Academically Georgia is ranked one of the lowest states for standardized test scores in the United States. In one urban high school in Georgia, the enrollment number for Advanced Placement Literature & Composition increased 4% from the previous school year, yet the number of struggling students in the course exceeds 36%. The research problem is to determine teacher preparation to meet instructional needs for struggling students in rigorous courses.
The purpose of this study will be to examine senior high school students’ preparation, practices, and perceptions regarding rigorous English courses and why some struggle to succeed and/or excel. This study will be grounded in the conceptual framework of Exploratory Research, where teachers engage in explicit instruction and differentiated instruction; focusing on tailoring instruction to meet the diverse needs of struggling students in rigorous English courses. A theoretical framework of Discursive Identity, where the social environment of one English teacher onsite and five English teachers from one additional county high school, will be employed for this study.
The resulting themes will be siphoned from the interview data and triangulated with themes that will derive from best practices in British Literature. An analysis of the data will reveal an alternative solution for the disproportionate number of students who fail to exceed in rigorous courses. Through the research findings, this study will examine positive social changes as vital tools in ensuring more students advance their studies at the high school level. The initiatives will assist teachers in improving the success rate for students struggling in challenging courses.
There exists a problem for English teachers with students struggling in advanced and honors courses in regard to their academic performance. There is a belief among teachers that using explicit instructional methods for instructing students could enable them to achieve excellence in their academic performance in their honors and advanced courses (Fosnot, 1996). Specifically, the problem is why is it that students under the explicit instructional methods have shown declining performance and yet the teachers’ beliefs are based on empirical evidence that explicit teaching has proven to be a successful model of delivering instructions to students? Could the use of explicit instructions as the preferred learning style with a specialized focus on constructivism improve the performance of struggling students in Honors and Advanced Courses? (Lord, 1994).
Fosnot (1996) investigated how the use of explicit instructional methods combined with constructivism enabled the teacher to instruct students towards attaining better scores in English and the key elements which enhanced the learning rate and the student’s personal level of interaction with other learners. Here, Fosnot (1996) and Khalid and Azeem, (2012) focused on the process approach to impart the desired skills in the student as core elements that make explicit learning a success. Teachers hold on to the belief that teaching students through explicit instructional methods combined with the constructivism as opposed to the traditional classroom method, which emphasizes on basic skills improves the performance for those struggling to learn English in advanced and honors courses (Lord, 1994).
Teachers argue that explicit instructions are vital for the learner to score better marks than when instructed through the traditional instructional methods (Khalid & Azeem, 2012). The challenge is to understand whether the belief held by the teachers that the constructivism method, with a specialised focus on explicit instructional method is the most preferable in improving the performance of students in advanced and honors classes in English. Here, teachers prefer using the explicit instructions method by combining the approach with the constructivism method of instructions in offering instructions through an active engagement of learners, which fosters in them the required critical thinking.
The uniqueness with the approach is that it enables students to learn by getting actively involved in critical thinking to become creative and motivated learners. The underlying constructivism theory in this case is to build on what the student already knows, which is a method is referred to as a schema where learning is filtered through a pre-existing schema (Young, 1995). In this case, the student gets actively involved in the learning process as opposed to the traditional passive instructional methods of receiving instructions. A significant number of teacher’s belief that using explicit instructions in the acquisition of English language skills could maximise the academic growth of students in advanced and honors classes.
The explicit method of instruction is usually considered to be effective because it allows students to interact with one another as they take role in the knowledge acquisition process compared with the traditional methods of passively acquiring English language skills. Young (1995) argues that the elements of constructivism when merged with explicit instructions without repeating instructions, enables students to learn using the new concepts to manipulate materials and ideas to their success.
In a bid to improve the student’s learning capabilities in English scores, and to reduce the number of student dropping out of school for failing to perform well in English, the English, teachers view the use of explicit instructional method as the best way of delivering learning instructions and content in the classroom. When scaffolding is used along with the requisite activities that support the delivery of instructions, that approach provides a learning guide, which enables the student to fully comprehend the reason and purpose of learning, enabling the student to build upon that experience to internalise the learning process.
Ameri-Golestan and Alhossaini (2012) argue that teachers find their interactions with the student, especially by offering the required support throughout the learning process, by offering explicit and clear explanation to the instructional target, makes significant contributions to their success in English language lessons. Preliminary investigations show that the teachers’ belief that the explicit instructional method combined with the constructivism instructional method of delivering instructions underpins the students’ improved performance enables them to score appropriate grades to be promoted to the next grade with proper qualifications, skills, and knowledge of English.
According to Ameri-Golestan and Alhossaini (2012), teachers prefer this trend to the social promotion approach, which means that students are promoted after acquiring the right skills and knowledge in English, which is appropriate for struggling students in honors and advanced courses. Krashen (1982) views the rationale for conducting this study to investigate the teachers’ beliefs about explicit instruction for struggling students in honors and advanced courses and the success rate in the acquisition of English language as the basis of this study. Krashen (1982) regards explicit instructional methods when combined with constructivism as critical in equipping the teacher with the right skills to take the active role of promoting and facilitating a discussion while ensuring that students get actively involved in discussions during classroom sessions.
Here, the instructional method teachers belief in enables them to create the desired impact on the student. Explicit instructions, when based on the constructivism paradigm are unambiguous because the method focuses on the use of instructional design and delivery procedures which actively engage the student’s mental level of interest in the acquisition of English (Archer & Hughes, 2011).
Archer and Hughes (2011) and Mayer (2004) researched on the academic performance of students instructed using explicit method with a combination of some elements of constructivism shows that teachers appreciate and regard the use of the explicit instructional methods for students struggling to learn English in advanced and honors courses. The results of this study revealed that the gap between struggling and exemplary students in English Language has increased significantly within a four year period, between the years 2006 to 2009 among struggling students in honors and advanced courses.
Several American professionals and facilitators in this southern high school are concerned about the poor performances registered by students enrolled in advanced and honors English courses. For one high school, 27% of the students enrollment for advanced 12th grade English courses struggle to excel in these rigorous courses. From the first day of school to the fifth day, the enrollment in Advanced Placement English Literature & Composition decreased by 7%.
Students’ engagement in class arises as a reaction to the instructional delivery method, which teachers blame on the traditional instructional methods and the learning student’s restlessness to the academic motivation leading to a decline in performance and high rates of school dropout. In short, it will be important to understand if English teachers’ beliefs about explicit instruction for struggling students in honors and advanced courses are the right method of instructing students in those classes to perform better and improve their skills and knowledge of English. That could have a positive effect on magnifying students’ engagement in English at the advanced and honors levels (Christenson, Reschly, & Wylie, 2012).
Naturally, all students are expected to perform to academic standards set by the school’s district. However, low test scores by students struggling to excel in English at honors and advanced courses dictates that there must be a problem somewhere that is causing all these differences in academic success (College Board, 2010).
A significant concern for this southern school district is that all these students are educated by the same teachers, but different instructional methods and the same education curriculums across nine different high schools (Cloud 2008). However, the greatest concern with regard to this issue is the fact that there seems to be a repeated pattern in the low number of students excelling in English courses using the traditional instructional methods, underscoring the need to focus more on the use of explicit methods of instructions delivery with a specialised focus on the constructivist paradigm as the common denominator to assist students struggling students in honors and advanced courses.
Definition of the Problem
Attenuation among struggling students in honors and advanced courses in English in a metro area high school in a southern state is the scholastic problem that is guiding this study. In the local setting for my study, the gap between excelling students and struggling students, along with low tests scores among struggling students in honors and advanced courses, continues to grow in class performance in the rigorous English courses.
One high school in the southern region of the United States has encountered problems because the success of struggling students in advanced courses is minimal. Although enrollment for students has increased in advanced courses, there has been an 11% decrease in the number of students passing the English exam and 5% decrease in standardized test scores. In advanced courses only 13% of the students are struggling. In remedial English classes, 83% of the students struggle to exceed mastery of the content. The total number of students in honors and advanced courses 347, of which only 230 participated in the English portion and 95% passed.
The math portion of the test is about the efficacy of explicit teaching and where this southern school failed to provide students with the right method of providing instructions to struggling students in honors and advanced courses. Only 74.9% of students met and/or exceeded passing rates. The subgroups which lacked success were students who received instructions in the traditional method (Georgia Department of Education, 2009).
This problem impacts students who do not receive explicit instructions from teachers in mastering English content in an effort to increase the test scores and enrollment among students taking honors and advanced courses. Low test scores can lead to a lack of enthusiasm in all areas of education, not conducive to English. For example, students may feel inadequate in English content and thus carry apathy to other academic subjects, because when students get engaged and become successful, they are likely to be motivated in learning other subjects. Typically, increasing the time a student takes to be engaged in learning English creates some positive impact on the student and improves the learning outcomes.
The quantitative variables of the present project are the success rates in the use of explicit instructions to achieve high scores and improve the academic performance of struggling students in honors and advanced courses. These variables illustrate the importance of the problem addressed. The rates of enrollment and students’ results show the extent to which struggling students in honors and advanced courses need help.
The problem impacts educators who may not be prolific in strategies to assist struggling students in advanced courses. At this southern regional high school, all teachers are required to teach explicit instruction in their classrooms. Teachers are required to follow txplicit instruction when teaching students stating: 1. Expected outcome, 2. Model the lesson, 3. Guided practice, 4. Independent practice, 5. Reflection/Assessment.
Based on test scores and graded coursework, the primary groups affected by the problem are struggling students in honors and advanced courses. The low test scores and grades from struggling students in honors and advanced courses, then becomes an important factor to determine how struggling students in honors and advanced courses in an effort to increase tests scores and excel in rigorous courses as well as understanding why scores and grades are lower for these students.
My study will factor in understanding the decision process struggling students undertake when determining their academic paths. The lack of academic ambition negatively, which is the result of lack of good performance in English affects students struggling in academic performance (National Education Association, 2013). Furthermore, students who do not have good communication skills in English have fewer opportunities in future (Adams & Engelmann, 1996).
There are three possible factors contributing to this problem. One factor is teachers lack experience in explicit instruction and how to effectively implement this research based strategy for struggling students in advanced courses. The second factors is the degree in which differentiated instruction takes places in honors and advanced courses, and lack of a model that integrates constructivism with explicit teaching to improve the performance of struggling students.
Many teachers depict honors and advance English courses as those full of students that have mastered some degree of content in English, yet students still need explicit and constructivist instruction styles to help guide the various learning styles within a class. Another factor is the degree of involvement of the teacher in the use of explicit and constructivism methods to adequately assist teachers in implementing instruction to address the deficiencies of students struggling in rigorous courses.
The population affected by the problem exceeds the group of young people. “We must examine the systems in which our districts, schools and classrooms operate and ask what the systems themselves are doing to close the achievement gap for our struggling students and exemplary students” (Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction [AMA], 2008). The entire community and, more generally, the entire society lose. Low rates of enrollment in higher-grade courses presuppose the lack of qualified personnel who apply the explicit teaching methods. The lack of professionals is becoming a great problem of the American society. Therefore, assisting a relatively small group of struggling students can positively affect the overall situation in the society as aspiring young people can inspire other people to excel in their academic life.
The teachers should know the reasons why the number of students excelling in honors and advanced English courses is decreasing. The reasons for this will be beneficial in developing instructional strategies that will ensure these figures increase as more students enroll in higher-level English courses of learning and excel. Parents feel happy when their children attend schools and further their education beyond the secondary level. Therefore, they may find this information useful when planning future of their children in terms of learning. Promoting higher-grade courses with the right teaching methods and qualified staff, educators will be able to inspire young people to succeed in their academic life and in their future life as well.
