Special Interest Group: Middle Level Educators
The Middle Level Educators SIG provides a forum for the presentation of research and the discussion of issues concerning middle schooling and the training of teachers for middle level. We believe that middle level education should focus on the needs and developmental characteristics of the learner. We welcome fellow teacher educators to join us in the investigation and discussion with our common interests and concerns relating middle schooling and teacher preparation.
More Information and Resources
Middle Level Educators SIG Upcoming Events
|SIG Business Meeting:||8:00am - 9:00am|
|Presentations:||12:00pm – 1:00pm|
** Please check ATE Annual Meeting Program for the room numbers of the meetings.
Sam Houston State University
University of South Carolina Upstate
University of Central Arkansas
Association of Teacher Educators
Middle Level SIG Newsletter
From the SIG Chair
Dear Middle Level Colleagues,
By now you are well entrenched in the fall term, with many of you finished with midterms and looking toward the “home stretch” of the term. In middle schools across the country, young adolescents have “figured out” their teachers and are, hopefully, constructively engaged in effective lessons and projects. Many of you may be out in those middle schools with your students for field experiences and perhaps for a research project of your own or with your students.
There is no way we can productively do our jobs without collaboration and partnership – with our colleagues, our students, schools, community organizations, parents and other professional organizations designated specifically for our field. To that end, I’m sure many of you are preparing to attend the annual Association of Middle Level Education meeting in Portland, OR in November. For those of you attending AMLE’s meeting, be sure to come to the NaPOMLE Business Meeting on Friday, November 9th, at 3pm and their Best Practice Session on Saturday, November 10th, at 9:15am. The more we collaborate and share our ideas and knowledge with each other as colleagues, the better able we are to teach future middle school teachers – and, ultimately, the more we will improve education for our young adolescents.
I hope to see many of you at our SIG meeting on Sunday, February 17, 2013 at 4:30pm during the annual ATE meeting in Atlanta, GA. At that time we will discuss collaboration and open communication with middle level leaders across the nation to help strengthen advocacy for young adolescents. We will also participate in five wonderful presentations by our own members. Please see the SIG meeting agenda within this newsletter. During the SIG meeting we will instate the new officers for 2013-2015 for our SIG. At that time we will elect new SIG officers for 2015-2017. Please consider running for one of our offices as Chair-Elect, Proposal Coordinator or Newsletter Editor.
Have a wonderful rest of the term! I hope to see you very soon!
Yours in collaboration,
The Attitudes of Middle Level Teachers toward the Use of Humor as a Teaching Tool in the Classroom
Dr. John Huss
Northern Kentucky University
The purpose of this descriptive study was to determine the attitudes of middle level teachers toward the use of humor as a component of effective teaching. Random cluster sampling was employed to select middle level teachers from a population list of schools/districts throughout the states of Indiana, Kentucky, and Ohio. After districts were determined, each middle level teacher in the chosen districts was provided with a questionnaire. A total of 165 teachers in these three states completed questionnaires out of a total of 300 distributed, for a return rate of 55%. The respondent pool represented a reasonable cross section of teachers with varying degrees of classroom experience (0 years to more than 15 years) as well as a range of content areas.
Participants were given the following prompt: “Middle school teachers sometimes use humor in the classroom while teaching. For the purposes of this questionnaire, humor can include anything appropriate and suitable the teacher purposefully initiates that students find funny or amusing. ‘Appropriate’ and ‘suitable’ mean that the humor is not patently offensive and/or the humor is fitting and proper within the classroom setting.” On that basis, the respondents were then asked to use an attitudinal scale to express their level of agreement with several statements pertaining to the use of humor as a pedagogical tool. These statements ranged from the perceived impact of classroom humor on student retention, anxiety, and enthusiasm to the accusation by some that humor can undermine the credibility of the teacher or the content being taught. Respondents were further encouraged to provide their own thoughts or expanded comments after each statement. Such open responses were coded based upon regularities and patterns. Categories were developed by grouping together the most frequently occurring keywords.
