'Is This Student Voice?' Students and Teachers Re-negotiate Power through Governance Partnerships in the Classroom
Nelson, E. J. (2014). ‘Is This Student Voice?’ Students and Teachers Re-negotiate Power through Governance Partnerships in the Classroom (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/8846
Permanent Research Commons link: https://hdl.handle.net/10289/8846
A change in status for students to position them influentially as educational decision-makers with teachers is identified as a key dimension of student voice research and pedagogy. Despite over 30 years of student voice research and pedagogical practice, this change in student status remains problematic. Accountability agendas associated with neo-liberalism intermingle with student voice ideals contributing to contradictory purposes for, and in some cases diminutive instantiations of, student voice research and practice. This tension often renders student influence illusory, fleeting or difficult to sustain. Greater theorising of the power dynamics at work in enacting ongoing student influence in pedagogical and curriculum design, that also takes account of expectations and demands on teachers’ practice, is called for. This research contributes to this challenge. Three teachers and their Year Seven and Eight students within one intermediate school collaborated across a three-cycle action research project to identify and utilise student perceptions of effective teaching and engagement as a basis for co-constructing responsive and reciprocal pedagogy as governance partners. The teachers met regularly to plan and reflect on aspects of enacting the teacher/student governance partnerships in their classes, collaborating to ensure that aspects of teacher voice were addressed in the process of enacting student voice. A student research group of 12 students drawn from the three participating classes provided ongoing reflection and insight into classroom power dynamics as the research unfolded. Teacher/student ‘governance partnerships’ were enacted as a way to maximise student influence within classroom-based pedagogy and curriculum decision-making. A power analytic framework was developed to theorise the relationships between voice and power by mashing Lukes’ three-dimensional theory of faced power with Foucault’s micro-physics of power and theories of discourse and discourse analysis. Three findings emerged from this research. Firstly the research established that the vantage point from which student voice practice was experienced influenced how that practice was perceived. Teachers were more certain that their co-constructive action research work with students represented student voice in action because the students demonstrated behaviour teachers identified with student voice. Participatory strategies enacted within the action research meant that student talk and reflection about their learning and themselves as learners increased. Teachers gained valuable insight into their students as learners as well as the efficacy of their teaching from this student talk. As teachers came to increasingly trust their students’ contributions, students’ thinking came to influence teachers’ thinking and the student voice curriculum in the three classrooms. Students from their vantage point were more ambivalent in their evaluation of these same actions. Although they appreciated having a say in deciding aspects of the classroom programme, they identified pedagogical decision-making as a clear responsibility for teachers who they perceived were professionally trained for this responsibility. Secondly, the power analytic frame developed for the research illuminated visible and less visible aspects of how power dynamics influenced teachers’ and students’ action as governance partners. Persistent tensions between co-construction and accountability agendas meant that teachers and students were constrained in their student voice action by school expectations and macro accountability demands. However they were able to negotiate ways to address these constraints, largely in ways that accommodated rather than challenged them.Thirdly the shift in power dynamics between teachers and students in the research classrooms generated spaces conducive to the emergence of a student discourse on student voice. Students identified the importance of knowing and being known as learners by their peers, rather than being motivated to establish influential relationships with teachers. This student-student collaboration theme pushes back against adult-centric student voice discourses focused on increasing the influence of students in conventionally teacher-dominated decision-making domains. Implications from this research suggest that although building student influence in classrooms as a means to elevate their status as governance partners with teachers is necessary, student voice practice and research needs to look beyond the classroom to bring taken-for-granted elements of school culture expectations, and how these constrain classroom possibilities for action, into the student voice agenda. Teachers and researchers need also to consider how their conceptions of student voice are imposed within the context of compulsory classwork on students. The power analytic frame developed for this research may assist students, teachers, policy makers and researchers to keep the problematic nature of student voice in schools to the forefront as they plan, implement and critically reflect on classroom and school student voice initiatives to scaffold student influence within the educative process.
University of Waikato
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