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Like a Chameleon: A Beginning Teacher’s Journey to Implement Active Learning

Like a Chameleon: A Beginning Teacher’s Journey to Implement Active Learning instructional methods are one way for middle grades The purpose of this study was to follow the learning teachers to get students more engaged (Downer, Rimm- trajectory of a beginning teacher attempting to implement Kaufman, & Pianta, 2007; Harbour, Evanovich, Sweigart, active learning instructional methods in a middle grades & Hughes, 2015;Yair, 2000), and high levels of student classroom. The study utilized a qualitative case study engagement can lead to positive outcomes including methodological approach with the researcher in the role of increased academic achievement (Dotterer & Lowe, 2011; participant observer. Three research questions were Valentine & Collins, 2011; Wang & Holcombe, 2010). explored: the challenges the teacher faced, the supports Middle grades teachers need both the confidence and the that enabled the teacher to implement active learning, and skill to implement an active learning approach in their the students’ response to active learning instructional classrooms, and it is particularly imperative for beginning approaches. Data collection occurred over nine months teachers to experience success with this type of instruction. and included teacher interviews, videos of lessons, a The purpose of this case study was to follow the researcher log, and student questionnaires. Data analysis learning trajectory of a beginning teacher who was revealed the importance of modeling, supportive mentors, attempting to implement active learning instructional management strategies, reflection, and resources for methods in a middle grades classroom. The following novice teachers to experience success in the research questions framed the study: implementation of active learning. (1) What challenges might a beginning teacher Keywords: active learning, beginning teachers, case experience in implementing active learning study, teacher efficacy, teacher socialization instructional practices? Introduction (2) What kinds of support may help a beginning teacher overcome those challenges and effectively In effective middle level schools, “students and teachers implement active learning instructional practices? are engaged in active, purposeful learning” (National This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial License ( http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/ 3.0/), which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. The moral rights of the named author(s) have been asserted. © 2017 Susan Edwards. Published with license by Taylor & Francis 1 RMLE Online—Volume 40, No. 4 (3) How do middle grades students perceive active Socially Active Learning learning instructional strategies? Young adolescents are peer-oriented, and allowing middle grades students to be socially active in the classroom may enhance their learning (Brighton, 2007). According to An Active Learning Framework Vygotsky, knowledge is socially constructed (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2003), and this idea is applicable to One of the earliest champions of active learning, John young adolescents and can be incorporated in the Dewey (1924), advocated for students to be involved in classroom through partner work, small group activities, experiential learning that engaged their hands and minds. group projects, and whole class discussions. He also suggested that learning activities should be social and that learners should use what they learn to achieve Physically Active Learning social ends (Dewey, 1897). In middle grades classrooms, Young adolescents are active and energetic, therefore young adolescents learn through experiences with the physical movement in the classroom is important (Nesin, intellectual, social, and physical environments (Edwards, 2012). Randler and Hulde (2007) found that students in 2015a;Nesin, 2012). Edwards (2015a)proposedan the middle grades were more engaged when they Active Learning Framework middle grades educators can participated in experiential learning. As middle grades use to plan instruction that is intellectually active, socially students enter puberty and develop physically, aspects of active, and physically active. While any given their body (e.g., the endocrine system) have yet to instructional strategy may overlap two or more of these stabilize (Brighton, 2007). Teachers can enhance learning dimensions, all three dimensions should be included in experiences for young adolescents who are still instruction (see Figure 1). developing by allowing physical movement. Intellectually Active Learning Challenges to Implementing Active Learning It is important for students to intellectually engage with the content and not passively receive information. While active learning is an important aspect of instruction Intellectually active learning requires students to move in the middle grades (AMLE, 2012), there is disconnect in beyond memorization or basic understanding and to use practice because a traditional, passive approach to higher levels of thinking such as analysis, synthesis, or teaching and learning is still prevalent in many middle critical thinking (Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001). Young level schools (McEwin & Greene, 2010). Many teachers adolescents have an intense curiosity about the world lament the challenges of implementing active learning around them, and instructional strategies such as problem instructional strategies (Wood, 2004). Edwards (2015b) solving, inquiry, and projects that capitalize on that studied nine middle grades teachers who successfully curiosity can effectively increase student learning implemented active learning as a regular approach in their (Association for Middle Level Education [AMLE], 2012; classrooms. The teachers shared common challenges in Nesin, 2012). implementation, such as challenges related to the system, challenges related to students, challenges related to content, and challenges within the teachers. These teachers were able to overcome these challenges because they had three common characteristics: they were tenacious, they were student-focused, and they were willing to experiment. The nine teachers in the study were veteran Intellectually teachers, but it is important to also consider what Active challenges a beginning teacher interested in implementing Learning active learning instructional methodologies might face and what is necessary to help him or her overcome those challenges. Socially Physically Methodology Active Active I used a case study design for this research study. Case Learning Learning studies can be helpful in representing a typical situation, which in this case was the seventh-grade classroom of a beginning middle grades teacher. Yin (2009) suggested that case studies are useful when the Figure 1 Active learning framework 2 © 2017 Susan Edwards. Published with license by Taylor & Francis RMLE Online—Volume 40, No. 4 researcher wants to consider the contextual conditions with Tiffany Johnson, the beginning teacher, during and understand their impact on the phenomenon. By second period for one day a week. Yin (2009) argued selecting one classroom, it was possible for me to that a distinctive advantage to becoming a participant observer is that it allows the researcher to “perceive describe the challenges a typical beginning teacher may face in implementing active learning and also reality from the viewpoint of someone inside the case explore what supports might help a beginning teacher. study rather than external to it” (p. 112). To really According to Baxter and Jack (2008), an advantage of understand how to support beginning teachers’ the case study approach is the close collaboration implementation of active learning, it was important for between the researcher and the participants, which me to understand their perceived realities. allows them to tell their story while taking the context I endeavored to participate in the planning and into account. As a result, the case study approach instruction with Tiffany, but the extent of our enabled me to better understand the reality of the collaborative planning was limited due to Tiffany participants. being unavailable to meet. Often, some planning Participants occurred via e-mail, and I primarily assisted with The teacher in the seventh grade language arts instruction in the classroom. classroom was Tiffany Johnson (pseudonym), who It is also important to note that Tiffany and I had a had just begun her first year of teaching. She previously developed relationship. Tiffany was a previously served as a substitute teacher in a variety of former student in two of my teacher education middle schools during the one and a half years since courses. Admittedly, this relationship presented she graduated from the middle grades education limitations to the study because I was moving from a program at the local university. position of power as instructor over Tiffany to a There were 29 seventh-grade students in this second position of colleague and assistant. This previous period classroom. Of the 29 students, 17 were boys and relationship may have impacted the results of the 12 were girls. Thirteen of the students were African- study, but I selected this teacher primarily on the basis American, 12 of the students were Caucasian, two of of her stated beliefs in favor of active learning. the students were Hispanic, and two identified as multi- Data Collection racial. It was a regular language arts class, and no A variety of data were collected during the study, students were identified as having special needs. including interviews, videos, a student questionnaire, Setting and researcher log entries. Each source of data Carswell Middle School (pseudonym) was located near contributed to my understanding of the beginning an army base in a suburban setting. This was the second teacher’s implementation of active learning year in a new building and the first yearofthe new instructional strategies. principal who had just been promoted after being an I conducted two semi-structured interviews with assistant principal at another middle school in the Tiffany, one during the summer before the school year district. The school population was growing quickly began and one in March. Both interviews lasted about (1,044 students at the time of the study) due to expansion 45 minutes. The interviews were audio-recorded and on the army base, and the typical class in the school had then transcribed verbatim. The interview protocol more than 30 students. School-wide standardized test consisted of a series of open-ended questions about results indicated that 47% of the students scored at the active learning as an instructional approach. I asked proficient level or higher on the state language arts the teacher about her beliefs related to active learning, assessment (Columbia County Board of Education, the challenges with implementing active learning, and 2016), and 36 % of the students in the school were on the supports she finds helpful. free or reduced lunch (Georgia Department of Education, 2016). Every lesson the teacher and I co-taught was video recorded. The camera was set in a corner of the room Position of the Researcher and remained stationary, and the videos were only In this case study, I was the researcher and took on the viewed by me during the study. role of participant observer. To become fully immersed in the challenges of implementing active learning in a At the end of the first semester, I asked the students to middle grades classroom, I posited that it was important complete a written, anonymous questionnaire. The for me to do more than observe. Therefore, I co-taught questionnaire consisted of open-ended questions