Abstracts from AERA 2007 Paper Sessions

Micki M. Caskey, Program Chair


Examinations of the World of Young Adolescents

A Longitudinal Study of Young Adolescents’ Perceptions of Middle Grades Instruction
Audra Parker; Stacey Neuharth-Pritchett

Of the many dramatic changes that young adolescents experience during their middle school years, their cognitive development is perhaps the most underserved. The middle school literature consistently reports that structural reforms supporting the affective needs of young adolescents are implemented far more readily than instructional reforms needed to address young adolescents’ increasingly complex cognitive abilities. The current research literature lacks investigations of young adolescents’ perceptions of instruction during the middle grades-especially in the context of high-stakes testing reforms such as No Child Left Behind. The purpose of this study is to investigate students’ perceptions of classroom instruction prior to and during their middle school experiences. By examining young adolescents’ perceptions of instruction at various data points, middle school educators gain valuable insight into the current state of instructional reforms and into how students’ perceptions of classroom instruction may change across the middle grades years.

Identity in the Middle: A Longitudinal Investigation of Young Adolescents’ Self-Concept
across the Middle Grades

Audra Parker; Stacey Neuharth-Pritchett

The middle grades years represent a particularly challenging time for young adolescents: the transition to middle school, the onset of adolescence, and rapid physical and emotional development are among a host of changes middle grades students face. It is not surprising that young adolescents’ self-concept can vary greatly throughout this tumultuous time period. The purpose of this study is to investigate young adolescents’ self-concept prior to and during their middle school experience. By examining psychological outcomes such as self-concept, this study will enhance the current understand of how middle school structural reforms, transition programs, and teacher practices impact young adolescents’ middle school experiences.

Having Our Say: Middle Grade Students’ Perspectives on School, Technologies, and
Academic Engagement

Hiller Spires, Kimberly Turner; Janet Johnson

There is growing consensus among policy groups that if current generations of students are to be competitive in the twenty-first century, our education system must be transformed to address the needs of a connected global economy. Acknowledging that today’s students learn in different ways than those of previous generations, and much of the change is due to advancements in information technology, the purpose of this study was to assess 4000 middle school student’s perspectives about what they need to be engaged and achieve in school settings. The findings are viewed within the context of defining middle schools within the changing global economy and the new demands this is placing on our educational system.

Social Functioning and Depression of Young Adolescents Who Have Been Retained
Angela Fiske; Stacey Neuharth-Pritchett

The study examines grade retention, depression, and social functioning of young adolescents. The 80 adolescents were divided into three groups: those who had been retained in grade, those who had not been retained but were low-performing, and an on-grade level control. Retained students differed from the other two groups, reporting higher levels of depression in middle school. No differences were found on social functioning. Retained students reported greater social functioning concerns during 7th grade and were more depressed than their typically developing peers. Social functioning plays a crucial role in young adolescents’ schooling and their perceptions of themselves. Considering the use of retention to address academic failure, research exploring the psychological outcomes of the practice is needed.

Excellence in Middle Grades Teacher Education

Negotiating Differences: Early Preservice Field Experiences in a Diverse Middle School
Jane Arrington; Penny Howell

A major goal of the multicultural focus of many teacher education programs is to better prepare a mostly White and female teaching force to work effectively with students from racial/cultural backgrounds different than their own. Little research has been conducted that looks at general educational pedagogical coursework being taught in a diverse middle level setting and how that can shape preservice teachers’ beliefs and attitudes about teaching diverse populations. The purpose of this study was to explore perceived changes in preservice teachers’ attitudes and beliefs about issues of race, class, and ethnicity after completing two general professional courses that were taught in a diverse middle school in small mid-western city.

Middle Level Teacher Education: Conceptualizing Developmentally Responsive Teaching
Practices in Early Field Experiences

Penny Howell

The purpose of this descriptive qualitative study was to analyze Child Study Research Projects completed by first-semester, middle level preservice teachers for connections between the theoretical underpinnings of Middle Level Education, early adolescent development and Middle School curricula and how these connections are perceived to effect their understanding of developmentally responsive teaching in the middle school. The findings suggest that the preservice students made explicit connections to the need for developmentally responsive teaching. They reported the significance of being able to see early adolescent behavior in relation to the context of the middle school environment. Additionally, the students reported that they were able to gather “real evidence” that theory and practice are linked and vital to the success of middle level teachers.

