It is critical for students to be provided with opportunities to learn in settings that foster their academic growth. It is equally important that schools endeavor to be a place where students’ social and emotional needs are met as well. However, due to lack of funding, over-testing, inappropriate evaluation measures, and other persistent policy pressures, our public schools have often resorted to a focus on raising standardized test scores through direct instruction with an increasingly narrowed curriculum. As a result, schools have often become places in which students, rather than being seen as valued future members of a productive society, are part of the bleak statistics that shine a spotlight on how our schools have failed to motivate and connect with the students of today. Consequently, many educators have come to believe they are not influential enough to make a significant difference, and have resigned themselves to accepting their current situation. The problem with this thinking is that it minimizes the purpose of the job we promised to do – to educate.
The innovation I implemented and describe in my dissertation can be characterized with one word – dialogue. Dialogue that occurs for the purpose of understanding and learning more about that which we do not know. In this innovation, I endeavored to demonstrate how social learning by way of dialogic discussion could not only support students’ academic growth, but their social and emotional growth as well. Results from the data collected and analyzed in this study suggest social learning had a highly positive impact both on how students learned and how they viewed themselves as learners.
Education is one of the cornerstones of our country. Educational opportunities that help meet the academic and social-emotional needs of students should not be seen as a privilege but rather as a fundamental right for all students. Equally, the right to express one’s thoughts, opinions and ideas is a foundational element in our democratic society. Failing to connect with our students and teach them how to exercise these rights in our classrooms is to fail ourselves as educators.