about © 2017 Susan Edwards. Published with license by Taylor & Francis 3 RMLE Online—Volume 40, No. 4 their preferences regarding various active learning I then analyzed the data using the constant strategies. For example, one question asked, “Do you comparative method (Charmaz, 2006; Glaser & like small group discussions and do you believe they Strauss, 1967), a systematic approach that employs help you learn? Why or why not?” various levels of coding to theorize a phenomenon being studied. I conducted open coding with both I maintained a research log throughout the study. The descriptive codes and emic codes, or keywords of the log contained both descriptive field notes of observed participants themselves, such as “learn without events as well as reflections and insights. The log realizing it.” Then, I proceeded through a process of served several purposes: to record observations not axial coding, which involved exploring the open codes otherwise contained in the data, to record questions for within the sections that were initially coded for each further exploration, and to record my personal research question. This resulted in categories related to experience in co-teaching using active learning each research question (Grbich, 2013). instructional methodologies. Results Trustworthiness Using a case study approach with the researcher in the Challenges role of participant observer provided me a richness of To address the first research question, it was important understanding and the ability to explore implementation to explore the challenges that Tiffany faced as she of active learning through the perceived reality of a attempted to implement active learning. Like many beginning teacher. However, the choice of this first-year teachers, Tiffany felt overwhelmed by her methodology increases the need for me to establish new responsibilities and struggled in a variety of credibility and trustworthiness of the data. I utilized areas. I attempted to focus on the challenges that were multiple methods suggested by Baxter and Jack (2008) directly related to her implementation of active and Harding (2013) to promote data credibility and learning instruction. trustworthiness. Negative colleagues. Tiffany’s greatest source of Using a case study approach allowed me to explore discouragement in implementing active learning active learning from multiple perspectives (the instruction came from negative colleagues. When teacher, colleagues, administrators, and students). Tiffany was hired to teach at the school, the principal Intense exposure within the context over a told her that he strategically placed her on a team of prolonged period of time enhanced the credibility of three veteran teachers because they “tend to be the data. complainers,” and she had such a positive attitude. He ● I conducted member checks at three points. After had hoped that she would be a good influence. Before each interview, I sent the teacher the transcript, and school started, Tiffany expressed her concern about asked if it represented her views and if she would this team assignment. “I’m like a chameleon,” she like to add to or take away anything. Additionally, I said. “I become like whoever I am around. I hope this asked the teacher to read this written report and doesn’t change me for the worse.” determine if it accurately represented her The team teachers discouraged her from incorporating experiences as a beginning teacher implementing active learning in both overt and subtle ways. For active learning instructional methods. example, Tiffany reported that the behavior of the I used triangulation of multiple sources of data students on the team was “getting a little crazy” just (interviews, observations, researcher log), and I before Christmas break. The inappropriate behavior actively looked for data that might not fit the was happening in all four classrooms, in the hallway, patterns or could provide alternative explanations. and in the cafeteria. The other teachers on the team attributed this to Tiffany’s instructional approaches Data Analysis and suggested the students were leaving Tiffany’s I initially coded the data according to the three class a little too excited due to her active learning research questions: challenges, supports, and student methodologies, and they suggested she change her responses. This holistic method of immersion was a teaching approach. first approach to understanding the overall contents and possible categories that might develop. During Tiffany also described another teacher in the hallway this process, I also wrote theoretical memos that who would stop by her room and “poke fun at her.” recorded impressions and observations about patterns He would make comments such as, “Oh it must be in the data. nice to play games every day. What game are you 4 © 2017 Susan Edwards. Published with license by Taylor & Francis RMLE Online—Volume 40, No. 4 playing today?” When Tiffany started explaining what and wanted to remove the physical movement portion. they were learning his typical response was, “Oh, Tiffany reported feeling berated by the inclusion whatever. You pretend it’s learning.” teacher during this conversation. Although Tiffany was not encouraged by colleagues to Tiffany lamented more than once that she wished she could find a colleague who was willing to do active do active learning, she was encouraged to do so by the learning with her. She referred to the chameleon school administration. She stated, “The principal wants analogy again. “It is hard to find a positive person and us to do active learning, but for some reason we have a I unfortunately am a chameleon and I become what lot of traditional teaching going on.” Tiffany felt that I’m around.” she was going against the grain among her school faculty, and this was difficult for her as a new teacher. Colleagues with different philosophies. The school There was, perhaps, unintentional or inadvertent had arranged structures for teacher support that pressure to conform to a traditional model of teaching. required Tiffany to plan with other teachers. One of Tiffany commented one day, “I feel myself getting Tiffany’s classes was an inclusion class with six sucked in to that mindset and way of teaching.” students who had special needs. A veteran special education teacher was also assigned to the classroom Logistics. Another challenge that Tiffany faced was to co-teach with Tiffany. Therefore, Tiffany and the planning the logistics of the activities. Tiffany was not special education teacher collaboratively planned a naturally organized person and would often not think lessons that they designed to meet the needs of all the through the logistics of implementing an activity with students. In addition, Tiffany planned with the other 30 students. Tiffany reported, “[I get] so caught up in two language arts teachers on her grade level. planning the activity that I don’t take time to think Normally, collaborating with all of these experts through the logistics.” As the year progressed, Tiffany would be ideal for a beginning teacher, and this began to realize, “The thing with active learning, you collaboration was certainly established to support her. can put it together but you really have to work it out However, the three colleagues (the special education before they do it.” For example, one day she planned a teacher and two language arts teachers) had carousel activity involving chart paper placed around philosophies of teaching and learning that differed the room. She later realized that as the day progressed, significantly from Tiffany’s. These three teachers the requirement that teachers step into the hallway believed strongly in a behavioristic approach to during class changes would prevent her from changing teaching and were not interested in incorporating the chart paper between classes. She had not thought active learning into their instruction. through a solution to this ahead of time, and the result was unnecessary off-task time that she could have A manifestation of this philosophical difference avoided. occurred at the end of the first quarter. The school administration encouraged teachers to have students Tiffany also struggled with building individual complete one project per quarter. When Tiffany met accountability into group activities. She felt that it was with the other two language arts teachers, she likely that some students were “flying under the radar proposed a choice board for the project. The other two and getting away with not thinking.” She observed teachers rejected her proposal and expressed concern that when she was working with one group of that it would take too long to grade. Instead, the students, the other groups were sometimes off-task. teachers decided to give their students a packet of 75 She also often neglected to get individual formative questions about the novel they had read that quarter, assessment data on days that she planned small group and the students spent three days in class answering activities. During one class observation, Tiffany had those questions individually. the students in groups of six, but she gave each group one dry-erase board to write answers. This resulted in Another example occurred with the inclusion teacher only one or two students in each group being on-task who co-taught in Tiffany’s first-period class. Tiffany during the activity. had prepared an activity in which students must get Lack of planning time. The primary reason for not out of their seats to retrieve plastic eggs containing questions. Tiffany had purposely selected the activity thinking through logistics was a lack of adequate planning time. Tiffany rarely had any time for to allow physical movement because she believed this was important for young adolescents. The inclusion planning built into the work day. Her planning periods were regularly filled with RTI meetings, 504 plan teacher did not think the activity was a good selection © 2017 Susan Edwards. Published with license by Taylor & Francis 5 RMLE Online—Volume 40, No. 4 meetings, IEP meetings, team meetings, mandatory instructional strategies. They occasionally met on professional development sessions, parent weekends to plan together. Even though Tiffany was conferences, and administrative meetings. The school unable to find a language arts teacher at her current school who shared her philosophy of active learning, system had a county-wide initiative to incorporate writing across the curriculum, and teachers regularly she was encouraged by this teacher at a different met with instructional coaches during their planning school. Tiffany suggested, “I think that’s what it periods to analyze student writing samples. Tiffany comes down to—if you have somebody you can attempted to compensate for this by doing her grading bounce ideas off of that aren’t just going to criticize and planning on evenings and weekends, but she you, even though they may not be on your hallway or found it difficult as a mother of two daughters. She even in your school.” was simply overwhelmed. Second, Tiffany had support from the school Supports administration. The administrative team at her school Tiffany had firm beliefs about the importance of active encouraged her to continue using active learning and learning for her students. As a beginning teacher, she noted that she kept the students engaged during their needed support as she endeavored to enact her beliefs observations of her classroom. She noticed that the in the classroom. I attempted to focus on these principal even made it a point to peek into her room supports so I could answer the second research and see what she was doing even when he was not question. Five methods of support enabled Tiffany to doing one of the mandatory observations. Tiffany said bypass the obstacles: seeing it with her own eyes, that it meant