Overcoming Middle School: A Teachers Perspective

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Still, there's another gap that often goes unexamined: the cultural gap between students and teachers. But they don't know. If people want to help us, they have to see what we've been through, not from what their own experiences tell them. Most of us in the education profession are white, middle-class, monolingual-English speakers. Increasingly, the same profile does not hold true for our students. Often, when we stand before our classrooms, the faces looking back at us do not look like our own.

Many of us try to bridge this difference with an embrace of color-blindness or the Golden Rule, treating others the way we would want to be treated. Culture isn't just a list of holidays or shared recipes, religious traditions, or language; it is a lived experience unique to each individual.

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As educators, it's our job to stimulate the intellectual development of children, and, in this era, it's simply not enough to operate on the axis of color-blindness. To truly engage students, we must reach out to them in ways that are culturally and linguistically responsive and appropriate, and we must examine the cultural assumptions and stereotypes we bring into the classroom that may hinder interconnectedness.

To engage students effectively in the learning process, teachers must know their students and their academic abilities individually, rather than relying on racial or ethnic stereotypes or prior experience with other students of similar backgrounds. Many teachers, for example, admire the perceived academic prowess and motivation of Asian American students and fail to recognize how even a "positive" stereotype isn't positive if it presses students into molds not built for them individually.

Hear elementary school teacher, Diane Holtam, speak about how she works with other teachers to disabuse stereotypic notions of Asian American students' abilities. Curriculum, in its most simple, essential, commonly understood form, is the "what" of education. It is crucial to academic performance and essential to culturally responsive pedagogy.

Even the most "standard" curriculum decides whose history is worthy of study, whose books are worthy of reading, which curriculum and text selections that include myriad voices and multiple ways of knowing, experiencing, and understanding life can help students to find and value their own voices, histories, and cultures.

Hear high school creative writing teacher, Foster Dickson, talk about text selection and the importance of a diverse selection of authors. Learning Lakota For a high school on South Dakota's Rosebud Reservation, culturally responsive curriculum is proving a hefty antidote to the violence, poverty and growing cultural disconnect hindering student success.

Teachers are often a young immigrant's first regular, ongoing contact with someone outside their home community and culture. It's a relationship that can provide the emotional scaffolding necessary to cross the linguistic and cultural divide between country of origin and country of residency. With a hearty mix of creativity, cultural acumen, and professional expertise, teachers can help English language learners acquire language skills more rapidly — and foster inclusion in the school community.

Listen to elementary teacher, Diane Holtam, talk about bridging the gap between her newly arrived immigrant students' home language and English. Breaking the Prejudice Habit by Patricia G. Nene faces her fears about doing math and overcomes them. Polychrome Publishing Corporation. ISBN Culturally responsive teaching: Theory, research and practice. Focus group interviews allow for in-depth exploration of meanings, attitudes, and personal experiences of participants about a particular topic during an informal, but structured, group discussion Kitzinger, ; Krueger and Casey, The focus group interviews were conducted by two members of the research team as facilitators while a third member filmed the sessions.

Each focus group session lasted approximately 60 min and took place in a room with appropriate light and sound conditions. To create a friendly environment, snacks and refreshments were offered to participants before and after the discussion. The chairs were arranged in a half circle to allow participants to see each other and to facilitate the filming of everyone in the room. Prior to the discussions, teachers filled in a socio-demographic questionnaire e.

To facilitate the interaction between participants, all focus group sessions started with a warm-up activity. Then, the facilitators started the discussion with general questions e. This set of questions was previously asked to two teachers in order to ensure comprehensibility. These teachers did not participate in the focus group discussions. All invited teachers were informed that they would be observed five times on average see Kukliansky et al. Teachers were blind to the exact date or timetable of the observations dates of the mathematics assessment tests were excluded from the observations schedule and all agreed to participate acknowledging these requirements.

