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Chapter Four: Findings

Section One: How do students feel about school? What did I get myself into?! At the beginning of the school year I tend to feel like Im going crazy. This particular school year, I felt an extra dose of craziness because I chose to do things differently with my students and I wanted to be different. My goals relied on a student/teacher partnership developed between my students and me to guide what we learned, how we learned, and the pace at which we learned. I was their partner because I listened to their voices. We fostered an environment where our reflections were used to guide our learning. They had the courage to speak about how their learning environment was, or was not, meeting their needs because we trusted each other to respond. All of this was beautiful on paper nestled in my thesis introduction, living it out was not as pretty. It was September, as I stared at my planning book I was second guessing my research. I wondered, Am I really going to ask my first grade students what they want to learn? I finished putting the desks in groups and pushed the couch by the library. What if I asked my students if they wanted to change something and they said that they wanted to move the couch to a spot I couldnt stand? What if they all started revolting? I didnt have a colored behavior card to threaten them with! Would they trust me? Could I trust them? What if they didnt read and write proficiently by their first report card? Would my principal think I wasnt doing my job? My old system was comfortable for me. I knew where things went. I knew what we were going to learn about all year. If I gave that up, would there be chaos? Or would I discover something else I would never have gotten to see if I didnt give this research a try? What if listening to my students voices would allow me to recognize the beauty of children who love to learn and love learning with each other? This was an adventure I was willing to take. It was time to accomplish my goals despite my fear of the unknown. But boy was I freaking out! It was the first day of school. My first graders and their parents came in asking which seat they were supposed to sit in. I told them that they could choose a different seat every day this week as long as they felt comfortable in it. By the end of the week they could choose their own seats and tell me who they preferred to sit with. The first day of this seemed to excite the students. By the second day, one girl was crying because another student sat in the seat she wanted. At the end of the week, they used these experiences to help them choose who to sit with by writing three friends on an index card and three friends they preferred not to sit with on the back. After creating the table groups based on my students index cards, students were either arguing or talking too much. How could this happen when they asked to sit with each other? If I gave them a choice and honored it, shouldnt our classroom be peaceful?

I was beginning to sense that providing choices would be a challenging journey but how we worked through them would be the key. As Kohn states, The way a child learns to make decisions is by making decisions, not by following directions (1993, p. 4). 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). Remaining faithful to the democratic process by working through our seating chart dilemma helped us begin the foundation for our democratic classroom. I knew the next step was to find out how my students felt about school. The preliminary survey would be another opportunity to hear my students voices. How do students feel about school? If we were going to learn based on what my students chose, I needed to know what each of them were curious about. I wanted to know how they felt about school and about working with their peers. I wondered what they believed their role was in making changes in our classroom and what they thought my role was in making changes. I decided to give a survey (Appendix A) to each of my 17 students by administering it one-on-one since some were not writing or reading yet. I also interviewed them with the open ended questions. Eccles (1999) 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. This presumption was not completely true for my first grade students. Although under each subject, a majority of my students said that they liked them all of the time, I couldnt ignore that there were some students who said that they didnt like working on math, reading, and writing if they didnt have to. I found that Anna stated that she didnt like reading and writing at all. I have observed her struggling with both subjects. Her response gave me hope because this meant that I could rely on my students self-assessments even at this young age. Anna was aware of whats difficult for her and she was honest about it. Would my other students do this too? I couldnt wait to dive deeper into how students, like her, would want to change the way we learn when they felt uncomfortable.

How comfortable do you feel sharing when you want to change something in class? 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 0 We can't share! The teacher only decides this. We can share our We share our ideas We share our ideas ideas, but the and the teacher and have final say. teacher has the decides with us. final say.

Although 13 out of 17 students felt comfortable sharing their ideas in creating change within our classroom, I saw the opposite within the first two weeks of school. Students were not voluntarily making suggestions to do things differently in class after a lesson. I had to guess how they felt from their actions. Instead of completing work, I noticed some of the students talked about the latest design of their Bey Blade spinning toy, walked to poke a student from across the room, or asked to go to the bathroom multiple times. I began to think about how I could provide other ways to ask for their feedback that would make them feel comfortable to be honest without fear of my judgment. I decided to look at how my students preferred to share their ideas.

How comfortable do you feel sharing when you want to change something in class? 14 12 10 8 6 4 2 0 Telling a Telling the Writing what partner what class what you think. you think you think I really like doing this. I'm okay doing this sometimes. I don't like doing this.

No wonder my students didnt volunteer suggestions when I asked them as a whole class. They favored telling a partner or writing it down. I was surprised to see that 15 out of my 17 students were open to writing their ideas because they had been resistant to writing during writing lessons. I wondered if it was because they had freedom to write reflectively about personal topics that mattered to them without being assessed. After the first two weeks of school, every time we began to write I was saddened to notice that there were students who made similar comments as my student Andy, Ahh! Why?! Writing is boring! Although I was concerned that my first graders didnt enjoy writing right after finishing kindergarten, I was elated that Andy vocalized his frustration. I could see 16 pairs of eyes waiting to see my reaction to Andys blatant honesty. And y was one of the four students who felt that they should share their ideas and have final say on the initial survey. I asked my students, I notice that when we write some of us said that we dont like writing or that it feels boring like Andy. Why does writing not feel good? One of my English Language Learner students named Kate said, Hard to hold pencil. I then asked them to tell a partner what would help writing feel good and tell the class what their partner said. Their discussion led us towards writing tools that felt good to write with:

What writing tool would help writing feel good?

Markers Pencils Crayons

82% of my students (14 out of 17) stated that markers felt good to write with 6% of my students (1 out of 17) stated pencils felt good to write with 12% of my students (2 out of 17) stated crayons felt good to write with

After I asked my students why writing with markers felt better than crayons and pencils, Kate said, Markers dont break. Pencils and crayons break when I write. I then added markers as well as colored pencils to the regular pencils and crayons in their table bins. I told them to choose whichever writing tool felt good to write clean and neatly with. As I observed my students writing with markers, I was struck by how they took their time and how carefully they wanted to form what they wanted to say. It was fascinating that even something as simple as what instrument they wrote with had an impact on kids' feelings about writing! This made sense due to their age and developing motor skill abilities. All I had to do was ask them what felt good and why. Then we could try it out! In the past, my response had been to make students write more. I owed this realization to Andys helpful outburst.

Students wrote which buddies they could and could not work with before changing table groups, using tools that were most comfortable.

Why is it hard to reach certain students? In the beginning of my action research, I was going to choose my focus group to be students who were a balanced representation of my class. But I couldnt shake off the nagging feeling that its hard to reach certain students in our school. We all know who they are no matter what school we may teach at. For me, the hardest to reach students were either the ones who took up most of my energy because they were the most resistant to what we were doing in class or they were the quiet students who were falling behind but didnt demand my attention. Eventually both types of students fell through the cracks. What would these students say about their learning experiences? If they could change our classroom space, what/how we learn, how teachers respond to them, how their peers respond to them, what would it be? What makes them feel proud of themselves? What makes them feel insecure? What if I changed my focus group demographic to be the hardest students to reach in our school, who would they be? I thought of Andy and Anna. What do my hardest to reach students have to say? Andy: What happens if I dont do it? Andy represented the student who requires more energy to teach than others, not because he is academically behind but because of his behavior. He was actually academically at or above grade level. He was the student that other teachers released a sigh of relief when they noticed his name was not on their roster. He was the student who already had a thick cumulative folder full of documents proving he was unreachable at the tender age of six. Andy came to my first grade class carrying the stigma of causing physical harm to other students and staff since preschool. He had already been suspended from school in kindergarten. He had bitten his preschool teacher. His kindergarten teacher evacuated their class and called code blue to the office because he was causing harm to other students in class. After the extensive documentation and assessment of Andys behavior in kindergarten, he was diagnosed as exhibiting autistic characteristics. All of this had happened in kindergarten and preschool, as you can imagine the first grade teachers were all looking at each other and wondering who would get to have Andy for first grade. I received the call the week before school began. Andy was going to be my student this year. He entered first grade performing academically at or above grade level. There was no question that he was a bright student. There were a series of questions that kept nagging me. What was he resistant to? What triggered his anger? This reminded me of Assor stating that if compliance does not occur then anger is evoked due to feelings of unjustness (Assor et al, 2005). Teachers are threatened when

students act out in anger or in 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. Does Andys anger and non-compliance have something to do with having a lack of autonomy or choices in school? I decided to ask him more about his initial survey responses (Appendix D). When I asked Andy how comfortable he was sharing when he wanted to change something in class, he told me that he was comfortable sharing with a partner or the whole class. He actually said he really liked sharing in these ways. However, he was only okay with sharing his thoughts through writing. I was thrilled that he felt comfortable sharing when he wanted to change things. I noticed that Andy frequently asked why we did things in class and what would happen if he didnt do them. For example, when asked how he felt about writing, he chose Do we have to do this? I realized that it wasnt to challenge me into a power struggle although I can understand how other teachers may perceive it that way. Instead Andy asked me those questions to challenge me to be more explicit with what we were doing and why it was meaningful. If I answered his questions immediately and honestly, he would either nod and walk away or ask more questions to help him understand what we were doing. I was beginning to see Andy, not as a threat, but as someone who would teach me why having choices and freedom to question was vital to the learning experience. Anna: Quiet and Left Behind Anna is a quiet girl. She gets along well with her classmates and doesnt cause trouble in class. Although Annas behavior seems ideal, I found her quiet obedience was due to tuning out. Her lack of involvement worried me because she represents the students who fall through the cracks by lack of attention from teachers. This made me wonder if students like Anna fall through the cracks because we are consumed by the vocal ones like Andy. Anna was significantly behind academically and didnt ask for help from me or her peers. I wanted to ask her more about her responses on the initial survey (Appendix D). When I asked Anna if she liked school, she said, No. She also chose Do we have to do this? when asked how she felt about reading and writing. It was clear that Anna didnt like school but I was drawn to what she did like . Anna said that she liked, Playing with finger puppets at center time, telling a partner what she thought and she also enjoyed science and math. What did she like about math and science? I wondered if it was because those two subjects tend to involve more hands-on learning and collaborative work with partners.