so much to her that the administrators supportive mentors, management strategies, reflection, made comments about the students wanting to learn and resources. and participate. This reinforced her determination to implement active learning. As Tiffany stated, “I really Seeing it with her own eyes. Tiffany often referred to am doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing.” the importance of seeing the impact of active learning on the students. She frequently made comments like, I also played a role in supporting Tiffany, offering “If I can keep them engaged and I can keep them both emotional support and demonstrating active active then the behavior issues are going to come learning strategies. After lamenting about pressure down and they are going to learn because they want to from colleagues not to implement active learning, be in the room,” and, “I saw how into it those kids Tiffany commented one day, “Thank you for helping were.” I found it significant that Tiffany experienced me reset my mind!” the impact of active learning on the level of Tiffany made it a point to look for people who were engagement and learning in her students. positive about her approaches to instruction. While It was also important for Tiffany to see active learning she was discouraged regularly by negative colleagues, strategies modeled. She often wanted more than just a she found support even from irregular interactions description; she wanted to see it in action. She made with positive colleagues who, she believed, tried to comments that every time she saw me implement a help her figure out a way to make active learning strategy, she felt confident doing the same strategy work. In Tiffany’s mind, “To me, support comes from with her other classes. I was the only person Tiffany whoever has your back.” knew in the school who modeled active learning Management strategies. Beginning teachers often instructional strategies. She suggested, “I feel sure, I have difficulty with classroom management, but this am one of those people when I find out that was not the case for Tiffany. The fact that she somebody’s doing it I’ll probably be in their room all effectively used several management techniques to the time.” facilitate active learning made it easier for her to get Supportive mentors. Ironically, while negative her students actively engaged. Tiffany took a pressure from colleagues was Tiffany’s biggest relationship-driven approach to management and challenge in implementing active learning, her biggest explained that once she developed true relationships support came from positive colleagues. First, Tiffany with students she “could make sure active learning is had met another language arts teacher at a school taking place.” She believed that “if you’re going to do across the district where she had previously worked as active learning, show them some mercy.” Sometimes a substitute teacher. She had kept in touch with that students got too excited during activities, and she just teacher and had come to rely on her for advice and said, “I know you’re excited, just hang on,” rather 6 © 2017 Susan Edwards. Published with license by Taylor & Francis RMLE Online—Volume 40, No. 4 than administering punitive consequences. She was we can still make a difference to the situation at hand comfortable with allowing movement in her —our thinking serves to reshape what we are doing classroom. For example, she had a stool in the back of while we are doing it” (Schon, 1987, p. 26). Tiffany was comfortable reflecting on and acknowledging the the room so that students who wanted to move around could choose to sit on the stool. logistical problems in front of her students. She summarized her beliefs about reflection in action in Tiffany consistently used three management the following statement. techniques to promote active learning. First, she had a basket of “squishy” creatures in her closet that To me, try it and if it doesn’t work, admit it to students had given her. Whenever she wanted students them. Because one of the things that we’re to take turns or speak one at a time, she brought out a supposed to do is to teach the kids if something doesn’t work, that’s not a reason to stop. It’sa squishy. Only the person holding the squishy was reason to say what can I change, how do I make it allowed to speak. Once the speaker finished speaking, better, how can I be successful? he or she tossed the squishy to someone else. Tiffany reported that students who were normally reluctant to participate would be motivated to do so just so they She decided that her ability to reflect was beneficial to could hold and toss the squishy. her, and when she saw something was not working, she “tweaked it along the way.” The “tweaking” involved A second technique that Tiffany consistently making organizational and logistical changes to activities implemented during active learning times involved so they flowed more smoothly in later class periods. slowly writing the title of the novel the class was currently reading on the board. If the students got too In addition to reflection in action, Schon (1987) loud while doing an activity, Tiffany began spelling suggested that teachers should also engage in the one-word title. When the students calmed down reflection on action. Reflection on action is a reflective and got quiet, she would stop where she was in the conversation with the materials and the situation that middle of the word. Later in the class period, if the allows the teacher to frame and reframe problems in students got too loud again, she would begin spelling light of information she gains from the setting in the word where she left off. As long as she did not get which she works. While Tiffany often regretted not to the end of the title before the end of the period, thinking through the logistics of an activity before she everything was fine. The students knew that if Tiffany implemented it, she readily fixed the problems before reached the end of the title before the end of the the next class. She stated, “So, when something didn’t period, she would stop the activity and require them to work, by the next period it worked. Because I figured do “boring worksheets” instead. The students tended out what worked or what didn’t work; to make some to cooperate so they could participate in activities they little changes along the way.” found enjoyable. Resources. Tiffany believed that a key to her The third technique was a method of last resort for successful implementation of an active learning Tiffany that she used sparingly, and I only witnessed it instructional approach was having enough resources once. If an individual student was off-task, she would for ideas. While she did not have the time that she redirect the student once with a verbal warning. If the wished to explore resources that might be out there, she student did not get on-task and stay on-task, she highly valued resources that others who also believed in would remove the student from the activity, and active learning shared with her. For example, she require him or her to work alone or complete an described a meeting with the teacher in the other school alternate worksheet on the same content. who was mentoring her in using active learning. Reflection. Tiffany had a natural tendency to reflect What I like, when I met with my friend this on her practice and to act upon her reflections, and this weekend she had three books and I ordered them process enabled her to implement active learning all on Amazon right there when she showed me. effectively. Tiffany engaged in what Schon (1987) Because she flipped and she goes, okay I have tried called reflection in action and reflection on action. all of these and she starred all the ones that worked Reflection in action occurs when the teacher and I quickly just looked at those and I was like, I consciously looks at a problem in the midst of the can make that work, I can do that. So, I made a little note, so that when that book comes in I know situation and considers possibilities in light of the these have been used, they were successful, try practice in place. This occurs during a time in “which these first. © 2017 Susan Edwards. Published with license by Taylor & Francis 7 RMLE Online—Volume 40, No. 4 Student Response who just need to get up and move and that’s why they can’t stop kicking the person in front of them, To examine the third research question, I explored so they want to go and get water. I have a couple students’ perceptions of active learning instructional of students in every class that ask to go at the practices. I analyzed student questionnaires (self-report), beginning of class and at the end of class. But on teacher interviews (self-report), and the researcher log to the days that we’re doing active learning, they answer this question. Overall, the students responded don’t ask to leave the classroom. positively to Tiffany’s active learning instructional approach. They were clear that they preferred activities to worksheets. In particular, Tiffany believed she saw The students acknowledged that they sometimes got increased levels of engagement and fewer behavior off-task while working in groups. One admitted, problems when she used active learning strategies versus “Sometimes people talk too much about other stuff.” traditional methods. Their comments supported Tiffany’s assertion that behavior and, therefore, learning improves when Increased engagement. Tiffany often commented doing active learning. The following comments about the higher level of engagement from the students represent the feedback I received from students related when she used active learning strategies. “They love it, to behavior. they just love it. They love being active, they’re learning and they don’t even realize they’re learning,” she said. ● Student 13: I don’t like just learning from a The more compelling comments came from the students PowerPoint because it’s boring and some kids fall themselves. The students definitely voiced that activities asleep. were more fun, but they also noted that they perceived ● Student 16: I like small groups because you can their focus and learning increased when they were given learn what other people think, and also you learn opportunities to participate in active learning. The something from that person. following comments are representative of feedback I Student 24: I like group work because you don’t received from students. have to stay quiet while you’re working and you can also ask if someone got a different answer. ● Student 1: I love to write but not seven pages. It is not fun nor is it keeping me hooked. I would usually drool on the paper, not write on it. Discussion Student 5: I definitely hate worksheets where you Tiffany was motivated and committed to implementing have to answer so many questions so I would like it active learning in her classroom, and found ways around if we can stop doing those kinds of things. the challenges she experienced. She faced obstacles that ● Student 7: I don’t like activities where you use a made it difficult to implement active learning: negative workbook to find answers because it’s not about colleagues, colleagues with different perspectives, learning the material. To the student, it’s all about logistics, and lack of planning time. Because Tiffany was finding the answer to your question. You stop committed to having her students engaged in active focusing on the words on the page. Therefore you learning, she found ways to bypass those obstacles: don’t know what it’s trying to tell you. You only seeing it with her own eyes, supportive mentors, look for your answer and write it down. Then you management strategies, reflection, and resources. move on. Figure 2 depicts how Tiffany bypassed obstacles to get Student 9: I want my teachers to do fun activities her