Thomas (2013) writes, “Broadly, new ways of thinking about public education must occur before the U.S. can fulfill its obligation to the promise of universal public schools” (ASCD, 2013). Struggling students are less likely to graduate, proceed for higher education, and then proceed to earn a living from a good education. Minimizing the achievement gap between excelling students and struggling students will increase the chances of the latter group to become more productive (Chub & Loveless (2002).
One of the strategies employed to lessen the gap on declining performance of struggling students in honors and advanced courses includes tracking student’s performance frequently, based on the use of explicit instructions method to improve their performance in English language. Studies show that the results after tracking the students struggling students in honors and advanced courses under the explicit instructional delivery with a specialised focus on the use of constructivism were almost immediate (Archer & Hughes, 2011; Neal, 2013). However, despite the efforts, and increased admission level, the decline in performance still persisted on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and Scholastic Assessment Test or SAT (Chubb & Loveless, 2002).
Evidence of the Problem from the Professional Literature
The number of struggling students in honors and advanced courses failing to achieve the passing grades in English is increasing alarmingly. As far as the school in question is concerned, the number of struggling students in honors and advanced courses who fail exceeds the number of students passing has appreciated significantly (Gersten et al., 2009; NMAP, 2008). Despite the falling number of success rates among students, teachers and researchers belief that using the explicit instruction methods coupled with constructivist learning are the best methods for teachers handling struggling students at higher levels of education..
However, teachers have been identified to be part of the problem because most of them are not well equipped to use the explicit instructional method combined with constructivism to achieve a level of success. It has been shown that lack of a model that combines explicit instructions and constructivism and teachers skilled in the use of the new model to offer instructions is the most significant contributing factor in the declining number of students passing in in honors and advanced courses. A good number of struggling students in advanced English courses have experienced low enrolment rates, a fact contributed to by a significant number of reasons.
Some researchers tend to think that it is because teachers are not well trained in the use of explicit methods of instruction (Hodge et al., 2008). Many researchers agree that lack of knowledge in the use of appropriate methods may make the learner to fail to make significant gains in the acquisition of skills in English. Here the teacher is the sole source of explicit instructions in a constructivist student centered classroom.
Some teachers do lack the requisite knowledge to manage a class by focusing instruction on critical content of the language (Archer & Hughes, 2011). In this case the critical content that to be focused on include teaching skills that are required by the student to grasp the core elements of the subject, proving the student with the core strategies to comprehending the subject appropriately, and proving the student with the basis or understanding the core vocabularies of the language, an area where most students fail. Here, concepts and rules are not explained by the teacher, who belief that explicit instructions are the best strategies for improving the performance of students struggling in English.
It is critical for the teacher to provide a basis for empowering the students’ future with the right skills, which are matched with the instructional needs of the student at their level of study (Khalid & Azeem, 2012). On the other hand, while teachers seem to fall deficient of the skills required to impart instructions in the student, research shows that the teachers do not focus on the other primary method of constructivism, which is a complimentary instructional approach and provides the foundation for explicit instructions.
Explicit instructions has been shown to be an effective method to promote the achievement of students at different levels of learning, yet in this case, the performance of the students seems to be declining. On a similar note, the explicit instructions are systematic, engaging, direct, and success oriented, while constructivism is a process approach to learning, which relies on transactional curriculum, which actively involves students to learn and reach an understanding level recommended for passing their exams.
While teachers belief in explicit instructional approach as the most successful instructional delivery method, it is clear from the literature that lack of expertise among teachers in handling struggling students in honors and advanced courses, and failure to integrate the constructivism concept of the transactional nature of the curriculum underpins the problem associated with the high failure rates of struggling students in honors and advanced courses. Notably, several American professionals and facilitators are concerned about the poor performances registered by most Struggling students (within schools in America). This is a critical consideration when probed in the educational context.
Disparities in educational performances among struggling students in honors and advanced courses remains eminent in America (Smart & Paulsen, 2012). On the other hand, it can be noted that only 23% of the struggling students good better readers. Observably, this is a 5% reduction from the notable trend in the past sixteen years. The situation is complicated in the performance of struggling students, which is why it is important to understand special terms regarding strategies and implementations in our school systems.
Purpose of the Study
Academic performance of struggling students in honors and advanced courses has been the subject of intensive study by scholars, research organizations, government agencies, and other stakeholders for many decades. This study will attempt to contribute to an area that is not well researched on. In particular, it aims to examine the problems affecting struggling students, primarily in in honors and advanced courses, with a particular emphasis on understanding the reason for the deplorable performance of students in English, while the belief and research evidence shows that instructions using explicit method are success oriented and has been proven so. This study focuses on the problems affecting their academic performance, with an intention of formulating recommendations that will help resolve the problems at the end of the study.
The purpose of this study will be to research on, analyze and evaluate, based on primary and secondary data, the reason for the declining performance among explicit instruction for struggling students in honors and advanced courses despite the belief and empirical evidence that explicit instructional method of delivery is success oriented among American students in Georgia schools. If struggling students are to be equipped for the future, and be prepared to tackle a global technology economy, being intelligent both academically and socially is critical. All students, regardless of their academic background must, not only be able to qualify and in their academic endeavors , but also score good grades and acquires the required skills to be able to communicate effectively in the job environment.
Not many efforts have been employed by relevant teachers to combat the declining performance in academic achievement among struggling students in honors and advanced courses. Apparently, most academicians and researchers have potentially attributed this situation to several notable factors (Rivers, 2008). Among some of these, include the models and explanations relating knowledge of teachers in instructional delivery method (Nasir & Shah, 2011). In addition, deficiencies in integrating the element of explicit instructions such as several curricula variables and strategies such as teaching easier sections before embarking on teaching more difficult sections hinder efficient learning (Noble, 2011). That is in addition to the need to use constructivism paradigm that provides the foundational support for explicit teaching.
The findings of this study may be very important in changing a pattern that has been in existence for over a decade among struggling students. Does improving the knowledge and skill and methodologies in explicit teaching improve the academic prowess for struggling students in honors and advanced courses? This study will not probe research questions poised to implement change but contribute to clarify the issue of lower enrollments of struggling students into advanced placement courses. Beyond giving recommendations that will help address this problem, it is expected that this study will also prompt more questions that need to be addressed in the Georgian, and in the bigger picture, the American education system to help struggling students in honors and advanced courses.
At the end of the research paper, relevant recommendations will be made on how teachers will improve the performance of struggling students in honors and advanced courses. Good performance for these students translates to well-prepared people that will go to the workforce and affect the economy. Better performance will also mean that the students stay in school for a shorter period of time, which will save the government money.
The definitions and terms that will be used in this study will be used for better comprehension of district and state level educational requirements for students. The definitions also align with the definitions given by the U.S. Department of Education. These terms include:
- Academic performance: Academic performance means how well a student does in school. Good grades mean a high academic performance and poor grades mean bad academic performance.
- Adequate yearly progress, (AYP): Adequate yearly progress (AYP) is the measure by which schools, districts, and states are held accountable for student performance. “States are required by law to use a single accountability system for public schools to determine whether all students, as well as individual subgroups of students, are making progress toward meeting state academic content standards” (Education Week, 2011).
- AYP: Adequate Yearly Progress is a measurement that evaluates how public schools are performing. The measurement is set by the No Child Left Behind Act, and is based on standardized tests.
- Best Practices: This term is in reference to educators who remain up-to-date on current issues, strategies, and concepts effecting students; consistently evolving in professional development; and guiding schools to becoming more rigorous, collaborative, and student-centered.
- Clayton County Georgia Professional Standards, (CCGPS)/Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI): Newly adopted curriculum standards set in place as part of the presidents Race to the Top Grant. The standards adhere to preparing students for college and career.
- Classroom Teacher Performance Assessment System, (CLASS Keys): The CLASS Keys is an evaluation system that was developed to support the standards-based classroom and replaces the Georgia Teacher Observation Instrument.
- End of Course Test, (EOCT): This is an assessment done in several states to evaluate their academic performance, and it is conducted under the State Board of Education. The state of Georgia, for example, conducts the assessment on ninth to twelfth grades.
- Georgia High School Graduation Test (GHSGT). An academic assessment conducted in Georgia that tests the comprehensive results of students from the ninth to eleventh grades. The core subjects are tested in the eleventh grade: English, Math, Science, and Social Studies.
- High-Stakes Testing: A high-stakes test is a test whose results have importance consequences for the person sitting the test. An impressive performance can earn one a scholarship, a diploma or a license to practice in the profession they are studying in.
- NCLB: The No Child Left Behind Act, which was passed under the president Bush’s regime in 2001. The act calls upon students to have standardized tests under the support and of public funds. To ensure that tests are effective, a uniform environment has to be created for that purpose, and upon assessing the results, steps have to be put in place to improve the students’ performance
- Professional Learning Community, (PLC): “Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) shift the focus of school reform from restructuring to reculturing” (Louis, 2006). It is a continuous and ongoing process used to evaluate and understand a school wide culture, which in turn develops teacher leadership. This strategy is solely aimed at building and sustaining school improvement tasks. “Generally, PLCs are composed of teachers, although administrators and support staff routinely participate” (Bolam, McMahon, Stoll, Thomas, & Wallace, 2005; Hoff, 2013; Deal & Peterson, 2010).
- Scaffolding: Scaffolding refers to the idea that specialized instructional supports need to be in place in order to best facilitate learning when students are first introduced to a new subject (National Comprehensive Center for Teacher Quality, 2007). Scaffolding allows teachers to continuously build on student’s prior knowledge of a subject.
- School Improvement Plan, (SIP): This plan is intended at improving the quality of learning and teaching in a school. The expected results are that the students perform maximally in mathematics and other reading subjects. “The school improvement plan provides a framework for analyzing problems, identifying underlying causes, and addressing instructional issues in a school that has not made sufficient progress in student achievement” (Banks, et al, 2011).
- SOL Testing: SOL, or Standards of Learning, is a standardized testing program that sets forth-learning expectations for a student’s core subjects for grade K-12.
The purpose of this project will be to increase academic achievement for struggling students in honors and advanced courses in Clayton County Public Schools as evidenced by state, national and international assessment results. What are the connections between academic performance and explicit instructional method of delivery combined with constructivism for struggling students in honors and advanced courses, when the belief among teachers is that explicit instructional method of delivery is success oriented? For the past three years, the case school failed to achieve AYP (annual yearly progress) due to the instructional delivery method for struggling students in honors and advanced courses.
Through the use of a constructivist curriculum development approach with a specialised focus on explicit instructional methods, this study will guide educators on strategies to increase enrollment of struggling students in advanced English courses. Various articles researched seemingly focus on the shortcomings of struggling students in particular. Other potential factors have been reproduction, opposition, resistance factors, and trends notable within the Struggling students in honors and advanced courses American lifestyle and general affairs.
The present project as well as similar research will provide the necessary data to reshape the present educational strategies to help struggling students fully succeed using the explicit instruction method. These effective strategies will help make struggling students in honors and advanced courses understand the importance of good scores and complete their studies. These strategies will inspire struggling students to take new challenges and achieve academic success. More so, development of effective educational strategies aimed at a particular group of students will become a good example for researchers working in other spheres (with other groups of students). Here, the explicit technique will have to be modified and successfully used with other students in similar problems.
Besides, the effects of the successful explicit teaching and constructivism strategies will not confined to academic achievements of students only, but improve the rating of the schools. Effective educational strategies will have significant impact on the American society and specifically among struggling students in honors and advanced courses. Increasing rates of enrollment in higher-grade courses will result in an increasing number of qualified workers. Increasing number of professionals will, in its turn, positively affect the development of the American economy. Therefore, research aimed at developing academic ambitions in struggling students has a number of long-term benefits for the entire society.
The research questions that will guide this study are as follows: How are high school English teachers implementing explicit instruction for struggling students in honors and advanced courses? How can constructivism and explicit instructional methods be combined to guide teachers in improving tests scores for struggling students enrolled in honors and advanced courses? What factors underlie the low number of students registered in in advanced and honors courses effectively pursuing their course? What are the shortcomings among teachers that has constituted to the decline in the performance of struggling students in honors and advanced courses to achieve better scores?
