Action Research Summaries 2015

Heritage Learner Instruction: Incorporating Code-Switching

Charles Wagner

In this Action Research Project, students in an urban high school Advanced Placement (AP) Spanish Language and Culture class were experiencing anxiety about producing orally in the classroom. The class was comprised entirely of bilingual children of Central American immigrants, only one of whom had been in any previous courses taught in Spanish in their educational careers. Interviews with students and the subsequent research conducted suggested that their apprehension was a result of societal devaluation of bilingual language production. The recommendations of the literature review were to challenge those societal perceptions about linguistic correctness and prestige. Three problem sets had students engage with their bilingualism in ways that presented them with a new framework with which to view their linguistic abilities. Students were given opportunities to interact with culturally relevant material and produce oral presentations as if they were in a non-educational setting. Students were then given opportunities to practice producing oral presentations consistent with the expectations for the AP Spanish Language and Culture Examination. The intention of counter-positing these being to reduce their affective filter and establish a clearer distinction between the two methods of production, consistent with methods used in teaching English to African-American students using code-switching. The results were that students felt more confident in their abilities and were able to produce longer utterances with fewer instances of interference from English in their practice AP presentations.

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Supporting Teachers in Providing Feedback to Students

Cristina Lopez

Much research has been done around the effects of non-cognitive skills on student achievement. One non-cognitive skill in particular, student ownership of learning, has been proven to increase academic progress significantly. At Leadership Public Schools, San Jose, many students were failing and were not demonstrating the skills necessary to improve their grades. This action research project focused on one proven strategy that could both increase content mastery and develop ownership of learning: teacher-delivered verbal feedback. I designed this intervention to support a team of teachers to change their practice to include more quality feedback to students as a lever to increasing mastery and student ownership. The design included two major teacher support structures: a professional learning community and coaching. The first professional development session sought to both build rationale for the importance of the strategy and teach the strategy to a team of inexperienced teachers. The last session created space for teachers, informed by video footage, to discuss their personal growth and the performance of the team. In between the sessions, teachers were provided time to practice and receive coaching in order to individualize their support in learning the new strategy. The intervention resulted in an increase of quantity and quality of feedback delivered to students. Additionally, the data suggests that the components and structure of the design—mainly the video protocol, the deconstructed strategy, allowing time for practice and coaching support, and the alignment within the overall professional learning structure—were effective at shifting teacher practice.

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Developing Independent Learners Through Metacognition

Jack Cohen

Students must be able to direct their own learning to succeed in college, career, and life. As have many researchers studying high school and college populations, I found this capacity lacking in my 11th and 12th grade AP Psychology students.

One recurring piece of evidence was that students regularly construct incomplete mental models, often distracted by superficial elements of examples that instantiate a concept instead of focusing on the core structure underlying the examples.

This impairs effective analogical transfer, which relies on complete mental models. While such distraction betrays the pervasive gap in students’ metacognitive capacities, studies show that metacognition can be learned effectively through explicit teaching. Two metacognitive strategies stand out as successful in inducing mental models and facilitating enduring analogical transfer: similarity identification between analogous examples (SI), and self-explaining the new process as one learns (SE).

In order to address the challenges described above, my intervention sought to combine SI and SE to enable students to develop and maintain mental models and analogical transfer that were both more complete and more enduring. The intervention focused on both applying these two metacognitive strategies as well as teaching students how to use them to help them develop their capacity as independent learners. The results reveal correlations supportive of the belief that both SI and SE facilitate enduring learning, though a small sample size limited the scope of the intervention and warrants further investigation into the strategies’ combination. The analysis also sparked further questions of ways to improve students’ identification of the essential components of their own thoughts and explanations.

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Choice and Voice: Student-led Literature Circles for Deeper Understanding of Text

Joanne Davi

Learning to read can be a fun and challenging activity. However, reading to learn often turns reading into a challenging, and not often fun, academic task. During my years as a special education teacher, I worked with students who were years below grade level with their reading, and saw how their reading ability impacted their overall academic performance and confidence. When I moved into general education, I saw that reading struggles were not unique to a special education setting, as over half of my class was a year or more below grade level. Reading has so many components – fluency, comprehension, and analysis to name a few – and I wanted to pinpoint exactly where my 7th and 8th grade students needed the extra push to become proficient readers.