Assor would advise that Andy and Annas anger, tuning out and anxiety were signals that indicated their need for autonomy was being threatened (2005). They need to be given choices and safe opportunities to voice what they need when they are uncomfortable with their learning. If I were to reach Andy and Anna, I needed to use their feedback to guide our learning. Since they were the hardest to reach in my class, would my other students still benefit from Andy and Annas suggestions? What do my easiest to reach students have to say? 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. It may seem that I am reaching my compliant students because they appear well-behaved and are doing their work. But according to Assor, they are just doing what they are told. In actuality I am not reaching them because they do not have their own internal motivation to learn what we are doing. My students Charlie and Abbey came to mind. Charlie: Unleash the teacher pleasers! Charlie rarely missed a day in first grade. He brought his homework every day and began his assignments without being told twice. Charlies academic performance was at or above grade level. He was respectful to adults and his peers. He appeared to be the model student. I sat with Charlie to ask him the questions on the initial survey (Appendix D). Charlie functions well in the structure of a traditional school setting. When asked what he liked about school, he replied, Lining up at recess and lunch . He liked the traditional structures of school. Charlies response worried me because I wondered how he would react when given situations that required him to think more creatively or innovatively since he was more comfortable being told what to do. I was struck by his silence when asked what he didnt like about school or what he thought about when his mind wandered. I noticed during group work, Charlie would keep to himself and finish his work without sharing or asking for ideas from his table group. I would hear a student ask him for help and he would remain silent, ignoring the student. I was worried by this because being compliant or a well-behaved student could affect his ability to think critically or innovatively within a collaborative setting. Abbey: Compliance does not equal learning Abbey came to school early with her parents each day. She was similar to Charlie because she began work right away, completed it, and seemed to enjoy

learning. Abbey also performed at or above grade level. Abbey gave hugs to teachers and frequently said how much she loved to learn. Teachers hoped for a student like Abbey. I wondered if there was anything about school that Abbey wanted to change. When I asked Abbey how she felt about core school subjects on the initial survey (Appendix D), she said, I like it all the time! She clearly loved school. When I asked her what she liked about school Abbey replied, Mrs. Han. I worried that her responses reflected a desire to please me or appear compliant. Was she so used to doing what the teacher said that she had difficulty thinking on her own? What would Abbey do if she didnt understand what she was learning? 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 (Ryan & Deci, 2000). This narrows their learning experiences and their efforts. Assor argues that control appears to work because students are doing the work, but compliance can limit student collaboration and creativity because it becomes directed at pleasing me, the teacher. What was learned is short-lived and doesnt make a lasting impression on the student. I wanted them to think for themselves and own what they learned. I started to think that providing choices and creating space for my students to voice how they felt about their learning was vital for both my hard to reach and easy to reach students. Section Two: Activating Student Voice through Community Meetings How do I trust my students with real power? The first month of school was exhausting because I was building trust with my students. My students werent used to being listened to. As we discussed the various things we did together I found myself repeating the statement, I want to know what you think. I am curious about how you feel we should But the same three voices spoke and the rest continued to remain silent. Was there something that I was doing to prevent my students from opening up to me? Were they just not used to being asked these types of questions? I hoped that trust would be built as I continued to ask, listen, and implement what was voiced. I figured that my hesitant students would see that I could be trusted to take other student ideas seriously by following through on what was shared. I hoped this would give them the confidence to share what they thought too. To empower students, 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 trustwhether adults trust young people to be good (or not), to have and use relevant knowledge (or not), and to be responsible (or not) (2002). 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 realized that real power would mean giving my students choices in how and what we

learn. I also needed to provide students with a safe space to voice discontent when they were not comfortable. I would need to listen and respond. But this would not be an easy task. My first graders would need me to guide them through how to use their voices to empower themselves and to empower the school community.

While 13 out 17 of my students stated in the September preliminary survey that they felt comfortable sharing when they wanted to change how things were done in our class, I couldnt ignore the four students who didnt feel they could. I also noticed that since the same three voices were the ones sharing in class, I needed to find a way to hear all the voices in our class. After the preliminary survey, 13 out of 17 students liked telling a partner what they thought and 11 out of 17 students were comfortable writing what they thought. Although 9 out of 17 students were comfortable with telling the class what they thought, 8 students were not. I decided to use some key tools in our community meetings to hear more voices in our democratic classroom. How would first graders run a Community Meeting together?

I no longer used behavior color cards to punish students who misbehaved. I no longer had table points to mark on the whiteboard as a reward when they did something I wanted them to do. In years past I relied on these tools to give me immediate silence or compliance. But as the year progressed my students remained unprepared with how to solve problems independently or how to vocalize their needs. I had to rely on different tools if I was serious about listening to my students voices to guide how we built our community. Apple and Beane state that 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 (2007). I began to develop a democratic classroom environment with my students where they decided how to manage the behavior in our class. The root of a democratic classroom is that the students are part of

the process of living out these core principles. If we didnt feel safe, then the students had to think of another solution. We primarily used community meetings to help us with this. During my research I read that A.S. Neill, who founded the Summerhill School in England, designed a system in which students practiced democracy through general meetings. I had decided to label our version of Neills general meetings as our community 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. I introduced morning gathering and community meetings to my students during the first weeks of school. I told them that during these meetings we needed to listen without interrupting, speak when they have the talking ball, and think about what was being said because we needed their brain to help us solve problems. We began each morning gathering announcing events on our daily schedule. I asked my students to write questions that they wanted to know about each other. I read a different question each day for the class to answer. We used these opportunities to get to know each other throughout the year while practicing speaking and listening skills in a safe setting. After we discussed the days events, each student said, Good morning! to a neighbor and answered the question. At the end of each day or when a new problem happened, we would gather on the rug for a community meeting. 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, set-up the structure of the meetings, and took on the role of chairman and secretary while my students primarily brought concerns they wanted us to discuss. At the end of each day, we discussed the ideas and issues the students submitted to the Problems to Solve and Ideas for Change boxes. I introduced the Problems to Solve and Ideas for Change boxes during our community meeting in the first month of school. During any time of day, if after two students told each other how they made each other feel and their problems were still unresolved, they would write it on a piece of paper, drop it in the Problems to Solve box, and we would discuss the problem at a community meeting. The class community would share solution ideas for them to choose from and try for week. I introduced the Ideas for Change box as a safe place to write a new idea for how we learn when they felt uncomfortable in class. We would read their ideas in community meetings and they could explain why they needed this change and how this would help the rest of the community learn. My hope was that these boxes would enable my quieter

students to feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings in writing. My students said that they were willing to give it a try.

Embracing Authentic Problem Solving Conversations Students used the Problems to Solve box when they were unable to solve a problem at the Private Conversation Table. The Private Conversation Table had started out as a corner in our room but the students decided to move it to a table in the back of the room because there was more space. At the beginning of the year, I introduced the Private Conversation corner as a safe place to solve problems with friends in class. When a student had a problem with another student, he invited her to the Private Conversation table to solve the problem. Each student took a turn to speak and listen to each other. I modeled this for the students and we practiced it with each other during community meetings. They each used I statements like I felt ____ when you ____. They continued to talk until they could come up with a solution together or when the other student apologized by saying Im sorry I __ and the other said I forgive you. Within the first month of its use a few of us noticed when a student would invite another student to the table, the other student would refuse to go. Students wanted to discuss this at our community meeting. We decided to write a set of directions or steps to guide how we should use the Private Conversation Table.

Co-written directions to guide students through their conversations at the Private Conversation Table When you have a problem you ask a buddy to the table, Can you come to the table please? You say, I felt sad when you hit me. The other friend is listening. You can say,Im sorry, I forgive you and thank you for forgiving me.

Left to right: Conversation directions, Celebration, Problems to Solve, and Ideas for Change boxes on our Private Conversation Table.

Nathan invited Isaac to the private conversation table to solve a problem from recess.

If a problem was still unresolved after using the Private Conversation Table, my students would write the problem down on a sheet of paper and drop it in the Problems to Solve box. If a student felt that a problem needed to be dealt with immediately, she would request an emergency community meeting. These meetings had typically been requested after recess when a student didnt following recess game rules. One day a group of students requested a community meeting after recess. They were blaming each other for cheating at wall ball. After taking turns speaking with the talking ball, we realized that we all had different versions of the wall ball game rules. I confessed to my students that I wasnt sure what the correct wall ball rules were. At the end of the meeting, we decided to ask our fifth grade buddies to help us with the rules. Inviting Solutions from the Wider School Community Since our school has preschool through eighth grade students, I wanted to take advantage of this opportunity by creating a mentor relationship between my younger students and the older students on campus. My colleague and I noticed that our younger students feared the older students while the older students ignored the younger ones. I asked my colleague if she would like to buddy up her fifth grade students with my first graders. We met with our buddies every other week since the beginning of the school year and did activities around academic content, interest, and relationship building. My students wanted to reach out to our fifth grade buddies because they were older and more experienced with playing wall ball. My colleague and I also wanted to provide an opportunity for our older students to care for our younger students. Our fifth grade buddies wrote the rules on a chart and taught us how to play on the playground. This made me realize that using community meetings didnt have to be only about our class solving problems alone, it could involve our school community. This made our community meeting feel more like a larger community effort.

We started each meeting with the Problems to Solve box. We all sat on our rug in a rectangle. I made a conscientious decision to seat myself at the same level as my students. I sat this way to show them that I was a part of our communitys decision making and not the dictator. I pulled out one written problem at a time. The student who wrote the problem spoke first, directly to the student he had the problem with by using I statements. The other student then would share their side of the problem or apologize. If the two students could not come to an agreement on how to solve their problem, the other students would share solution ideas. Id write the students id eas on the board and then ask each of the students working on the problem to choose one solution idea to try out for a week. After a week had passed, we checked in with them to hear how it went. Although our community meeting structure was consistent, relying on community meetings to solve our problems wasnt always easy. At times my students wrote problems to get back at a student who did something wrong to them. The Problems to Solve box became a way to tattle on each other rather than a solution tool. I would over hear students saying, Im going to write about you in the problem box without solving their problem in the Private Conversation Table. The following two weeks, I noticed that the same students who tended to tattle on others in class needed to be directed to use the private conversation table, problem box, and celebration box. When a student would come up to me to say what a friend did, I would prompt with questions, Did you invite them to the private conversation table? How did it go? Do you need to write it in the problem box? What was something someone did in class that was helpful?

Living out the core principles of democracy includes conflict whenever there are groups of individuals who are trying to reach consensus (Kohn, 1993). I realized we needed to re-commit ourselves to the democratic 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). I brought my concern to one of our community meetings and introduced the Celebration box. The Celebration Box: How can we get past dwelling on problems? During a community meeting, I shared how I was sad to see friends use the Problem box to get back at someone who made them mad instead of trying to sit and talk through their problems peacefully at the private conversation table. I told them we were spending a lot of time looking at mistakes instead of celebrating how we made our community feel safer. I asked the students to write on an index card what they felt should be celebrated in our class. At first my students were confused with the idea of celebrating someone else. I explained that our Celebration Box can be when you catch someone doing something that feels good for our community and you want others to know about it. After this discussion, they went off excitedly to write. My students wrote the following: I like when people help each other. Friends being kind and nice and helpful. I like when Paul said I want to play with you. Friends passing the ball. I like how friends play with me. Help with artwork.

