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Running Head: LARAIA ACTION RESEARCH PROPOSAL

Collaborative Conversation Skills Amongst Low Achieving Students

Samantha Laraia

AD 662

Loyola University Maryland

Dr. Arthur Williams


LARAIA: ACTION RESEARCH PROPOSAL 1

Context

At Pokemon Middle School there are 63 staff members including all departments and

aspects of the building. There has been a large turnover of staff throughout the last four years. In

2014, the school had nineteen new staff members, as well as a new principal. In 2015, the school

had 11 new staff members. Along with the staff at Pokemon Middle School there are currently

582 students enrolled. 52.2% of these students are female and 47.8% of these students are male.

Pokemon Middle School is fairly diverse school. The racial breakdown of the school is 50.2%

caucasian, 15.5% African American, 14.3% asian, and 13.9% hispanic. Furthermore, leadership

discovered a correlation of low achievement amongst a specific group of students within the

school.

Pokemon Middle School leadership identified target students as our ESOL, FARMS, and

SPED students. ESOL students make up 5.9% of the school, while FARMS students are 11.9%

of the population and SPED are 9.8% of the population. Administration and staff at Pokemon

Middle School are focusing on closing the gap with target students and helping them to achieve

higher on common tasks and tests. More specifically, the 7th grade team is focusing on building

collaborative conversation skills amongst the identified 21 target students. Our goal is to have

target students be more engaged and active rather than passive in their learning, have target

students use collaborative conversation skills to promote learning and participation, and to close

the gap between these target students and the rest of the 7th grade at Pokemon Middle School.

Problem

The leadership team at Pokemon Middle School looked at data for all low achieving

students to find any correlation that could help determine a problem or pattern. The team

discovered a trend that there was a high number of FARMS, ESOL, and SPED students who fell
LARAIA: ACTION RESEARCH PROPOSAL 2

into the low achieving category when it comes to grades and test scores. It was decided that these

target students need an instructional focus that includes more encouragement, participation, and

collaborative conversation skills to help them be more successful.

Based on the stakeholder interviews (see Appendix A), students should be working

collaboratively, being encouraged by teachers, etc. Both teachers interviewed agreed that

building positive relationships and effective communication are key to helping our low achieving

students to become more successful.

Based on our SIP, instructional foci, and the stakeholder interviews, I think it is

incredibly important for there to be professional learning for all teachers in terms of how to help

low achieving students be engaged, communicate effectively, collaborate effectively

(specifically with low and high achieving students), and how to make sure we are building

positive, lasting social emotional relationships with all students, but specifically our target

students.

Research Questions

In reviewing data, it was determined that the following research questions need to be

addressed.

How do we encourage collaborative conversation skills with target students?

What methods/best practices do we use to help target students reach their full potential?

It is important to determine what best practices will be most effective in working with the

target students and how teachers can incorporate these practices into their classrooms.

Professional learning about best practices and how to use these skills in classrooms with these

students is incredibly important for the staff at Pokemon Middle School. Building these skills as
LARAIA: ACTION RESEARCH PROPOSAL 3

teachers and being able to exemplify and encourage the skills with the target students will build

collaboration, participation, and achievement.

Literature Review

There are many articles and journals that support the idea that collaboration amongst low

and high achieving students, student engagement, and social emotional relationships between

teachers and students are incredibly import to student success. There is an abundance of data

which supports all of the ideas for which I have mentioned Pokemon Middle School would

benefit learning from during professional learning sessions.

In the journal article Relationships Matter: Linking Teacher Support to Student

Engagement Achievement there is evidence that show students who have positive relationships

with teachers are much more engaged in their learning. For example, studies show students with

caring and supportive interpersonal relationships in school report more positive academic

attitudes and values, and more satisfaction with school (Connell, Klem 2004). This is important

to the professional learning that needs to happen in Pokemon Middle School because even

though many teachers are doing their best to form positive relationships with students, there are

still many teachers whom are only focused on the content of their subject area instead of also

focusing on the student's best interest and what is needed for them to succeed. More specifically

related to what would be the focus at Pokemon Middle School is or would be, Connell and Klem

state that in reference to their results and discussion middle school students with high levels of

engagement were 75% more likely to do well on the attendance and achievement index

middle school students with high levels of teacher-reported engagement in school were more

than twice as likely to do well on the attendance and achievement index (2004). Thus, this

helps add to the argument that students must be engaged in what they are learning in order to be
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more higher achieving. Also of importance to note is the fact that students who perceive

teachers as creating a caring, well-structured learning environment in which expectations are

high, clear, and fair are more likely to report engagement in school Middle school students

were almost three times more likely to report engagement if they experienced highly supportive

teachers (2004). Thus, it is incredibly important for teachers to ensure students feel supported

and confident in their teachers classrooms in order to be more engaged and high achieving.

