Abstracts from AERA 2008 Paper Sessions

Sue C. Thompson, Program Chair


Literacies in Middle Grades Education       

Growing Middle School Readers with Seedfolks: A School-Wide Read
Pamela Jewett, University of South Carolina; Jennifer Wilson, University of SC; Michelle Vanderburg, University of South Carolina

During a two-year renovation project of their 75 year-old, historic middle school, the media specialist, literacy coach, and a 7th grade English/Language Arts teacher collaborated to develop a plan that would offset the closing of the media center for a year and would keep books in the hands of students. They crafted a literary ecosystem in which equilibrium between the community of construction and the community of learning was maintained, creating a balance between bedlam and books, between renovations and reading. This presentation recounts how the school community chose to face challenges to their physical environment and academic lives, and along the way influence students’ learning, teachers’ practices, and the involvement of the larger school community.

Middle Grades Teachers’ and Students’ Engagement with New Literacies Teaching Strategies in Underperforming Middle Schools
Emily Skinner, College of Charleston; Margaret Hagood, College of Charleston; Pauline Egelson, College of Charleston; Mary Provost, College of Charleston

This presentation will describe the effects of two years of implementation of New Literacies teaching strategies on language arts, social studies, and special education middle school teachers’ pedagogy and middle school students’ performance in and engagement with academic objectives. This research is part of a five-year longitudinal study currently set in two low-performing middle schools located in an urban area of the Southeast United States. Teacher participants in this research will have engaged in New Literacies professional development that includes four university-facilitated professional development institutes and bimonthly school-based collective study groups. Data sources for this research include: surveys, observations and interviews of focal teachers and students and will be analyzed in relation to Freebody and Luke’s (1990) Four Resources Model.

New Literacies in an Alternative Middle School Setting: A Case Study
William Kist, Kent State University; James Ryan, Kent State University

Many teachers and scholars are advocating for a broadened conception of literacy in this new media age. This session describes a collaboration between a teacher educator and a new middle school teacher who studied an alternative school classroom for one school year, with an intent to describe how this broadened conception of literacy can intersect with traditional school practices. The ongoing dialogue between the university researcher and the new middle school teacher served to “unpack levels of texts” in this one classroom and critically examine classroom discourse at the beginning of one teacher’s career. This documentation of the new teacher’s evolution as an active teacher of nonprint texts includes examples of student assignments and rubrics.

Talk in the Classroom: Meeting the Developmental, Cultural and Academic Needs of Middle School Students
Penny Howell, University of Louisville; Mary Thomas, University of Louisville; Timothy Holman, Jefferson County Public Schools

Adolescent learning is a complex endeavor, distinctive from learning at other levels by the connection between the physical, intellectual, emotional and social development of students in this age group with their learning. Indeed, the question about middle school learning is not merely what they learn, it is also how they learn as well. Central to the learning process for middle level students are language and communication. The purpose of this study was to explore middle school students’ perceptions of an instruction strategy called Accountable Talk used in their social studies classroom. This is a mixed-method case study of one eighth-grade social studies classroom. Findings indicated that students reported a better understanding of the content presented, a strong sense of community in the classroom and an opportunity to develop an appreciate for the diversity of classmates’ backgrounds, experiences, knowledge, and beliefs leading to a deeper, broader look at the social studies content presented.

Investigations of Middle Grades Students

Balancing Academic and Socioemotional Needs: Lessons Learned from Departmentalizing Middle Grades in an Urban District
Lisa Raphael, University of Illinois at Chicago; Meghan Burke, University of Illinois at Chicago

The purpose of this analysis is to understand the role of socioemotional issues in the first year of a program aimed to departmentalize the middle grades in a large urban district. Our analysis identifies the socioemotional issues reported by program participants and the supports needed to better support the socioemotional needs of middle school students. By encouraging program planners to consider a holistic approach to middle grades departmentalization, middles grades reform efforts may better meet the developmental needs of adolescence.

Contextual Factors in Middle School Students’ Self-Regulation
Semra SUNGUR, Middle East Technical University; Burcu Senler, Middle East Technical University

This study aimed at investigating the relationship between middle school students’ classroom environment perceptions and their self-regulation. Participants were nine-hundred middle school students. Canonical analysis results revealed that motivational and cognitive components of self-regulated learning were positively related to perceived autonomy support, mastery evaluation, and availability of motivating tasks in the classroom. These findings suggested that classroom environments emphasizing motivating tasks, autonomy and the link between personal effort and accomplishments encourage self-regulated learning.