This research will be aimed at finding out the reasons that account for a lower number of students passing their exams in honors and advanced courses. Even though, all other mandatory aspects like teachers and instructions are made available, and the belief and empirical evidence among teachers that explicit instructions are the best instructional delivery method, there still is a huge gap in the performance of English.
Growing concerns are increasingly observed that educators who do not understand the approach of issuing instructions or teaching English to students taking honors and advanced courses, and the gap in integrating the constructivist approach are the cause of the problems. How are struggling students placed in advanced level English courses? There is minimal effort to include struggling students in higher-level academic courses (Khalid & Azeem, 2012).
There is a southern high school where the struggling students enrolled represent 13% of the Advanced English courses. At this same institution in remedial English classes, struggling students make up 83%. The school has faced several obstacles, the number ones being that many of the students withdrew from the school after the initial loss of county accreditation. A substantial number of the 12th Grade students (primarily enrolled in Advanced Placement (AP courses)) chose dual enrollment and attend the college instead of secondary school.
This is the third year in which the southern high school failed to meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). This study will examine the connection between academic performance and the delivery of instruction of struggling students in high school English courses. This study will address a possible connection to struggling students’ success in education with specific focus on the principles of explicit instructions and constructivism.
Notably, struggling students do not only need to pass in English, they need to excel in their courses. The graduation rate of struggling students in honors and advanced courses is declining drastically, and among those who do graduate, the percentage of them enrolled in honors and/or advanced score pathetically in English despite the belief and empirical evidence that explicit teaching is the best method for such students. The data in further chapters will explain the breakdown of struggling students enrolled in higher-level courses. The review of the literature is geared to promote better use of explicit instructional delivery method combined with constructivism to improve the performance among struggling students in honors and advanced courses.
Review of the Literature
Much research has been conducted in the area of student performance and the factors that affect it. McTighe and Seif (2011), developed Understanding by Design (UbD), a framework for improving student achievement through standards-driven curriculum development in which student and school performance gains are achieved through regular reviews of results. Research conducted from Carnegie Mellon University States (2013):
Students come into our courses with knowledge, beliefs, and attitudes gained in other courses and through daily life. As students bring this knowledge to bear in our classrooms, it influences how they filter and interpret what they are learning. If students’ prior knowledge is robust and accurate and activated at the appropriate time, it provides a strong foundation for building new knowledge. However, when knowledge is inert, insufficient for the task, activated inappropriately, or inaccurate, it can interfere with or impede new learning.
These studies have been conducted at different school levels, including at the college and university level. Student performance is usually affected by a multitude of factors ranging from those that stem from the student at a personal level to those that are generally explicit to the student. Some of these factors include the methods of delivering instructions to struggling students in honors and advanced courses and the ability of the teachers in providing the instructions appropriately. Different researchers have highlighted different factors as predominantly affecting student performance.
When it comes to academic performance, a general norm is the assumption that past outcomes are predictive of future outcomes. What this means is that educators generally assume that students who perform better during their inception years in the academic field will reproduce these results (Ali, et al. 2013). Cilasun (2013) who cites research findings by Lincoln (1917) and Astin (1971) indicates a similar finding. Both of these researchers have found that high school performance is usually reproduced in university, as opposed to university entry exams. This underpins the need for the early detection and rectification of factors that affect education.
Another issue regarding why it is important to investigate factors affecting student performance is to determine how student effort is affected. According to (Brookhart 1998), student effort is important for teachers. This is because of a profound belief in the traditional values of homework completion, attention in class and active participation, since these are perceived to contribute towards better performance. These two examples help to elucidate on the different perspectives or approaches through which they need to understand factors affecting students in order to overcome them.
Constructivism is regarded as a psychological theory of learning based on the teaching practices adopted by teachers in a learning environment (Lord, 1994). Lord (1994) argues that the theory presupposes intervention from the teacher as a critical element in the learning process, which is student centered. Archer and Hughes (2011) in this case show that the teacher is the one who issues instructions through the explicit instructional methods and provides the students with the flexibility to perform their activities under the teachers’ interventions. Here, students are able to generate their own questions which focus on their specific areas of study.
The constructivism theory provides the framework and underlying principles of instructions for struggling students in honors and advanced courses to achieve academic excellence in English. Archer and Hughes (2011) argue that the theory is attributed to Jean Piaget, the force behind the technique consisting of processes of assimilation and accommodation. The background of the theory provides the basis for arguing that teachers can do better using the explicit instructions mode of delivery to guide students learning English based on the fundamental principles of constructivism. Here, explicit instructional methods when borrowed into the principles of constructivism provide a guide for teacher of English teaching struggling students in honors and advanced courses (Ellis, 2005).
Constructivism is a theory of learning, which emphasizes on the creation of knowledge and meaning through interactions and ideas that are generated by the target audience. In this case, the student is bound to generate new ideas of learning to achieve academic excellence in English language (Ellis, 2005). In this case, students develop through a process and in their infancy or at the earlier stages of learning the interactions between their experiences and the behavioral patterns they develop, which results in a schema, and has a wide range of effects on the teaching methods and the underlying themes of educational reforms.
In this case, constructivism is the underlying component in the explicit instructional approach of teaching struggling students in honors and advanced courses. Hyland and Hyland (2006) argue that constructivism is the underlying theme of explicit instructional mode of delivery.
Study findings by Archer and Hughes (2011) assert that student can be subjected to explicit instructional approach as a mechanism to internalize their learning. In context of the theory, Archer and Hughes (2011) argue that when a person or an individual is assimilated, they are able to integrate their new experiences into the already existing framework of knowledge, without making any changes to the framework.
The internal representation of the world is the one that enables the individual to internalize the new knowledge into the existing framework. In this case, English teachers form the source of explicit instructions for the students and if they fall short of the required techniques to impart the required skills, then the students are likely to internalize the errors and end up performing poorly in class. Students may not notice the errors, but are also likely to improve in their performance if the instructions given are error free. In this case, teachers paly the significant role of facilitators and encourage the students to actively participate in the learning process (Fosnot, 1996).
Here, the sixteen elements of explicit instructions underlie the kind of facilitation activities that teachers provide to the students to encourage them in their English language acquisition process (Fosnot, 1996). According to Fosnot (1996), the first requirements is that the teacher should focus instruction on critical content with the aim of teaching English language skills to the students, vocabularies, concepts, strategies, and rules to empower the student to develop their future skills, which forms the basis for the constructivist theory. Here the theory requires an individual to build on previous knowledge, which is reinforced by the contents of explicit instructions (Fosnot, 1996).
The theory requires that an individual or student to be accommodating and reframing their mental representation to the internal and external world to fit emerging experiences (Lord, 1994). In this case, the teacher provides instructions by logically sequencing the skills logically, by first teaching easier skills to the student before harder skills are taught. In that case, the teacher provides the students with high frequency skills before low frequency skills are used less frequently.
Here, the mastery of skills is the key element of the English language acquisition process (Lord, 1994). It is important for the teacher to separate difficult skills from easier skills to enable the student find the learning process specific to their learning needs. In this case, Scheurman (1998) argues that when the student fails to understand or comprehend the certain aspects of the learning process, failure becomes the source of motivation for the student to learn more and become actively engaged to learn new experiences. Here accommodation provides a mechanism for the student to learn by reframing the model for learning to learn from previous experiences (Scheurman, 1998).
It is critical to understand that constructivism provides the theoretical explanations of how learning occurs, and in this case, how teachers can use the explicit instructional method to impart instructions on the students. Based on the constructivist theory, learners will construct their own knowledge on previous experiences (Scheurman, 1998). In this case, constructivism is based on the principle of starting with the simplest skills by breaking down complex skills and strategies into instructional units that are smaller to handle.
That is because the learner is a unique individual and breaking the teaching units into smaller pieces provides the teacher with the flexibility to handle the students according to their unique needs and learning backgrounds. It is possible for the teacher to create instructional units that address the instructional needs of the students according to their backgrounds such as cognitive processes, their mental processing capabilities and the demands placed on their minds, the working memory of the learner, and the practical approach to learning the whole process once a mastery of the language has been achieved (Scheurman, 1998). According to the theory, the learner is viewed as a multidimensional complex and unique individual.
The theory requires that the teacher creates an efficient learning environment for the student based on their backgrounds. According to the theory, the learner will be able to come up with truth about an issue. For the case of struggling students in honors and advanced courses, the students are able, after they have been put on a learning program to come up with their knowledge and understanding of what is expected of them in their studies (Scheurman, 1998).
Responsibility for training
According to the theory, the learner has the responsibility of learning, which is a critical element of social constructivism, which emphasizes on the need for the student to be actively involved in the learning process. There is a radical departure from the traditional methods of instruction, which requires the teacher to be the sole source of instruction and the student to be the listener, making the student to play a passive role (Scheurman, 1998).
According to the theory, the learner takes the responsibility of constructing their own understanding of the instructions without just taking instructions and simply effecting on what they have learnt. It is not about reflecting on what they have learnt, but it involves the creation of knowledge from what they have learnt. Learning is reinforced by emphasizing on the meaning of the instructions by the teacher in English and tries to establish the regularity on the order of events without the need for complete information (Khalid & Azeem, 2012). The locus of learning is based on the student and not the teacher. In this case readiness to learn underlies the motivation to acquire knowledge and skills in English.
The role of the teacher
According to Fosnot (1996), in the context of explicit instructional method, the teacher has a significant role to play in facilitating instructions delivery to the student learners. The teacher takes the role of a facilitator and not the role of the traditional teacher (Lord, 1994; Scheurman, 1998). The role of the facilitator is to help the student learn to create their own knowledge, which helps them understand the content being delivered. That is in a similar context to the use of explicit instructions where the teacher provides a series of instructional support or scaffolding, which is based on a logical sequence of instructions based on the cognitive abilities of the student.
The teacher takes the responsibility of providing a clear demonstration of instructions, skills, and timely feedback before shifting the focus to the student. Before the shifting of focus occurs to the student, initial instructions are centered on the teacher, who forms the highest level of involvement with the student (Fosnot, 1996). Once the student has acquired the initial skills, the shift in content and instruction occurs toward the student who shifts toward independent performance. Here the principles of effective instruction are used to provide the student with the most effective guide in the development of individual performance.
The principles revolve around the facilitator who in this case is the teacher, which should display a set of skills that are different from those of a teacher. It is critical for the teacher to distinguish the role of a teacher and a facilitator in the context of guiding struggling students trying to learn English in honors and advanced courses. In context of the theory, the facilitator asks learners questions, but the facilitator lectures from the front. In this case, the teacher takes the role of providing answers to questions according to a predefined curriculum, while the facilitator supports the students in their knowledge acquisition process by creating a learning environment for the student that enables them to conduct their own inquiry and arrive at with their own conclusions.
The facilitator always interacts with the student while the teacher remains monologue in the context of instructions delivery. In this case, the teacher becomes the facilitator by using explicit mode of delivering instructions to struggling in honors and advanced courses (Johnson, Johnson, Sheppard & Smith, 2005). Here, explicit instructions fit well because the teacher is the one responsible for setting the required environment to the student in accordance with the constructivist theory. In practice, explicit instructions provide “a systematic method of teaching with emphasis on proceeding in small steps, checking for student understanding, and achieving active and successful participation by all students” (Fosnot, 1996).
The role of the facilitator in this case, is detailed in the principles of explicit instructions which require that the facilitator reviews the work preciously done by the student to provide them with the required instructions after they have conducted their studies and inquiries and arrived at their own conclusions. That is in addition to conducting a review of the previous skills gained by the student in previous lessons, which is followed by a presentation of new skills.
