student leadership pilot
initiative. The Director founded the office in which both worked, and he
61


had long been involved with service learning and student voice initiatives
in the district. The Associate Director had been with the office for four
years and she was very passionate about student voice and leadership
activities. I invited each to participate in my research though email
(Appendix A) and gave them participant consent forms to fill out
(Appendix D). Both chose to participate in my research.
AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers. The district liaisons hired one
AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer in their office for the 2008-09 school-year.
That volunteer, a young woman, played an important role in coordinating
activities for the student board monthly meetings, retreats, trainings and
school-level work. She was retained in that office for the 2009-10 school-
year as well. In the 2009-10 school year 5 more VISTA volunteers were
hired into that office, and their primary responsibilities included helping
coordinate student board monthly meetings and trainings, as well as
managing the student board school-level work at their own portfolio of
high schools represented by the student board. Each of those 5 VISTAs
had 4-5 schools in his or her portfolio of responsibility. I invited two of
the VISTAs to participate in my research (Appendix A), the two-year
veteran, who had experience with the two years of this pilot work, and the
one VISTA who had School B in her portfolio of responsibility. I felt it
was important to include her perspective in this research, as she played a
role in coordinating the work at School B throughout the 2009-10 school
year. They each filled out a participant consent form (Appendix D).
The VISTA volunteer who had School A in her portfolio got very
ill during the year and was not able to participate significantly in either the
district-level student board work, or the work at School A in particular.
For that reason, I did not invite her to participate in my research. She did,
however, help me access some of the document data that I used in my
research. Therefore, of the two VISTA volunteers that I invited to
participate in my research both chose to participate. Both were young
women who were recently out of college, though one had spent two years
in the Peace Corps and was a few years older than her other VISTA
colleagues.
School-level participant sample. The second category of
participants in my study, in addition to those who represented the district-
level work, was participants at the school level. At both Schools A and B
the pool from which my participant sample came was the core team, led
by the junior and senior student board leaders at each school. The process
for building a core team at School A differed a bit from that at School B,
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and I will discuss that more in the data analysis chapter. However, the
commonalities of the two core teams were that the junior and senior
student board members were key leaders on the team, there were other
students, of different ages and grade levels, who were recruited at the
school to participate, and there was at least one adult who also was a
member of the team.
Student core team members. At School A there were
approximately 10 students on the core team that remained active
throughout the 2009-10 school year, including the two student board
leaders. The 8 other students (who were not on the student board)
represented a mix of 10th 12th graders with diverse racial and ethnic
backgrounds. All were part of the same academic program at the school. I
invited all 10 to participate in my study. I coordinated with the two student
board members at School A, and then I sent an invitation to participate
(Appendix A) and the accompanying consent forms (Appendix B,
Appendix C). That information was then sent to core team members by the
adult core team member at School A, and the senior student board
representative sent out a reminder to the team with the date and time of the
focus group. I also attended one of their core team meetings to answer any
questions, collect consent forms, and confirm the date of the focus group.
Of the 10 students who were invited, 6 chose to participate. The junior and
senior student board representatives were two of the six students. The
senior student board member stated that the six who chose to participate
were, in her opinion, the most involved of the core team members. The
other four participants in the focus group included two sophomore females
(one of whom had participated in the School A core team project the
previous year), and two junior females (one of whom had also participated
in the previous years project).
At School B there were approximately 7 students on the core team
that remained active throughout the 2009-10 school year, including both
student board members. The other 5 students (who were not on the student
board) represented a mix of 9th through 12th graders and racial and ethnic
backgrounds. The students were in different academic programs from one
another. I invited all 7 to participate in my study, and 5 chose to take part.
I coordinated times with the two student board members at School B, as
well as with their VISTA volunteer. Then, I sent the email invitation to
participate (Appendix A) and the accompanying parental consent forms
(Appendix B, Appendix C) and the VISTA volunteer forwarded it to the
entire team. I then attended one core team meeting to answer questions
about the research and collect consent forms. The two student board
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members then followed up with student core team members regarding the
date and time of the focus group. Five students, out of seven, came to the
focus group. The two student board members were two of the five. The
other students included a freshman boy, a sophomore girl, and a junior girl
(who had participated in the previous years project).