Furthermore, in the article Collaborating With A Skilled Peer: The Influence on the

Participation and Learning of Low-Achieving Students also supports the idea of how much it

matters that students are able to work collaboratively with one another. Gabriele and Montecinos

conducted research which examined the impact of the performance of low achieving students

during collaborative work with a high-achieving partner. This study discusses many different

outcomes, for example The results of this study indicate that low-achieving students for whom

learning goals were more salient learned more than low achievers who showed no such

preference for learning goals during unstructured collaboration with a high-achieving partner

(2001). In other words, students who made goals and were more engaged and positive about their

learning were more successful than students who did the opposite when working with a higher-

achieving student in an unstructured collaborative setting. The article also states At a more

general level, our findings provide additional support for the idea that classrooms that foster the

development of learning goals improve the quality of learning that takes place in heterogeneous

small groups or pairs (Gabriele, Montecinos 2001). It is important for students to create goals

and know where they want to be. This is important for Pokemon Middle Schools SIP plan and

instructional focus because learning goals help students stay focused and could help our low

achieving target students be more successful in the classroom.


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Additionally, the article The influence of achievement goals on the constructive activity of

low achievers during collaborative problem solving in The British Psychological Society Journal

is very focused on peers working together. Gabriele mentions two factors that can influence

learning from peer help: quality of the help received and quality of the constructive activity.

Meaning that student achievement really depends on how well the low-achieving student is

working with others and how well they are able to comprehend and complete the assignment.

Gabriele states The quality of help received from the high achieving partner was not found to be

directly associated with the learning of the low achieving partner (2007). This surprised me

when I first read it- as educators we generally assume that a high-achieving student could be the

best mentor for a low achieving student. It started to make more sense to me when Gabriele also

stated ...the inconsistent and weak relationship between help received and learning often

reported in the peer learning literature may be due in part to the extent which recipients of

explanations actively use help to build a deeper understanding of the strategies used to solve

problems or study the materials at hand (2007). This helped me to see that it is important for

our low achieving students to be reflective in what they are learning; they need to know if they

are using the skills we as teachers are trying to teach them to help them achieve. One of the most

important parts of this study is when the author concludes Taken together, the findings of this

study suggest that interventions that focus on learning goals and or evaluate their comprehension

more closely show promise and provide additional support for the idea that classrooms that foster

the development of learning goals will improve the quality of learning that takes place

(Gabriele, 2007). This is incredibly important when it comes to the vision for professional

learning on these topics at Pokemon Middle School. This quote supports the idea that it is vital

for low-achieving students to collaborate effectively and be reflective of their learning. These are
LARAIA: ACTION RESEARCH PROPOSAL 6

skills that teachers need to be able to exemplify for these students so they know what needs to be

done in order to succeed.

Proposed Methodology

There are different ways that teachers could do professional learning about these topics. I

think it is important to differentiate based on teachers needs and leadership expectations. In my

opinion, there will need to be macro professional learning times where everyone should be there,

and there could also be micro times. It is important that all staff be presented with the same

information and expectations in reference to what we want to do for our low achieving target

students. Professional learning needs to focus on student engagement, forming long lasting

positive relationships with students, and effective communication- all specifically relating to

target students. This can be done in a multitude of ways- videos, reading articles and discussing,

practicing positive conversation skills, etc.

The coachs role will depend on what the staff needs. Some staff will be much more

dedicated to professional this learning process than other teachers. I think it is important that this

professional learning benefit everyone involved, but some staff with not be as engaged. In my

opinion, coaches should not only help lead staff, but also keep them engaged.

At Pokemon Middle School we have macro professional learning sessions at least twice a

month. These days could be used to discuss and exemplify best practices that we can use to help

better reach our target students.

