Early adolescence can be the period that makes or breaks a students’ love of school, and by extension, whether they like school enough to want to go to post secondary, or even graduate high school. It is a time period where the social aspects of life seem far more important than the academic aspects. Grades and educational aspirations take a backseat to absorbing the curricular information. What if a classroom could be catered specifically to the early adolescent mind? There are a great amount of peer reviewed journal articles that suggest many ways to improve a middle school classroom. I believe that a perfect classroom is not built on one kind of learning approach, one type of good teacher, or one type of perfect student, but a conglomerate of a handful of variables that work together to create a perfect learning environment. This learning environment can scientifically foster the best results among middle school students. Particularly students in grade seven and eight.
The goal in this classroom plan is to foster an environment of extrinsically motivated learning. This means that the goal is for the students to come to school and learn because they are excited to, and not because they are looking for extrinsic rewards, such as good grades, or participation trophies. While getting good grades is important, if the students are motivated enough by their own curiosity to learn, this will foster higher grades than if just being taught under the traditional learning model (Kusurkar et al. 2013) — which includes little to no actual learning. In my classroom model, the grading system remains the same, but the learning environment is such that grades are not the standard by which students base their education. Instead, it is the pursuit of knowledge that drives their education, which in turn fosters high performance anyway.
As stated previously, the ideal learning environment is built upon a conglomerate of learning strategies. It is easiest, for presentation sake, to break these strategies down into categories. There are four categories to foster my goal of intrinsic achievement: Good teaching, a good instructional design (or lesson plan), active learning/higher order thinking, and classroom inclusivity. The last category is crucial for teaching thirteen/fourteen year old students.
Being a Teacher Students Can Count On:
In my research, I found that one could use all the best teaching methods, and have the best, most talented bunch of students, but none of that matters if the students do not have a teacher who fosters the best learning environment. At the age of thirteen or fourteen, it is the most important time to have a teacher who the students really connect with. Having a teacher who recognizes the uniqueness and potential in a middle school student can leave a life long impact that fosters excellence not only in the classroom, but outside the classroom as well.
What can teachers do that is really so special? It all comes down to attitude. An article on the positive correlation between enjoyment in teachers and enjoyment in students shows a unique perspective on an emotion rarely felt at the middle school level. It has been examined that the relationship between teacher and student enjoyment, based on social– cognitive approaches to emotions, shows that 1. teacher enjoyment and student enjoyment within classrooms are positively linked and 2. that teacher enthusiasm mediates the relationship between teacher and student enjoyment. (Frenzel, et al. 2009) Looking back on my own middle school experience, the best teachers were the ones who were somehow able to put aside the woes going on in their own lives to bring a positive attitude to the students each day. Students feel like they can trust an adult who is positive and kind, so teacher enjoyment will foster a foundation upon which the teacher can implement the rest of these learning strategies.
Additionally, the best critic of a teacher is their students. Students are candidly honest, and see the teacher at their best and worst, so it makes sense that students should be able to give a teacher feedback on how they can change their teaching style to suit them better. A researcher in psychology of education created a survey that generated positive results once implemented in actual classrooms. The students were given a questionnaire that gets a gauge on their relationship with the teacher, and the school climate that the teacher is fostering. The information that the students provided was organized by hierarchical multiple regression equations that first accounted for the effects of demographic variables (ethnicity, social class, household composition), and then accounted for the variables correlating to the students’ school climate perceptions (self-esteem, academic self concept, exposure to stressful events, and academic performance).( Halverson and Clifford 2006). These details are important to include in this classroom design because the traditional education system does not account for students outside of the realm of average. It is catered to a white, middle class student who averages around 75% on most assignments and exams. This survey accounts for the extraneous students who fall outside this realm because representation matters. A teacher can think that they are fostering the optimal learning environment, but might learn upon student feedback that ESL students, or low academic performance, or students with divorced parents are struggling. Given this important feedback, a teacher can work in small groups or one on one with these students to integrate them back into a classroom in which they feel safe again.
A Scientifically Based Instructional Design:
While something as trivial as a teacher’s personal lesson plan seems ridiculous for fostering academic growth, a well formatted lesson plan can cover all the government- based academic curriculum, and add elements of active learning to foster legitimate consolidation of information without wasting any class time. Lesson planning can also cultivate higher order thinking strategies in early adolescence.