Mpowering Kids: Promoting Academic and Affective Goals in an After School Program
Sandra Stacki, Hofstra University

After-school programs are promoted as an effective way for at-risk or underprivileged children to gain more needed instructional time, especially with mentors and tutors who may have more one-on-one time to spend with students than regular classroom teachers. MPowering Kids in Westbury, NY, is one such program that has grown to support students both academically and affectively. One faculty member and four graduate students used a qualitative case study approach to understand the goals, culture, methods, and achievement—both academically and affectively—for the middle school students in this program. This paper discusses after-school programs’ strengths, their components, and highlights findings from observations, interviews, and surveys with the MPowering Kids program.

Perspectives in Middle Grades Education

Effects of Classroom Management on Student Achievement: A Study of Three Inner-city Middle Schools and Their Comparison Schools
Jerome Freiberg, University of Houston; Chris Huzinec, Houston Independent School District; Katrina Borders, Consistency Management and Cooperative Discipline

This paper presents the effects of a campus-wide, person-centered management program on student achievement in reading and mathematics with three inner-city middle schools. The study schools (1,399 students) were matched with a pre-established, statewide cohort (1,399 students) within the same district. Individual reading and mathematics state-wide test data were used to determine baselines and gains. Previous internal and external studies of the program found gains in mathematics and reading achievement at the elementary level. However, this is the first study to include middle schools using individual student test data from a single geographic location. The findings show an effect size gain in the program middle schools of + 0.37 in reading and + 0.24 in mathematics.

Leading the Way: Middle Level Education as a Profession
Karynne Kleine, Georgia College and State University; Leigh Hern, Georgia College & State University; Nancy Mizelle, Georgia College & State University

This presentation addresses the need for a better understanding of the features of an award-winning, teacher preparation program that are most fruitful for developing effective educators that stay in the field, (retention rate 90+% after 5 years). We will examine our demanding middle grades teacher preparation program for said features, in order to share with others who desire similar outcomes. We will quantitatively compare the results of an entering and an exiting cohort of middle grades teacher candidates for changes in their leadership skills as measured by the inventory developed by Kouzes and Posner (2006) as well as share the results of eight structured interviews with recent graduates and current teacher candidates to identify those “leveraged practices” that explain the success of our program.

Middle Grades Education Researchers: Theorizing About and Through Our Research
Gayle Andrews, University of Georgia; Mark Vagle, The University of Georgia

This theoretical paper is intended to address two related concerns about research in middle grades education: the apparent absence of clear and well articulated theoretical perspectives in much of the literature in support of the “middle school concept” and the resulting seemingly tenuous connection between theoretical perspectives and research designs. In our conceptual analysis, we examine how we have come to understand theoretical perspectives and research design through our practice as middle grades researchers, and we put forward three commitments in relation to theorizing for the consideration of those who conduct research in the middle grades.

Programs, Principals, and Practitioners: Alignment of Expectations and Realities
Micki Caskey, Portland State University; P. Musser, Willamette University; Linda Samek, Corban College; William Greene, Southern Oregon State University; Jay Casbon, Oregon State University-Cascades

The purpose of this study is to examine how national accreditation standards for middle level teacher preparation align with the expectations of middle school principals and classroom realities facing middle school teachers. The established professional standards for middle school teachers are the Initial Middle Level Teacher Preparation Standards (National Middle School Association, 2005). To determine how well the focus on these middle level standards prepare teachers for the reality of teaching young adolescents, survey and interview data will be collected from a state-wide sample of middle school principals and teachers. This study intends to fill a gap in the literature regarding the connection between teacher preparation standards and teachers’ practice in middle grades education.


Practices in Support of Young Adolescents

Contributions of Learning Environment, Scientific Epistemological Beliefs, Attitude, and Prior Knowledge on 8th Grade Students’ Learning Approaches
Kudret Ozkal, Middle East Technical University; Ceren Tekkaya, Middle East Technical University; Semra SUNGUR, Middle East Technical University; Jale CAKIROGLU, Middle East Technical University

This study examined the contributions of attitude towards science, actual learning environment, scientific epistemological beliefs, and prior knowledge on 8th grade students’ learning approaches. Constructivist Learning Environment Survey, Scientific Epistemological Beliefs, and Learning Approach Questionnaire were administered to 1152 eight grade students to measure constructivist learning environment perceptions, epistemological beliefs, and learning approach, respectively. Multiple Regression Correlation Analyses indicated that epistemological beliefs, constructivist learning environment perceptions, attitude toward science, and prior knowledge accounted for 25 % of the variance of meaningful learning approach scores in the sample. Results also showed that all predictor variables, except fixed beliefs, significantly contributed to students’ learning approach.

Developing and Nurturing Civic Responsibility in Middle Schools
Kristen Wilcox, University At Albany; Janet Angelis, University at Albany-The State University of New York

The presenters will share findings from a qualitative study of best practices in New York state middle schools focusing on characteristics of civic responsibility. Civic responsibility in this study is seen to be a component of a broad school and district-wide focus to nurture respectful relationships inside and outside of schools and draw on the strengths of all community members to enhance teaching and learning. Salient features of best practice gathered from teacher and administrator interviews and documentary evidence in 10 higher performing and six average performing schools will be explained and implications for policy-makers and school administrators explored.