Personal and General Teaching Efficacy among Alternatively Licensed Middle Level

Kimberly Hartman

Fifty participants enrolled in a university program that prepares alternatively licensed middle level teachers participated in this study which investigated how middle level teachers in urban, suburban, and rural schools communicated perceptions of efficacy. Data collection included using the Woolfolk and Hoy Teacher Efficacy Scale, a questionnaire, and structured interviews. Data suggest that (a) subject matter taught did not impact teachers’ personal or general teaching efficacy, (b) length of time teaching impacted teachers’ personal and general teaching efficacy, (c) location (urban, rural, or suburban impacted teachers’ personal and general teaching efficacy, and (d) that prior job experience affected teachers’ personal and general teaching efficacy.

Three Studies of Middle School Mathematics: Learnings from the Field
Deborah Jolly; Sheila Cassidy

The studies presented during this session investigated middle school mathematics teachers’ preferences related to pedagogical content and mathematics content before and after participating in online professional development. The studies also examined the impact of both online and face-to-face professional development formats on middle school mathematics teachers’ content knowledge and pedagogical knowledge, as well as any increases in achievement for middle school students. Independent sample t-tests were used to analyze the resulting data for any statistically significant differences. The results revealed a statistically significant difference regarding preferences to algebraic thinking (p = .007) and data analysis (p = .028) between the group using online professional development and the one using a face-to-face interaction. There was also a statistically significant difference between the two groups regarding preferences towards effective teaching strategies (p = .005). The results also revealed a statistically significant difference between the middle school teachers who participated in either online or face-to-face professional development in the areas of content and pedagogical knowledge for middle school mathematics teachers and achievement level for middle school students.

Exemplary Curricula and Practice in Middle Grades Education

Making Writing Visible: Using a Cognitive Model to Analyze Teacher Candidates Written
Descriptions to Mathematical Tasks

David Pugalee; Patricia Douville

This study focused on the written descriptions to problem solving by middle grades teacher candidates enrolled in a methods course making writing an explicit component. This current study used a cognitive model to analyze the candidates’ writing consisting of four components: domain knowledge, heuristic strategies, control strategies, and learning strategies. Qualitative methods were used to classify text chunks as belong to one of the categories. Findings indicate that the writing showed strong content knowledge characterized by an emphasis on stating mathematics concepts and ideas, justifying processes and actions, and verification of outcomes. Heuristic strategies were both similar and varied across problems. Writing showed the presence of control strategies as evidenced through a metacognitive framework. Examples and illustrations will be used to highlight findings.

New Literacies for New Middle School Teachers: An Ongoing Case Study
William Kist

Much has been written about reconceptualizing the definition of “literacy” for middle school students as forms of communication continue to develop and change and as educators examine more of the sociocultural implications of these new literacies for adolescents. This session will, rather, focus on the literacies of some teachers, in particular some new middle school teachers as they begin to “unpack levels of texts” in their classrooms and critically examine discourses at the beginnings of their careers. The session will describe the transformation of a traditional literacy methods course for pre-service teachers to include more “new” literacies. From a pool of former students in this course, formed over a five-year period, selected former students are documenting their own evolutions as active readers and creators of nonprint texts as some create middle school classrooms that embrace new literacies. Examples of student assignments and rubrics will be included.

Literacy Motivation and School/Non-School Literacies among Students Enrolled in a Middle
School ESOL Program

Elizabeth Sturtevant; Grace Kim; Constanza Loriz

This study explored literacy motivation and school/non-school literacies among 45 middle school learners enrolled in an ESOL program. The research question was: What are characteristics of literacy motivation and uses of literacy in and out of school for diverse middle school learners learning English as a new language? All students completed the Motivation to Read Profile (adapted); 8 purposively selected students participated in 30-40 minute interviews. Students varied greatly in their motivational profiles, ranging from strongly interested in reading to strongly disinterested. Interviewed students described numerous ways that they used literacy with their families or in the community.

Making Middle Grades Work through Arts Integration
Howard Coleman

This paper reports the results of a $1.5 million dollar grant project which established an interdisciplinary arts program in an urban middle school. The arts integration project supported teachers, parents, and artists in helping middle school students achieve high learning standards and improve their behaviors. The project followed the recommendations of the National Middle School Association by creating a challenging and exploratory curriculum. The project provided a variety of opportunities for parents to have meaningful roles in school governance and in student learning. The arts integration program improved student achievement, student behaviors, student attendance, and home/school relations.

Explorations of Middle School Issues

Teacher Affiliation, Academic Emphasis, and Collegial Leadership: Links to Student
Achievement in Middle Schools

Kathleen Roney; Howard Coleman

The theme of this year’s conference, “The World of Educational Quality,” encourages those of us involved in middle level research to ask hard questions about the relationship of student achievement and the quality of the middle school organization itself. As stated by Hoy, Sabo and Barnes, “Healthy middle schools have higher levels of student achievement in reading, mathematics, and writing” (1996, p.36). Following a mixed methods design, the purpose of this study was to examine the relationship between student achievement in reading and the organizational health of middle schools.

