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In researching methods of learner centered instruction as a vehicle for promoting academic self-efficacy in high school students, I found three areas of interest that correlate directly to positive changes in students' perceptions of personal academic goal directed behavior. These are: (1) nurturing instructional design (Alfassi, 2003; Gentry & Owen, 2004), (2) teacher education in tailoring learning experiences to the needs of each student (McCombs & Quiat, 2000) and (3) a positive classroom environment that promotes adaptive achievement and motivation (Nelson & DeBacker, 2008; Gentry & Owen, 2004). It is important to note that these three points of interest should to be viewed within the context of Malcolm Knowles' (1980) Theory of Androgogy, which posits the fostering of student self-directed learning as a key to healthy transition from adolescence to adulthood (Merriam, 1993) for this study. Also, this model is used to assess positive changes in participants academic self-efficacy as determined by self-reports on the model's effects on their academic activities, academic relationships and academic reasoning skills.
Examining Three Areas of Interest
The first area of interest centers around instructional design that is focused on nurturing success, self-efficacy (academic) and enthusiasm within each student (Alfassi, 2003; Gentry & Owen, 2004). The study, which focused on "Promoting the Will and Skill of Students" concluded learners tend to navigate toward tasks where they feel successful and avoid those in which they do not (Alfassi, 2003). Additionally, the greater the enhancement of a learner's personal efficacy, the greater the effort and perseverance the student will demonstrate (Alfassi, 2003). Gentry and Owen stipulate that assessing student awareness through ". . .meaningfulness, challenge, choice, self-efficacy and appeal" can directly translate to personal improvement within a classroom, as well as result in learner empowerment (2004, p. 20), which could facilitate a more meaningful transition for a high school student into later academic life.
The second area of interest concerns teacher awareness of what each learner needs in order to be successful for both high school instruction (McCombs & Quiat, 2000) and life beyond. Community for Learning (CFL) was the wide-ranging school reform program used in K - 12 (McCombs & Quiat, 2000). Its' focus was on how to consistently accomplish high standards of student success as well as benefit student self-perceptions of academic readiness. In the end, this goal was achieved by the manipulation of four primary practices: (1) creating a helpful and encouraging classroom environment and connection with each student, (2) honoring student voice while simultaneously offering individual learning challenges, (3) encouraging higher-order thinking and learning proficiencies and (4) adapting to a variety of individual learning experiences capable of addressing developmental differences. This study demonstrated that through the use of these practices, the instructor was better prepared to facilitate various learning strategies that more completely encompassed the diversity of student learning skills/styles within his/her classroom (McCombs & Quiat, 2000).
The third and final focus of this literature review revealed the importance of a positive and open-minded classroom environment, in relationship to student learning and assessment (Nelson & DeBacker, 2008; Gentry & Owen, 2004). By allowing the learner to evaluate classroom quality and the measuring progress of each student's personal learning ability (Nelson & DeBacker, 2008), the atmosphere transitions into an academic environment where the student is personally invested in both the curriculum design and demonstration of mastery of the curriculum content. Further, this classroom structure allows for accountability to be fostered in the learners. If they feel a problem exists within a classroom learning environment, they must have a proposal to alleviate this dilemma (Gentry & Owen, 2004). Thus, the proficiencies they have learned in the classroom have taught them problem solving skills important to successfully entering the future world of college academics.
The previously addressed research sources collectively viewed have demonstrated the importance of the student voice in the learning and assessment process as well as an educator's ability to successfully implement a learner centered teaching style. Moreover, Knowles (1980) Theory of Androgogy implies learners working together collaboratively will lead to a higher sense of one's awareness in his/her own sense of accountability and responsibility. Thus, by balancing creative application of learner-centered techniques, together with teacher-centered instructional techniques in a high school environment, and through the student being allowed to play a more active role in his/her own educational methods and objectives we may be able to impact student academic self-efficacy; in the direct form of positive changes in their future academic goal directed behavior. In addition, the process becomes more meaningful to the learner; thus, allowing for a personal investment in classroom procedures. This empowerment could then lead to positive and successful accomplishments in the adolescent's post-secondary experiences, lending credibility to the theoretical premise that student-centered facilitation within the classroom leads to a smoother and more significant transition for a high school student entering college life, by positively impacting his/her sense of accountability and responsibility as well as by directly enhancing personal readiness skills to learn. Hence, the participants come away with a stronger sense of academic self-efficacy by improved academic relationships, academic activities and academic reasoning skills.