students engaged in active learning. because I don’t want to do boring activities all period. Tiffany, like many novice teachers, experienced disconnect between what she learned in her teacher Improved behavior. All middle grades teachers know education program and what she experienced in her new the challenge of managing student behavior so they school setting. It is common for administrators to can focus on learning. Tiffany believed that her encourage new teachers to rely on more experienced students’ behavior actually improved when she had colleagues to assist them in the transition from student them doing activities. teacher to teacher. The influence of colleagues in the teacher socialization process can be helpful or So, if I can keep them active and I can keep them disadvantageous. If the veteran colleagues are supportive engaged, then there are less behavior problems of the active learning approaches a beginning teacher is because they are going to be more involved in the attempting to implement, then having their support can learning itself. If they are not active, then the ones 8 © 2017 Susan Edwards. Published with license by Taylor & Francis RMLE Online—Volume 40, No. 4 is best for their students (Duffy & Hoffman, 1999; Vaughn & Faircloth, 2011). Teachers who have vision reflect on their practice and evaluate the effectiveness of their instruction based on their students’ growth (Shulman & Shulman, 2004). A teacher (like Tiffany) who enacts active learning must first begin with a picture in her mind of a classroom with students engaged in active learning. That vision must rise out of a deeply held personal belief that active learning is what works for young adolescents. A clear belief in the importance of active learning is necessary for a teacher to have the fortitude to enact her vision in spite of constraints such as negative colleagues and a lack of planning time. Tiffany possessed a vision of active learning and never wavered in her belief that it was important for her students. Tiffany envisioned a classroom in which students were regularly engaged in active learning, but she also must believe that she was capable of bypassing the challenges Figure 2 Bypassing obstacles that she faced in order to enact that vision. Scholars refer to that belief system as teacher self-efficacy. Tschannen- Moran and Hoy (2001)defined teacher efficacy as a be very productive. If the novice teacher cannot find teacher’s “judgment of his or her capabilities to bring colleagues with like-minded philosophies, then they may about desired outcomes of student engagement and not be as successful in implementing active learning. learning” (p. 783). Teacher efficacy refers to the extent to Valencia, Place, Martin, and Grossman (2006) examined which a teacher feels she has the power to implement the four beginning teachers and found (among other factors) vision she has in her mind. While Tiffany’svisionof that the influence of colleagues impacted the beginning active learning was strong, her self-efficacy was not quite teachers’ ability to adapt curriculum materials to meet as strong, and she needed support. She relied on the the needs of their students. language arts teacher she knew from another middle The culture of traditional instruction in a middle school school, the supportive administrators, and me to is a powerful force. Experienced teachers, encourage her in her vision and to keep her from administrators, parents, and students have becoming “like a chameleon” and thinking like the preconceived notions of how content should be taught, teachers around her. If beginning teachers enter a school and these people have a significant influence over the culture that is entrenched with traditional, teacher-directed novice teacher (Brown & Borko, 1992). If the novice teaching, then support systems must be put into place to teacher enters a school that supports different styles of help those teachers maintain their beliefs that active teaching, the findings on teacher socialization are learning is important for young adolescents. Just like positive. Colleagues and administrators who do not Tiffany found it difficult to “go against the grain” of the support active learning approaches to teaching can be colleagues around her, other beginning teachers are likely troublesome for a novice teacher in a traditional to face the same challenges to their beliefs. instructional culture because of the profound influences Teacher agency is the notion that a teacher’s belief (in they exert on the new teacher. Sirotnik (1983) this case, a belief in active learning) is translated into suggested, “What we have seen and what we continue action. Teacher agency is enacted when educators to see in the American classroom—the process of teach according to their beliefs and vision even in the teaching and learning—appears to be one of the most midst of restrictive policies and other challenges consistent and persistent phenomena known in the (Vaughn & Faircloth, 2011). Teacher agency is evident social and behavioral sciences” (pp. 16–17). when teachers initiate intentional action in order to Duffy (2002) characterized a teacher’s vision as “a enact a specific purpose in a thoughtful manner and personal stance on teaching that rises from deep within with autonomy (Bandura, 2001; Epstein, 2007). the inner teacher and fuels independent thinking” (p. Teachers with agency make decisions that are 334). We know from research that teachers who possess consistent with their convictions and their personal a clear vision are more likely to enact what they believe beliefs about what is best for their students (Duffy, © 2017 Susan Edwards. Published with license by Taylor & Francis 9 RMLE Online—Volume 40, No. 4 2002). Scholars have identified other characteristics of experience, and school. Washington, DC: these teachers. They have a sense of perceived control National Academy Press. (Zimmerman, 1995) and personal empowerment Brighton, K. (2007). Coming of age: The education (Danielewicz, 2001), they are persistent (Bandura, and development of young adolescents. 2001; Edwards, 2015b), they have initiative (Arendt, Westerville, OH: National Middle School 1958; Bandura, 2001), and they are reflective (Dewey, Association. 1933; Schon, 1987; Zeichner & Liston, 1996). These Brown, C., & Borko, H. (1992). Becoming a teachers are able to implement their vision in the face mathematics teacher. In D. Grouws (Ed.), of challenges and are able to negotiate obstacles in Handbook of research on mathematics teaching order to achieve their goals (Vaughn, 2013). and learning (pp. 209–239). London: Macmillan Publishing. Conclusion Charmaz, K. (2006). Constructing grounded theory: A practical guide through qualitative analysis. Los Although AMLE recommends that educators engage Angeles, CA: Sage. young adolescent students in “active, purposeful Cochran-Smith, M. (2003). The unforgiving learning” (NMSA, 2010, p. 14), many middle grades complexity of teaching: Avoiding simplicity in the students still spend the majority of their time in school age of accountability. Journal of Teacher engaged in passive approaches to learning (McEwin & Education, 54(1), 3–5. Greene, 2010; Musoleno & White, 2010;Wood, 2004). Columbia County Board of Education. (2016). Because teacher quality is the crucial factor in the Georgia milestones assessments. Retrieved from classroom (Cochran-Smith, 2003; Darling-Hammond, http://www.ccboe.net/files/_KUJJ7_/ 2000), efforts to change the passive learning culture in 0d40c1ee4d3f79aa3745a49013852ec4/[state] classrooms must begin with an understanding of the _Milestones_14-15_Combined_for_Website.pdf challenges and opportunities teachers face as they Danielewicz, J. (2001). Teaching selves: Identity, implement active learning strategies. Tiffany’s case pedagogy, and teacher education. Albany, NY: shows us how one novice teacher found supports that State University of New York Press. helped her overcome the challenges she faced while Darling-Hammond, L. (2000). Teacher quality and attempting to implement active learning instructional student achievement: A review of state policy methods. Further research is needed to explore methods evidence. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 8(1), for supporting teachers, especially novice teachers, and 1–44. increasing teacher efficacy as they attempt to implement Dewey, J. (1897). My pedagogic creed. School active learning methods in middle grades classrooms. Journal, 54,77–80. Dewey, J. (1924). Democracy in education. New References York, NY: Macmillan. Dewey, J. (1933). How we think. Chicago: Henry Anderson, L. W., & Krathwohl, D. R. (Eds.). (2001). A Regnery. taxonomy for learning, teaching and assessing: A Dotterer, A. M. & Lowe, K. (2011). Classroom revision of Bloom’s taxonomy of educational context, school engagement, and academic objectives: Complete edition.New York, NY: achievement in early adolescence. Journal of Longman. Youth and Adolescence, 40, 1649–1660. Arendt, H. (1958). The human condition. Chicago, IL: Downer, J. T., Rimm-Kaufman, S. E., & Pianta, R. C. University of Chicago Press. (2007). How do classroom conditions and Association for Middle Level Education. (2012). This children’s risk for school problems contribute to we believe in action: Implementing successful children’s behavioral engagement in learning? middle level schools. Westerville, OH: Author. School Psychology Review, 36(3), 413–432. Bandura, A. (2001). Social cognitive theory: An Duffy, G. (2002). Visioning and the development of agentic perspective. Annual Review of outstanding teachers. Reading Research and Psychology, 52,1–26. Instruction, 41(4), 331–334. Baxter, P., & Jack, S. (2008). Qualitative case study Duffy, G., & Hoffman, J. (1999). In pursuit of an methodology: Study design and implementation illusion: The flawed search for a perfect method. for novice researchers. The Qualitative Report, 13 Reading Teacher, 53,10–17. (4), 544–599. Edwards, S. (2014). The middle school philosophy: Bransford, J., Brown, A., & Cocking, R. (Eds.). Do we practice what we preach or do we preach (2003). How people learn: Brain, mind, 10 © 2017 Susan Edwards. Published with license by Taylor & Francis RMLE Online—Volume 40, No. 4 something different? Current Issues in Middle Shulman, L., & Shulman, J. (2004). How and what Level Education, 19(1), 13–19. teachers learn: A shifting perspective. Journal of Edwards, S. (2015a). Active learning in the middle school Curriculum Studies, 36, 257–271. classroom. Middle School Journal, 46(5), 26–32. Sirotnik, K. (1983). What you see is what you get: Edwards, S. (2015b). Active learning in the middle Consistency, persistency, and mediocrity in grades classroom: Overcoming the barriers to classrooms. Harvard Educational Review, 53,16–31. implementation. Middle Grades Research Tschannen-Moran, M., & Hoy, A. (2001). Teacher Journal, 10(1), 65–81. efficacy: Capturing an elusive construct. Teaching Epstein, A. (2007). The intentional teacher. and Teacher Education, 17(7), 783–805. Washington, DC: National Association for the Valencia, S. W., Place, N. A., Martin, S. D., & Education of Young Children. Grossman, P. L. (2006). Curriculum materials for Georgia Department of Education. (2016). Free and elementary reading: Shackles and scaffolds for four reduced price meal eligibility. Retrieved from beginning teachers. The Elementary School https://app3.doe.k12.