According to the theory, the learning environment is a critical component in shaping the skills and knowledge of the students and should be designed to accommodate and support the needs of the student. The critical component here is to support the student to become a critical thinker. The teacher then takes the ole of the coach and consultant to inculcate into the student the elements of cooperative learning.
The learning process
Johnson et al. (2005) argues that the learning process allows for the student to undergo a previous knowledge acquisition process through a social learning process before the skills are appropriated for the individual student. In this case, the collaborative elaboration method plays a significant role in the process of sharing individual perspectives. Learning in this case is viewed as an active process where students play the role of discovering concepts, ideas, and facts on their own, and the constructivist theory supports the idea of guesswork.
It is based on the argument that facts do not pre-exist and the discovery of new ideas is based on previous ideas that have been discovered, prior to social intervention. In that context, learning is viewed as a social process that is influenced by external forces, which are shaped by the teacher and the learning environment.
The strategy functions on the premise that learning is a social process that requires individuals to be actively engaged in social activities. The mind gets actively engaged and the learning process is shaped by the external environment. In this case speech and practical activities play a significant role in the acquisition of English language skills. Practical elements and speech enable the learner to develop the required skills and gains practical understanding of the meaning of what has been acquired.
Interaction between learner and task
The theoretical framework based on constructivism reinforces the role of the facilitator, who in this case is the teacher, who beliefs that explicit instructions are critical in the successful performance of the student. In this case, the teacher and the student get actively involved in the learning process (Khalid & Azeem, 2012). The teacher who is the facilitator takes the responsibility of creating the requisite environment for learning based on the six principles of explicit learning. The nature of learning in this case is both objective and subjective and allows learners to compare their experiences and ideas with those of the teacher (Hyland & Hyland, 2006).
The result is a dynamic interaction between the teacher and the student, based on an awareness of the existence and point of view of the learner and the instructor. In this case, the importance of the relationship between the learner and the facilitator, who in this case is the teacher, provides the required environment for successful learning.
The context in which learning occurs has been viewed as a critical component in the learning process Johnson (2005). That is because, there are no generalised ideas about learning and decontextualized knowledge does not provide the learner with the skills necessary to apply to tasks which are authentic. In this case, learning takes place in an environment that is similar to the learning environment (Johnson et al. 2005).
The Advanced Placement Course Program
This program was established in1950s through the help of College Examination Board for the US. Majorly, it comprises high school courses, which are dependent on the curriculum drawn on reliance of the introductory courses for the college (Rivers, 2008). However, it remains very distinct from other programs because it is characterized by technical and standardized post-course examination. The AP technical course remains remarkable throughout the US and has significantly gained recognition after the administration of almost 32 diverse subjects in the 2000 throughout the country.
Some of the notable subjects that are eminent in this program include the American history, English literature as well as composition and calculus AB. Other subjects that have been offered under the placement program are English language as well as composition, the general US federal politics and other life sciences including biology subjects (Gasman, Baez, & Turner, 2008). Generally, most states within the US have had dramatic and notable transformations in some of their students enrolling and undertaking these high-level examinations for grade course.
It is important that the advanced placement programs have a unique approach to education. This is because they offer several benefits to the personal students, their mentors or teachers and the general system of learning and education. It is crucial to understand these provisions in the educational context. It is from this context that the mentioned arguments lie. Several scholars, educationists as well as policy formulators within the education and learning sector based the design of this program on several substantial reasons following an adequate researches and investigations that were conducted.
For instance, it was postulated that highly performing students who may generally find high school life boring would alternatively be challenged by an improved work (Sommers, 2012). Accordingly, this group of students could be exposed to a high level and platform of learning that is needed by the colleges.
The system itself operates under stringent guidelines with high academic expectations from the interested students who qualify. Ideally, it is observable that students must work hard to increase their chances for admission. They also have the mandate to choose their own preferred colleges and courses to attend. However, this largely depends on their level of performance during the technical examinations (i.e. SAT, AP, GHSGT, or EOCT). It is apparent that these stringent requirements and regulations have also played a critical part in lowering the number of struggling students in honors and advanced courses.
However, the program is noted to have obvious benefits for the entrants. This perhaps has also heightened the level of competition and chances available nationally or in every American state (Grant-Thomas & Orfield, 2009). For instance, the students under this program have the chance to obtain their college credits while still in the high school. This therefore reduces their period within the college and as well minimizes the tuition fees required while undergoing their college training.
The AP exam outcomes offer an exterior and standardized corroboration of the facilitator’s competency to assist students in obtaining their high performance standards. On the side of teachers, they gain the opportunity to extend their potential as well as develop their inherent capacity and competency since they are able to instruct the college-level materials. It is also notable that all the school systems possess an advantage and room to scale up their pre-AP-level curriculum. This is in academic preparation of the students so that they are competent enough to face the challenges of the AP system and examinations (Smart & Paulsen, 2012).
In the AP system, however, certain practices are more likely to hinder some segments of the students from joining the system or enrolling for the courses offered. For instance, this program is usually practiced within the private school setting. This implies that the students within the public school domain may at times be technically locked out from enjoying the program benefits (Thelin, 2011). This might be particularly applicable to those students from economically challenged family backgrounds.
There are obvious issues and debates that have developed and cropped up due to the emergence of the AP program. For example, most critics have potentiated that this course emphasizes so much on facts together with memorization. These, as they have stated, might reinforce scores for the AP tests. This contrasts critical thinking knowledge and skills, which may hold great value in a person’s learning, professional, as well as personal life (Rivers, 2008). This is a critical provision in various contexts.
Subsequently, there also exist complaints that the program is severely exclusive in conception and by all standards. Therefore, these high-grade courses are seen to be favoring some students who may have an easy access to adequate and proper academic preparation. This also contributes to the element of the students’ financial orientation either and level of economic status of the family. These enlisted factors are most likely to play significant roles in the minimization of the number of the struggling students in honors and advanced courses in America.
Most significantly, there are concerns as to whether the AP courses are readily available for all the qualified students in the entire nation or within all American states (Pampaloni, 2010). There have been significant reiterations over these concerns. Most people have associated the concerned programs with some element of prejudice and biasness based on several factors. The locality and family backgrounds of the concerned students have also contributed to the alleged low enrollment rate among black Americans as indicated earlier (Thelin, 2011). This regards students who reside in rural areas and come from low-income zones.
Concurrently, gender and ethnicity issues have been cited as major contributory factors to inequalities recorded in the enrolment patterns as well as performance factors. This is a critical provision based on its contribution to the low enrolment rates and other relevant educational concerns. Struggling students have been disadvantaged because most of them are residents of rural areas and come from low-income zones within their respective states. Apart from these areas being potentially disadvantaged (in terms of access to higher educational programs), there have been intensive issues of female advocacy in these native regions (Sommers, 2012).
This has led to a largely feminist society that has majored exceedingly on the welfare of the females relative to the males. The females under the auspices of gender equality, can therefore access more elevated and beneficial programs, notwithstanding the waivers that they have to enjoy on enrolling to such programs, subject to their claims on “weaker sex” (Sykes, Schneider & Plank, 2012).
Another condition that might hinder struggling students in honors and advanced courses students from enrolling for higher educational programs is inequality, prejudice, and lack of adequate opportunities to establish, exercise, and embrace their creativities (Smeldley & Jenkins, 2007). When students are enrolled in schools where the faculty or management opposes or does not embrace creativity, uniqueness, novelty, and other cultural inclinations, this might interfere with the mentioned enrolments. Alternatively, there are cases where the system has been largely viewed as propagating gross inequality within the general learning system (College Board, 2010).
Technically, this might hinder the struggling students in honors and advanced courses from continuing with their studies within their schools. Basically, there are underlying factors acting synergistically to manipulate the performance and enrollment of the struggling students in honors and advanced courses. This interferes with the mentioned high-level courses such as the placement program.
Challenges Facing Struggling Students
As human beings are social beings, they have esteem needs and thus desire to be appreciated in terms of their achievements, and to attain self-actualization. In the cases where individuals are subjected to less or no appreciation in the society, they tend to develop a low self-esteem, which leads to further deterioration in terms of behavior and response to such situations. Because of low self-esteem, individuals are prone to developing psychological and mental health problems, which may further affect their societal status and general lives. Individuals with a low self-esteem are also prone to engaging in deviant behavior such as drug abuse because of developing a feeling that they have been failed by the society.
Less Prospects of Furthering Education
Through developing a low self-esteem, students tend to weaken their egos, develop feelings of unworthiness, lose confidence in their selves and their capabilities, and they develop a negative perception of life. With these kinds of developments, it is evident that the struggling students may lose hope for future studies and focus their efforts on other activities that are not much beneficial.
Dropping Out of School
When struggling students lack the feeling of belonging to the school society due to their difference with other students, they are more likely to think of dropping out of school to save themselves what they consider as shame. This may worsen in cases where they are insulted and isolated from other students who find them inadequate. The lack of ability in conducting simple tasks may also cause frustration among struggling students, prompting them to consider dropping out of school.
Challenges Faced by Teachers of Struggling Students
Teachers face the toughest challenges in handling struggling students since they are the closest people who interact with these students in the school setting. The teachers play the central role in implementing intervention measures that are developed towards promoting student performance. One of the most common challenges faced by teachers is the programming for all the struggling students who have diverse needs (Busch, 2010).
As much as struggling students may share some of the characteristics, these students have different needs that require different approaches. In addition, these students tend to respond differently to the intervention measures that these teachers may incorporate in the instruction to facilitate learning. As a result, teachers are forced to adjust effectively in order to incorporate effectively interact with all the students including those with bad behavior and those who offer less cooperation. These interactions subject the teachers to a great challenge as they may fail to interact effectively with some of the students.
Teachers also face a problem with poor parental involvement in the entire process of promoting improvement among the students (Busch, 2010). Most parents of struggling students may not be easy to respond, and in cases where they are reachable, they tend to respond slowly to any requests that teachers ask them. In most cases, parents do not attend individualized education programs. This is an issue that becomes a problem for the teachers as they miss the perfect opportunity of informing the parents of the progress of their children and the roles they are supposed to play in the entire process of promoting the performance of the students.
In addition, most parents do not help their children with the homework that they are given. As a result, the parents fail to recognize the difficulties that such students go through, and they also fail to play their role in supporting the teachers in helping the students. The parents have a role in helping the students to build on their self-esteem and thus feel encouraged to put more effort towards developing their skills. The parents also fail to return the various documents that they are offered with to sign.
This prevents the teachers from accessing the feedback on the various experiences that the parents have with the students. It is important to note that the decision making of individuals in other areas other than education can be indications of improvements or deterioration. Teachers also face a difficulty in scheduling and organizing their time (Busch, 2010). This is due to the fact that they are faced with the task of offering extra time to the small groups of struggling students and in some cases, individualized attention to some of the students who fail to show improvement.
On the other hand, the teachers still have to take care of the rest of the classes that they teach, and their personal lives. As a result of all these requirements and inadequacy of time, teachers face a hard time in scheduling all the activities and allocating them enough time that would ensure that each involved party benefits (Busch, 2010). Through proper management of these challenges, teachers can be able to indulge themselves in appropriate activities that would promote improvement among struggling students. The teachers should develop good rapport with the students they interact with so as to ensure that they promote good communication with such students.
They should gently but firmly show the students that they are in command so as not to compromise their relationship by being harsh or their respect by allowing the students to do whatever they want. They should also develop strategies that engage the parents more, through involving them in more activities that would demand their attention. The teachers should also spread their activities across the schedules and ensuring that they allocate each activity enough time by starting with the highly prioritized activities and combining those activities that are closely related.
Students with Disabilities in Education Act (2004)
Students struggle with learning mathematics, reading, and writing skills, among other subjects of importance in the academic curriculum as a result of various factors. These factors may include emotional difficulties, low English proficiency, early childhood development in settings that are economically disadvantaged, and is some cases because of poor academic instruction. In some cases, students are identified with learning disabilities. Various strategies have been adopted by the society and the schools with the aim of improving the acquiring of academic beneficial skills among these students.