The scientifically based instructional design I choose to implement in my classroom is called the ADDIE process. ADDIE stands for Analysis/Assessment, development, design, implementation, and evaluation. (Martin,2011)
A) During the analysis phase, it is up to the teacher to find out where each individual student falls on their existing knowledge, and to set a realistic goal for each individual student to achieve by the end of the class year.
D) The design phase documents specific learning objectives, the instructional material, practice activities, feedback from the practice activities, instructional strategies, and assessments. Essentially, now that an analysis of your students is complete, what are the best learning tools to implement? Depending on the class demographic, certain tools may be beyond comprehension, or too basic.
D) The development phase is considered to be the most important of all. The development phase is the step where all the data collected from the design phase gets put together. For example, certain class groups will show more comfort with project based learning as opposed to the standard learn and regurgitate model. So knowing this, how does the teacher develop projects into their lesson plan?
I) The Implementation phase begins once the school year begins. The implementation phase bears a whole lot of trial and error. Although the teacher might have gone into the school year with this group thinking they would respond to project based learning, perhaps it was discovered with exposure to the lesson plan that the students appear to learn best from discussion and debate. Alter the development plan accordingly. No need to go all the way back to square one, just use the data collected from analysis and design to approach the class in a different development pattern.
E) Last comes the evaluation phase. The evaluation phase consists of two parts: formative and summative. Formative evaluation is present in each stage of the ADDIE process. Constant revision of the ADDIE model. Summative evaluation consists of tests designed for getting feedback from the users. The “users” are the students, as well as the administration. It’s always good to see if your ADDIE model can be used to help other teachers. (instructionaldesign.org,2013)
I believe that the ADDIE method of instructional design should be implemented across all divisions of education, but it is especially effective when implemented in a middle school classroom. It depends a lot on teachers working together, and it seems time consuming, but I think that it would only really be a hassle for the first few years of implementing it into a classroom. The first few years would be the experimental phase where the teacher gets a feel for what has worked in the past three years and what hasn’t. From there, lesson plans will only require minor modification for each consecutive class.
Active Learning in Middle School to Fosters Higher Order Thinking Tools:
My research on active learning, and its benefits on developing a good concept of higher order thinking and metacognition later on in adolescence, is some of the best research I conducted in the whole nine days of class. I want to preface this section by acknowledging the fact that metacognition and higher order thinking are not possible in the majority of thirteen to fourteen year old students, but the introduction of active learning in middle school can provide a student with the scaffolding required to approach higher order thinking and metacognition when they are intellectually ready. Traditional education has a focus on finding the easiest, and most efficient way to educate children. The truth is that designing a classroom that involved active learning would not take that much more time! Especially when you consider the benefits of how much more learning gets done when teachers choose to promote active learning. (Li & Sethi, 2006)
The active learning tools that are appropriate to integrate into a middle school classroom are easier explained by describing the four levels of optimal learning. The last level of learning can be introduced in middle school, but will not be intellectually effective until high school:
To begin, level one of learning is recall. This is put to test by your basic multiple choice test. Standardized testing weeds out the students who are best at recall. These students are able to shoot all the way to post secondary with relative ease. The second level of learning is represent. This takes the student through the process of short and long answer style test questions. In my experience, many students dislike this sort of question style because it allows them to “have to think”. Representation is only a step above recall because you can memorize and regurgitate this style of question too.
The last two kinds of learning are much more in depth, and focus on developing the students’ higher order function. Level three is analyze/reason, and level four is apply. By early adolescence, the brain is developed enough to be able to use the analyze/reason tool to further their understanding of course material. It is important to implement this level of learning at this critical time, because brain development in adolescence is second only to infancy in the ability to intake information and learn. If you give a thirteen year old the tool of analysis and reason, they will be able to use it inside and outside of the classroom. It also creates a scaffolding for the higher order learning that occurs later on in adolescence. By the time the reach the apply stage in high school, this kind of thinking will come easily to them. (learningfocussed.com, 2014)
Here are the best activities that foster analysis and reason: Compare and contrast, Determine patterns, analyze relationships, analyze viewpoints, and construct arguments. Thinking back to the information presented in this classroom plan on lesson planning, it would be best to use these activities based on trial and error to find out which activities the students in your class respond to the most. Intrinsic motivation can be gained through the process of asking questions, and leaving room in the lesson plan for extensive discussion. Once the students are discussing using these tools of analysis/reason, they will be setting themselves up for an easy A without even realizing it. And at this stage, the student will care more about the lesson than the grade that proceeds the lesson.