At the end of every community meeting, we read the celebration box messages. The student who wrote the message read it aloud and we all clapped for who was celebrated. Since this was a new concept for my students, I made sure I caught someone using the celebration box and highlighted it in class. The first week of community meetings were focused on celebrations in class. Students could share a celebration aloud even though they may not have been able to write it. Some of the celebrations were: I want to celebrate everyone is listening. Caleb finished his sentences. (He was resistant to doing the work earlier) Paul is sharing and saying, Do you want some orange juice? Anna was fixing the portfolios. Im sorry for not paying attention.

I was excited to see that students were beginning to recognize each other for how they treated each other or how they helped the community. I appreciated how my students listened to my concern and made changes to rectify it. I was especially struck by how Mike used the celebration box to write an apology to the class for not listening or paying attention when others were speaking. We read his message aloud and clapped

for his honesty and courage. We decided at that moment to include apologies as part of our celebrations. A Confession It was hard to rely on community meetings and not the rewards and punishments as I had in the past. I was frustrated about giving constant reminders to listen to one another and to get ourselves ready to transition to the next thing on our class schedule. It took more time, effort, and patience to solve problems democratically. It was not neat, it was messy. My students were unique individuals who didnt always feel like doing work. They got distracted and would rather tag a buddy in class and run. They were human beings who wanted their way and had a hard time sharing with someone else. All of these were normal, but sometimes I felt exhausted, and I was tempted to use behavior card colors or put table points to bring an immediate pacifier to the chaos. Id find myself thinking, I dont have time to help them solve their problems! I have to teach I confess. I caved and did table points one day. It worked temporarily. They were quiet, but did they feel safe? I stayed up that night thinking about how I did the very thing that I was trying not to be anymore, controlling. If I was going after a partnership with my students I needed to figure out how to share the responsibility with them and when to step in and lead where they needed me to. Pink recommends since my students are not used to being given autonomy in school settings, they need scaffolding (Pink, 2009). Together, we needed to support each other in this democratic process. I explained that I felt frustrated by how some voices were not being heard because others were talking over them. I apologized to them for using the points to punish them instead of bringing it to our community meeting to find a solution with them. As I spoke I noticed that my students were intently listening. We retracted the table points and decided to use it as data to help us measure how we improved with getting ready on time and listening to each other.

We decided to look at the data each day and talk about the progress that had been made. I asked them what kind of problems they had been noticing within our community. We co-created the following chart:

My students felt being heard and being ready on time were issues we needed to work on together. I was surprised that my students wanted to include hitting as a problem because I didnt see this happening in class. My student Andy later told me, Teachers dont see everything. His statement revealed why its important for teachers to listen to students. I like to think I am an observant and attentive teacher, but the reality is that I dont see and hear everything. We used the above chart to monitor the behaviors we wanted to improve together. This process took more time than if I handled it with table points or colored behavior cards, but it strengthened how we collaborated

with each other and empowered my students to solve problems. This system honored their individuality. My student Paul said at the end of our meeting, It doesnt matter about the points. Its the learning. It amazed me how my young first graders understood rewards and punishments like table points dont help students learn. Co-creating our environment enabled deeper learning. I was curious to find out if there were other uncomfortable things for my students. This led me to think about creating opportunities for my students to suggest changes or to voice what was uncomfortable for them. If they could create change, what would they suggest? The Ideas for Change Box: How can I hear more voices? The Ideas for Change box was another safe place for students to write ideas to change our room, routines, or how we learned together. When I introduced the Ideas for Change box in the first month of school, I thought about Valerie and Aaron. On the survey they stated that they didnt feel comfortable speaking in whole class discussions. During community meetings, I read aloud the ideas written in the Ideas for Change box after we resolved problems. One meeting, Valerie and Aaron wrote in the Ideas for Change Box. I was elated to hear what they wanted to change. They wrote they wanted to move the couch and calendar to another location. After asking her why, Valerie said she wanted to be able to read the Who Am I? books the class wrote. We all agreed to try it for a week. Aaron said he wanted to move the calendar to a different spot. After asking him why he preferred it this way, he said he had a hard time seeing the calendar from where he was sitting on the rug.
Before After

The next morning, Laura said there was more room on the white board to write. Oscar said that the change felt super good because there was more space. Kohn states, to arrive at a more accurate assessment of what is really happening in the classroom, we would need to look hard at what were asking students to do and why. Who benefits? (1996, p.15) When I placed all our materials in various spots in our classroom before school began, I believed I was thoughtful in making sure that all the students had access to them. Despite my good intentions, something as simple as the

placement of the couch affected student comfort and access. Without the Ideas for Change box and finding creative ways to hear voices in different ways, I would not have known what was uncomfortable for students like Valerie and Aaron. I also noticed that students began to use the Ideas for Change box to advocate for other students needs. Alex wrote, Can we change where the rece ss balls go? They keep falling. When we talked about why Alex wanted to change where the recess balls were placed, he said he noticed that every time someone in class tried to put them away the balls kept falling out of the closet. In our democratic classroom, community meetings increased empathy for others. The class was receptive to our community meeting tools, but I wondered how my focus students felt about them. Andys voice is heard without yelling Andy had a reputation for being violent last year when solving problems with other students. In the beginning of the year, when students accused Andy of saying or doing something that upset them, he would yell, Youre a liar! I needed to mediate private conversations with him and another student. As long as Andy kept coming to the conversation table, I knew there was hope. I kept our structure of using I statements and protecting the space to listen and speak for each student. After the first month, Andy would still say a student was lying but in a lower volume and he explained why he was frustrated. Isaac had blamed Andy for calling him stupid. Andy didnt deny this accusation. He explained he said it because Isaac tore down his Lego rocket ship at recess. Andy said he told Isaac not to touch his rocket, but Isaac still touched it and ended up ruining it. I kneeled down to Andys level and calmly told him, You can help Isaac understand how you felt without calling him names. Why?! Thats what stupid people do. They dont listen when someone tells them something! Andy said loudly. You can try using an I statement to Isaac in a calm voice so that he can understand how you felt. I advised Andy. Andy turned to Isaac and said in a low voice, I felt angry when you didnt listen to me. You broke my ship. Im sorry. Isaac calmly responded I forgive you. Andy simply said When I asked Andy to apologize to Isaac for calling him stupid, he asked, Why? Even though Isaac may have started the problem, you made him feel sad when you called him stupid. I answered. I was relieved when Andy remained silent and turned to

Isaac. I asked Isaac to also use an I statement to Andy so that he could understand how he felt. I felt sad that you called me stupid. he said. Andy paused and said, Im sorry. In the past, we wouldve blamed Andy for this particular problem. This made me wonder if his previous anger and violent behaviors were due to not being heard. According to Assor (2005), 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. I saw this in myself when I resorted to bullying my angry and noncompliant students into doing work by threatening them with punishment, like, You may not go to recess until you finish your work, moving behavior clips down to a color associated with negative behavior, and attacking their character, You dont seem to care about learning. After a while, losing recesses and frequent calls to parents lost their effect because the root issue was not their behavior, it was loss of control. My routines bullied students like Andy because it alienated him from our class community. He was the outsider because he would not do what I said. I sent a clear message to him and my other students that if they did not do what I said, then they would suffer the punishment. Instead, asking Andy why, helped me realize he needed to be given an equal opportunity to be heard and understood. If I consistently asked questions to understand him, would he begin to internalize our process of problem solving? A month later, Andy invited Joe to the private conversation table right after lunch. I was surprised that he used a whisper voice to speak to Joe because he tended to yell and use his taller body to intimidate others when he was frustrated. Joe and Andy were speaking so low that I couldnt hear them. I could see them from where I was. They appeared to be taking turns speaking. Once they were done, they both walked to their original areas, Andy to his seat and Joe to the rug. I asked them if their problem was solved and both gave me a thumbs up. When I asked Andy later what they talked about he said that Joe was not sharing the ball at four square but they figured out that Joe was frustrated because he thought he wasnt out yet when in reality he was . I then asked Andy if he felt comfortable using the private conversation table to solve problems peacefully, he nodded and went back to work on the computer. In later weeks, I noticed that Andy began to ask other students from other classrooms to talk about a problem. This gave me hope that if this was working for Andy then this would benefit the rest of my students. Another student Mike asked to speak to a boy in another classroom. My colleague said that Mike told her student he felt sad that he yelled at him when he was trying to help him. The boy apologized after being prompted by his teacher. Mike then said, I forgive you. Mikes peaceful demeanor surprised my colleague. I was elated to discover that Mike and Andy were using their

problem solving skills in class to empower them to do the same with other students outside of our classroom. I hoped that this empowerment would continue into redefining school-wide traditions, like our award assemblies. Section Three: Redefining School Award Assemblies What do my students define as award worthy? Year after year I witnessed the same children receive the same school awards and the same group watch the selected few on stage get applauded, hear speeches about them, and see family members take pictures of their child. Ideally, awards motivate students to work harder and behave better so that they too may earn an award. This reminded me of how Kohn states that schooling is typically about doing things to children, not working with them (1993). School awards perpetuate this relationship. Awards create an unjust system in schools disguised as fairness for those who deserve it. I felt uncomfortable subjecting my students to this system, but didnt feel that I could take myself completely out it. My students families perceived awards as a gauge to measure how their children are performing in school. An absence of awards and punishments is seen as chaos. I had already stopped using table points and colored behavior cards. Going cold turkey and taking my students out of the awards assembly would have been too drastic for my school community. I thought about how my students and I were transforming our class routines. Why not empower my students to change school routines too by participating in them differently? One morning, two weeks before the awards assembly, I approached my students during our morning meeting announcing the coming awards assembly. I told them our school awards were intended to motivate them to work harder and behave in kinder ways. But I didnt see that happening in our school because it was the same students that received awards and the same students who didnt. I questioned my ability to recognize which of my students were exhibiting award worthy behaviors. I told my students teachers typically chose who received awards. But students continue to not understand why they never got an award because we never included them in the process. I told them I saw something in all of them that was award worthy. If I could change our awards assemblies I would either stop having them or recognize something in all of them on that stage where everyone was celebrated instead of left out. I shared with them that I felt sad because I could not change the way we did assemblies as a school but we could change how our class gives awards. I told them they would declare which qualities were award-worthy to them. Then, they could nominate a student in our class that exhibited those traits.

