Harvard Educational Review
  1. Trusting What You Know: The High Stakes of Classroom Relationships

    By Miriam Raider-Roth

    San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2005. 240 pp. $30.00.

    Miriam Raider-Roth’s Trusting What You Know: The High Stakes of Classroom Relationships is a deeply respectful volume that honors students and their teachers and takes readers below the surface of children’s learning processes to illuminate the high stakes of relationships in schools. Based on carefully crafted analysis, Trusting What You Know offers insights that are of central importance to all those who work in schools, study education, or seek to understand the learning needs of children. Raider-Roth divides her text into three parts. The first section stems from her research focus on self-assessment and introduces us to the centrality of the “relational stance” to student’s successful learning and their ability to know what they know. The second section contains detailed explorations of four interviews that the author did with students to uncover their ideas about their learning needs. Finally, in the third section, Raider-Roth pulls her argument together, concluding that relationship must be addressed as a fundamental underpinning of classroom success and suggesting that taking action on this is essential to the development of citizens who can relate and connect to others, and sustain democracy.

    While Raider-Roth is convincing in her introductory discussion of relationship as being at the heart of learning, it is the moving voices of her student participants as they describe their learning processes that truly confirm this for readers. Through her students’ voices the author helps us to see exactly what authentic teaching that helps students learn and “know what they know” looks like.

    Raider-Roth and her student participants give us insights into issues that are of vital concern today, including the different learning needs of boys and girls; the question of the autonomous learner versus learning constructed in relation and cooperation with others; the roles of teachers and schools in helping students develop relational abilities; and the centrality of trust as essential for learning. The student participants highlight their need for teachers who artfully foster learning connections and assist them in developing what Raider-Roth terms “embodied” learning relations. These are relations that help students develop trust in themselves and to move away from a psychological disassociation from learning toward a fuller awareness of what they know and don’t know.

    Among Raider-Roth’s notable achievements in this volume is the meticulous care she takes in describing and demonstrating her research methods. She notes that her approach was influenced by the “discovery” methods of Carol Gilligan, who contributes a foreword to this volume. Raider-Roth describes discovery research as a careful relational journey undertaken by a researcher who is determined to explore an aspect of a participant in great depth, while self-consciously remaining open to discovery of the unexpected and being determined to be reflexive. By taking such care to be explicit about her methods, both in the text and through an appendix, Trusting What You Know is a demonstration of the pivotal contribution that rigorous qualitative research can make to our understanding of the authentic needs of learners. The analytical dialogue “poems,” which are included in each of the interviews in the second section, are an example of the kind of inventive methods that Raider-Roth uses to both describe and analyze her data. Through extracting different aspects of her participant’s voices, placing them in relation to one another, and guiding the reader through her analysis of their relation, Raider-Roth allows us to become intimately involved with the ideas of her participants in a fascinating and unusual way. The care the author takes to be openly reflexive to the tensions inherent in her role as a researcher, as a former teacher, as a researcher bringing an adult perspective to the ideas of children, and as a researcher with a focus on self-assessment contributes to the rigorous authenticity of this work.

    Beyond describing children’s learning needs, Trusting What You Know also includes rich, actionable suggestions for realizing a contemporary pedagogy of relation that connects current practices to the best of Deweyan progressive education. These suggestions appear largely in the final chapter, where the author makes suggestions that teachers, school communities, and national educational policymakers can implement to start the process of building connections — both between teachers and students, and between students and their own learning. Raider-Roth also provides us with a new and more profound way to understand individuation of learning, moving beyond the provision of differentiated tasks or materials to an exploration of the process of open communication and listening that will allow both teachers and students to share unique learning needs and strengths.

    One aspect of Trusting What You Know that may trouble some readers is the small sample of students, most of whom are White and attend a well-resourced school. Raider-Roth makes it clear that she understands the limitations of her study, but suggests that she has given us a model for listening to children and notes that the opportunity to use and expand on her ideas and methods is now open to all.

    Trusting What You Know
    is an involving book that leaves one with a profound sense that the “relational paradigm” in teaching and learning is not simply a “nice perk.” Raider-Roth demonstrates that the development of learning relationships, which allow children to build an authentic sense of themselves as knowers and learners, is fundamental to a quality education for all children. Sadly, as the book strongly underlines, there is an alarming deficit of these essential connections in many of today’s most influential high-stakes testing and standards initiatives. This situation should prompt us all to stop and examine what we are doing in the name of learning and take action with the tools outlined in this book to foster authentic relations and knowing.

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    Book Notes