Learning from youth

What happens when marginalized and oppressed youth are invited to participate as equal partners in research about their educational experiences?

The Council of Youth Research, based in Los Angeles and highlighted in an article published in the Teachers College Record (2013) , provide compelling testimony. This team of researchers, comprised of students and faculty at both the high school and college level, is doing amazing and innovative research on educational inequity in their city.  The team’s methods, insights, and reports serve as a model for the awesome potential of youth participatory action research.

The authors describe a comprehensive research plan that entails various forms of qualitative research in conjunction with quantitative data analysis.  The research team is also intentional about making sure all voices are included and represented equally.  For me, the most impressive aspect of the team’s work is the variety and creativity of ways in which the youth share their findings.  They use a multimedia approach that includes articles, PowerPoint presentations, video documentaries, and even rap.

I am inspired by the variety of methods the team uses to convey knowledge.  The multifaceted approach is intentionally inclusive, aimed so that a multitude of stakeholders can access the research findings.  It is accessibility at its finest.  This appeals to me both as someone who values inclusion and as a researcher committed to conducting research that benefits people.  Too often, research results are confined to arcane academic journals or conferences that only a privileged minority can access.  Sadly, social science research that actually could make a positive difference is not shared with people in positions of power who could implement interventions.  I am drawn to the idea of disseminating knowledge gleaned from action research in multiple ways so that more people can be exposed to and benefit from it.  Thus, one of the key lessons I learned from reading this article is that it is not only important to use a variety of methods to conduct research; it is paramount to use a variety of methods to distribute research findings.

After reading this article, I am excited about the possibilities offered by youth participatory action research and eager to try it in my own work.  My goal is to ultimately produce an innovative intervention to improve the retention, satisfaction, and success of ASU freshmen, and it seems that the most effective way to do this would be to partner with this population in designing a study to better understand their needs and experiences.  I am convinced after reading this article that involving individuals in all phases of research intended to benefit their community is the best way to achieve success.

My main concern is regarding how I could possibly replicate the practices used by the Council of Youth Research.  The time commitment required by university researchers and the high school students is enormous.  As noted by the authors of the article, Council members met for approximately 40 hours per week.  I wonder how the adults were able to get students to agree to such an extensive time commitment.  Even if I were able to figure out a way to get a group of ASU freshmen to agree to a similar schedule, it would be impossible for me to do so, given my status as a full-time employee.  I wonder what alternative arrangements might be feasible for arriving at results similar to those presented by the Council.


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, 115(100303),1­23.

Who are you anyway?

Identity is personal and collective and influences one’s life at all levels.  Wenger (2000) suggests that our identity is shaped by participation in social learning systems – from families to work to school – and that it needs to have a strong foundation balanced with an ability to expand. Participating in social learning systems includes a sense of engagement with others, an ability to reflect on the system and consider alternatives, and a sense of purpose or alignment.  By knowing who we are, we are better able to imagine, investigate, respond, plan, and question.

College can be its own social learning system.  It certainly is a time for identity development. (Chickering and Reisser 1993).  Our readings this week seem aimed to drive home the point that all perspectives (especially of the underrepresented) have value.  My goal as an educator in the community college system is to empower the students with whom I work to know themselves – to establish identity – and to learn how to create personally meaningful goals and opportunities.  To do this effectively, I need to be aware of myself as well.

Who am I?  I consider myself as one who serves others and who works toward social justice.  The Jesuit university I attended helped me to develop that identity which was solidified in a year of volunteer service after college graduation with an organization called the Jesuit Volunteer Corps.  The Jesuit Volunteer Corps gives young adults an opportunity to work toward social justice while living a simple lifestyle in community with others who serve – all with an openness to exploring spirituality.

