Teachers and Students as Co-Learners

Toward a Mutual Value Theory

by Dengting Boyanton (Author)
©2015 Textbook XXVIII, 245 Pages
Series: Educational Psychology, Volume 11


Teaching is hard. Many teachers find it stressful. New teachers often lose their enthusiasm. The special education population is skyrocketing. Students are losing their motivation. What has gone wrong? How can we create powerful learning in students? Most importantly, how can we bring joy back to the classroom? Mutual value theory, as developed by Dengting Boyanton, asserts that to generate powerful learning, four essential values must be instilled in both students and teachers:
1. self-value – both students and teachers value themselves highly
2. perceived self-value—both consider themselves to be highly valued by others
3. other-value – both value each other highly
4. course-value – both value the course highly
Since 2007, the author has applied this theory to her classroom teaching and has received overwhelmingly positive feedback. Students describe her courses as motivating, engaging, enjoyable, respectful, and empowering. Based on both theory and personal teaching experiences, Teachers and Students as Co-Learners: Toward a Mutual Value Theory will help readers develop a deeper understanding of learning, re-ignite their enthusiasm, and, most importantly, create powerful teaching and learning in the classroom.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Preface
  • External Approach
  • Near-sighted Approach
  • “Deficit” Approach
  • De-contexualized Approach
  • “One Leaf = The Whole Forest” Approach
  • Part I: Foundation of the Mutual Value Theory
  • Chapter 1. Introduction
  • Review of Learning Theories
  • Discovery of the Mutual Value Theory
  • Overview of the Mutual Value Theory
  • Chapter 2. Value
  • Meaning of Value
  • Level 0: To Deny
  • Level 1: To Accept
  • Level 2: To Appreciate
  • Assessment of Value
  • Factors That Affect Value
  • Chapter 3. Authenticity
  • Meaning of Authenticity
  • True Self
  • Performing Self
  • Affective Self
  • Authenticity Threats
  • Physical Threat
  • Social Threat
  • Emotional Threat
  • Emotional Threat 1: Daily Hassles
  • Emotional Threat 2: Personal Relationship
  • Emotional Threat 3: Family Situation
  • Psychological Threat
  • Psychological Threat 1: Personality
  • Psychological Threat 2: Expectations from Others
  • Psychological Threat 3: Early Experiences
  • Cultural Threat
  • Rule 1: You Should Talk but Not Too Much
  • Rule 2: Even Distribution
  • Rule 3: Teacher-owned Class
  • Rule 4: Separation of Discussion from Lecture
  • Rule 5: Sorry to Disagree
  • Rule 6: Business-oriented Schooling
  • Importance of Authenticity
  • Chapter 4. Powerfulness
  • Meaning of Powerfulness
  • Element 1: Motivation
  • Element 2: Engagement
  • Element 3: Learning
  • Definition of Learning
  • Content of Learning
  • Assessment of Learning
  • Feeling excited
  • Feeling happy
  • Feeling confused
  • Feeling fearful
  • Feeling angry
  • Feeling depressed
  • Relationship between Authenticity and Powerfulness
  • Situation 1: Authenticity Too Low
  • Situation 2: Authenticity Too High
  • Situation 3: Authenticity and Powerfulness Unbalanced
  • Situation 4: Authenticity and Powerfulness Well Balanced
  • Part II: Four Types of Values
  • Chapter 5. Self-value
  • Meaning of Self-value
  • Factors That Affect Self-value
  • Importance of Self-value
  • Factors That Threaten Self-value
  • Strategies to Increase Self-value
  • Chapter 6. Perceived Self-value
  • Importance of Perceived Self-value
  • Perceived Self-value and Identity
  • Perceived Self-value and Behavior
  • Perceived Self-value and Learning
  • Perceived Self-value and Happiness
  • Factors That Affect Perceived Self-value
  • Factor 1: Relationship
  • Factor 2: Age
  • Factor 3: Self-value
  • Factor 4: Cultural or Social Value
  • Chapter 7. Other-value
  • Meaning of Other-value
  • Importance of Other-value
  • Other-value and Happiness
  • Other-value and Motivation
  • Other-value and Open-mindedness
  • Other-value and Behavior
  • Teacher Other-value for Students
  • Student Other-value for Peers
  • Factors That Affect Other-value
  • Factor 1: Individual Value System
  • Factor 2: Self-value
  • Factor 3: Individual Social and Psychological Needs
  • Factor 4: Individual Temperament or Personality
  • Factor 5: Influence of the Role Model
  • Factor 6: Knowledge of the Other
  • Factor 7: Social and Cultural Value
  • Factor 8: Context
  • Chapter 8. Course-value
  • Teacher Course-value
  • Student Course-value
  • Importance of Student Course-value
  • Factors That Affect Student Course-value
  • Factor 1: Social Course-value
  • Factor 2: Students’ Own Interest
  • Factor 3: Students’ Maturity Degree
  • Factor 4: Students’ Dreams and Goals
  • Factor 5: Peers’ Course-value
  • Factor 6: Classroom Environment
  • Factor 7: Class Instruction
  • Final Thoughts
  • Appendices
  • Appendix A. PCVL Active Listening Test
  • Active listening level 1—Physical response
  • Active listening level 2—Cognitive response
  • Active listening level 3—Verbal response
  • Active listening level 4—Learning
  • Appendix B. Mutual Value Theory Summary
  • References
  • Index

