Academic journal article High School Journal

Posing, Pretending, Waiting for the Bell: Life in High School Classrooms

Academic journal article High School Journal

Posing, Pretending, Waiting for the Bell: Life in High School Classrooms

Article excerpt

Taken from a larger study about life in high school classrooms from students' perspectives, this paper discusses how study participants pinpointed individual classrooms as the nerve centers in students' high school experiences. Punctuating the swirls of movement within school days, individual class periods contain clues about how students construct knowledge and meaning in school. Nested within classrooms period to period, participants reported being tangled in webs of peer influence that variously encourage, constrict, poison, and otherwise determine students' classroom interaction. Each 42-minute class period or classroom episode necessitates that students perform a kind of double-duty as they strike appropriate academic and social poses not only for their teacher but--much more importantly--for their peers, who create classrooms that can be comfortable, indifferent, or perilous to students. Once inside individual classrooms, students work hard to follow tacit codes for appropriate behavior among assembled peers. Although this unspoken but de facto student culture can differ period to period, it nevertheless dominates students' experience of school. Because this finding reveals so much about students' social compromise and so little about their engaged learning, it seems that classroom teachers hold the surest, most immediate power to reclaim and reform classrooms from sites of student accommodation to sites of active and even enjoyable accomplishment.

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For years as a high school teacher and now as a university teacher educator, I have been curious about why and how schooling can help as well as inhibit learners and learning. Though my teaching career has shifted from the secondary to university classroom, six high school students' voices continue to charge my work. These students participated with me in an ethnographic study of school from students' perspectives. One enduring finding from the study pinpoints individual classrooms as the nerve centers in students' high school experiences. Once inside individual classrooms, students work hard to follow tacit codes for appropriate behavior among assembled peers.

Although this unspoken but de facto student culture can differ period to period, it nevertheless dominates students' experience of school. Because this finding reveals so much about students' social compromise and so little about their engaged learning, it seems that classroom teachers hold the surest, most immediate power to reclaim and reform classrooms from sites of mere student accommodation to sites of active and even enjoyable accomplishment.

As a teacher-researcher, I worked with six high school students on the study would become my doctoral dissertation. Entitled Seen But Not Heard: Students and Their Stories of School, the study also intended to give voice to students. Represented in the research but very seldom speaking for themselves, students within my study described the meaning and significance they assigned to school experiences. To insure the anonymity of students who participated in the study, they selected their own pseudonyms, and I assigned a pseudonym to the high school study site.

Data streams for this study included one-on-one interviews, group discussion, and individual writing. To capture the unique perspective of each participant in the study, I used case-study method to gather the variety of data. The flexibility of case-study method accommodated the shifts, pauses, analysis, and redirection of our study over time. The rich individual case studies informed the larger study question: "What does school mean to students?"

By triangulating data sources in the study, I compared and cross-checked the consistency of information derived at different times and by different qualitative means. Triangulation compares observational data with interview data. Throughout this study, I compared what the students said in public and during our group discussions with what they said or wrote in private response to study questions. …

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