Abstracts from AERA 2005 Paper Sessions

Kathleen Roney, Program Chair

Block Scheduling Effects on Middle School Students’ Mathematics Achievement
Kim Mattox, Stephen Hancock, J. Allen Queen

Because the middle school years are often marked by a decline in student achievement, particularly during the transitional year when students move from elementary school to sixth grade, the current study was conducted. Results revealed significant increases in the mathematics achievement scores of sixth grade students’ enrolled in five middle schools that transitioned from traditional to block schedules. Characteristics of block scheduling that may have accounted for these outcomes and recommendations for future research are discussed.

Team Collaboration in a High-Stakes Environment
Karen Weller

A seventh and an eighth grade team were chosen for this study based on their level and degree of collaboration during the 1999-2000 school year. This study addressed the question of what changes in collaborative practice were made at the middle school level in response to district goals regarding student performance on standardized tests. It further asked how teacher interpreted those goals, whether accountability

Middle Level Interdisciplinary Teaming as an Induction Practice
Dana Bickmore, Steven Bickmore, Laurie Hart

This study examined participants’-new teachers, mentors, and principals-perceptions of interdisciplinary teaming, a common practice in middle schools, as an element of induction. The questions that guided the study were: (1) In what ways did the participants characterize their experience with interdisciplinary teaming in the induction process; (2) How did interdisciplinary teaming function in relation to other elements of induction in the support of new teachers? Our results indicated interdisciplinary teams were perceived as an integral part of the induction process of new teachers.

Sustaining Teams: The Relationship Between Leader Behavior and Team Performance
Ronald Williamson, Barbara Blackburn

This three-year study investigated teachers’ and administrators’ beliefs about the characteristics of effective teams and leadership behaviors that sustained high-performing teams. Data were gathered from team members and school leaders in middle level schools identified as high performing. Data analysis revealed critical leadership behaviors that contributed to sustaining long-term teaming effectiveness.

IMPACTing Middle School Students’ Technology Skills: Results from Year One of a Technology Integration Initiative
Amy Overbay, Jason Osborne, Lisa Grable, Jane Steelman

This study explores the effects of a fully-funded technology integration model on middle school students’ technology skills over the course of the first year of a three-year statewide initiative. In this paper we report on how IMPACT students’ skills changed relative to a comparison group, as well as how middle school teachers’ skills (which were significant and substantial) were related to middle school student outcomes and characteristics, such as their technology skills, home computer access, frequency of home computer use, computer use in core curricular areas, and perception of technology skills.

New Literacies Infusion into a Middle Childhood Methods Course: A Case Study
William Kist

This session describes an effort to help pre-service teachers “unpack levels of texts” and critically examine discourses. Pre-service teachers will need to examine their own literacy practices are in this wild, new media territory, mapping students’ practices and their crossings (transversals) across time, media, and space (Lemke, 2004). The session will describe the transformation of a traditional literacy methods course for pre-service teachers to reflect more of a “multiliteracies” perspective. Examples of student assignments and rubrics will be included.

Successful Middle Schools for Urban Minority Children: A National Study of Nativity Schools
Leo Mickey Fenzel

The present study provides an examination of 12 alternative middle schools in 7 US cities by employing classroom observations, interviews, and written attitude questionnaires involving teachers and students. The paper will show that the success of the Nativity model rests primarily with: (a) strong and respectful leadership from an experienced principal, (b) a long school day that includes extra tutorial assistance, and (c) the extended, individual attention that students receive from dedicated teachers to support both their academic and social-emotional growth.

The Middle School Movement and Improved Student Achievement: Fact or Fiction?
Kathleen Roney, Vincent Anfara

We take the opportunity to react to the National Middle School’s position statement on the middle school movement and student achievement. We conclude with the bold position that the reform structures as delineated by Turning Points (1989) and This We Believe (1982, 1992, 1995, 2003) are a means to an end and are not sufficient to create the results promised. Readers will be provided with answers to questions framed by the three levels of organizational health, such as: (a) How do middle level educators assess students’ overall ability to succeed? (b) How do teachers describe their feelings about the middle school? (c) How are decisions made at the middle school level? (d) What are the major stressors faced by middle schools? (e) How do middle level schools involve parents and community in the education of young adolescents?

Re-Envisioning Instruction of Large-Group Performance Ensembles in the Middle Grades
Patrick Freer

This session will explore the instructional characteristics and language use of middle school choral teachers during rehearsals in which students report higher levels of perceived challenge and skill (often referred to as “flow experience”). The findings suggest that choral music teachers re-envision the rehearsals they lead for young adolescents – dispelling any notion that choruses must be rehearsed in a rigidly organized, teacher-centered manner without opportunities for individual student contributions.

The Effects of Latchkey Status on Middle-Grade Students
Steven Mertens, Nancy Flowers

This paper will examine the status of middle school students and the effect that latchkey status has on student well-being. The implications of the results suggest that students left home alone after school for three hours or more are engaged in more high-risk behaviors and report lower levels of student well-being. Policy implications will also be drawn from these data.

