Abstracts from AERA 2009 Paper Sessions

Micki M. Caskey, Program Chair


Diverse Perspectives in the Middle Grades

Middle-Years Teacher Preparation and Student Engagement in New Zealand
Penny A. Bishop (The University of Vermont), Nicola Durling (New Zealand Ministry of Education), Lisa Ng (New Zealand Ministry of Education)

New Zealand displays a strong grassroots middle schooling movement (Stewart & Nolan, 1992), yet the country’s schooling structure remains decidedly two-tiered. The prominence of primary and secondary schools is reflected in funding, policy, legislation, the national teachers’ unions, and teacher education. However, declining student engagement in the middle years suggests a need for greater attention to the match between young adolescents’ learning needs and learning opportunities. This research employed national surveys, focus groups, interviews and document review to examine New Zealand stakeholder perspectives on the intersection between young adolescents’ engagement needs and their teachers’ knowledge, skills, and values.

Comparison of the School Experiences of Latino and African American Students in Urban Nativity Middle Schools
L Mickey Fenzel (Loyola College)

Although urban public schools have failed minority students, research has shown that students in Nativity Schools show academic gains greater than those of students of the same racial/ethnic backgrounds who attend public schools. The purpose of the present study is to examine differences and similarities in the Nativity school experience for Latino and African American students with respect to academic performance, self-perceptions, and perceptions of the learning and social climate of their schools. Results showed similar academic gains by the two groups of students but different perceptions of the school environment with Latino students experiencing higher levels of teacher support, academically engaging classes, and friendlier peer environment. Possible reasons and implications of these differences are discussed

Racial Differences in Eighth-Grade Students’ Identification With Academics
Joshua S. Smith (Indiana University/Purdue University)

Having a positive attitude about school, valuing school, and being intrinsically motivated is associated with higher grades, graduation, and college attendance. However the literature reveals that these characteristics and attitudes are not uniform across race, class, and gender. The study looked at the ways in which African American (n = 256) and White (n = 208) students described abstract and concrete components of identification with academics. African American students held higher abstract, but lower concrete components of the identification with academics construct. Patterns of gender differences and race and gender interactions emerged in the analysis.

The Features Behind Korean Young Adolescents’ Outstanding Academic Performances: “Education Fever” and “Exam Hell”
Bogum Yoon (Texas Woman’s University)

Based on the relevant literature and the author’s observations, this paper reports the cultural and social aspects with regard to the South Korean education. By focusing on the middle school students’ outstanding academic performances compared to those of the other countries, which are shown by the data of PISA and TIMSS, the paper discusses the features that are related to the young adolescents’ academic outcomes: a) the Korean society’s prevalent academic elitism, b) the students’ extra work hours outside of schools, c) the parents’ personal sacrifice for their children’s successful education, and d) the qualified teacher workforce. The paper aims to broaden our understanding of middle grade schooling and to reconsider the genuine purpose of education for young adolescents.

Issues in Middle Grades Education

Educating Students With Insecure Attachment Histories: The Role of Teachers as Attachment Figures for Early Adolescents
Brianna Kennedy (University of Southern California)

Middle school students with insecure attachment histories present a particular challenge for school personnel. These students frequently cause behavioral disruptions and fail to academically engage in course content. In keeping with the AERA 2009 theme of multidisciplinarity, this paper draws from attachment theory, as well as literature in the fields of education, neurobiology, and psychology to establish a theoretical framework for future research on teachers and attachment. The framework illustrates conceptual linkages between research from these academic disciplines to show that teachers can play a role in the rehabilitation of students’ internal working models and attachment strategies, especially during this key developmental period.

