Schooling for student transformation


Beach, K. (1999). Consequential transitions: A sociocultural expedition beyond transfer in education. Review of Research in Education, 42(1), 101–139.


How can we “prepare individuals to [both] participate in the transformation of society,” as well as to “adapt to existing society” (Beach, 1999, p. 130)?  Helping students find opportunities for consequential transitions may be an important part of the picture (Beach, 1999).  I argue that a strategic and creative application of technology, informed partly by connected learning principles, can facilitate students’ ability to undergo significant personal transformations of identity and skill, and successfully endure or navigate the change of social organizations within which they participate.


In an attempt to move beyond “transfer,” King Beach (1999) offers “consequential transitions” as a more robust and pragmatic concept than the metaphor dominant and persistent throughout educational theory and discourse.  Beach argues that transfer’s theoretical flaws stem from the difficulty involved in studying and fostering it.  He writes that transfer, in educational psychology “refers to the appearance of a person carrying the product of learning from one task, problem, situation, or institution to another,” but neglects how (or anything about the context within which) the tasks or situations were generated.  One of transfer’s essential flaws as a practicable theoretical guide is especially apparent when one attempts to bear witness to transfer, or to demonstrate that transfer has occurred.  Consequential transitions, a conceptual alternative, expands our purview on how individuals come to know things, in part through the lens of the sociocultural theoretical framework.  As a “macrocosm of how we learn new tasks and problems” (Beach, 1999, p. 102), a “consequential transition involves a developmental change in the relation between an individual and one or more social activities.  A change in relation can occur though a change in the individual, the activity, or both” (Beach, 1999, p. 114).


Beach relieves schools of the (sole) responsibility of providing students (and individuals, more generally) with consequential transitions.  But, it may be in this notion that significant educational innovation can occur.  I am situated just ahead of the launch of a personalized learning program for students in grades 7-12, which, primarily, will be delivered virtually.  Its philosophical underpinnings include connected learning discourse.  Connected learning “advocates for broadened access to learning that is socially embedded, interest-driven, and oriented toward educational, economic, or political opportunity.  [It] is realized when a young person is able to pursue a personal interest or passion…and is in turn able to link this learning and interest to academic achievement, career success or civic engagement”(Ito et al., 2013, p. 4).  Connected learning recognizes the value of technology to help “connect” students to areas of inquiry that are exciting and meaningful, and participate in a broad range of networks in service of each individual’s disparate orientations.  Further, the cultivation and maintenance of a strong peer culture is important for grounding students – through the learning process, and, arguably, consequential transitions – and helping them to feel a sense of belonging to a supportive community of practice beyond their own agenda.


Buddhist philosophy of dependent origination and Plato’s perspective on individual epistemological continuity (simply, that the “individual and world are separated”[Beach, 1999, p. 102]) are part of the philosophical foundation from which consequential transitions emerges.  Beach explains how American education and psychology also stem from these historical roots on how individuals come to have knowledge, yet experience continuity across time and contexts.  His own approach is sympathetic to the Buddhist outlook, which appreciates interdependency – the dialectical relation between the individual and their context.  He criticizes the typical binary positioning that the concept of transfer legitimizes, and disparages the seeming entrenchment of theorists at their poles on one or another side of the transfer debate.  “That learners and social organizations exist in a recursive and mutually constitutive relation to one another across time” is critical to consequential transitions and should be the premise upon which other transfer alternatives are predicated (Beach, 1999, p. 111).


In what ways might an online learning program provide students with opportunities that might lead to consequential transitions?  Beach explains that a “consequential transition is the conscious reflective struggle to reconstruct knowledge, skills, and identity in ways that are consequential to the individual becoming someone or something new, and in ways that contribute to the creation and metamorphosis of social activity and, ultimately, society” (Beach, 1999, p. 130).  Much like the critical reflection Tyrone Howard encourages of teachers for culturally relevant pedagogy, a consequential transition is spawned partly through conscious reflection, struggle, and, ultimately, change in “one’s sense of self and social positioning” (Beach, 1999, p. 114).  Institutionalizing time and space for students to independently and collaboratively “digest,” think critically and expansively, about their experiences within their context is an important component of an educational program.


Further, integral to a successful online learning initiative may be helping students understand (and providing the support so) that they can generate and shape their own learning and practice – experiences which at times may be constitutive of consequential transitions.  This emphasis on self-directedness and students taking responsibility for their own learning, within a highly personalized educational framework, is an acknowledgement of students’ transformations.  It promotes students’ agency over their own development, identity representation, and social positioning.


Technology may be leveraged for students to gain access to “worlds” they would otherwise be excluded or not imagine entering.  (Their access to relevant technologies is the first step to an education program of the sort referred to here; this consideration of technological access and relevant elements of justice and equity are incredibly important programmatic concerns, but are not dealt with in this post.)  As a tool, technologies may help students find and connect with communities and information relevant to their personal interests, as well as to expansively frame academic areas of inquiry in ways that may be personally relevant.  “Meeting students where they are” and helping them get to where they want, need or can be – in part through students’ ownership and customization of their educational experience, and facilitating opportunities for consequential transitions – is the central objective of my professional agenda.


Howard, T. C. (2003). Culturally relevant pedagogy: Ingredients for critical teacher reflection. Theory into Practice, 42(3), 195–202.

Ito, M., Gutiérrez, K., Livingstone, S., Penuel, B., Rhodes, J., Salen, K., … Watkins, C. S. (2013). Connected learning: An agenda for research and design. Irvine, CA, USA: Digital Media and Learning Research Hub. Retrieved from


Virtual schools and the school tracking debate

The personalization of education may be possible and highly impactful for individual students, with effective and strategic leveraging of technology, paired with what we know about learning styles and the influences of the characteristics of the educational “setting.” At the heart of the important debate around school “tracking” is a question about how to provide best for each student.  Do the benefits of grouping students in classrooms by their ability outweigh drawbacks, for the students and for the school?  Pivovarova (2014) explores how the composition of a peer group in a classroom might affect student achievement. She defines school tracking as “ability grouping with or without design of the specific curriculum for different ability groups” (p. 5).


A student’s academic experience can be customized based upon their curricular and learning needs in a virtual institution.  What does online education mean for the conversation around tracking?  Does it offer an alternative that makes the issue moot?  Does it offer a solution to the detriment of “bad” peers by minimizing the peer experience, relative to a brick-and-mortar educational setting?  Does it mean that students miss out on the benefits of groupings that include “good” peers, or high achieving students?  Can online education provide an experience that excludes effects of “bad peers,” forefronts the presence of and interactions with “good peers,” and otherwise individualizes the learning experience to the benefit of each student?


