Abstracts from AERA 2010 Paper Sessions

Penny Bishop , Program Chair


Middle-Grades Student Achievement, Engagement, and Experience

Do Think-Aloud Protocols Lead to Higher Levels of Student Engagement, Metacognition, and Narrative Writing Achievement During Game-Based Learning? Hiller A. Spires and Lisa G. Hervey (North Carolina State University), and James Lester

This paper presents the first phase in the research and development project called Narrative Theatre, a game-based learning environment for sixth grade students. The goal of the research is to assess the effects of think-aloud protocols on student engagement, metacognition, and narrative writing achievement. Additionally, think-aloud protocols will provide a view of student thought processes as they experience Narrative Theatre. In this comparative mixed-method study, both quantitative and qualitative data results from engagement, metacognition, and writing assessments along with think-aloud transcripts will be evaluated. The theoretical and practical implications of the research will contribute to our understanding of the nexus of game-based learning educational environments and their effect on student engagement, metacognition, and narrative writing achievement.

Longitudinal Impact of an Eighth-Grade Inquiry Curriculum on Students’ Beliefs and Achievement in Science
Jacqueline J. Madhok (University of California – Berkeley), James D. Slotta (University of Toronto), and Marcia Linn (University of California – Berkeley)

Can science courses change beliefs about science? We study the impact of an inquiry science course featuring personally relevant topics on annual and longitudinal performance. Students were tested at the beginning and end of eighth grade. A subset of 42 students was studied over a 4-year period. We investigated: (a) Whether students view themselves as more independent learners after taking the course; (b) How beliefs about science impact achievement? For all students? For specific subgroups? (c) How long changed beliefs persist. Results showed gains in students’ beliefs during the eighth-grade, followed by increases through 9th grade and subsequent declines by end of 11th grade. Questions are raised about how high school classes may negatively affect students’ beliefs.

Measuring Engagement Structures in Middle-Grades Urban Mathematics Classrooms
Roberta Y. Schorr, Yakov M. Epstein, and Lisa B. Warner (Rutgers University); Robert M. Capraro and Mary Margaret Capraro (Texas A&M University); Gerald A. Goldin (Rutgers University), and Robin K. Henson (University of North Texas)

The purpose of this study was to deepen understanding of when, how, and why students engage deeply in conceptually challenging mathematics, and the impact this has on their mathematical learning and understanding. This line of inquiry has resulted in a research instrument that produced valid and reliable scores for middle grades students, designed around the psychological concept of “engagement structures” that emerged from our ongoing research in urban schools spanning a whole spectrum of socio-economic levels. The instrumentation made possible large-scale and comparative studies of affect and motivation in mathematics classrooms, and informs mathematics teachers through the venue of carefully designed professional development activities that make use of the research instrument as a tool for feedback and discussion.

What Is the Relationship Between Student Engagement and Performance on an NCLB Accountability Test?
Anthony C. Frontier (Cardinal Stritch University)

This study considered the relationship between student engagement and student achievement among 552 middle school students. A survey that considered engagement as a multi-dimensional construct consisting of emotional, behavioral, and cognitive factors was developed, piloted and validated for this study. Achievement was measured using student grade point average, and student performance on the state’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) accountability test. Analyses between student’s engagement score and the achievement indicators found engagement was significantly correlated to grade point average, but was not significantly correlated to the state accountability test. Findings suggest that student achievement and student engagement are not synonymous. Schools and communities should be cautious in making inferences about student engagement based on results from state accountability tests.

Preliminary Results From the Thinking With Data Project: A Cross-Curricular Approach to Data Literacy Education
Mark A. van ‘t Hooft (Kent State University), Annette Kratcoski (Research Center for Educational Technology), Karen P. Swan (University of Illinois – Springfield), Philip J. Vahey (SRI International), Dale Cook (Kent State University), Ken Rafanan (SRI International), and Louise G. Yarnall (SRI International)

Data literacy is recognized as a critically important skill in today’s society. While data literacy skills are included in disciplinary standards across the curriculum, they remain focused on de-contextualized data manipulation in Mathematics and are reduced to reading charts and graphs in other subject areas. Nowhere is thinking with and about data really addressed. The Thinking with Data (TWD) project takes seriously the notion that data literacy is a skill that should be addressed in an interdisciplinary manner. This paper discusses what it means to address data literacy across the curriculum and shares the results of the field implementation of the TWD curriculum in two middle schools in Northeast Ohio.

