Abstracts from AERA 2002 Paper Sessions

Focus on Middle Level Teachers
April 1, 2002

Chair: Vincent A. Anfara, Jr., The University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Discussant: Gayle A. Davis, The University of Georgia

Making Meaning in the Middle: A Model for Developing Middle Grade Teachers
Sarah B. Burkhalter, Angelo L. Alcala, Karen Ostland, Jeff Morton, The University of Texas, Arlington

In the spring of 2001, three faculty members in Texas set out to discover how to build an exemplary model for preparing teachers of students in middle grades based on inquiry, reflection, and interdisciplinary teaming. To support field-basing, this program we proposed that the theoretical framework of the public school-based internship program closely parallels theories of learning a second language, particularly Stephen Krashen’s model.

Eighty interns participated, with half enrolled in the pilot and half in the traditional Internship program. At orientation, all students completed affective, Likert scaled surveys based on the standards of the NMSA; a senerio-based pretest of content related to 4-8 teachers’ proficiencies; and a sketch of a typical middle level students. Pos- tests were given at the semester’s end.

Throughout the semester we continually collected and analyzed data, and have determined that our control group and experimental groups were significantly different; that the experimental group changed their understandings of students; and that both groups had pre-conceptions about middle school students, some of which were reinforced by their teaching experiences.

All students in both groups are in their residency semester and will submit a video-taped lesson. We plan to continue to follow both groups into their first year of teaching.

Secondary Education Majors’ Perceptions of Middle Level Students, Schools, and Teaching
Angela J. Lexmond, Indiana University, Bloomington

This dissertation study was designed to identify, track, and challenge secondary education majors’ perceptions of middle level students, schools, and teaching. During a single semester general methods course, secondary education majors of various disciplines participated in curricular activities designed to elicit their perceptions of and attitudes toward early adolescents and middle school teaching. Some of the activities also challenged the preservice teachers to look for contradictions to common cultural assumptions about early adolescents, which are primarily negative and biologically based (Finders, 1999; Lesko, 1996, 2001).

Most participants in the study desired high school teaching assignments over middle school. Negative perceptions of early adolescents were very prevalent. Many preservice teachers in the key section were more open to middle level teaching as a career possibility after participating in curricular activities designed to interrogate negative conceptions of early adolescents and after having had positive experiences in middle school field placements.

Negative cultural constructions of early adolescents impact the career choices of preservice secondary teachers. Without intervention, few aim for middle schools. Results from this study indicate that schools of education need to develop programs to specifically recruit and specially prepare teachers for the middle level. Every school of education should have middle level advocates and experts who recognize their unique challenges regarding the issue of recruitment.

Field-Based Teacher Education of Preservice and Novice Teachers at the Middle Level
Micki M. Caskey, Portland State University

A persistent problem in middle level education is reconciling the urgent need for specialized preparation of middle level teachers with the limited resources of many teacher education institutions. The purpose of this study was to examine the effects of a field-based approach on middle level teacher candidates prepared in an existent graduate level teacher education program. Participants were twenty-seven middle level teachers who were prepared in three consecutive K-12 cohorts. The attitudes and perceptions of these preservice, first year, and second year middle level teachers toward their field-based preparation were explored using surveys, individual interviews, and focus group discussions. Participants reported the benefit of expansive fieldwork, cohort configuration, program continuity, and immersion in middle school culture. Analyses of data revealed positive effects of field-based approach across all three groups of middle level teachers. Though limited in size, this study produced preliminary evidence that the field-based appracoh supports the transition from preservice program to practicing middle level teacher.

Interdisciplinary Teams at the Middle Level: Results of a National Survey
Laurie E. Hart, University of Georgia, Suzanne S. McCotter, Millersville University, K. Denise Muth, Jae Hoon Lim, University of Georgia

This study surveyed recent graduates of NCATE/NMSA-approved programs that are specifically designed to prepared middle school teachers. The focus of this particular paper was to explore the reality of middle school teams on which novice teachers are working. The Middle Grades Teacher Preparation Survey, designed by the researchers, was used in this study. Of the respondents who indicated that they teach or have taught in grades 5-8, 85% taught in schools where interdisciplinary teams shared the same students and 92% indicated their team worked together extremely well, very well, or well. However, there was no relationship between how teachers were assigned to teams and their perceptions of how well the teachers on the team work together. Similarly, there was no relationship between the method of assigning the team’s leader and how well the teachers worked together. In addition, 82% of these same respondents indicated that they had common planning time for team members. Teachers who were involved in policy decision making had more time available and also spent more time meeting than teachers who were not involved in making school policy decisions. In addition, those teachers who had a flexible schedule, had more time available to meet with other teachers on their team and they spent more actual time meeting than teachers who did not have flexible schedules. Results also showed that teachers who worked on teams with many characteristics typical of the best practice for middle schools were more likely to believe that their school’s practices matched the practices of an ideal middle school.