How Middle School Interdisciplinary Teams Define Themselves in the Context of No Child Left Behind
Marilyn Jean Taylor (University of Hawai’i)

This paper reports on the use of common planning time (CPT) by interdisciplinary teacher teams in one 7th-8th grade middle school in a major city in the Pacific region. It was conducted as part of a national, longitudinal study of common planning time sponsored by the Middle Level Education Research SIG of AERA. The middle school studied holds a reputation for good middle school practice and its core teachers meet for common planning time four days each week. Based on observations of team meetings and structured interviews with eight teachers, findings add depth and detail to previous research and generate a new profile of the strengths and drawbacks of teaming at one school in the context of NCLB.

“It All Depends….” Middle School Teachers Evaluate Single-Sex Classes
Frances R. Spielhagen, Ph.D. (Mount Saint Mary College)

This study explored the effectiveness of single-sex classes according to key stakeholders in this educational reform: the teachers who choose or are hired to teach in single-sex classes and schools. Their responses offer important insights into the ways in which these teachers approached these classes at the beginning of the school year, including the differences in the ways that boys and girls learn. This study further provides the conclusions that the teachers reached as the school year was drawing to a close. Therefore, this study attempts to capture the on-the-ground experiences of these middle school teachers as they attempted to implement a relatively new and somewhat controversial school reform.

Classroom Activities in Eighth-Grade Science Classes and Student Achievement: Evidence From TIMSS 2003
Kusum Singh (Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University), Yun Mo (Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University), Mido Chang (Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University)

This study focused on instructional activities in science class on students’ science engagement and achievement. The study used the U.S. data from the Trends in International Mathematics & Science Study (TIMSS 2003). The data on eighth graders were analyzed using structural equation modeling. The study examined the relationships among different forms of classroom instructional activities as reported by teachers, students’ reports of classroom engagement in instructional activities and science achievement. The results supported the theoretical underpinnings of the conceptual model, and showed the link between classroom instructional activities to achievement was mediated by students’ engagement. The study has theoretical and practical significance with implications for practice.

Middle Grades Education: Teachers and Leaders

Preparing Math, Science, and Social Studies Teachers With English Language Learners
Margarita E. Calderon (Johns Hopkins University), Liliana Minaya-Rowe (Johns Hopkins University)

This paper examines a 10-component lesson template as a highly interactive professional development tool for middle and high school content teachers who have English language learners (ELLs) in their classrooms. A two-year quantitative and qualitative study was conducted in a large school district. The paper focuses on the use of an observation protocol to document ELLs’ growth of academic English language in the content areas, and the effects of vocabulary, reading comprehension and writing strategies on their achievement as it correlates with their own instructional repertoire. A model that represents the findings of this study provides the knowledge base from which professional development efforts can be reconceptualized.

Elementary Teacher Candidates’ Attitudes Toward Middle-Level Teaching
Derek L. Anderson (Northern Michigan University)

Advocates of middle level teacher preparation posit young adolescents need teachers who are trained to meet the specific academic, behavioral, and social needs of middle level students (Conklin, 2008; Ference & McDowell, 2005). Furthermore, students at each grade level deserve teachers who want to teach at that level. One hundred twenty-five teacher education candidates majoring in elementary education planned, prepared, taught, and assessed weeklong integrated thematic units in 7th grade classrooms. Participants completed questionnaires containing a mix of Likert-type, short answer, and extended response questions prior to and following the field experience. The data suggest the candidates’ comfort level and desire to teach at the middle level increased following the field experience.

Developing Leadership With Multicultural Middle-Level Educators: An ‘Ohana Approach
Paul D. Deering (University of Hawai’i), *Deborah Zuercher (University of Hawai’i)

This paper examines attempts to help multicultural middle level teachers become leaders for change via a supportive learning community, or ‘ohana (Hawaiian for family), and a critical, knowledge of practice stance (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1999). Data are drawn from 192 highly diverse students and 23 faculty from surveys, participants’ course products and culminating Portfolios, faculty meeting minutes, and observations and interviews. Participants credit the ‘ohana for a 93% graduation rate. The program has helped develop state directors of middle school reform and health education; 18 state middle school association board members and five Educators of the Year; and dozens of national publication authors and conference presenters. The learning community and critical stance are components that could readily transfer to other contexts.