Two other members of the research team, who were knowledgeable about homework research, conducted the classroom observations. The instrument used to collect data included the five homework feedback types reported in the literature e. Additionally, researchers took field notes independently on the homework feedback process e. In the end, each teacher was observed on average five times, thus gathering a total of 64 h of classroom observations. Transcriptions of focus group discussions and observation field notes were analyzed using content analysis Bardin, The latter is a qualitative research technique used to search for and identify categories, following systematic procedures Bardin, The researchers who conducted the focus groups carried out the data analysis.

The extensiveness of comments i. The identification of categories followed a deductive and inductive iterative process Bardin, The categories were organized a priori in a coding scheme based on the theoretical model by Irving et al. In the end, all transcripts were reviewed in order to check whether the already coded material fit the new subcategories. Finally, the two researchers reviewed all the categories and sub-categories and discussed the differences found in order to reach a consensus e. After the data analysis of four focus group discussions two from each school level , the researchers coded the two other focus group discussions and no new information was added.

To ensure the reliability of findings, the Kappa value was calculated using the Coding Comparison Queries in the Navigation View of the NVivo software. The Kappa value was 0. Then data from the elementary and middle school teachers were analyzed separately conducting a matrix-coding query, crossing nodes with attributes i.

The number of participants for each subcategory was converted into a percentage. The two researchers who conducted the classroom observations coded independently the process of homework feedback delivery described in the field notes according to the codebook used in the focus groups. No new categories or subcategories were identified or redefined. Data from the elementary and middle school teachers were analyzed separately following the procedure used in focus groups, and the number of participants for each subcategory was converted into a percentage.

To answer the second research question i. First, a Cluster Analysis Wizard by word similarity between nodes was conducted to explore patterns and connections between nodes in an initial phase of data analysis Bazeley and Jackson, Second, a case-by-nodes matrix was conducted to explore the relationships between each category in the focus group discussion transcripts as suggested by Bazeley and Jackson Specific quality procedures were used to enhance the trustworthiness of the findings of the current study Lincoln and Guba, : investigator triangulation i.

Member checking session lasted approximately 2 h. Firstly, participants were informed of the findings approximately 45 min. Afterward, they were given a copy of the findings and asked to analyze and discuss whether the description was an authentic representation of the topics covered during the focus group interviews. The participants also analyzed whether the description of the homework feedback types provided to students was an authentic representation of what usually happens in class.

Participants were invited to critically analyze the findings and comment on them Creswell, In addition, whenever possible, data from classroom observations were included to illustrate findings. Categories were reported using the criteria by Hill et al. For reasons of parsimony, rare categories two or three cases were not reported. All participants reported assigning homework regularly and considered homework feedback as an important element for homework effectiveness.

The analysis of the frequency labels for each category revealed no general categories, which allows concluding that definitions of homework feedback vary among teachers, irrespective of the grade level. For elementary school teachers in one focus group discussion and for middle school teachers in two focus groups, homework feedback provided by teachers was defined as a message provided to students with information concerning their homework behaviors i.

Middle school teachers in all focus groups conceptualized homework feedback in the reverse direction i. F5P2: Some weeks ago, I noticed that several students in class had not understood some homework exercises. I asked the whole class and found out that no one had understood. Two or three students said: Sir, these exercises were a bit complicated… We did not understand what we were expected to do, how to start… This was the homework feedback they gave me. The remaining teachers nodded their heads in agreement and added that this piece of information gathered at the beginning of a lesson helps them choose the type of homework feedback to give to students.

The following utterance illustrates this conceptualization:. F2P3: Homework feedback is when students can explain or reflect upon what they are doing…or checking from their seats when we check homework on the board. All my students draw a grid in their notebooks and devote one row to homework. I believe this to be self-feedback because students know their score and link it to school grades.

They know that those who complete homework are likely to achieve better results. The opposite is also true…. This type of homework feedback i. Still, other teachers from the same focus group reported that they do not use this strategy with their students.

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The homework feedback purposes identified by teachers at both school levels were similar. In fact, some students struggle to learn and show difficulties to understand and complete homework. This category emerged in all focus group discussions, and was consensual among participants. The following statements illustrate some of the conversations held:. F2P4: Homework feedback is important in order to learn about what is happening on earth [some teachers laughed], to learn whether most students do their homework, whether they manage to do it alone or need some help, but also to learn about their difficulties during the learning process and act upon their mistakes.