Pivovarova discusses the complexities of how tracking may impact achievement for individual students.  She demonstrates that the composition of the peer group affects different types of students differently.  For example, while a high achieving student seems to be “immune” to the peer group (including any variation in the population that might occur as students enter and leave) (p. 19), low achieving students benefit from the presence of high achievers.  Furthermore, she warns that previous research has shown that tracking can enhance inequality of learning opportunities for low achievers and students who may already be disadvantaged socio-economically (p. 2 & 4).


(Proponents of tracking also espouse the potential for enhanced school efficiency.  Though most schools have scarce resources, and negotiating the economics of providing for the student population is a necessary priority of any school, this stance is justified by an argument comfortable with the objectification of the student body whose only relevant characteristics are their ability and the convenience with which their needs might be attended to.  Since it seems schools’ primary goals ought to revolve around supporting students’ learning – equitably, however diverse their needs may be – I leave the economics of tracking mostly to the side, for this post.)


Online education may offer an alternative to the classroom environment that facilitates a kind of instructional differentiation that equitably attends to the needs of each student.  The low achieving student or the “bad” peer is little able to disrupt the learning of others (Pivovarova, 2014, p. 7).  Activities can be constructed to coordinate the involvement of high achievers, e.g. in academic leadership roles such as tutoring, discussion board posts requiring the readership and critical commentary of the peer group, educational games, and socialization opportunities organized by the school or parent organization.


(This last idea calls forth another related question about informal interaction: does Pivovarova’s study translate into settings that are outside of the classroom but are within the school’s domain [e.g. field trip to the city art museum]?  Online or distance education literature is partially preoccupied by the concept of community, and how achievement, retention, and/or other observable or self-reported factors of the program is positively impacted (e.g. Harrell II, 2008; Jagannathan, Blair, 2013; Sadera, Robertson, Song, & Midon, 2009).  This post will not address this question – peer composition, non-class-related interaction, and achievement – but it seemed intriguing enough to make brief mention.)


Pivovarova’s study was specific to the physical classroom environment – would “good” peers similarly affect their group in a setting held together by technologies and not by face-to-face interaction or the structure of a classroom and the set routine of a school schedule?  The author puts forth an electoral analogy, that of the median voter (in this case, to discuss the median student and how he or she affects or is affected by the peer group’s composition) (p. 21).  In contemplating what Pivovarova’s study suggests about education more broadly, including if or how her findings translate into “nontraditional” settings, the analogy that resonates with me clearly, is one of nutrition.


Because big food industry and associated marketing firms have tried to find new and catchy angles to capture and retain consumers for their food products, and because of our society’s aversion to the complex and desire to reduce a thing to its simplest form, fragmenting it into its component parts, and because of our search for a “quick fix” to immense and accelerating health problems, a holistic understanding of nutrition is neglected.  To address diabetes, consumers are encouraged to switch to artificial sweeteners, to lose weight, they may want to try carbohydrate or fat blockers, or for a mineral or vitamin deficiency, a pill will right one’s nutritive imbalance.  What we’re missing when we pick and choose elements of nutrition and or the food system, extracting them from their context, are the feedback loops, tradeoffs, and interrelationships and their effects.


Like our bodies or our food systems, a classroom environment and a school are complex systems that cannot be understood by studying one decontextualized factor. Pivovarova’s work offers considerations about peer groups that are useful for constructing an educational program – including one delivered largely virtually – that supports a peer culture conducive to each student’s achievement.  The nutrition analogy is a reminder that such findings do not offer “plug and play” solutions, and that context matters.


Moreover – especially – peers matter.  Pivovarova’s study demonstrates that peers don’t just matter for their contribution to a “sense of community” (Sadera, Robertson, Song, & Midon, 2009), which may be important for student sense of belonging, but something about their presence seems to have a more direct impact on student achievement.  Whether it is because the teacher tailors instruction to engage the high achiever and the lower achieving student benefits, because the high achievers inspire or otherwise motivate other students, or for some other reason, those in online education should take note.


The 2014-2015 school year will offer an opportunity for me to conduct action research, at some level, in my workplace.  It will be the inaugural year a small online college preparatory school, emphasizing advisement, community and peer culture, and college readiness.  I will be in a position to observe, experiment with, and engage students in program evaluations that will inform program improvement efforts.  Pivovarova’s findings are cause to further interrogate the program model as it takes shape this summer, and to critically witness the peer-to-peer (or absence of class time peer interaction) effects on academic success.


Harrell II, I. L. (2008). Increasing the success of online students. Inquiry13(1), 36–44.

Jagannathan, U., & Blair, R. (2013). Engage the disengaged: Strategies for addressing the expectations of today’s online millennials. Distance Learning10(4), 1–7.

Pivovarova, M. (2014). Should We Track or Should We Mix Them? Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. Tempe: Arizona State University.

Sadera, William A.; Robertson, James; Song, Liyan; Midon, N. M. (2009). The role of community in online learning success. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 5(2).

“Community” for online learning

Sadera, William A.; Robertson, James; Song, Liyan; Midon, N. M. (2009). The role of community in online learning success. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 5(2). Retrieved from


What are the effects of community in online education contexts, specifically on how students’ perceive their own success?  This is the question tackled by Sadera, Robertson, Song, and Midon in a 2009 issue of the Journal of Online Learning and Teaching.  The authors make a contribution to the online learning literature that has already established community as an important element of online learning, by studying how or what the effects are of community on perceived student success.


The paper’s readability is inhibited by both the lack of clarity in the research focus initially, and the significant typographical errors.[1]  Not until the “literature survey” do readers begin to understand that the focus is on students’ perceptions or feelings of their own success (vs. success as determined by observable factors, such as achievement [GPA or course scores], improvements in academic achievement, or retention), and then in the rephrasing of the study’s purpose in the Methods section introduction.  Otherwise, the study follows in a logical, coherent manner, typical of a report on social science research, i.e. the introduction is followed by an overview of relevant literature, methods, results, a discussion of findings, and a conclusion, inclusive of the study’s limitations and thoughts for future investigation.


Sadera et al’s work is framed by a sociocultural perspective, which guides their consideration of existing research on community and success in distance education.  They organize literature in three relevant areas of concentration.  The first explores how communities among people geographically disbursed are defined.  Commonalities among research studies in this vein indicate that communities involve a “shared purpose and the relationship among them including their sense of belonging, trust, and interaction” (p. 278).  The authors construct a definition of community that seems lacking, given the review of literature just prior presented.  It reads that a community is “a group of participants, relationships, interactions and their social presence within a given learning environment.”  They add that their definition excludes how communities organize and maintain themselves, i.e community is not defined as or by “the collection of technologies used to manage and communicate within the environment” (p. 278).  The weakness of this definition is striking, because what stands out in their presentation of existing literature on communities is attention to “sense of shared purpose” or “shared emotional connection,” “membership” or “common expectations and goals.”  Even a simple, generally applicable dictionary definition explicitly indicates the particular relevance of something shared or common, e.g.: “a social group of any size whose members reside in a specific locality, share government, and often have a common cultural and historical heritage.”  Perhaps this isn’t influential to the research process, but how we define things are so important to our perspective, that it seemed worth mentioning the stated definition’s seeming deficiency.