Adult core team members. At School A during the 2009-10 school
year there was really only one adult member of the core team, a teacher
who was the designated liaison to the student board leaders. She was a
third-year teacher at the school who also served as the liaison to the
student board leaders during its pilot year in 2008-09. She was also the
student council teacher. During the first year of the pilot there were many
adult participants on the core team, including teachers, staff, an
administrator, and parents. The focus of the project that year, a school
cleanup and community building day, attracted many to participate. In the
second year, that project of a cleanup day continued, but it spun off into its
own event, separate from the core teams work. There was one adult who
participated on the core team during 2008-09 as a parent volunteer; her
son was also at the school and participated in the project. She was hired as
the Parent Coordinator at the school for 2009-10 and in that part-time
position helped spearhead the school cleanup project. As she was very
involved in the first year, and in a continuation of that project in the
second year, and as paid staff that time, I invited her to also participate in
my research. Both of these women were invited to take part in my study
(Appendix A). I sent them the same email invitation with the consent form
attached (Appendix D) that I sent to other prospective adult participants.
Both elected to participate in the focus group.
At School B there were 6 adults who were actively involved in the
core team during the 2009-10 year. These included 5 teachers and one
administrator. I attended one core team meeting at which I introduced
myself and handed out the participant consent form (Appendix D). I
followed up by sending an email invitation (Appendix A) to the adults to
invite them to participate in my study. Three of the teachers, all of whom
had also been on the core team during the first year, chose to participate.
Two of the three teachers were graduates of that high school themselves,
one of whom was to retire at the end of 2010. The other teacher was a
newer teacher to the school. All three were female.
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Data Collection
In this section I will first discuss each of my data collection
methods for this study. I will also include the questions asked in
interviews and focus groups and discuss how those questions were
designed to help me answer my two research questions in this study.
Documents
Documents (Yin, 1994) were a critical method of collecting data
for this study. To understand the district-level work I gathered the
following: planning and training tools, meeting agendas, meeting minutes,
presentation notes and materials, calendars and other internal documents.
The documents I gathered to look at the school-level core team work
consisted of meeting agendas, meeting minutes, presentation materials,
and a few planning tools for their school projects. These documents were
integral to constructing a timeline of significant events and processes in
this work, understanding how the work developed and changed over time,
and providing data from multiple sources and perspectives that was
considered in the analysis. Documents provided extensive data related to
the conceptualization, design, implementation and reflections on this
work, and they helped me build a general description of the case
(Creswell, 1998).
Focus Groups
I used focus groups to get verbal reports (i.e., self-reports) that
captured participants perceptions of the work (Yin, 1994). This was very
important because the affective reactions of the participants were
significant; their perceptions of value, relevance, and impact had direct
connections to their emotional engagement, particularly for the students,
in the work and thus the outcomes it realized. My first research question
asked what happened over this two-year project. My second research
question concerned the issue of how people and organizations changed as
a result of this work. Self-report data was essential in trying to answer
these two research questions. I conducted six focus groups in total (Table
3.3), two with students board members at the district level, two at School
A (one with students, one with adults), and two at School B (one with
students, one with adults). All focus group discussions were voice record
and transcribed (Yin, 1994).
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Table 3.3. Focus Groups Conducted
Site Focus Group # Who # of Participants
Student Board #1 Second-year student leaders 2 students
Student Board #2 Second-year student leaders 3 students
School A #3 Core team students 6 students
School A #4 Core team adults 2 adults
School B #5 Core team students 5 students
School B #6 Core team adults 3 adults
District-level perspective. To capture the student view of the
district-level perspective I held two focus groups with second-year student
board members. There were seven second-year members, all were invited
to participate, and five chose to do so. To accommodate the schedules of
the students I held two different focus groups over the course of one
month. The first focus group had two students participating, the senior
leader from School A, and another young woman from one of the other
high schools. The second focus group had three students participating,
including the senior leader from School B, and two other young women
from two of the other high schools. Each focus group was held in a
conference room at the district administrative building, preceding the
student board monthly meeting (each happening over one of two
consecutive monthly meetings). As the students were coming from all
over the city meeting before their scheduled monthly meetings at the
district headquarters was the most convenient for them.
In Table 3.4 guiding questions for the focus groups are listed. I say
guiding because I conducted the focus groups using a semi-structured
(Creswell, 1998) technique in which I used a pre-determined set of
questions and then directed follow-up questions or continued to probe
interviewees based on the points they raised through their responses.
Questions 1 5 were designed to help answer my first research
question about what happened over the first two years of this work.