F2P1: To know whether I delivered the message well or not so… Homework feedback should make us change our instruction methodologies. F5P3: With the help of homework feedback, students can learn what is right or wrong in their homework. If the homework assignment is correct, they get some positive reinforcement. If it is not correct, they learn that they have to study more and do additional exercises.

However, some teachers in all focus groups irrespective of grade level considered homework feedback a purposeful tool for teachers or students to monitor progress in learning. In sum, teachers admitted that homework feedback provides on-task opportunities for teachers and students to monitor the teaching and learning process. F5P6: When they [students] realize that they are capable of doing homework exercises, they feel very happy and proud of themselves. It is crucial to give them positive reinforcements to improve their self-esteem. The two types of homework feedback practices first mentioned in all focus group discussions were: checking who completes homework and checking homework on the board.

This strategy allows noting who actually did their homework and gathers information on how students did it e. In this process, teachers reported that they try to understand the reasons why students did not complete homework e. Teachers from both school levels reported using logs in class to record who missed homework, and data from the classroom observations corroborated this finding. When asked how they usually deal with maladaptive homework completion behaviors, some teachers at both school levels reported criticizing students who repeatedly fail to complete homework or copy answers from the textbook, as the following utterance illustrates:.

F6P5: Where is your homework? Oh, I see. Keep working like this and you will get far… [ironic tone]. The use of public criticism and irony in response to maladaptive homework behaviors was observed sometimes in elementary school classes, and often in middle school classes. All teachers were very emphatic about the importance and usefulness of this type of feedback. Moreover, present data i. For example, some teachers reported that they check homework on the board; others mentioned writing on the board the answers dictated by students from their seats; while others explained that they randomly choose one or more students to do homework exercises on the board.

The observations conducted in the classrooms provided data that showed that all these strategies were used in class when teachers were checking homework on the board. Still, frequency and sequence of the strategies used by teachers e. Moreover, classroom observations revealed that when students ask teachers for help, some teachers provide individual explanations while checking homework on the board.

Teachers at both school levels also emphasized checking homework on the board as a way of giving feedback to the whole class with minimum time and effort:. F1P1: When homework is being checked on the board by a student, I identify what is incorrect and explain how the exercise may be approached. Still, this feedback is very general because I cannot check every single assignment that students hands in. I simple cannot do it! However, some participating teachers alerted that students who check homework on the board get a more detailed type of feedback than those who passively watch from their seats or do not pay attention to the checking process.

Data from the classroom observations confirmed this practice.

Institutional Practices

Participants stressed that this practice provides students with a new feedback event centered on the level of accuracy of their responses and on their ability to transfer the knowledge learned to new tasks. Teachers admitted that they do not examine the quality of all homework assignments given in class because of the heavy workload they faced on a daily basis. During classroom observations, teachers registered who did not complete homework and sometimes they referred that this behavior would decrease their overall grade.

Most teachers in all focus groups reported including information on homework completion in the overall mathematics grade; still, less than half identified this practice as a type of homework feedback. Furthermore, some of the elementary and middle school teachers in all focus groups mentioned sending parents a message when their children miss homework three times as a type of homework feedback. This practice was confirmed by data from classroom observations. Comments address the strengths and weaknesses of homework, pointing out the topics that need to be improved, as the following quotation exemplifies:.

F4P1: I comment on what is done well, but I also point out mistakes and suggest ways to improve what is wrong or not so well done. Another teacher explained that she provides this type of homework feedback weekly, except for those weeks when students have assessment tests. In the next lesson, and without prior notice, he collects four or five homework assignments, which are returned with feedback comments in the following class. Participants in the three focus group discussions agreed that this type of homework feedback is very useful, but also stressed the unlikelihood of giving it in class because of the heavy workload they as teachers have to bear e.

The following dialog among elementary school teachers illustrates their conceptions on the impact of homework feedback:. F4P9: Students who complete homework regularly are more willing to understand the contents covered.