Large percentages of the teachers (often nearing 90% or better when “agree” and “strongly agree” options were collapsed) expressed that humor is indeed an integral part of their teaching plan and that humor serves to improve retention of classroom content, especially when the humor is related directly to the material the students are attempting to master. The humor serves as a mnemonic device in that the students recall the “entertainment” associated with the concept, and, therefore, recall the concept. Teachers also declared that humor generates excitement for the course content because the teacher/student relationship is strengthened and the “threatening” nature of the content is often alleviated. Similarly, students react favorably to teachers who appear to have passion for the content and are able to share that zeal with the class. The respondents also believed that humor encourages their students to relax and approach even stressful testing situations with an upbeat attitude. In short, humor makes students feel “safe” and allows them to enjoy learning and the learning process. Several teachers pointed out that “humor” need not be interpreted as overt comedy; humor can be conveyed through smiling, general friendliness, and positive body language.
While the reaction to humor as a classroom tool was certainly favorable, a few teachers did bring out concerns about the potential for humor to threaten their authority. One teacher, for example, felt that a “laid back” environment might encourage off-task discipline issues if students forget they are “in class” and act inappropriately. Another respondent expressed skepticism that a teacher can effectively project classroom professionalism while “telling jokes.” In addition, the teaching of important content through humor might give an impression to students that the material is somehow superfluous or disposable. Teachers articulated that there are indeed appropriate and inappropriate uses of humor in the middle school classroom. The notion of using humor before an important assessment (or as part of the assessment itself) was a point of contention among the participants, even among teachers who believe humor helps many students overcome anxiety in the classroom.
Humor that involves sarcasm, especially sarcasm directed at a student’s physical or academic shortcomings, should always be avoided. Sensitivity to delicate issues (racism, abortion, etc), cultural backgrounds, family relationships, and religion must be demonstrated on a consistent sensitive basis. Respondents also felt that humor shared among a teacher and only a small clique of students was not advantageous to the larger group.
In summary, the use of humor as a pedagogical tool is consistent with the characteristics of effective middle level teaching in that it promotes a sense of community and draws upon the “immediacy” behaviors of the teacher (i.e. demonstrating a caring and responsive attitude toward student needs). The teachers in this study were strongly supportive of humor, but insisted it must be timely and fitting to the situation. An emphasis on teaching through humor should be considered as part of a well-rounded professional development program for middle level teachers. It is likewise suggested that pre-service preparation programs also underscore the importance of humor as a “promising practice” for new teachers.
Using Technology to Enhance Literacy
Lin Carver, Ph. D.
Keya Mukherjee, Ph. D.
School of Education and Social Services
Saint Leo University
Saint Leo, FL
If teachers have access to technology, they will use it. It sounds like an obvious statement and one we would tend to agree with. However, a 2009 survey of more than 1,000 U. S. educators (Walden University, 2010) found this not to be the case. The most frequent reason teachers gave for not using technology (49%) was that they did not feel it applied to their lesson. Interestingly, secondary English and Language Arts teachers were less likely to use technology as compared to Mathematics, Social Studies, and Science teachers (Walden University, 2010).
Biancarosa and Snow (2004) indicated effective adolescent literacy programs need to teach and use technology (p. 19). The National Association of Secondary School Principals (2005) also stressed the importance of effective adolescent literacy programs combining technological communication and information resources. Consequently there seems to be a disconnect between recommendations and practice.
“For Millennials, technology and media are intricately interwoven in their lives” (Considine, Hortan, & Moorman, 2009, p. 479). Reading and writing, though not always in the traditional sense, are an integral part of everyday life for our digital learners. Our students have immediate access to more information than any previous generation. Consequently educators need to develop instructional practices that respect and build on the skills, attitudes, and knowledge students bring to school.
Lenhart and Madden (2005) observed that students of the current millennial generation are not just consumers of Internet content but are also actively involved as content creators of artwork, photographs, stories, videos, webpages and blogs (Considine, Horton, & Moorman, 2009, p. 473). We need to provide opportunities for our students to continue to develop their skills as producers of knowledge and information.