This project aimed to address middle school readers’ resistance to engage with and analyze texts on a deeper level. Increased student choice and voice regarding both the texts and topics of literature circle discussions were a major part of the intervention to push students to engage with their texts. Questioning as a reading strategy was retaught, modeled, and practiced as the main method of digging deeper into text meaning and themes. Data was collected from teacher observations, student surveys and interviews, transcripts of discussions, and reading assessment data. The intervention led to an increase in the quality of student-facilitated discussions , which led to deeper understandings of challenging texts. Many students grew at least a year or more on their year-end reading assessment, including a focus group of students who had been stuck at 5th/6th grade level for multiple quarters.

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Collaborative Inquiry Groups to Improve Teacher Practice and Increase Student Engagement

Kara Duros

Academic engagement is one of the key predictors for success in school. Disengaged students have a much higher likelihood of dropping out, becoming incarcerated and/ or becoming dependent on social services in their future. Teacher behavior has a significant impact on the levels of student engagement in the classroom. According the to Self-determination Theory (SDT), when students feel that their psychological needs of competence, emotional connection to others, and autonomy are met, students will be much more likely to be engaged in school. For adolescent students, fostering a sense of autonomy seems to be the most important psychological need for students. The focus of this action research was to use collaborative inquiry groups to change teacher practice to become more autonomy supportive in order to increase student engagement in the classroom. Teachers followed a collaborative inquiry model where they spent time defining the problem, conducting research and gathering data to develop an intervention plan, implementing the plan, reflecting and refining the plan, and then celebrating and sharing their achievements and learning with the larger school community. As a result of the collaborative inquiry group, teachers developed a common understanding of the causes of student engagement, they became more reflective, and their practice improved and became more autonomy supportive. In addition, all teachers reported an increase in student engagement in their classrooms as a result of the intervention strategy.

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Standards-Based Grading: Theory and Practice

Kate Sugarman

ARISE High School is a small public charter school in Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood. In 2013, the school leaders (including myself) made the decision to transition from a holistic grading system to a standards-based grading system. In the subsequent years, the teachers and leaders worked to develop a codified set of learning targets that defined what students should know and be able to do in each course. During this time, it became apparent that teachers had different levels of understanding of the theory of standards-based grading, and had different levels of technical competence in implementing this system in their classroom. The literature indicates that standards-based grading is more beneficial to student learning than traditional grading systems, and that it provides more insight into student learning and gives feedback to teachers about their instruction. In order to address the diversity of teacher understanding and expertise in implementing standards-based grading, I designed an intervention that focused on three group workshops followed by individual coaching sessions. The goal of this intervention was to improve the ability of the Social Science department to use standards-based grading in their classrooms by deepening their conceptual understanding and by improving their technical skills. In order to evaluate the effectiveness of the intervention, I examined scripted notes from the workshops and coaching sessions, written feedback from the participants, survey results, and the artifacts created by the department. The data revealed that such an intervention is effective in shifting teacher thinking and improving teacher skills given the right amount of time and deliberate facilitation. Teachers reported a level of technical competence, and they created artifacts that reflected this thinking. They responded well to the deliberate facilitation, but observed how time-consuming the work was, and how little capacity they had to focus on this work during the allotted time. Although the intervention did increase teacher investment through the collaborative meaning-making process, the intervention was only effective at beginning the process, and did not ultimately go far enough in order to truly shift teacher practice.

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Professional Learning Communities & Instructional Coaching

Kathryn Wilson

In order to increase student achievement, for students who are consistently not meeting the standards, and for those exceeding the assessed standards, the school utilized the Professional Learning Community (PLC) protocol to develop capacity in teachers to use student data to inform instruction. Additionally, Instructional coaching was implemented to support three teachers in designing differentiated lessons for students in content and standards identified by the PLC. This multiple prong action research was evaluated through use of pre- and post-surveys to identify self-perception of the members of the school’s eight faculty, notes taken by the participant researcher, lesson plans, and an Analysis of Student Work form were used.