Hand in Hand: Engaging High-Risk Adolescents in Positive Youth Development Experience
Boyoung Park, Stacey Neuharth-Pritchett

This research paper presents data on a youth development program for high-risk youth. Adolescents engaged in the program were high-risk youth involved in a youth empowerment program and a school-to work program. As part of either community service or a youth apprenticeship program, the 17 male and female adolescents volunteered in an early childhood education center for infants and toddlers. Data from the adolescents indicates an increase in their knowledge of child development and comfort with young children and careers that center on young children. Qualitative interview data also indicated that adolescents were more likely to consider parenthood and the possibility of becoming parents at such an early age much differently than before the intervention. Further evidence suggested an increased quality in the environments for young children as well as increased literacy experiences for both the young children and adolescents.

Depression in Adolescents Who Have Experienced Academic Failure
Angela Fiske

The current study examines 190 adolescents’ self-ratings of depression, association with early success or failure in school, and self-ratings on social variables. Through hierarchical linear regression analyses, results indicated that adolescents’ self-ratings of total depression were significantly predicted by retained status and adolescents’ self-ratings on social characteristics such as popularity, social acceptance, intellectual and school status, and social connection to school. Examination of descriptives on the individual variable of total depression indicated that retained children were more likely to rate themselves as more depressed than either students who were low-performing or those who were on grade-level. These data suggest the need to develop interventions for adolescents who have been retained that address their emotional well-being during this critical period of development with a particular focus on countering depressive symptoms.

Making it in the Middle: How African American Girls’ School Experiences Shape Learning
Constance Bauer

This study examines how African American female students experience middle school, specifically examining how white male teachers’ instructional practices affect these students’ agency and engagement. Data suggest that teachers whose attitudes and practices reflect and incorporate students’ cultural backgrounds and interests are most effective with the African American girls. Findings indicate that teachers who learn about students’ needs and interests, demonstrate patience, provide opportunities for group work, and make learning relevant foster positive classroom environments for these African American girls. Conversely revealed is how teacher behaviors stifle these girls’ engagement. The study has important implications for understanding how African American females enrolled in a middle school experience their classes taught by white men, furthering research regarding the importance of fostering a culturally responsive school climate.

Separate by Choice: Single-Gender Academic Classes in a Public Middle School
Frances Spielhagen

This study explored single-gender classes in a public middle school by using both qualitative and quantitative analysis of student attitudes and achievement, as well as teacher and parent attitudes. From this study, it can be concluded that single-gender class arrangements have merit for students who are positively disposed to being involved in them. Moreover, the younger the student, the more likely that student will respond favorably to single-gender classes and the greater the academic gain as measured by achievement tests.

Middle School Girls’ Perceptions of Teachers and Learning
Mary Ariail, Colleen Fairbanks

This study, based on data from 52 interviews, traced four middle school girls’ perceptions of teaching and learning over three years (grades 6-8). Data was gathered from girls’ responses to the question: “What does it mean to be a good teacher?” The girls’ views evolved from a perception of a good teacher as simply “nice” to a view that also included a teacher as competent. Analysis categories included (a) attending to and respecting students as persons, (b) engaging students in active learning, (c) giving explanations and help, (d) providing opportunities to learn with and from peers, (e) making curriculum relevant.

Leadership? Me?: Helping Female and Multicultural Middle Level Teachers to Become Leaders for Change
Paul Deering, Anne Ashford, Rhonda Black, Sheila Apisa

This paper examines attempts to help middle level educators become leaders for change in the Master of Education Degree in Curriculum Studies with a Middle Level Emphasis program (MLMED). Analyses of qualitative and quantitative data (anonymous surveys, school and program documents) regarding the four two-year cohorts that have completed the program (n=130) suggest that our efforts are bearing fruit for all participants, including ten board members, seven presidents, and four Educators of the Year of the Hawai’i Association of Middle Schools. The supportive learning community, portfolio and self-direction appear to be keys. Thus, all middle level teachers, including women, Asians and/or Pacific Islanders, can become leaders for change, within and beyond their schools.

Caught in the Middle Again: Accountability and the Changing Practice of Middle School Teachers
William Greene, Marilyn Olson, Micki Caskey, P. Maureen Musser, Linda Samek

This study investigated the effect of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 on the everyday practices of middle school teachers throughout the state. Results identify trends based on the socioeconomic status of the school community served, the number of minority students enrolled in the school, or an interaction of the two variables. Based on these findings, the study concludes with policy recommendations for middle schools and middle level preparation programs that address academic excellence, developmental responsiveness, and cultural equity.

Integrating Middle School Discourse into a Poststructural Analysis of Gender and Science Teaching
Scott Sowell

This research explicates how incorporating the discourse of middle level education, specifically the debates surrounding developmental responsiveness versus academic rigor (Anfara and Waks, 2000, 2001), into a poststructuralist analysis of science teaching, can provide a more holistic and robust understanding of the gender equity issue. Findings speak to both the science education community’s gender equity research as well as the middle level research community’s exploration of advisory programs.