Action Plan General Summary

Action Person/Group Date to be Assessment


Responsible Completed By

Determine new target students for ILT August 2016 Completed list
16-17 school year for teachers
before preservice
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Address target student achievement Team Leaders By end of Staff is aware of


gap with staff preservice focus target
students

Professional Learning: best practices SDT Monthly


to help target students

Teachers take best practices and Teachers Each marking Target student
implement in classrooms period? data

Assess target student data ILT Monthly? Bi- Determine what


monthly? strides have been
made by target
students based on
staff
implementation
of best practices.
LARAIA: ACTION RESEARCH PROPOSAL 8

Appendix A
Stakeholder Interviews and Reflection

Interview Questions and Answers

Question 1: How did we as a school identify who our target students are?

Teacher A: As a leadership team we reviewed data and realized that our FARMS

students and ESOL students were not as engaged or achieving at their full potential.

Teacher B: ILT gathered data and analyzed test scores and achievement scores. We

looked at the lower performing groups with grades, test scores, and engagement. After

analyzing the scores we noticed that our FARMS and ESOL students were much lower

achieving than other students.

Question 2: How do we encourage daily participation with target students?

Teacher A: I try to use as much encouragement as possible! Especially in pupil

enrichment, it is important to create a safe and welcoming place for students who would

generally not speak up.

Teacher B: Some ways are: equitable calling practices, planning collaborative tasks with

strategic grouping, intentional seating arrangements. We also use a lot of specific

strategies such as jigsaw, save the last word, special grouping, cueing, frontloading

questions, etc.

Question 3: How do we encourage collaborative conversation skills with target students?

Teacher A: Sentence starters, assigning roles, different grouping techniques

Teacher B: We incorporate student-to-student discourse strategies, such as assigned

roles, sentence stems, equitable calling practices, collaborative tasks that ensure

students are engaged and held accountable. Teachers also monitor participation in

collaborative groups and encourage students with probing questions and give effective

feedback. Teachers model appropriate conversation skills and students practice through

a variety of activities.
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Question 4: What methods/best practices do we use to help target students reach their full

potential?

Teacher A: We focus on personal relationship building, finding interests, showcasing

their strengths, multiple forms of communication.

Teacher B: Lots of things! Staff Mentoring, purposeful scheduling strategies, providing

interventions (small group pull outs/ in class differentiated assignments/etc.), one on one

conversations, developing action plans through team meetings after a kid-talk,

contacting parents and communicating with other specialists. We also offer lunch and

after school help sessions, create collaborative tasks and scaffold the learning

progression. Most importantly we empower students to motivate them to do well

(rewards, incentives, monitor gradebook and progress).

Question 5: How can we continue to help target students throughout the upcoming school year?

Teacher A: We need more support from administration to help guide all teachers in what

steps should be taken to help these students.

Teacher B: In my opinion, not every teacher is doing all of the things that I mentioned in

my previous answers. Certain grade levels are better than others, and certain teachers

within those grade levels are much better than others. As a school we need to commit to

using the resources we are provided as well as the time we are given as teams to

implement strategies that can help these students succeed.

Reflection

It was interesting to hear two different teacher perspectives about the target students in

our school and how they are identified, what the leadership team does to support these

students, and what teachers do in their classrooms. I feel like I already knew most of what these

responses would be, but I was intrigued as to how it would be phrased. Teacher A was not as

enthusiastic in her responses as Teacher B was. Teacher B was very interested in sharing as
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much information with me as possible. Teacher Bs responses to my questions were actually

much longer than what is above, I had to summarize her responses in order to get to the point.

Both teachers had similar responses to the questions, but Teacher Bs responses really

helped me come up with a more well-rounded idea of what I think the school needs in terms of

professional learning on these topics. As both teachers stated in their interview responses, most

of the things that they suggested are already happening in our school. The important thing that

needs to happen is that all teachers who teach target students should be focusing in on best

practices that can help these students have more confidence in their learning and become more

high achieving.

These interview questions and responses support my idea and thoughts that Pokemon

Middle School teachers could benefit from professional learning that is geared towards helping

target students to participate more and work more collaboratively with other students.
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Resources

Gabriele, A. J., & Montecinos, C. (2001). Collaborating With A Skilled Peer: The Influence of

Achievement Goals and Perceptions of Partners' Competence on the Participation and Learning of

Low-Achieving Students. The Journal of Experimental Education, 69(2), 152-178.

Gabriele, A. J. (2007). The influence of achievement goals on the constructive activity of low

achievers during collaborative problem solving. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 77, 121-

141.

Klem, A. M., & Connell, J. P. (2004, September). Relationships Matter: Linking Teacher Support to

Student Engagement and Achievement. Journal of School Health, 74(7), 262-273.