In this article, Mayes relates her experiences in 2013 when she engaged in collaborative inquiry with four high school students in Sydney, Australia. The student group was interested in whether or not it was purposeful for students to be involved in conversations with teachers about curriculum design. Their findings ultimately revealed insights towards classroom environment relations between students and teacher.
Mayes begins the article acknowledging that there are power dynamics at play in the classroom, often constraints between teacher and student. Currently there is practice to acknowledge that “student voice is a pedagogical movement that seeks to shift the ‘locus of authority’ in schools” (Mayes, 2014, p.62).
One interesting observation that a student raised was around the practice of asking students questions. The informant mentioned that having students come up with their own questions is more meaningful instead of just being given questions to. Asking one’s own questions allows the individual to solidify their interests and engage further in them “forming an emotional connection to subject matter and forming a sense of appreciation in and for learning. Forming one’s own questions transforms subject matter from ‘a bunch of words on a paper’ into knowledge that is intimately connected to the learner’s emotions, subjectivity, and sense of connection to ‘something bigger’” (Mayes, 2014, p. 67). This is a useful observation to keep in mind as majority of the classes I teach are heavily discussion based.
Students in the study recounted that classrooms where teachers act in a “very dominant manner” result in a particularly restricted environment for students and student behaviour (Mayes, 2014, p. 67). Conversely, other teachers created an environment where students felt connected to the teacher by the language used verbally and physically. For example, some teachers would use humour or make sure to circulate the classroom and visit with groups during group work to check in with each student. A student remarked: “if I don’t feel connected to the teacher I’m supposed to be learning from, I’m not going to pay attention” (Mayes, 2014, p. 67). More often than not, students have a conceptualized “monodimensional view of classroom power relations, where the ‘dominant’ teacher creates a classroom atmosphere that students must passively endure, and the negotiating teacher ‘frees’ students from such constraints” (Mayes, 2014, p. 67). How can we shift away from this traditional view of power in the classroom? The classroom atmosphere is co-constructed by how students respond to the teacher’s emotions and way of being (Mayes, 2014, p. 68). It is necessary to balance the dynamics of teacher and students as the over-dominance of student or teacher is unfavourable for both parties, even students.
This particular article clearly outlines the differences experiences between student and teacher, and suggests that traditional classroom power distribution can be modified by valuing both the position of teachers and students in tandem or in response to each other.
The student feedback in this article briefly mentioned a few qualities of the teachers who creative welcoming class environments, so I will look to other sources for more in-depth suggestions of how to go about this.