Middle-Grades Teachers: Positioning and Pedagogy

Deep Thinking and Differentiation: Developing a Logic Model for Responsive Teaching in an Urban Middle School
David B. Strahan (Western Carolina University) and Jessy Kronenberg (Western Carolina University); Richard Burgner and Jennifer Doherty (Asheville City Schools); Melissa Hedt (Asheville Middle School)

Research has suggested that differentiation is a responsive approach to teaching rather than a set of strategies. In this study, researchers generated a logic model to explain how two teachers created a responsive approach collaboratively and describe the learning connections that five students made in an integrated unit. Data from interviews, observations, and work samples showed how teachers encouraged engagement by identifying students’ strengths, tapping interests, and extending their thoughts. Students’ levels of reasoning varied according to connections they made with teachers and information. The revised logic model more specifically described how teachers attempted to create connections and how students responded. Results help explain the dynamics of differentiation and might provide a foundation for hypothesis testing in other settings.

Differentiated Instruction: Exploring Implementation at the Middle Level
Jim C. Smith (University of Colorado – Colorado Springs)

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 how classroom teachers conceptualize and implement differentiated instruction and to explore the gap that exists between the theoretical model and implementation of differentiation in classrooms

Well-Prepared Middle-Grades Teachers: Common Ground or Subtle Divide Between Practitioners and University Faculty?
P. Maureen Musser (Consultant), William L. Greene (Southern Oregon University), Linda L. Samek (George Fox University), Micki M. Caskey (Portland State University), Jay Casbon (Oregon State University – Cascades), and Younghee M. Kim (Southern Oregon University)

This qualitative study investigated university faculty, classroom teachers’, and principals’ perceptions of well-prepared middle grades teachers. A qualitative approach allowed the researchers to explore and interpret the participants’ views (Denzin & Lincoln, 1998) and address the following research questions: 1. What are the perceptions of middle grades university faculty, classroom teachers, and principals regarding well-prepared middle grades teachers? 2. Where does congruence and divergence exist among these groups? 3. What are the implications for preservice teacher preparation? In spite of many similarities, a number of differences in emphasis or priority were found among the groups. This study provides a foundation for deeper analysis and discussion among university faculty and practitioners concerning the “what” of middle grades teacher preparation programs.

Repositioning Literacy Pedagogy Through a Whole-School Read
Pamela C. Jewett, Jennifer L. Wilson, and Michelle Vanderburg (University of South Carolina)

This article describes an urban middle school that took part in a year-long literacy engagement, a whole-school read of a young adult novel. The authors explored the carefully considered literate event and the impact it had on the school’s academic and social spaces. Relying on the perspective that literacy is ideologically-laden, that cultures are fluid and dynamic, and on Bernstein’s conceptions of pedagogy and curriculum, the authors found that the whole-school read created spaces for invisible pedagogical approaches and that it interrupted the school’s reproduction of traditional academic learning spaces. Additionally, the authors provide implications for the whole-school read and a rationale for the kinds of knowledge that it valued and how that knowledge was represented.

Teacher-Student Relationships Among Behaviorally At-Risk African American Youth
Christopher J. Murray and Keith Zvoch (University of Oregon)

This investigation examines teacher-student relationships among African American youth from low-income backgrounds (N = 193). Students and teachers completed measures of teacher-student relationship quality and of emotional, behavioral, and school-related adjustment. Results indicated that African American youth who fell above the clinical cut point on a measure of the externalizing problem behavior (n = 63) reported lower trust and greater alienation in relationships with teachers than did similarly matched students who did not have clinically significant externalizing symptomology. Similarly, teachers’ rated relationships with students in the externalizing subgroup as lower in closeness and greater in conflict. Multiple regression analyses indicated that both student and teacher perceptions of teacher-student relationships were associated with student and teacher-rated emotional, behavioral and school-related adjustment.


Literacy in the Middle Grades

Reading Attitudes of Middle School Students (RAMSS): An Initial Validation Study
Jenna Jeanne Bachinski (University of Connecticut)

An initial review of the literature revealed the lack of a valid and reliable instrument to measure the reading attitudes of middle school students. The Reading Attitudes of Middle School Students (RAMSS) instrument is designed to fill this gap. Completed surveys from 516 middle school students provided the data for the Exploratory Factor Analysis (EFA). A three-factor solution emerged that was both statistically sound and conceptually relevant. The factors were labeled “Enjoyment”, “Value”, and “Self-efficacy”. The instrument contains thirty items total, ten items per subscale, along with five demographic questions. A follow-up Confirmatory Factor Analysis will be conducted in the fall of 2009.