I asked my students to think about things that they or other students did that were award worthy. Then they wrote on a piece of paper a quality they felt was award worthy. I collected and read their responses aloud to the class and wrote them on a chart for us to refer to throughout the year. They came up with the following:

Awards should be given to students who

Listen to the Speaker Share Say Kind Words Helps Others Never Gives Up Improves in Something

It was fascinating that no one put being a smart student. They were all qualities that everyone either already did or could develop. According to Dweck in Mindset Research has shown that the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life. This growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things that you can cultivate through your effortseveryone can

change and grow through application and experience. Stretching yourself, and sticking to it, even (or especially) when its not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives. (2008, p. 6-7) Although the awards assemblies were intended to spark a growth mindset, they have done the opposite because students perceive awards as a measure of their competence and worth. Their efforts seemed worthless because if were honest, awards are given to students who master academic and behavior expectations not for mere effort. I noticed that four out of the six qualities my students listed as award worthy had to do with effort and how they treated the class community. My students wanted to be praised for their effort and development, not mastery. I wondered who my first graders would nominate. Who did they see that I did not? The students then wrote on a paper one student in class that had one of these qualities. They wrote the corresponding number of one of the qualities from the chart underneath the name of the student they nominated. I asked the students to write their nominees name on the paper to make sure they voted for someone other than themselves. I tallied the votes. After looking at the students who were nominated, I noticed there wasnt an overwhelming amount of votes for students whod appear to be the immediate choice for teachers. My students nominated students who showed effort and growth, not mastery. These were characteristics that were award worthy to my students because they were attainable. These were the qualities my students wanted me to recognize in them. My former procedure of assigning awards made my other students invisible to me. I kept my sights on students who mastered expectations consistently. Maybe its because I, selfishly, felt like a better teacher when one of my star students would get the answer right or sit quietly. I thought this gave me permission to look at my other students and think the problem was not myself, it was their lack of attention or unwillingness to work hard. My students defined the award nomination process to help me recognize the efforts among the invisible students and see my star students had needs too. Charlie was a typical star student. Charlie did his work right away, turned in his homework every day, and performed above grade level in all content areas. He was a no brainer for other teachers to choose him for an award. When Ive observed Charlie among his peers in class, I noticed he tended to do his own work and hesitated in helping others unless its for his twin brother. Is that why the students didnt give him more votes? He received three votes in the first round of voting, but during the tie breaker, he received four votes while the other two students received six and seven

votes. I hoped that this community decision-making for awards would affect how he reached out and participated more in the community. When I interviewed Charlie about how he felt about the voting, he said it was fair. He liked that the voting was private. He said he would rather have students choose than teachers. Charlies reaction surprised me because he wouldve been the first to be given an award from teachers. I had thought he would feel the vote was unfair because he felt he deserved it. But he didnt. He changed during the weeks that followed the award nomination. He initiated helping other students within his project team. They researched the volcano together. In the past, Charlie would get his work done on his own and share his work with me without interacting with any of the other students. This time, I noticed that he brought books to the other four boys in his team and helped them read the information. He became more vocal and expressed his feelings during times when his team wasnt helping each other or were off track. In the beginning of the year he remained silent and didnt share at all during project debriefs. When I gave my first grade students choice with awards, it enabled Charlie to be reflective of how he contributed to the community, not just his individual academic performance. The students recognized Deon as having the quality of improving in something because of how his vulnerability contributed to the community. He frequently asked us to slow down or to re-teach concepts that were tricky for him. One morning while counting by twos on the one hundred chart, I noticed that Deon wasnt doing it with the class. When I asked him why, he said that he had a hard time skip counting past sixteen. He asked us to go slower because that made it easier for him to read the numbers on the one hundred chart while skip counting. After Deon asked us to help him make skip counting more comfortable, a few students came forward and said, I need that too. Deons courage to share what was difficult and say what he needed inspired the other students. He was award-worthy to them because of what he did for them. Would Andy and those hardest to reach in our school, want to participate in this new awards system? Andy is the kind of student that teachers think would be motivated to behave better when he looked longingly at others getting an award. The problem is that this did not motivate him to behave better. His defiance towards teachers and other classmates escalated in kindergarten. Andy had voted for Deon. When the awards assembly came, Andy sat with us the whole time and clapped. Last year, he couldnt sit still through an assembly and had at one time needed to be restrained from other students in the middle of it. When I asked him how he felt about being able to decide the qualities for an award and choose a student who had those qualities, he said, Its fair. I havent hit nobody. Friends should choose because if teachers choose, you dont see. Hes right. I dont see everything.

I suspect that students like Andy arent motivated to behave or work harder from these awards because they are being subjected to a merit system they know they dont have control over. I still feel uncomfortable with our awards assemblies but since it is part of our school culture, I want my students to feel a sense of choice in this process. Our classrooms system of defining award worthy qualities allowed my students to frame what was most important and align them to the values we cultivated in our room. Only then will these award assemblies begin to motivate my students to have the growth mindset where their efforts, even in failure, enabled them to continue the passion to learn because effort is celebrated and recognized. Section Four: Student Led Conferences What would my students say if they facilitated their own parent conferences? It was that time again, report card conferences. Typically, parents come to these conferences and the teacher explains how the student performed in class. The students are evaluated according to the grade level state standards on the report card and work samples are chosen by the teacher as evidence of the students current performance. Much of this was done in absence of the student. Parents and teachers think of goals and steps that will improve student academic and behavior performance. Teachers dread this time because the parents who they need to speak with usually dont come or avoid them completely. This common practice leaves students completely powerless. I wanted my students to feel they had a say in this process. 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 wanted my students to believe their parents and I were partners instead of an abstract evaluation process being done to them. In preparation for our first November student led conference, my students and I spent a week discussing what they were proud they accomplished so far this year within the areas of reading, writing, math, and being a good friend. We talked about what didnt feel good yet and how they needed more support from their parents, me, a nd the class so that it would feel better. We called this our learning goal. Constructivist approaches to learning argue that students should be authors of their own understanding and assessors of their own learning (Zimmerman, 2002). We critiqued two exemplar student models of reflective art work and writing to guide us in our own pieces. As a class we discussed our reflective questions with a classroom buddy of their choice and they drew how they saw themselves in those areas with pastels. At the end of this reflective process, they wrote what they discussed and created through their art pieces. My role was to ask and listen as they represented what they shared within their art and writing pieces. I relied on some guiding questions during the student led conferences: Would you like to talk from your art piece or writing?

What work are you the most proud of? What helped you get better at? What feels good about school right now? Why? What doesnt feel good about school? What do you think would make it feel better? How can your parents and I help you make it feel more comfortable?

I didnt volunteer my own evaluation. I wanted their reflections to solely come from them. As my students spoke, I wrote their ideas on a conference sheet and made copies for their parents and myself. My students signed their name on the top, then their parents, and finally myself. I wanted to show my students that what they said was important to document. All of us were accountable to making sure we helped the student with what they wanted to get better at doing. After this, I invited my students to stay with their parents and I to look at their report card or they were welcome to explore the room while their parents and I talked more. My first grade students opted to explore. This gave parents the opportunity to ask questions or share items specific to their child or family situation. Parent voices needed to be heard too. All of my students families came to the student-led conference. 13 out of the 19 students came with their parents to lead their own conference. The students who didnt come with their parents stayed home. I had wondered if they didnt come b ecause this form of conference was a novel idea for our school. All four of my focus group students came to talk about their accomplishments and learning goals with their families. What did my hardest to reach students say? Andy: An Opportunity to Celebrate and to Grow

Andy wrote: Reading and Writing: I am good at reading and writing, reading sentences, and sight words and making a hard project. Math: I like to do math. I am good at doing hard math at math games and number subtraction. Being a Good Friend: I am good at helping friends by helping my friends by being good friends. My Learning Goal: I need to get better at math.

He sat with his mom and I at the table copying sentences he liked from James and the Giant Peach. When I asked him if he was ready to share his reflection with his mom, Andy put down his pencil and nodded. He used his art in his portfolio to speak in Spanish to his mom about how he felt about how he was doing in school. He was calm and pointed to his work in his portfolio as he spoke to his mom. He listened intently when I asked him questions during his conference and paused before saying what he thought. Andys mom listened without interrupting. I was excited to hear that although he was strong in math, he wanted to learn more. His mom then cried. She said she was worried they would have to move but she wanted him to stay with me because she noticed he was doing well. Andy always had the potential to do well and was reachable. Its as if Andy was waiting for opportunities like the student led conference to say what he felt good about and what he needed from us. When I asked him how he felt about the student led conference, he said, I like it. I like talking about math because I want to get better at it. Anna: Building confidence to share her voice in a safe setting

Anna wrote: Reading and Writing: I am good at reading. Math: I am good at math. Being a Good Friend: I am good at saying sorry to others. My Learning Goal: I want to get better at math.

Anna chose to speak from her art piece to her mom. She stated she was proud of reading her book at Family Project Exhibition Night. I was curious why she felt she was good at reading because she had struggled with this subject. If her mom and I had only talked about Annas report card, we would only talk about how academically behind she was. But this student led conference gave Anna the opportunity to show her mom and me she saw more to herself than that report card. Anna stated her learning goal was to read and write more. This revealed that Anna was fully aware of her struggles. Listening to Anna helped me understand that reading her written reflection would only give me a limited awareness of what she felt about her accomplishments. Her mom said she was quiet last year in kindergarten. After speaking to her kindergarten teacher, she said she noticed the same thing in Anna. Last year, a substitute teacher didnt notice Anna had left class, crawled under the gate, and walked home. Mom said she noticed she was speaking more this year. I have often wondered about why Anna was quiet. She was quiet in class but raised her had when asked to share what her partner told her during class discussions. She spoke when prompted by her parents. One night her aunt called me because her mother was too embarrassed to tell me Annas father ripped her homework out of frustration because she struggled with reading and writing. I

asked Anna the following day how she would like to change her homework so that it would feel less frustrating. She said writing sight word sentences were hard. I asked her if it would be helpful if I added sentence frames so she could see how to write the sight words but if she wanted to write her own she could. Anna said we could try it. After adding what we talked about, I asked the whole class how they felt about the changes. They all liked the added supports too. I wondered if the family situation made Anna hesitant to speak. I knew I needed to create more opportunities where Anna could share her voice in a safe setting. My A-Ha Moment: My easiest to reach students are the hardest to reach! Charlie: Hesitant and unsure of what he wants and needs

Charlie wrote: Reading and Writing: I am good at writing my sight words. I am good at reading books. Math: I am good at filling a ten chart. Being a Good Friend: I am good at saying You want to play with me? My Learning Goal: I want to get better at sight word tests.