With the advance of technology, there are now endless opportunities to create content for authentic audiences down the hall, or on the other side of the world. One possible way to incorporate this is through the use of Skype. Each Friday, students in a middle school intensive reading classroom partnered with a high school reading class. After practicing reading a text orally, the high school class had chosen one student to read that piece to the middle school class during the session. Following the reading, a different high school student asked the middle school class questions. Between sessions the middle school students would composes answers to the questions and choose their best answer to read to the high school class. During the following weeks the process continued alternating between the high school and middle school. Skype provided an authentic audience for both the reading and the writing process.
Content classes can also provide wonderful opportunities for literacy development. A middle school math class was learning about different types of geometric figures. They read a section in their text explaining the terms; however, this section had a significant amount of terminology which the students were finding difficult. Pairs of students produce movies using the avatars on Xtranormal.com. The students wrote a dialog, chose avatars, and settings to explain the terminology. The students typed the script into the website and determined the motions. The site turned the script into a movie complete with action and sound. The completed movies were played for the class. Because of the repeated exposure to the vocabulary and active engagement with the content, we discovered the students had no trouble remembering the concepts.
Using production technology increased the students’ engagement in the reading and writing process. No longer did the students balk at reading and writing. Instead, they begged for more opportunities to demonstrate their content knowledge. Students had ideas they were excited to share. Improved reading and writing skills was an unexpected by-product of incorporating technology.
Biancarosa, G., & Snow, C. (2004). Reading next: A vision for action and research in middle and high school literacy: A report to Carnegie Corporation of New York. Washington, DC: Alliance for Excellent Education. www.all4ed.org/publications/ReadingNext/index.html
Considine, D., Horton, J., & Moorman, G. (2009). Teaching and reading the millennial
generation through media literacy. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literac,y 52(6), March 2009, 471-481. doi:10.1598/JAAL.52.6.2
Lenhart, A., & Madden, M. (2005). Teen content creators and consumers. Pew Internet & American Life Project. Retrieved from www.pewinternet.org/pdfs/PIP_Teens_Content_Creation.pdf
National Association of Secondary School Principals. (2005). Creating a culture of literacy: A guide for middle and high school principals. Reston, VA: Author. www.principals.org/s_nassp/bin.asp?CID=62&DID=52747&DOC=FILE.PDF
Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives: Digital immigrants. On the Horizon, 9(5), 1-6. Retrieved from http://www.marcprensky.com/writing/Prensky%20-%20Digital%20Natives,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf
Walden University (2010). Educators, technology and 21st century skills: Dispelling five myths. Retrieved from http://www.waldenu.edu/fivemyths
Professors Responses to Online Middle Level Teacher Preparation: Can We Be Constructivists?
Dr. Holly Thornton
Appalachian State University
The development of online undergraduate teacher preparation programs is increasing as universities seek to expand access to multiple populations, address campus capacity constraints, and capitalize on market opportunities (Eastman & Swift, 2001; Volery & Lord, 2000). But how does such an increase in online courses and programs impact teacher preparation, specifically the preparation of middle level teachers who need to learn to become student centered, developmentally responsive, practitioners? Is such an approach effective? What do the experts in middle level teacher preparation have to say about the effectiveness of online middle level teacher education?
Online teacher preparation may be unique as compared to other college programs of study. Middle level and other teacher educators not only teach content through their coursework, but also how to teach. This implies that the teacher educator is acting as a model of best practices and how one should teach through the very nature of the pedagogical practices he or she employs. It cannot be “do as I say, not as I do” if students are to reap the full benefits of learning how to teach from an exemplary teacher, their professor. This was echoed in Huss’s (2007) study where middle level principals expressed their preference for face to face teacher preparation, stating that nature of effective pedagogy with young adolescents and the modeling of that pedagogy in teacher preparation classes are essential. Pre-service teachers don’t just learn about, talk about, or watch effective teaching; they need to engage in it as learners and teachers themselves.