The second category of literature the authors include confirms the positive relationship between community and perceived student learning.  They site two particular directions here: (1) a study on the importance or impact of community in different courses, which found no significant difference (though the scope of the study was limited – only two courses and in the same field were studied); and (2) sense of community and students’ perceived learning.  For this second orientation, the authors take up the Classroom Community Scale, an instrument designed specifically “to measure the sense of community in an online learning environment.”  (This tool is considered valid, as its reliability coefficient well exceeds the reliability coefficient Cronbach’s alpha accepted as the bar in social science research.)  Its application in other studies has shown a “positive relationship between students’ sense of community and their perceived learning success in online courses.”  The last area of existing research reviewed deals with community and interaction, “especially important in distance education…because it helps reduce feelings of isolation and contributes to the student success in online environments” (p. 279).  There are three types of interaction relevant to this context: interaction between the learner and the content, between the learner and the instructor, and between or among learners.


Data collection was organized around three areas of inquiry:

–        Is perceived learning affected by participation in the online community?

–        How does the sense of community affect perceived learning?

–        Does the amount and type of online interaction affect the feeling of membership in the learning community?

An online survey on a Likert scale was offered to undergraduate students attending an accredited US university, enrolled in online courses.  The authors had an 11.3% return rate on survey respondents, which left them with a sample of 121 participants, characteristically representative of “adult learners pursuing a technical undergraduate degree online” (p. 280).  Underlying survey questions were three objectives: (1) to collect demographic data, including previous experience in online courses; (2) to assess specific efforts to build community in the course, course design elements (including the instructor’s role), and the role of online technologies; and (3) student active participation in the course and community, including frequency of use of online technologies.


Data collection underwent a pilot several months before formal data collection, which contributes to the reliability of their approach.  SPSS was used to analyze data, as well as Pearson’s Correlation to address the three research questions in turn.  The researchers found a significant positive correlation between self-reported time spent on task and learning and their self-reported participation in learning activities and perceived learning.  In other words, the authors found a relationship between student’s active involvement in the online education community (however formed or described) and learning.  Next, they report positive correlation between students’ perceived learning and community (evaluated on connectedness scores).  Finally, their analysis of online technologies to interact found that only email had any significant impact on connectedness or learning.  In sum, the study finds that learner interaction and engagement, sense of community, and success in online learning are strongly correlated.


The authors make note of worthwhile research foci for the future, based upon the limitations of their study scope and their study’s findings.  Primarily, they indicate the importance of future research that asks the same general questions as this study: how community relates to success among online learners.  Research involving different populations (besides adult undergraduate students, comprising the sample of this study) would contribute to the literature.  Studying factors beyond what is specifically associated with the courses in the research scope, including activities a school or the broader environment might undertake to help cultivate a sense of community or elements of course design built with community-cultivation in mind, would support better understanding community and learning in an online environment.  Also, more research is needed on how online learners may experience community in different [types of] courses.  In the literature survey presented by the authors, a study by Rovai and Barnum is mentioned, which looked at students’ experiences in two online courses.  But, since the courses were in the same general field (education), and the overall scope was small, the findings are not generalizable.


Of particular interest for me, pursing the development of a junior/high school online education program, is the finding that email, not other online tools, such as chat and discussion boards, influenced students’ sense of community.  Given that students, in grades 7-12, in the pilot implementation of my program – a blended learning format, not fully online – find the use of email either incredibly arduous or highly undesirable, I am surprised.  This may point to the difference in online communication preferences between today and 2009, when the study was conducted.  Also,  it is likely that the adults in the study, irrespective of the era (acknowledging the rapid pace of technological change and use), use technologies and communicate differently than 12-19 year olds.  Exploring or hoping for future research on how K-12 students prefer to connect and how this influences their achievement is relevant to my work.


Also, I am especially interested in the study’s finding that learners with the experience of at least one online course did not experience community or connectedness in the same way as online learning novices.  The study found that these students seemed to find community at conferences more than in active participation in elements of their course(s) that might lend to a sense of community.  This reminds of the important finding of Liou, Antrop-González, & Cooper (2009) that students benefit academically from communities of practice that may be well outside of their academic environment.  Their community cultural wealth model highlights the importance of communities such as those created by students’ families or localities for student success.  Further investigation on how learners (particulary in grades 7-12) succed academically, in part through their role in and the characteristics of community within their online education context, will be important to my work, and that of online education in general.


Liou, D. D., Antrop-González, R., & Cooper, R. (2009). Unveiling the promise of community cultural wealth to sustaining Latina/o students’ college-going information networks. Educational Studies, 45(6), 534–555. doi:10.1080/00131940903311347


[1] For example, on page 278, the authors refer to the same research conducted by Rovia and Rovai.  Or, on page 279, a sentence that would make the point of the paragraph is left unfinished: “Not only does online interaction impact on students’ sense of community, but it is also found to be related to students’ learning success in.”

Embrace uncertainty in and across communities of practice to promote learning and innovation

Uncertainty is an inevitable feature of collaborative complex problem-solving efforts. Though uncomfortable, the presence of uncertainty in “learning communities” may facilitate productive collaboration and learning if managed supportively by individuals and by peers in the community.  Jordan and McDaniel (2014) urge leaders in education to pay attention to uncertainty in the context of youth collaboration, as an important element in instructional design and facilitating problem-solving activities (including action research) among peers.  They write “that when uncertainty is experienced and expressed in conjunction with peer support, then uncertainty generates a platform for learning. This is because as these activities come together in the same space, students find themselves engaged in complex patterns of social interaction that facilitate learning: explaining, critiquing, elaborating, and generating multiple representations and methods” (Jordan & Mcdaniel, 2014, p. 34).