Student Engagement in the Middle Grades

Varied Meanings and Engagement in School Mathematics: Cross-Case Analysis of Three High-Achieving Young Adolescent Girls
Jae Hoon Lim (University of North Carolina – Charlotte), Amelie Ginette Schinck (University of North Carolina – Charlotte), Jeong-Lim Chae (University of North Carolina – Charlotte), Jimmy Watson (University of North Carolina – Charlotte)

This paper presents a cross-case analysis of three high-achieving young adolescent girls who revealed contrasting pictures of their mathematics learning experiences. In particular, we examined the nature and foundation for their motivation to learn mathematics and dominant mode of academic engagement in relation to three sociocultural factors found most salient in our data—their family background, the role of peers, and the instructional structure and practice in their mathematics classes. Our data analysis revealed that the three girls possessed contrasting values in learning mathematics and different sources for motivation. This resulted in a significant difference in the mode of their academic engagement and provided a different set of challenges in each girl’s pursuit of higher level of mathematics learning.

Accountable Talk in a Middle School Math Class: Practices and Perspectives
Penny B. Howell (University of Louisville), Yuliya Arasheva (University of Louisville)

This case study explored teacher and student perspectives of using Accountable Talk in linguistically and culturally diverse mathematics classrooms. The participants, 68 students from advanced and comprehensive math classrooms responded to a questionnaire and were interviewed regarding their perceptions of the use of Accountable Talk in their math classroom. The picture of the teacher’s perceptions of the method’s contributions to students’ content and langue proficiency was obtained from a series of in-depth and informal interviews and classroom observations. The analysis of the interview and survey data revealed that students reported a better understanding of the content presented, a sense of community in the classroom, and an opportunity to be actively engaged in math lessons on a daily basis.

Middle Grades Students and Game-Based Learning: Creativity, Engagement, and Writing Achievement
Hiller A. Spires (North Carolina State University), Lisa Hervey (North Carolina State University), James Lester (North Carolina State University)

This paper contributes to the empirical research for game-based learning by testing the effects of the Narrative Theater on student creativity and writing achievement. In particular, seventh grade students using the Narrative Theater are introduced to characters in a virtual storyworld and then invited to write a narrative, which is automatically analyzed by the Theater’s natural language models. Through a process of active exploration and iteration, users incrementally elaborate and refine their stories, which “come alive” in the Theater. This paper will describe the iterative design process used to create the Narrative Theater and data results from student focus groups and assessments being used to evaluate the effects on student creativity and writing achievement.

Technology and Student Engagement in the Middle Grades
John M. Downes (The University of Vermont), Penny A. Bishop (The University of Vermont)

Student engagement in learning has been identified as both a challenge and a pathway toward academic success. While traditional teaching methods often fail to capture students’ interests, technology has established itself as a motivator for many youth. This holds particularly true for young adolescents who, in the midst of dramatic social development, often engage with various technologies, including social networking sites, IM, podcasts and blogs. Some educators therefore choose to integrate technology into their classrooms as a motivator. The mixed methods research presented here examines the role of a technology-rich, integrative learning environment in the schooling lives of disengaged young adolescents over a four year period. Results suggest the potential for the environment to foster belonging, leadership and academic success.


Explorations With Middle-Grades Students

Partnering With Students in Middle Grades Teacher Professional Development
John M. Downes (The University of Vermont), Regina E. Toolin (The University of Vermont)

In the last several decades researchers have devoted substantial effort to understanding how student voice can contribute to improving schools, particularly classroom- school- and district-level reform efforts. Yet little is known about how the power of student voice can contribute to teacher professional development designed to promote middle grades reform in teaching and learning. This study explores the role of student voice in changing the attitudes and practices of teachers participating in a state-wide middle grades professional development institute. Through observations, document analysis, and interviews with students and teachers, the research examines how students contribute to the design, implementation, and evaluation of teacher change in middle grades classrooms.