Research into online college coursework indicates that a multiplicity of practices and methodologies can be effectively employed on line, thus possibly serving as a model for novice teachers. These include, problem based learning, analysis of and reflection on teaching practices through the use of videos, synchronous chats to engage in reflection and collaboration, and the use of wikis for team planning. Collaboration between students, thought provoking questions, and dynamic interaction along with group work, regular assignments and instructor feedback, are the most effective online teaching approaches as identified by instructors and students (Gayton and McEwen 2007). Graham et al. (2001, p 2) states that a “well designed discussion facilitates meaningful cooperation”. A variety of instructional methods are needed for effective online instruction (Chickering and Ehrmann, 1996; Gaytan and McEwen, 2007) including the use of interactive and active learning environments such as virtual teams, games and case studies (Johnson and Aragon, 2003).
Studies indicate that college students report a sense of community when engaged in online courses, (Allen & Seaman, 2008) but some report that students do not experience a satisfactory sense of community. Moreover, being in a face-to-face classroom where the instructor models community building and how to establish effective relationships with and among students may be a critical aspect of teacher preparation. This may be especially true in middle grades where relationships are key to students’ social and identity development and academic success. Middle level principals reported significant concerns about the social aspects of learning to teach and the interpersonal aspects of traditional middle grades teacher preparation programs being compromised in online courses, frequently stating “teachers are people persons.” (Huss, 2007).
The very nature and definition of performance in undergraduate and graduate teacher education goes far beyond knowledge tested. According to state and national middle level standards there must be evidence that teachers act as leaders, serve as advocates for young adolescents, effectively create lessons and integrate content to cultivate student understanding, and utilize multiple assessments to evidence impact on young adolescents’ learning. This requires that teacher educators find ways to actively engage candidates in actual teaching experiences face-to-face with real people, whether it be peers through micro-teaching and in-class simulations, or real middle school students through field placements. The question of whether a virtual teaching experience is the same as face-to-face interaction and how this can be modeled online may need further exploration in terms of what we value as candidate performance of teacher preparation standards.
A survey was electronically distributed to 125 middle level teacher educators across the United States. Professors were asked to consider the following questions:
· What types of best practices are participants able to model and use consistently in online environments?
· How are relationships and the social aspects of teaching impacted by online instruction?
· How does online coursework impact student performance in terms of rigor and teaching for understanding?
· What do instructors perceive as the benefits of online teaching?
· What are their concerns?
Overall, the professors surveyed thought that sound teaching practices could and did occur in online teacher preparation courses. They felt that online environments allowed for constructivist approaches to teaching, provided for rigorous course work and assessments, and allowed students to engage in a variety of levels of thinking. However, professors reported an overreliance on reading and viewing material online, as compared to face to face classes. Concerns arose related to relationship development online. Professors reported that they felt like the quality of teacher to student and student to student interaction was better in face to face classes and that both modeling and engaging in sound classroom relationships was essential to the development of both graduate and undergraduate middle level teacher candidates. They further reported that the quality and frequency of feedback related to learning was stronger in face to face classes.
Professors reported the main benefits of online teacher preparation coursework as convenience to students and professors, and increased enrolment and cost effectiveness. Their concerns included difficulty in modeling best classroom practices especially for pre-service teachers, limitations to relationship development, and differences and limitations in personal connections with and among students. Although the professors stated that constructivist teaching could be employed online, they reported difficulty in doing so. The unique nature of teacher preparation where professors not only teach content through their coursework, but also how to teach implies that the teacher educator is acting as a model of best practices. Professors reported that teacher preparation must include interaction in a real classroom with real people present through hybrid online instruction, as opposed to exclusively in a virtual environment.
Allen, E., & Seaman, J. (2008). Staying the course. Needham, MA: Babson Survey
Research Group: The Sloan Consortium Publications.
Chickering, A.W. and Ehrmann, S.C. (1996). Implementing the seven principles:
Technology as a lever. AAHE Bulletin, 3-6. Retrieved November 12, 2010 from Teaching, Learning and Technology Group Website: http://www.tltgroup.org/programs/seven.html.
