Trusting What You Know: The High Stakes of Classroom Relationships / Edition 1 available in Hardcover
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Trusting What You Know shows that building genuine trustworthy relationships between teachers and students is pivotal in studentsâ?? capacity to learn. Based on an extended research study by Miriam Raider-Roth, an educational researcher and former elementary school teacher, Trusting What You Know reveals what students think about their relationships in the classroom and how these relationships affect their ability to learn. The book includes guiding principles for teachers, researchers, educators, and parents who want to understand the ways that human relationships at school fundamentally influence what children learn, know, and trust.
About the Author
Miriam Raider-Roth is assistant professor of education at the University of Albany, State University of New York. A former elementary school teacher, her research focuses on the relational context of teaching and learning, as well as relational qualitative methodologies.
Read an Excerpt
Trusting What You Know
By Miriam Raider-Roth
John Wiley & SonsISBN: 0-7879-7165-0
Chapter OneTrusting Relationships, Trusting What You Know
Trust has become a popular word in educational discourse these days. This is a fascinating phenomenon, given the current political climate of education, which is deeply distrusting of administrators, teachers, and children. As a society, we no longer trust principals to make curricular decisions for their schools, as is evidenced by districtwide, citywide, and statewide curricular initiatives such as teacher guides, decisions to purchase uniform textbooks, and curriculum plans for all teachers. We no longer trust teachers to make curricular and classroom decisions, as is evidenced by the widespread implementation of standardized curricula. The aggressive proliferation of standardized testing similarly communicates our profound cultural distrust of teachers' capacity to teach. The message proclaimed by these tests is that teachers do not know what children need to learn nor can they figure out how to assess whether children are indeed learning. Finally and most disturbingly, we are losing trust in children's drive to learn, as is evidenced by the implementation of high-stakes testing across the country, which suggests that unless children are threatened with the dire consequences of failing or not graduating, they will not learn.
It is in this climate that we have seen a publishing flurry surrounding the notion of trust. Inan educational climate that has devastatingly eroded this foundation of the teaching-learning enterprise, teachers and researchers are assiduously working to grasp, describe, resurrect, recreate, or otherwise hold on to what we know sustains human capacity to construct knowledge.
This book enters this discourse on trust with a story and a theory. The story in this book, offered in the form of conversation between children and a researcher, paints an illustration, rich in design and detail, of what trusting relationships with self, peers, and teachers look like. It portrays the landscape of the relational context of teaching and learning. The telling of this story is the centerpiece of this book and will be found in the chapters that follow.
The theory goes something like this: our deepest hope for our children is that they will construct knowledge in school about themselves, their community, and the world that is robust, resilient, and creative. This knowledge will help them become members of society who can improve our world, who can participate in our democracy, and who can take responsibility in an increasingly complex society. Children must learn to trust this knowledge so that they can use it, take risks, and allow it to grow and change. They need to trust what they know, because as they grow, it is this knowledge that will help them form the relationships that will sustain them as adults-relationships with friends and partners, relationships in their work world, and relationships with community and culture at large.
The theory continues: for children to develop trustworthy knowledge, they must learn in the context of trustworthy relationships. School is often children's first community outside of home, in which they learn the give and take of communal living, of getting along, of sharing, of listening to divergent opinions, of building new ideas in a social environment. The interconnections between trust in self and trust in others are complex and strong. I will argue in this chapter that the learning process is inherently relational; it is a process embedded in students' braided relationships with self, teachers, and peers. The prevailing political voices assert that testing children will build the foundation of strong knowledge; in contrast, this theory argues that resilient, trustworthy relationships in school are the bedrock of learning.
The Relational Learner: Toward a New Understanding of Schooling
The theory of this book posits a learning self that is inherently relational. Drawing on the work of philosophers, psychologists, and educational researchers, this theory took form while I was listening to the stories of the students in this book. Jose's words illustrate the notion of the relational learning self expressed by the students:
You tell them what you're good at, and they tell you what they think you're good at, and you can make something out of that. It's like they have the spice and you have the whole ingredient, and if you put it together, ... you have yourself.
Jose's eloquent statement illustrates that in the interchange between teacher and student, "something" meaningful is made; "you have yourself." He tells us that in the relational interchange of the classroom, children's selves continue to be constructed. With elegant simplicity, Jose's comments reveal a complex idea that represents a significant shift in paradigm for both psychological theory and educational practice: that the learning self is constructed and develops within the relationships of classroom life. Comments such as Jose's also triggered a fundamental shift in my own thinking as a teacher and researcher.