Getting a sense of how participants defined the work, and why they got
involved, helped me to build that description. Questions 6-11 were
designed to help me answer my second research question about how
people and organizations changed as a result of this work. The aspirational
questions that asked about what participants hoped would happen in the
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future also helped me to answer that research question; answers indicated
changes in thinking, goals, and definitions of success, among other things.
Table 3.4. Guiding Questions for Student Board Member Focus
Groups
1. What does student voice mean to you?
2. Why did you become involved in the student board?
3. Describe the work you did the first year on the student board.
4. How has the work this year been similar to or different from last
year?
5. What have been the outcomes of your work so far?
6. What have you learned, if anything, through this work?
7. What do you think the adults have learned through this work?
8. What do you hope to accomplish by the end of this years project?
9. What would you say are some of the districts overall goals for
high school reform, and how might student voice and leadership
help the district achieve its goals for high school reform, if at all?
10. How would you characterize the relationship between the student
board and the board of education?
11. Is there anything else that I didnt ask you but should have?
School-level perspective. The focus groups were also an
appropriate format to capture information from representatives of the core
teams from each of my two school sites. As part of my conceptual
framework focuses on the role of student-adult partnerships in realizing
this work, it was important to gather data from both student and adult
perspective about these projects and the successes and struggles they
experienced. I conducted the student and adult focus groups separately in
order to not have the perspective of one group bias the perspective of the
other group when answering questions.
At School A I conducted one focus group with the students, and
one with the adults. There were 6 students who chose to participate in the
focus group. These six students included the (female) senior student board
leader, the (male) junior student board leader, two sophomore girls (one of
whom participated in the first year project), and two junior girls (one of
whom participated in the first year project). The students chose the time
and place of the focus group, which took place during a lunch period in a
classroom at the school. I provided pizza and drinks for participants before
the focus group.
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There was only one active adult on the core team member at
School A during 2009-10, a teacher who was the liaison to the student
board members. There was one other adult who was very active during
2008- 09, who became in charge of the project from the 2008-09 that spun
off on its own (separate from the core team in 2009-10). She was a parent
volunteer during 2008-09 and became the staff Parent Coordinator for
2009- 10. Both of these adults wanted to participate in this research. They
chose the time and place of the focus group, which took place during a
common free period in the Parent Coordinators office.
At School B I also conducted one focus group with students, and
one with adults. There were five students who chose to participate in the
focus group. The five students included the (female) senior student board
leader, the (female) junior student board leader, one freshman boy, one
sophomore girl, and one junior girl. The students chose the time and place
for the focus group, which took place during a lunch period in the schools
common meeting room. I provided pizza and drinks for the group.
Three of the teachers from the core team at School B elected to
participate in the focus group. They included one newer teacher to the
school, one long-time teacher who had graduated from that school (and
retired in 2010), and the student board member liaison who was also a
long-time teacher and graduate of the school. The teachers chose the time
and place of the focus group, which took place during a lunch period in
one of the teachers classrooms. I provided pizza and drinks for the group.
I used the same general outline of questions for each of the core
team focus groups. I modified the questions slightly for the students
compared to the adults (e.g., asking students what they thought adults had
learned by participating in this work, and vice versa in the adult focus
group). Questions 1 6 were designed to help me answer my first research
question regarding what happened over this two-year pilot project.
Questions 7-12 were designed to help me answer my second research
question about the impact the work had on the individuals and
organizations involved. The questions are listed in Table 3.5.
Table 3.5. Guiding Questions for Core Team Participant Focus
Groups
1. What does student voice mean to you?
2. Why did you get involved in the core team at your school?
3. Describe the research that you did last year at your school. What
problems did students identify about your school, and what project
was designed to address that feedback last year?______________
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Table 3.5 (cont)
4. Describe the research that you did this year at your school. What
problems did students and adults identify about your school, and
what project was designed to address that feedback this year?
5. Describe the similarities and differences in how your core team
worked this year versus last year.
6. How was the work distributed between the students and the adults?
7. What do you want to accomplish by the end of this school year,
and how will you know if you have been successful?
8. What have you learned as a result of participating in this work?
9. What do you think the adult/students learned as a result of
participating in this work?
10. What impact has this work had on your school?
11. What, if anything, about this work do you think will be sustained
or built upon in the future?
12. What have I not asked you that I should have?
Interviews
I also used semi-structured, individual interviews (Creswell, 1998)
as an essential tool to gather data in this case study. Like the focus groups,
interviews enabled me to gather self-report data and the participants
perceptions of the work in which they were involved (Yin, 1994). To get
the district perspective I interviewed seven adults that represented the
district office that supported this work and the district school Board of
Education. In Table 3.6 I outlined who participated in my interviews. All
were invited to participate with the same email script (Appendix A) and
participant consent form (Appendix D) that I used with other participants.