“Homework Feedback Is…”: Elementary and Middle School Teachers’ Conceptions of Homework Feedback

F4P2: …and they complete homework more often… At least I notice more effort. Moreover, both elementary and middle school teachers related homework feedback to class participation variant category in both school levels , as the following participant argued:. F4P5: Yes…they [students who complete homework regularly] follow classroom instructions and participate in class more actively, for example, by asking me questions and answering mine more frequently….

In fact, some of the middle school teachers in all the focus group discussions defended the need for students to play an active role in their learning, arguing that homework feedback is not worthwhile for those who are not interested in learning. The second research question aimed to examine how the four key aspects of the homework feedback are related.

The middle school teachers perceived homework feedback as the feedback provided by the teacher to their students about their homework. The latter was mentioned less often by middle school teachers. Still, the elementary school teachers did not explain how they promote these self-regulation skills in class. Moreover, the second set of relationships i. Interestingly, the participating teachers operationalized both homework purposes i. The homework feedback practice testing related contents was also linked to both purposes but only by elementary school teachers.

This homework feedback practice helps teachers learn who completed homework and collect information on the content with which students are struggling the most. Finally, the various types of homework feedback were associated with various perceived impacts. Thus, most of the teachers at both school levels anticipated that external control is needed to help students complete homework. Checking homework completion was referred to as an important tool for encouraging students to do homework. According to participants, this practice fosters self-esteem only reported by elementary school teachers , homework completion reported by some teachers at both school levels , class participation reported by some teachers at both levels , and learning of the content taught in class reported by most of the teachers from both levels.

Teachers explained that praising students on their good performance while doing exercises on the board is likely to increase their self-esteem. Furthermore, teachers said that this practice encourages homework completion and increases class participation because it provides students with specific information on how to solve exercises. Some elementary school teachers reported that testing related content helps students participate more in class e.

Counting homework completion in the overall grade was referred to as a direct incentive for students to complete homework. These teachers mentioned that personalized homework feedback would help students correct their mistakes and might provide guidance on the topics that need to be further studied.

As a result, students were likely to improve their grades. Regarding the first key aspect of homework feedback, teachers proposed a multifaceted definition of homework feedback: i homework feedback provided by the teacher, ii homework feedback provided by the student, and iii homework self-feedback. The definition of homework self-feedback is linked to the internal feedback or self-feedback proposed by Butler and Winne and Hattie and Timperley , respectively.

According to these authors, students are expected to display self-regulatory skills to self-evaluate their performance in homework assignments see Hattie and Timperley, Interestingly, this category is typical in elementary school, but variant in middle school. This may be particularly important in mathematics where contents are organized so as to follow a continuous progression and lower levels prepare the foundations of subsequent levels Pijls and Dekker, Regarding the third topic of homework feedback homework feedback types , findings in the current study are consistent with literature Cooper, ; Mullis et al.

However, despite the similarity of the homework feedback practices reported by elementary and middle school teachers, the percentages of each reported category vary. For example, checking homework completion and checking homework on the board are general categories in elementary school and typical categories in middle school; while testing of related content is a typical category in elementary school and a variant category in middle school.

However, Katz et al. On the contrary, criticism delivered in private is likely to lead to better responses see Leung et al. According to participants, homework feedback impacts in the following aspects: content learning, self-esteem, homework completion, class participation, and achievement. Globally, this finding is consistent with previous research e. Moreover, middle school teachers added that when students do not play an active role in their learning, feedback is not likely to have any impact. This conception is consistent with the SRL approach to the homework process e.

As Labuhn et al. Interestingly, the two most frequently reported types of homework feedback i. This data merit reflection within the school context to understand whether homework feedback is being used with efficacy. This training would also help teachers understand that criticism and irony in class may discourage homework compliance, but it also may lead to undesirable outcomes such as children homework disengagement.

Finally, data e. In fact, students lacking SRL skills may fail to use the homework feedback delivered in class, which may compromise the impact of this instructional tool on students learning and achievement see Corno, ; Peterson and Irving, ; Zhu and Leung, The analysis of these relationships focusing on a specific content domain at two school levels showed which categories were linked, and how, by the participating teachers. This study extended previous research conducted with mathematics teachers from a single grade level see Kaur, ; Zhu and Leung, Moreover, in spite of the fact that the types of homework feedback practices are the same, the type of categories i.