Parents’ Relationships and Engagement: Effects on Students’ School Engagement and

Yun Mo; Kusum Singh

This study focused on parents’ relationships and engagement in their children’s lives and its effects on the students’ school engagement and school performance. The study used the Wave I & II data from National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health). The data on 7th and 8th grade students’ school and family experiences were analyzed using regression models. The study examined the effect of parental relationships and engagement on students’ cognitive, emotional and behavioral engagement in school and subsequently on school performance. The results confirmed the importance and significance of parents’ engagement in middle school students’ school engagement and performance. The study has implications for practices and supports school structures that would foster parents’ continued interest and engagement in their children’s education.

Differences in Peer and Parent Encouragement and Mathematics Achievement
Kimberly Filer, Mido Chang

The purpose of the study was to examine the effects of peer and parent encouragement/discouragement to take algebra on mathematics achievement. The differential effects of racial groups and peer and parent effects on achievement were also investigated. Parents’ expectations and involvement have been shown to have significant effects on student achievement; however, research examining the effects of peer interactions is limited. Results showed a significant effect of peer encouragement and parent encouragement on mathematics achievement. The interaction effects of race and peer/parental encouragement were significant. This research extends the body of work on peer influences to consider its impacts on mathematics achievement and how it affects racial groups differently.

Adolescents’ Perceptions of Deviance When Using Technology
Annie Daniel

This study explored middle and high school students’ perceptions of deviant behavior when using the computer and the Internet. Based on the findings, students do not perceive most of their behaviors on the Internet and computers as deviant, but they did conclude that their peers are engaging in technology deviance. Moreover, the Peer Behavior Score mean is higher than the Students’ Behavior Score mean. Therefore, students do not perceive their own behaviors as deviant as their peers’. There is a limited amount of research to determine the types of deviant behavior students’ use on the Internet and with computers, the opportunity to perform deviant acts increases with the integration of technology in education and students’ personal use of technology.

Social Equity in Middle Grades Education

CRIIS-Cross: Culturally Relevant Interdisciplinary Instructional Strategies that Reach
Across Content Barriers

Kezia McNeal

Due to the increasing cultural diversity of the U.S. student population and increasing focus on national mandates, the importance of an interdisciplinary approach in synchronization with a multicultural stance at the middle education level is crucial because of the specific cognitive and physiological developmental needs of middle level students. This qualitative project examines the acquisition and implementation of culturally relevant interdisciplinary instructional strategies (CRIIS) of nine middle level teachers. The teachers, from various disciplines, at a metropolitan, culturally diverse school, participated in a five-week professional learning course. The teachers were formally introduced to culturally responsive pedagogical principles (Irvine & Armento, 2001) and to the five dimensions of multicultural education (Banks & Banks, 2004). Results will include specific reactions and instructional adjustments of the teachers.

Educating At-Risk Urban African American Children: The Effects of School Climate on
Motivation and Academic Achievement

L. Mickey Fenzel, Lindsey O’Brennan

Despite a growing body of literature documenting the effects of school-level factors on academic achievement, few studies have examined how school climate affects minority students. The present study examines a mediator model of the school climate and motivational processes that affect academic engagement and achievement among 282 urban African American middle school students considered at risk. Results provide support for the mediator model that shows that self-perceptions of intrinsic motivation and teacher reports of student academic engagement mediate the relation of student perceptions of school as enjoyable and fair to GPA. Other factors related to peer relationships and support from teachers and administrators are related to intrinsic motivation perceptions and academic engagement but not to GPA.

African American Males Transition to Middle School
Patricia Larke

The purpose of this mixed methods study was to examine four variables that impact African American male students’ perceptions of their transition from elementary school to middle school. A 52-item questionnaire was administered to 149 African American middle school males to determine their perception of the social, emotional, physical, and academic aspects impact on their transition from elementary school to middle school. This study records the voices of African American males from the use of a questionnaire, a free-response question, and interviews of ten students (two from each school).

Supports and Barriers to Resilience: A Case Study of a Low SES Middle School Student
Heather Sheridan-Thomas

Students from low SES backgrounds may face challenges to academic success and smooth transition from elementary to middle school. This qualitative case study used resilience theory and developmental assets as a lens for analyzing the supports and barriers to the school success of a low SES white girl. In depth data was collected over 3 years (5th to 7th grade). Results suggest that parental, school and community supports can promote resilience and school success, but that school factors can also serve as barriers to resilience. Implications for the intentional building of resilience in schools and communities will be discussed.