The very first paper I wrote in graduate school that investigated the effect of self-assessment work on student learning was called "Encouraging Autonomous Learners." When I compare that title with the title of this volume, I see tangible evidence of the paradigm shift I experienced in doing this research. Early in my research, I hypothesized that student self-assessment work stimulated learners to become more autonomous in their thinking, less dependent on the opinions and judgments of teachers and peers. This was a hypothesis with strong support in the literature on student self-regulation. Yet the students in this study described self-assessment work as an illustration of their evolving understandings of the ways that classroom relationships shaped their learning. My early assumptions grew out of the traditional psychological notion of the development of self-that the goal of development was individuation and separation of self. Even in the most popular sociocognitive conceptions of schooling, the goal of interaction and social relationships was the internalization or appropriation of the lessons learned. The model suggests a taking in of the outside world, of making it one's own. This is the pinnacle of development. Yet the students in this study challenge this notion of development. Their stories and ideas about classroom relationships reflect an alternate understanding of the learning self; it is a relational learning self.
In traditional western psychology, the achievement of autonomy, individuation, and separation from those most beloved has been viewed as the highest degree of development of the human self. Over the past three decades, contemporary relational theorists have sought to redefine the notion of self and its development. In this effort, researchers and clinicians have rethought conceptions of psychotherapy, psychoanalysis, infant development, boys' and girls' development. A common thread running through this relational orientation is that the growth of the human self is embedded in and inextricably linked with relationships with others, particularly parents, caregivers, and partners. In this orientation, development of self is asserted not by autonomy and separation but rather by construction, defining, and refining of relationships. Jean Baker Miller and Irene Stiver articulate this notion of self and relationship clearly:
In our view, the goal of development is not forming a separated self or finding gratification, but something else altogether-the ability to participate actively in relationships that foster the well-being of everyone involved. Our fundamental notions of who we are are not formed in the process of separation from others, but within the mutual interplay of relationships with others. In short, the goal is not for the individual to grow out of relationships, but to grow into them. As the relationships grow, so grows the individual. Participating in growth-fostering relationships is both the source and the goal of development. [italics added]
The children in this book validate Miller and Stiver's hypothesis by describing how the aspects of self that they assert in school grow and wither in the relational dynamic of their classrooms. They suggest that their reading of these relationships not only shapes what can be said and known within those relationships but can also support and stunt the development of self that happens within those relationships. This notion of the relational self can be seen most profoundly in the students' examination of teachers' motives, expectations, likes and dislikes, and assumptions. In such an examination, the students understand that teachers "experience" them and form conceptions of students' sense of self that may or may not conform with the students' own conceptions of self. Further, the extent to which students can access their teachers' conceptualizations shapes the way they respond to their teachers, the knowledge they share, and the internal truths they juggle.
Essentially, a central aspect of self, the relational learner, is constructed within relationships. Just as the theory of the relational self postulates that the self is born and develops in the cradle and life of relationships, so the notion of the relational learner postulates that the learning self is constructed and developed within the relationships of school. In both constructs, the developmental marker of growth is participation in mutually empathic, "growth-fostering" or learning-enhancing relationships. That is, the fundamental relationships of school shape the ways that students learn to see themselves as effective participants in the learning process who have the capacity to develop their own ideas, articulate these ideas, and participate in collective thinking.
This paradigm does not ignore students' individuality or need to assert and construct their own meaning of their experiences. Rather, this approach acknowledges that an individual's construction of meaning is embedded in the web of relationships in school. Drawing on the work of Antonio Damasio, Carol Gilligan describes the "core sense of self" as "a voice, the ability to initiate action and to register experience." This core sense of self possesses the capacity for "awareness" of registering or making meaning of the experience. This awareness is akin to knowing what you know, being connected to your own thoughts, feelings, emotions, ideas, and curiosity. When a person is most wide awake, most aware, present, she can trust this knowledge; she is fully connected. As the children in this study tell us, the construction of this awareness of their own experience is inherently woven into the tapestry of school relationships. As such, the relational learner is one who initiates action, makes meaning of his experience, and develops awareness of this experience in an ongoing, mutually regulatory web of school relationships. To separate the core sense of self of the learner from the flow of learning relationships would be, in Gilligan's words, "psychologically incoherent." John Dewey echoes this notion of psychological incoherence in the divided self. When the self is split or divided, the self becomes "a divided world, a world whose parts and aspects do not hang together, ... at once a sign and a cause of a divided personality. When the splitting-up reaches a certain point we call the person insane." In explaining Dewey's ideas, Harriet Cuffaro suggests that "self is not an isolated being. It is always of and with others." In the context and constant interplay of school relationships, the student develops her learning self. It is our mission as teachers to help students construct and maintain unified learning selves that offer them the opportunity to construct the strongest, most trustworthy knowledge.
The Place of Relationships in Learning
To unpack this notion of the relational learning self, we must come to a shared understanding of the term relationship. My understanding of relationship is drawn from multiple disciplines that cross the boundaries of philosophy, psychology, and educational theory.