Who are the students I serve?  They are people of all ages with diverse experiences.  Some desire to make someone proud or to pave the way for a younger sibling, most have hopes and dreams of participating in our consumer culture and/or of making a difference in their future work.  Arthur Chickering’s work on the identity development of college students, suggests that college is a time to develop competence, interdependence, integrity, purpose (Chickering and Reisser, 1993).  In order to successfully navigate the college system and one’s own development, some know-how is needed.  Unfortunately, students from poorer backgrounds are often denied that know-how.  They may, however, have other forms of capital such as aspirational, social, or familial (Yosso in Liou et al 2009).  Our job as educators is to increase our student’s capital to cross boundaries and achieve success so each can align with her/his unique goals.  I believe it’s my moral imperative as a person whose conscience was formed with exposure to social justice.

Consider higher education institutions as communities of practice.  Not all communities are equal, though.  Communities with a balance of engagement, mutual relationships, and a repertoire of artifacts (e.g. language, rituals, etc.)  are more competent than others.  Without access to the artifacts or relationships of mutuality students will have a harder time succeeding.  If students can’t rely on their teachers to engage with them and share the resources necessary to succeed, then we all suffer the consequences of having a divided society of have’s and have-not’s.

Looking inward to better understand the self allows for more authentic engagement.  Sharing that understanding allows for more equal access.  As I model and encourage students to do the same we will all have access to a greater repertoire of resources and artifacts and improve self-efficacy as we move closer to our goals.  Who are you?

Chickering, A.W. & Reisser, L (1993). Education and Identity (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Liou, D., Antrop-Gonzalez, R. & Cooper, R. (2009).  Unveiling the Promise of Community Cultural Wealth to Sustaining Latina/o Students’ College-Going Information Networks. Educational Studies, (45), 534-555.

Wenger, E (2000). Communities of practice and social learning systems. Organization, 7(2), 225-246.

Preschool to Kindergarten Transition Activities

La Paro, K. M., Kraft-Sayre, M., & Pianta, R. C. (2003). Preschool to kindergarten transition activities: Involvement and satisfaction of families and teachers. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, (17)2, 147-158.

My area of interest for research has changed over the last week as I begin to understand the goals of action research.  Reflecting on the strengths and needs in my school and community has helped me to identify an area where action research would not only be appropriate but also help serve the families of the students we serve in the community where I teach.  The area of interest and focus that I see a tremendous amount of opportunity to help develop and reform based on my week of reflection is in the area of kindergarten school readiness and the effect that transition programs have on social adjustment and academic performance for children entering kindergarten.


In a fairly recent study conducted by Lapar, Kraft-Sayre, & Pianta (2003), researchers looked at the various types of transition activities that are commonly used by teachers and parents to help preschool children transition to kindergarten in the most successful way possible.  The study also looked to identify barriers that could prevent a teacher or a family from participating in transition activities as well as parent and teacher satisfaction in these types of activities.  In other words, did the parents and teachers find the identified transition activities helpful to the kindergarten student?


The study was developed with grant support from the Educational Research and Development Centers program, PR/Award Number R307A60004, under the direction of the Office of Educational Research and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education.  The study was developed on the foundation of widely accepted research that demonstrated the importance of transition to formal schooling for young children.  Generally, children who experience success in the early years of school continue to demonstrate success in social competence and academic achievement in their school careers.  However, children who have a difficult time transitioning to formal schooling usually have trouble catching up to their peers.


In this two year study, researchers looked two different types of programs: a centralized city program for four year olds and a county program located in four distinct elementary schools.  The transition activities developed for use by families of the students and their preschool and kindergarten teachers were organized into four categories.  These categories included family-school connections, child-school connections, peer connections, and community connections.


Of the 110 children enrolled initially in the program, there were 86 participants that completed the study from beginning to end.  Of the 86 participants, 70 were African American, 31 Caucasian, 3 were Hispanic and 6 had other ethnic backgrounds.  Factors in the decline of students participating in the project were due primarily to family mobility.  The researchers in the project chose to primarily work with at-risk students.  Students were determined to be at risk based on their eligibility for free and reduced lunch, child’s father or mother’s partner ever living with them in the home and mother’s score on the Center of Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale (CES-D) (La Poro et al., 2003).


There were 10 preschool teachers that participated in the study.  Eight of the preschool teachers were Caucasian and 2 were African American.  All of them were women.  The kindergarten teachers consisted of 36 Caucasian females and one African American woman.


