You are on page 1of 13


Chapter V
Pre-Project Data: Setting a Course for Community

Starting with Student Surveys

By starting with a survey, I hoped to gain a class-wide snapshot of how students viewed our classroom
community. This understanding could serve as a baseline for our growth and a starting point for building
a community around peer support.

The survey questions were designed to measure student attitudes towards six key principles of
classroom communities: inclusivity, participation, cooperation, diversity, agency, and co-creation. To
assess student attitudes from different angles, we divided the questions into two sets: eight personal
questions and nine general questions. The first set hoped to get at how students viewed their own
learning, position, and interactions within our community.
The second set of questions targeted the
same six principles but asked students to think about the classroom community more broadly.
answering these questions, I hoped students would consider others learning, position, and interactions
in evaluating the community as a whole.

Introducing the survey to our students, I explained that the results would help us understand their
thinking about our classroom community. There were no wrong answers, I stressed; whatever they
thought was the right answer. Each of our twenty-one participating students took a survey and a pencil
and found a quiet spot to work. To ensure that everyone understood the questions, we moved through
the survey together. I read each question slowly and gave the students about 10 seconds to make up
their mind. When we noticed some of our stronger readers getting ahead of the class, we managed to
pull them back. We were anxious that they would trip up on a word and misinterpret a question, and we
wanted them to think deeply about every answer they selected. At the end of the survey, students could
ask me to repeat questions.


In my analysis of the survey data, I grouped questions according to the principle that they were designed
to measure. Since many of the principles overlap, it was difficult to generate questions that addressed
each principle exclusively. Consequently, several questions get at two to three principles, e.g. question
12 (In my class, everyone helps each other (Participation/Inclusivity/Cooperation)).

The chart below lists the principles, the number of questions targeting each principle, and a percentage
breakdown of the responses. The words positive and negative are used instead of agree and
disagree because agree did not always correlate with a positive interpretation of our classroom
community. For instance, on question 13 (In my class, there are some people who dont help others.
(Participation/Inclusivity/Cooperation)), disagree was recorded as a positive response.

Students were asked to agree, disagree, or express their uncertainty in response to an I Statement, e.g.
question 6 (I feel like I am part of my classroom community (inclusivity). If a student did not circle a response or
circled two responses, it was marked as No Response.
Instead of I-Statements, students were asked to agree, disagree, or express their uncertainty in response to
general statements, e.g. question 14 (Everyone is a part of my classroom community (inclusivity).

The data suggests some variation in the groups thinking around these principles. Students responded
most positively to questions about their own agency. On question 1b (If you agree [that you have
strengths] . . . I can help others learn these things) and question 11 (In my class, students can help each
other learn), students recorded 30 positive responses out of a possible total of 39. The students sense
of agency matches with the developmental profile outlined for this age group by Dr. Chip Wood (2007)
in Yardsticks: No job is too big, says Dr. Wood, no mountain too high (p. 75). On this evidence, I
believe our students will use the peer support tools we develop with confidence.

Students offered less positive responses to questions addressing the principle of diversity. In this study,
diversity refers to students differing strengths and growth areas, as well as how these differences can
underpin a community based on peer support. On the six questions about diversity, there were 67
positive responses, 16 negative responses, 42 unsure responses, and 1 No Response. Admittedly,
some of these questions were a little tricky. For instance, questions 7 and 8 focus on whether a class is
better able to learn with students who have different strengths or the same strengths. (Responses
indicating the former were recorded as positive.) Given these more challenging questions, it is
understandable to see why the percentage of not sure answers was at least 9 points higher than on
any other group of questions. At the same time, this data suggests that there is an opportunity for
significant growth around ideas of diversity. In the following months, I hope that dialogue around our
differing strengths and growth areas will lead students to clearer understandings and stronger beliefs
about the value of a diverse learning community.

