What are students really “getting?”

Last year, Heather Hurst spent a year observing one of my 10th grade English classes as the field research for her PhD work at UPenn. Her focus was critical pedagogy in the classroom.

As a part of her research, she took complete transcripts of every class that she observed. She did me the very nice favor of sending these to me as soon as she wrote them up, which was an amazing (and sometimes mind-bending) view into my classroom and my practice.

This week, she sent me the draft of her dissertation. This gave me access to something new — the student interviews she had completed throughout the year. She asked a bunch of questions, conveniently listed at the end of her document. Here are a few that stood out to me:

  • If first interview: What do you think your English teacher’s goals are for her classroom? Are those goals important to you?
  • If second interview: In our last interview, you said you think Ms. [Pahomov]’s goals are ____________. Are there any that you would add or take away now?
  • Did you ever feel that your English class was preparing you to change anything in your neighborhood/community/city/state/country/society?
  • What could you use from English class to change the world you live in for the better?

You can probably imagine what I would hope their answers would resemble. That they would get some semblance of my emphasis on a mix of explicit skills and “big picture” ideas and theories that help them transform their reality. The 10th grade theme is “systems,” after all. Many of the units are designed to have students identify social systems around them and analyze how those systems influence the individual (often unfairly, often without them realizing it.)

On the whole, however, students saw the goals in my class as getting an A, learning how to write better, and generally not think about the “real world” outside the classroom. They did consider one of my big goals to be valuing different opinions and learning from each other — and they believed in that — but didn’t necessarily connect that to life beyond our class.

What a wake-up call. Today I am really thinking about what’s “clear” to me but opaque to students — and therefore only happening in my head.

Of course, sometimes students can’t speak on the things that are happening in their education — or choose not to.

Still, a change in approach is definitely in order. This is a piece of the curriculum that needs to be unhidden.

What needs to be “unhidden” in your classroom? Also, if you ever have the chance to have your classroom studied for a year, I highly recommend it!


5 thoughts on “What are students really “getting?”

    1. lpahomov Post author

      I will look into posting the full list of questions sometime in the future!
      Also, hi Katie! I’m reading your blog now — so much to sink my teeth into.

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