After the government adopted the ‘No Child Left Behind Act’ in the year 2002, which was aimed at solving the needs of the children in the society who are economically disadvantaged through funding their education, the federal government was concerned with the improving performance in the academic system in the United States (Fletcher & Vaughn, 2009). The government emphasized more on high quality instruction, early intervention, and general accountability for academic outcomes within the school system.
Two years later, the government passed the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act in the year 2004 (Fletcher & Vaughn, 2009). This act entails all the policies that govern special education in the United States. This Act maintained provided for early intervention requirements, and allowed districts to come up with various models of service delivery, which would focus on the student’s response to intervention. Such models screen all students and identify the various problems that they may have in their behavior and academics. They also monitor the children who are at risk of developing difficulties in academics and behavior and note their progress.
Lastly, they provide various interventions in response to the outcomes of the various assessments that are conducted. Individual students who fail to respond to these interventions are referred to evaluation for it to be determined if they are eligible to be subjected to special education. After evaluation, the students who qualify are enrolled in the special education program while the rest, who do not show signs of learning disabilities and do not have any specific problems that require them to be subjected to special education, are referred to other services as per their needs (Fletcher & Vaughn, 2009).
Response to Intervention (RTI) Models
RTI models are systems of deliveries, which are used by schools to provide interventions in the education of students, which are prone to intensify with the students’ response to the instruction offered (Fletcher & Vaughn, 2009). In order to implement RTI models in a way that will give results, there are several options and approaches, which do not have to be dependent on a single model. Instead, they can be implemented through a set of steps and processes, and the way they are implemented can vary.
The approaches available have been associated with two main historical origins, all designed and intended at implementing programs that would allow prevention strategies in any school setting. The first origin involves the efforts that are put in place by all involved parties in the quest of preventing changes in behavior. Through these models, a problem solving procedure is adopted, in which a team of decision-makers carry out an assessment and they point out to any academic or behavioral problem.
They then proceed by developing various strategies that can be used to handle the identified problem and evaluate the outcome of any interventions put in place. The team would then reconvene to discuss the outcomes in order to determine if the earlier identified problem has been effectively solved, thus leading to improvement in the affected areas (Fletcher & Vaughn, 2009).
The second origin involves research on the various strategies that can be put in place to prevent difficulties in reading among children. “There are various standardized protocols that are used by these approaches in delivering various interventions as per the instructional response of the students” (Fletcher & Vaughn, 2009). A standard protocol model involves the screening of all students and identifying those students who are at risk of developing academic problems (Fletcher & Vaughn, 2009).
The students at risk are further assessed on a frequent basis. The teachers are provided with professional development in terms of skills that enhance the intensity and differentiation, and effective instruction. They receive these through various grouping strategies and measures of evaluation of their progress, which determines any changes and thus allow for the development of other measures that could be used to further enhance their development. Those struggling students who fail to progress as per the set limits both at the local and the national level are placed in small groups and offered additional instructions for 20-40 minutes in a day.
In cases where a student fails to register positive improvement even in cases where they are placed in these groups, they are placed in smaller groups, with more time assigned to them, and specific teachers’ attention directed to them. The evaluation of progress is done every week or after two weeks. “Implementing problem-solving model and the standardized protocol model are aspects of a positive course” (Fletcher & Vaughn, 2009). This is due to the fact that development of effective instructions among students through screening, professional development, and monitoring of progress, need to be maintained through adequate professional training.
Screening and Progress Monitoring
The RTI model is mainly used to screen all students in the country for any academic difficulties. “The instrument used in screening can be criterion referenced or norm-referenced, in which case the former represents progress monitoring tool’s initial assessment” (Fletcher & Vaughn, 2009). Conducting administration of the key should be done with consideration to sensitivity and accuracy since the devices for grading cover the entire grade. Technological advancements have been greatly incorporated in the implementation of the various measures that have been designed to monitor progress. One of the commonly used technologies is the curriculum-based measurement (CMB).
The device engages students in a short assessment that could only last up to three minutes, and the teachers who readily interpret the assessment results administer it in the classroom. The assessment process involves asking the students to handle a certain activity such as reading a text, spelling, or solving math problems (Fletcher & Vaughn, 2009). The amount of activity done by such students is then plotted on the graph, where it is later compared with the benchmarks set for the student’s grade-level. This is a very reliable tool as it produces immediate results that can be effectively applied by the teachers in adjusting instruction so as to stir positive change among the struggling students.
Further application of the CMB is important in determining the progress of students once instruction has been adjusted for their benefit, with the long-term view of attaining positive results. However, despite the significance of the measures provided by the CMB, various concerns have been developed regarding the text passages’ equivalence. Moreover, it is still tough to determine the reliability of the various CMB measures in determining progress across the tiers (Fletcher & Vaughn, 2009).
It is also difficult to determine the best benchmarks between those set at the national level and those provided at the district level. The application of CMB in determining the eligibility of students is an issue that has faced a lot of controversy due to lack of specified criteria for determining inadequate responses. As such, instructional response cannot be relied upon as the only determinant of the eligibility of students prior to subjecting them to special education.
Evidence-based interventions are highly dependable and important in the use of RTI models to prevent academic struggling. Different meta-analyses and syntheses have been put to test and proven the importance of interventions in helping students who have trouble in their academics to improve. One of the most comprehensive meta-analyses of all times on the need for interventions to promote performance among students with learning difficulties was conducted by Heskyn, Swanson, and Lee, who, in a period of 30 years, reviewed and evaluated 180 interventions (Fletcher & Vaughn, 2009). The three found out that there were moderate or high effect results across the studies. However, the effects were even higher in the cases where the interventions were carried on in resource room circumstances, as compared to those conducted in the general education settings.
In another study conducted in the year 2007, Wanzek and Vaughn deduced various studies conducted on broad reading interventions that were carried out in more than 20 sessions per participant. As per the results, a diversity of effects was recorded, ranging from moderate to large (Fletcher & Vaughn, 2009). It was noted that the larger effects were obtained in cases where the participants were children from the kindergarten and first-grade as compared to members of grades 2-5. The effects were also observed to be larger in cases where there was the use of a comprehensive reading program and in cases where the interventions were delivered one-on-one to the participants, or in small groups that could easily allow for the reach out to every member.
Scammacca et al. (2007) also conducted another meta-analysis in the year 2007, where he analyzed the interventions that had been put in place to assist older students who experienced difficulties in reading. The total number of studies analyzed was 31 with the total size of the effect being registered as 0.95. A lower effect size of 0.42 was registered in cases where there was use of standardized non-referenced measures (Fletcher & Vaughn, 2009). In other 23 interventions studies, which focused on the reading comprehension of the participant struggling students, and incorporate measures that were experimenter-designed, the effect size was recorded as 1.33. In the cases where the reading measures were standardized, the effect size was recorded as 0.35.
As per these results, one can conclude that intervention can still be delivered to older students who have difficulties in reading even in the stage of adolescence. It is also important to note that students effectively benefit when they are subjected to not only word-level but also text-level interventions. In order to achieve large effects, one should adjust their instructions in strategies of reading comprehension. In addition, it is important to note that once a student is taught a given word, they tend to learn the meanings of these words (Fletcher & Vaughn, 2009). Because the older students, especially those with difficulties in reading may take a longer time to match up to the set benchmark, it would be more productive to focus on prevention efforts.
In another meta-analysis carried out in 2007, Graham and Perin examined the importance of intervention in facilitating effective writing practices. In their study, the researchers recognized various practices that can be incorporated in the instruction design to facilitate improvement in the student outcomes. Such practices included writing strategies, which included expressively teaching struggling students to revise, plan, edit, and brainstorm; writing down summaries; engaging in group collaborations as this would provide them with feedback; assigning students with goals that are reasonable enough to help them to improve in writing; and sharpening their skills in other practices including sentence combining, word processing, and writing, as these would help in improving the proficiency of students in their areas of difficulties (Fletcher & Vaughn, 2009).
Lastly, through an empirical synthesis conducted by Gersten, Baker, and Lee in the year 2002, it was identified that through the use of effective instructions in mathematics, both the students and the teachers are provided with recommendations that would facilitate good performance among students (Fletcher & Vaughn, 2009). Effective instruction also facilitates the use of peer pairing in promoting the learning experience of struggling students. Instruction in mathematics also provides approaches that have been explicitly developed by the teacher specifically for promoting success among struggling students. Through proper intervention in mathematics, various practices are developed to promote communication between teachers and parents, regarding the successes of the students.
Coordinated Systems of Service Delivery
As much as there is sufficient evidence supporting the efficiency of RTI models, the implementation of the models is very important as it involves scaling issues. The intervention services are mainly funded by different programs including ‘No Child Left Behind’ Fund and the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act Fund (Fletcher & Vaughn, 2009). These programs have however developed certain criteria for determining eligibility, which make it difficult to coalesce resources in order to promote school-based intervention models and thus student improvement. “The isolation of these programs from the classroom setting and the general education is so as to ensure that there is fragmentation of the instruction” (Fletcher & Vaughn, 2009).
Schools should develop a slow but careful approach towards implementing these models as they may take several years to change fully the education system. The slow movement of embracing intervention may be mainly attributed to the traditional ways of viewing instruction. “Districts should make appraisals of the resources they have and redeploy them towards supporting service delivery through the RTI models, in order to avoid developing problems with inadequate resources in future” (Fletcher & Vaughn, 2009).
A major problem according to Fletcher and Vaughn (2009), “is the fact that most educators look at RTI as an initiative applicable in special education cases, and because it is now under IDEA 2004, the implementation of RTI faces major challenges”. In order to counter this perception, the implementation process should involve close collaboration between the general education, the “No Child Left Behind” fund, special education, and any other program that may be entitled to this initiative (Fletcher & Vaughn, 2009).
Problems with scaling have also been identified because of lack of completeness in the evidence onto which intervention is based. The implementation and success of RTI models in high schools has not come as easy as it should have, because the tools used to monitor progress among older struggling students and research carried out on the various interventions applied have weaknesses. Due to poor implementation of the prevention component, the conception of RTI models has faced many difficulties.
As much as various researches have provided information on successful Tier 3 interventions, these types of interventions have been inadequately used as important parts of multitiered interventions, an aspect that brings out the cost of research with reference to the model of multitiered intervention (Fletcher & Vaughn, 2009). “There is poor establishment of the layered Tier 3 interventions efficacy as a result of inadequate studies conducted on the children who are identified as inefficient responders in the RTI model” (Fletcher & Vaughn, 2009).
According to evidence established, most teachers have reported difficulties in teaching these students. Most of these students exhibit little improvements in their reading even after being subjected to intervention for a whole year, followed by other intensified forms of additional interventions. However, according to an analysis of multitier interventions, it is evident that the rates of individuals who are recognized as inadequate responders have greatly reduced to as low as 2-5% (Fletcher & Vaughn, 2009).
As the number of such students who require intensive interventions reduces, various schools may consider channeling resources towards facilitating the redressing of struggling students as rated by the inadequacy of their responses. As much as these challenges may come up, the implementation of RTI models in various districts has proven to have positive results including the reduction in the number of individuals who are referred to special education and improvement in general academic achievement.
As much as an individual’s cognitive deficits have been greatly linked to learning difficulties, inter-individual discrepancies do not bring out a reliable identification of learning difficulties. If such a measure of identification is adopted, inappropriate interventions would be implemented leading to poor outcomes. This is an important t aspect to consider especially in the case where one is targeting at using IQ-achievement discrepancy identifications models.