Relationship with Self
First, let us consider relationship in the context of a student's connection to self, his own knowledge and learning. John Dewey's theory of reflective thinking offers a useful construct for considering this facet of relationship: relationship with one's thinking is a process of making connections between previous knowledge and new ideas one confronts. Dewey suggests that learning depends on the connections that a student makes between past experiences and present challenges. He teaches us, "Increase of the store of meanings makes us conscious of new problems, while only through translation of the new perplexities into what is already familiar and plain do we understand or solve these problems. This is the constant spiral movement of knowledge."
Dewey's theory of reflective thinking emphasizes that the meaning humans make of experience is dependent on the connections we can make with what we have known and experienced in the past. There is an integral process of making connection with self that underlies this process. This view of knowledge construction is aligned with Damasio's notion of "core sense of self." In the process of making connections between past and present experiences, a student develops a relationship with her knowledge as well as with her own self as an active agent in her learning. If we consider relationship with self as a process of making connections, both cognitive and affective, then it is important to identify the forces that facilitate, impede, and shape these connections.
Relationship with Others
As I discussed earlier, the human sense of self is deeply embedded in and inherently connected with the primary relationships in a person's life. In fact, separating this discussion into the categories of "relationship with self" and "relationship with other" is an artificial separation, necessitated by the need to clearly define the notion of relationship. In infancy and toddlerhood, significant relationships, such as those with primary caregivers, begin to shape children's relationship with self. When children enter school, their relationships with self continue to be shaped by their school relationships (relationships with peers and teachers). In this context, students' relational learning selves are asserted and continue to grow. It is these learning relationships that can both help students connect to what they know and lead them to disconnect or dissociate from what they know.
These learning relationships are the second facet of relationship to consider. Beginning again with the philosophical underpinnings of relationship, John Dewey positions school relationships as central to the aims of education in two ways. First, in educating children to become active members of a democracy, classrooms and schools become laboratories in which to learn the intricacies of human relations that form the foundation of a democratic society. As Dewey so eloquently states, "The subject matter of education consists primarily of the meanings which supply content to existing social life."
Nel Noddings also sees classroom relationships-particularly the teacher-student relationship-as a fundamental experience from which to learn the ethics of living in the greater society. She characterizes the relationship between teacher and student as one based on the ethic of care. In describing the teacher as the "one-caring" and the student as the "cared-for," Noddings theorizes that the teacher's aim in education is "to preserve and enhance caring in herself and in those with whom she comes in contact." Therefore, the relationship between the teacher and student must personify the ethic of care, in which the teacher is engrossed in the student's learning and the student is responsive, indicating that he has received the teacher's care and has been shaped by it.
Excerpted from Trusting What You Know by Miriam Raider-Roth Excerpted by permission.
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Table of Contents
Foreword (Carol Gilligan).
Prologue: Peeling an Onion.
Part One: Considering Trust and Relationship.
Introduction: Constructing a Relational.
Landscape of Learning.
1. Trusting Relationships, Trusting What You Know.
Part Two: Listening to the Students.
2. José: “Response Is the Whole Thing”.
3. Maya: Two Shelves for Knowing.
4. Sharon: Constructing Confidence.
5. Gabe: Examining Two Kinds of Body Knowledge.
Part Three: The Relational Context of Learning and Teaching.
6. Who Is Speaking? Deciding Which Truth to Tell.
7. Who Is Listening? Deciding What Knowledge to Share.
8. The Relational Learner: Why Classroom Relationships Matter.
Epilogue: The Heart of the Onion.
Appendix: Listening Closely: Discovery and the Research Relationship.
What People are Saying About This
"At once a lively story told in the voices of four animated twelve-year-olds and a conceptual argument challenging central tenets in the canon of teaching, both a handbook for teachers and a philosophical brief, Trusting What You Know will change the way we understand life in classrooms. With this revolutionary text, Miriam Raider-Roth has produced a masterpiece."
William Ayers, Distinguished Professor of Education and Senior University Scholar, University of Illinois at Chicago
"In this era of high stakes testing, we risk ignoring the relational side of learning. Miriam Raider-Roth reminds us that trustworthy knowledge develops in the context of trustworthy relationships. An important book for educators, parents, psychologists, researchers, and policy makers interested in understanding how children learn to trust what they know."
Sharon Feiman-Nemser, Mandel Professor of Jewish Education, Brandeis University
"Raider-Roth listens to children’s voices with subtlety, generosity, and respect, and constructs a narrative that is informative and inspiring, an analysis that is rigorous, and a view of the complexities of classroom life that give students their rightful and essential place in the public discourse about school reform."
Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, professor, Harvard University and author of The Essential Conversation
"In the author's perceptive analysis of classroom life, of listening to students voicing their understanding of self and learning, Trusting What You Know illuminates powerfully the work and thinking we all must do to make education personal and meaningful for students and teachers. As we are faced with the increasing standardization of knowledge and students, this book helps us to understand how to create classrooms that support trust and diversity, where learning is a dynamic, honest partnership between students and teachers."
Harriet K. Cuffaro, professor emerita, Bank Street College of Education