Middle Level Learning Environments
April 2, 2002

Chair: Mickey Fenzel, Loyola College, Maryland
Discussant: Richard P. Lipka, Pittsburg State University

Unraveling the Black Box: The Middle School Movement and High Student Achievement
Kathleen Roney, Rosemont College, Vincent A. Anfara, Jr., The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Kathleen M. Brown, The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

The recommendations contained in Turning Points: Preparing American Youth for the 21st Century (1989)-balancing academic, personal development, and citizenship goals-represent a way to create an appropriate middle school environment that meets the complex needs of young adolescents. The recommendations, to be treated as interdependent parts of a reform package, are aimed at the success of every student. Have middle schools embraced the reform initiatives and implemented these recommendations with a high degree of fidelity? We respond, in this study, with the design and execution of research that focuses on the relationship between student academic achievement and the middle school concept.

Utilizing a qualitative, multi-site case study design, our purpose was to get inside the “black box” of middle level reform. Designed in two phases, our initial purpose was to explore the implementation of middle level reform components in both high and low performing middle schools. Phase One of our study addressed our first research question, “To what degree are high performing schools and low performing schools implementing the middle level reform components?” Despite the great disparity in SES, PSSA scores, and funding between the two types of schools, Phase One findings verify the claim that middle school reform components, as articulated by national organizations and research
studies, are not sufficient for high student achievement. Utilizing the framework of Hoy and Hannum (1997), Phase Two findings showed stark contrasts between the high and low performing schools with regard to the technical, managerial and institutional levels of the schools’ organizational health, e.g., teacher efficacy, curriculum articulation, student expectations, collegiality, instructional leadership, institutional integrity, etc.

Our study’s findings reinforce the importance of returning to the deeper meaning and purpose under girding middle schools today. Continuing to ask questions about the number of Turning Points’ structures implemented, the degree of implementation, grade configuration of middle schools, and new programs versus old programs, does not get at the crux of student achievement at the middle level. We must ask “Why?” Why do we do it? What is the purpose and what do we hope to achieve? How you increase learning is only important in that you actually do it.

Selectivity and Collective Student Influence in the Classroom: A Comparative Case Study

Dan Weinles, Temple University

This comparative case study was conducted to examine the differential influence of students, in collectivity, at the school and classroom levels within two demographically similar urban, low-income middle schools. One school was a city-wide selective admissions magnet school and the other was a non-selective, residentially-assigned neighborhood school. Interviews were conducted with a total of ten teachers and two administrative leaders across the two schools. Multiple observations were conducted in the classrooms of interviewed teachers and in school hallways. Finally, school-level data on student performance and discipline were analyzed. Findings suggested that student selectivity at the magnet school contributed to a more positive teaching climate, as defined by teachers’ perceptions of student academic performance, motivation, and behavior in the classroom. Selectivity additionally appeared to foster higher professional expectations among teachers, more rigorous instructional practices, and a focus on curricular progress. Alternatively, “out-selection” of students prior to entrance in the non-selective, neighborhood middle school resulted in the concentration special needs students and appeared to contribute to an environment that was less conducive to teaching and learning. The study concludes by positing a more reciprocal and dynamic relationship between student collective influence and teacher practice in schools. The potential impact of student selectivity on this complex relationship is considered.

Helping Middle School Teachers Plan for High Quality Instruction: The Case for Mathematics and Science Subject Matter Integration
Suzanne L. Weinberg, Temple University

As part of a professional development program, 65 middle school teachers examined the benefits, potential difficulties, and implications of integrating math and science curriculum. In groups of four, they designed standards-based math and science integrated units of instruction. The patterns emerged. (1) More units involved a multi-disciplinary design than an interdisciplinary design. (2) Interdisciplinary units focused on measurement or data collection and analysis, process skills common to both disciplines. By contrast, multi-disciplinary units tended to focus on content skills, only some of which naturally connected. (3) The majority of units focused on science content, with math used in a supporting role. (4) In over half of the units, either the science or the mathematics content was not on grade level-appropriate content was sacrificed to accommodate the integration. Two implications for further study include: First, many groups did not specifically describe the connection between topics, nor the reason for selecting different topics for integration. It may be that teachers see this as either obvious or unimportant. Second, the overwhelming number of units reflecting the science with math support model cannot be discounted. It may be easier for teachers to plan units that emphasize science, or that teachers cannot readily identify real-world applications for mathematics.