Research: Past & Present
all students achieve higher standards
One Strategy to Improve Academic, Social
by Kate Lewis KathrynLewis@sd54.k12.il.us
What effect does a small group experience designed
to build connectedness between the girls and
between the teacher and the girls have on academic
and social learning?
"Mom, the teachers are clueless about what
is going on in the minds of the kids!" This comment
from my seventeen-year old son combined with
previous school experiences spanning my career
led me to explore the effect of providing an
opportunity for students to "gain a voice" for
expressing their individual thoughts related
to their learning and personal experiences in
both their in-school and out-of-school life.
Significant writers in the field of education
and psychology have supported schools providing
this type of school experience. Most noteworthy
is the work
of Abraham Maslow on the hierarchy of human needs, Carl Rogers on "valuing" students,
William Glasser's work on class meetings and school structures that support
authentic adult-student problem-solving, Carol Gilligan's work on the development
of female knowledge and "voice", and David and Roger Johnson's work on cooperative
groupings that promote the development of social and emotional competence.
Summary: The intervention consisted of a group of nine 5th to 7th grade
girls in a structured project-based experience of eight sessions for three
weeks in December and then eleven loosely structured lunch meetings spaced
throughout the school year.
- Report card letter and effort grades for
the basic four academic subjects for all three
- Report card checklists for work/study skills
and personal social skills
- Personal notes on each session that included
topics and conversation content, person initiating,
contributors, and attendance
- Teacher written and verbal feedback
- Student survey
- Student journal entries
- Parent written and verbal feedback
Data & Analysis
The data on the content
of the sessions indicated important personal
growth for six of the nine
girls. A dramatic change occurred for one girl
whose behavior changed from extreme quietness
to verbalizing details and reflections about
her out-of-school life. Five other girls did
important experimenting with the power of their "voice" to
communicate vulnerable feelings and become more
Eight of the nine girls
experienced "connectedness" to
the other girls and to the adult leader/mentor
as evidenced by the trust in the group and the
support they offered each other to deal with
school expectations and deaths in their families.
Report card data demonstrated
that the three students who most utilized the
group to share
their thinking showed improvement in academic
grades and in behavior patterns, particularly
from the second to the third trimester.
- Schools need to provide opportunities for
all students, boys and girls, to share important
thinking and feelings from their entire life
experience, particularly around relationships
with peers and adults in their lives.
- Connecting with an important adult in a
mentoring relationship is important for all
- Teachers need to know students more fully
to be able to better shape the learning experience
to meet their needs.
- Parents appreciate this support and the additional
learning it provides for them about their children.
- Academic grades are influenced by many factors,
but social/emotional support within consistent
long-term school relationships can improve
- Limitations for implementing these understandings
include school structure and beliefs, teacher
skill and comfort level, time and schedule
Policy Implications for Quality Teaching
- Teachers should work to establish a classroom
environment that encourages respect for the
individual student voice.
- Teachers should work to establish relationships
with students that encourage open communication
of issues and personal concerns of individuals.
- Staff Development should both provide and
encourage teacher growth in the development
of positive teacher-student relationships.
Policy Implications for School Structure
- The organization of the school day should
value the building of relationships by allowing
time for this work.
- The utilization of staff members should support
those with skill and comfort with this work
to support those with less skill and comfort.
A variety of co-teaching options provide models
for this work.