[state].us/ows-bin/owa/ Journal, 107(1), 93–120. fte_pack_frl001_public.entry_form Valentine, J., & Collins, J. (April 2011). Student Glaser, B., & Strauss, A. (1967). The discovery of engagement and achievement on high-stakes grounded theory. Chicago, IL: Aldine. tests: A HLM analysis across 68 middle schools. Grbich, C. (2013). Qualitative data analysis: An Paper presented at the annual conference of the introduction. Los Angeles, CA: Sage. American Educational Research Association, New Harbour, K. E., Evanovich, L. L., Sweigart, C. A., & Orleans, LA. Hughes, L. E. (2015). A brief review of effective Vaughn, M. (2013). Examining teacher agency: Why teaching practices that maximize student did Les leave the building? The New Educator, 9 engagement. Preventing School Failure: Alternative (2), 119–134. Education for Children and Youth, 59(1), 5–13. Vaughn, M., & Faircloth, B. (2011). Understanding Harding, J. (2013). Qualitative data analysis from teacher visioning and agency during literacy start to finish. Los Angeles, CA: Sage. instruction. In P. Dunston&L. Gambrell (Eds.), 60th McEwin, C., & Greene, M. (2010). Results and yearbook of the literacy research association (pp. recommendations from the 2009 national surveys of 156–164). Oak Creek, WI: Literacy Research randomly selected and highly successful middle Association. level schools. Middle School Journal, 42(1), 49–63. Wang, M., & Holcombe, R. (2010). Adolescents’ Musoleno, R., & White, G. (2010). Influences of high- perceptions of school environment, engagement, and stakes testing on middle school mission and practice. academic achievement in middle school. American Research in Middle Level Education Online, 34(3), Educational Research Journal, 47(3), 633–662. 1–10. Wood, G. (2004). A view from the field: NCLB’s effects National Middle School Association (NMSA). (2010). on classrooms and schools. In D. Meier & G. Wood This we believe: Keys to educating young (Eds.), Many children left behind: How the no child adolescents. Westerville, OH: Author. left behind act is damaging our children and our Nesin, G. (2012). Active learning. In Association for schools (pp. 33–50). Boston, MA: Beacon Press. Middle Level Education (Ed.), This we believe in Yair, G. (2000). Not just about time: Instructional action: Implementing successful middle level practices and productive time in school. Educational schools (pp. 17–27). Westerville, OH: Association Administration Quarterly, 36(4), 485–512. for Middle Level Education. Yin, R. (2009). Case study research: Design and Randler, C., & Hulde, M. (2007). Hands-on versus methods, 4th ed. Los Angeles, CA: Sage. teacher-centered experiments in soil ecology. Zeichner, K., & Liston, D. (1996). Reflective teaching: Research in Science & Technological Education, An introduction. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum 25(3), 329–338. Associates. Schon, D. (1987). Educating the reflective practitioner: Zimmerman, M. (1995). Psychological empowerment: Toward a design for teaching and learning in the Issues and illustrations. American Journal of profession. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. Community Psychology, 23, 581–599. © 2017 Susan Edwards. Published with license by Taylor & Francis 11 http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png RMLE Online Taylor & Francis

Like a Chameleon: A Beginning Teacher’s Journey to Implement Active Learning

RMLE Online , Volume 40 (4): 11 – Apr 21, 2017

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Taylor & Francis
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© 2017 the Author(s). Published with license by Taylor & Francis
ISSN
1940-4476
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10.1080/19404476.2017.1293599
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Abstract

instructional methods are one way for middle grades The purpose of this study was to follow the learning teachers to get students more engaged (Downer, Rimm- trajectory of a beginning teacher attempting to implement Kaufman, & Pianta, 2007; Harbour, Evanovich, Sweigart, active learning instructional methods in a middle grades & Hughes, 2015;Yair, 2000), and high levels of student classroom. The study utilized a qualitative case study engagement can lead to positive outcomes including methodological approach with the researcher in the role of increased academic achievement (Dotterer & Lowe, 2011; participant observer. Three research questions were Valentine & Collins, 2011; Wang & Holcombe, 2010). explored: the challenges the teacher faced, the supports Middle grades teachers need both the confidence and the that enabled the teacher to implement active learning, and skill to implement an active learning approach in their the students’ response to active learning instructional classrooms, and it is particularly imperative for beginning approaches. Data collection occurred over nine months teachers to experience success with this type of instruction. and included teacher interviews, videos of lessons, a The purpose of this case study was to follow the researcher log, and student questionnaires. Data analysis learning trajectory of a beginning teacher who was revealed the importance of modeling, supportive mentors, attempting to implement active learning instructional management strategies, reflection, and resources for methods in a middle grades classroom. The following novice teachers to experience success in the research questions framed the study: implementation of active learning. (1) What challenges might a beginning teacher Keywords: active learning, beginning teachers, case experience in implementing active learning study, teacher efficacy, teacher socialization instructional practices? Introduction (2) What kinds of support may help a beginning teacher overcome those challenges and effectively In effective middle level schools, “students and teachers implement active learning instructional practices? are engaged in active, purposeful learning” (National This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial License ( http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/ 3.0/), which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. The moral rights of the named author(s) have been asserted. © 2017 Susan Edwards. Published with license by Taylor & Francis 1 RMLE Online—Volume 40, No. 4 (3) How do middle grades students perceive active Socially Active Learning learning instructional strategies? Young adolescents are peer-oriented, and allowing middle grades students to be socially active in the classroom may enhance their learning (Brighton, 2007). According to An Active Learning Framework Vygotsky, knowledge is socially constructed (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2003), and this idea is applicable to One of the earliest champions of active learning, John young adolescents and can be incorporated in the Dewey (1924), advocated for students to be involved in classroom through partner work, small group activities, experiential learning that engaged their hands and minds. group projects, and whole class discussions. He also suggested that learning activities should be social and that learners should use what they learn to achieve Physically Active Learning social ends (Dewey, 1897). In middle grades classrooms, Young adolescents are active and energetic, therefore young adolescents learn through experiences with the physical movement in the classroom is important (Nesin, intellectual, social, and physical environments (Edwards, 2012). Randler and Hulde (2007) found that students in 2015a;Nesin, 2012). Edwards (2015a)proposedan the middle grades were more engaged when they Active Learning Framework middle grades educators can participated in experiential learning. As middle grades use to plan instruction that is intellectually active, socially students enter puberty and develop physically, aspects of active, and physically active. While any given their body (e.g., the endocrine system) have yet to instructional strategy may overlap two or more of these stabilize (Brighton, 2007). Teachers can enhance learning dimensions, all three dimensions should be included in experiences for young adolescents who are still instruction (see Figure 1). developing by allowing physical movement. Intellectually Active Learning Challenges to Implementing Active Learning It is important for students to intellectually engage with the content and not passively receive information. While active learning is an important aspect of instruction Intellectually active learning requires students to move in the middle grades (AMLE, 2012), there is disconnect in beyond memorization or basic understanding and to use practice because a traditional, passive approach to higher levels of thinking such as analysis, synthesis, or teaching and learning is still prevalent in many middle critical thinking (Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001). Young level schools (McEwin & Greene, 2010). Many teachers adolescents have an intense curiosity about the world lament the challenges of implementing active learning around them, and instructional strategies such as problem instructional strategies (Wood, 2004). Edwards (2015b) solving, inquiry, and projects that capitalize on that studied nine middle grades teachers who successfully curiosity can effectively increase student learning implemented active learning as a regular approach in their (Association for Middle Level Education [AMLE], 2012; classrooms. The teachers shared common challenges in Nesin, 2012). implementation, such as challenges related to the system, challenges related to students, challenges related to content, and challenges within the teachers. These teachers were able to overcome these challenges because they had three common characteristics: they were tenacious, they were student-focused, and they were willing to experiment. The nine teachers in the study were veteran Intellectually teachers, but it is important to also consider what Active challenges a beginning teacher interested in implementing Learning active learning instructional methodologies might face and what is necessary to help him or her overcome those challenges. Socially Physically Methodology Active Active I used a case study design for this research study. Case Learning Learning studies can be helpful in representing a typical situation, which in this case was the seventh-grade classroom of a beginning middle grades teacher. Yin (2009) suggested that case studies are useful when the Figure 1 Active learning framework 2 © 2017 Susan Edwards. Published with license by Taylor & Francis RMLE Online—Volume 40, No. 4 researcher wants to consider the contextual conditions with Tiffany Johnson, the beginning teacher, during and understand their impact on the phenomenon. By second period for one day a week. Yin (2009) argued selecting one classroom, it was possible for me to that a distinctive advantage to becoming a participant observer is that it allows the researcher to “perceive describe the challenges a typical beginning teacher may face in implementing active learning and also reality from the viewpoint of someone inside the case explore what supports might help a beginning teacher. study rather than external to it” (p. 112). To really According to Baxter and Jack (2008), an advantage of understand how to support beginning teachers’ the case study approach is the close collaboration implementation of active learning, it was important for between the researcher and the participants, which me to understand their perceived realities. allows them to tell their story while taking the context I endeavored to participate in the planning and into account. As a result, the case study approach instruction with Tiffany, but the extent of our enabled me to better understand the reality of the collaborative planning was limited due to Tiffany participants. being unavailable to meet. Often, some planning Participants occurred via e-mail, and I primarily assisted with The teacher in the seventh grade language arts instruction in the classroom. classroom was Tiffany Johnson (pseudonym), who It is also important to note that Tiffany and I had a had just begun her first year of teaching. She previously developed