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Chapter One: Understandings

Students and teachers together form a community that raises questions, gathers information, and creates new understandings about teaching and learning. ~Hubbard & Power Teachers have spent much time and effort trying to figure out what will help students become invested in what they are learning. According to Kohn, schooling is typically about doing things to children, not working with them (1993). This perpetuates the problem that teachers like me are trying to alleviate. The rewards, punishments, and lack of input as decision makers communicate the message that the students job is basically to do as they are told. I realized that I had violated my students rights to have a democratic classroom. At the heart of democracy is a voice and choice in matters. I denied my students choice and voice when I took away the shared responsibility to decide what and how we should learn. We all have an innate need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world (Pink, 2009). When these basic needs are met then what is yielded is high performance, deep satisfaction and intrinsic motivation. I pursued these basic needs to intrinsically motivate my students to learn through my research. During my research, I discovered what happens when student voice and student reflection guide my teaching and our learning. I developed a partnership with my students to guide what we learned, how we learned, and the pace at which we learned. I learned how to be a partner with my students and not be a dictator. I learned how to actively listen to my students voices and foster an environment where our reflections were used to guide our learning. I hoped this would increase my students self-awareness of themselves as learners. I hoped my students would be empowered and gain confidence in their voices that their opinions mattered. I hoped they would have the courage to speak about how their learning environment was, or was not, meeting their needs. And finally, I hoped we would trust one another to encourage each other to speak and share our needs. In the following sections, I will explore my question further through the discussion of consequences when students are controlled, what a democratic classroom is, how reflection is a tool to help build a democratic classroom, and how my students and I built a democratic classroom together. Much of this exploration guided me in redefining myself as a teacher who views students as not only children but as people whose current needs, rights, and experiences are taken seriously (Kohn, 1993). Extrinsic Motivators: The Deception of Control Why dont they listen to me? How am I going to teach everything before the end of the year?

Why are they still not getting it? Ive got to get my students test scores higher! These pressures can spiral teachers into a feeling of loss of control. Teachers feel the need to decide what students should learn, when, and how fast they should master content skills. Teachers decide when its ok for students to speak, what is ok to talk about, and even where to sit. Our district requires teachers to administer benchmark tests three times a year. The benchmark tests in math and literacy are intended to prepare students for the state test in the spring and give teachers an expected timeline when certain content should be taught and mastered. The external pressures from the state, district, and at times administration, push teachers to create learning environments where curriculum and pacing are dictated by the structure of standardized tests. What may have been intended to bring structure turns into a need to control students by demanding compliance. The use of control brings a feeling of safety for teachers, but not for students. I was that teacher. I began to look at my students as a to-do list that needed to get checked off at various points throughout the school year. After my students would complete one of their district assessments, I checked the percentage of my students who scored at proficiency or below. I focused on making sure that the percentage of those who scored at proficiency were a lot more than those who did not. As long as that percentage was high, then I was considered a good teacher. This affected my relationship with my students. I focused more on completing my agenda and less on building a connection with my students that honored their individual learning experiences in our classroom. I, along with many of my colleagues, felt that we had to disregard what our students were naturally interested in and teach according to what would be on the benchmarks. This framework communicated the message to students to keep up and if they didnt get it then they had to find a way to catch up on their own time. We had to keep controlling the learning environment if we were going to be able to cover all of the standards in time. According to Assor, there are two types of control: direct and subtle (2005). Direct control is when a teacher gives frequent directives, interfering with childrens preferred pace or rhythm of learning, and suppressing critical and independent opinions or discussions (Assor et al, 2002). I would directly control my students when I decided what we were going to learn, how we were going to learn it, and when I expected the content skills to be mastered. If my students said that they didnt understand it, I sometimes disregarded their voices and assumed that they werent listening when I was teaching or were just plain lazy. I also wouldnt give them time to explore solving math problems in their own way. I would interrupt their thinking and tell them how to solve it. Subtle forms of control occur when adults gradually influence children by offering or withdrawing material or emotional rewards (Deci et al, 1982). I would bribe my