High school students come to the table with varying degrees of academic readiness, as well as an education that is almost exclusively from traditional teacher centered methodology. The research in the field of adult education is clear that students exposed to learner centered instruction are both intrapersonally and interpersonally more academically successful (Merriam & Caffarella, 1991). Thus, the immediate problem is that the applied literature for learner centered instruction in high school, as opposed to college instruction, is at best sparse. If we are to build a learning and instructional bridge of both theory and practice between high school and higher education, it seems logical to extensively explore and apply learner centered techniques from the field of adult education that will improve the student's sense of accountability, responsibility, academic readiness factors, hence academic self-efficacy. Given the cognitive capacity of the average high school senior and the beginning college freshman as essentially equal, the appropriate approach seems likely to be the use a learner centered design to promote practice targeting the enhancement of academic reasoning skills, as well as academic experiences/activities and academic relationships, of the high school student. This is true because given the mandates imposed on public education by current federal, state, and local governmental models, it is clear that the best action research plan will holistically need to address academic reasoning skills acquisition due to standardized testing requirements, academic relationships due to increasing expectations for student social adjustment in late adolescence, and academic experiences/activities due to lingering questions of instructional liability and validity measures, surrounding new models of instruction. Consequently, academic self-efficacy or future goal oriented academic plans seems the most logical way to assess if students participating in learner centered instruction are crossing the bridge more frequently and with greater motivation from high school to post-secondary education life.
The purpose of this study is to explore the application of learner centered instructional techniques, as devised directly through learner participation feedback, from my last seven years of high school instruction primarily in United States History and Economics classes. The research is clear that the nature of the academic learning activities/experiences, academic relationships and academic reasoning skills are critical points of interest within learner centered designs. Since our field places, justifiably so, an emphasis on action oriented outcomes I have chosen academic self-efficacy (future positive academic goal directed behavior) as my dependent variable. Thus in summary, pre and post measures of student academic activities/experiences, academic relationships and academic reasoning skills shall be assessed for their direct impact upon the learner's positive changes in his/her academic self-efficacy (See Appendix A for research questions).
Introduction and Research Hypotheses
In an attempt to give the students that participate in this action research project more autonomy in their personal learning process, student centered education will hopefully lead to a self-taught and constructive feeling of academic accomplishment within each of these participants. Therefore, the role of the educator should mainly be to serve as a facilitator, in that he/she will guide the students along the path of this intellectual developmental process. In order to accurately evaluate and analyze this transition, I have created both pre and post surveys for participants to complete using a likert scale to rate various classroom activities as to their helpfulness in learning requirement material (See Appendices B & C). I have also put together an in depth questionnaire that will encourage the students to reflect on their personal learning processes (See Appendix A). Thus, allowing each individual participant to effectively identify which strategies or methods most benefit their individual abilities to retain knowledge. Knowles' (1980) Theory of Androgogy promotes a student centered learning environment. And logically by promoting participant learning experiences that will also involve personal advances in their classroom relationships, as well as improved reasoning, we should see cognitive growth more rapidly through developmental phases; and this will then allow them to foster personal growth in their academic self-efficacy. Moreover, with this perfected ability to process and obtain knowledge, and then conduct future planning for higher academic goals, one should feel less threatened by post-secondary education opportunities that might have seemed impossible or less attainable beforehand.
Process of Data Collection
As this action research project progressed, a model emerged in the form of a deductive qualitative questionnaire based on student self reports of specific academic processes within the constantly evolving learner centered approach of education that should identify and promote a student's academic self-efficacy for college life and beyond (See Appendix A). This data instrument will allow learners to evaluate and thoroughly reflect on their learner-centered experiences, relationships and reasoning processes that should in turn help them implement this approach, in future academic tasks. The questionnaire focuses on three main academic elements as applied through the learner centered model. These are (1) academic experiences/activities,
(2) academic relationships, (3) and academic reasoning, as they are directly assessed for positive changes to the participant's academic self-efficacy, which is used as the dependent variable throughout the questionnaire. This structure of analysis was created after extensive study into Jack Mezirow's perspective transformation paradigm of learning (1996) and Robert McCall's (2000) application of this paradigm in his unpublished doctoral dissertation on post-secondary transformative learning theory.