Eastman, J., & Swift, C. (2001). New horizons in distance education: The online learner-centered marketing class. Journal of Marketing Education. 23(1) p25–34.
Gayton, J. and McEwen, B.C. (2007). Effective online instructional and assessment strategies. The American Journal of Distance Education. 21(3) p117-132.
Graham, C., Cagiltay, K., Lim, B., Craner, J., and Duffy, T.M. (2001). Seven principles
of effective teaching: A practical lens for evaluating online courses. Assessment, March/April.
Huss, J. (2007). Attitudes of middle grades principals toward online teacher preparation programs in middle grades education: Are administrators pushing "delete"? RMLE Online: Research in Middle Level Education. 30(7) p1-13.
Johnson, S.D. and Aragon, S.R. (2003, Winter). An instructional strategy framework foronline learning environments. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education. (100) p31-43.
Volery, T., & Lord, D. (2000). Critical success factors in online education. The International Journal of Educational Management. 14 (5) p216–223.
Effects of a Service-Learning Environment on Middle Level Educators’ Social Responsibility and Professional Success
Dr. Terri Hebert, Assistant Professor
University of Central Arkansas
Department of Teaching and Learning
Gandhi captured in words the driving force behind any service learning project when he declared, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others” (Retrieved 05/23/2012 from http://thinkexist.com/quotation/the_best_way_to_find_yourself_is_to_lose_yourself/148517.html). When a human seeks to do good for another, the end result is typically a win-win situation. However when service learning is naturally embedded within a learning experience, the win-win situation is amplified and the impact often expands beyond the classroom and into the community. This ripple effect has been proven time and again in the existing partnership between the University of Central Arkansas’ College of Education and Vilonia Middle School.
Five years ago, the middle level program housed in the Department of Teaching and Learning was growing exponentially. Because of the number of interns requiring field-based experiences especially during their senior year, Dr. Terri Hebert was asked to explore potential internship sites found within the region of Central Arkansas. Invitations were extended to area schools and Vilonia Middle School Principal, Ms. Cathy Riggins, was the first to respond to the request. A meeting followed between the two and an immediate connection was felt. The result has been a four-year partnership between the two organizations. Because Ms. Riggins’ passion centers on service learning, the university partnership naturally took on that flavor. The lessons learned by all have been truly life-changing.
One such project has been affectionately titled, “The Libby Project.” This work began two years ago when a special needs teacher, Erin, noted the positive change among her students when a puppy came to visit. As she investigated the research surrounding dog therapy, Erin considered adopting a dog for the class. She presented her findings to Ms. Riggins and the rest, they say, is history. Libby came to live among the classmates and during the spring semester of 2011, the UCA intern students worked with community members to construct a dog play area on the middle school site. Several businesses donated the materials required for a dog run, a fenced-in park, and a dog-friendly shelter. Through this effort, a positive relationship developed between the college students and the community, the middle school students, Erin, and Libby. The lessons learned by all dealt with leadership, responsibility, compassion, and unconditional love; lessons such as these could never be duplicated in a textbook-driven class. Eagleton and Cogdell (1977), as cited in Ziebarth-Bovill’s (2011) work on the promotion of school-university partnerships within field-based environments, concur: “To practice [education] without books and journals would be like sailing a ship without charts and maps. But to read and study unconnected to practice would be like not going to sea at all” (Retrieved 05/25/2012 from http://www.unk.edu/uploadedFiles/academics/ted/CEITC/7%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20Three%20Perspectives%20Pre-Service%20Teachers+%20jzb.pdf).
