Students and the Power of their Voices

As I read the article Participatory Action Research and City Youth: Methodological Insights from the Council of Youth Research (Bautista, Bertrand, Morrell, Scorza, & Matthews), my mind was flooded with how many different ways the article appealed to me.


The main thrust of the article was about bringing Latino and African American youth into the process of action research.  In particular, giving a voice to minority students who, research has shown, have often become disenfranchised within the public school systems.  I think that is a phenomenal idea and read with intrigue about the steps taken and the results that occurred. Taking high school students and guiding them through the scientific methods of Participatory Action Research is an incredibly powerful learning experience.  The educational value of teaching students to be researchers, alone, is enormous.  Yet that was just the first part.  The students then took it to the next level by researching a question that impacted their lives: that of being able to access an equitable, quality based education.


What struck me almost immediately was how the article connected in my mind to a portion of the book Why Race and Culture Matter In Schools (Howard, 2010).  In chapter 5, Howard discusses some interviews that he conducted as part of a research team while he was also working with African American and Latino high school students. The interviews gave the students a chance to voice their perceptions and detail some of things that have happened to them over their years as students.  It focused on how teachers and counselors within the school system have made comments to them implying that, by virtue of their minority status alone, they may not be as capable or as qualified to take the more difficult course like their peers.


When I linked these two pieces of writing together in my mind, it seemed to make perfect sense.  First, both tackle the issue of the imbalance that happens in schools to minority students.  It addressed how some students are the recipients of the problems but so often they aren’t allowed to have a voice or a platform.  The opportunity to teach students how to become action researchers allows them do more than remain passively frustrated without an outlet.  It gives them a chance to learn about a situation, research it, and then hopefully acquire the skills to act on it in the future.


Second, it creates another proposal, in my mind, to the ideas of how schools can create change within their cultures.  Much of Howard’s book was dedicated to the premise of changing teachers’ perceptions.  One idea he strongly advocated was through teacher self-reflection.  He stated that value very succinctly and powerfully.  The thought, though, occurred to me that not all teachers are going to be good at self-reflective behavior.  Even those who are good may need a little more prodding to truly understand the impact–nee devastation– that their words are doing to those they are saying them to.  Words that, when they were spoken, may have been said with seemingly good intentions but that was not how those same words were heard in our students’ ears.  Those teachers may need a mirror in addition to their own journals.  The mirror of students’ voices and stories to propel them to change.  The mirror of research results from students who could be fortunate enough to be able to participate in a Youth Participatory Action Research program.


The last way that this article connected to me was in the ways that I might be able to try and empower my students within my own classroom.  I teach fifth graders and they are clearly not ready to tackle something of this magnitude.  One of the parts that made the research in the article so wonderful was the authentic nature of the research.  That leads me to ponder about opportunities that I can stay open for that might allow my students to engage in a very simplified version of an action research project of their own.  Not in any sense of it being “valid” but for the value that my students can learn about becoming active learners and engaged participants in society.



Bautista, M., Bertrand, M., Morrell, E., Scorza, D., & Matthews C. (2013). Participatory action research and city youth: methodological insights from the Council of Youth Research. Teachers College Record 15. Retrieved from


Howard, T. C. (2010).  Why race and culture matter in schools.  New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

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