Table 3.6. Interviews Conducted
Who
7 Interviews for district- level perspective (1) Director from supporting district office (2) Assistant Director from supporting district office (3) 2nd Year VISTA volunteer, who helped coordinate all student board work 2008-10 (4) 1st Year VISTA assigned to School B during 2009-10 (5) Out-going Board member who was the Liaison to the entire student board during 2008-09 (6) In-coming new school board member, who became Board Chair and Liaison to the entire student board for 2009-10 (7) Six-year veteran Board member, participated in School A 09 project
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District liaisons to the student board. I interviewed the four adults
who were primary supporters of this work as liaisons to the student board
of education, two of whom are district employees and two of whom were
AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers (one worked across schools and supported
the district office, and is in the second year of this work; the other was the
primary contact with School B and joined the work in its second year).
The VISTA volunteer who was the primary contact for School A was
unavailable to participate in this study, as she was very sick and in the
hospital. Each of these participants chose the time and place for the
interview.
I used the same guiding interview questions for all four of these
adults. In Table 3.7 I outlined those questions. I did, however, ask slightly
different questions of the first-year VISTA who was assigned to School B,
as I wanted to get her perspective on that teams work in particular. I
tailored the questions about goals and outcomes of this work to School B
in her interview. Questions 1 7 were designed to help me answer my
first research question about what happened over the two years of this
project. Questions 8-16 were designed to help me answer my second
research question about the impact the work had on the individuals and
organizations involved.
Table 3.7. Guiding Questions for District Liaisons to the Student
Board
1. What does student voice mean to you?
2. How did you come to be involved in this work?
3. What were the goals and outcomes for the first year of this
project?
4. How did the outcomes from the first year of the project impact
your planning and implementation for the second year?
5. What have been the goals and outcomes for this second year?
6. What impacts have you seen from this work at the district
level?
7. Describe the relationship between the student board and the
adult board.
8. What impacts have you seen from this work at the school
level?
9. What has been one of the greatest successes of this project?
10. What are the challenges or barriers to success in this work?
11. What have you learned from this work?
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Table 3.7 (cont)
12. What have the students learned from this work?
13. What do you think other adults have learned from this work?
14. How might this project help support the districts broader goals
for high school reform?
15. What impacts have you seen from this work at the district
level?
16. Is there anything else that I didnt ask you that I should have?
School Board of Education members. In addition, I interviewed
three school Board of Education members. One of the board members was
an outgoing four-year member and liaison to the student board during her
tenure. Another was a new member and incoming president of the board,
as well as the new school board liaison to the student board. The last was a
six-year board member who participated in the school improvement
projected sponsored by School A in the spring of 2009. In Table 3.8 I
outlined the guiding questions I asked in those three interviews. Again, as
each of those three participants had different experiences (e.g., tenure on
the school board) and thus different responses, each interview had slightly
different questions. For example, as one school board member participated
in the project at School A in 2009,1 asked him about that experience. As
another example, another board member was the school board liaison to
the student board at the district level during 2008-09,1 asked her about
taking on that role. Questions 1 5 were designed primarily to help me
answer my first research question, and questions 6-11 were designed
primarily to help me answer my second research question.
Table 3.8. Guiding Questions for Board of Education Members
1. What does student voice mean to you?
2. Why did you run for the DPS Board of Education?
3. What do you see as the Boards biggest accomplishments during
your tenure?
4. Describe what you know about the student board work over the
past 1.5 years.
5. How would you describe the relationship between the student
board and the board of education?
6. What impact has the student board work had thus far?
7. What have you learned, if anything, from the student board work?
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8. What role do you see in the future for student voice and leadership
at the districtjevel?
9. What role do you see in the future for student voice and leadership
at the schooljevel?
10. How might this Student Board-led work help to support the
districts broader goals for high school reform?
11. Is there anything else that I should have asked you that I didnt?
Organizing Data
After doing my interviews and focus groups I transcribed them and
organized each of them into a tabular format using Microsoft Word.
LaPelle (2004) describes in detail how to develop an organization and
coding system for qualitative research that was a better fit for my needs in
this project than other qualitative data analysis software. My system was
based largely on her work.