students to convince them to do the work. We had a colored behavior chart that had each students name on a clip attached to it. If a student did what I said, their clip was moved up and he was praised. They would even get a prize at the end of the day or week. If a student didnt comply with the structures I set up, then their clip was moved down. This would mean that they lost recess or their parents were notified about their behavior. These descriptions dont appear extreme or harmful because they do not involve the use of physical violence, insults, or shaming. The methods I was using are common in elementary schools across our country, but they backfire and cause students to lose the intrinsic motivation to learn. In the presence of rewards and teacher approval, students are not focused on learning but on the external motivators themselves (Deci et al, 1982). There were times that my first grade students couldnt remember what we learned, but they could recall the type of sticker they earned for following directions. As you can imagine, two groups of students began to form in my classroom. I had a group of students who appeared to do what I said and kept up, so I assumed that my system was working. The other group was made up of those significantly behind, and they remained that way. They either openly defied my authority by acting out or never completed the work. This led me to leave the first group alone because they were getting it. My energy wasnt on teaching the content, but in managing the second groups behavior because I assumed that they needed more control to make them focus. Ryan & Deci state that students have a basic need for autonomy, competence, and belonging (2000). Autonomy refers to the striving of ones authentic self being reflected in ones basic needs and self-chosen values, interests and goals (Assor et al, 2005). When the basic need for autonomy is violated by external controls, two behaviors emerge: compliance (to avoid punishment) and anger. The use of external motivators is often used to extinguish anger and turn it into compliance. Students may appear to comply because it is too risky to openly resist the external pressures. They study the minimum or only what is required by the teacher, just to avoid punishments or to obtain material rewards or a grade. This narrows their learning experiences and their efforts. Assor argues that control appears to work because students are doing the work, but the compliance is superficial. What was learned is short-lived and makes no lasting impression on the student. This explains my confusion when I assumed my compliant students seemed to understand the work because they behaved or finished the assignments, but then would look confused when later in the year we took a test on the same concepts. According to Assor, if compliance does not occur then anger is evoked due to feelings of unjustness. Teachers feel threatened when students act out in anger or overt non-compliance. Children who feel anxious that they will not be able to complete what they are doing may also react in this way. Students may check-out or wont make an effort because they find it impossible to succeed with a controlling teacher. I saw this among my students who I bullied into doing the work with threats of punishment. After a

while, losing recesses and even frequent calls to parents lost their effect because the root issue was not their behavior, it was their loss of control. The loss of control, of choice or autonomy, from the perspective of the student leaves a profound impact in their ability to learn in meaningful and lasting ways. Neil Postman states in The End of Education that the listlessness and even violence in school are related to the fact that students have been given no useful role to play in society. The strict application of nurturing and protective attitudes toward children has created a paradoxical situation in which protection has come to mean excluding the young from meaningful involvement in their own communities. [He] proposes to use youthful energy as an asset to students academic experience by not suppressing the energy of students; but rather, exploiting it for benign, constructive, and human purposes (1996, p. 102). When students autonomy is threatened they will act out in anger, tune out, or show anxiety. Kohn calls this burnout because students are just going through the motions of learning, handing in uninspired work and counting the minutes or days until freedom because they lack control over what they are doing in effect, they feel powerless (1993). Instead of perceiving these signals as threats, how can we receive them as expressions of our students voices asking for autonomy? As a recovering control freak, I still struggle with the temptation to fall back to my controlling methods to convince my students that the work we do is meaningful. But that temptation is a false comfort. My dream is to witness intrinsic motivation within all of my students. Intrinsic motivation defined by Deci is when the joy of completing a task is the reward in of itself (2000). The problem is that I have cheated myself and my students from having that dream when Ive resorted to the carrot-and-stick approach of using external rewards to encourage the behavior that I wanted and punishments to discourage the behavior that I didnt. In 1969, Deci conducted a study on the effects of external motivators on two groups of people. Each group had to replicate the configurations of seven different puzzles each day for three days. On the first day, Group A and B were told to solve the puzzles and were not offered any reward. They both took about 5 minutes to solve the puzzles. But on the second day, Group A was offered $1 for each puzzle they were able to solve. Group B was not offered any reward. When Deci stepped out of the room, he observed what each group was doing during their free time. Group A showed a boost of energy in solving the puzzles and took longer than five minutes working on the puzzles. Group B performed the same as day one. On the third day, group A was told that they ran out of money and could not pay them. Group B was still not given an offer of a reward for solving the puzzles. When Deci stepped out again during thei r free time, group A spent two minutes less than the paid day and one minute less than the first day. The never-been-paid Group B actually spent more time on the puzzles than the previous days (Pink, 2009).