Achievement Outcomes in At-Risk Elementary and Middle School Students: Relations With Educational Context
Sharon E. Paulson (Ball State University), Gregory J. Marchant (Ball State University)

The purpose of this study was to explore the relations among several aspects of at-risk students’ educational contexts and their academic achievement in elementary and middle school. We examined the relations of students’ reports of self-competence and school values, parents’ reports of school involvement and school environment, and teachers’ reports of students’ academic behaviors on students’ classroom grades and state standardized test scores in reading and math. The data revealed that teachers provided the best perspective of students’ academic progress, but students’ values about education and parents’ involvement in school activities were especially important for the academic outcomes of middle school students. The implications for educational interventions for at-risk students will be discussed in the full paper.

Middle School Student Awareness and Actions Regarding Threatening Behaviors and Internet Safety
Stacey L. Kite (Johnson & Wales University), Robert K. Gable (Johnson & Wales University), Lawrence Filippelli (Scituate Middle School)

Knowledge of appropriate internet use and their behaviors that could lead to cyberbullying or contact with predators were assessed for N=1366 grade 6-8 rural, suburban and urban students with the 47 items and five dimensions of the Survey of Internet Risk and Behavior. Descriptive statistics, t-tests, and ANOVAs were generated. Major findings revealed only 47% of the students offered appropriate responses for the Knowledge dimension. Only 55% believe a predator could use the internet to locate them, 12% have bullied others, and 17% logged on a friend’s IM and pretended to be them. Students who reported earning good grades and not getting into trouble at school also reported they participated in bullying behaviors. Implications for educators and parents are discussed.

Exploring Students’ Responses to Interdisciplinary Learning in a Sixth Grade Unit on the Rain Forest
David B. Strahan (Western Carolina University)

As teachers engaged sixth graders in an interdisciplinary unit on the Amazon rain forest, researchers observed lessons, analyzed student work products, interviewed students to explore their responses to the unit and assessed their levels of understanding of the concepts emphasized. Participating students achieved varied levels of understanding related to the connections they made with the content. Six students demonstrated deep levels of understanding, identifying relevant details, articulating relationships among details and generating specific personal connections. The other three students learned some of the key concepts but did not integrate these concepts or connect with them personally. Results suggest ways to engage individual students in interdisciplinary instruction and encourage deeper levels of reasoning by identifying points of understanding and increasing collaboration.

Arts-Infused Learning in Middle-Level Classrooms
Maureen R. Lorimer (California State University – San Marcos)

Infusing the visual and performing arts into language arts, math, science, and history/social studies courses is a pedagogical approach that can meet the developmental needs of early adolescents and provide a relevant, challenging, integrative, and exploratory curriculum to all learners.. Through observations and interviews of five middle level classrooms, this case study explores the connection between arts-infused learning and middle level education. Likewise, this research endeavors to illuminate the benefits of arts-infused learning in middle level classrooms. Study results indicate that arts-infused learning may positively influence attendance, behavior, and attitude. Moreover, these encouraging outcomes may suggest new thinking about middle level curriculum and pedagogy, professional development, and policy.

Transformations in Middle Grades Education

The Transformation of One Middle School Program: An Examination of the Micropolitical Dynamics
Ronald D. Williamson (Eastern Michigan University), Ella Burton (Eastern Michigan University)

Contemporary educational policy is impacting many middle level schools. Increased accountability, diminishing resources, and tension about service to underserved students create a volatile political environment. Simultaneously, many middle school programs launched in the 1980’s and 1990’s are undergoing review. Most often the review is an opportunity update and recommit to successful practices. In others, however, a program review becomes a political struggle where constituent groups vie to protect their own interests. This paper reports on a multi-year study in one school district that experienced significant pressure to redesign its middle grades program. The focus of the study was to examine how leaders responded when the program review became increasingly politicized and jeopardized the underlying support for sound middle level practices.