Investigations of Middle Grades Teachers and Students

Professional Growth toward Adaptive Expertise: Case Studies in Middle Level Teacher

David Strahan; Russell Binkely

This study examined the experiences of four middle level social studies teachers as they worked with literacy coaches and university partners to enhance reading and writing across the curriculum. Analysis of observations, interviews, and archival documents showed that participants made sense of literacy initiatives through formal and informal conversations. Professional growth accelerated with discussions of instructional practices and student performance, guided by professional readings and available assessments of student achievement. Dialogue sessions grew more complex and sources of information more comprehensive. While general patterns characterized the professional development of all four participants, growth occurred in different ways based on the nature of their relationships with coaches and colleagues, suggesting possibilities for differentiating professional development more productively.

A Matter of Semantics: Supporting Teachers’ Language and Vocabulary Instruction for
Diverse Middle Level Students

Francine Falk-Ross

The research study addresses developing a language- and vocabulary-building approach to support reading activities for marginalized students in a school district with a population that is ~90% Hispanic and bilingual. Reading and content area teachers are supported in their development of language/literacy knowledge and strategy suggestions for both remedial and classroom-based reading programs. Marginalized middle level students include classroom members who have language differences and language difficulties. Using results of students’ formal reading achievement testing, teachers’ informal focus group meetings, and field notes, challenges and successes are documented related to instructional interventions. The results of the study provide important information about, and case studies of, trends in reading programs at the middle level.

Discourse to Promote Understanding in Middle Grades Mathematics Classes
Mary Truxaw, Thomas DeFranco

This paper reports on an investigation of discursive practices of seven middle grades mathematics teachers. Characteristics and patterns of talk and verbal assessment were found to be associated with discourse on a continuum from univocal (conveying meaning) to dialogic (dialogue to generate new meaning). For example, inert assessment (guiding instruction by keeping the flow and function relatively constant) was more frequently associated with univocal discourse. Generative assessment (mediating discourse to promote students’ active monitoring and regulation of thinking) was more frequently associated with dialogic discourse. However, there was evidence to suggest that rather than either univocal or dialogic discourse being exclusively productive, that a strategic mix of both was used to promote mathematical understanding of students.

Relationships among Elementary School Students’ Epistemological Beliefs, Metacognitive
Skills and Constructivist Learning Environment Perceptions

Mustafa Topcu; Ozgul Yilmaz-Tuzun

This is a cross sectional study which aimed to explore relationships among the elementary school students’ epistemological beliefs, metacognitive skills, and constructivist classroom environment perceptions. The surveys were administered to 315 students enrolled in fourth and fifth grades and 626 students enrolled in sixth, seventh, and eight grades of seven elementary schools. Explanatory factor analysis results revealed four factors, which are innate ability, quick learning, simple knowledge, and certain knowledge for the 4th and 5th grades and 6th to 8th grade students. Multiple regression analysis results explaining relationships among elementary school students’ epistemological beliefs, metacognitive skills and constructivist learning environment for 4th and 5th, and 6th to 8th grade students were investigated in this study.

“America is Confusing”: The Schooling Experiences Of Young Adolescent Immigrant and
Refugee Students in One Small Town

Kathleen Brinegar

As the number of immigrants and refugees continues to grow in the US, the linguistic and cultural diversity that comprises the classroom will continue to increase. Given the need for resources and specific attention to linguistic and cultural strategies for these particular populations, the focus of this yearlong ethnographic study was to examine the schooling experiences of young adolescent immigrant and refugee students in a small town community located in a rural state. Utilizing ethnographic methods including participant observation, interviews, and document analysis, the schooling culture in which these students found themselves and how they each fit, or did not fit, within that culture was examined. The implications for researchers and educators center on whether the middle level practices recommended in the current research succeeded in creating a climate of care for the students in the study and what missing elements needed to be in place for them.

Perspectives and Possibilities in Middle Grades Education

The 7th Grade Immersion Program: Adventure Education to Enhance Character Education
Ben Paul Dyson; Allen Seed; Bethany Stover; Molly Pickering; Lisa Willis

During middle school years students can develop healthy or unhealthy habits that can last a lifetime. This study evaluated the piloting of an innovative seventh grade program that incorporated Adventure Education, Cooperative Learning, and Character Education (Positive Behavior Intervention System, and Sean Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens). Data collection included: interviews with students, teachers, and administrators; field observations; researcher journals; document analysis; and a Student Feedback Form. Students’ and teachers’ comments supported the program. Several recommendations emerged from the findings of this study. It appears that partnerships; like the one formed by an urban school district, a university, and a nonprofit organization, can design and implement programs that work to improve the lives of middle school students.

