Middle School Classrooms: Teachers’ Reported Practices and Student Perceptions

Tonya R. Moon
Carolyn M. Callahan
Carol A. Tomlinson
Erin M. Miller

Middle school teachers’ reported classroom practices, middle school students’ perceptions of classroom practice, and the alignment of reported practices and perceptions with the middle school movement’s orientation towards student achievement form the foci of this study. As part of a larger study looking at two different interventions for addressing the academic diversity of middle school learners (Callahan, Tomlinson, Moon, Brighton, & Hertberg, in preparation), teachers in participating schools were asked to complete a middle school practices survey. Students completed a parallel survey on their perceptions of their classrooms. In addition to reporting teacher and student responses to the surveys, comparisons between teacher reported practices and student perceptions as well as comparisons with the 1995 national study of middle school teacher practices (Moon, Tomlinson, & Callahan, 1995) are provided in this monograph. Examination of teacher practices and student perceptions in addressing academic diversity in middle school classrooms evolved from examining the literature on: (a) characteristics of middle school students, (b) student achievement goals in the middle school, (c) middle school curriculum, instruction and assessment practices, (d) accommodating academic diversity in the middle school classroom, and (e) student grouping.

Findings replicate what was previously found in the 1995 NRC/GT study as well as provide unique findings relative to the particular interventions implemented as part of the larger NRC/GT study. Consistent with the 1995 study findings, teachers report that learning contracts, tiered assignments, advanced organizers, computer programs focusing on basic skills or advanced understanding, curriculum compacting, learning centers, flexible grouping, or interest centers are rarely used in their middle school classrooms. In contrast to the 1995 study findings, state curriculum standards, local curriculum guides, and key concepts and principles of core disciplines are considered the three most important factors in determining instructional content taught by teachers.

Findings unique to the study indicate the majority of teachers report using example activities and observations to modify the content of activities, types of products required of students, and student grouping arrangements; yet a large portion of teachers also indicate never tailoring an assignment for students or varying materials based on student readiness levels. Instead, lecture, direct instruction to the whole class using the state standards and local curriculum guides, is the predominant reported modality of teaching. Students indicated, consistent with teachers’ responses, that the instructional content of their classes was textbook driven and focused on student success for more formal assessments (e.g., end-of-unit tests, standardized tests). Students also indicated whole group instruction supported by note taking and all students working on the same assignment as the predominant format of their classrooms.

Reference:

Moon, T. R., Callahan, C. M., Tomlinson, C. A., & Miller, E. M. (2002). Middle school classrooms: Teachers’ reported practices and student perceptions (RM02164). Storrs: University of Connecticut, The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented.

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Middle School Classrooms: Teachers’ Reported Practices and Student Perceptions

Tonya R. Moon
Carolyn M. Callahan
Carol A. Tomlinson
Erin M. Miller

 

Conclusions

  1. Teachers report that learning contracts, tiered assignments, advanced organizers, computer programs focusing on basic skills or advanced understanding, curriculum compacting, learning centers, flexible grouping, or interest centers are rarely used in their middle school classrooms.
  2. State curriculum standards, local curriculum guides, and key concepts and principles of core disciplines are considered the three most important factors in determining instructional content taught by teachers.
  3. The majority of teachers report using example activities and observations to modify the content of activities, types of products required of students, and student grouping arrangements.
  4. A large portion of teachers indicate never tailoring an assignment for students or varying materials based on student readiness levels.
  5. Lecture and direct instruction to the whole class using the state standards and local curriculum guides are the predominant reported modalities of teaching.
  6. Students indicated, consistent with teacher response, that the instructional content of their classes was textbook driven and focused on student success for more formal assessments (e.g., end-of-unit tests, standardized tests).
  7. Students indicated that whole group instruction supported by note taking and all students working on the same assignment as the predominant format of their classrooms.
  8. The majority of students reported never having individual conferences with the teachers.
  9. The majority of students reported they were never allowed to skip an assignment because they already knew the material, never received different materials or assignments from other students, and were never allowed choices in selecting a project or class work.
  10. Teachers indicate that lack of planning time, concerns about classroom management, and the range of student academic diversity are factors that hinder them in differentiating instruction.
  11. Lack of planning time and availability of assessment materials are factors a large portion of teachers consider as hindrances in implementing authentic assessments.
  12. State and district mandates are considered neither hindering nor helpful in differentiating instruction or implementing authentic assessments.
  13. State and district mandates are considered neither hindering nor helpful in differentiating instruction or implementing authentic assessments.
  14. There appears to be room for improvement in developing teachers’ skills in addressing academic diversity in middle school classrooms.
  15. Teachers make little use of strategies (instructional or structural) that would enable the academic diversity of students to be better addressed.

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Recommendations

  1. Students’ interests should be considered when determining content of curriculum.
  2. Students reported that they preferred activities in which new, creative, or very different ideas were encouraged, listened to, and discussed.
  3. Students reported that they preferred to work with students who shared similar interests.
  4. Students reported that they would appreciate the opportunity to revise their work before being assessed a final grade.
  5. Teaching style should attempt to address the students’ preferred learning styles.
  6. Teachers should clearly explain the grading criteria to students and should consider how the student performed compared to the rest of the class when determining the overall grade.
  7. The traditional schooling that teachers practice should be questioned and re-examined prior to them being able to consider an educational innovation such as differentiation of instruction and/or the use of differentiated authentic assessments for addressing the varying levels of student academic diversity in the middle school classroom.