Communities of practice engaged in “ambiguous and intractably complex contexts,” which, in the study the authors conducted, refer to controlled groupings of 5th grade students focused on a cross-disciplinary engineering based project, may in fact benefit from uncertainty.  Pushing back against the presupposition that uncertainty ought to be prevented or that deliberative processes ought to be shielded from its presence to make way for a successful learning experience, Jordan and McDaniel put forth that not only may uncertainty “foster innovation and promote learning,” “generating uncertainty can facilitate the reorganization of current beliefs, values and conceptions” (Jordan & Mcdaniel, 2014, p. 4).  How the roles within communities of practices negotiate uncertainties and wrestle with the tension between “competences” and “experiences” both within and across the boundaries, may have important implications.  “Innovative learning” may require a “divergence” of experiences and competences, Wenger (2000) postulates; this involves “active boundary processes” that, by nature, involve uncertainty.


As a graduate student, I participated on a National Science Foundation grant-funded project implemented by the Decision Center for a Desert City (DCDC), an institute made possible by the Decision Making Under Uncertainty initiative.  My work focused on an interactive model, WaterSim in the Decision Theater, which “was analyzed as a hybrid boundary object embedded within a boundary organization designed to link science and policy to improve environmental decision-making under conditions of uncertainty” (White, Wutich, Larson, Gober, Lant, Senneville, 2010, p. 230).  We developed a conceptual framework for analyzing WaterSim’s utility as a decision support tool, or boundary object, on the basis of its credibility, saliency, and legitimacy to stakeholders.


Relevant “boundaries,” in this case, are at the interfaces of the knowledges and ways of knowing within the scientific community and among policy makers across different scales.  Uncertainty, in the discourse of decision-making for sustainability is manageable only to the degree leaders acknowledge and, ultimately, embrace uncertainty as integral to planning for sustainability.  (A favorable articulation of “sustainability” is made by Dr. Charles Redman, Founding Director and Professor, School of Sustainability: “Sustainability is an awareness of the connectivity of the world and the implications of our actions. It is finding solutions through innovative approaches, expanding future options by practicing environmental stewardship, building governance institutions that continually learn, and instilling values that promote justice” []).


In a sense, the intent of WaterSim is as a “boundary object,” involved in active boundary management, to better connect the policy and science communities of practice, e.g. local water managers and academic water scientists.  Both communities are working under conditions of uncertainty – e.g. fluctuating budgets, a receding water table, climatic change, and rapid urbanization’s local landscape and population transformation – but must converge as the production of knowledge in one community becomes relevant and important to the action another community must and is obligated to take.  Boundary objects, or “artifacts (things, tools, terms, representations, etc.),” are among the ways Wenger (2000) proposes the boundaries of communities of practice can be “bridged” for “the coherent functioning of social learning systems” (23).  “Conceptualizing collaborative problem solving as a process of negotiating uncertainties [and “recogniz[ing] the importance of interdependencies] can help [leaders] shape tasks and relational contexts to facilitate learning,” conclude Jordan and McDaniel (2014, p. 36).  This lesson is salient for constructing contexts supportive of decision-making for sustainability, as well as for complex collaborative cross-curricular projects in grade school.


Jordan, M. E., & Mcdaniel, R. R. (2014). Managing uncertainty during collaborative problem solving in elementary school teams: The role of peer influence in robotics engineering activity. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 00, 1–47.

Wenger, E. (2000). Communities of practice and social learning systems. Organization, 7(2), 225–246. doi:10.1177/135050840072002

White, D. D., Wutich, A., Larson, K. L., Gober, P., Lant, T., & Senneville, C. (2010). Credibility, salience, and legitimacy of boundary objects: water managers’ assessment of a simulation model in an immersive decision theater. Science & Public Policy (SPP), 37(3), 219-232. doi:10.3152/030234210X497726

Promoting success in online education… but, what is success?

Harrell II, I. L. (2008). Increasing the success of online students. Inquiry, 13(1), 36–44. Retrieved from

A concise, if not relatively simplistic piece, “Increasing the success of online students” highlights three components that impact student retention in online or distance education programs (2008).  These are student readiness, orientation, and support.  Harrell notes that online or distance education research also demonstrates the importance of “instructor preparation and support” and “course structure” for online student success, but the author sets these aside for this discussion.  In part because online education programs suffer from very high attrition rates, the author focuses on retention as the primary indicator of online student success.


Whereas other studies on online learner success, particularly prior to the extensive penetration of the internet in the distance education domain (Roblyer, Davis, Mills, Marshall, & Pape, 2008), focus on either learner characteristics or the learning environment, Harrell does not make this distinction.  Corroborating this approach, through an extensive research effort culminating in a readiness instrument for [prospective] online learners (the Educational Success Prediction Instrument [V2]),  Roblyer, Davis, Mills, Marshall, & Pape (2008) state that their “findings indicate that a combination of student factors and learning conditions can predict success” of online learners, “though predicting success is much easier than predicting failure” (99).  The orientation of the piece is higher education – the author is an assistant professor and the coordinator for student affairs at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College, presumably writing from his own context; however the references used and the message is more broadly applicable. While Harrell’s piece is not revelatory, it reinforces certain best practices, espoused by related studies, relevant for online learning program development.


“Positive impact on online student success”

When an individual embarks on anything new, preparation for their new environment, expectations, relationships, and skills required is integral to his/her capacity to endure what’s ahead positively and productively.  Harrell recommends assessing student readiness for online learning prior to a student beginning coursework, then using this information to either counsel students against the online option or to build an individualized support strategy for each student, based upon their apparent strengths and weaknesses. An orientation should follow, possibly in the form of entire course (as exemplified by Beyrer (2010) and the Online Student Success online education orientation course).  The author favors online (vs. face-to-face) orientations, to get students navigating the technologies and program expectations in the realm and in ways that “mimic” their educational program immediately, before coursework becomes distracted by the student’s [inevitable] technical struggles.  Student technical support that is as accessible and available as the “anytime, anywhere” coursework is absolutely necessary.  The useful suggestion is made to leverage the skills of student workers and others within and beyond the school community to optimize support in this way (without requiring financial and human resources to which many schools lack access).


Enabling students to feel and cultivate their own sense of community and belonging is critically important – to student’s individual achievement and to the success of the program. The author cites studies that have recorded students’ reasons for withdrawal as very often being a sense of isolation, or not feeling a part of something (bigger than themselves).  A community among online students is relevant for facilitating a peer culture with mutual engagement, contributing to the student’s school support system, and creating opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration and shared “real world” experiences.  Tools to communicate regularly and without pretense, e.g. instant messaging and social networking, and generating online spaces, e.g. “virtual lounges,” for students to connect on topics academic or of personal interest can support the development of communities.  “The more students integrate into the formal and informal social and academic culture of the institution, the more successful they will be” (Harrell, 2008).  In addition to these important features of an online program that supports student success Harrell focuses on, Roblyer et al (2008)emphasize that “initial active involvement in online courses predicts success. That is, students who are active in the first few weeks of the class are more likely to be successful in the course; dropout behavior is most likely to occur in the early weeks of the course” (106).