This study showed that external rewards could actually have a negative effect on motivation when the tasks are complex and involve flexible problem-solving or inventiveness, like the puzzles. On the other hand, Pink argues that extrinsic motivators may actually give a small boost in motivation for menial or dull tasks because there is little or no intrinsic motivation to be undermined (2009, p.60). These types of tasks are more routine or dont require much creative thinking. The question then becomes, what type of tasks do we want students to be accomplishing in schools? Do we want students engaged in dull, menial tasks requiring little thought or complex tasks that require creativity and problem solving? In the past, I had relied on extrinsic motivators like rewards and punishments because most of my day had been full of routine tasks like worksheets that didnt require much creativity from my students. My students were heavily reliant on rewards and punishments that when they were faced with complex tasks, they would easily get frustrated and give up. Instead, I decided to delve into my students thoughts and opinions to understand what intrinsically motivated each student so that we could build learning experiences and habits that would last. Students have a need to be drawn into the learning process when they are allowed to practice autonomy. Instead of control, structures need to be built in to create time to explore, to have choice, and to safely express their voice. It is a daily struggle and choice for me to not succumb to the external pressures of testing to create the kind of learner I desire to see in my students. I continue to work on honoring my students learning experiences so that they may discover the passion to learn within themselves through leaning on intrinsic motivators. So, how do I move away from my reliance on external motivators and lean on internal motivators? Do the internal motivators work? Intrinsic Motivators: Lasting Impressions Ryan and Deci state that students have three basic psychological needs in order to be intrinsically motivated to learn: autonomy, belonging, and competence (2000). Autonomy is defined by Ryan and Deci as the freedom to make your own choices (2000). Pink goes further to state that our basic nature is to be curious and self-directed (2009, p.87). Students experience autonomy when they make choices and explore what they are interested in. I asked my students to make choices that indicated what they wanted to learn, when they did their tasks, how they did it, and whom they did it with. Pink states that autonomous motivation yields greater conceptual understanding, better grades, enhanced persistence in school, higher productivity, less burnout, and greater levels of psychological well-being (2009, p. 89). Since my students were not familiar to being given autonomy in a school setting, I had to scaffold this transition for them by finding out what they preferred to have choices in: task types, time, technique, and team (Pink, 2009).

Autonomy may be the freedom for students to make their own choices, but this does not happen in isolation. Students want to belong to a community where they are respected. Belongingness is interacting, being connected to, and experiencing caring for others. I extended this sense of belongingness to include a feeling of purpose. Pink calls this listening to our own voice- doing something that matters, doing it well, and doing in the service of a cause larger than ourselves. Its an affirmation of our humanity (2009, P. 145). My students and I fostered a sense of belongingness by sharing with one another how we needed to be supported as we learn. We also found causes in our neighborhood community that we were interested in partnering and supporting. Students not only want to be a part of something that matters to them, but they also want to get better at doing it. This is called mastery or competence (Pink, 2009). Pink calls this the Goldilocks method because the tasks are not too easy or too difficult. The most effective way for me to gauge this for each of my students was to strive for learning goals rather than performance goals. Where performance goals are typically associated with test marks and the pressure to prove being smart, Pink argues that learning goals are centered on welcoming the effort of learning as a way to improve at something that matters (2009, p. 121). Mastery is difficult because it takes more effort over a long period of time. Pink also states that mastery is more like an asymptote- forever approaching without ever quite reaching it. The joy is in the pursuit more than the realization (2009, p. 125). I realized that under this definition, I needed to rely heavily on the voices of my students and their reflections as we learned together to reach individual learning goals. My role was to help my students make clear learning goals, give them immediate feedback, and carefully match challenges to their abilities. According to Deci and Ryan, students actually seek out challenges or new opportunities to learn and retain what they discover because they are intrinsically motivated (2000) when these basic needs of autonomy, belongingness, and competence are met. The first time I recognized this intrinsic motivation was when my students chose to take baskets of books about sea life out to recess during a project we were doing about oceans. They would rather read and learn about sea animals together than play on the monkey bars. They valued the act of reading because it fostered autonomy, by helping them find the answers to their own questions about sea life. While on the playground, I noticed that my students were paying attention to each others questions and shared books and information that they thought would help each other further explore their natural curiosities. They were building community or meeting their need of belongingness through researching for each other. This unstructured play was a vital component to their socialization and inquiry. By the time exhibition came, they felt competent and proud to teach others how to protect endangered sea life at Cabrillo National Monument through their trash artwork. I moved away from control and instead paid attention to providing a safe environment for my students to have their basic needs of autonomy, competence, and belongingness met. My students enjoyed learning. I found that creating democratic classrooms nurtured intrinsic motivation in students to persevere and find joy in learning.

