Research brief: Student-determined learning outcomes

This is the brief for my classroom research project for 2015-16.


How can I involve students in setting their own learning outcomes?


How do the power relationships at my school affect (or even constrain) efforts to create democratic spaces?
Can teaching practice that is non-coercive or non-deficit influence student motivation positively?
If students are involved in co-designing curriculum with teachers, will students have more meaningful learning experiences?
What is a meaningful learning experience?  How can teachers collaborate with students and families to determine what a meaningful learning experience is in their context?


I am hoping to discover and describe practical ways to empower students and create a learning space that is more democratic. I am also hoping to include families in an authentic (non-coercive, non-deficit) manner.

Literature Review 

As I conduct the inquiry, I will conduct a limited research review by blogging about relevant research.


We will use James Beane’s Curriculum Integration model as a starting point for inquiry.  In particular, we will use the approach described in Chapter 4.  I will blog about this model at greater length in future posts.

We will create a Class Constitution and attempt to build a collaborative, non-coercive classroom culture that is based on honoring our agreements to each other.  We will also have brief but regular “check-ins” to discuss how well our Constitution is working for us.

I will use surveys, interviews, and perhaps sociograms to gather data from students on their perceptions in October, January & May

We will use a modified form of Writing Workshop to allow students to exercise choice and explore their identities as writers.  The main modification is the amount of time we can spend with workshop; I will blog about this modified workshop in future posts.

Data collection 

  • Field notes
  • Teacher blog posts
  • Student questionnaires/interviews/sociograms re perceptions of power
  • Student work
  • Student blog posts

Data analysis 

I will analyze my field notes daily using a version of Shagoury & Power’s method of “cooking” notes, or reflecting on notes shortly after you take them (page 45-50).

I will reflect in writing in my inquiry journal regularly – daily, if possible; otherwise at least three times weekly.

I will blog weekly about the inquiry’s progress.

I will meet twice monthly, or weekly if possible, with our instructional coach, Jennifer Yoo-Brannon, to reflect on the data collected


October 8 – publish research brief on my blog
October 9 – October 16 – obtain permissions from students, revise research brief as needed
October 19 – October 30 – initial data (student perceptions of power)
November, December, January – implement strategies, collect data, analyze data, blog, meet with Jennifer
January, end of semester – ask students to comment/write about perceptions of power
February, March, April, May – continue to collect & analyze data, implement strategies, blog, meet with Jennifer
May – ask students to comment/write about perceptions of power
May/June – final data analysis
June/July – draft report

NOTE:  I began using the adapted version of Beane’s curriculum integration model from the beginning of the year.  Our school year started on August 25.

I will publish the report on my research on my blog & at Digital Is by August 2016.

 Reflection before beginning
I “found” my research question in the spring as we ramped up for CLMOOC, and nurtured it throughout the summer.  I thought I was ready to begin my inquiry – then the school year came, with all its inconvenient requirements.  I realized that I needed to learn more about collecting permissions from students, and that I needed to develop my research plan.

At the same time, I wanted to start right away with Beane’s ideas.

So this research project is a hybrid:  I’ve already begun the “treatment.”  But the ideas Lil Brannon shared in her email this summer made me think that I should do the project anyway, to describe – systematically but qualitatively – what I’m trying to do, and what my students and I learn.

So I’m going to use a permission form adapted from Shagoury & Power, and stop putting this off.  I need to make the inquiry process that Shagoury & Power describe a part of my daily work.  I need to just dive in and learn by doing.


4 thoughts on “Research brief: Student-determined learning outcomes

    1. Thanks, Karen! I plan to keep a log, a la the “How I Got There” mission on Youth Voices. I’ll share the Doc with you!

  1. Dang … you got a plan! I wish I were as organized as you, although since I incorporated my Make an Inquiry idea around digital portfolios into my stupid SMART goals at school, I guess I have a plan of action, too. Just not as thoughtful as yours. I am intrigued by how your data analysis, and check ins, will keep your concept on track (or force adjustments) as you go, Michael.
    Thanks for sharing and pushing us forward ..

    1. Thanks, Kevin! The Shagoury & Power book I cited in the post is a great resource; it has models of other teachers’ research briefs, and I adapted these for my own brief. Shagoury & Power also helped me see that data collection & data analysis aren’t discrete linear stages of a project, but rather a recursive process. That is to say, I used to conceive the process as being quite linear, essentially:

      plan collect collect collect collect collect collect analyze analyze write

      …whereas now I see it as being cycles of:

      plan collect-analyze collect-analyze collect-analyze (mini)write

      …and it’s entirely possible that the plan would change mid-inquiry depending on what the data yields.

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