relationship. Tiffany was a previously served as a substitute teacher in a variety of former student in two of my teacher education middle schools during the one and a half years since courses. Admittedly, this relationship presented she graduated from the middle grades education limitations to the study because I was moving from a program at the local university. position of power as instructor over Tiffany to a There were 29 seventh-grade students in this second position of colleague and assistant. This previous period classroom. Of the 29 students, 17 were boys and relationship may have impacted the results of the 12 were girls. Thirteen of the students were African- study, but I selected this teacher primarily on the basis American, 12 of the students were Caucasian, two of of her stated beliefs in favor of active learning. the students were Hispanic, and two identified as multi- Data Collection racial. It was a regular language arts class, and no A variety of data were collected during the study, students were identified as having special needs. including interviews, videos, a student questionnaire, Setting and researcher log entries. Each source of data Carswell Middle School (pseudonym) was located near contributed to my understanding of the beginning an army base in a suburban setting. This was the second teacher’s implementation of active learning year in a new building and the first yearofthe new instructional strategies. principal who had just been promoted after being an I conducted two semi-structured interviews with assistant principal at another middle school in the Tiffany, one during the summer before the school year district. The school population was growing quickly began and one in March. Both interviews lasted about (1,044 students at the time of the study) due to expansion 45 minutes. The interviews were audio-recorded and on the army base, and the typical class in the school had then transcribed verbatim. The interview protocol more than 30 students. School-wide standardized test consisted of a series of open-ended questions about results indicated that 47% of the students scored at the active learning as an instructional approach. I asked proficient level or higher on the state language arts the teacher about her beliefs related to active learning, assessment (Columbia County Board of Education, the challenges with implementing active learning, and 2016), and 36 % of the students in the school were on the supports she finds helpful. free or reduced lunch (Georgia Department of Education, 2016). Every lesson the teacher and I co-taught was video recorded. The camera was set in a corner of the room Position of the Researcher and remained stationary, and the videos were only In this case study, I was the researcher and took on the viewed by me during the study. role of participant observer. To become fully immersed in the challenges of implementing active learning in a At the end of the first semester, I asked the students to middle grades classroom, I posited that it was important complete a written, anonymous questionnaire. The for me to do more than observe. Therefore, I co-taught questionnaire consisted of open-ended questions about © 2017 Susan Edwards. Published with license by Taylor & Francis 3 RMLE Online—Volume 40, No. 4 their preferences regarding various active learning I then analyzed the data using the constant strategies. For example, one question asked, “Do you comparative method (Charmaz, 2006; Glaser & like small group discussions and do you believe they Strauss, 1967), a systematic approach that employs help you learn? Why or why not?” various levels of coding to theorize a phenomenon being studied. I conducted open coding with both I maintained a research log throughout the study. The descriptive codes and emic codes, or keywords of the log contained both descriptive field notes of observed participants themselves, such as “learn without events as well as reflections and insights. The log realizing it.” Then, I proceeded through a process of served several purposes: to record observations not axial coding, which involved exploring the open codes otherwise contained in the data, to record questions for within the sections that were initially coded for each further exploration, and to record my personal research question. This resulted in categories related to experience in co-teaching using active learning each research question (Grbich, 2013). instructional methodologies. Results Trustworthiness Using a case study approach with the researcher in the Challenges role of participant observer provided me a richness of To address the first research question, it was important understanding and the ability to explore implementation to explore the challenges that Tiffany faced as she of active learning through the perceived reality of a attempted to implement active learning. Like many beginning teacher. However, the choice of this first-year teachers, Tiffany felt overwhelmed by her methodology increases the need for me to establish new responsibilities and struggled in a variety of credibility and trustworthiness of the data. I utilized areas. I attempted to focus on the challenges that were multiple methods suggested by Baxter and Jack (2008) directly related to her implementation of active and Harding (2013) to promote data credibility and learning instruction. trustworthiness. Negative colleagues. Tiffany’s greatest source of Using a case study approach allowed me to explore discouragement in implementing active learning active learning from multiple perspectives (the instruction came from negative colleagues. When teacher, colleagues, administrators, and students). Tiffany was hired to teach at the school, the principal Intense exposure within the context over a told her that he strategically placed her on a team of prolonged period of time enhanced the credibility of three veteran teachers because they “tend to be the data. complainers,” and she had such a positive attitude. He ● I conducted member checks at three points. After had hoped that she would be a good influence. Before each interview, I sent the teacher the transcript, and school started, Tiffany expressed her concern about asked if it represented her views and if she would this team assignment. “I’m like a chameleon,” she like to add to or take away anything. Additionally, I said. “I become like whoever I am around. I hope this asked the teacher to read this written report and doesn’t change me for the worse.” determine if it accurately represented her The team teachers discouraged her from incorporating experiences as a beginning teacher implementing active learning in both overt and subtle ways. For active learning instructional methods. example, Tiffany reported that the behavior of the I used triangulation of multiple sources of data students on the team was “getting a little crazy” just (interviews, observations, researcher log), and I before Christmas break. The inappropriate behavior actively looked for data that might not fit the was happening in all four classrooms, in the hallway, patterns or could provide alternative explanations. and in the cafeteria. The other teachers on the team attributed this to Tiffany’s instructional approaches Data Analysis and suggested the students were leaving Tiffany’s I initially coded the data according to the three class a little too excited due to her active learning research questions: challenges, supports, and student methodologies, and they suggested she change her responses. This holistic method of immersion was a teaching approach. first approach to understanding the overall contents and possible categories that might develop. During Tiffany also described another teacher in the hallway this process, I also wrote theoretical memos that who would stop by her room and “poke fun at her.” recorded impressions and observations about patterns He would make comments such as, “Oh it must be in the data. nice to play games every day. What game are you 4 © 2017 Susan Edwards. Published with license by Taylor & Francis RMLE Online—Volume 40, No. 4 playing today?” When Tiffany started explaining what and wanted to remove the physical movement portion. they were learning his typical response was, “Oh, Tiffany reported feeling berated by the inclusion whatever. You pretend it’s learning.” teacher during this conversation. Although Tiffany was not encouraged by colleagues to Tiffany lamented more than once that she wished she could find a colleague who was willing to do active do active learning, she was encouraged to do so by the learning with her. She referred to the chameleon school administration. She stated, “The principal wants analogy again. “It is hard to find a positive person and us to do active learning, but for some reason we have a I unfortunately am a chameleon and I become what lot of traditional teaching going on.” Tiffany felt that I’m around.” she was going against the grain among her school faculty, and this was difficult for her as a new teacher. Colleagues with different philosophies. The school There was, perhaps, unintentional or inadvertent had arranged structures for teacher support that pressure to conform to a traditional model of teaching. required Tiffany to plan with other teachers. One of Tiffany commented one day, “I feel myself getting Tiffany’s classes was an inclusion class with six sucked in to that mindset and way of teaching.” students who had special needs. A veteran special education teacher was also assigned to the classroom Logistics. Another challenge that Tiffany faced was to co-teach with Tiffany. Therefore, Tiffany and the planning the logistics of the activities. Tiffany was not special education teacher collaboratively planned a naturally organized person and would often not think lessons that they designed to meet the needs of all the through the logistics of implementing an activity with students. In addition, Tiffany planned with the other 30 students. Tiffany reported, “[I get] so caught up in two language arts teachers on her grade level. planning the activity that I don’t take time to think Normally, collaborating with all of these experts through the logistics.” As the year progressed, Tiffany would be ideal for a beginning teacher, and this began to realize, “The thing with active learning, you collaboration was certainly established to support her. can put it together but you really have to work it out However, the three colleagues (the special education before they do it.” For example, one day she planned a teacher and two language arts teachers) had carousel activity involving chart paper placed around philosophies of teaching and learning that differed the room. She later realized that as the day progressed, significantly from Tiffany’s. These three teachers the requirement that teachers step into the hallway believed strongly in a behavioristic approach to during class changes would prevent her from changing teaching and were not interested in incorporating the chart paper between classes. She had not thought active learning into their instruction. through a solution to this ahead of time, and the result was unnecessary off-task time that she could have A manifestation of this philosophical difference avoided. occurred at the end of the first quarter. The school administration encouraged teachers to have students Tiffany also struggled with building individual complete one project per quarter. When Tiffany met accountability into group activities. She felt that it was with the other two language arts teachers, she likely that some students were “flying under the radar proposed a choice board for the project. The other two and getting away with not thinking.” She observed teachers rejected her proposal and expressed concern that when she was working with one group of that it would take too long to