The first question which addresses academic experiences/activities will help the learner recognize activities that, when manipulated, will positively contribute to future academic opportunities by promoting use of activities that best match their learning styles. In other words, they will personally reflect on their participation in learner-centered methods and find ways to generalize these skills to future academic endeavors (Lave & Wenger, 1998). Consequently, as they master reflective skills in academic life, the result will be an intrapersonal feeling of accomplishment and self-worth that should outwardly reflect as an enhanced sense of personal accomplishment and ability. Finally, if these instructional methods are successful governmental benchmarks, may be more easily realized.
The second topic of academic relationships will assist and support the learner in recognizing positive peer and mentor bonds as they emerge from learner-centered instruction and how these relationships aided the participants in the learning process. This application would, of course, depend on each participant's original level of social academic readiness factors (Knowles, 1980). Thus in a learner-centered educational environment, the student could steer himself/herself towards group opportunities that more directly correlate with his/her academic and personal strengths (Lave & Wenger, 1998). Moreover, this could decrease unneeded stressful situations where a person doubts one's abilities, leading to a more positive self-image as well as understanding of oneself as a social creature (Wenger, 1998). Lastly, respect for other's ways of learning could translate into leadership skills for future career paths.
From my experiences as a high school educator of seven years, I have noticed one of the major weaknesses for secondary age students is their inability to learn at all levels of Bloom's (1987) Taxonomy. More often than not, they find defining and comprehension relatively easy and struggle more with areas such as analysis and synthesis (SSEC, 1996). The third and final question of the data instrument used in this study is designed to help the learner recognize the personal development of higher order academic reasoning processes allowing him/her to interpret the direct effect of this skill acquisition on their academic self-efficacy. This inquiry encourages students to communicate improvements in their analytical reasoning skills, while simultaneously preparing them to apply these new proficiencies in both academic and real world environments that consequently promote a stronger sense of self (King & Kitchener, 1994).
Use of Pre and Post Surveys
The use of both pre and post surveys will be implemented in the action research project as well (See Appendices B & C). The general intent is to promote regular bi-directional feedback for greater student awareness of the learner centered design approach to education. This is essentially a communication method I have found highly effective in developing my current model. Within that context there are three primary purposes in using these surveys. First, it will aid me, the instructor, in validating existing and hopefully in creating a reliable new variety of learning experiences that should positively influence the students' academic self-efficacy. Second, it will allow the students to have a voice in promoting and creating effective learning strategies, and enhance a sense of autonomy, which should encourage development of analytical and abstract skills that can prove advantageous in later academic life and beyond. Third and last, by administering pre and post surveys, with regular feedback and oral reflection, this should allow the learners to witness how their peers preferences and intellectual abilities have changed and/or improved in the classroom (King & Kitchener, 1994). Therefore, the surveys should contribute to a participant's positive self-image as well as increased intellectual confidence that this project targets, in a guided fashion, by enhancing their cognitive awareness of the holistic learning process.
In order for the students to feel their individual needs are being met in the classroom, it is imperative for the educator to implement a learner centered model of instruction that directly incorporates reflective practice (Schon, 1987) and (Brookfield, 1995). As a high school teacher, my pupils have relayed to me their desire for more independence; however, they are not always willing to accept the responsibility that correlates with this freedom. A learner centered classroom environment allows adolescents the opportunity to have a voice in the process by which they obtain knowledge, while simultaneously requiring personal responsibility. Thus, if the students disagree with the learning processes within the classroom, they must first have a proposal before verbalizing the problem. Moreover, the participants understand that they equally share in the development of learning techniques with the facilitator, yet the assessment of such knowledge must remain in the teacher's direct control in public high school settings given governmental mandates for performance measures. I believe this will be a successful partnership only if the students know and believe their educator is motivated in doing what is in the students' best interest, and this is another essential reason for the feedback process.
Learners, especially those in high school, tend to grasp and understand the full weight standardized tests carry in their eventual success and graduation from secondary education. Therefore, most feel comfortable with instructors controlling the measurement and assessment of knowledge. When the educator is open and honest as to governmental performance requirements for academic promotion, learners can then acquire a thorough comprehension and appreciation for learner centered practice which does allow them some meaningful level of participation in the formal assessment process. Yet, as previously noted more traditional and rote methods must remain intricate instructional techniques. Consequently, this reinforces the strong need for multi-methodologies in the learning process. Furthermore, through this partnership and sharing of knowledge and instruction the student will come to trust the expertise of their instructor when it comes to preparing them for academic challenges, such as the Georgia High School Graduation Test and the End of Course Test. However, the process of academic success in a student centered environment hinges on the student's willingness to take on his/her responsibilities of hard work and open communication. For, if students feel a sense of ownership and then accomplishment in the education process, it only makes sense that the assessment would be successful as well.