Motivation in the Middle: Academic Engagement among Young Adolescent Students
Frances Spielhagen, Ph.D., Mount Saint Mary College

This study examines academic engagement among students in early adolescence (ages 11-13). This time in students’ lives is critical because it is a time when schools can begin to address the factors that have led to the rising drop-out rates in high schools and plummeting test scores in the middle grades. This study provides valuable insights into the early stages of the decline in educational achievement and disaffection among adolescents. Through their survey responses, these young adolescents offer a compelling account of their perceptions of how school affects their lives and provide further understanding of the dynamics affecting the engagement and success of young adolescents.

Peer Relationship: Effects on Students’ School Engagement and School Performance
Yun Mo, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University; Kusum Singh, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

This study focused on peer relationships in adolescents’ lives and its effects on the students’ school engagement and school performance. This study used the Wave I data from National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health). The data on 7th and 8th grade students’ school were analyzed using structural equation modeling. The study examined the effect of peer relationships on students’ cognitive, emotional and behavioral engagement in school and subsequently on school performance. The results confirmed the importance and significance of peer relationships in middle school students’ school engagement and performance. The study found the different effects of same-gender and cross-gender friendship; supported the importance of same gender peer relationships and has theoretical and practical implications.

Youth Development Programming for Middle School: Using the Voices of Young Adolescents to Develop an After-School ProgramSue Thompson, University of Missouri-Kansas City

This qualitative study through the use of both semi-structured and focus group interviews explores the voices of adolescents as they express their thoughts and ideas about after-school programming in an urban community. Data were also collected from their parents and teachers to ensure that programming is grounded in the ideas, beliefs, and culture of the community. The developmental characteristics of young adolescents in the areas of physical, social, emotional, moral, psychological and intellectual constructs were used to analyze data. Findings suggested that adolescents in urban communities have high aspirations for their future and want programs that allow them to make choices based on their interests and needs.

Research in Support of Middle Schools

Indicators of Middle School Implementation: How do Kentucky’s Schools to Watch Measure Up?
Shawn Faulkner, Northern Kentucky University; Chris Cook, Northern Kentucky University; Lenore Kinne, Northern Kentucky University

High-performing middle schools are a critical link in the educational continuum. In an effort to stimulate the sluggish reform efforts of middle level schools, the National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform established the Schools to Watch recognition program, which has expanded to include state level recognition. Using the responses of 569 school personnel to a statewide survey, this study examined the Kentucky Schools to Watch program to determine if designation as a Kentucky School to Watch indicated a greater level of implementation of the middle school concept and correlated with higher levels of student academic performance as measured by Kentucky’s Commonwealth Accountability Testing System.

Lesson Study in Middle Grades Education
Micki Caskey, Portland State University; Susan Lenski, Portland State University

This study examines how middle school teachers use a lesson study approach to collaborate to on aspects of teaching including what content to teach, what pedagogical strategies to use, what tasks to assign, and how to assess evidence of learning. The research questions that guided the investigation were: (1) How does the lesson study approach support middle school teachers’ thinking related to redesigning a specific lesson? (2) In what ways do content area teachers incorporate literacy strategies in the revised lesson plan? (3) What similarities and differences are evidenced across content area teachers’ use of lesson study?

Negotiating Differences: Lessons Learned in a Second Semester at Midwest Middle School
Penny Howell, University of Louisville; Jane Arrington, University of Kentucky

An increasingly prominent goal of many teacher education programs is to prepare a mostly White, female cadre of preservice teachers to work effectively with students from racial/cultural backgrounds different than their own. The purpose of this study was to replicate our earlier study (see Authors, 2007) by exploring 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 a small Midwestern city. We employed case-study methodology as we analyzed all completed class assignments of 24 preservice teachers admitted to the Middle School Teacher Education Program at a research intensive university. Preliminary analysis reveals that the second cohort of students did indeed show similar growth in understanding of diversity. Additionally, with a much more intense and explicit approach to White privilege and “othering”, this cohort of participants expressed stronger reactions and enhanced willingness to engage in conversation and inquiry (for course projects) about cultural/diversity issues. We also found that some topics needed to be more carefully scaffolded to reduce resistance.

Sustaining Middle Schools in a Time of Change: Lessons in Leadership
Ronald Williamson, Eastern Michigan University

Nearly all recommendations for school reform recognize the importance of leadership in improving student learning. This paper reports the results of a multi-year study in two school districts (five schools) experiencing significant pressure to redesign middle grades schools and move away from research-based practices in the middle grades. The focus of the study was to examine how leaders responded when faced by precipitous declines in human and financial resources and at the same time confronted the need for improved results on student state tests in reading and mathematics. The lessons from these schools can help to guide the response in other schools facing similar demands.