Organizing Interview and Focus Group Data Tables
I created one data table for each interview and focus group. Each
table I created had columns with the following titles: (1) organizational
identification, the organization represented by the respondents (e.g., the
school board, the student board, School A, etc.); (2) the role, which was a
number assigned to each particular respondent in an interview or focus
group; (3) the data code, for identifying how I coded each response; (4)
the moderator question or participant response', and (5) the sequence
number for each utterance. Those pieces of information enabled me to
keep track of the responses, who said them, what perspective they
represented (e.g., district or school level, a student or an adult), and where
in the interview each particular response fell. This was particularly useful
once I merged data tables and sorted according to particular pieces of
information (e.g., a theme code, responses from one particular
organization, etc).
In order to prepare the data for the table I had to take various steps.
First, I assigned letters (i.e., organizational identification) and numbers
(i.e., roles) to each individual in interviews, and to those in the focus
groups, organizing all of that information in a face sheet table (LaPelle,
2004) (Table 3.9). All names have been changed to protect the identity of
participants.
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Table 3.9. Example of Face Sheet Data Table
Organization Org: ID Role Person
Board of Education A 1 Bill
A 2 Norm
A 3 Jacquie
District Office B 1 Kimberly
B 2 Willow
B 3 Cesar
B 4 Diane
Student Board C 1 Catherine-School A
C 2 Gena
C 3 Laura
C 4 Sasha- School B
C 5 Sara
School A D 1 Janice
D 2 Katrina
D 3 Catherine (board)
D 4 Trevor (board)
D 5 Francis
D 6 Peyton
D 7 Madison- teacher
D 8 Kit- staff
School B E 1 Dara
E 2 Rita (board)
E 3 Tim
E 4 Sasha (board)
E 5 Linda
E 6 Teresa teacher
E 7 Connie teacher
E 8 Cat teacher
Throughout each interview data table the same organization
identification and role code were assigned to both the moderator (myself)
and the interviewee (Table 3.10). Throughout each focus group data table
the organizational identification and role codes were assigned to each
response and respondent. The moderator codes were the same as those
codes for the response immediately following the question (Table 3.11).
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The moderator questions are bolded in order to make them more visible
and distinguishable from participant responses.
Table 3.10. Example of Organizational Identification and Role Coding
for an Interview
Org. ID Role Theme Code Moderator Question/Participant Response Sequence #
A 1 Moderator question 1
A 1 Participant response 2
A 1 Moderator question 3
A 1 Participant response 4
Table 3.11. Example of Organizational Identification and Role Coding
for a Focus Group.
Org. ID Role Theme Code Moderator Question/Participant Response Sequence #
C 1 Moderator question. 1
C 1 Participant 1 response. 2
c 2 Participant 2 response. 3
c 2 Moderator question. 4
c 2 Participant 2 response. 5
c 1 Participant 1 response. 6
Second, after assigning organizational identification and role codes
to the data, I cut and pasted each speakers response into a new cell in the
moderator question/participant response column. Within each speakers
response, or one utterance, the text wrapped within the cell. There were
no hard returns within the text of each response, meaning each utterance
was included as one paragraph in one cell. An example would be that one
response may have been only a few sentences, and thus take up only a few
lines in the response cell. However, a long response might have taken an
entire page-length and have been captured in just one cell. Pasting each
response into just one cell enabled me to keep track of an entire response.
Hard returns were used only at the end of each speakers response, when
the next participant started talking, and thus placed the next participants
utterance in a new cell on a new row. Each response was also assigned its
own sequence number. This allowed me to return to the original sequence
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number after I sorted the table based on key data, or codes, in other
columns. I will discuss that more in the data analysis section.
Organizing Document Data
I organized the documents into categories, by district- and school-
levels, and by year one and year two. Within that organizational system, I
organized the documents into categories. At the district level those
categories included historical information, student board recruitment,
participant contact information, student board training materials, student
board meeting agendas and minutes, presentations to the school board,
year-end reflections, future planning documents, and miscellaneous
documents (e.g., special event fliers or information). At the school level
those categories included school training materials, school core team and
participant information, student voice forums, school meeting agendas and
minutes, school reports, year-end reflections, and future planning
documents.
Coding
Theme Codebook
The development of my codebook, and the system I used to code
the data within my data tables, were both very important parts of
organizing my data and enabled me to later analyze that data. First, I had
ten major, primary-level themes. These primary-level themes (in bold, in
the codebook) emerged through my reading and my research to help me
create my conceptual framework, which led to the initial development of
my codebook. These 10 major themes included student voice,
relationships, adult learning, student learning, engagement, school
impact/change, district impact/change, adult leaders/roles, student
leaders/roles, and core teams. Each of these major themes has a definition
in the codebook.
