Review: Look Who’s Talking Now; Student Views of Restructuring Schools

Originally published in Meaningful Student Involvement Research Guide by Adam Fletcher (2004) Olympia, WA: SoundOut.

Review of Look Who’s Talking Now: Student Views of Restructuring Schools. By J. Kushman & J. Shanessey. Published in 1997 in Portland, OR by Northwest Regional Educational Lab.

Look Who’s Talking Now is the story of a collaborative project that included researchers, teachers, administrators, students, university professors and parents who explored how to find out what students think about school.

Seven case studies were conducted that represented the views of more than 1,000 students from across the nation. The findings offer a broad palette of information for school reformers, and include suggestions about including students’ experiences, ideas, and opinions in school change.

This collection of research studies from across the nation offers a compelling backdrop to current school reform practices. Researchers found that listening to students can achieve important goals: Saving time for school leaders by gaining early student commitment and focusing restructuring work in the right places; Providing valuable lenses for educators to see whether their reform efforts are successful; Challenging adults to examine their own assumptions about student learning through the eyes of students, and; Treating students as responsible agents of change rather than products of change.

Data-gathering methods focused singularly on students, and included focus groups, written surveys, individual interviews, small group interviews, interviews anchored by classroom observation, videotaping, audiotaping, and note taking.

A few cases engaged students as researchers. The following conclusions were drawn from the data gathered in the studies:

  • Students are articulate and aware. They generally give thoughtful, honest answers to questions about their learning experiences and they are conscious of the restructuring and reform processes going on in their schools.
  • Listening to students and acting on what they say is not the norm. Though teachers and staff were open to hearing what students had to say, schools were often at a loss about what to do with the data.
  • There are many ways to find out what students think. There are also many ways to involve students and faculty in the research and inquiry process, and to integrate the inquiry results into the school improvement process.

There is also a section on what researchers learned, organized into the following topical areas:

  • Conducting student-led group interviews
  • Strategies for recording interviews
  • Maintaining quality research
  • Involving all stakeholders in data analysis
  • Knowing how and what to ask students, and
  • Sharing the results.

These chapters conclude with an outline of methods that schools can use to gather data from students in a short time frame.

The authors also review planning and preparation, focusing and designing the research, designing interview methods, collecting and analyzing data, developing feedback, and using student data for school improvement.

Look Who’s Talking Now provides necessary support for the inclusion of students in education reform efforts by detailing a variety of research practices across the country.

As a result, the stories of listening to students detailed here illustrate that student-inclusive school change can be a successful, powerful process for all who are involved.

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Published by Adam Fletcher

Adam is the founding director of SoundOut. An author, speaker and consultant, he has worked with K-12 schools, districts, nonprofits and others for more than 15 years. Learn more about him at http://soundout.org/Adam

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