Does Spelling Matter? Examining the Relationship Between Adolescents’ Orthographic Knowledge and Overall Reading Ability
Danielle V. Dennis and Diane C Kroeger (University of South Florida)

Because orthographic knowledge is expressed through spelling, research focuses on spelling development to inform our understanding of how readers gain facility with an orthographic system. Struggling middle school students (n=94) were administered myriad literacy assessments to determine individual differences between students who earn below proficient scores on state reading assessments. Students with the highest level of comprehension also demonstrated the highest level of orthographic knowledge, and the highest correlations between comprehension and orthographic knowledge, while those students with high decoding skills but low comprehension skills, or with fast, but inaccurate decoding and the lowest comprehension skills, demonstrated the lower correlations. This indicates that orthographic knowledge informs and is informed by both decoding and comprehension skills.

What Do Urban Middle School Girls Read and Why Do They Read That? A Pilot Study
Ambika Gopalakrishnan and Sharon H. Ulanoff (California State University – Los Angeles)

This study examines the reading preferences of urban middle school girls in order to explore how such preferences motivate girls to succeed in reading. Seventy-three girls in the 6th, 7th and 8th grades from two school districts in southern California completed surveys about their reading habits and preferences during winter 2007. Findings indicate that the influence of media and pop culture plus access to books provided by the teacher and school greatly impact adolescent girls’ reading preferences. Furthermore, girls in this study prefer books and literature with strong protagonists who demonstrate characteristics with which they identify.

Middle-Grades Teacher Development and Qualifications

In the Middle: Elementary Education Majors’ Experience in Middle-Level Education and Associated Field Experience
Nicole C. Miller, Nicole L. Thompson, and Jianzhong Xu (Mississippi State University)

With limited research on elementary education majors’ experiences in middle level endorsement programs (Anderson, 2009), this qualitative study aims to examine this topic to provide some insight into these experiences. Specifically, this study focuses on elementary education preservice teachers perceptions of, and experiences in, a mandatory middle level education course, its required field experience and the resulting effects of interest and feelings of preparedness in working with young adolescents. Data analyzed from 16 participants included interviews, observations, blogs, reflections and pre and post surveys. Further justifying the need for middle level specific coursework, the study found preservice teachers in a relatively diverse field experience increased feelings of efficacy, if not necessarily interest in working with young adolescents.

Teacher and School Effects on Student Achievement: An HLM Study on Middle School Science
Yun Mo, Kusum Singh, and Mido Chang (Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University)

This study examined the individual, class and school level variability of the students’ science achievement. It is hypothesized that there are school or teacher effects which contribute towards explaining achievement differences, besides the student level differences. Due to the nested structure of the data in Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) 2003 we used the Hierarchical Linear Modeling methodology. Besides the significant effect of engagement, the teachers’ preparation in science and the topic coverage were both significant factors as were the effect of school SES and availability of remedial and enrichment programs in science. The study makes a contribution to a better understanding of the Opportunity to Learn variables at classroom and school level in students’ science achievement.

“As If They Were Real People”: Partnering With Students in Middle Grades Professional Development
John M. Downes (The University of Vermont)

The role of student voice in school improvement has attracted considerable attention from researchers and policymakers in recent years. Yet despite finding that more than 90% of teachers participate in formal professional development each year, recent reports on these activities, as well as standards for staff development, make no mention of involving students. This paper explores the role of students in a state-wide middle grades professional development institute. The study examines three cohorts over three years through surveys, observations, document analysis, and interviews with students and teachers. The findings reveal how students in professional development activities can contribute to changing teachers’ attitudes and practices. The findings have implications for the design of this and other professional development programs.

Coconstructing Student-Informed Pedagogy in the Middle Years
Emily Jane Nelson (University of Waikato)

This paper describes how a small group of middle year teachers worked collaboratively within a critical action research framework to create reciprocal pedagogical relationships with their students that increased students’ active involvement in the design and evaluation of pedagogy and curriculum. The teachers used a visual methodology with their students to investigate students’ self-knowledge as learners, their knowledge of effective teaching and teachers and the ‘funds of knowledge’ they bring to the classroom. The paper also outlines how teachers were supported to use the learning and feedback gained from working with their students to devise practical strategies for increasing student participation in decision-making and design of learning programmes that better address their needs, interests and aspirations.