The secondary-level codes (in italics) in my codebook were also
derived primarily from the literature and are mostly represented in my
conceptual framework. As the codebook evolved I also added tertiary-
level sub-codes, which came primarily from the literature too. For
example, student voice was a major primary-level theme in the literature.
I developed second-level codes of expression, participation, and action in
my conceptual framework to represent the primary categories I found in
the literature on student voice. These were the second-level codes, under
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student voice, in my codebook. An example of the tertiary sub-codes,
under the first-level theme of student voice, and the second-level code of
expression, some of the tertiary sub-codes included the purpose of
schooling, what engages students, and what good teaching looks like.
After populating the codebook with the various levels of themes,
codes, and sub-codes, the next step was to assign numerical codes
(LaPelle, 2004) to each. Table 3.12 includes an excerpt of my codebook.
Decimal numeric codes were used for the actual coding, and then later I
used a numeric sort on the codes in the data tables during my analysis.
Table 3.12. Excerpt from my Codebook, Illustrating Three Levels of
Themes/Codes.
1.0 Student Voice (Primary theme from conceptual framework, Level 1)
1.05 Expression (Secondary theme from conceptual framework, Level 2)
1.051 Naming ones reality/talking about what one feels (Tertiary theme from conceptual framework, Level 3)
1.052 Purpose of schooling
1.053 What engages students
1.054 What is functional in their school
1.055 What makes students disengage
1.056 What is dysfunctional in their school
1.057 What helps students to actively participate in own education
1.058 Why students stay in school
1.059 Personal factors that affect attendance
1.060 Environmental factors that affect attendance
1.061 What good teaching looks like
1.062 Identification and connectedness with school
1.063 Perceptions of equity
1.064 Choosing in/out of school/district
1.065 Being heard, responded to
1.066 No one voice/multiplicity of voices
1.067 Speaking for themselves, without adult reinterpretation
Also, in my literature review, and thus in my codebook, I
distinguished between theoretical (blue) and empirical (black) themes and
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codes. For example, code 1.067, student expression as students speaking
for themselves without adult reinterpretation, emerged not from an
empirical study but rather from work by various authors who believed that
such an aspect of student voice was essential for authentic expression
(Fielding, 2001; Lincoln, 1995). An empirically observed theme,
however, can be seen in code 1.058, of students expressing why they stay
in school, was documented by authors such as Gallagher (2002). I built
themes from both of those types of literature into my codebook, and I
distinguished between them by font color so as to keep track of where the
themes and codes came from. The vast majority of those themes and
codes, however, came from the empirical work, rather than the theoretical
writing. Additionally, other themes and a-posteriori codes emerged from
my research. I added those themes and codes to my codebook, in another
font color (red), so as to be able to distinguish where they came from too.
At times those codes fall not at the end of the section but are peppered
throughout a section. This happened due to practical space-saving reasons.
There were times that I eliminated a line from the codebook and, not
wanting to renumber codes to remain sequential, I added an emergent code
in that newly empty line. This can be seen in the excerpt of the codebook
listed in Table 3.12.
Coding Interview and Focus Group Data
Previously I described the creation of my data tables as my method
of organizing interview and focus group data. I discussed taking an
interview transcript, for example, and taking the following steps: creating
a row for each utterance or response, and filling the row in with the
organizational identification code, the role code (of the participant),
copying the text of the entire response into the moderator
question/participant response cell, and adding a sequence number. Here I
describe how I used the structure to then code text from the interviews and
focus groups. Table 3.13 illustrates my data table structure.
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Table 13.3. Example of a Data Table with all Information Except
Codes.
Org. ID Role Theme Code Moderator Question/Participant Response Sequence #
A 1 What does student voice mean to you? 1
A 1 Student voice means to me, ah, really, student inputs, students having a say, being able to express their opinions about their education and whats going on at their schools. 2
A 1 Is that (student voice) a new concept for you, in terms of when you got involved with the student board? 3
A 1 Relatively new. Certainly when I was a student there was no such thing as student voice. There was teacher voice and principal voice and that was kind of the way it worked. I think its a relatively new focus. Weve been seeing student surveys for some time, and parent surveys but this concept of student voice in the last 4 years is certainly taking on a higher profile, more meaning. 4
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After developing my codebook, and creating my data tables
(populated with all information except codes) I began the process of
coding the text in the data tables. Each response, or text row, was
coded with one or multiple codes. First, I identified the primary theme
the response fit into, considering the definition of each primary theme.