A second opportunity involving the intern students became known as the “Hope for the Homeless” Holiday Project. This was unique to the fall intern placement since it occurred immediately prior to the winter break. The two middle school counselors had an established relationship with the community’s homeless shelter. Throughout the year, they would ask for donations of clothing, food, and toys. However, approximately three weeks prior to the start of winter break, the counselors would search for individuals willing to adopt a family and basically assume the role of Santa Claus to the children. The middle level interns would jump at the chance, and even though many did not have an abundance of money – being college students – their creative shopping abilities emerged and always did an outstanding job with this project. With each group, unique strategies emerged. For example, the fall 2010 group of interns sought to divide and conquer. The women assumed the role of Mrs. Claus and sought gifts for the girls in the adopted family. They shopped the sales and visited area consignment stores. Several had part-time jobs in settings such as Old Navy and Target. These businesses were always helpful in donations of items needed. The men of our group also did a wonderful job as they reconnected with their childhood. The entire group came together to wrap the presents and to celebrate their outpouring of love to this family. As evidenced in the reflective journals, this one project had the most profound impact on the interns. One student commented, “I never knew how good it could feel to help someone else, especially at this time of year. Honestly, it has changed my perspective of giving forever. I think I want to try and do something like this in my own classroom one day.”
As the Vilonia Middle School/University of Central Arkansas partnership continued to grow stronger, both Ms. Riggins and Dr. Hebert sensed an opportunity to push for relocation of a junior-level introductory middle level teaching course. Presentations were made and rationales were presented. When the smoke cleared, permission had been granted and the move was made. The effort to embed the field experience with a hands-on approach to theory and practice proved challenging; yet, in the end, the students gained much.
During the spring semester of 2012, intro students were given the task of tutoring one student in preparation of the state assessments given in latter April. The intro students had one hour per week to spend with her/his assigned middle grade students. During this time, they were asked to consider strategies to (1) get to know the student; and (2) to help the student either in the area of math or reading, as identified by the middle school teacher. Once the tutoring session had concluded, intro students would journal for 30 minutes and then participate in a 30-minute focus group discussion led by Dr. Hebert. Currently, Dr. Hebert is analyzing the journal writings; however, some key elements have already begun to emerge. For example, the students employing specific strategies seemed to have a more positive experience than those that did not. One particular student assigned the student five vocabulary words found in a library book. The intro student commented, “I hope he defines the words that I gave him today. I know that if he understands the words, he will get more out of the reading. I hope he does what I asked.” Yet, as captured in the following week’s journal writing, the same intro student commented, “I was hoping that he would define the words, but he didn’t. He said that he forgot. I was frustrated by what to do next.” Another intro student, also working to improve his middle grade student’s reading comprehension, captured this, “Today, I learned that my student loves the Green Bay Packers. I told him that I also love them! We immediately had a connection and I used that connection to help him with his reading. I will look for an article about the team and bring it in next week. We can read it together and talk about it. I think I will use the football theme in other activities, like making a football game board and using it as he answers comprehension questions on future assignments.” Specific strategies offered to the students seemed to have a more positive impact on the overall experience, rather than merely hoping that change will occur.
In an attempt to reflect upon the entire university-school experience through the lens of a college professor, much has been gained regarding the development and maintenance of relationships such as these. For example, there must be shared leadership in the nuances of decision-making. The requirements of the university course cannot override the demands of today’s middle school administrators and teachers. Each must work in sync one with the other. For this to occur, open communication is a must. Initially, having everything clearly stated and written down is the key to establishment of the relationship. Simply worded, failure to communicate will result in a failed relationship. In addition to shared leadership, there must also be a shared vision. Where the partnership goes will rely heavily on where the two entities want it to go. Again, communication is the key. All players must be involved in the evolution of the partnership, if it is expected to mature. Mutual trust is something that develops over time; however, initial trust may be given as thorough preparation is demonstrated through words and actions. Trust must never be taken for granted in a university-school partnership. It is something that each party must maintain and is best acquired through collaboration and organization. Finally, there will be times when partnerships move beyond each other. The parties must know when to conclude the relationship. Ideally, this will be a mutual parting filled with respect and regard. One of the best ways to conclude a working relationship is to celebrate the successes that have occurred and to reflect upon the lessons learned.