During Charlies student led conference, he hid behind his portfolio as he read his reflection to his grandmother in a low volume. Why was he hesitant to share what he thought and felt? I thought this would have been easy for him since he performed at or above grade level in all subject areas. I wondered if he was used to following what he

was told that it was challenging for him to be responsible for leading the discussion to his grandmother and I. I thought Charlie was one of my easier students to reach, but now I was wondering if he actually was not being reached because he tended to only show me (and other teachers) what we wanted to see. Charlie represents the students who comply with directives. They seemed like they understood a lesson but dont know how to apply the knowledge to other learning contexts. I was discouraged and encouraged by learning this about Charlie. I was discouraged because students like Charlie are thought to be reached because they performed at or above grade level. But in reality they are unreached because when asked to say what feels good and not good about their learning, they cant or dont know what to say. They have been used to doing and saying what we, teachers, want. They have difficulty thinking on their own. When I asked him how he felt about the student led conference he said he liked sharing it with his Lola (Filipino word for grandmother) but he didnt know why. This was the first time he came to a student led conference. Even though he couldnt articulate why he liked the conference h e said he wanted us to keep doing it this way. I felt encouraged because now that I understood this about Charlie and students like him, I had a chance to enable him to find and use his voice to tell me what he needed to learn with confidence. What would help Charlie feel more confident in sharing what he honestly felt and not what he thought others wanted to hear? The student led conference helped me recognize that Charlie needed to be reached. Abbey: Proficient students need support too

Abbey wrote: Reading and Writing: I am good at writing. Math: I like to do math. I am good at counting the days. Being a Good Friend: I am good at helping pick up blocks. My Learning Goal: I do not know how to do addition.

During Abbeys student led conference, she stated her learning goal was number sentences. She drew herself with 6+6=2 inside a thinking bubble for her art piece. Her parents and I were confused by this because she usually did well during math lessons. I then asked her to help us understand why number sentences didnt feel good. She said she had a difficult time figuring out addition number sentences that equaled more than 10 because she was counting with her fingers. We proceeded to talk about various strategies that she could choose from that would help her count beyond 10 so she wouldnt be limited by her fingers. This struck me because Abbey was the typical model student who turned in everything on time, had supportive parents who helped her every night with her homework, and performed above grade level in all subject areas. These are the types of students who are typically ignored because they do well and dont demand our attention. But she had needs too. After the student led conference, I interviewed Abbeys parents. They stated they were surprised by Abbeys struggle with addition in math. After the conference, they checked in with her more often and asked her if she needed help. They noticed she became more confident. This statement surprised me because I thought Abbey would already have confidence because she was at or above grade level. Despite how well she did in school, she didnt feel confident in everything. If I dont take the time to ask how my students experience their learning, I wrongly assume what their experience is. This error affected choices I made for my students. I asked Abbey how she felt about the student led conference and she said, I like that my parents and you know if I do or dont need help. The student led conference enabled Abbeys parents to hear her voice and meet her needs more fully. Conferences are about more than report cards Even though there were surprises during the student led conferences, I was comforted that my students were aware of their own strengths and needs. 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). I didnt see this. My students voiced accomplishments and learning goals that were pretty spot on with what I noticed in the classroom and with what their parents noticed at home, with the exception of Abbey. I believed this change is a direct result of our democratic classroom structures that

emphasized personal growth and reflection. My first graders and I devoted time building trust in the beginning of the year. My students needed to trust me to model asking, listening, and responding so that they could do the same for each other. Eventually we became a community of learners where everyone had the potential to grow and succeed. During the student led conferences, my students were given an opportunity to talk about what they needed from us, parents and teacher. The parents were surprised that their children were fully aware of their own strengths and areas for growth. As the conferences progressed, I became more aware of my students home lives. These student led conferences became more than looking at report cards and academic progress. I had gained insight about my students home lives. There were three families in particular that revealed stressful financial situations and the effects of marriage separation on their child. I realized to understand my students voices, I needed to understand how the voices of their parents affected their own voices. This led me to think about how to design a project that would enable my students families to hear and understand student voices. Section Five: Project-Based Learning How can a Family Project increase student voice in our classroom? Who are we curious about? During Back to School Night, in September, five different families approached me and said their child had been adjusting to a recent divorce or separation. I wondered how my students voices were heard and understood during that difficult time. How did the ability to be heard in their families affect my students willingness to share their voices in class? I designed a family project to enable my students to express their voices to their families. During the initial stages of the family project, my students wrote freely about special experiences they had with family members. We talked about how special memories can include happy and sad ones. I read Lucy Calkinss Launching the Writing Workshop. Calkins states the goal of a writers workshop is to offer children the opportunity to bring their lives to school and to put their lives on the page (2003, p.1). I asked my students to choose one person in their family they wanted to write a special memory about, invite to exhibition, and interview. 14 out of 21 students chose their mom or dad. 3 out of 21 students chose their grandmother. 4 out of 21 students chose their cousin. Then we reflected and wrote curiosities we had about a family member. I found the following results and put them on our curiosity wall:

What are we curious about?


Dad, why did you move to San Diego and leave Mexico? Mom, why did you move to a different house? Grandma, why did you go to America? Mom, why did you leave Guam and come to San Diego? Mom, why did you go to Hawaii? Why did you come back? Why did you leave and go to college? What do you do at home? What day were you born?

What are you curious about within your family?


Why did they move to America, San Diego, or a different house? When were they born What do they do at home Why did they go to college

I wasnt surprised to find the majority of my students (17 out of 21 students) were curious about why their families moved to America, San Diego, or a different house because about 50.9% of our students in Audubon are English Language Learners. I also knew 9 out of my 21 students families had moved in with a grandparent due to economic struggle or marital separation. I was encouraged by the boldness in my students to ask their family members about why they moved. Although my students had their curiosities, I was curious about how this project would help me understand my students. More questions emerged for me during the family project around how my students voices were heard and understood in their families. Would this affect how my students chose to express their voices in class? Since my students expressed resistance to writing, would they feel motivated to write about their experiences within

their families? What would they want to say to their families? What would feel good for them to write? What would they tell a family member at exhibition night? How would their families respond? What aspects of family were my students proud of and what were their hopes and dreams for their families? During this project I tapped into what intrinsically motivated my students to learn. Ryan and Deci state 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. 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 and cared for. Belongingness is interacting, being connected to, and experiencing caring for others. 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). I applied autonomy, competence, and belongingness in our family project in the following ways: Autonomy Choose a special family memory Competence Adding details like feelings, thoughts, and conversations in their memory books Write in a story sequence Belonging Ask our 5th grade buddies to help us edit our books

Choose pictures for their collage Choose a family member to interview Write their own interview questions

Ask our writing buddies in class to help us critique our books and presentations

Going through the writing process

My students began the family project by thinking about a special person in their family. We decided our final product would be a memory book and collage we presented to family members at exhibition. They thought about questions they were curious about asking their special family member during an interview. We posted the questions on our curiosity wall. They wrote their own interview questions. We thought about one special memory we had with our chosen family member. I told my students that a special memory can be a happy or even a sad one. Its special because it wa s important enough to remember. 16 out of 21 of my students decided to write about a special moment when one of their parents did something with them like playing football or going to a special place like the zoo. 4 students wrote about a family member who was not a parent, like a grandparent or sibling, who either played with them or taught

them how to do something like ride a bike. After looking at my st udents chosen memories, I realized they were simple moments. What made them special was the simple act of kindness or time spent with their family member doing something that interested them. My students remembered what mattered to them. I wanted to use this insight to inform how I could reach my students in class. Asking my students what they thought and what was important to them would be vital in guiding how we would learn through this project and other learning experiences. Since this was our first project, my students needed plenty of writing support. I decided to ask my students what they needed to guide how I would support them. I was exhausted trying to meet all of my students various needs by myself. I decided to ask my students if it would be helpful to have writing buddies in class as we drafted our memory books. I explained that a writing buddy was someone who we felt safe sharing our work with and who could help us create beautiful work. I asked my students what they needed help with and what they felt they did well in their writing so they could help another buddy do it too. Students wrote their responses on our curiosity wall so we could find someone to help us with what we needed and give help to someone who needed what we could do. The expert and help sections on our curiosity wall had the following responses: I am an expert at finding sight words writing sentences stretching out words remembering my capitals and periods

I need help with spelling words writing a sentence thinking about what to write

After receiving the lists, I paired my students with a writing buddy based on their stated need and expertise. At the beginning of each writing session, I would have my students meet with their writing buddy to read each others drafts and ask each other questions that they needed help with. I noticed my students were beginning to ask other students for help besides me. My students were not only telling their writing buddy what to write or spell but how to look for a word in our room and how to sound out a word that wasnt in the room. Instead of giving their buddy the answer they empowered each other to be resourceful and built skills so that eventually each student could be independent. At the end of our writing sessions, my students reread their drafts to each

other and gave each other warm feedback (what they did well) and cool feedback (how to make their writing more aligned to our co-created rubric). While we drafted our memories, we began to collect pictures for our collages. My students brought pictures from home that included their special family member. I also brought magazines so that my students could choose pictures and words that captured their hopes and dreams for their family. Before they planned how they wanted their collages to look, we sat in a community meeting to talk about what their hopes and dreams were for their families. Five of my students stated they wanted their parents to stop yelling and to be together again. Their responses confirmed that my students were aware of their family struggles. I hoped that this project would enable my students to share what they wanted for their families in a safe and creative way so that their families would listen. After our conversation, I wondered what my other students would reveal through their collage. Revealing Personal Stories through the Project Process While students created their family project collages Jake walked up to me and said, My dad is in jail. I was taken aback by his vulnerability because Jake doesnt talk openly about his family. He was having difficulty getting along with the other students in our class and yelled at others out of frustration. He and his twin brother, Charlie, couldnt bring any family photos because their mother was in a drug rehabilitation program. Jake said he wanted to be with his dad. His grandmother, who took care of both Charlie and Jake, along with two older brothers, told me she did not tell the boys about their parents but suspected they knew due to older siblings telling them. She was right. Jake cut out a magazine picture of a dad with his son on his shoulders, but he dedicated his memory book to his grandmother.

To my Grandma with love. My grandma gave me some presents too. I gave her a big hug because I love her.

I noticed my students, like Jake, wrote simple memories they remembered with a family member, but talked openly about their hopes and dreams for their families during debriefing conversations about the project process. And like Jake, these students also revealed more of their hopes and dreams through one-on-one conversations I had with them while creating their art work, like with Jake. I suspected since my first graders were beginning to learn how to write, they were limited in articulating their hopes and dreams through their memory books. The family projects process helped me reach and

understand my hardest to reach students. They truly opened up through this project. They shared their thoughts and feelings through the combination of their artwork, memory books, and in partner and whole class discussions. During one morning meeting before exhibition, I asked the students what they hoped their families would say after hearing them talk about their memory books and collages on exhibition night. All 18 students said they wanted their families to say, You did a great job or I am proud of you. I thought, Isnt that what we all want?! My students shared what they needed and hoped for simply and profoundly. When these pieces were completed, I asked them how theyd like to get ready for our exhibition so we could get those kinds of responses from their families and feel proud of their work. 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 by implementing co-constructed plan of actions (1993). I wanted to coconstruct the exhibition with my students, and help them understand the process. We co-generated a to-do list with the following: Practice reading our memory books with our writing buddies Practice talking about the pictures on our collages Get the room ready according to a co-created map Clean our room

Before our exhibition, I asked my 21 students to write in their journals what they were most proud of during this project. I categorized all of my students responses under autonomy (choice), competence (mastery of a skill), and belongingness (part of a community of learners) to see if students experienced these through our project. I found the following: 41% of the responses had characteristics of autonomy Kira: We cut the pictures of whatever we want and we glue it on the paper ourselves. Hooray! Hooray! We did it! 50% of the responses had characteristics of competence Isaac: I love the hard work I have done with my collage. I love drawing m y family project because I love writing.