Then, I identified the appropriate secondary theme the response fit
into. Then, if appropriate, I identified the tertiary code that best fit the
response. That level of code served as a specific example within the
particular secondary theme. Some responses were not specific enough
to merit a tertiary code level, but were labeled with a sub-theme. A
few responses were also general enough to merit the label of a major
theme itself.
Entire response as one code. If the entire response fit into one
code category, then that entire response got just one code. The
moderator question would also be assigned the same code as the
participant response, to identify that the two went together. Table 3.14
illustrates this point.
Table 3.14. Example of Entire Response Fitting into One Code
Category
Org. ID Role Theme Code Moderator Question/Participant Response Sequence #
A 1 1.05 What does student voice mean to you? 1
A 1 1.05 Student voice means to me, ah, really, student inputs, students having a say, being able to express their opinions about their education and whats going on at their schools. 2
A 1 1.0 Is that (student voice) a new concept for you, in terms of when you got involved with the student board? 3
A 1 1.0 Relatively new. Certainly when I was a student there was no such thing as student voice. There was teacher voice and 4
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principal voice and that was
kind of the way it worked. I
think its a relatively new focus.
Weve been seeing student
surveys for some time, and
parent surveys but this concept
of student voice in the last 4
years is certainly taking on a
higher profile, more meaning.
One response being split into multiple codes. If the response
contained sentences that fit into different code categories, then the
response was split into different excerpts (in different rows) and each
excerpt was assigned the appropriate code. In that case, the sequence
number was modified to signify that the response had been split up.
When a response was split, the sequence number reflected decimals of
.01,02, .03, etc for each section of the response. When the response
was split I added brackets at the end of the previous section, and the
beginning of the next section, to remember the context of that section
of the response. The sequence number system also allowed me to piece
back together the original sequence of the response after it had been
sorted in the process of analyzing the relationships between the various
pieces of text. Table 3.15 illustrates this example, with the first
response fitting into just one code, and the second response being split
into and assigned two codes. For reference, I have included an entire
coded interview in Appendix E. A coded focus group would look very
similar.
The code for the moderator question always reflected the
subsequent participant response code. In other words, if a response
were split into two or more sections, the code for the first part of the
response was also assigned to the moderator question too. This is to
ensure that the moderator question stays with and precedes the relevant
responses after sorting (LaPelle, 2004).
Table 3.15. Example of Breaking Down Responses into Multiple
Code Categories
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Org. ID Code Moderator Question/Participant Response Sequence #
A 2 1.15 What does student voice mean to you? 1
A 2 1.15 Hum. It means something more than just patronizing. It means actually giving students a responsibility for certain tasks, and leading from behind. Which means you give them advice, or you ask questions that lead them to the conclusion as opposed to you telling them what to do. I think its harder for, in our culture, to do that with you than maybe it is in other cultures. I did some research in the Netherlands, and I think theyre much better at student voice than we are. But I think that its something that is certainly developing here. 2
A 2 6.259 Why do you think others are better at it (student voice) than we are? 3
A 2 6.259 I think we tend to be more patronizing as a culture. That we feel like, as adults we know whats best. [I will give you an example.] 4.01
A 2 1.05 [...we know whats best.] I will give you an example. Ive been in several meetings where people are talking about issues like, Whats going on with Latino students in education? you know, where theres not one Latino student in the room... 4.02
Duplication of an entire response. Another technique that I
used in coding the responses was to duplicate the entire response. This
was appropriate when the entire response could be coded in two or
more ways. To do this, I simply had to modify the data table by adding
a new row. To that new row I would also add the face sheet data (the
organizational identification and role codes). Duplicated text was then
pasted into the appropriate row and italicized, and then the sequence
numbering was modified to reflect the duplication. Remember, the
whole number reflected the original sequence of the response within
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the entire interview or focus group, and the first two decimal places