grade. Instead, the students, the other groups were sometimes off-task. teachers decided to give their students a packet of 75 She also often neglected to get individual formative questions about the novel they had read that quarter, assessment data on days that she planned small group and the students spent three days in class answering activities. During one class observation, Tiffany had those questions individually. the students in groups of six, but she gave each group one dry-erase board to write answers. This resulted in Another example occurred with the inclusion teacher only one or two students in each group being on-task who co-taught in Tiffany’s first-period class. Tiffany during the activity. had prepared an activity in which students must get Lack of planning time. The primary reason for not out of their seats to retrieve plastic eggs containing questions. Tiffany had purposely selected the activity thinking through logistics was a lack of adequate planning time. Tiffany rarely had any time for to allow physical movement because she believed this was important for young adolescents. The inclusion planning built into the work day. Her planning periods were regularly filled with RTI meetings, 504 plan teacher did not think the activity was a good selection © 2017 Susan Edwards. Published with license by Taylor & Francis 5 RMLE Online—Volume 40, No. 4 meetings, IEP meetings, team meetings, mandatory instructional strategies. They occasionally met on professional development sessions, parent weekends to plan together. Even though Tiffany was conferences, and administrative meetings. The school unable to find a language arts teacher at her current school who shared her philosophy of active learning, system had a county-wide initiative to incorporate writing across the curriculum, and teachers regularly she was encouraged by this teacher at a different met with instructional coaches during their planning school. Tiffany suggested, “I think that’s what it periods to analyze student writing samples. Tiffany comes down to—if you have somebody you can attempted to compensate for this by doing her grading bounce ideas off of that aren’t just going to criticize and planning on evenings and weekends, but she you, even though they may not be on your hallway or found it difficult as a mother of two daughters. She even in your school.” was simply overwhelmed. Second, Tiffany had support from the school Supports administration. The administrative team at her school Tiffany had firm beliefs about the importance of active encouraged her to continue using active learning and learning for her students. As a beginning teacher, she noted that she kept the students engaged during their needed support as she endeavored to enact her beliefs observations of her classroom. She noticed that the in the classroom. I attempted to focus on these principal even made it a point to peek into her room supports so I could answer the second research and see what she was doing even when he was not question. Five methods of support enabled Tiffany to doing one of the mandatory observations. Tiffany said bypass the obstacles: seeing it with her own eyes, that it meant so much to her that the administrators supportive mentors, management strategies, reflection, made comments about the students wanting to learn and resources. and participate. This reinforced her determination to implement active learning. As Tiffany stated, “I really Seeing it with her own eyes. Tiffany often referred to am doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing.” the importance of seeing the impact of active learning on the students. She frequently made comments like, I also played a role in supporting Tiffany, offering “If I can keep them engaged and I can keep them both emotional support and demonstrating active active then the behavior issues are going to come learning strategies. After lamenting about pressure down and they are going to learn because they want to from colleagues not to implement active learning, be in the room,” and, “I saw how into it those kids Tiffany commented one day, “Thank you for helping were.” I found it significant that Tiffany experienced me reset my mind!” the impact of active learning on the level of Tiffany made it a point to look for people who were engagement and learning in her students. positive about her approaches to instruction. While It was also important for Tiffany to see active learning she was discouraged regularly by negative colleagues, strategies modeled. She often wanted more than just a she found support even from irregular interactions description; she wanted to see it in action. She made with positive colleagues who, she believed, tried to comments that every time she saw me implement a help her figure out a way to make active learning strategy, she felt confident doing the same strategy work. In Tiffany’s mind, “To me, support comes from with her other classes. I was the only person Tiffany whoever has your back.” knew in the school who modeled active learning Management strategies. Beginning teachers often instructional strategies. She suggested, “I feel sure, I have difficulty with classroom management, but this am one of those people when I find out that was not the case for Tiffany. The fact that she somebody’s doing it I’ll probably be in their room all effectively used several management techniques to the time.” facilitate active learning made it easier for her to get Supportive mentors. Ironically, while negative her students actively engaged. Tiffany took a pressure from colleagues was Tiffany’s biggest relationship-driven approach to management and challenge in implementing active learning, her biggest explained that once she developed true relationships support came from positive colleagues. First, Tiffany with students she “could make sure active learning is had met another language arts teacher at a school taking place.” She believed that “if you’re going to do across the district where she had previously worked as active learning, show them some mercy.” Sometimes a substitute teacher. She had kept in touch with that students got too excited during activities, and she just teacher and had come to rely on her for advice and said, “I know you’re excited, just hang on,” rather 6 © 2017 Susan Edwards. Published with license by Taylor & Francis RMLE Online—Volume 40, No. 4 than administering punitive consequences. She was we can still make a difference to the situation at hand comfortable with allowing movement in her —our thinking serves to reshape what we are doing classroom. For example, she had a stool in the back of while we are doing it” (Schon, 1987, p. 26). Tiffany was comfortable reflecting on and acknowledging the the room so that students who wanted to move around could choose to sit on the stool. logistical problems in front of her students. She summarized her beliefs about reflection in action in Tiffany consistently used three management the following statement. techniques to promote active learning. First, she had a basket of “squishy” creatures in her closet that To me, try it and if it doesn’t work, admit it to students had given her. Whenever she wanted students them. Because one of the things that we’re to take turns or speak one at a time, she brought out a supposed to do is to teach the kids if something doesn’t work, that’s not a reason to stop. It’sa squishy. Only the person holding the squishy was reason to say what can I change, how do I make it allowed to speak. Once the speaker finished speaking, better, how can I be successful? he or she tossed the squishy to someone else. Tiffany reported that students who were normally reluctant to participate would be motivated to do so just so they She decided that her ability to reflect was beneficial to could hold and toss the squishy. her, and when she saw something was not working, she “tweaked it along the way.” The “tweaking” involved A second technique that Tiffany consistently making organizational and logistical changes to activities implemented during active learning times involved so they flowed more smoothly in later class periods. slowly writing the title of the novel the class was currently reading on the board. If the students got too In addition to reflection in action, Schon (1987) loud while doing an activity, Tiffany began spelling suggested that teachers should also engage in the one-word title. When the students calmed down reflection on action. Reflection on action is a reflective and got quiet, she would stop where she was in the conversation with the materials and the situation that middle of the word. Later in the class period, if the allows the teacher to frame and reframe problems in students got too loud again, she would begin spelling light of information she gains from the setting in the word where she left off. As long as she did not get which she works. While Tiffany often regretted not to the end of the title before the end of the period, thinking through the logistics of an activity before she everything was fine. The students knew that if Tiffany implemented it, she readily fixed the problems before reached the end of the title before the end of the the next class. She stated, “So, when something didn’t period, she would stop the activity and require them to work, by the next period it worked. Because I figured do “boring worksheets” instead. The students tended out what worked or what didn’t work; to make some to cooperate so they could participate in activities they little changes along the way.” found enjoyable. Resources. Tiffany believed that a key to her The third technique was a method of last resort for successful implementation of an active learning Tiffany that she used sparingly, and I only witnessed it instructional approach was having enough resources once. If an individual student was off-task, she would for ideas. While she did not have the time that she redirect the student once with a verbal warning. If the wished to explore resources that might be out there, she student did not get on-task and stay on-task, she highly valued resources that others who also believed in would remove the student from the activity, and active learning shared with her. For example, she require him or her to work alone or complete an described a meeting with the teacher in the other school alternate worksheet on the same content. who was mentoring her in using active learning. Reflection. Tiffany had a natural tendency to reflect What I like, when I met with my friend this on her practice and to act upon her reflections, and this weekend she had three books and I ordered them process enabled her to implement active learning all on Amazon right there when she showed me. effectively. Tiffany engaged in what Schon (1987) Because she flipped and she goes, okay I have tried called reflection in action and reflection on action. all of these and she starred all the ones that worked Reflection in action occurs when the teacher and I quickly just looked at those and I was like, I consciously looks at a problem in the midst of the can make that work, I can do that. So, I made a little note, so that when that book comes in I know situation and considers possibilities in light of the these have been used, they were successful, try practice in place. This occurs during a time in “which these first. © 2017 Susan Edwards. Published with license by Taylor & Francis 7 RMLE Online—Volume 40, No. 4 Student Response who just need to get up and move and that’s why they can’t stop kicking the person in front of them, To examine the third research question, I explored so they want to go and get water. I have a couple students’ perceptions of active learning instructional of students in every class that ask to go at the practices. I analyzed student questionnaires (self-report), beginning of