These findings may help understand why the relationship between homework and academic achievement reported in the literature varies from elementary to middle school see Cooper et al. To some extent, this may contribute to understand the low effect sizes and explained variances found in the homework feedback research e. Future studies may consider further examining these relationships. The present study followed methodological procedures to enhance trustworthiness of findings such as random sampling, investigator and methodological triangulation, provision of direct quotations, and member checking Lincoln and Guba, ; Shenton, ; Elo et al.

Results from member checking were very positive. The majority of the participants agreed that the description of the findings was a genuine reflection of the topics covered in the focus group discussions, and of the homework routines in the classroom. No suggestions were made to change the description of data. Such data have strengthened present findings. In addition, teachers highlighted that they usually choose types of homework feedback that reach all students because of the professional constraints they experience daily i. This topic was mentioned during the discussions and may merit further investigation because it may be an important factor compromising the homework feedback process.

Notwithstanding the strengths of the current study, there are also some limitations that need to be addressed. Moreover, most of the participants have extensive experience in teaching, which may have contributed to the results. The information provided would be useful to learn how students understand e. Examining the mis alignment of both conceptions of homework feedback elementary and middle school teachers and students may help deepen the understanding of the impact of homework feedback and further examine the differential relationship between doing homework and academic achievement at these two school levels see Cooper et al.

The results, although promising, should be further investigated in different school grades and subjects.

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This study was reviewed and approved by the ethics committee of the University of Minho. All research participants provided written informed consent in accordance with the Declaration of Helsinki. JC and PR substantially contributed to the conception and the design of the work. JC was responsible for the literature search. PR was also in charge of technical guidance. JN made important intellectual contribution in manuscript revision.

JC wrote the manuscript with valuable inputs from the remaining authors. All authors agreed for all aspects of the work and approved the version to be published. The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest. Authors would like to thank Sofia Kirkman and Fuensanta Monroy for the English editing of the manuscript. JC was supported by a Ph. National Center for Biotechnology Information , U. Journal List Front Psychol v.

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Front Psychol. Published online Feb 6. Author information Article notes Copyright and License information Disclaimer. This article was submitted to Educational Psychology, a section of the journal Frontiers in Psychology. Received Sep 13; Accepted Jan The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author s and the copyright owner are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice.

No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms. This article has been cited by other articles in PMC. Table 1 Summary of studies that focus homework feedback. Authors, date Type of study Participants Domain s Bang, Survey and qualitative study High school immigrant students 9th—12th grade Non-subject-centered Bang, Qualitative study Teachers of high school immigrant students 9th—12th grade Several subjects i. Open in a separate window.

The Present Study Teachers are an important source of information in the study of the homework feedback process because they actually manage feedback in class Cooper, How do the four key aspects of the homework feedback relate to each other? Materials and Methods School and Participants Characteristics The last 2 years of elementary school in the Portuguese educational system encompass 5th and 6th grades 10 and 11 years old , while middle school includes 7th, 8th, and 9th grade 12—14 years old. Participants in Focus Groups Six focus group discussions were conducted in this study, each of which comprised 7—9 mathematics teachers.

Table 2 Summary of demographic information of the focus groups. Data Collection Data was collected from two data sources: focus groups and classroom observations. Focus Group Discussions Focus group interviews allow for in-depth exploration of meanings, attitudes, and personal experiences of participants about a particular topic during an informal, but structured, group discussion Kitzinger, ; Krueger and Casey, What reasons lead you to give this kind of homework feedback?

And for how long?


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At the end of the questions, the facilitators asked participants if they wished to add anything to what had been said in the discussion. Data Analysis Transcriptions of focus group discussions and observation field notes were analyzed using content analysis Bardin, Table 4 Summary of findings.

Category Subcategory Description Exemplar quotes from focus group Definition HW feedback provided to students Information provided by the teacher to their students about homework behaviors, understanding and performance.