reflected the sequence of the excerpt split out of the response (Table
16). But here, with duplication, I used the third and fourth decimal
places (the suffix) to reflect the number of times the excerpt was
duplicated. For example, if response number 10 were duplicated two
times, and coded in two different ways, the sequence number would be
10.0002. Table 3.16 reflects this example.
Table 3.16. Example of Coding Entire Duplicated Passage and the
Sequence Numbers
Org. ID Role Theme Code Moderator Question/Participant Response Sequence #
B 2 2.054 What do you think the impact of that is, if the teachers are seeing the students in a different light? 9
B 2 2.054 I would say a higher level of respect. And just, Ive had a few teachers tell me that, I didn t even know that my students were capable of doing this". So I think it kind of falls by the wayside. Its kind of opening teachers eyes to that side too. 10.0002
B 2 3.104 I would say a higher level of respect. And just, Ive had a few teachers tell me that, I didnt even know that my students were capable of doing this. So I think it kind of falls by the wayside. Its kind of opening teachers eyes to that side too. 10.0002
Duplication of an excerpt within one response. If one of the
responses were split, and one of the excerpts within that response were
duplicated, the sequence number would appropriately reflect that. For
example, if the first excerpt from the second response were duplicated
twice, the sequence number would be 2.0102; the suffix indicates how
many times the excerpt was duplicated. Each duplicated passage
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received the same sequence number. Table 3.17 illustrates the example
of the first excerpt of the second response being duplicated twice, and
assigned two different codes, and the second excerpt of the same
response appearing just once.
Table 3.17. Example of Coding Duplicated Excerpts and Assigning
Sequence Numbers
Org. ID Role Theme Code Moderator Question/Participant Response Sequence #
A 3 1.05 What student voice means to you? 1
A 3 1.05 Well I would say student voice means that um making sure that first of all that students have the ability to speak out and share their perspectives and actually influence decisions that are made at either their schools or at the district level...decisions that directly affect them. (I think thats really...) 2.0102
A 3 1.101 Well I would say student voice means that um making sure that first of all that students have the ability to speak out and share their perspectives and actually influence decisions that are made at either their schools or at the district level...decisions that directly affect them. (I think thats really...) 2.0102
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Table 3.17 (cont)
A
3
7.105 (...that directly affect them.) I
think that its really important
too to have schools and a
system, meaning a district that
has more than token ways of
demonstrating that respect
(having student voice influence
decisions) for students. (I think
its also really...)
LaPelle (2004) asserts that As long as each theme occurs only
once in the utterance, segmentation like this will not affect
quantification of occurrences within a single interview data table (p.
97). LaPelle also says that Careful design of the codebook table and
indexing structure can facilitate both analysis and reporting later on
since data will be sorted in the order that the numerical codes have been
defined. If the theme codes are grouped hierarchically and organized
logically in the order of the outline designed for the report, both
analysis and reporting can occur as the analyst proceeds sequentially
through the sorted data table (pp. 89-90). This is what I strived to
accomplish.
One more note about how I assigned codes: I used the same
theme codes for text excerpts that were both aspirational and outcome-
based. This is to say that, for example, the sub-code of student peer
leadership (a tertiary code), as a practice (secondary-level code) that
illustrated school change (primary-level theme) due to this work, might
have been assigned to (a) an excerpt of things the students identified
happened as a result of their projects (which is outcome-based), as well
as to (b) an excerpt from the focus group at another school who
identified a goal they wanted to realize by the end of the year (which is
aspirational). Though both excerpts were coded the same, I could tell
by the context of each excerpt whether it was something that resulted
from the work, or something people aspired to accomplish. And, I was
able to distinguish them during my analysis of impact of this work in
Chapter 6.
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Coding Document Data
Though I did not create data tables for my document data I also
used the codebook and my conceptual framework to analyze that data
and triangulate it with the interview and focus group data. I made
coding notes in the documents for reference as I organized my findings
and engaged in my analysis. Appendix F represents an example of a
coded document.
Data Analysis
In this study I had two primary research questions, (1) what
happened during the first two years of this student voice and leadership
pilot project, and (2) what impact did the work have on the individuals
and organizations involved? In my work to answer these questions I
analyzed the data from four different perspectives, (a) district-level
work, (b) school-level work, (c) the student perspective, and (d) the
adult perspective. Table 3.18 provides the matrix used to analyze the
four perspectives in answering my two research questions.
Table 3.18. Matrix Used for Four Different Perspectives of Data
Analysis
District-level School-level
Research question #1 Student perspective Student perspective
Adult perspective Adult perspective
Research question #2 Student perspective Student perspective
Adult perspective Adult perspective
Member Checks
After starting the analysis of the data I went back to respondents
to do member checks. For the student data I invited all student board
members who participated in the study to look over both the district-
and school-level focus group data tables. I explained the process of
putting the interview and focus group transcription into the data tables,
and what each column of information represented. They checked for
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Full Text