Navigating New Literacies and Learning in Middle Grades Education
Hiller Spires hiller_spires@ncsu.edu North Carolina State University — Session Organizer
Chris Dede chris_dede@harvard.edu Harvard University — Chair

Young Adolescents and Online Social Gaming
John Lee, North Carolina State University

This paper is focused on the manner and extent to which online social gaming environments such as Club Penguin provide children with meaningful experiences to develop new literacies and social skills. In this paper, I describe recent developments in online social gaming for children ages 7-14 and consider the implications of these developments for middle level educators using findings from a focused study of five children’s gameplay and the connections between their gaming experiences and school.

New Media Literacies in the US and China: Middle Grade Teachers Confront the Issues
Hiller Spires, North Carolina State University; Kim Turner, North Carolina State University; Degang LI, Beijing Normal University

The objective of this presentation is to examine issues related to integrating new media literacies through the lens of middle grade educators in the US and China. Results of a semester long study in which 40 middle grade teachers from the two countries participate in an online dialogue about issues related to new media literacies will be presented. Comprising a convenient sample, the teachers are enrolled in two different classes (one at NC State University and one at Beijing Normal University) and will participate in asynchronous dialogue (due to time differences) about critical issues and best practices surrounding the integration of new media literacies in their classrooms. Additionally, the teachers will discuss the challenges (e.g., instructional, technical, institutional, and political) they confront as they make these instructional changes in their classrooms. A content analysis of this cross-cultural dialogue will no doubt reveal themes that are common to both groups as well as differentiating themes based on varying socio-political influences. Results will shed new light on how teachers mediate the use of emerging technologies from a cross-cultural perspective.

Music as a New Literacy in Middle Grades Education
Lodge McCammon, NC State University

This paper will define music as a new literacy and explore this construct in two different educational contexts. The first context is how Chinese educators are using music as a tool for English Language Learning (ELL). Through a three-year research study Chinese educators have adopted a new music-based study method for learning English (China/US Conference on Literacy, Beijing, FI.ncsu.edu/news/china-blog.html) where they are using American popular lyrics to connect the students to the English language. Researchers at Jingtai School in Beijing found that English songs appeal to Chinese learners not just because music is enjoyable but because it is encouraging and inspiring. They found that songs facilitate the study of knowledge, skills and language. The second context is Franklin Academy, a small charter school in the United States. The purpose of this study was to determine the effects of using original music in teaching chemistry to 8th grade science students. The study relied on mixed methods for investigating the effect of this music-based teaching of student outcomes. The treatment was implemented in two 8th grade science classes, with an additional two classes as the control group for the study. The goal was to discover the effect that music-based teaching had upon these student’s motivation and academic achievement. Results showed no significant differences in academic achievement; qualitative results indicated, however, that students of all levels were motivated and engaged by the music-based curriculum. Future studies should extend the intervention time to 6 months to a year as well as assess the effects of music-based teaching in other disciplines.

Multigenre Reading and Writing: A Catalyst for Multimodal and Multimedia Transformations of Text
Carl Young, North Carolina State University

This presentation will discuss ways to integrate technology into middle grades methods courses and professional development initiatives as a means of modeling technology integration and encouraging pre-service and in-service teachers to explore the ways in which emerging technologies can enhance and support their developing pedagogical goals in teaching English language arts. The importance of including multimodal texts to extend literacy instruction beyond the traditional concept of “text” to include considerations of 21st century skills and emerging technologies will be addressed. Specifically, the presenter will discuss strategies for expanding notions of genre to include nontraditional forms as well as considerations of how multiple genres can be threaded together to create dynamic meaning. As such, the presenter will provide examples of multigenre reading and writing projects, including published multgenre and alternative genre texts. Discussion will include how these projects and publications represent important options for students and teachers in terms of reading and creating multimodal and multimedia transformations of text and expanding our conceptions and comprehension of composition and meaning.

Chris Dede chris_dede@harvard.edu Harvard University — Discussant


National Middle Grades Research Project on Common Planning Time
Kathleen Roney, University of North Carolina Wilmington; Vincent Anfara, The University of Tennesee-Knoxville; Micki Caskey, Portland State University; Richard Lipka, Pittsburg State University; Steven Mertens, University of Illinois

The intent of this workshop is to continue the development of the National Middle Grades Research Project (NMGRP) with an initial focus on Common Planning Time. Working toward the creation of a national database, participants in this workshop will engage in discussion of their expereiences with the research procedures and in analyses of data collected to date by participant researchers. Project leaders will facilitate reflective discussion and interaction with participant researchers.