As an Instructional leader at CSCE, I designed the intervention to work with PLC teams to develop their capacity to differentiate lesson plans. Over the course of the action research all eight teachers used differentiated lesson plans to support their instruction in the PLC identified content area (math). The results of the intervention also shed light on how profound content knowledge can be to planning lessons and how teachers’ value and gain from pro-longed, job embedded Professional Development. Another finding showed teacher’s years of experience, often times, positively affects their efficacy in developing and executing differentiated lesson plans.

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Coaching Metacognition:A Study in Developing Accurate Self- Assessment in Novice Teachers

Meaghan Stern

School quality across the country hinges on high quality instruction from effective teachers. Teacher quality and development are of the utmost importance to all schools, but particularly those in low-income neighborhoods with high minority and English-Learning populations. These are areas where teacher turnover is high, and school staffs are generally more inexperienced than schools in higher-income, English-speaking communities. Research shows learning gaps between students with experienced teachers and students with inexperienced teachers, serving to highlight how important it is for schools to quickly develop novice teachers into competent educators. A review of the literature on professional development in education and in other fields demonstrated the importance of both reflection and feedback in order to improve practice. However, in both literature and practice, it became clear that there are substantial barriers to novice teacher accuracy in reflection. In essence, novice teachers do not independently accurately and effectively reflect. Three novice teachers at Cornerstone Academy exemplified the challenges associated with new teacher reflection and self-assessment. These individuals stated that they reflect regularly, but they were not accurately doing so. Thus, despite being dedicated to improving instructionally, they were ineffective at self- assessing their areas for growth. In order to improve their self-assessment accuracy, these teachers needed improved metacognitive awareness of their teaching practice, and an instructional model against which to reflect.

For this action research, I analyzed the impact of three instructional coaching sessions with teachers in which they were explicitly coached to self-assess: they were given an instructional model video, tools to use to reflect (video, a reflective journal, reflective prompts), and explicit coaching on how to reflect. Over the course of the intervention, teachers became more aware of their teaching practice, more reflective in their discussions about their teaching, and more accurate in their self-assessment of their instruction. The result of the intervention sheds light on key practices in which schools might engage to quickly build the reflective capacity and competence of novice teachers in service of student achievement. Schools that hire and staff a large number of inexperienced teachers can improve student achievement rapidly by concentrating on novice teachers through a process focused specifically on building reflective capacity and accurate self-assessment.

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Helping Secondary Teachers Accelerate Struggling Readers Through Independent Reading

Nancy Lai

Nearly two-thirds of our nation’s children read below proficiency. Twenty years after the Goals 2000: Educate America Act was signed into law, we are no closer to achieving the objective that “every adult American will be literate and will possess the knowledge and skills necessary to compete in a global economy and exercise the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.” To compound this problem, the new Common Core State Standards “stretch” Text Measures have increased the Lexile ranges at each grade level, making grade-level proficiency even more difficult to reach, and unsurprisingly, data paints a troubling picture of disproportionality for our students of color, English Learners, low-income students, and designated Special Education students. Despite four years of district-level data indicating the severity of the reading problem in Oakland Unified, our administrators and teachers do not have the expertise to provide reading support to our wide range of learners. My action research was designed to support teachers in 1) understanding the role of Independent Reading in developing both student reading proficiency and interest, and 2) implementing effective independent reading routines and accountability systems in their classes. The intervention, which by necessity shifted to a “Training of Trainer” model, had a positive, if limited, effect on teacher implementation of the practice of conferring. More importantly, the intervention resulted in a number of implications to inform the design and implementation of system-level reform from the central office.