Samantha: I am proud of our family project because it is beautiful. I like the pictures. I am proud of myself and I am smart. I love being smart and my family is smart. 9% of the responses had characteristics of belonging Lillys response I love my collage. It makes me proud. I love my writing because I put spaces and my fifth grade buddy helped me spell my word. I love my fifth grade buddy. I love my daddy (He was brutally murdered when she was a baby). I love writing because I am proud I can read more

I was struck by the value in autonomy and competence my students had in this family project. It was important for my first graders to have choices and experience mastery. I also was struck by how proud my students were of the work they created. They valued being able to have choices with how they created their collages and memory books. Despite the work being hard they said they loved it. The ability to have choices and express their voices also translated into competency for them. Exhibition Night: Families Sharing Hopes and Dreams On the day of our Family Project Exhibition Night, Andy said, Im excited for exhibition! He even said he wanted more pages in his book. I asked him why because he usually hates writing. He said he liked writing books. During the day we practiced reading our memory books and talked about why we chose certain pictures about our families for our collages with our writing buddies. Caleb and Anna practiced the suggestions given to them from the other students during one of our critique sessions.

The class advised Caleb and Anna to take turns reading a sentence with his partner Anna. He even told her, You can do it. Good job! But at exhibition night, he didnt want to read, he wanted to play on the blue bars. He said his mom was mean because she wouldnt let him play. Mom said this was too overwhelming for him. I asked him if he would feel safe reading to his mom on Monday at school. He said he was ok with it. They then left at dinner. Ivan was another student who didnt want to read his work because he was tired. I realized that sharing our work with an audience, even as familiar as family, was overwhelming to some of my students. Despite practicing and implementing their feedback during the project, some students needed more time and experience to get used to exhibiting their work. It was crucial for me to provide many opportunities for my students to practice sharing their work and thoughts throughout the school year. I needed to invite students like Caleb and Ivan to help me plan the next project exhibition in a way that felt safer and still challenged them to take steps of growth in this area. Apple and Bean state that democratic classrooms provide equitable learning environments where a wide range of voices and views are heard (2007). Even though my other students enjoyed the exhibition as it was, we would not to have an equitable learning environment if I ignored Caleb and Ivans needs when designing our next exhibition.

Students share their project work with their families.

Families brought food they enjoyed eating together for our exhibition. Later at exhibition night Andys mom approached me to tell me she told him that she wasnt sure if they would be able to go to exhibition because they couldnt afford to bring food. Andy had responded, Mrs. Han said that it doesnt matter if we cant bring food. The most important thing is that families come because we are celebrating family. She said she cried when he said that to her. Their family had just recently lost their home. They were homeless under the description for our district, but were living near our school in an RV.

Annas dad wasnt going to come until I called him the Sunday before our exhibition. He was glad that he came and asked if there would be more moments like this. Anna was one of my focus students. She was hard to reach because she hesitated sharing in class unless she shared what a partner said. Her parents usually told her what to say when I saw them. But that evening her family listened as she read her proudest memory with her mom and talked about her collage. 17 out of 19 families (2 students moved during the project) came to our first exhibition night. One of the children said they forgot and the other said his mom went to a club instead. My students families were hesitant to come to exhibition night because they thought it would be like the typical Open House night where students show parents around the room, glance at their work, and go home. Our exhibition was a new experience for parents too. My students counted down the days until exhibition, asked their parents to come and shared what the exhibition was about. My students cocreated our family project and couldnt wait to share their work with their families as their audience.

Later that night, parents were asked to write their child a letter telling them how they were proud of them and what their hopes and dreams were for their family. My hope was that after reading these letters, my students would feel that their most important audience, their families, would hear and understand their voices through their

work. The following are a few of the letters that were written that evening:
Families wrote they were proud of their childs hard work on the products and presentations. A common hope for their family was to learn together and find success in life.

The next day I helped read the letters to my students and asked them how they felt about exhibition night. For the most part students were excited and enthusiastic. The following are some of their responses: Veronica: I am happy because my mom said that she is proud of me. (This was the majority of student responses.) Samantha: I liked seeing my family eat with my friends family. Caleb: Its overwhelming because there were too many people. I loved how Caleb said this exhibition was too much for him and he felt safe to say that exhibition was uncomfortable for him. This meant he was beginning to trust me. We used project-based learning to enable my students to know themselves as learners and voice what they needed, even to their families. Through this project, I realized it was important to create a safe place for my students to share what they thought and felt. The purpose was not just being heard but to be understood through how others responded to them. Although my students were feeling more comfortable with me, they werent relying enough on each other. Unless an activity specifically called for a partne r, my students wouldnt naturally go to each other. My students needed an additional audience. I needed to create another opportunity for my students to practice having autonomy, competence, and belonging but collaboratively so they could begin to trust each other too. At the young age of six and seven, my students love pleasing the teacher (most of the time). At every turn, Id hear, Teacher! Teacher! I was worried that this was preventing my students from collaborating effectively with each other. 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). Did my students turn to me because I still had the predominate voice in our classroom? 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). Implementing change is dependent upon the extent to which educators redefine their roles. I had to become a co-creator of our learning environment with my students. I wondered how I could turn my students towards each other. Would they gain confidence in using their voices if they did a project as a team? If I gave them choices on what they wanted to learn, would they share with each other?

Section Six: Exploring Curiosity Exploration Mondays: Discovering what we want to learn through play I asked my students during the initial surveys where their minds wander in class, to help me understand what kinds of things they were curious about. 5 responses were cartoons, bugs, being the fastest runner, cars, and family. My 12 other students said they didnt have an answer. I was worried. Did this mean they stopped being curious or did they not understand the question? I was willing to bet it was the latter. I needed to find a different way to find out what my students were curious about. One afternoon, my students were supposed to be engaged in their learning centers while I was trying to interview my two focus students, Anna and Charlie. When I had asked Anna and Charlie the question What are you interested in? they both did not share anything. I looked up during my interview and saw the rest of my students doing centers differently. They appeared to be playing. I decided to resist the urge to redirect them and instead chose to observe and question them while playing, hoping and praying that my administrators didnt walk in my classroom. I observed the following:

7 boys were designing and experimenting with the counting cubes by turning them into various Bey Blades (a popular spinning top toy). They were sharing designs and ideas on how to spin them. 4 students were creating birthday hats out of sentence strips with messages on them for a boy who had his birthday on that day. This hat idea later turned into Celebration Hats to honor friends in class for doing something kind or to celebrate their work for the day. We decided to do this in conjunction with the Celebration Box we had for community meetings. I introduced the Celebration Box to dwell on how we contributed to our community. The students said they liked the idea but werent using it much in comparison to the Problem Box. But after they saw the Celebration Hats, more students were excited to write a sentence honoring another student. 3 students wanted to write their own version of our read aloud book James and the Giant Peach. He titled his book Nick (his name) and the Big Apple 3 students were designing beautiful mosaics out of pattern blocks. They were so proud of them that they asked me to take their picture. When I asked them why they liked the pattern blocks, they said they liked making something by themselves.

Abbey was making a Japanese house out of base ten blocks. Another student with her said she was building a dinosaur museum. I didnt know that these girls knew Japanese houses and were interested in dinosaurs! If it hadnt been for this exploration time, I may never have seen the unique things they were interested in. Anna was on the Starfall website. When I asked her why she chose that web site, she said because she could read it. This was interesting to me because she struggled with literacy in class. The website had plenty of picture support, games, and she could choose the letters or word families she wanted to work on.

After Charlies brother rubbed a balloon on Andys hair and saw his hair stand up, Charlie asked, Why is his hair standing up? We then began to talk about static electricity.

Dixon-Krauss argues that implementing the innate need for belongingness to reach academic achievement includes both designing classroom activities that facilitate social interaction where students continuously analyze each others work and co -create meaning together (1995). The interesting thing about Dixon-Krausss statement is that my seven boys were naturally doing this with one another when they were playing and redesigning their Bey Blade-like cubes. More importantly, I didnt have to redirect children during this time. They were working well with one another, sharing their ideas, and celebrating the ideas that worked even if it was not their own. If an idea didnt work, they didnt get discouraged. They tried a different idea, looked at a nother students model or asked someone for help. Brown describes how my students play and work intersect to create meaningful learning experiences, The quality that work and play have in common is creativity. In both we are building our world, creating new relationships, neural connections, objects. At their best, play and work, when integrated, make sense of our world and ourselves, (2009). Fostering creativity through play enabled my students to discover what they were passionate about and built knowledge through collaboration. This is what I longed to see in my students throughout the day. I wanted to use Browns idea of play and work in our next project. If it hadnt been for this exploration time, I may never have seen the other things my students were interested in. My initial instinct was to stop my students from playing around and get back to work. If I had acted on my instinct, I would have missed out on valuable information about my students. It was important for me to stop at that moment, take a step back to observe, and ask my students what they were thinking. During interviews, my focus students didnt volunteer this information. It made me wonder what other things my students had interest or passion in but werent given the opportunity to reveal them because of how school was traditionally set up. When I created space to talk and write about what my students were curious about in the form of interviews and community meetings, I got little information. But when they explored or played, I learned more about them. Not just what they liked to play with, but also how they related with other students. They also talked freely about their thought processes during exploration. Was this because they were more relaxed and confident with what they chose to do? After our unplanned play time, we discussed what they liked about it. Charlie said he loved that he could make a hat and a toy. Andy also liked making things. Deon said he

liked how some students made him a hat. As I looked around, the students who were given a Celebration Hat, were all wearing them. I realized that I was able to gather more information about what my students were interested in when they felt like they were playing. I wondered if the relaxation from play made it easier for my students to share how they felt about what we did in class. Pink states 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. This seemed to come alive when my young students were immersed in play. I decided to take Browns advice, I advise allowing wisely guided personal choice, initiated by your child. Provide plenty of environmental opportunities and encourage early play patterns that have risen directly from the natural choices that your childs early play demonstrates, (Brown, p. 110). We decided to have Exploration Mondays so they could explore more of what they were interested in. I asked them if I could use that time to hear from them the ideas theyd like to use for our next project. During the three weeks before winter break, we co-created a project that allowed space for my students to discover more about who they were and show others their talents and passions. Although I saw increased confidence in all my students, there were others who needed more time making the adjustment to having voice in our classroom. My hope was that our next project would scaffold this adjustment for students like Caleb and Ivan. The project had to have structures that utilized time to explore, provide choice, and safety to express their voice. Being Curious Georges Project What are we curious about? After our Exploration Mondays, I wanted to understand what and how my students would pursue what they were curious about. After reading Margret Reys Curious George books, the students decided George was a good monkey whose curiosity got him into trouble sometimes. But, they argued he needed to figure out the answers to his questions in different ways so that he could learn more. I asked my students if we could be like Curious George in our classroom where we could choose to explore whatever we wondered about but hadnt had the chance to. There was a resounding Yeah! to becoming little monkeys. I asked the students to pick a buddy to tell them what they were curious about like the character Curious George. They shared out their own or their buddys response. Then they wrote on post-its I am curious about. They placed their post-its on the curiosity wall. I read them aloud. We found commonalities and categorized them into animals, volcanoes, insects, things in earth, holidays, places, school, how things are made, and left room for new curiosities to emerge along the way. I was excited to

witness my students comfortably share what they wanted to learn in this setting. When I interviewed them one-on-one in the beginning of the year about what they wanted to learn, they didnt know what to say. But they had a significantly easier time shar ing what they wanted to learn after they had the opportunity to hear and exchange ideas with their peers. I started to see how collaboration would be key in enabling my students to dig deeper into what they were curious about.