Empowerment and Understanding through Service-Learning: An Inner City Professional
Development School Leaves neither Children nor Preservice Teachers Behind

Virginia Jagla

Attendees will come away from the presentation with a clear understanding of the possibilities of service-learning in middle grades in an inner city school. Attendees will further learn how this powerful pedagogy of service-learning can enhance students’ comprehension in all curricular areas at the middle level. There will be a clear perception of the use of a professional development school in a large urban inner city to educate preservice teachers for teaching in similar settings. The intention of service-learning is to experience democracy in action. Adolescents learn through the experiences themselves as well as reflection on the process. The powerful pedagogy of service-learning empowers those who participate.

Middle School Students and Their Teachers on the Same Page When It Comes to Effective

Mark Storz

Through the use of interviews the perspectives of almost 300 urban middle school students’ at five different schools in a midwestern metropolitan area werer examined on their educational experiences, particularly on the type of teachers and pedagogical practices that they perceived to be most beneficial to their achievement and success in school. At two of the schools teachers that the students identified as those they perceived as most effective – those who cared for them and those in whose classrooms they learned the most – were also interviewed. Students and teachers agree that a strong curriculum, interpersonal relations, and teachers knowing their students well are all important in creating a learning environment conducive to the success of young urban adolescents.

What’s the Bottom Line? Middle School Single-sex Classes and Student Achievement
Frances Spielhagen

The potential of single-sex class arrangements to increase student achievement dominates the discussion among educators striving to address declines in academic performance, especially in the middle school years which involve tremendous social, emotional, physical, and intellectual development. Recent research suggests that such arrangements work for some students, boys and girls, in some academic areas. The purpose of this study was to examine the effectiveness of middle school single-sex classes through quantitative analysis of standardized test scores. Longitudinal follow-up of a cohort (N=600) of students over three years suggests that single-sex classes work for some students in some classes.

Multiple Perspectives on the Teaching of Writing From Middle Level Teachers, Students and
University Faculty

Kathleen Malu; Salika Lawrence

This qualitative study explored the research question: What was the nature of the teaching and learning of writing at one large urban middle school? Participants included language arts teachers, 750 seventh graders, and three faculty members from a local university who conducted professional development workshops on writing. A wide variety of data sources were used including teacher questionnaires; field notes and workshop plans; participant writing, and state writing test scores. Data analysis used the constant comparative method and results revealed that the teacher participants changed their approaches to teaching writing. Faculty learned to address teacher “resisters” and teachers and faculty engaged in a wide variety of emotions including anger and frustration regarding the state standardized writing test.


Middle Grades and Middle Schools That Work: Research-Based Lessons From Experimental and Quasi-Experimental Trials
Stephan Brand et al.

Numerous studies of students’ academic performance and adjustment suggest that, in many schools, the middle grade years constitute a potentially hazardous transition period for students. Students who previously had succeeded academically at the elementary level may show sharp declines in their academic performance, motivation, aspirations, and expectations. Similarly, during the middle school years, problems with classroom behavioral adjustment and health risk behaviors may emerge. Students may begin to experiment with, or use regularly, tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs. High-performing middle schools can play a critical role in sustaining students’ academic performance and behavioral adaptation. The symposium focuses on the lessons learned about the creation and maintenance of such high performing schools.

The Impact of Middle Grade Structures, Organizations, and Practices on Student Outcomes: Moving Toward a Multivariate/Multi-Level Model
Steven Mertens et al.

This symposium will present the results from the development and testing of a multivariate/multi-level model designed to examine and empirically test the impact of the “middle school concept” (e.g., interdisciplinary teaming, school contextual factors, team and classroom practices, positive school climate) on a variety of student outcomes including learning and achievement. Utilizing structural equation modeling and a large-scale sample, we will examine how these components are inter-related and assess their individual and combined impact on student outcomes. This symposium will consist of four papers that describe and discuss the varying aspects of our multivariate model development and testing including methodological issues in determining levels of teaming implementation, validation of key constructs in the model, and the results of our structural equation modeling including the components in the model.


National Middle Grades Research Project
Kathleen Roney et al.

The intent of this interactive symposium is to present Phase One in the development of a national middle level research project. Panelists will discuss the need for such a project, prior efforts for similar types of projects, decisions made during Phase One, and how such a project could be implemented. Those attending will participate in discussion of next steps in the development of such a project. Small-group interaction strategies (e.g., Open-Forum Discussions; Consensus Building; Chalk Talk) will be used during this session.