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Addressing Math Anxiety Through Alternative Assessment

Stephanie Lee

Math anxiety impacts student achievement. Having taught for nine years, I have observed its effect on students in my class every year. While studies show that a number of factors contribute to a student’s math anxiety, the use of traditional assessment is a leading cause. The purpose of this action research, in turn, was to examine the effects of alternative forms of assessment and feedback structures on students’ math anxiety. During the assessment and feedback cycle, students participated in a series of oral formative assessments, lessons and activities involving self-regulated learning, and an oral summative assessment during which they received oral feedback. Data collection included pre- and post-intervention surveys and focus student interviews, observation data, and a researcher reflective journal. Findings from the data suggested that the use of alternative assessment and feedback structures does lower students’ math anxiety and has other positive benefits as well, including shifts in mindset. Yet, there are potential limitations, such as insufficient time and resources to effectively implement alternative assessments in all classrooms, leaving room for future research about how teachers can most effectively use oral assessment to identify and close gaps in students’ understanding.

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Decreasing the Achievement Gap through Increasing Parents’ Knowledge and Skills: A Focus on Parent Engagement

Valerie A. Douglass

In order to ultimately decrease the Achievement Gap, this study focuses on increasing, specifically Latino parent engagement. Throughout the study I investigated parents’ institutional belief of education, their growth in knowledge and skills, participation in their scholar’s education, and their relationship with the school, teachers, and most importantly their scholars. The intervention consisted of multiple phases, the first phase being regular communication regarding incomplete homework, incomplete readings logs, tardies, and incidents of discipline with certain focus students. The second phase of the intervention was having focus parents attend a 10-session Latino Family Literacy Program concentrated on building knowledge and skills. Finally, phase three of the intervention was building relationships through visits to focus family’s homes. Data collection included pre and post surveys of both parents and teachers, parent reflections, a researcher’s journal entries, and numerical data of scholar tardies, reading log incompletes, and homework incompletes over time.

The results of the study varied between the different focus parents, teachers, and scholars. The eight parent participants gained knowledge and skills, specifically focused on English literacy and how to interact with their scholars. The quantitative data tracked the students over time—showing a growth in their homework and reading log completion as well as a decrease in tardies for some. Lastly, all parents made incredible gains in their engagement with their student’s education as measured by weekly Kickboard data and end of year NWEA MAP data. One particular parent and scholar pair shifted remarkably in all aspects of the intervention—academics, discipline, attendance, knowledge, skills, relationship and engagement, eventually shifting the Gap ever so slightly. Because of the increased engagement from parents and the relationships that were made, Kindred Academy will be continuing the intervention on a larger scale in the future.

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Utilizing PLC and Coaching to Support Students in Purposeful Academic Conversations

Viviana Espinosa

Costano, a K-8 school located in East Palo Alto, serves a low –socio economic and ethnically diverse community, of which 65% are English-language learners. After conducting several rounds of classroom observations at Costano it became apparent that while teachers delivered instruction that was of high quality and mostly engaging, they were not providing enough meaningful and strategic opportunities for students to engage in conversation around content. Research supports the need for academic conversation to provide students with the opportunity to build academic language and conversation skills while providing teachers with a formative assessment to assess student content understanding and language ability. To build teacher instructional capacity we utilized a professional development model called a professional learning community (PLC). This model seeks to authentically engage participants in collaborative inquiry around a common problem of practice and build their learning community while refining their classroom practice. To support the implementation of new learning that came from the inquiry group, studies suggest the use of a peer or instructional coaching model. A group of eight participants, including both teachers and administrators, formed a professional learning community. Each community member paired up with a colleague for instructional coaching with the common goal of supporting students to hold academic conversations. Data collected through classroom observations, personal interviews, and feedback forms were analyzed along with researcher and meeting notes showing that all participants grew their understanding around academic conversations, all enjoyed th eexperience of being part of a Professional learning community that included coaching cycles, and all participants found the inquiry cycle meaningful and relevant. The level of implementation, depth of content knowledge, and availability of participants varied. A common understanding of classroom practices were being built and questions arose throughout this research that suggests further study.


Read Viviana’s Action Research Project