According to two meta-analyses that have been conducted in the view of identifying the cogency of IQ-discrepancy models, there is a small difference between the IQ-discrepant effect size and the poor non-discrepant readers’ effect size (Fletcher & Vaughn, 2009). The analyses were based on the outcomes of phonological and reading processes among the participants. The response to instruction among IQ-discrepant and non-discrepant readers was also identified as almost the same with no differences registered. These findings differed with the kind of framework that is used in the schools and clinics in identifying learning difficulties among individuals, in which case these institutions focus on the various discrepancies that are observed between achievement and ones IQ.
RTI Models and Identification
RTI models take a completely new dimension of identifying learning difficulties among struggling students, putting more focus on the discrepancies related to instruction and age-based expectations, instead of the cognitive discrepancies that are focused upon by the IQ-discrepancy model (Fletcher & Vaughn, 2009). This provides a better practice of identification than the traditional practice, where students are screened early enough and monitored throughout their education in order to subject them to appropriate measures about different levels of progress, which would facilitate success. The traditional models of determining eligibility among struggling students were inefficient given that they highly relied on referrals, and thus individuals were subjected to interventions at later stages of their education, when they had already failed.
The data provided by an analysis of the instruction response allows the teachers to evaluate their students and thus to develop mechanisms on how to teach them in order to help them achieve the best results. “However, instructional response data may fail to address all the problems that influence the process of identifying students with learning disabilities” (Fletcher & Vaughn, 2009). The reference to rigid cut-points is a major problem associated with IQ-discrepancy models. Applications of such rigid cut-points in setting benchmarks that would help in identifying students as either adequate of inadequate responders in RTI models, could lead to the development of the same problems as in IQ-discrepancy models (Fletcher & Vaughn, 2009).
“The problem with models of cognitive discrepancy is that the various factors under study remain normally and continuously distributed when those students who have injuries in the brain are excluded from study sample” (Fletcher & Vaughn, 2009). In such a case, the process of deciding reliability remains inherently arbitrary given that there is the presence of a disability. Such a process of identification depends on criteria instead of IQ scores (Fletcher & Vaughn, 2009). Nevertheless, in such cases where there inherent qualitative spaces do not exist, the expected responses are still likely to be instructional.
“The inadequate response criteria may tend to be as arbitrary as a dimension of achievement, or cut point, thus develop different formulae without studying their validity, forming such unreliability as displayed by IQ-discrepancy models” (Fletcher & Vaughn, 2009). If such issues are to be resolved, Fletcher and Vaughn (2009) contend that “it would be paramount to integrate the use of consequence evaluation to come up with different decisions and confidence intervals in order to establish whether to go ahead with an intervention, or choose a different path”. The decisions made in other sectors that are not associated to academics are also important in determining how adequate an individual’s decision is. The decisions made by experts should also be adequately evaluated in terms of their validity and reliability.
Additional research is essential to offer information about the implications of policies and educational trends as reflected by various school systems. It is important to note that the present research has very critical implications as it focuses on the factors that affect performance of one of the most vulnerable groups of students –Struggling students. The results obtained from this study will play a significant role in addressing various issues affecting learning and intercultural interactions. The data provided may be used to evaluate education systems and allow educators to form policies that reflect modern trends and accommodate diverse populations (Gasman, Baez, & Turner, 2008).
Education systems are like societies and should be modified to reflect modern trends and also accommodate any changes in technology Teachers, parents, students and other stakeholders may find this information useful to ensure that there is adequate representation of all communities and not just a handful of students from a minority or majority group (Gasman, Baez, & Turner, 2008). In addition, it is necessary to state that governments may find this information useful in allocating resources and developing academic visions for the entire country.
It is necessary to state that this information is not pertained to the area of study only but to all areas where education continues to be a serious challenge. In addition, nations that have vibrant education systems may also use this information to avoid and eliminate chances of this condition affecting them.
Students are the main subject of study in this project and this means the information collected affects their activities. Therefore, they may find this information useful when addressing challenges that hinder students from achieving university and college degrees (Gasman, Baez, & Turner, 2008). It is important to state that not all students enrolled in higher courses exceed beyond their counterparts. Even though, majority of them succeed in completing their courses, some of them change those along the way.
Lastly, the community should know the reasons why Struggling students have a lower number of enrollments in honors and advanced English courses compared to other students. The reasons for this may be beneficial in developing strategies that will ensure these figures continue to increase as more students enroll in higher level English courses of learning. Promoting higher grade courses, educators will be able to inspire young people to succeed in their academic life and in their future life as well.
This chapter is aimed at describing and giving an explanation of the methodology used in the study. The research’s mixed method of research procedure will guide my studies in the course most conducive and relevant to the subject’s environment. Quantitative methods will largely assist in the accuracy of the data collected with reference to the dimension of the problem at stake. The quantitative analysis will provide us with the different types of methods teachers can employ in order to ensure even the struggling students receive their instructions at a satisfactory level.
The qualitative approach will ensure that the results obtained from the data will be beneficial for the comprehensive analysis of the participants’ history and aspirations in terms of how they will improve the level of cognitive understanding of the instructions they are given and how the givers of the instructions (the teachers) can improve the process of instructions dispatch. This chapter also serves as an outline of my reading on the different research methods that gave me a bearing when it came to choosing the most appropriate methods.
This section will also play a part in the production of ideas that are concerned with issues affecting the struggling students in honors and advanced courses in terms of educational achievement or failure as a result of the struggle or prowess during interpretation of the instructions they receive from their mentors or teachers in this context. The data obtained will be consequently used in the development of detailed procedures and programs in the field of education for curbing the problem at stake. The study outlined is a practical research project case study.
In Section 1, I gave an introduction of the main subject of this dissertation which is about moving students forward by providing an efficacy of strategies for teaching struggling students. A struggling student is a student that has a lower cognitive ability to interpret and digest information when compared to others of the same level in education. I have put my focus mainly on the struggling learners primarily the Struggling students. I am particularly interested in how teachers differentiate their instruction when giving them to the struggling students.
There is a vast library to choose from when it comes to models of research processes, most of which outline the process as a combination of steps and stages. Cohen and Manion (2013) outline eight stages of action in a research study. However, they are too technical and seem to suit better with scientific studies. Since I was seeking to find a rather more practical, social and psychological approach to understand the skills, techniques and strategies teachers use, I had to seek a more relevant approach.
As Bell (2008) would put it, I was seeking to “understand an individual’s perceptions of the world and knowledge.” Blaxter et al, (2010) sees the research process to included five stages shown in diagrammatic form illustrating the design, sampling, collection of data, analysis of data and the presented report that comes at the end. This, to me, was a too simple way to represent a whole process of research that is long and very complex.
According to Johnson (2008), in the research process, the following stages of activity must be worked through in carrying out and completing an investigation: Establishing the focus of the study, identification of the specific objectives of the study, selection of a research method, arrangement for the research access, development of the research instrument, data collection, the investigative phase, data arrangement and analysis and a final write-up. All these are representations of the overall research path one takes during the study. Research work is not in any way linear (Blaxter et al, 2010) but a number of cycles that are interconnected to each other in such a way that they affect each other.
Though all models offer a good guidance of the approach to a research study, I preferred the model by Johnson since it has small well-defined steps that fit perfectly well into the subject matter of my research case study. I also went for this option because it sensitizes on a research as a process that has the rational and analytical dissemination of the findings as the final step; my main objective for the study.
Guided by Johnson’s model, the remaining section of this chapter will dwell on the description and explanation of the methods I undertook in the six months of my case study.
Establishing the focus of the study
The research process is powerfully affected by the researchers own motivations and values which help the researcher sustain the interest on the same topic over a very long period of time. For this reason, establishing the focus of the study was a very easy thing since this is the area of my interest (teaching) and the case study was aimed at improving it. With interest being my main strength, I utilized it, alongside my prior knowledge on methods of teaching and how to improve the art, to embark on this mission that would eventually be very useful in my professional life.
Identifying the specific objectives of the study
According to Cohen and Manion (2013), the first stage of the research process is indentifying and formulating the problem and case study, or the hypothesis. It is not conventionally known that a research has to have a problem; there may not always be a problem that needs to be solved. In this instance however, there is a problem. Georgia has the greatest number of people with a bachelor’s degree as compared to her neighboring states. The problem here is, however, the fact that recently some students, in fact, majority of the students in Georgian schools have been struggling in their academic life due to their incapability to appropriately interpret the instruction they receive from their teachers.
This therefore means that the exemplary performance in Georgia can still be improved if new techniques of teaching students how to disseminate instructions can be implemented and having teachers learn the methods of differentiating the instructions given to struggling students. This was seen recently when schools in Georgia moved to a common core academic standard of curriculum. The same was seen when integrated math, a mathematics course that combined three math concepts into one course, was introduced. Many students had many hardships with it especially in Georgia and therefore it was declared that students could drop it in the districts.
At about the same time as I was embarking on my work, Georgia’s Department of Education came up with a new way of measuring the performance of schools and school districts referred to as the College Career Ready Performance Index that was meant to grade schools on a scale of 0-100. It was meant to replace the No Child Left behind (NCLB) and Adequately Yearly Progress (AYP). The advantage of using this system was; it would dwell on specific indicators of performance rather than just scores in tests. According to this framework most schools were seen to perform at an average of 56; a very poor result.
This triggered my interest on the education system in Georgia and why the levels of perform were this flabbergasting. An underlining reason was the fact that most teachers do not pay attention to the struggling students; they assume all students are similar. For those who do, I wanted to critically analyze how they do and if their methods can be improved for the aid of others as I will suggest from my findings.
Background reading and review of literature was an expansive and dynamic process. Initial reading influenced “formation of research objectives” Johnson (2008), but the research also put into consideration the fact that new reports are published, even as the study continues. These reports had a huge impact on my work especially on reinforcing my work from the findings perspective.
Selection the Research Method
Using guidance from Johnson (2008), I gave priority to the selection of the research method because it was a very important moment of the whole process of research. The methods I decided to use had to work with each other in terms of reinforcing each other. For this reason, I chose a variety of complementary research methods, which were largely complementary to each other. The methods were largely qualitative like interviews with the teachers and some of the students, observation of several lessons being undertaken as I watch as a guest and later on as the instructor and examination of secondary data like documentary evidence in order to create case studies.
I also used some quantitative methods when I was trying to find out the background evidences of the teachers’ experience in practice, their attitudes towards their jobs and their students and the most common methods they use to teach. All these were used in the setting up of the scene.
I also used case studies as a tool for doing a follow up and as a means of adding to my content; the case studies were a way of adding flesh to the bones of the study (Bell, 2008). It was an addition to a thorough examination of the participants, their perceptions and the level of judgment they have (Simons, 2008). Case studies have not been accepted by all scholars; some people are staunch critics of this method but it is “now widely accepted as a form of research” (Simons, 2008) and it fits perfectly well into my objectives of investigating how teachers seek to find methods of differentiating instructions given to struggling students and how teaching can be improved in terms of ensuring all students are attended to at a level that suits their level of cognitive comprehension (the art of scaffolding).
The idea of using paradox case studies is introduced by an author whose explanation is that “by studying the uniqueness of the particular, we come to understand the universal” (Simons, 2008). The expectation of the study is that the results can be used to give insights to stakeholders who seek to transform the education sector.
Even though qualitative methods are seen to be very slow due to the lengthy processes involved, it provides reliable first-hand information. My visit to four schools to interview eight teachers was a very long, tedious and time consuming process but it was what I felt was a better alternative for me to use in obtaining better illustration of the varied nature of the schools and reflect on the individual perceptions and experiences of the teachers during their teaching experiences and in their endeavor to make sure every student understands what they are taught at least even if it is not to the same level of comprehension.
The main purpose of this study is to develop means through which teachers can differentiate the instructions they give to their students to cover the cognitive disparity between the struggling students and the rest of the students. As this is being developed, the study sought to find out the means by which teachers currently differentiate the instructions, the criteria they follow in the identification of the students that are perceived to be struggling and how the lives of the students affect their cognitive development and their perceptions of the academic arena in general as guided by the framework of Lev Vygostky (zone of proximal).