Data collection in this study consisted of involving parents on interviews and teacher questionnaires.  The questionnaires and interview questions were designed to be sensitive to participants’ use of the transition activities offered to them as well as experiences that occurred as the child moved through preschool and into kindergarten.  The interview questions were developed to address the following questions: 1) When offered a range of transition activities and provided support to engage in them, in what transition activities do parents participate and which activities do they find helpful?  2) What barriers do parents report with regard to participating in the activities? 3) In what transition activities do teachers participate in activities and which ones do they find helpful? 4) What barriers do teachers report with regard to participating in the activities? (La Poro et al., 2003).


The results of the study showed that more that 50% of the families reported participating in almost all of the transition activities with a visit to a kindergarten classroom being the most prevalent activity while reading to children about going to school was the least prevalent activity.  Out of all of the families that participated, almost all of them said that they were helpful in the transition process.  A major barrier for participants was an overwhelming majority of families (74%) reported that their work schedule interfered with their participation in the transition activities (La Poro et al., 2003).


All of the preschool teachers found the transition activities to be helpful, but when researchers surveyed the kindergarten teachers, only about half of them participated in transition activities that occurred during the summer months.  Teachers cited lack of pay for their non-participation.  Of the activities they did participate in, most all of them found them to be helpful (La Poro et al., 2003).


The implications of this study suggest to me that there is benefit to supporting families with transition tips and activities to help their child move from preschool to kindergarten.  It seems that there may be more benefit to offer school funded transition programs that would allow children to participate in school readiness activities while their parents are away at work.  There could also be some activities built into that program that would involve parents and children and offer them helpful hints about helping their children get ready for school. This would help take care of the chief problem that parents reported when they reflected on their participation levels in the activities.  It would also give teachers an opportunity to earn income over the summer months.  It also might be interesting to survey the actual children in the study about their feelings about school before and after the activities.  This would give a unique perspective through the eyes of a child.




Disrupting Small Business Owners Realities

For the week 3 readings, Bautista et al. (2013) stood out the most to be, particularly in the idea around limitations of what is available to students and disrupting their reality around all the possibilities out there (p.9). The idea that many of these students could not even think about how good their school could be and what resources could be available to them spoke to the ceilings that we can create for ourselves. Disruption to their reality broke open the idea that there was so much for them.

This reminded me of the small business learners I work with in my Small Business Leadership Academy Program. The program itself is an 8-week, scholarship based program designed to help local small business owners be better business leaders. Within the program, these business owners are exposed to strategy, services, negotiations, systems and organizational behavior lessons all in an effort to improve their business acumen while also building a network of small business peers.

Many of these individuals have never pursued higher education, often coming to their business through family. Much like the students in the Bautista et al (2013) reading, the small business owners often do not know what they do not know meaning they often move forward with their business only doing what they are aware of, not realizing the resources or opportunities out there for them. Our program often serves as a disruption to their reality in a way that helps them find greater success through exposure to new lessons, life experiences from peers and understanding of what resources are available to small business owners within the community.

This actually made some connections to me within Denzin et al (2008) through the idea of shared “lived experiences” (p. 89) as well as getting “voices from the bottom” (p.94). Although Denzin et al (2008) is referring to Critical Race Theory (CRT), I see the parallels here with the small business learners. This is a group that is truly living and breathing their practice every day and often have to make decisions that will shape the rest of their future.

Being exposed to shared lived experiences with other small business owners, even if it is across industries, often does more for their success than our business lessons. Hearing the struggles and successes of others in similar situations as them often inspires them to new heights. Small business research is often done not from the perspective of a small business owner but from statistical or financial perspectives that dehumanize much of their experiences. The idea of having more small business owners take control of some of that research and get involved makes so much sense in the potential outcomes.

As I look towards my professional practice, these readings, along with the other week 3 readings give me much to consider. One area I want to focus on within my research is the application of supply chain principles to graduate business student processes from admissions through graduation. While looking at things from a process perspective, the readings from this week remind me that I need to think about setting up processes that don’t leave the student behind but take into perspective their ideas, knowledge and potential.

