Academic journal article College Student Journal

Using Dialogue Journals to Strengthen the Student-Teacher Relationship: A Comparative Case Study

Academic journal article College Student Journal

Using Dialogue Journals to Strengthen the Student-Teacher Relationship: A Comparative Case Study

Article excerpt

Caring and supportive student-teacher relationships can contribute to positive outcomes for students at risk for academic failure, social isolation, and school dropout. In fact, young adolescents want rewarding relationships at school that are characterized by compassion, respect, personalization, fellowship, and friendship (Doda & Knowles, 2008). The current study compared the benefits and challenges of implementing dialogue journals between behaviorally and academically challenged middle school students and their teachers for the purpose of improving student-teacher relationships and, subsequently, reducing students' problem behaviors. Researchers observed and recorded the behavior of two students to determine whether their disruptive behaviors (e.g., arguing and refusing to follow instructions) would decrease, and their desired positive behaviors (e.g., initiating conversations with the teacher and complying with teacher requests) would increase. Results showed that for one student positive behaviors increased and negative behaviors decreased. The second student's positive behaviors increased, but his response to the intervention was somewhat less consistent. Implications of the research with respect to teacher practice and in relation to previous research findings are included.

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For some children the middle-school years mark the beginning of a downward spiral in school-related behaviors, leading to academic failure, school drop out, and increased emotional concerns (Ames & Miller, 1994; Eccles, Lord, & Midgely, 1991). Specific challenges faced by students transitioning from the elementary grades to middle school environments include increased school size; non-individualized, "departmentalized" instruction; and the prevalence of impersonal, bureaucratic administrative procedures (Eccles et al., 1991). Heightened teacher expectations, increased emphasis on competition, decreased opportunity for self-management, and deterioration in student-teacher relationships are additional challenges (Feldlaufer, Midgely, & Eccles, 1988) which may result in absenteeism, poor grades, low self-esteem, and negative attitudes toward school--all of which are associated with dropping out during the middle grades (Rumberger, 1995).

Students At Risk During the Middle School Years

Regardless of the underlying reasons, children on the periphery of social and academic success tend to either "make it or break it" during the middle school years, either acquiring the skills they need to succeed in high school or falling "so far behind that they drop out, or drift through high school with little hope of success" (Berry et al., 1994-95, p. 4). Evidence suggests that students who have a previous history of academic and social failure in elementary school are at significant risk for continued low academic achievement, high rates of problem behavior, or social isolation (Midgely, Fedlaufer, & Eccles, 1989). Notably, gradual withdrawal, disengagement, and inability to bond socially generally precede dropping out, which may be viewed as "the final step in a dynamic and cumulative process" (Rumberger, 1995, p. 588).

Importance of Forming Positive Student-Teacher Relationships

While social disengagement seems characteristic of students who drop out, research indicates that caring and supportive relationships between teachers and adolescents can act as buffers for students who are at risk socially and academically. Buffers (protective factors) mitigate potential negative outcomes by promoting resilience: i.e., the ability to successfully cope with challenging circumstances (Morrison, Furlong, D'Incau, & Morrison, 2004). Fortunately, supportive student-teacher relationships can be achieved with youth who initially manifest feelings of distrust toward adults (Long, 1997).

Given the potential negative outcomes for students who drop out of school, and the beneficial effects of a strong student-teacher relationship, educators must recognize the impact they can have on students' success, and acquire the necessary skills to cultivate positive relationships with them. …

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