Different Ways of Learning: Professional Development of Principals and Comprehensive School Reform
Ronald Williamson, Susan Galletti

Different Ways of Knowing Middle Grades Comprehensive School Reform Project provided principals of schools participating in the project with focused professional development designed to strengthen their work with teachers. This paper reports on aspects of this four-year research project funded by the United States Department of Education. In particular, the paper reports findings about the professional development of principals in Different Ways of Knowing schools and the impact of that professional development on teaching and learning as well as student learning in the schools.

Differentiating Instruction in the Middle Grades: Effects on Teacher Practices and Student Achievement
Catherine Brighton, Kristi Doubet, Trudy Clemons, Maria Capper

This session will present the results of an innovative effort to bring quality differentiated curriculum and instructional practice into teachers’ classrooms. The project served as an innovation in staff development and in helping teachers’ develop units that addressed student differences ranging from student achievement and readiness, interests, and learning profiles. Results suggested that familiarity with the innovation affected student achievement. Implications for staff development are discussed and presented.

Mental Imagery and Mathematical Problem Solving
Patricia Douville, David Pugalee

This paper will present the results of an exploratory investigation designed to determine the relationship between mental imagery strategies and the successful mathematical problem solving of middle school students. Although investigations of the effects of mental imagery on literacy tasks have represented a specific research interest, little inquiry has been conducted to investigate the effects of mental imagery on mathematical problem solving. The exploratory study revealed a significant correlation between the students’ reported use of mental imagery and successful mathematics problem solving.

Parent Perceptions of a Magnet Middle School
David Allen

Parents are usually thought of as one of the primary stakeholders in conversations focusing on education. Yet when the evaluation of an educational program occurs, the parents are often not included in the process either by inadvertent exclusion or by blatant omission. The purpose of this study is to identify what perceptions about a magnet middle school are present with the parents of the magnet middle school students. Most of the parents feel that this magnet school has provided an exceptional learning environment for student. But like all programs, there is room for improvement, mostly in areas dealing with communication.

Middle School English Language Learners’ Uses of Literacy and Literacy Motivation in Multiple Settings
Elizabeth Sturtevant, Diane Staehr Fenner, Carla Deniz, Toni Walters, Bonnie Loriz

This study explored literacy motivation and school/non-school literacies among middle school English Language Learners. Results indicate that students’ motivation was high when engaged in projects they participated in selecting and when working with a teacher with whom they felt a connection. In addition, family interviews revealed a large number of literacy activities in which students participated outside of school. However, surveys and interviews indicated that students found much of their school- related reading/writing non-motivating; they also described this reading/writing as very limited in scope.

Instructional Improvement through Data and Dialogue: A Case Study with an Alternative Middle School
David Strahan

During the 2003-04 school year, teachers and administrators attempted to make Elm Street Middle School more significant in the lives of their students by encouraging higher levels of reasoning and by extending their efforts to nurture self-control. This case study chronicled the ways teachers worked together to accomplish these improvements and documented students’ perceptions of their experiences in school. Results illustrate the dynamics of developmental responsiveness and underscore the power of data and dialogue to promote collaborative instructional improvement.

Lessons Learned from Foundation-Based Efforts to Create Comprehensive Transformation of Middle Level Schools
Stephen Brand, Robert Felner, Thaddeus Dumas

The symposium presented findings from a multi-year longitudinal evaluation of a set of foundation-based initiatives that sought to transform educational policy and practice to create high performing middle level schools in which all students would succeed academically. The symposium addresses critical questions concerning: 1.) the extent to which schools have been able to achieve comprehensive, intensive, and sustained implementation of these common national recommendations; and 2.) the conditions that facilitate or constrain efforts to carry out these recommended practices.

Teachers and Professors as Partners to Enhance Middle School Climate: A Five Year Study
Paul Camic, Lynda Cafasso, William Ristow, Jean Rhodes

This symposium reported on the findings of a five-year longitudinal study involving five academically excelling suburban middle schools where university researchers partnered with middle school teachers, as co-researchers, to study school climate. Using multiple quantitative and qualitative methodologies that included a longitudinal design utilizing matched comparison groups, as well as ethnographic and participatory action research, we will report on the findings at the end of Year 5. Information regarding climate, regularities, strengths, challenges and resistance within each school will be discussed by university researchers and one of the participating school principals, in addition to encouraging audience participation.

Action in the Middle: Exemplars of Action Research in Middle Level Education
Micki Caskey, Joanne Arhar, Heidi Barker, Penny Bishop, Kathleen Malu, Dan Saurino, Penelope Saurino, Sandra Stacki

The purpose of this multiple paper presentation is to share current action research in middle level education. Six researchers will present highlights from their action research studies with topics that include middle level reform, professional development, adolescent literacy, university-school partnerships, collaborative action teams, and preservice teacher education. These researchers work alongside middle school teachers who are deeply committed to taking action and using data from their own classrooms to make informed decisions to improve their teaching practices, and in turn, student learning. They also collaborate with administrators and teacher teams who rely upon an action research cycle to shape policies for middle school improvement. These six studies are exemplars of action research in the middle.