Doctoral Research – Student voice matters!


“I think the purpose of life is, above all, to matter; to count, to stand for something, to have made some difference that you lived at all””

– Leo Rosten

A friend and co-worker successfully defended her doctoral research last week and her earning the title of Doctor of Education prompted me to go back and look at my own research and reflect on what I learned and how that experience helps support and sustain my leadership and vision on the future of engaged, inspired, and empowered education for ALL students! Our District focus on innovation, engaged learning, 1:1 transformative learning environments and early intervention are examples of change initiatives built on a foundation of my beliefs in and for ALL students.

After many years as a proud public educator (teacher, asst. principal, principal, asst. supt. and superintendent now), I have had many wonderful opportunities to see, support, create, help create, and sustain change initiatives in order that educational opportunities for children were made better. As early as in 1995, I experimented with U.S. History Workshop where students were given voice and choice – with guidance, support, and direction – as they learned about U.S. History. This was published in the 1996-97 issue of “The Councilor” (the official publication of the Illinois Council for the Social Studies), Volume 56, pages 11-25, title: “Planning Powerful and Engaging Social Studies: The U.S. History Workshop for Students”

Ten years later when I was fortunate to publish my doctoral dissertation, I again discovered, this time through scientifically validated research methods, that student voice plays a statistically significant role in student learning. In every setting, my mission/vision/aim/guiding force/foundational philosophy is that students need their voice in order that their learning is maximized. Student voice in all grades, in all settings, in all environments. With guidance, structure, order, and facilitated learning environments, student learning and student satisfaction increases. Educational Reform – start asking, listening, considering, embracing, and adapting to STUDENT VOICE. Published in 2005, UMI, Effective Instruction in Middle School Social Studies (Doctoral Dissertation)</a>

My Dissertation research project looked at eighth grade middle school social studies students over the course of one academic year. The student satisfaction and perceptions of learning environment yielded statistically significant correlations between types of learning environments and feelings and attitudes and awareness levels of students. This study enters the wider body of literature about middle level learning, especially at the 8th grade level, traditional and constructivist based learning environments, student achievement and student satisfaction.

<strong>Excerpts from my published dissertation are below: </strong> The purpose of my dissertation study was to analyze student learning in 8th grade social studies classes with both traditional and constructivist philosophy based instructional settings, and to analyze the impact upon student learning. Learning factors included student choice in topics, assessment measures and the levels of student participation. This research stands to share with the educational community the synthesis of theory and practice. This research is important to practitioners for showing that higher levels of student satisfaction do occur in an instructional environment based upon the tenets of constructivist philosophy. This research is important to policy makers because it shows that instruction that implements activities in line with the Illinois Applications for Learning (problem solving, making connections, working on teams, communication, and using technology) increases student satisfaction levels. The 8th grade middle school social studies classroom is a setting rich with opportunity for tapping into the potential of the eager minds of adolescent learners. The data from this study suggests ways in which adolescent learners are most satisfied with or motivated to learn. The data from this study suggests that students are astute consumers of their environment and they accurately identify what type of learning environment they are in. The second research question for this study was: Does a constructivist philosophical based/engaging instructional approach increase student satisfaction in an 8th grade middle school social studies class? The alternate hypothesis, is: There is a significant difference in student satisfaction in a middle school social studies history class when assessment products are varied as well as teacher directed. From Table 11 in my study I reported that there are statistically significant results for eight of the questions on the satisfaction survey. The results suggest a correlation between satisfaction levels and the mode of instruction.


The ultimate implication for the education community, based upon the data presented in my dissertation study, is the social justice implication inherent in research studies designed to determine student satisfaction, perception and achievement. Students are the primary stakeholders, or constituent groups, in America’s classrooms this should not be forgotten or looked over. That these students have opinions and their ideas can be windows into the best and most appropriate educational methods of instruction should not be forgotten. Today’s student may be the same and he may be different from yesterday’s student, but the fact that student success is a just and viable goal for all school systems lends itself to the need for additional research into how best to educate children.

Any classroom where students are engaged in their learning (selection over assessment choices, guided choice in content, input into class activities, students show and do more than hear and tell rather than just say and learn) the levels of student satisfaction will increase. Students are primary stakeholders in their own learning therefore it is logical to solicit their input and consider their learning needs.

In the treatment group, the student input into the learning was greater, they moved around more frequently during lessons, they had teams engaged in the learning more often. Additionally, they were able to choose types of assessment modes as compared to the control group where the assessment modes were teacher directed and not subject to discussion or options. Much has been written about students becoming more successful when engagement levels increase yet very little research had been conducted at the 8th grade social studies level in connection with best practices. This research shares with the education community how elements of the constructivist philosophy provided preferred models for establishing an 8th grade social studies classroom regarding methods of engagement and modes of involvement among students.

The student’s voice should be heard loudly and clearly in an effort to create and sustain the most socially just classrooms. The student’s voice and imprint and cultural experience should scream loudly enough at curriculum designers and teachers so that higher levels of satisfaction can be realized for students across the country and the world at all levels of the educational spectrum. As Herbert Kohl states in The New Teacher Book, “Don’t turn teaching for social justice into a grim responsibility, but take if for the moral and social necessity that it is.” (44)

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