Classroom Inclusivity in Adolescence:
The feeling of belonging is the greatest motivation life can give you. During a time of hormone, body and brain development, the last thing a middle school kid wants to do is focus on a test. Classroom inclusivity is absolutely a teacher’s responsibility. Making sure that their students are not falling behind at that stage of education is their responsibility. So what tools can be used to create the kind of unity in a classroom that fosters high quality discussion? Two things. The Value Education Program, and preventing anti-social attitudes in students using the School Climate Survey.
The Value Education Program was started by Uzunkul and Yel suggest that the solution to preserving self esteem in the current academic system is to scrap the traditional institution, and build a “value education program” instead. The purpose of the value education program is to base education on respect, responsibility, self-esteem, social problem solving skills, and empathy. The value education program takes into account the idea that the kids in the class come from different family arrangements, come from different ethnic backgrounds, and come to school from different socio-economic backgrounds. Instead of using these differences as an isolating factor (which is common in middle school) the value education program can be used by teachers to turn these differences into strengths. Because all the students are different, use this to your advantage when conducting a discussion. One of the best ways for students to learn is from each other. The results of the value education system when implemented at various elementary and middle schools was significant. There was a significant effect size of the grades students got before the value education system was implemented, and after the value education system was implemented. This system would be the most important part of the whole classroom design. (Uzunkul and Yel)
It can be hard to include students who exhibit anti-social behaviours into any education model, whether traditional, or under the value education program. somehow, there are always students who slip through the cracks. The tool used to combat this is called the School Climate Survey. The School Climate Survey is a way to establish a contrast between the school climate that the students observed, versus the school climate the admin and teachers thought they were providing. A solution to improving the school climates is taking the results of the surveys and actually doing something constructive with them. Use the feedback of the SCS to provide better for your school’s population of adolescent students. The results of this survey, just like the teacher questionnaire, can help identify at risk youth who might need more help adjusting into the school climate. (Kuperminc, Leadbeater, Emmons, & Blatt, 1997)
The goal of this assignment was to choose an age group, and design a classroom model that includes scientific research that will foster the highest success in the students of the chosen age group. I picked middle school students because the amount of research on the adolescent mind, and the baste ways to cater to it are vast. Also, I believe middle school to be the critical period that will determine if a student goes to post-secondary (not high school). I think by promoting my ideal learning environment on a class of grade seven or eight students would drastically improve their intrinsic motivation to learn in school. This intrinsic motivation is the golden component to academic achievement. The ideal classroom requires no alteration to the traditional grading scale, only an alteration on the psychology associated with this traditional grade scale. By using tools such as the School Climate Survey, the Value Education Program, the ADDIE method of lesson planning, the inclusion of active learning into middle school education, and positive reinforcement created by a good teacher, you can make the negative associations with grading disappear. What is left is a classroom rooted in discussion and active learning, in which all adolescent students feel welcome and comfortable to participate fully. This will truly foster the best results in the education of early adolescent students.
Academic Sources Cited:
ADDIE Model (2013) Retrieved from: http://www.instructionaldesign.org/models/addie.html
Frenzel, A. C., Goetz, T., Lüdtke, O., Pekrun, R., & Sutton, R. E. (2009). Emotional transmission in the classroom: Exploring the relationship between teacher and student enjoyment. Journal of Educational Psychology, 101(3), 705–716.
HIgher Order Thinking. (2016) Retrieved from https://learningforward.org/docs/default-source/elearning/higher_order_thinking_1hr_conf_pres_feb_15_2016.pdf?sfvrsn=2
Kuperminc, G. P., Leadbeater, B. J., Emmons, C., & Blatt, S. J. (1997). Perceived School Climate and Difficulties in the Social Adjustment of Middle School Students. Applied Developmental Science, 1(2), 76–88.
Kusurkar, R. A., Ten Cate, T. J., Vos, C. M. P., Westers, P., & Croiset, G. (2013). How motivation affects academic performance: a structural equation modelling analysis. Advances in Health Sciences Education: Theory and Practice, 18(1), 57–69.
Uzunkol, E., & Yel, S. (2016). Effect of Value Education Program Applied in Life Studies Lesson on Self-Esteem, Social Problem-Solving Skills and Empathy Levels of Students. Dializ, Transplantasyon ve Yanik: Turkiye Organ Nakli ve Yanik Tedavi Vakfi, Tip Bilimleri Dergisi = Dialysis, Transplantation & Burn: Medical Journal of the Turkish Transplantation and Burn Foundation, 41(183). https://doi.org/10.15390/eb.2016.5550