The development of a “sense of community” is different from developing a community of practice.  “Communities of practice [as defined by Etienne Wenger-Trayner] are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly” ( Perhaps the more inclusive (for both the participants and the institution) and ultimately impactful approach is to develop a community of practice among online learners.


Peers – in multiage groups spanning grade levels –might organize an action research agenda around a theme or specific research question, as an example constructing empowered communities of practice among online student populations.  They could do this on a semester, annual, or episodic basis, but continual throughout their postsecondary career.  Each student would have a position in the community, defined in part by their experience and budding expertise (or competences as Wenger [2000] discusses this).  The shared research agenda, with each individual engaged in and accountable for some aspect of the process, as well as coordinated action steps to maintain the group’s “alignment” to the co-constructed vision and mission, the students would gain invaluable experiences navigating the worlds in their research purview, collaborating with each other, and working toward a common purpose (Bautista, Bertrand, Morrell, Scorza, & Matthews, 2013; Wenger, 2000).  The community of practice would serve students’ development in ways applicable to and that transcend academia – arguably supporting their “success”.  Moreover, the likelihood of their retention would be significantly improved.



Harrell uses “success” and “retention” nearly interchangeably.  Is student success no more than an enrollment number?  Many days, given considerable budget constraints and the overly convoluted ADM calculations process (average daily minimum [ADM], which refers to the compensation charter schools receive per pupil) for online schools in the state of Arizona, retention feels so crucial to institutional “success” (read: viability and sustainability) that it doesn’t seem a stretch to conceptualize student success in the stark terms of attendance vs. withdrawal.  However, the effort and heart involved in establishing a new school is likely not just for the warm bodies and smiling faces (hidden behind various screens).  The purpose is more plausibly to provide a better, alternative, or altogether unique educational opportunity to some subset of students.  Defining success in this narrow way unquestionably narrows the exploratory purview: if the investigator is interested only in conditions and learner characteristics that lend themselves to a student’s staying in or leaving a school, will the data capture include relevant life circumstances (e.g. having a baby, needing to care for an ailing family member, having to prioritize income generation, or an onset of a mental disability)?  In other words, will this highly limited conceptualization of success skew the perspective on online educational program quality?


On a personal note, I had a meeting this week with a student who “dropped out” of our brick-and-mortar school in her eleventh grade year, due to a sudden emergence of debilitating expressions of a mental condition.  This would be a “failure” – on the student’s part and on our part – with respect to Harrell’s use of “success”.  However, she returned.  Several months later, she feels, once again, capable of course work.  Success!  (For now.)  A more comprehensive investigation would seek an understanding of: what kept the family connected to our school; why they felt they could trust us during her leave and now upon her return to care for her appropriately; and, what sorts of support they have received from us that kept their family loyal.

Roblyer et al (2008) suggest that “virtual schools … must come to gauge their success not only in terms of numbers of students served and courses offered but also in terms of how much they provide access and support to students most in need of an educational edge (107).”  The intent of this post is not to interrogate the author’s use of “success,” but perhaps that inquiry will emerge in the future. What is most interesting about this examination is what it signifies for program development: the benchmarks for programmatic evaluation and metrics of success are, by necessity, predicated upon the institutional imagining of Success – at the student level and at the organizational level.  When we speak of “excellence” in our contexts and consider an action research program to improve upon some aspect of or to, more generally, strive toward excellence, it is unlikely that retention emerges as the lead indicator.


Bautista, Mark A.; Bertrand, Melanie; Morrell, Ernest; Scorza, D., & Matthews, C. (2013). Participatory action research and city youth: Methodological insights from the Council of Youth Research. Teachers College Record. Retrieved May 30, 2014, from

Beyrer, G. M. D. (2010). Online student success: Making a difference. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 6(1). Retrieved from

Roblyer, M. D., Davis, L., Mills, S. C., Marshall, J., & Pape, L. (2008). Toward practical procedures for predicting and promoting success in virtual school students. American Journal of Distance Education, 22(2), 90–109. doi:10.1080/08923640802039040

Wenger, E. (2000). Communities of practice and social learning systems. Organization, 7(2), 225–246. doi:10.1177/135050840072002

Wenger-Trayner, E. (n.d.). Communities of practice: a brief introduction. Retrieved June 05, 2014, from

Toward justice in the social & political act of research

What is constitutive of “evidence” or “research” in one setting may be representative of a highly bounded perspective and methodology.  Predominant approaches to research in the academy and for policy action largely reflect and reinforce status quo power dynamics.  Whole knowledge domains, ways of knowing, and knowledge producers are ignored or are represented from an “outsider’s” purview.  Critical race theory (e.g. Dunbar, 2008), critical indigenist pedagogy (e.g. Denzin & Lincoln, 2008, p. 1-20), participatory action research (e.g. Bautista, Bertrand, Morrell, Scorza, & Matthews, 2013), and a framework based upon community cultural wealth (Liou, Antrop-González, & Cooper, 2009) offer methodologies for “alternative” approaches to research.  These are distinct not only in what is explored, but who defines the scope, leads the investigation, and shares findings (as well as, how these agents generate the study scope, structure the investigation, and present and distribute study outcomes).  To strive broadly toward a more equitable (representative of individual stories, collective narratives, and languages that may reveal pertinent histories and angles) and accessible research program, strong arguments are made for the active engagement of underprivileged or nondominant groups in constructing research agendas, methods, and generating and disseminating new knowledges, particularly as relevant to their own positioning.


The dominant paradigm in research is rooted in privileged Western, neoliberal ideological frameworks, which value the essentializable and universalizable.  Data collection is expected to be tidy, even “objective,” which contributes to the distance between the researcher, largely an “outsider,” and the researched / the “object” of study.  Expertise is similarly narrowly defined, even when researchers demonstrate the “best of intentions” attempting to expose or better understand a problem or context of groups of under-privileged, indigenous, peoples of color, and/or peoples characterized by other forms of “difference.”  Methods and discourse are predicated upon the neoliberal imperial agenda, which values that which can be commodified and conceptualized in terms of the marketplace, competition, individualism, and exclusivity (illustrated by the “silo” metaphor in academia).  Even the “English language is positioned as an ideological commodity in a neo-liberal state – English fosters competition, reduces risk, provides insurance and produces entrepreneurial subjects” (Thomas, Risri Aletheiani, Carlson, Ewbank, 2014, p. 243).