Transformations in Middle-Grades Education

Reclaiming Camelot: Capturing the Reflections of Exemplary Middle School Teachers in an Age of High-Stakes Accountability
Darby Claire Delane and Nancy F. Dana (University of Florida)

Middle level education experienced the shining moments of a Camelot era in the 1970’s — a period characterized by such practices as teaming, exploratory programs, thematic curriculum, small group advisement, and block scheduling. This narrative study captures the reflections of veteran middle school educators regarding their careers and the changes they experienced as teacher leaders over time. Through in-depth interviews we sought to understand the ways that the current era of high-stakes testing and accountability has shaped the experiences of middle school practitioners over the past three decades. Findings are presented through a jigsaw puzzle metaphor that will help illustrate how middle school leaders might “reclaim the era of Camelot” once again, although in a new, hybrid form.

Beyond Technology Integration: Meaning, Significance, and Engagement in the Middle Grades
John M. Downes and Penny A. Bishop (The University of Vermont)

Failure to complete high school in the United States has reached alarming proportions, prompting researchers to examine the middle grades as an important time to intervene with disengaged students. Technology is increasingly seen as a way to reach disengaged students. This 4 year study examined the role of a technology-rich 7th and 8th grade program on the schooling lives of disengaged young adolescents. An analysis of observations, teacher and student interviews, meeting transcripts, and student work, identified student outcomes and the program qualities that contributed to student engagement. Results suggest that a technologically-rich environment that embraces project-based learning, community connections, and authentic audiences can positively influence the academic and affective experience of middle grades students.

Improving Academic Performance by Promoting the Relevance of the Core Curriculum: An Evaluation
Dennis Orthner, Roderick Rose, Patrick Akos, and Hinckley Jones-Sanpei (University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill)

This research assesses the contribution of middle school teacher provided career-relevant instruction on student academic achievement. Previous research and theory have indicated that students learn best when course content is offered within the context of information that students’ otherwise considers of value. The data come from an experimental study of an intervention called CareerStart introduced in 7 of 14 middle schools and 3-year longitudinal data on 3,777 students. The analysis examines both intent-to-treat and treatment-on-the-treated analyses to detect CareerStart effects. The findings do not confirm the treatment effect based on school assignment but significant findings are found for exposure to career-relevant instruction. Students in schools with greater career-relevant instruction score higher on both reading and math end-of-grade tests.

Schools-to-Watch Principals: How They Make Sense of Their Roles
Keith Tilford (Illinois State University)

The purpose of this presentation is to describe how three principals made sense of their leadership roles in facilities designated as a School-to-Watch. During this session, the researcher will 1) describe the contexts within which the three principals worked, 2) share the common themes that emerged in the leadership practices of the three principals, 3) present the assertions proposed by the researcher based on the analyzed data, and 4) discuss the lessons learned from the study and how the role they could play in selecting and training principals for leadership in middle schools. The Schools-to-Watch program was created by the National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform to recognize exemplary middle schools.

Assessing Common Patterns of Success: Lessons Learned in the Implementation of Required Middle-Level Student Advisory Programs John M. Niska (Rhode Island College)

This study examines the actions and behaviors of three middle level principals and their Advisory Leadership Teams (ALT) as they lead the implementation of their middle level advisory programs, required as part of the personalization in all middle level schools in this state. Each school, headed by an ALT composed of the principal, a counselor, and teachers, designed an advisory program in a semester college course sponsored by the state’s middle level professional association. In this paper the researcher argues (a) effective advisory programs impact student performance, (b) specific actions and behaviors by leaders have an impact on program implementation, and (c) selected strategies are needed for an advisory program to become successful.

Invited Session

The National Project on Common Planning TIme: Emergent Research
Chairs: Steven B. Mertens, Vincent A. Anfara, Nancy Flowers, & Micki Caskey

While research has documented the positive effects of common planning time in the middle grades, little is known about what teachers ‘do’ during this common planning time. To explore this phenomenon, participant researchers gathered qualitative data using a common set of observation and interview protocols. In this session, project leaders will provide an overview of the project and methodologies and participant researchers will share the results of their individual research investigations. The session will include a thoughtful discussion of the participant researchers’ findings and a description of the next phase of the common planning time project.
The following research papers will be presented:

A Case of the Impact of Common Planning Time on Middle School Teachers and Students
Molly Mee, Towson University, mmee@towson.edu

Exploring the Role of the School Administrator in Fostering the Effective Use of Common Planning Time
Shawn A. Faulkner, Northern Kentucky University, faulkners1@nku.edu
Chris M. Cook, Northern Kentucky University, cookc2@nku.edu

Reading and Writing Challenges for a Sixth Grade Team: Literacy’s Place in Common Planning Time Discussions
Francine Falk-Ross, Pace University, ffalkross@pace.edu