The rate at which struggling students in honors and advanced courses graduate is low and those who graduate still demonstrate a high level of lethargy towards their own education. The study keenly sought to find out if this behavior is modeled at home or by peers or if it is just a matter of self-doubt. The origin of the participants will be determined and the relation of this in relation to this behavior will be outlined. Questions like, do ethnicity and/or race play a role in the academic prowess as it relates to the performance of the struggling students in honors and advanced courses make students in the world of academics? Will guide the study and emphasize where the information ought to be looked for.
Struggling students in honors and advanced courses were chosen mostly because of the proximity. The use of students in the schools that were experiencing changes in their educational system (introduction of the common-core curriculum) and the recent spotlight in terms of academic performance fluctuation was identified as the most relevant path during the initial periods of the study. After research through sampling and the results analytically discussed, the participants chosen fall under the method of sequential transformative strategy. This was based on the participants’ strong influence from culture within the classroom setting, the parallel and similar experiences with the researcher.
The struggling students in honors and advanced courses were chosen since it was a general observation that teachers had a perception of students in terms of categories based on the cognitive abilities hence this allowed the opportunity to observe makes with similar social backgrounds yet a huge disparity in terms of academic backgrounds. This would enable me to have a control group to compare the results.
The participants were chosen on the basis of their gender and race irrespective of their social background and age. Majority of the participants come from the neighborhood and belong to a middle-class family. The data analysis was based on the performance results of three major courses namely; small group discussions, the average English course, and Advanced Placement Literature & Composition. A major focus of the study was placed on the English classes as such courses are rarely chosen by Struggling students and for those who do, the performance is still substandard.
It is very important to focus on these classes since they suggest a comprehensive picture of struggling students in honors and advanced courses’ academic aspirations and difficulties as English is regarded as more challenging for the group of students in question.
Thus, the present study can enlighten us as to why struggling students in honors and advanced courses face some difficulties when it comes to such courses and what inspires the ones who performs nicely to take the extra challenge and apply more effort with regards to ensuring they understand the instructions they are given. The problems and achievements during the classes were generalized to help in the comprehension of the major challenges the struggling students in honors and advanced courses face and the most effective strategies that can be applied to successfully curb these challenges within the group in question.
The fact the participants have different sources and levels of motivation should not be ignored. Some of the students are still hopeful and are very willing to improve their performance and even further their studies while others are very reluctant and are satisfied with what their performance level is even though it is poor. The motivations that the students have is very important as it will form the foundation for the development of the most relevant and technically proven educational techniques and strategies that will be used to curb the problems faced by the struggling students. Recording and understanding the progress of the less motivated students or the struggling students is also very important in the process of evaluating and applying the suggested methods.
Arranging Research Access
The qualitative phase of the study will be to provide a reconnaissance observation that is very crucial for any research effort to be successful. The necessity of carrying out a reconnaissance trip means to make prior observations of the areas of study, if possible address the relevant authorities, and inform them of your intensions and the relevance of your study to them and how it would benefit the institution and the education sector at large is very crucial.
The pre-study trip will also play a big role in enabling the researcher to identify with the participants, familiarize themselves with the problems they are facing in relation to their social and cultural activities (Bush and Bush, 2010). It is also very important to have the intended participants notified that they will be a part of a very important study and outline what the study will be expecting from them in order to get the most relevant information in terms of data and results. This will play a very big part in ensuring that everyone is prepared for the participation in the study hence sets the foundation for a credible and successful research study.
On top of the pre-study trip, it will also be very important to develop a time-oriented work plan or schedule that comprehensively outlines the activities expected to be carried out and integrate it into the casual schedule of the school being studied. Time is a very potent limiting factor in the research process hence it should be spent very shrewdly. The schedule is meant to give an overview of the whole study process in terms of describing what happens where, at what time and for how long.
This will keep the participants aware of where they are supposed to be and at what time and what is expected of them at a particular point in time. It also ensures that the participants have enough time to take part in the research (Codrington & Fairchild, 2012). The researcher must have observed the place and planned for anticipated challenges that are bound to occur during the study on top of ensuring the relationship between him and the participants was formal. This will be to give the participants a sense of confidence and comfort while they were taking part in the study.
An external third party meant to carry out an audit is also very important since they will ensure the researcher’s role is not biased in any way and that the data obtained is credible since the level of integrity is maintained as the main focus of the study. I took the role of instructing the participants involved in this study and having a background of growing up among the minority population in an arena of academics that was mainly dominated by white people, empathy towards the participants should be anticipated.
The main agenda is to try and find out why male students of the struggling students in honors and advanced courses have problems in their cognitive comprehension of the instructions they receive in their casual classroom setting and how their teachers differentiate the instructions to attend to these needs with the aim of finding out other methods through which the teachers can enhance the level of understanding of the instructions they give to their students.
During the study, I will give out questionnaires to teachers as they embarked on their classes and small research projects aimed at finding out the different ways through which they can differentiate the instructions they give to their students, especially the struggling ones. This was done in the period between August and December 2013. This work has a lot of value sentimentally to the researcher and therefore it was greatly affected by the “researcher’s own motivations and values” (Blaxter et al, 2010).
The sample of the teachers will be small, all undertaking their additional courses on message deployment methods and the art of scaffolding as outlined by the framework given by Lee Vygostky’s in his “Zone of Proximal.” The teachers will come from four different schools making the data sample more effective since the conditions of the schools will all be very different even though all the schools are in the state of Georgia. Retrospectively, it would have been possible to include a school in this study which is young on or had not started yet appreciated the framework provided by the Zone of Proximal. This would have made it possible to make comparisons with schools that already apply it.
Developing the Research Instrument
This study will utilize three main research instruments. An initial survey questionnaire was issued to the teachers during their casual teaching activities. The questionnaire changed after being put to the test with a teacher who was not part of the sampled group of participants. Bell (2008) gives very reliable advice when it comes to questionnaires. The questionnaire was designed to be quick enough to be filled within five minutes and easy for the teachers to complete easily without feeling intimidated by the questions as a means used to test their competence. Most questions in the questionnaire will be answered by ticking the correct answer represented by a box, and only a few questions required detailed answers.
This is all in the endeavor of making the questionnaire as comfortable as they could ever be. Thirty two questionnaires were returned indicating that our participants formed a small sample. The questionnaire issued for this study will be included in Appendix A. A researcher’s choice for the questionnaire can be a “non-probability sample if the participants are selected for convenience and they attend a face-to-face introduction of the framework of Lee Vygostky’s on the Zone of Proximal” (Cohen and Manion, 2010). This will be the case for this study.
The data acquired from the questionnaire will be complied and analyzed and the results will be found in the next chapter of this dissertation. This study will use questionnaires to gather primary data, with the sole purpose of providing a description of the situation and conditions currently (Cohen and Manion, 2010). From this first questionnaire, I will be able to identify a group of participants that will be ready to complete another questionnaire even if it requires more of the time and a little more detail in the responses. These are the people I intend to use for a more detailed study.
The preceding step will be carrying out the research to form the case study. I will pay a visit to four schools and conducted my interviews as designed on the questionnaire included in Appendix A. With interviews being very adaptable (Bell, 2008), I decided to ask some of the teachers some one-on-one questions covered in the questionnaire under Appendix B.
Research Design and Approach
The study will look at the relationship that exists between the types of instructions a teacher gives to their students and how the students, especially the struggling students in honors and advanced courses, interpret the instructions. It sought to focus on the difference in cognitive understanding of these instructions and tried to find out why the difference exists and what the teachers can do to reduce the disparity between the two groups of students outlined in the previous chapter; the struggling students and the capable students.
As outlined above, the instruments that will be used are majorly the interviews, questionnaires and secondary sources of data combined with a case study survey instrument used for data collection. These tools will be extensively used in making inferences relating to the capability of struggling students in honors and advanced courses to interpret the instructions they are given by their teachers and how their teacher can improve the differentiation of the instruction when being given to the struggling students. A case study will be preferred since it greatly excels in bringing people to a detailed understanding of a complex problem in the society and it can greatly add strength to the pre-existing research work.
Since a case study lays a lot of emphasis on the analysis of a limited amount or number of conditions and how they are interrelated in a particular context, it is the best tool to use to examine this real life problem and provide the foundation for the easily integrated application of ideas and methods into the school systems in Georgia. The case study well served as an indicator as to if the qualitative themes outlined majorly by the educational system outlined by the government generalize to the true reality on the ground when it comes to whether the systems give a satisfactory approach to all the needs of a students; whether struggling or not.
It also worked to provide a basis for future approaches to this topic. With regards to the quantitative approach, it occurred that it is vital to outline the predictors of the instances of struggle in the class setting in order to conduct a comprehensive analysis of the statistics of the factors involved with the problem.
The statistics will include the number of students categorized as struggling and the criteria used in this categorization, how the students under the category of struggling perform and how the teachers contribute towards the changing of the situation in terms of holding remedial classes to give more mentorship to such students. I will use regressors and adjustments as predictor variables in the outlining of the data as collected in the study.
The regressors will allow the prediction of the reasons as to why the results of the students are as they are. The predictor variables are outlined as: The effects pre-school has on cognitive capacity, the level of parent education as the students were growing up, the levels and methods used in high school preparation, the amount of time a teacher spends in class and after class with the students. The dependent variable will mainly be the results of the students as indicated by the school’s progress reports and transcripts.
All the data will be equated to the levels of cognitive comprehension of instructions and will be used to develop methods and strategies that can be applied to improve these levels especially in the struggling students. The lives of the students, whether in school or outside school, will also be considered alongside the predictor variables. This is because they have demonstrated a potential depiction of the common behavioral, cognitive and decision influences concerning the types and formats of information the students can relate to and easily interpret.
The study will also use the quasi-experimental approach that majorly entailed the initial data from scores the students had in their first tests followed by the consequent tests that followed. The qualitative side of the data analysis entailed the focus group which was mainly the struggling students in honors and advanced courses that are perceived to be struggling alongside their teachers, observation of the process of teaching in the classes was done to outline how the teachers use their skill in the differentiation of the instructions given to the students and the interviews that will be carried out on both student and their teachers.
For the students, the interviews will seek to find out what their attitude, perception and view is on the process of learning and how they think it can be improved for them to perform better in school while for the teachers, the interview will seek to find out what they do to ensure their students grasp all their instructions and what according to them is challenging in ensuring the students understand. This will also be used in the development of methods through which the teachers can improve the way they give out instructions to the students to ensure maximum comprehension.
It has been an observation that I made that many scholars and researchers doubt the connection and contribution of science theory and non-cognitive factors towards the determination of the various factors that influence the behavior and intuition of students in the classroom setting. The scholars have also disagreed to the fact that both the cognitive and the non-cognitive factors may manipulate the factors that surround the academic decisions of the struggling students in honors and advanced courses (Smart & Paulson, 2012) in the Georgian high schools. Studies that have been recently carried out indicate that it is indeed very vivid that attrition rates that are very conspicuous and particular to the struggling students in honors and advanced courses have a possibility if being largely associated to their socio-economic orientation.
This study will apply the Exploratory Sequential Design framework for the mixed method design. This study is to a great extent dominated by the comparison between grades and scores in tests and their relation to the social behavior of the struggling students in honors and advanced courses and their cognitive ability to interpret the information relayed to them by their teachers. The main function of the framework (Exploratory Sequential Design) is to serve the theoretical perspective of the researcher and giving room for philosophical assumptions. The use of two phases a sequential design researcher was able to give a voice to diverse perspectives, to better represent the participants and fight for their argument, or to understand the phenomenon or process that is changing as a result of research being done about it (Creswell, 2012).