Curiosity Wall

We formed teams the next day based on the categories we created together from our list of curiosities. The students chose a team with four members being the maximum amount allotted. I left one team name blank in case a group of students wanted to form a new one not listed. Mike created Sea Animals. Caleb was crying because he wanted to choose Volcanoes but it was full. He didnt want to choose anything else until Mike created the sea animal group. Caleb stopped crying and was excited to write his name with Mike for the Sea Animal team. It was interesting how Caleb couldnt remember other things he was curious about until Mike created another choice. Caleb reminded me of the student Pink and Deci describe as having anger as a bi-product of lack of choices. Choices were important in reaching Caleb. Without choice, he was easily discouraged and unmotivated. The following day, we brainstormed product ideas that would teach students from our school about our topic in a fun way. The students met with their teams and decided what the product would be, how they wanted to teach their topic, and whether they wanted to do it with their whole team, a buddy, or on their own. 2 chose to write a song 11 chose to write a book

1 chose to make a game 1 chose to make a model 4 chose to create a piece of art work using paints

I was surprised that 13 out of my 19 students wanted to create a written product. The majority of the class was resistant to writing in the first weeks of the school year. 9 students preferred working with a partner and 10 preferred to work on an individual product. Charlie chose to work on his own, but the others ended up working individually through default (no one else in their team wanted to do the same type of product). 7 students wanted to present their product to a class and teach them by reading their book or singing them a song. Caleb didnt want to read his book in our last Family Project because he said there were too many people. But in this project he said he felt ok reading his book with two other students from his team to a class. My focus students chose the following products: Andy: book about gems, on his own Anna: art piece about Christmas using paint with a partner Abbey: create a big book about butterflies with a partner presenting to a class Charlie: make a small book about volcanoes on his own

After looking at the various product ideas from my students, I immediately panicked. How was I going to support all those amazingly different product ideas? I loved how each product idea revealed how my students were motivated to learn. I knew I could still use this as valuable information in how we learned together for the rest of the year. But I was worried that I would not be able to mange such a variety of products that I decided to come clean and share my struggle with my students. I told my students we would create one product together because I had a hard time figuring out how to help them with many different products and exhibition ideas. Since 13 out of the 19 students wanted to create a product with writing, I asked them if they would be interested in creating a small or big book to teach our topics to an audience. They voted for creating a big book. Although I limited their product to a class book I made sure I honored their autonomy and choice by letting them design their own page. Anna, one of my hard to reach focus students, was one of the 4 out of 19 students who wanted to do art work with paint. I wondered if I designed our project product according to Annas choice, would she become easier to reach. So I proposed we would make a Being Curious George class big book with water color paint. I asked my students to choose their audience for exhibition. I asked them to think about who would benefit from our teaching. I wanted us to decide on an audience at the beginning

of our project so that it could guide us in our research, how we wrote, what our product looked like, and how we presented our work at exhibition. My students chose the kindergartners to be our audience. Learning How to Learn Together For the next five weeks we immersed ourselves in research within our teams.

I wanted to give my students a variety of experiences with making decisions as a team. I asked each team to come up with questions about their topics. Their team questions were: Zebra team: What do zebras eat? What are zebra habitats? Volcanoes team: What is lava made of? How do volcanoes erupt? Christmas team: How do other people celebrate Christmas? Who is Santa? Sharks team: What do sharks eat? What are the body parts of a shark? Butterfly team: What do butterflies eat? How do caterpillars change into butterflies?

At first each team read books together and looked on the internet to find answers to their teams questions. At the end of our project time, we gathered and debriefed what went well in their teams and what could have gone better. The first team gathering already had conflicts. I noticed that some teams argued. Abbey shared that even though she invited Ivan to the private conversation table, they couldnt resolve their problem. She told him what to do during their research but he wouldnt do it and didnt like being told by Abbey what to do. The other teams agreed that they struggled with similar problems. I asked them what they thought we should do to solve that problem. Abbey proposed that we rotate team jobs each day to divide the research. Each team rotated

through the roles of team manager, internet researcher, book researcher, and diagrams/illustrations. After trying out these jobs, Abbey shared she was happy that her team was getting along better and she was proud that Ivan was doing his job. I was elated to see the sophisticated solutions students proposed when I trusted them to come up with their own solutions.

My students researched their questions through the internet and books during team time.

Using Exit Cards to Guide Instruction To generate a shared understanding of what a quality big book looked like, we critiqued some exemplar models together and co-created a rubric to guide our own big book. I pulled four big books that my students were familiar with already through their research to serve as models. I wanted to make sure they could read and understand them. I also chose these books because they had features I wanted my students to keep in mind as they created their own informational big book. Together, these books showed a variety of ways to design the layout of the pages, format paragraphs with headings, and include diagrams with labels. To create our rubric, I asked each team to choose one book that they wanted to model their own page layout in our big book after. We then discussed the characteristics that made the books fun to learn from. Each team shared out what made their chosen models exemplary while I wrote each teams ideas on a chart for us to refer to

throughout the project. My students chose to include the following on our rubric to guide our work: The pictures look like the real thing The pictures and writing fills up the page Write labels for the diagram Some labels have sentences about the part it is pointing to The subheadings tell you what the writing is about The paragraphs have details that teach you about the topic The writing teaches you the right thing

I also gave each team a copy of the book they liked the most so that they could refer to it throughout their drafting process. During the writing portion of the project I noticed many of my students had looks of frustration. I decided to give them an exit slip to find out what was frustrating them and discover what they needed. They wrote they needed more time to learn how to write a paragraph. My focus student Anna said, Projects are hard. The writing was hard. When I asked her what would help her feel like it wasnt as hard, she said she needed help sounding out the words, we needed to go slower, and give them more time to write. So instead of moving on the next day, I devoted our project time to show them how to write a paragraph and use small group instruction for those who needed even more time. According to Bringle and Hatcher (1999), reflective experiences like this serve as opportunities of self-exploration and clarification of a students personal learning goals and progress in learning. When students asked for support, I slowed down. This gave them confidence to own their learning experiences. I wanted them to understand that beautiful work takes time. I met their need for autonomy when I used exit cards and discussion to adjust classroom activities. Providing more support in small groups also led us towards competency while meeting a need of belongingness because they found safety among others who struggled with similar things. According to Assor, intrinsic motivation would increase when students felt autonomy, competence, and belonging (2002). My students motivation dramatically increased!
In the following exit cards, my students appreciated the opportunity to research with their team and draw details they learned. They also stated they needed more support with writing sentences because it felt hard.

Guiding Each Others Work through Critique Each team created a draft of their page in the class big book. We then critiqued each others work through a gallery walk. With the drafts posted on our classroom walls, each student was asked to walk silently and give warm feedback by writing how drafts contained items that met the rubric criteria. They wrote their feedback on yellow post-its and stuck them on the drafts. For round two, they were asked to give cool feedback by writing helpful and specific advice on how to meet our co-created rubric. This was also done silently. After we finished the gallery walk, the teams revised their drafts based on the feedback given to them by their peers. To be honest, I worried that my first graders couldnt handle being silent while giving feedback. Surprisingly, they did it! I wondered if

it was because they were creating work that had purpose for an audience. Their work mattered to them.

We wrote feedback on post it notes to guide revisions of our drafts.

Some common warm feedbacks were: I like the labels you wrote. I like how you draw stripes on the zebra. It looks like the real thing.

Some common cool feedbacks were: Can you make it bigger? You need to look in the book to draw it like the real thing. Write more captions and write neatly.

I noticed my students were beginning to give each other specific feedback so they would be able to know what needed to be revised. But I also noticed that there was feedback that wasnt specific enough, like I like your drawing. My first graders requested their fifth grade buddies give them feedback on their page and paragraph drafts. I was excited that my students valued the feedback their buddies gave them from our family project that they wanted feedback from them again. My students trusted their own voices to ask their fifth grade buddies feedback for their work. My students read their paragraphs and explained their big book page draft to their fifth grade buddies. I created a feedback sheet for the fifth graders that had the items from our co-created rubric on both warm and cool feedback sections since they werent familiar with critique. After I briefly taught the fifth graders about critique, the fifth grade buddies checked items on the feedback sheet and helped my students with things they asked for, like spelling, drawing, or researching more information. At the end of the feedback, I asked my first graders to sit in an inner circle and our fifth grade buddies to sit in the outer circle on our rug. I asked my students to share how their fifth grade buddies feedback strengthened their drafts. Valerie said, My buddy helped me spell some important words. I felt this was important because I wanted both my first graders and their fifth grade buddies to understand how their feedback and collaboration strengthened their work while also strengthening their relationships to one another. Layla shared, We looked at some books so that I could draw my zebra like the real thing. Bridging stronger relationships across grade levels was something that had been lacking in our preschool through eighth grade school. My heart swelled when I witnessed that relationships were strengthened when students engaged in meaningful work together. Another common response from my first graders during this buddy community meeting was, My buddy helped me find more details. I then asked our fifth grade buddies to share warm feedback on the drafts they read. They said the following: I liked how their sentences matched their illustrations. She drew the butterfly like from the book. I also liked her labels. They drew the diagram big enough to fit the page.