| xi →


There are many people who made this book possible by providing support and encouragement along the way. I would like to first express my indebtedness to my beloved husband Stephen Boyanton—a Ph.D. candidate at Columbia University, who has been a friend, a supporter, a mentor, and most importantly, an editor of my work. Stephen has always shown great interest and confidence in my work and has become so familiar with my theory that he frequently cites it as a means of analyzing his own educational experiences. Seeing his response to my theory has given me a great deal of encouragement and confidence.

Stephen has also been a great supporter of my writing. By the time I signed the contract with Peter Lang in March 2009, I was already two months pregnant with our daughter Ellen. Originally, I planned to finish this book before Ellen was born—I thought the writing would flow easily since I had so many ideas about my theory. However, this proved excessively ambitious. It became challenging to find time to write after Ellen’s birth. There seemed to be always other more urgent and important things that needed my attention. I was unable to seriously commit myself to my writing and the book was delayed for at least two years. Another reason for the delay was that I often experienced writer’s block where I felt stuck and my mind went blank. Again, the main reason was that I was unable to find long blocks of time to really concentrate on my writing because I was constantly interrupted. ← xi | xii →

However, Stephen and I managed to make things work despite all the challenges. We figured out a plan that involved splitting all the responsibilities of housework and babysitting, which gave me more time to work on my book. Without Stephen’s great support and sacrifice, I would be buried in housework and baby-sitting and it would have been almost impossible for me to accomplish any writing. Besides sharing all the housework and child-care responsibilities, Stephen was also the first editor of my book. After I finished the first draft, he helped me with the initial rewriting. At the time, he was busy preparing for his own doctoral oral comprehensive exam and was stressed out with his own work. In spite of this, Stephen spent many hours editing my book word by word without complaint. I am forever grateful for his generous help—this book would not have been possible without his support.

Another important person who I need to thank is Dr. Bryson Clevenger, an old friend whom I first met at the University of Virginia in 2003. Like Stephen, Dr. Clevenger not only offered his generous help with editing the book but also provided encouragement and constructive feedback along the way. Dr. Clevenger showed great interest in my theory and told me how much he liked it. He also took the editing job very seriously and treated it as a priority even though he was extremely busy with many other responsibilities. I am very blessed to have such a kind, generous, and supportive friend as Dr. Clevenger in my life.

