Academic journal article Middle Grades Research Journal

ACTIVE LEARNING IN THE MIDDLE GRADES CLASSROOM: Overcoming the Barriers to Implementation

Academic journal article Middle Grades Research Journal

ACTIVE LEARNING IN THE MIDDLE GRADES CLASSROOM: Overcoming the Barriers to Implementation

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

The Association for Middle Level Education (AMLE) published a critical position paper in 2010, This We Believe: Keys to Educating Young Adolescents. In this publication, AMLE describes a framework containing four essential attributes and 16 characteristics of effective middle level schools. The 16 characteristics are further divided into 3 categories: (1) curriculum, instruction, and assessment, (2) leadership and organization, and (3) culture and community (NMSA, 2010). Of the 5 curriculum, instruction, and assessment principles there are 2 principles directly related to instruction:

* Students and teachers are engaged in active, purposeful learning (Active Learning).

* Educators use multiple learning and teaching approaches (Multiple Learning Approaches) (NMSA, 2010, p. 14).

Studies have found that middle level schools that more authentically follow or that have high levels of implementation with the middle school concept, now articulated in the This We Believe document, have higher student achievement (McEwin & Greene, 2010; Mertens & Flowers, 2006). However, an unfortunate trend reveals that this type of instruction is not regularly happening in many middle level classrooms. Anecdotally, many teachers report that these principles cannot be implemented in the climate of standardized testing and accountability (Wood, 2004). McEwin and Greene (2010) report in their survey of randomly selected middle schools that 81% of respondents reported regularly using direct instruction, while 64% of respondents reported regularly using cooperative learning, and only 42% of respondents regularly used inquiry teaching. They found that "schools still tend to rely more heavily on teacher-centered direct instruction" (p. 55). Musoleno and White (2010) also conclude that developmentally appropriate instructional practices that are aligned with middle school philosophy have decreased since the No Child Left Behind Act increased the pressure of standardized testing on schools and teachers.

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of this study was to examine teachers who choose to and are able to implement the instruction principles advocated by AMLE and understand the factors related to their ability to implement those principles. Specifically, two research questions were addressed:

1. What are the barriers or challenges that middle level teachers face when attempting to implement the instruction principles (i.e. active learning and multiple learning approaches) of effective middle level education proposed by the Association for Middle Level Education (NMSA, 2010)?

2. How are some teachers able to implement the instruction principles (i.e. active learning and multiple learning approaches) of effective middle level education proposed by the Association for Middle Level Education (NMSA, 2010) when many teachers report that these principles are not possible in the current climate of standardized testing and accountability?

LITERA TURE RE VIEW

Active Learning

The first AMLE instruction principle is, "Students and teachers are engaged in active, purposeful learning" (NMSA, 2010, p. 14). Active learning requires the student to take a "dynamic and energetic role" (Petress, 2008, p. 566) in his or her own learning. The learner is not overly dependent on the teacher, but rather takes control of his/her learning and plays an active role in the learning process (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2003; Petress, 2008). One definition of active learning is:

The process of having students engage in some activity that forces them to reflect upon ideas and how they are using those ideas. Requiring students to regularly assess their own degree of understanding and skill at handling concepts or problems in a particular discipline. The attainment of knowledge by participating or contributing The process of keeping students mentally, and often physically, active in their learning through activities that involve them in gathering information, thinking, and problem solving. …

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