As captured in the research of Guitierrez, Field, Simmons, and Basile (2007), “Partner schools are dynamic centers of inquiry that engage in the functions of not only improving K-12 student learning but also the preparation of future teachers and the ongoing professional development of practicing educators, all through the essential lens of inquiry” (p. 334). The partnership between UCA’s College of Education and Vilonia Middle School has definitely been dynamic! The opportunities to inquire into effective policies and teaching strategies focused on today’s young adolescent have been abundant. And the impact upon future middle level schools will continue to be felt as recent graduates take their place in the workforce. With regards to where the partnership concept takes educators, both within the university setting and in the middle grades schools, the sky is truly the limit.
Guitierrez, C., Field, S., Simmons, J., & Basile, C. G. (2007). Principals as knowledge managers in partner schools. School Leadership & Management, 27(4), 333-346.
What do Math Assessments Test?
Nancy Cerezo, Ph. D.
Sharyn Disabato, Ph. D.
Lin Carver, Ph. D.
Saint Leo University
Saint Leo, Florida
In every state the emphasis on using data from standardized assessments has increased. If students do not demonstrate proficiency on mathematics assessments, additional mathematics instruction is provided. But is that really enough?
Thurber et al. (2002) investigated the relationship between scores on reading and mathematics assessments in 207 fourth graders. Students who scored well in reading tended to score well in mathematics and the opposite was also true. They concluded that “reading may be a necessary and important component in overall math competence and should not be overlooked in drawing conclusions about math skills” (p. 511).
Some standardized assessments divide mathematics skills into computation and application. However, state assessments do not separate these skills; both types of mathematics knowledge are tested in a single assessment. Rutherford-Becker and Vanderwood (2009) found that reading proficiency can cause variation in applied math skills, but did not seem to be a significant factor in computational skills (p.33). If state assessments are weighted more heavily towards application rather than computation, reading skills could have a significant impact. But each state has its own assessment and the linguistic demands of each assessment might not be the same. This concern was the basis for comparing the linguistic demands of the Florida, Texas, and California fifth, sixth and seventh grade mathematics assessments. The research seeks to answer two questions.
1. How do the readability of the mathematics assessments compare as measured by the Fry Readability formula?
2. How does the percent of emphasis on linguistic, computational, and visual and linguistic questions compare as measured by the type of question?
Florida, Texas, and California are all large states responsible for educating many of our nation’s youth and each has high ELL populations (Center for Public Education, 2009). In addition, they have released mathematics state assessments for grades five through seven. The question stems on these released tests were compared using the Fry Graph Readability Calculator (http://www.readabilityformulas.com/free-fry-graph-test.php).
These same assessments were then analyzed to determine the percent of linguistic, computational, and visual and linguistic questions on each grade level. Linguistic questions included only words. Computational questions included only numbers or limited directions such as; “Solve” or “Find the equivalent for”. Visual and linguistic questions were those whose linguistic stem was supported by a chart, graph, number line, picture, or other visual.
There was great discrepancy between the readability of the three state’s tests. Florida’s fifth, sixth, and seventh grades assessments were written at a sixth or seventh grade readability level. Texas’ assessments for these three grades were all at a fifth grade readability. However for the same three grades California’s readability ranged from a first to a third grade readability.
We also found a significant difference in emphasis between the types of questions stems used in each state’s assessments. On the Florida assessment the questions were about 35% linguistic and about 65% visual and linguistic. Strictly computational questions were not asked. Texas’ distribution between linguistic and visual and linguistic was similar. California’s assessment did not mirror the same distribution. Their questions were about 55% linguistic, 10% computational, and 35% visual and linguistic. This data is important for teachers as they prepare their students to take the mathematics assessments.
Implications for Teachers
It is evident, that all mathematics assessments do not test the same skills. Mathematics teachers need to be aware of the linguistics demands of their state test. Teachers need to provide opportunities for their students to read more complicated mathematics texts written at the readability level of the state assessment. Students also need to be taught have to divide complicated sentences into shorter clauses and how to decode the more complicated mathematics.
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