A Democratic Classroom Democratic classrooms provide equitable learning environments where a wide range of voices and views are heard (Apple & Beane, 2007). We often speak about the importance of citizenship and how an individual can contribute to the well-being of a society. As Kohn states, the way a child learns to make decisions is by making decisions, not by following directions (1993, p. 4). I find that too often students are excluded from conversations where their ideas could be used to contribute to education. Students are individuals who need opportunities to practice what it means to be a citizen who contributes to a society that prides itself on human dignity, equity, freedom, and justice (Apple & Beane, 2007). Students believe that their worth is valued when their perspectives are requested, heard, and implemented in the classroom. I created space for my students to have a say in what kind of learning environment they wanted to have. They decided what their role would be. We also decided how to make adjustments when there was dissent among us. The root of a democratic classroom is students living out these core principles. We primarily used community meetings to help us with this. Neill founded the Summerhill School in England where the students practiced democracy through general meetings. Neill states that democracy in education has infinite value because of students sense of justice and great administrative abilities (Neill, 1992). Our class implemented some of Summerhill Schools general meeting structures for our community meetings. We began each morning with a general meeting where we made announcements to the community, asked questions, proposed new laws, and decided how to reach consensus on the issues that arose. Students at Summerhill picked a chairman to run the meetings and a secretary to keep record of the business discussed in a multi-age setting. Neill states that children up to age twelve will not run good self-government on their own because they have not reached the social age. Younger children are only mildly interested in government (1992, p. 25). Since my first graders are six and seven years of age, I helped facilitate the community meetings and took on the role of chairman and secretary. During the meeting, we discussed items that the students had suggested be placed on the agenda until consensus was reached. Throughout the rest of the week we practiced new laws enacted by this general meeting. On the last day of the week, we reflected on how the implementation of new and current laws went during the week and made any changes voiced by the students. Living out the core principles of democracy includes conflict whenever there are groups of individuals who are trying to reach consensus. Consensus took longer but it was worth the time because it enabled more students to be invested in the decisions we made as a community. We enacted a private conversation corner where students could solve conflicts with one another. But if students were not able to resolve their conflict privately students had the option to call an emergency community meeting on other days during the week if they felt that they