The active engagement of the marginalized or groups representing “difference” from the mainstream socio-cultural context in research, not only enriches the agenda and associated outcomes, the process can act to transform participants in ways that resist their own point of underprivilege or periphery.  This can have the vital effect of challenging the sociopolitical regime that enables the quietude of groups who face injustices – even from the perspective of the dominant culture’s own expectations of itself.  Learning (an integral aspect of research) may be perceived as a transformative, even radical act; Wenger (2000) provides a social definition of learning demonstrative of its impact beyond the edification of the individual: Learning “is an interplay between social competence and personal experience. It is a dynamic, two-way relationship between people and the social learning system in which they participate. It combines personal transformation with the evolution of social structures” (Wenger, 2000, p. 227).


Individuals motivated by an issue may form or become part of “communities of practice,” an opportunity for collaborative, critical exploration, wherein the participants are active agents of localized change and knowledge production.  Participants can develop a critical consciousness about their positionality and the various networks (particularly of informational capital [Liou, Antrop-González, & Cooper, 2009]) that may be available to support them and their agendas.  As “insiders,” researchers may have better access to their context, including to human subjects who may feel more trusting or less-threatened or curious of the researcher (e.g. observer or interviewer) (Bautista, Bertrand, Morrell, Scorza, & Matthews, 2013).


“What does it really matter?” if we get the data we need to make adequate decisions and to generally understand the problem context, one might say.  Students of the Council for Youth Research endeavored to “find out to what degree California students receive an ‘adequate’ education and whether it meets their academic needs,” a commitment of the state to its constituents.  The team “concluded that education for students in urban areas was inadequate” (Bautista, Bertrand, Morrell, Scorza, & Matthews, 2013, p. 8 & 11), presumably in part because of a disconnect (a “boundary” [Wenger, 2000]) in knowledge and action (from the local level to the legislative level).  Equity of process and product (expression and dissemination) is significant not only for research’s sake, but because it is the products of research, which may have yielded from a practice undergone with the blinders or biases resultant from the limited researcher perspective, that inform policy making (Thomas, Risri Aletheiani, Carlson, Ewbank, 2014).  Pushing back against the dominant neoliberal norms governing research agendas and practices, includes developing communities of practice with diverse stakeholders (e.g. student and school adults, academicians and indigenous shamans), and utilizing, even foregrounding, culturally relevant artifacts and practices such as storytelling  and performance (Cajete, 2008; Dunbar, 2008), presenting and sharing findings in languages and ways meaningful to all stakeholders, e.g. documentaries and multimedia presentations (Bautista, Bertrand, Morrell, Scorza, & Matthews, 2013, p. 8 & 11).  The impact of a more inclusive, representative, critical research program that centralizes points of difference (e.g. race, gender, class) may well be policies more reflective of the needs of nondominant groups.



Bautista, Mark A.; Bertrand, Melanie; Morrell, Ernest; Scorza, D., & Matthews, C. (2013). Participatory action research and city youth: Methodological insights from the Council of Youth Research. Teachers College Record. Retrieved May 30, 2014, from

Cajete, G. (2008). Seven orientations for the development of indigenous science education. In L. T. Denzin, Norman K.; Lincoln, Yvonna S.; Smith (Ed.), Handbook of Critical and Indigenous Methodologies (pp. 487–496). Sage Publications.

Denzin, Norman K.; Lincoln, Y. S. (2008). Introduction: Critical methodologies and indigenous inquiry. In L. T. Denzin, Norman K.; Lincoln, Yvonna S.; Smith (Ed.), Handbook of Critical and Indigenous Methodologies (pp. 1–20). Sage Publications. Retrieved from

Dunbar, C. J. (2008). Critical race theory and Methodology. In L. T. Denzin, Norman K.; Lincoln, Yvonna S.; Smith (Ed.), Handbook of Critical and Indigenous Methodologies (pp. 85–99). Sage Publications. Retrieved from

Liou, D. D., Antrop-González, R., & Cooper, R. (2009). Unveiling the promise of community cultural wealth to sustaining Latina/o students’ college-going information networks. Educational Studies, 45(6), 534–555. doi:10.1080/00131940903311347

Thomas, M. H., Risri Aletheiani, D., Carlson, D. L., & Ewbank, A. D. (2014). “Keeping up the good fight”: the said and unsaid in Flores v. Arizona. Policy Futures in Education, 12(2), 242. doi:10.2304/pfie.2014.12.2.242

Wenger, E. (2000). Communities of practice and social learning systems. Organization, 7(2), 225–246. doi:10.1177/135050840072002

Predicting online learner success to prepare for success

Roblyer, M. D., Davis, L., Mills, S. C., Marshall, J., & Pape, L. (2008). Toward practical procedures for predicting and promoting success in virtual school students. American Journal of Distance Education, 22(2), 90–109. doi:10.1080/08923640802039040


Until relatively recently, distance education research and discussion on student success largely ignored the influence of the learning environment.  As the internet increasingly came into the purview of distance education, the focus on individual learner characteristics came into question as the dominant source of insight into student success.  Roblyer, Davis, Mills, Marshall, and Pape ask the question: “Can any measured student cognitive and background characteristics be combined with learning environment characteristics to predict the success or failure of high school students in online courses” (2008, p. 96)This piece presents the second iteration of a model developed to predict the success of students in a virtual high school, conducted by Roblyer and Marshall in 2002.


The impetus for the work seems to be, first, that the drop-out rate in online education settings is significantly higher than for conventional learning environments (typical brick and mortar high schools), and, second, that there were no effective (in terms of percentage accuracy identifying a student’s likelihood to remain in school and achieve academically) models to help assess a student’s potential success in a virtual school.  This study presents a revision of the Educational Success Prediction Instrument (ESPRI), referred to as ESPRI-V2.  It has been edited to a 60-item Likert Scale measuring “technology use/self-efficacy (self-assessment of one’s ability with technology), achievement beliefs (confidence in one’s ability to learn, an aspect of locus of control), instructional risk-taking (willingness to try new things and risk failure in instructional situations, related to locus of control), and organization strategies (ways to organize for more efficient learning)” (p. 102).  These four factors originally derived from an extensive literature review of previous educational psychology and distance education studies and work on learner success in asynchronous and/or geographically distributed education situations, and they are representative of what emerged as most influential from a direct logistic regression analysis.  This output was combined with “two student background variables (age and self-reported GPA), and two environmental variables (home computer availability and school period for working on the virtual course)” to yield a highly reliable model (p. 99).  (Both of these descriptive variables where shown in the review of the literature to be incontestably significant for predicting online learner success.)