According to Gloria Ladson- Billings, students care . . . not only about their own achievement but also about their classmates achievement (Sluijsmans et al, 1994). When students learn to support one another they are doing more than improving the work, they begin to care about their peers achievement, their accomplishments . 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 should be a community working together with all serving as resources to the others (1994, p.214). I witnessed this among my first graders and with their fifth grade buddies. Their fifth grade teacher and I were amazed to see relationships being deepened through this collaboration between our students. This community of learners not only enabled co-

creation of knowledge but also enhanced intrinsic motivation because it met a need of belongingness among my students. After reading through the feedback from our fifth grade buddies, my students revised their drafts again and began to sketch and water color paint their illustrations. I noticed when my students engaged with art during our project products, they were careful with their work and gave each other specific and helpful advice. My students were comfortable using exemplar models to guide their work. They brought out the books we used for our written research to guide how they painted their illustrations. One of our mantras during this Being Curious George project was to make sure we taught our kindergarten audience accurate information. We wanted to be good teachers.

Critiquing to Create Beautiful Presentations The week before exhibition we needed to prepare for presentations. Since we knew our audience was kindergartners, we had to have presentation skills that would hold their shorter attention spans. Before we practiced our presentations, we discussed what a beautiful presentation would look and sound like. My students said beautiful presentations look like calm bodies, holding up our work so the audience can see it, and face the audience. We also said that beautiful presentations sound loud enough for the audience to hear. We agreed that if we did these things then our kindergartner audience would pay attention to what we said. Each team decided who would welcome the audience, read a paragraph, teach the diagrams, and close the presentation. We spent our project workshop time practicing our presentations and critiquing each other. After each team practiced, they did their presentations in front of our class and we gave each other warm feedback like, You took turns speaking smoothly. They also gave cool feedback. Abbey said to the shark team, I like how you faced us but I couldnt hear you. What if you try speaking louder? At first I was worried that my students would be too kind and not give enough helpful and specific feedback to improve the presentations. I was amazed that my students gave a balance of kind, helpful, and specific feedback like, I appreciate how you held the page the whole time today even though it was dropped a lot yesterday. It would be great if you tried standing still too. My first graders knew what success looked and felt like. They helped each other achieve it. Each team took the feedback and implemented it into their presentations. 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). My hope was that as my students became empowered to express themselves, then

they were more likely to help empower others. Through critique they were empowering each other to share beautiful work.

Hearing the Voices of Our Audience through Exhibition We had decided to invite only the kindergartners as our audience, but my students were also inviting their parents on their own. The day before exhibition, several parents texted me or approached me about our exhibition. One of my students became sick that morning and couldnt come to school. His mom called and said he wanted to come to school and was sad that he couldnt be there. Having choice and voice in our project made my students want to come to school. This was astounding to me because our school had difficulties with tardiness and excessive absences. Our projects gave my students a reason to be in class each day.
The Zebra Team: Crossing the Gender Divide

During the project, the zebra team felt like boys versus girls. I feared they wouldnt create one piece together. Samantha and Valerie tended to do most of the work and then tell Allan and Jake what to do. They finally came together after they decided, as a community, to rotate jobs. Samantha and Jake both drew the zebra, Allan wrote the heading, and Valerie drew the African continent. Samantha also asked Jake what he wanted to say at exhibition.

The Shark Team: Embracing the Teacher Role

Mike liked how one of the books they used for their research showed how a shark opens its mouth to eat. He drew a similar step-by-step visual guide for their kindergarten audience. During exhibition, Mike and his team brought the books they used for research to show the kindergarteners how they found their information. They took ownership over their new role as teacher!

The Butterfly Team: Sharing the Workload

During the research phase, Abbeys team had difficulty sharing the work load because they fought over who would do what. After Abbey brought their teams struggle to the community, they peacefully divided sections of their page among each other when painting. Abbey later said, First another person learns three new things. The division of roles enabled them to learn a new thing as they rotated responsibilities.

The Volcano Team: Reaching Out to Peers

In the beginning of the project, Charlies team told him they were frustrated that he would do his own work and not help them. As the project progressed, I overheard Charlie ask his team if they needed help. But more importantly, he invited others to help him make the map of volcanoes in the world. Charlie said, I asked Dante to help me with the map because it was hard to draw. I was elated to see one of my hardest to reach students, reach out to his peers.

The Christmas Team: Projects are hard.

Anna came up to me after exhibition and said, Projects are hard. In the past, Anna could hide behind others and slip through the cracks. Being in a team prevented Anna from hiding. She couldnt avoid being seen and heard by her team and exhibition audience. During the project, it was important that I modeled to her team how to create space for Anna to be heard and be given opportunities to contribute. We have a pull out system for students who need more literacy support through Reading Recovery. Anna told her Reading Recovery teacher she didnt want to leave because she missed out on what we were doing. Although Anna thinks projects are hard, she wanted to be part of it.

During the exhibition we asked the kindergartners to give us feedback. Since our purpose was to teach in a fun way, we asked them to fill out a sheet where they could write or draw what they learned and tell us if the exhibition was fun or could have been better. After the exhibition, each team read through the feedback slips. In a community meeting, I asked what struck them about the responses. They said that most of the kindergartners had fun learning about their topics. Kate said while smiling, They gave

us a thumbs up! This was a picture option on the feedback form stating they had fun learning. They also had a few kindergartners draw a picture of a volcano and shark from the exhibition. The students said they were proud because they got better at presenting their work with their team after each of the three kindergarten classes came. Lucy, from the Christmas team, said, We read our book louder after the first class. Mike, from the Shark team, said, I wanted to show them the books we used so they could learn too.

Reaching Students through Project-Based Learning Following our exhibition, I interviewed my focus students on how they felt about having choices during projects. My hope was that building autonomy, competency, and belongingness in the project would help my students love learning despite the challenges they faced with the work and in their teams. I found they enjoyed how their curiosities were meaningful to an audience. Ultimately, my first graders became empowered. This experience encouraged them to use their voices with confidence and to drive their own learning. This experience lived beyond this moment. My focus students responses highlighted a few themes about the impact of choice and listening to students within projects. Students want to take the work home I love trying to look at [butterflies], see what it does when I do nothing. I test it, test it, and test it. When I talked with Abbey, she explained how she explored butterflies (her project topic) while at home. Because Abbey had chosen her topic, she was excited to work on her project, even when we werent in class or when it was expected. Brown states, In play, most of the time we are able to try out things without threatening our physical or emotional well-being. [...] We can create possibilities that have never existed but may in the future. We make new cognitive connections that find their way into our everyday lives. We can learn lessons and skills without being directly at risk, (2009). When student curiosity is incorporated into what they learn, they retain skills easier because it feels like play. Play makes learning fun. Her reference to testing showed that she was learning how to be a close observer to dig deep into her topic. By asking Abbey to choose what she wanted to learn, she treated what she learned as if it was play. Since Abbey felt safe to explore her passion through play, she was willing to invest more time learning about butterflies. Abbeys quote revealed that when kids have choice within their project they are excited about the work that they take it home, even when its not required. Students learn how to rely on each other I asked Dante to help me with the map. Asking for help was a big step for Charlie. He was used to working alone because he didnt think he needed anyone. When I asked Charlie how he felt working with his volcano project team, he said he liked working with his team. In the beginning of the project, he wanted to work on a product by himself. But after we formed teams to

create one product together, he had to work out of his comfort zone. Charlie was patient and willing to help his team members find research information during the project. When there were times of conflict, he talked it out with his team and found ways to share roles to finish their product. 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). Charlie began to learn how to depend on and trust others. Students embrace the hard work Its harder and we learn more. I like to make the projects. Andy was the most vocal and resistant to doing hard work, like writing. But when I asked him how he felt about projects, he said he liked it despite the hard work. There were plenty of writing in our projects. He was motivated because it was in the context of a project that was meaningful to him. Andy was willing to do the hard work because having choices met his innate need to direct his own life, to learn and create new things, and to do better by himself and his world (Pink, 2009). Andy moved away in the middle of this project. Teachers were surprised that I wasnt relieved but instead was saddened to see Andy go. He taught me how to listen to student voice and implement it. He taught me to not judge student voice as a form of defiance, but as a way to help students understand the relevance of what we do. His voice enabled other students voices to be heard because he advocated for choices and his courage gave them courage. Teachers remember certain students in their career for various reasons. Andy will be remembered as the one who taught me how to teach with relevance through the power of listening. I am grateful for the gift of being taught by Andy. Students know what they want I want to have [choices] because teachers dont know what we want. Annas response to having choices was profound to me because she was right. I do not know what she or my other students wants are. I spent most of my time assuming what it was before I simply asked them. Having choices on what they wanted to learn, the questions they wanted to research, what they needed more instructional help with, how and who they wanted to share their work with as well as choosing how to solve problems when working together through projects, motivated my students to come to school. Their learning had purpose and it gave them perseverance to do the work even though it was hard because they had a team to provide kind, specific, and helpful feedback. Project-based learning motivated my students to learn because it honored their innate need to have autonomy, belongingness, and competence or mastery. 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). Anna needed me to trust her to practice her basic human right and freedom to make choices. My trust in her through the opportunity of choice, gave her confidence to recognize her contribution to our community. It was worth it! In the beginning of my findings, I asked the question, What did I get myself into?! I was plagued with fear of losing control and yielding chaos. What if I had empowered students to have choices in our norms, curriculum and relationships, but their performance was still academically low? Even though test performance was not why I chose to move ahead with my action research, this common question still haunted me. When I took a look at each of my precious first graders and the hopes that their families had for their futures, my fears paled in comparison. I couldnt ignore that I had an opportunity to pursue the possibility that my students would come out of this research empowered and in love with learning. That was a risk I was willing to take. Playing it safe and continuing to do what didnt reach my students year after year now seemed ridiculous. Was it hard? Yes. Were there times of chaos? Sure. Did I ever fall into my old controlling habits? Some times. Was it worth it? Absolutely. Its worth it because I now recognize the moments of discomfort for myself and my students as the natural process of a democracy. 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). My students and I are no longer threats to each other. We are learning how to see dissention as an opportunity to listen to each other and come to consensus. This willingness to listen has strengthened trust from teacher to student, student to teacher, student to student, and finally student to self. Now, when I struggle with how my students are to learn something or when they argue, I dont feel paralyzed with being the holder of the answers wondering What am I going to do?! I share this responsibility with my students. I hate to break it to you, but having choices and listening to student voice within a democratic classroom doesnt change students. I believe students are able to be more of themselves in this learning environment. Students do not enjoy resisting or being defiant to the point of enduring punishment. It is we, the teachers, who are changed. I needed to change to allow my students to be more of who they were, not merely children, but people whose current needs, rights, and experiences are taken seriously (Kohn, 1993).