had been wronged in any way. The commitment to persevere through the challenges of a democratic classroom is part of the process. In democratic classrooms, Kohn argues that conflicts or dissention arent seen as threats but as opportunities to strengthen democracy by remaining faithful to its process (1993). Critical thinking and questioning are welcomed because they are used to reach consensus when conflicts arise. I believe that the democratic way of life is based in honoring humanity by empowering others to speak up for themselves and for others in their community. During community meetings and private conversation corners, students wrote on a table or graph the type of conflict they had, how they attempted to solve it, and the result of their efforts. We looked at the results of this data as a whole class and discussed how we could improve the way that we functioned as a community. It can be risky for students to step out and share their voice, especially when they fear judgment, punishment, and rejection. The problem and ideas for change box were particularly helpful for the quiet students who were hesitant to share. I used times of dissention and conflict as opportunities to strengthen our community because the foundation to building a democratic classroom is trust. Trust: The Foundation If students are to become empowered, adults must trust them with real power. This is critical, as explained by Cook-Sather, The most basic premise upon which different approaches to educational policy and practice rest is trust whether adults trust young people to be good (or not), to have and use relevant knowledge (or not), and to be responsible (or not) (2002). False power is when we give the illusion of choice. I was guilty of this when I told a student,Your choice is to do your work in class or at recess. There isnt a choice here. Kohn calls this a pseudochoice (Kohn, 1993). In this situation, the power is clearly in my favor. I entered that conversation with my decision already made, he will do the work I assigned whether he liked it or not. My student did not have a choice here because I manipulated this situation to be in my favor. Kohn states that we must allow students to have power with authentic choices and guide them in how to handle that responsibility (1993). Without access to real power, there can be no empowerment. Power needs to be a shared experience. I believe that sharing power begins with simply listening. Mutual listening creates a common understanding. When I began to listen, students trusted me enough to take risks and share what they honestly thought about, and not say things that they thought I would only approve of. Listening goes beyond being silent. Mc Quillan states that listening is an active gesture that seeks the root of where ideas come from (2005). Deeper questioning and active listening are coupled to get to this root of understanding. My students began to trust me when I asked and listened to understand them. I believe that this trust enabled my students to take risks to share their voice. Once trust was established, my students needed opportunities to think about how they felt about their learning environment and what they believed their role was. Reflection: A Tool for Achieving a Democratic Classroom

Reflection is taking the time to think about how they are experiencing what they are learning and what they need. This enables students to find their voice and know what to articulate to their community. I had wondered if my six year old first graders were developmentally able to reflect on their learning experiences. Eccles calls the period of ages 6 thru 10 as middle childhood. He states that in order to influence childrens self-confidence and engagement in tasks and activities during the middle childhood years, we need to address the cognitive changes that heighten childrens ability to reflect on their own successes and failures (1999, p. 32). He also states that self-awareness develops dramatically in middle childhood. Students are able to think of learning strategies to help them retrieve information and then use it to solve new problems. Both of these skills require the ability to reflect on what one is doing and what one wants to accomplish, and that ability increases during middle childhood (Eccles, 1999). Throughout this research, I had my students reflect in various ways, but with three primary goals in mind: empowerment, achievement, and unity. Reflecting to Empower While building a democratic classroom it is important to provide ample opportunity for students to reflect on themselves as learners and their learning experiences. Students are empowered when I take my role as listener seriously and incorporate their reflections into how we learn. A first step in that direction was by having my students share what theyd like to learn in each grading period and how they preferred to learn new concepts. Throughout the year, we used our curiosity wall to share with each other what we were interested in learning or what we were curious about in the world. I asked my students questions like What are your questions about the world? What do we want to know more about? What do we know? My goal was to use this reflective tool to foster a collaborative culture where students could volunteer to share knowledge and skills that they thought would benefit another students curiosity. We returned frequently to this wall to discuss what we had learned, how we learned it, who helped us learn it, and where we wanted to go next with the knowledge we had gathered. I also facilitated discussions with my students on how theyd like to design the classroom space to fit what they wanted to learn and how they learned best. We had these discussions depending on our daily lessons, new grading periods, and new projects. We had moved desks, seating arrangements on the rug, planned use of wall space, and decided placement of resources students needed. Reflecting to Achieve I utilized student-led conferences as a forum for students to share with parents and I learning they were proud of, how they arrived there, and how they would like to continue to grow. In a portfolio, they collected and chose their own work that they were proud of and had written a reflection about why they were proud of it. My students presented their portfolios alongside their district report cards and expressed how there were two sides of themselves as learners and how they would like to continue to grow.