The study was conducted using a very large and seemingly variegated sample, comprising over 2,000 students of the Virtual High School Global Consortium (VHS).  Students were from different parts of the country and attended schools of different sizes, socioeconomic status, and settings (urban, suburban, and rural schools were represented).  The main factor missing from the sample is a diversity of access to internet at home – all students in the sample had the internet (and related devices) at home.  It would be interesting to apply ESPRI-V2 to learners whose access to the internet is more difficult and/or less reliable; these individuals would likely display less comfort overall with the platform and navigating the online world generally, which, one could reasonably assume, would impact findings.  Additionally, 80% of study participants had a period during the school day designated for their online course work; it is logical to assume that less supervision and a schedule structure requiring more student self-management would impact learner success.  This is the case in many online learning settings, particularly for remediation and credit recovery, where, often, students need credits to graduate and are not duly motivated to pace their work for quick completion (rather, if permitted, students may wait until the month of graduation to worry about their missing Geometry credit, for example).


ESPRI and the approach of Roblyer et al is rooted in the sociocultural tradition which values understanding “people’s everyday activities rather than focusing exclusively on formal educational contexts and academic subjects.  The emphasis is on the ways psychological processes emerge through practical activities that are mediated by culture and are part of longer histories” (Ito, Gutierrez et al, 2013, pp. 42-43).  They assessed the existing literature and discourse and observed an important under-appreciation of factors associated with the student’s learning experience and environment, including technology access and life circumstances.  Their “results indicate that environmental variables can play as important a role in a students’ success as the characteristics and background students bring to the course” (p. 105).   As a predictive tool, ESPRI-V2 is valid and robust, having predicted success (for its sample of VHS students) with 93% accuracy.


The important pursuit that follows from these findings is how to construct an academic program that is supportive of those predicted to succeed and as well as for those who are sure to struggle (if they choose to pursue the online option after the reflection opportunity ESPRI affords program advisors to facilitate during the pre-enrollment process).   One approach for an online high school is sketched briefly in the following.  Upon enrollment, a student will not only take a placement assessment, to help determine specific academic strengths and weaknesses, but will take a questionnaire including the measures comprising the Educational Success Prediction Instrument.  The questionnaire will be augmented with questions eliciting a range of personal details, such as hobbies, siblings, passions, aspirations for the future, concerns, and expectations in the program.  Armed with a wealth of data about each individual, including past academic performance (which schools receive on any incoming student in the form or report cards or transcripts), technology skills and access (self-reported), fears and hopes, as well as the precise output from the ESPRI-V2 element, a personal learning plan can be crafted with the student.  The plan and associated correspondence with the student’s instructors will be driven not merely by academic requirements and school budgetary concerns (online charter schools in Arizona receive funding based upon each student’s average daily minimum number of instructional minutes, relative to the average number of required minutes annually).  This working document will be unique to the individual, tailored to help the student connect his/her interests throughout their high school career, as well as to his/her potential strengths and weaknesses as an online student, as indicated by this onboarding questionnaire.


Prior to the student beginning any coursework articulated in the plan, the student will engage in a program and online learning orientation.  Structured like a course itself, the orientation is an opportunity for students to get familiar with and connected to the program, peers, staff, and the technological tools the student will be expected to use.  This has been recommended by several scholars thinking about student engagement and online learner success, e.g. Beyrer (2010) who developed and studied the utility of an online orientation course for online students at a small college, and Jagannathan and Blair (2013) who echo that orientating should be integral to the all-important efforts of a school endeavoring to engage students from “day 1” for retention and achievement.  Important aspects of the orientation process would include: requiring students to communicate in multiple modalities; completing tasks by set due dates; collaborating with peers on small projects designed to build relationships and help students familiarize themselves on how asynchronous and synchronous activities and may work and the challenges therein; practicing using web-based learning resources in a safe and effective way; and engaging in lessons on online learning “tips” and digital citizenship.


The intent of ESPRI-V2, according to Robleyer et al, explicitly, is not for schools to use it to deter or exclude students from an online educational setting.  One of the benefits of online education is that it has the potential to enhance access to high quality education widely, given institutional capacity to support technological device and skill development needs.  However, there is value in using a tool such as ESPRI to help counsel families on the options their student is better suited for.  Online learning is not for everyone.  For those that choose to proceed, ESPRI furnishes schools with valuable data on each student’s potential for success.  Schools may implement highly personalized engagement and support plans for each student, toward retention and achievement for its student body.



Beyrer, G. M. D. (2010). Online student success: Making a difference. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 6(1). Retrieved from

Ito, Mizuko; Gutiérrez, Kris; Livingstone, Sonia; Penuel, Bill; Rhodes, Jean; Salen, Katie; Schor, Juliet; Sefton-Green, Julian; Watkins, C. S. (2013). Connected learning: an agenda for research and design (p. 99). Irvine, CA, USA: Digital Media and Learning Research Hub. Retrieved from

Jagannathan, U., & Blair, R. (2013). Engage the disengaged: Strategies for addressing the expectations of today’s online millennials. Distance Learning, 10(4), 1–7. Retrieved from

Roblyer, M. D., Davis, L., Mills, S. C., Marshall, J., & Pape, L. (2008). Toward practical procedures for predicting and promoting success in virtual school students. American Journal of Distance Education, 22(2), 90–109. doi:10.1080/08923640802039040

Roblyer, M. d., & Marshall, J. C. (2002). Predicting success of virtual high school students: Preliminary results from an Educational Success Prediction Instrument. Journal of Research on Technology in Education (International Society for Technology in Education), 35(2), 241. Retrieved from

Critical reflection of identity toward access, excellence, and impact

Knowing oneself intimately, in part through a practice of critical reflection – independently as participant in dialogic exercises with those whom you share a history and a worldview – is integral to becoming a socially responsible scholar, activist, or teacher.  This is a challenge we must pose to ourselves, as we embark upon our roles as educational leaders; regularizing reflexivity may make us more aware of our roles as learners ourselves, and our immense obligation to our students and our institutions to participate in a culture of excellence, providing all students with equitable access to fruitful learning experiences.  Parallels between the important messages of Aurora Levins Morales in Medicine Stories (1999) and Tyrone Howard’s “Culturally Relevant for Critical Teacher Pedagogy: Ingredients Reflection” (2003) emerge around one’s own identity and the relationships one has with content and their context, including the fabrication of “the other.”  The experiences, cultural traditions, positionality in terms of power and the socio-economic landscape, and education are part of what make up one’s identity.  These factors also cultivate the perspective, including judgments, biases, and imaginings, one carries with him/her.  Critical reflection is a “personal and challenging” process of looking at “one’s identity as an individual person and as an active professional” (Howard, p. 201), and that “gives attention to one’s experiences and behaviors, [wherein] meanings are made and interpreted from them to inform future decision-making” (p. 197).