The design is preferred because it is in the natural coding of struggling students’ personalities to bring some aspects of their personal individual life into the academic world because they rely on social order and family influence to shape their destiny in the society especially socially. This is opposed to other cultures like Asian Americans who value their education more than anything hence when it comes to academic issues education is all that matters.
Setting and Sample
Four schools will take part in this study. However, one of them will be majorly sensitized on and this will be given the name School One for purposes of the discretion of the participants as promised during the study. The Exploratory Sequential and Ethnographic designs will be used to identify how the social and emotional backgrounds of the students affected their attention and full devotion in class especially when it comes to the subject of receiving instructions but also make the behavior and learning patterns through observation and interaction with the participants.
This study that takes the quasi-experimental embodiment of mixed methods and an incorporation of a quantitative control group will strive to give a comparison of the performance of students identified as capable by their teachers and those termed as struggling. Of course, the groups will not know which category they fall in order for to avoid emotional grudges between the two groups. Each group will participate in the standard based classroom, which will lay its focus on scaffolding for enhanced student comprehension. Scores will be collected from the schools’ websites that publish tests results by school and the results of these participants will be compared to the overall results of the state testing and the national average.
The results of the participants will also be evaluated according to the requirements of the state. The number of students that meet the state’s requirements and the number of participants who fall under the same category will also be very crucial in the understanding of the effectiveness of the art of scaffolding on the students. The individual academic records will then be analyzed as provided by the study schools’ administration. It was observed that the teachers in Georgian schools have been trained on the use of resources like workbooks, technology like the internet and simulation programs and benchmark tests that ensure the students have optimum comprehension of the subject matter of the lessons (Clayton County Public Schools, 2012).
Having been born and raised in military bases for the first eight years of my life after which my father retire from the military, I had to embark on my journey into the academic world from a school with only two struggling students in honors and advanced courses between the age of seven and twelve; me being the only female of color. This led to me experiencing a lot of racism and in more acute situations isolation from the classroom. The background I had inevitably allowed me to have a lot of empathy towards the participants of the study and assisted me in the development of relevant strategies to curb these problems as I reflected on the strategies I applied at a personal level to overcome or endure the milestones, challenges and hardships I faced at that time.
The role I took was that of the observer and interviewer of the participants in the study and the researcher simultaneously. I intended to have a relationship based on trust and respect with the students I had. The setting of a classroom provides a learning environment that is very conducive to positive interactions and exchanges of ideas. With the safety of the participants being the main priority during the study, participants will be removed from the class if the participant feels that his/her grades are in jeopardy, he/she does not feel like his/her privacy is being respected or if he/she no longer wants to be part of the study. The best possible education is stretched to such parties regardless of their choice.
My experience might have biased the qualitative phase of the study since I have the ability to emphasize with the participants. I have gone through several psychologically torturing experiences like being referred by the name racial slurs, being placed in classes for the average students and my potential of being a candidate in the advanced classes being overlooked. This therefore made the study more vulnerable to bias. For this reason, I will have the involvement of a third party auditor who reviewed the qualitative data from the observations and the interviews carried out.
The major quantitative instrument used in the study will be the End of Course tests (EOCT) that is used to assess the whole state. It was administered to the participants during the final month of their junior year of high school. These tests were administered by the instructors of different departments in relation to the test being taken. For example, the mathematics instructor was the invigilator of the American Literature test.
The exam was conducted for four days, on campus and was collected by administrators then submitted to the state where the scoring was to be done. The test was aligned with the 11th grade American Literature common-core curriculum. The main reason for the test is to assess the specified content knowledge and the skills the students possess. On top of this, “states that the assessment give the state the diagnostic information they need for them to help the students to identify their strengths and weakness in terms of the different areas of the course hence the overall improvement of performance in all the schools” (Georgian Department of Education [GDOE], 2012), and courses and other local assessments (Georgian Department of Education [GDOE], 2012). The scores obtained from the scores are released in summer hence they provided me with ample time for the analysis of the quantitative data of the study.
The results or score will be critically analyzed. The journals of observations will be included on the address to the attitudes and participation of the students. The interviews will be used for the qualitative phase of the mixed study. The research journal can be referred to give an account of each stage of the study up to date including a section of my personal opinions. The journal will greatly assist in the process of distinguishing the facts, the assumptions and my personal opinions thus avoiding possible bias. A qualitative survey will be given to the participants in an envelope (to be filled in their places of residence then returned to the school) after the EOCT results are reviewed. The survey is meant to measure the attitude of the students and their participation in the courses in school.
The data collection process will begin with a written request sent to the principals of the different schools. The request was meant to give the researcher the permission to conduct and collect data disclosures of the tests and survey results of the individuals that took part in the study. The techniques and strategies used are mainly Google, Proust, Qualtrics and Thinkgate. The data was entered and the scores were received then an analysis chart was created to desegregate the data among the Struggling students in honors and advanced courses. I merged with an administrator and an Advanced Placement coordinator to form a committee.
We will meet the first time to establish the rules, regulations, minimum quantities, policies and criteria that would govern the committee, its function and the data analysis. I will pull all participants from the class rosters into three AP Literature & Composition courses and two collaborative courses. Student identifiers are placed for random codes within the profiles for confidentiality of the participants. The information will then be saved in a dedicated USB memory stick that is dedicated specifically to the study and only the researcher has access to the information; even the participants have no access.
Two teachers are responsible for teaching 12th grade English. These are a teacher in the English department and a collaborative special instructor. The sub groups are made based on the students’ English courses. The students involved in the study are given instructions for both classes in English using a District curriculum, Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI), interventions that included differentiated instruction and small group tutorials. The participants had their strengths and weaknesses in English courses identified during the initial phase of the research study. The CCSSI offered a standard based classroom, differentiated instructions, and more collaboration with the classroom.
The state assessment test, EOCT, is very valuable since it is aligned with the state’s curriculum. It is taken at the end of the student’s eleventh grade year. The data from these tests was used as a pretest to determine the student’s academic prowess in English courses. The participants’ growth was then measured by comparing the students’ data from the pretest (control) and the post test scores and the change in scores was used to address the research questions.
The survey that will be used to measure the students’ participation and attitude on top of the knowledge of rudimentary English concepts is referred to as Qualtrics. The survey is a way of engaging the students’ comprehension to the pretests and the posttests performance results. This survey is considered a very reliable measuring tool, and it was used in studies like, Georgia Race to the Top Grant.
Questionnaires will be distributed to the teachers in the school and they will be collected from them at the end of the casual day-to-day classes that I attended in my endeavor to find out the level of differentiation of instructions done by teachers during the classes between August 2013 and October 2013. It will be important to measure the levels of performance of the students before the implementation of the zone of proximal.
In addition, the teachers adopted the art of scaffolding in order to gather additional information used as background information for the case studies. The initial questionnaire will be confidential, but the teachers who are willing to participate in the consequent questionnaire will be allowed to provide their names if they so wished. I have to keep my promise of full discretion hence the anonymity in the report is promised and respected.
The questionnaire will provide a mixture of data; some of the data is subsequently analyzed using a quantitative method and a huge part of this will be concerned with the background and experiences of the teachers and the resources, methods and techniques they previously used in their teaching practice to ensure optimum interpretation of the instruction they gave to their students. The other parameters like how students perceive their teachers and their teaching methods and how the teachers perceive their students when it comes to categorizing them into able students and struggling students will be approached in a rather qualitative way.
Field work for this study will be conducted between August and December 2013 and it will form a very significant and primary phase of the research (Johnson, 2008). During this time, I will make trips and visits to four high schools in Georgia and carry out an interview on eight teachers with the assistance and guidance of the follow-up questionnaire. I will also do a lot of observation and scrutiny of the students’ results and progress reports that will be provided for by the school administration.
The main agenda of the interviews is to gather more information the teachers’ strengths and weakness and their skills and techniques during the dispatch of instructions and mentorship to their students. I am also keen on finding out what the teachers plan for the future in terms of the improvement of their methods of teaching especially when it came to the differentiation of the instructions they give to the students and how they are designed to cater for the needs of the struggling students during their teaching practice.
Sources that provided more detail to the qualitative data used from the case studies will include interviews conducted on the teachers and some of the students, together with the classrooms observations made and the transcripts, performance reports and results slips analyzed alongside with the trends the teachers took in their teaching. This data will be outlined in the consequent chapters of this dissertation. The areas that will be identified as those needing reforms will be: raising student achievement, closing achievement gaps, better preparation of students for college and careers and ensuring teachers and leaders are highly effective (Krigman, 2009).
Arrangement of the Data
For the purpose of record keeping, all the questionnaires filled and returned will be stored both in print and electronic copies. This will be to allow subsequent analysis and for the purpose of ensuring the security of the information. It will also allow accountability accountable for the investigations and date collected. Field notes for this study will be written based on the interviews and classroom observations.
A summary of the results obtained from state assessment test EOCT will be considered because this test is aligned with the state’s curriculum. The EOCT test is taken at the end of student’s eleventh grade year. The data from this test will be used as a pretest to determine students’ academic prowess in English courses. The participant’s growth will be measured by comparing the students’ data from pretest and posttest scores and the change in scores will be used to address research questions.
Limitations of the Study
The removal of a small group instruction from the district level limited the data collection process for Struggling students excelling in high school. The district level is too small as compared to the fact that the results were aimed at improving the education standards of the whole state. Moreover, the smaller district scope had to be zoomed in when just a small number of students and just eight teachers were involved in the study in terms of the case study, the questionnaire and other data collection methods used.
Another limitation was the fact that most Struggling students in honors and advanced courses do not enroll for the higher level courses hence they create a limiting factor in terms of the level of participation in the study. On top of the number of enrollees being small, the study had to use a small sample out of the already small number available. This created a lot of risks since the participants were open to leave anytime they felt their privacy was infringed, their grades were in jeopardy or they just did not want be part of the study any more.
The study was also very specific in terms of the race, origin, and sex of the participants. This also created similar risk as the ones mentioned above, risking having no participants if they quit.
The researcher was also the instructor of the participants during the case study. This created the risk for bias since the researcher had history similar to those in the study group as dictated by her past. This also meant that extra resources’ had to be used in the involvement of a third party auditor meant to ensure the issue of bias is well avoided I the data collected.
The study put its focus specifically on the English course. This therefore, meant that any more information will be needed in future study trips. The adoption of more subjects to the case would have greatly changed things since there would be a wider scope.
The limitation of time also created a problem since the study would have been carried out with a specific study group from their freshman year to their senior year for the report to be comprehensive enough since the data would have been more detailed hence a detailed and well-informed policy should be laid down.
Measures Taken for Protection of Participants
Permission was requested from the Walden University review board before gathering any data for this research study. The guidelines from the Clayton County Public Schools and Georgia Department of Education were used to protect the rights of the participants (Clayton County Public Schools, 2012). Prior to selecting the study group, the administrator was informed of the rationale for the study. The high schools were selected based on failing to meet AYP in previous years, the change in demographics, and proximity for the researcher. The high school can benefit from this particular study because their greatest need among Struggling students is excelling in higher-level courses and closing the achievement gap.
Data will be collected from a school generated list and codes she assigned to protect the rights of the participants. The data will be kept in a secure location in the home office of the researcher.
The literature review conducted before carrying out the research will provide an insight into the disparities that exist between struggling students in honors and advanced courses. Most reviews highlighted cultural aspects as major causes of the failure to transit from regular English courses to Advanced English courses among struggling students. Therefore, there are high chances that the researcher may influence by this perception and believe that they must be present during this study.
Scope and Delimitations
The area of study will be very expansive and may be covered and go within the time frame provided of the participant’s final year of high school. Triangulation method will be one of many used to gather data, observations, and interviews for validity, as well as clarification of researcher role and participatory modes of research. There may be the need to interview as many people as possible to collect different views. However, the sample population will be used to represent a small portion of region.
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