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, 115(100303), 1-23.

Denzin, N., Lincoln, Y. & Tuhiwai Smith, L. (2008). Handbook of Critical and Indigenous
Methodologies. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

Confronting Bias

Issues of race have hindered students’ access to an excellent education. Gould (1981) pointed out that racism has been around as long as “recorded human history,” (p. 31) however it has only been in recent history that there has been a biological justification by scientists that attempted to make an argument that people of color are biologically inferior. This shows that there was ‘proof’ for racism that the scholar community provided. Even President Lincoln, who had respect for freedmen who fought in the Civil War, believed that “freedom does not imply biological equality” (Gould, 1981, p. 35). These beliefs, held by historically respected academics and leaders, are sure to have been passed on to many in society, both the educated and non. Therefore, we can infer that minority groups have been long viewed as not deserving of an excellent education.

Gould (1981) described that in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that “arguments did not contrast equality with inequality” (p. 31). With that, we can see that equality and access are fairly new concepts. So, as a teacher who got into teaching to serve students of color who are mostly poor, I questioned, are educators concerned about making equality a priority? What can we do to ensure that educators are concerned about this? Garcia and Ortiz (2013) made it clear that educators need to think about students’ cultural context in order to make the right decisions for them, especially students with disabilities, but unfortunately do not. Instead, “researchers and practitioners tend to locate the source of achievement and behavioral difficulties within students, without examining performance in the context of teaching and learning environments in which that performance occurs” (Garcia & Ortiz, 2013, p. 38). As Howard (2003) made it clear that our future teaching force will continue to be mostly middle class women and that our student population will increasingly be low income students of color, it is important that our educators confront their biases in order to ensure that every decision we make is in students’ best interest.

The idea of educators confronting biases in order to be culturally relevant practitioners is something that must be made a priority.   As the EdD “focuses on preparing practitioners…who can use existing knowledge to solve educational problems” (Shulman, Golde, Bueschel, & Garabedian, 2006, p. 26), I cannot begin to use this degree to solve the problem of early literacy for low-income students without examining the context that many of my students are living and learning in. For example, are they given the proper support at home? If not, are the schools supporting the parents with strategies to increase their children’s literacy? Last, are educators providing the right methodologies and interventions that respect the cultural context of their students? It seems unlikely that educators are currently making unbiased decisions with their students or even trying to. For example, in the study conducted by Paufler and Amrein-Beardsley (2013), the majority of principals were against randomly assigning students to classes, meaning that teachers and principals make those decisions. This means that students will undoubtedly be grouped based on many subjective factors, which will surely be somewhat biased.

Therefore, in thinking about my own research in investigating the best ways to teach students how to read, I will need to consider how and why students were grouped. I will need to consider their educational settings, such as Special Education (SPED) inclusion, English Language Development (ELD), cluster (gifted), heterogeneous, homogenous, etc. and the rationale for putting students into those settings. Lastly, I will need to look at the training and beliefs of the teacher to get a sense of why they are implementing certain instructional strategies. Overall, this week’s readings made me see that action research must consider the culture of students in order to actually make change.


Garcia, S. 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. (1981). The Mismeasure of Man. New York: W. W. Norton and Company.

Howard, T. C. (2003). Culturally Relevant Pedagogy: Ingredients for Critical Teacher Reflection. Teacher Reflection and Race in Cultural Contexts, 42(3), 195–202.

Paufler, N. A., & Amrein-Beardsley, A. (2013). The Random Assignment of Students Into Elementary Classrooms: Implications for Value-Added Analyses and Interpretations. American Educational Research Journal, 51(2), 328–362. doi:10.3102/0002831213508299

Shulman, L. S., Golde, C. M., Bueschel, A. C., & Garabedian, K. J. (2006). Reclaiming Education’s Doctorates: A Critique and a Proposal. Educational Researcher, 35(3), 25–32. doi:10.3102/0013189X035003025