During the student led conferences, students lead the discussion while parents and I listened and asked how we could support them in their self-chosen goals. My role was to empower my students to be aware of what they needed to know about themselves in order to learn. According to Bringle and Hatcher, reflective experiences serve as opportunities of self-exploration and clarification of a students personal learning goals and progress in learning (1999). I guided my students to explore and clarify their personal learning goals and progress through the use of student journals, exit slips, community meetings, student-led conferences, presentation of learning, and our curiosity wall to help us along this journey. My students practiced reflecting within their journals before, during, and after a project by recording how they thought through a learning experience, what helped and what they needed more of, and questions they had. I framed open-ended questions like What have you learned from working on this project? to prompt my students to reflect within their journals. My hope was that my students would not only use their voice to express their learning experiences within these reflective opportunities but to also form a self to express (Lensmire, 1998). I hoped that all my students would find academic success in our classroom when they learned more about themselves as learners. Reflecting to Come Together Constructivist approaches to learning argue that students should be authors of their own understanding and assessors of their own learning (Zimmerman, 2002). According to Gloria Ladson- Billings, students are to care . . . not only about their own achievement but also about their classmates achievement (Sluijsmans et al, 1994). Self-awareness also happens when students learn to support one another. Rogoff calls this culture a community of learners (1994). She states, in a community of learners classroom [there are] complex group relations among class members who learn to take responsibility for their contribution to their own learning and to the groups functioning. Instead of one individual trying to control and address 30 students at once, it is a community working together with all serving as resources to the others (1994, p.214). I believe that a community of learners not only enabled co-creation of knowledge but also enhanced intrinsic motivation because it met a need of belongingness. Dixon-Krauss argues that implementing the innate need for belongingness to reach academic achievement includes both designing classroom activities to facilitate social interaction where students continuously analyze each others work and co -create meaning together (1995). I wanted to foster a more collaborative environment where my students shared strategies that had worked for themselves with one another. Students shared entries from exit slips and journals with another student and thought of a next step plan together. Students voiced their learning experiences on exit cards after lessons and shared what their partner said so that the responses would be honest. I understand that it takes vulnerability to share work that one may be insecure about. Although I wanted to challenge my students to work with various peers in our

classroom, I also wanted them to feel safe. I had my students choose a buddy in class who they felt safe sharing their work with and who they thought would encourage them to make it even stronger. Eccles states that children at the age of six tend to be optimistic in their ability to master skills that they will rank themselves at a high level of mastery even though their actual performance may be different (Eccles, 1999). Due to this tendency, I relied on critical buddies and my personal partnership with students to balance their optimism and actual performance. We relied on these peer and teacher partnerships to meet our need for belongingness as we built our democratic classroom together. Project-Based Learning in Our Democratic Classroom We used project-based learning as a curriculum tool to help my students to know themselves as learners and voice what they needed. Mc Quillan states there is a need for ongoing, collaborative reflection so that people understand one anothers perspectives and have opportunities to balance each others power (2005). Cummins states that in order for student empowerment to occur the required changes involve personal redefinitions of the way classroom teachers interact with the children and communities they serve (Zimmerman & Pons, 1986). Implementation of change is dependent upon the extent to which educators redefine their roles. I chose to be a cocreator of our learning environment with my students through project-based learning to foster student voice and choice. Steinberg defines project-based learning as grounded in real world issues and concerns, and guided by adults from outside as well as inside the school (1998, p. 6). We took what we were curious about from our curiosity wall to create a project that connected us to adult world experts. We then implemented cross-curricular knowledge and skills we learned at an exhibition. This was where we presented our findings to an authentic audience that would benefit from our work. Throughout the project, we reflected either in our journals and/or class discussions about both the process and product of our work. I asked the students to analyze their experiences during the project and discussed how the choices they made affected what they learned. The students formed their own teams or groups during the duration of the project. They reflected on how effectively they collaborated with one another. They also discussed how to improve the quality of their work and how to support one another. I believe that project-based learning motivated my students to learn because it honored their innate need to have autonomy, belongingness, and competence or mastery. Project-based learning gave my students choices in the content and pacing of their learning, and allowed them to demonstrate what they had learned in a variety of ways. Kohn argues that enacting student voice is not merely asking for their opinion, but much of the process of validating the worth of student voice is engaging in active conversations with students over these issues, coming to a consensus, and implementing co-constructed plan of actions (1993). As Cummins argued, power is not a fixed, predetermined quantity but rather can be generated in part through interpersonal and intergroup relations(Dixon-Krauss, 1995). I hoped that as my

students became empowered to express themselves, they would be more likely to help empower others.