Personal vs. General Interpretations of Community

Overall, there was a slight difference in how students responded to the personal and general sets of
questions. When thinking about their own experience within our classroom community, students
0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% 70% 80% 90% 100%
Inclusivity (8)
Participation (4)
Co-Creation (2)
Cooperation (5)
Agency (2)
Diversity (6)
(Number of
Inclusivity (8)
Co-Creation (2)
Agency (2) Diversity (6)
Positive 67% 62% 67% 57% 77% 53%
Negative 8% 9% 7% 11% 13% 13%
Not Sure 21% 23% 24% 24% 2% 33%
No Response 4% 6% 2% 8% 8% 1%
Figure 3: Pre-Project Survey Responses to Questions Grouped by Principle

responded with more positivity and less uncertainty than when thinking about the community as a
whole. On the personal set of questions, for instance, students positive responses were 11% higher
than on the general set of questions. Further examination, however, revealed this higher percentage
was an average of many positive responses by the girls and significantly fewer positive responses by the
boys. Such gender-based variance is explored in greater detail below.

These survey results suggest that students may feel marginally more comfortable about their own
learning, position, and interactions within the community than they do about their class as a whole.
Digging into the data, I found specific examples that lend themselves to this line of thinking. According
to the following table, which compares responses to questions 4 and 10, more students agree that they
would personally help someone else than agree that everyone would help.

Table 3: Pre-Project Survey Responses to Questions 4 and 12

Question Type Agree Disagree Not Sure No Response
4. If someone asks me for help, I will help that
person. (Participation/Inclusivity)
Personal 18 0 2 1
12. In my class, everyone helps each other.
General 13 0 6 2

The idea that some students might doubt their peers got me thinking whether they might view others as
superior. The following table displays responses to two questions, one personal and one general, both of
which aim to gauge students attitudes towards growth. Most students agree that they themselves have
growth areas but are not sure that every student has something they can get better at.

Positive Negative Not Sure No Response
Personal 69% 7% 21% 3%
General 58% 12% 27% 3%
Figure 4: Pre-Project Survey Responses to Personal and
General Sets of Questions

Table 4: Pre-Project Survey Responses to Questions 2 and 10

Question Type Agree Disagree Not Sure No Response
2. I have areas for growth. There are some things
that I am still trying to learn. (Diversity)
Personal 12 4 5 0
10. In my class, every student has something
they can get can better at. (Diversity)
General 9 0 11 1

I wonder how differing academic abilities among our students might have affected responses to
question 10. In reading, for example, some children are reading chapter books while others are still
grappling with short and long vowels. Is it possible that students at lower reading levels look up at their
peers and wonder if they have room for growth? Even peers with comparable skills might look at
another and conclude that they are reaching their full potential.

As a counterpoint, its worth noting that students did not always respond more positively to the
personal interpretation of a principle. Comparing questions 1 and 9, more students agreed that their
classmates have strengths than agreed they themselves have strengths. I wonder whether these
responses are due to a lack of self-awareness, low self-esteem, or perhaps confusion about what the
question was asking. Whatever the cause, students may respond more positively to this question after
exploring their own strengths.

Table 5: Pre-Project Survey Responses to Questions 1 and 9

Question Type Agree Disagree Not Sure No Response
1. I have strengths. There are some things that I
have learned to do really well. (Diversity)
Personal 12 1 8 0
9. In my class, every student has a strength.
General 18 2 1 0

Reflecting on these results, my teaching partner and I must strive to foster positive feelings about the
community as a whole. By encouraging students to view each other as helpers and emphasizing that
all students have growth areas as well as strengths, students may begin to feel as positively about the
community as a whole as they do about their own position within it.


There were notable differences between boys and girls responses to the first set of questions, which
focused on students personal learning, position, and role within our classroom community. Overall, 84%
of the girls responses were positive, compared with 58% of the boys responses. In addition, 30% of the
boys responses were not sure, compared with 13% of the girls responses.


On the second set of questions, which referred to the classroom community in general, the differences
between girls and boys responses were much smaller.