I am also forever grateful to Dr. Greg Goodman, the Peter Lang series editor who “discovered” me and offered this opportunity to publish my theory as a book after I shared my ideas with him. Dr. Goodman’s interest in my work provided me with a great deal of encouragement and confidence, which was exactly what I needed as a young scholar in the field of educational psychology. I still vividly remember how excited and thrilled I felt after I signed my first book contract with Peter Lang. In addition to the excitement, I also felt a great deal of pressure to finish this book. This combination of excitement and pressure was exactly what I needed, and it served as a great motivator and kept me writing every day.

I also want to thank all of the students I have had the privilege to work with at both the University of Texas at Brownsville and Long Island University-Post. After I applied my mutual value theory in the actual classroom in these two institutes, I received tremendous love, encouragement, and confidence from my students. It was their shining eyes, their excitement and joy of learning, and their positive feedback about my instructional approach that gave me confidence about my theory and the motivation to write this ← xii | xiii → book. It is my students who have made teaching a truly enjoyable and rewarding experience for me.

Lastly, I thank all the professors and friends who have inspired me along the way. Dr. Harry Strang, my doctoral advisor and dissertation committee co-chair from the University of Virginia, was my first inspiration and the biggest cheerleader of my dissertation research. Dr. Robert Covert is another dissertation committee co-chair, whose teaching philosophy heavily influenced my mutual value theory. Dr. Hsinhsin Liang, a dissertation committee member, involved me with the U.Va. Chinese language program, which greatly shaped my understanding of teaching and learning. Dr. Ruth Ferree, my graduate study advisor, has believed in me ever since the first moment I met her. I would also like to thank many friends and family members who have either helped with the editing, provided feedback on my theory, or showed great interest in my work. These people include Liang Fang, Jin’ai Sun, Huapu Pan, my parents Hanqing Deng and Jumei Pan, and my parents-in-law Zana Boyanton and Charles Boyanton.

| xv →


Many people have asked me how I became interested in classroom learning and what inspired me to develop the mutual value theory. I always tell them that there are two main reasons. The first is the fascination with teaching and learning I have had ever since I was a little child. I was a top student at my Chinese school and I enjoyed helping my classmates with questions about our schoolwork. I liked pondering what would be the best way of explaining things so that it would make the most sense to them.

The second reason was my experience in the U.S. as an international student. Although my interest in learning began a long time ago, I did not begin to conduct serious research on classroom learning until I came to the U.S. for my graduate study at the University of Virginia in 2003. Coming from China’s unique educational system and completely different classroom praxis, I experienced an extreme culture shock during my first two years of study here. I did not know how to interact appropriately with my peers or instructors. I was unsure of how to respond to my teachers’ or peers’ comments in the classroom and I was often confused. What kind of behavior was acceptable and what was not? What kind of relationship should I expect to establish with my peers and instructors? And how intimate should I be with them? I often found myself being frowned upon when I tried to be the student who always answered the teacher’s questions, turned in assignments early, and enjoyed learning. ← xv | xvi → I often found my peers upset or offended when I shared my honest and differing opinions with them.

I did not make any friends in the classes that I took in the first several months, and I felt very lonely. I tried to console myself: “It’s okay to feel lonely when you first move to a new place since you don’t know anybody.” I also told myself that one reason I had not made any effort to befriend my classmates was that I was already fully occupied with my own schoolwork. Seeing me struggling, my American husband Stephen encouraged me to actively reach out to others. “If you don’t reach out to people, nobody will reach out to you.” Trusting Stephen, I decided to renew my efforts. I began to smile at my classmates, ask their names and try to get to know them, make small talk, and also help them whenever needed. However, the response to all this was strange looks, superficial replies, or uneasy smiles. I realized that most of my peers did not feel comfortable with me, had no interest in getting to know me, and had no intention of befriending me.

