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TNLI: Action Research: Curriculum Implementation: Visual Community: An Exploration of Classroom Community Through Pictures

by Bruce Neff

Research Question

How is a classroom community affected when students share visual images that represent who they are outside of school?

Visual, non-verbal communication plays a powerful role in how we see each other in society. Living in a multimedia society where television is a prime source of entertainment, diversion, etc., our society relies heavily on visual communication to convey a variety of messages, culture being just one.

When we come to know that this is the reality of our world we are better prepared for ways to perhaps challenge the taken-for-granted beliefs that stem from this form of "culturalization" and in doing so it allows for a deeper more appreciative understanding of who we are and where we come from to form a stronger community built on understanding each other.

If students can use pictures to capture some element of that missing piece of their identity and, through dialogue, be able to share with others in their classroom that side of them that is not seen, perhaps we can begin to challenge the taken-for-granted beliefs, or assumptions, we hold about each other and rise to a new form of community in our classrooms.

Research Study
This action research study involved twenty-seven fourth grade students and one teacher from one elementary school in San Jose, California, during the months of October 2003 through April 2004.

Analysis of Data
This study focused on how the student's level of community would be affected when they shared pictures about who they were outside of school. This study revealed:

  • Over the course of the study there was a noticeable decline in the amount of concerns that were being reported by students in the areas of safety, caring, and respect.
  • Interactions among classmates changed in a variety of ways. Such as students engaging in social activities together outside of school, students broadening relationships to include people outside of their normal group of friends, and students' willingness to help one another in class regardless of who they were.
  • Three case studies that revealed increased academic performance in district assessments ranging from 10% to 25%.
  • A 13% increase in academic performance in Houghton Mifflin Theme Skills Tests for the new Language Arts adoption by the entire class.
  • A shift in student's perceptions about each other, which led to dialogue about our differences thereby empowering students.

Policy Implications
In order to produce citizens that can be successful and make meaningful contributions to our society we need to address the needs of the "whole" child. This includes not only academics, but also the valuable social skills that are needed look past the taken-for-granted beliefs that we may hold about on another. Support must include funding to provide the following:

  • The equipment necessary to conduct this activity at each school and continuous funding to support ongoing annual costs.
  • Professional development for teachers that is ongoing and sustained.
  • A district level employee who is solely responsible for the professional development and support of district employees.
  • Annual stipend for on-site program mentor.

To the Full Paper (pdf file. Need Adobe Acrobat? Click here.)


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