Returning to the first set of questions, I was curious to find out why the boys felt less positively and
more uncertain than the girls about their own position in our classroom community. In the search for
answers, I took a closer look at specific questions.

Positive Negative Not Sure No Response
Boys 56% 11% 29% 4%
Girls 82% 4% 12% 2%
Figure 5: Pre-Project Survey Responses to
Personal Questions, Separated by Gender
Positive Negative Not Sure No Response
Boys 54% 14% 27% 5%
Girls 61% 9% 28% 2%
Figure 6 : Pre-Project Survey Responses to
General Questions, Separated by Gender

Table 6: Pre-Project Survey Responses for Question 2:
I have areas for growth. There are some things that I am still trying to learn. (Diversity)

Response Girls Boys Total
Agree 8 4 12
Disagree 1 3 4
Not Sure 2 3 5
No Response 0 0 0

On Question 2, I was surprised that three boys thought they did not have areas for growth. I was also
surprised that three boys were not sure. In identifying the boys who selected disagree and not
sure, I wondered whether they fully comprehended the questions. Five of these boys are in the classs
lower guided reading groups, and many of them struggle to sustain their attention during whole-group
activities. As they scanned the questions on their papers or listened to my voice, perhaps they missed
something? Did they truly believe that they did not have areas for growth?

The boys responses to the next statement raised further questions about their interpretation of the

Table 7: Pre-Project Survey Responses for Question 2b:
If you agree . . . other students can help me learn these things. (Cooperation)

Response Girls Boys Total
Agree 8 1 9
Disagree 0 3 3
Not Sure 0 4 4
No Response 3 2 5

Only respondents who agreed with question 2 were invited to answer question 2b. The girls seem to
have fully understood this direction: the 8 girls who selected agree on question 2 then went on to
answer question 2b; the three girls who did not select agree left question 2b blank, and their
responses correctly were recorded as No Response. The boys, however, did not seem to grasp the
directions: since four selected agree on question 2, only four should have answered question 2b; in
the end, eight boys marked answers for question 2b.

If these responses tell us anything about the differences between these girls and boys, it may have less
to do with attitudes towards classroom community and more to do with state of mind. To accurately
complete the survey, students needed to focus their attention, listen carefully to each question, and
follow directions about how to mark their survey. After tuning in, students needed to comprehend the
questions and answers choices available to them. Finally, they needed to draw upon their own
experience to make up their mind about each statement. If the boys, in general, were able to exercise
these focus, comprehension, and evaluative skills, then their answers reflect genuine differences in
thinking and feeling about our classroom community. If they struggled to exercise these skills, however,
then their responses indicate exactly that.


When I consider the number of boys who answered not sure on this first set of questions, this second
line of thinking seems more plausible. The students who chose this answer may have been unsure about
what to do, unsure about what the question was asking, or unsure about their opinion. If true, then our
actions focused on developing skills for learning, i.e. listening, focusing, and following directions,
take on even more significance. Furthermore, my co-teacher and I must continue to focus on
developing our students comprehension and critical thinking skills.

Looking past the boys difficulty with question 2b, its possible that their higher rate of not sure
answers reflects a genuine difference of opinion, not merely a deficit of survey-taking skills. On the first
set of questions, five boys were not sure whether they had strengths (question 1), six disagreed or
werent sure whether they had growth areas (question 2), and four disagreed or werent sure if the class
would seriously consider their ideas (question 3). My goal is for students to develop strong, positive
feelings about their capacity to learn and support each others learning. To realize this vision, my co-
teacher and I must pay special attention to the boys progress. We must encourage them to play a
more active role in our community, prompt them to think deeply about their own and others
learning, and encourage them to take action when they need or can offer support.

Pre-Project Interviews

To build a community around peer support, students need to cultivate a deeper understanding of their
strengths, growth areas, the learning process, and peer support. For a clearer view of students thinking
in these areas, I conducted pre-project interviews with five focus students. By selecting students with
varying personality traits, academic levels, and social skills, I considered this group to be representative
of the entire class. At the conclusion of the project, I would interview the same five students to see how
their understandings had evolved, if at all.