class and at the end of class. But on teacher interviews (self-report), and the researcher log to the days that we’re doing active learning, they answer this question. Overall, the students responded don’t ask to leave the classroom. positively to Tiffany’s active learning instructional approach. They were clear that they preferred activities to worksheets. In particular, Tiffany believed she saw The students acknowledged that they sometimes got increased levels of engagement and fewer behavior off-task while working in groups. One admitted, problems when she used active learning strategies versus “Sometimes people talk too much about other stuff.” traditional methods. Their comments supported Tiffany’s assertion that behavior and, therefore, learning improves when Increased engagement. Tiffany often commented doing active learning. The following comments about the higher level of engagement from the students represent the feedback I received from students related when she used active learning strategies. “They love it, to behavior. they just love it. They love being active, they’re learning and they don’t even realize they’re learning,” she said. ● Student 13: I don’t like just learning from a The more compelling comments came from the students PowerPoint because it’s boring and some kids fall themselves. The students definitely voiced that activities asleep. were more fun, but they also noted that they perceived ● Student 16: I like small groups because you can their focus and learning increased when they were given learn what other people think, and also you learn opportunities to participate in active learning. The something from that person. following comments are representative of feedback I Student 24: I like group work because you don’t received from students. have to stay quiet while you’re working and you can also ask if someone got a different answer. ● Student 1: I love to write but not seven pages. It is not fun nor is it keeping me hooked. I would usually drool on the paper, not write on it. Discussion Student 5: I definitely hate worksheets where you Tiffany was motivated and committed to implementing have to answer so many questions so I would like it active learning in her classroom, and found ways around if we can stop doing those kinds of things. the challenges she experienced. She faced obstacles that ● Student 7: I don’t like activities where you use a made it difficult to implement active learning: negative workbook to find answers because it’s not about colleagues, colleagues with different perspectives, learning the material. To the student, it’s all about logistics, and lack of planning time. Because Tiffany was finding the answer to your question. You stop committed to having her students engaged in active focusing on the words on the page. Therefore you learning, she found ways to bypass those obstacles: don’t know what it’s trying to tell you. You only seeing it with her own eyes, supportive mentors, look for your answer and write it down. Then you management strategies, reflection, and resources. move on. Figure 2 depicts how Tiffany bypassed obstacles to get Student 9: I want my teachers to do fun activities her students engaged in active learning. because I don’t want to do boring activities all period. Tiffany, like many novice teachers, experienced disconnect between what she learned in her teacher Improved behavior. All middle grades teachers know education program and what she experienced in her new the challenge of managing student behavior so they school setting. It is common for administrators to can focus on learning. Tiffany believed that her encourage new teachers to rely on more experienced students’ behavior actually improved when she had colleagues to assist them in the transition from student them doing activities. teacher to teacher. The influence of colleagues in the teacher socialization process can be helpful or So, if I can keep them active and I can keep them disadvantageous. If the veteran colleagues are supportive engaged, then there are less behavior problems of the active learning approaches a beginning teacher is because they are going to be more involved in the attempting to implement, then having their support can learning itself. If they are not active, then the ones 8 © 2017 Susan Edwards. Published with license by Taylor & Francis RMLE Online—Volume 40, No. 4 is best for their students (Duffy & Hoffman, 1999; Vaughn & Faircloth, 2011). Teachers who have vision reflect on their practice and evaluate the effectiveness of their instruction based on their students’ growth (Shulman & Shulman, 2004). A teacher (like Tiffany) who enacts active learning must first begin with a picture in her mind of a classroom with students engaged in active learning. That vision must rise out of a deeply held personal belief that active learning is what works for young adolescents. A clear belief in the importance of active learning is necessary for a teacher to have the fortitude to enact her vision in spite of constraints such as negative colleagues and a lack of planning time. Tiffany possessed a vision of active learning and never wavered in her belief that it was important for her students. Tiffany envisioned a classroom in which students were regularly engaged in active learning, but she also must believe that she was capable of bypassing the challenges Figure 2 Bypassing obstacles that she faced in order to enact that vision. Scholars refer to that belief system as teacher self-efficacy. Tschannen- Moran and Hoy (2001)defined teacher efficacy as a be very productive. If the novice teacher cannot find teacher’s “judgment of his or her capabilities to bring colleagues with like-minded philosophies, then they may about desired outcomes of student engagement and not be as successful in implementing active learning. learning” (p. 783). Teacher efficacy refers to the extent to Valencia, Place, Martin, and Grossman (2006) examined which a teacher feels she has the power to implement the four beginning teachers and found (among other factors) vision she has in her mind. While Tiffany’svisionof that the influence of colleagues impacted the beginning active learning was strong, her self-efficacy was not quite teachers’ ability to adapt curriculum materials to meet as strong, and she needed support. She relied on the the needs of their students. language arts teacher she knew from another middle The culture of traditional instruction in a middle school school, the supportive administrators, and me to is a powerful force. Experienced teachers, encourage her in her vision and to keep her from administrators, parents, and students have becoming “like a chameleon” and thinking like the preconceived notions of how content should be taught, teachers around her. If beginning teachers enter a school and these people have a significant influence over the culture that is entrenched with traditional, teacher-directed novice teacher (Brown & Borko, 1992). If the novice teaching, then support systems must be put into place to teacher enters a school that supports different styles of help those teachers maintain their beliefs that active teaching, the findings on teacher socialization are learning is important for young adolescents. Just like positive. Colleagues and administrators who do not Tiffany found it difficult to “go against the grain” of the support active learning approaches to teaching can be colleagues around her, other beginning teachers are likely troublesome for a novice teacher in a traditional to face the same challenges to their beliefs. instructional culture because of the profound influences Teacher agency is the notion that a teacher’s belief (in they exert on the new teacher. Sirotnik (1983) this case, a belief in active learning) is translated into suggested, “What we have seen and what we continue action. Teacher agency is enacted when educators to see in the American classroom—the process of teach according to their beliefs and vision even in the teaching and learning—appears to be one of the most midst of restrictive policies and other challenges consistent and persistent phenomena known in the (Vaughn & Faircloth, 2011). Teacher agency is evident social and behavioral sciences” (pp. 16–17). when teachers initiate intentional action in order to Duffy (2002) characterized a teacher’s vision as “a enact a specific purpose in a thoughtful manner and personal stance on teaching that rises from deep within with autonomy (Bandura, 2001; Epstein, 2007). the inner teacher and fuels independent thinking” (p. Teachers with agency make decisions that are 334). We know from research that teachers who possess consistent with their convictions and their personal a clear vision are more likely to enact what they believe beliefs about what is best for their students (Duffy, © 2017 Susan Edwards. Published with license by Taylor & Francis 9 RMLE Online—Volume 40, No. 4 2002). Scholars have identified other characteristics of experience, and school. Washington, DC: these teachers. They have a sense of perceived control National Academy Press. (Zimmerman, 1995) and personal empowerment Brighton, K. (2007). Coming of age: The education (Danielewicz, 2001), they are persistent (Bandura, and development of young adolescents. 2001; Edwards, 2015b), they have initiative (Arendt, Westerville, OH: National Middle School 1958; Bandura, 2001), and they are reflective (Dewey, Association. 1933; Schon, 1987; Zeichner & Liston, 1996). These Brown, C., & Borko, H. (1992). Becoming a teachers are able to implement their vision in the face mathematics teacher. In D. Grouws (Ed.), of challenges and are able to negotiate obstacles in Handbook of research on mathematics teaching order to achieve their goals (Vaughn, 2013). and learning (pp. 209–239). London: Macmillan Publishing. Conclusion Charmaz, K. (2006). Constructing grounded theory: A practical guide through qualitative analysis. Los Although AMLE recommends that educators engage Angeles, CA: Sage. young adolescent students in “active, purposeful Cochran-Smith, M. (2003). The unforgiving learning” (NMSA, 2010, p. 14), many middle grades complexity of teaching: Avoiding simplicity in the students still spend the majority of their time in school age of accountability. Journal of Teacher engaged in passive approaches to learning (McEwin & Education, 54(1), 3–5. Greene, 2010; Musoleno & White, 2010;Wood, 2004). Columbia County Board of Education. (2016). Because teacher quality is the crucial factor in the Georgia milestones assessments. 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Grossman, P. L. (2006). Curriculum materials for Georgia Department of Education. (2016). Free and elementary reading: Shackles and scaffolds for four reduced price meal eligibility. Retrieved from beginning teachers. The Elementary School https://app3.doe.k12.[state].us/ows-bin/owa/ Journal, 107(1), 93–120. fte_pack_frl001_public.entry_form Valentine, J., & Collins, J. (April 2011). Student Glaser, B., & Strauss, A. (1967). The discovery of engagement and achievement on high-stakes grounded theory. Chicago, IL: Aldine. tests: A HLM analysis across 68 middle schools. Grbich, C. (2013). Qualitative data analysis: An Paper presented at the annual conference of the introduction. Los Angeles, CA: Sage. American Educational Research Association, New Harbour, K. E., Evanovich, L. L., Sweigart, C. A., & Orleans, LA. Hughes, L. E. (2015). A brief review of effective Vaughn, M. (2013). Examining teacher agency: Why teaching practices that maximize student did Les leave the building? 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Journal

RMLE OnlineTaylor & Francis

Published: Apr 21, 2017

Keywords: active learning; beginning teachers; case study; teacher efficacy; teacher socialization

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