So I still had no close friends after trying very hard. I was confused, disappointed, and I started to panic. I could not accept the fact that I had no friends after being in the U.S. for two years. I felt ashamed to be a loner all the time. I felt like a loser who was socially incapable. I felt lost, confused, and depressed. In class, I became uncertain about how to behave, inhibited about speaking up, afraid of asking questions of the professor or classmates, anxious concerning sharing my opinions and comments, and intimidated attending class. Despite the fact that I enjoyed school tremendously while I was in China, attending class in the U.S. became such a painful thing for me that I really wished I could escape.

I shared my feelings with many other Chinese fellow students, and I was surprised to learn that most of them felt the same way: lonely, confused, stupid, helpless, invisible, and unimportant. Knowing this made me feel slightly better because after all I was not alone, and it was “normal” to feel lonely. At the same time I felt sad and puzzled. I wondered why it was like this and what caused it. I thought it might be a simple case of culture shock and maybe all we international students needed was to learn how to better adjust ourselves to the American classroom. Intrigued by this phenomenon, I decided to further explore it. My initial intent was not just to satisfy my own curiosity, but also to help other international students better adjust themselves to American educational, or to be more exact, classroom culture.

However, I soon realized that the situation was more serious and common than I thought. After talking to many American-born students, I learned that ← xvi | Xvii → it was not as simple as culture shock and that these students experienced the same problems. They also felt lonely, isolated, and inhibited in the classroom. One Caucasian male student told me during an orientation meeting, “Like most new students here, you feel lonely, nobody knows you, nobody talks to you, and nobody seems to care about you either.” Fascinated, I decided to extend my interest to all college students. I started subconsciously observing each class I attended and discovered some classroom interpersonal interaction and communication patterns:

1. On the first day of class, students generally do not appear interested or excited about attending the class. They normally just come in, sit down, and appear detached, exhibiting little or no emotion.

2. On the first day of the class, students do not greet or interact with each other. They do not seem to desire to know their classmates either. Instead, they just come in, find a place to sit down, make themselves comfortable, and stay quiet. If someone makes eye contact with them, they will simply return the eye contact or smile or say “Hi.” If they see someone they know, they will get up and greet them with excitement or enthusiasm. But as soon as that greeting ritual is over, the class will resume their silence.

3. On the first day of class, most professors have introductory activities so students can get to know each other. However, most students do not seem interested in this process nor do they make the effort to recall each other’s names. Therefore, most still do not know many classmates’ names by the end of the semester.

4. When a student recognizes a classmate outside of the classroom, they do not seem overly excited or happy to see them.

5. Even when two classmates become good friends through taking one course together, this friendship is very weak, transient, and ends as soon as the course is over. The students will soon forget each other and lose track of each other.

6. There is a hidden rule of thumb about how much students should talk in class: Talk some but not too much. On the one hand, they are expected to talk. Otherwise, they will be perceived as unintelligent and become unpopular. Their grade might be affected because of this. On the other hand, they are not supposed to talk too much. A person who talks too much is seen as “a smart ass,” “showing off,” or “dominant,” and is disliked by their peers, instructor, or both. ← Xvii | xviii →

7. In most classes, students seldom disagree with each other. Instead, they often just go along with others. When they do disagree, they are extremely humble and cautious. For example, they might admit that the other person has a point, emphasize that “I could be wrong,” feel guilty for disagreeing by saying, “I hope you are not offended…,” apologize for disagreeing, or use ambiguous terms to state their own opinions such as “I wonder…,” “I am afraid I have a different opinion…,” “I could be wrong, but…,” “I am not sure if this makes sense or not, but…,” “Correct me if I am wrong…,” or “I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but this is what I think.…”


ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2010 (November)
enthusiasm motivation self-value
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2015. 245 pp., num. ill.

Biographical notes

Dengting Boyanton (Author)

Dengting Boyanton (PhD, University of Virginia) is Assistant Professor of Educational Psychology at Long Island University-Post. She has earned many awards including the AERA Division K Early Career Award (nominee), Dupont Fellowship, A. L. Bennett Endowed Scholarship, and the LIU-TLI Instructional Innovation Award.


Title: Teachers and Students as Co-Learners
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