The interview questions were divided into two categories: strengths and growth areas. First, I asked
students to name a strength, describe how they improved at it, discuss how they might teach it to
others, and reflect on whether they had ever helped their classmates get better at this particular
strength. The remaining six questions focused on students growth areas. I asked them to name
something they were trying to get better at and why it was important to them. I also asked how they
planned to improve and whether their classmates might be able to help them. To clarify and draw more
information out of students, I often added follow-up questions, which led to a brief dialogue with the
student. (The transcripts for pre- and post-project interviews are included as Appendices E and F.)

Thinking about Students through Detail and Complexity

I analyzed the interview data in two ways. First, I coded each answer for detail and complexity; each
instance was scored as one point. I defined detail as a relevant piece of information in response to the
question. For example, when I asked PJ how he might get better at reading, he replied, Practicing and
learning new words. His response included two relevant details, earning two points in this category.
Complexity, which I define as layers of meaning, was a little harder to pin down in students
responses. In practice, I marked responses as complex if they were able to connect details in a
meaningful way. When Emma was asked if shed ever improved at anything similar to running (her
growth area), she talked about hula hooping: I got better at hula hooping. I have a little one and a big
one. The big one I can do good at, but the little one I cant do good at. In reflecting on her growth,
Emma used the conjunction but to contrast her experiences with different kinds of hula hoops, an

answer that earned one point for complexity. The word because also became a clue to identifying
complex answers; if a student was able to explain or justify one detail with another, then the response
was scored as complex. Ultimately, coding for complexity and detail was an imprecise science; other
teacher-researchers might have made different judgments. Nevertheless, I think this method fairly
reflected students self-awareness regarding their strengths, growth areas, the learning process, and
peer support.

The Connectors: Stephan and Sabrina

Stephan Sabrina
- Detail Points: 9 - Detail Points: 10
- Complexity Points: 2 - Complexity Points: 1

Students F and K play an active role in our classroom community. They have strong circles of friends
and participate fully in learning activities. During whole-group discussions, they are often talkative,
contributing their own insights and adding on to others thinking. Given their position in our
classroom community, I believe they can positively influence their peers as we build a community
around peer support.

During our pre-project interviews, I expected Students F and K to offer thoughtful and elaborate
responses. On the contrary, while they were able to communicate their thoughts clearly, I found
their responses brief and limited. Consequently, they received relatively low scores for both detail
and complexity. While they were able to confidently name their strengths and growth areas, they
did not have much to add about their learning process. Promisingly, Stephan was able to identify
students who had helped him while Sabrina named a student who might be able to help her.
Despite their social awareness, Stephan could not remember the details of this interaction and
Sabrina could not recount a time when she herself had been approached for support.

By the end of the project, I hope that these students will have developed their ideas about the
teaching and learning process. Furthermore, I hope that they will be able to recall their role in
many peer support interactions. As connectors, their participation in our community of helpers
may help to reinforce positive messages and practices, producing a ripple effect among their


The Sharer: Emma

Detail Points: 12
Complexity Points: 6

During whole-group activities, Emma is often eager to share her thinking. Although she sometimes
struggles to speak in a fluid manner, she does not let this challenge prevent her from making a
contribution. During daily sharing time at morning meeting, she is one of several students who
regularly wishes to present to the class. While she has room for growth in her listening and focus
skills, her comments often display a depth of thinking that suggest she is fully tuned in to class
discussions. On some occasions, such as her birthday, she simply wants to make an
announcement. On other occasions, she brings items from home, such as cuddly toys, for the class
to see. Reflecting on her enthusiasm, I imagined she would have a lot to share with me about her
own strengths, growth areas, and her classmates.