The Implementation of Character Education at the Middle School Level in Los Angeles County, California
Barbara J. Poling (University of La Verne)

The proposal reports a quantiative descriptive study aimed at investigating the perceived level of implementation of the eleven principles of character education at the middle school level in Los Angeles County, California. The research includes current theories of implementation of mandated programs, middle school theory, and character development. The findings indicate significant relationships in sevel area of implementation including staff and parent involvement. High levels of implementation were reported for the ten of the eleven principles of character educations. Policy and practitioner action steps were recommended.

Increasing the Teacher Efficacy of Middle School Math and Science Teachers
Lyn Ely Swackhamer (University of Colorado – Denver), Karen A Koellner (University of Colorado – Denver), Carole G. Basile (University of Colorado – Denver), Doris Kimbrough (University of Colorado – Denver)

Studies have also shown that content courses which focus on pedagogy or how to teach content have been successful in raising pre-service teachers’ efficacy levels (Appleton, 1995; Palmer, 2001). The purpose of this study was to investigate whether levels of personal or outcome efficacy can be affected in practicing teachers by simply increasing the level of basic content knowledge. Self-efficacy data of 88 teachers in math and science were examined to discern the level of self-efficacy after taking content courses; the difference in self-efficacy between teachers who took four or more courses versus those who took less; and then through a qualitative lens to examine the characteristics of teachers with high self-efficacy.

Differentiated Instruction: Exploring Implementation Through Co-Teaching at the Middle Level
Jim C Smith (Academy District 20)

With evolving legislation like “No Child Left Behind (NCLB)” and the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004, public education is being challenged to grapple with tough issues that were previously not formally acknowledged. Guided by policy, laws and legislation, public education is enacting reform that will insure that each student, regardless of differences and individual need, will receive equitable instructional opportunities and services. In response, strategies like differentiated instruction have been pursued and implemented in schools across the country. The purpose of this study is to examine, through a mixed methods approach, how classroom teachers conceptualize and implement differentiation and to explore the gap that exists between the theoretical model and implementation of differentiation in classrooms.

Service Learning Prepares Teachers to Meet the Needs of Urban Middle-Level Learners
Virginia M. Jagla (National-Louis University)

This is one of a growing number of service-learning studies involving inner city young adolescents as the producers of the project. The additional layer of involvement by our university students in this project enhances the benefit since they have a contract to teach in underperforming schools in Chicago for at least four years after graduation. Gaining firsthand knowledge of the powerful pedagogy of service-learning as preservice teachers enables them to better utilize the pedagogy in middle level classrooms within the least served communities of the city.


An International Perspective on Sixth Graders’ Interpretation of the Equal Sign
Mary Margaret Capraro

The educational and scientific importance for this symposium is firmly rooted in international mathematics achievement and curricula comparisons. The U.S.’s broad mission has not proven to be able to secure top rankings in international studies (e.g., PISA & TIMSS). In fact, U.S. students scored below some developing countries and behind most other western countries. While international comparisons are used as benchmarks for which to measure progress and change as new innovations are implemented, their most important use is to explore what mathematics is taught in comparison countries and how it is taught. In this study sixth-grade students’ understanding and interpretation of equal sign was examined in carefully selected representative samples from each country

Common Planning Time Project: Emerging Research From the National Middle Grades Research Project
Kathleen Roney, Steve Mertens, Vincent Anfara, & Micki Caskey

The theme of this year’s annual meeting invites those in educational research to close the circle of knowledge through disciplined inquiry. The intent of this symposium is to document the history and process of the National Middle Grades Research Project on Common Planning Time. Participant researchers used a standardized set of observation and interview protocols to gather data. Each participant researcher explored the data using an array of qualitative data analysis techniques. Project Leaders will facilitate the session. First, Project Leaders will present an overview of the project. Second, participant researchers will present their individual research. Third, project leaders will guide discussion regarding preliminary findings and next steps. Session will conclude with an open conversation with session participants.