My professional agenda involves developing a college preparatory independent learning program, delivered online, for grades 7-12.  It is precisely the broad acknowledgement that each individual student has his/her own context, impacting his/her learning needs, preferences, and abilities that led to this endeavor.  The new charter school is a part of the Arizona Online Instruction Program, and will attempt to support each student to clarify goals, connect academic expectations to nonacademic interests, and creatively pursue aspirations within the flexible program structure.  I recently engaged in research on online learner characteristics, which proposed that certain characteristics seem to lend to greater success in online education settings (or, that the absence of these characteristics may require more substantial or targeted support and intervention strategies).  This work helped me think about how I would build a program that understood and was designed to adapt to each student’s characteristics/context from the moment of our first meeting.  The combined works of Morales (1999), Howard (2003), Garcia and Ortiz (2013), and Gould (1996) have helped me see the immense value of my participating in the exploration of [my own] personal characteristics and how they may impact my performance as mentor, program advisor, parent counselor, facilitator, and administrator.


Howard quotes Palmer (1998) who wrote that “we teach who we are,” and “knowing myself is as crucial to good teaching as knowing my students and my subject” (Howard, p. 198).  It may be that our positionality enables a blindness to our beliefs and the behaviors that stem from them.  Teaching is not a neutral act (Howard, p. 200), neither is storytelling (Morales, p. 25).  Morales encourages us – scholars, teachers, socially-responsible citizens of the global society – to make ourselves visible (to ourselves, in our writing, in verbal our story telling), as she has chosen to do.  This, in and of itself, is an act of resistance against the dominant approach – the imperial history is one where the narrator is detached, and makes no explicit moral judgment, or demonstration of partisanship, though, this story is an unabashed construction of the oppressors.  For Morales, the work of the “oppressed” or the underprivileged breaking silence and voicing memories, experiences, including and especially about trauma, offers a pathway for collective healing, empowerment, and a way to restore our sense of humanity.  The author advocates for the crafting of “medicinal histories” which “seek to re-establish the connections between peoples and their histories, to reveal mechanisms of power, the steps by which their current condition of oppression was achieved through a series of decisions made by real people to dispossess them; but also to reveal multiplicity, creativity and persistence of resistance among the oppressed” (Morales, p. 24).


Morales’s “handbook” for medicinal histories recommends similar actions as Howard, the broad purpose for both seems to be to enhance the access to personal and collective narratives not born entirely from the dominant narrative, and enhance equitable access to quality education and to achievement, not entirely fraught with invisible devices of the privileged, that unconsciously or consciously deploy to impact learning opportunities and outcomes.  Morales urges the inclusion of nonwritten, and, for lack of a better characterization, nonobvious or mainstream media or sources of “evidence.”  By this she does not mean fabricating data to report it as science (which might invite the reader to recall the example of craniometry, which was hailed as scientifically justifiable in the nineteenth century (Gould, 1996)); rather, the objective is to offer a space or an ear to the voice of the silenced, which may yield a yet untold story or perspective.   She encourages proposing questions as an important investigatory tool, even very broad-based or seemingly unanswerable ones, as they can lead you in directions perhaps underrepresented in the dominant narratives.  The author contends that we perpetuate injustice by not revealing power dynamics and by not revealing the agency and the “real people” among the oppressed; the new narrative must be as complex as the reality it tells, embedded within and expressing connections from its context.


Then, it is up to the story teller to further make meaningful the narrative through careful choice of language and approach, and an understanding of the contexts within the audience – much like a teacher.  By not making accessible, which for Morales involves the actual “delivery,” or digestibility (p. 36) of the story, the narrator has effectively excluded some.  Sharing stories and working to understand each other’s contexts may help denigrate the myth of the monolithic oppressed or “unprivileged” class, reducing cultural variations, and rendering insignificant major differences within groups – including within one classroom.  As Garcia and Ortiz (2013) point out, “a master category like race/ethnicity fails to account for within-group diversity based on people’s multiple social identities” (p. 36), which, in the context of teachers and students, can have real impact on how educational institutions address the particular learning styles and needs of individuals.  Much as “ecology undermines ownership” (Morales, p. 100), because it is inherently full of highly variant, dynamic, and interrelated components, whole groups of people, irrespective of their commonalities, cannot fairly be referred to as a unit devoid of internal contradictions, inconsistencies, and uniqueness.


Howard is concerned particularly with deficit-based characterizations of non-dominant or culturally diverse students, suggesting that this may lead to the reification of these individuals as better suited for special or remedial education or even directly impact their achievement.  Culturally relevant pedagogy may well be a way to help “increase the academic achievement of culturally diverse students;” it “uses ‘the cultural knowledge, prior experiences, frames of reference, and performance styles of ethnically diverse students to make learning more relevant to and effective [for students]. …It teaches to and through strengths of these students. It is culturally validating and affirming” (p. 196).  Strategic critical reflection among teachers, facilitated by skillful and open teacher-educators is the neverending process that can engender culturally relevant pedagogy.  It must be guided by specific questions or foci, e.g. “Who am I? What do I believe? Does who I am and what I believe have ramifications for the students I teach?” (p. 199), the musings on which inform one’s behavioral modifications.


It is through purposeful critical self-reflection, along with iterative, reflexive, behavior change that we may be able to push back against the status quo to strive for excellence in our educational institutions, providing an environment better suited for all students to feel comfortable and to participate fully in the learning experience toward individual academic success.  At the very least, we can use this as a tool to interrogate that which guides our own behavior and the potential impact it has on those around us, particularly our students, and remind us that part of our identity is as active participants in the context within which we engage with our students and our schools.  Sounding the rallying cry of a sustainability scholar (which appeals particularly to me, having done my graduate work in sustainability), Morales writes that “the denial of our interrelatedness is killing the planet and too many of its people” (p. 14).  It is not just to the detriment of our ecosystem that we ignore the interconnectedness of all things, it is a social justice issue and truism that can guide teacher critical reflection.  Because of this role and our individual and collective desire to have a(n) [evermore] positive impact on our students’ intellectual pursuits and lives more generally, we have a responsibility to make visible the invisible, including things about ourselves, from where we came, our positions [of privilege], and interrogate and take action on how they affect our outlook and approach.

Garcia, Shernaz B.; Ortiz, A. A. (2013). Intersectionality as a framework for transformative research in special education. Multiple Voices for Ethnically Diverse Exceptional Learners, 13(2), 32–47.

Gould, S. J. (1996). The mismeasure of man. In The Mismeasure of Man (p. 444). Norton.

Howard, T. C. (2003). Culturally relevant pedagogy: ingredients for critical teacher reflection. Theory into Practice, 42(3), 195–202.

Morales, A. L. (1999). Medicine stories: History, culture and the politics of integrity (p. 135). South End Press.