I was not disappointed. During the pre-project interview, Emma shared more details than any
other student. She was also able to connect these details to create deeper meaning, which gave
her the highest score for complexity. Emma used concrete examples to show how her strength had
changed over time and how she was working to improve in her growth. Furthermore, she had
initial ideas about how to teach others (. . . if someones bad at it, you can show them), and
identified several people who could support her. Although she could name a person who had
asked her for support with jump roping, it took her a few moments to recall this interaction; by the
end of the project, I hope she can instantly recall many times when she supported others.

While I was impressed by Emmas thoughtful responses, she still has room for growth, as do we
all. As we study teaching and learning, I hope Emma will internalize and apply more strategies
for peer support. I hope that, as an enthusiastic sharer, she will communicate her experiences to
other students and model successful peer support interactions.


The Outliers: PJ and Gemma

PJ Gemma
- Detail Points: 7 - Detail Points: 10
- Complexity Points: 0 - Complexity Points: 1

From my perspective, PJ and Gemma are students on the periphery of our class community.
Describing himself as shy, PJ struggles to engage in conversation with teachers and his peers.
While he is a friendly character, I rarely see him approach other students or other students
approach him. Gemma is another outlier. A wacky personality, Gemmas brain is often humming
with humorous, out-of-the-box ideas. When she fixates on an idea, however, she struggles to
follow the flow of conversation and make connections with her peers. During this first round of
interviews, I was curious to see exactly how these students viewed their own learning and
interactions within our classroom community.

The pre-project interviews confirmed my thinking about these children. Although PJ consented to
the interview with a smile, his responses were short. He offered few details, which did not connect
in any complex ways. While he had a couple of ideas for how to get better at reading (Practicing
and learning new words), he said that no one had helped him and he knew of no peers who could
help him. In contrast with PJ, Gemmas responses were lengthy. Her ideas, however, were not
always relevant to the question, so she did not earn a higher amount of detail points. Furthermore,
her details did not always seem to connect, resulting in a low complexity score. PJs reticence and
Gemmas stream-of-conscious speech made it difficult to decipher how much each student
understands about the learning process. In addition, both students can grow their understanding of
how they might help others and who to reach out to for support.

Inclusivity is a defining principle of the classroom community we wish to cultivate. One measure
of this projects success will be the extent to which we can facilitate the inclusion of these
outlying students in our classroom community. By encouraging these students to engage in
peer support interactions, we hope they will build strong relationships and feel valued as both
helpers and learners.



The second data analysis strategy was to draw out themes across all of the interviews. This was a
subjective process, so other teacher-researchers might have arrived at different themes.

Reflecting on their strengths, all students discussed practice in one way or another. Stephan pointed to
his improvements over time, while student T described this process explicitly. In addition, Sabrina also
hinted at how passions inform strengths, stating that she got good at reading, in part, because she read
for fun.

When asked how they would improve in their growth areas, most students also highlighted practice. In
addition, Sabrina mentioned a specific reading strategy and PJ said learning the words, a comment
that might be interpreted as studying.

Figure 7: Pre-Project Interview Responses to Question 2:
How did you get so good at (your strength)?

Stephan: When I was 3, I started reading hard books. When I was two, I tried to read books.
PJ: By practicing.
Sabrina: By practicing and reading for fun.
Gemma: Haha! By singing, like, One, Two, Three, Four, Five. Five, Four, Three, Two, One! (So you
do, like, singing exercises, and that helps you get better.)
Emma: When I first tried it, I had one when I was four, when I lived in another house. I first tried it,
and I didnt do it so well. Then, I tried it the second time, and I did well. (Ahh, so you tried
once not so great. Then, another time, and you got better.) Yeah, and then I did it all the

Figure 8: Pre-Project Interview Responses to Question 7:
How do you think you might get better at (your growth area)?

Stephan: By just practicing, like I do at home.
PJ: Practicing and learning the words.
Sabrina: By stretching a lot of words out that I dont know. (Anything else that might help you get
better at writing?) I dont know.
Gemma: By pushing it up and down. (Let me clarify, or make something clear here: are you on the
see-saw do you want to work at being on the see-saw?) Pushing it up and down, like on
the side. (And how to do you think you might get better at it?) By pushing it, like this.
Emma: With my sister, we always went to the park, and we tried to do races. Sometimes, I win. (So
by doing races?) And we tried to run all the way to . . . First, we went to our park, and then
there are places that lead us to different places. We were both tired until and I jumped and
beat my sister too, and then we leaved.


Beyond practice, students did not offer many more ideas about the learning process. While practice,
of course, often leads to improvement, it is not the only factor. In forthcoming lessons, we will be sure
to highlight other learning strategies, such as working with a more knowledgeable other (or
helper), using physical and mental resources, and stretching oneself above existing abilities.

As students expand their awareness of the learning process, they may also expand their awareness of
potential supporters. In discussing their growth areas, only Stephan mentioned a time when other
students had helped him, and he struggled to recall the details. When asked to name peers who might
support them, Stephan and PJ couldnt think of anybody, while Gemma tentatively threw out some
names. Meanwhile, Sabrina and Emma identified the same person to help them with respective growth
areas, writing and running fast. Although this person is a capable, high-performing student, I hope that
students learn to see all of their peers as potential supporters.

Turning to teaching, students thinking about how to support others also suggested room for growth.
While three students could recall a time when theyd been approached for support, most students
offered only one idea for how they could teach their strength to others. Stephan and Sabrina mentioned
trying, a motivational approach that may be helpful but not sufficient when supporting others. Sabrina
and Gemma discussed what they might tell others, while Emma said she would teach others by
modeling her strength. In addition to encouragement, directions, and models, there are more ways to
teach and support others. As the project moves forward, students will explore other helping
strategies, such as asking questions, coaching a person through an activity, or providing resources.

Figure 9: Pre-Project Interview Responses to Question 3:
Can you teach (your strength) to others? If so, how do you teach it to others?

Stephan: Yes. I can tell them how to read by saying, Try your best.
PJ: No.
Sabrina: Yes. (How do you teach how to read to others?) Like, if I go to my cousins house and they
want to read, I can, like, teach them. (And how would you teach them? What would you
say to them?) Just try, and Id tell them to sound it out.
Gemma: Like, if they dont know, like they lack a singing voice, then they can always use their
regular voice. (If someone said, N, I want to know how to sing, what would you say to
them?) Yes. (How would you teach them how to sing? What would you say to them to
teach them? ) You have to get your high voice, like only to level 5. Thats the level you have
to be. Not 8 or 1,000. 1,000 is way too loud, like fancy screaming.
Emma: U-huh. (How can you teach it to others?) By showing them. Like, if someones bad at it, you
can show them.


Revising the Blueprint

In addition to gauging students current attitudes towards our community, the initial data from surveys
and interviews helps us revise the blueprint for our project. From the surveys, we learned that students
feel capable of supporting others but less sure about how a diverse group of students lead to a stronger
learning community. We also learned that students feel more positively about their own position within
the classroom community girls more so than boys compared with the community as a whole. From
the interviews, we learned that students are aware of their strengths and growth areas but have room
for growth in understanding the learning process. Students experiences around peer support seemed
limited. Students did not speak in detail about times when they had helped others, nor could they recall,
with the exception of one student, a time when they had reached out for support.

As we embark on the projects actions, I am committed to helping my students to think bigger. As
students develop a clearer understanding of their personal strengths, weaknesses, and position in our
community, we must help students see how its members add up to create a community that is more
powerful than any one person. We must take note of any students, especially boys, who do not see
themselves or are not seen by others as a positive member of our community. As these students acquire
the skills for learning, we can help them feel more secure in our learning community by publicly
highlighting their strengths and positives contributions. In addition to naming individual strengths and
growth areas, the class can discuss the teaching and learning process so that they are better prepared to
support one another. Perhaps most importantly, students must be encouraged to view their peer and
themselves as sources of support. The rest, as our students know well, lies in practice.