This study directly posits that the learner centered classroom experiences and the newly formed academic relationships, combined with major positive changes in one's academic reasoning will directly impact in a helpful way one's academic self-efficacy. Consequently, once the learner has grasped his/her strengths in the classroom, this enrichment should then lead to a personal evolution opening doors both socially and academically that may have otherwise remained closed; by directly leading to a more motivated student in the future college classroom that embraces a broad array of learning techniques as essential to successful future academic life, as opposed to use of strictly traditional methods with limited long term benefits to the learner.
As I embark on this action research project of promoting student academic self-efficacy in the classroom and beyond, I am filled with a sense of hope, wonder, and excitement. I strongly believe students should have a more active role in how they learn, and hold firm that this research will prove beneficial to open-minded teachers who desire to positively impact their students' future academic lives. The outcome of this project may change learners' ways of thinking and open doors to them that might have never been possible without their complete participation. It may not but if we, as educators, are not willing to try proven methods from the field of adult education, we are imposing on our students, parents, and community, a disservice by continuing to maintain the status quo. A large part of the educational process centers on the role of the instructor. He/she should be constantly learning new teaching styles or techniques that could benefit a learner's ability to master educational skills important to mastering academic life (Brookfield, 1995 and Schon, 1987). If I had one wish for the outcome of this research project, I would like to help as many learners as possible reach their full potential and then hopefully be able to demonstrate that wonderful accomplishment to my co-workers who might choose to implement these methods or similar procedures according to the contexts of their classes.
The latest phase of this action research project took place over a five month time period and included one hundred twenty nine eleventh graders for the 2008 - 2009 school year. The class activities manipulated in this study ranged from rote study skills such as compiling specific and organized notes to more non-traditional learning styles such as student rap videos, thinking maps and various other self-teaching techniques. There were four assessment tools critical to this study. The first was the academic self-efficacy questionnaire (see Appendix A) that is the heart of the project. It assesses directly through student written self-reports, the three independent variables of academic expectations/activities, academic relationships and academic reasoning against the only dependent variable of this project, academic self-efficacy. The second, a pre-survey instrument (see Appendix B), was the essential developmental tool over the last seven years of my instructional life in formulating my learner centered design through annual student feedback on instructional experiences, designed to essentially enhance reliability and validity of this project. The third tool, a post-survey (see Appendix C), was used to show shifts in the learner centered instructional design as a result of student feedback on this project phase. In essence, the two surveys are the same menu of activities and simply demonstrate the slight evolution that each year's pre and post measures have revealed over the last seven year. It has not been sweeping changes but rather incremental changes from student feedback and instructional trial and error over my career that has allowed me to create the current learner centered design implemented in the last phase. Previously however, I have used oral student feedback, whereas this year I began with adding written responses.
In the end, I received ninety-two completed post-surveys, and for the most part, the results were encouraging. Over sixty five percent of students demonstrated a favorable attitude towards non-traditional class activities. Of the other thirty-five percent, the basic pervasive theme of resistance was a varying sense of hopelessness and helplessness.
Ranked as the learners' top preferences in learning were student rap music videos, podcasts, creating and playing board games, power point presentations, acrostics and class discussions. Categorized as the students' least favorite learning activities were foldables, thinking maps, chronologies, worksheets that correlate with the textbook American Nation, notes in outline format and benchmark tests. When I inquired as to why they preferred the more non-traditional style of learning as opposed to the more commonly accepted forms of instruction, the answers were varied but with a common pervasive theme throughout. The ideology held by the learners was that traditional and somewhat rote learning styles played down to their intelligence, as one student articulated, "I am capable of more, but why should I try if my own teachers who are trained for years in college on how to teach don't even have faith in my abilities?" (8)
Thus, I have found in order for education to be successful at the secondary level, it must have a healthy fusion of communication between the instructor and student as well as implementation of the methods derived from those discussions in the classroom. As for academic relationships, one student put it quite clearly that ". . . two brains are better than one" (63). Moreover, academic reasoning was thought of more as a lengthy transition, rather than a specific point and time for a single skill acquisition. Both of these were the pervasive themes in the survey findings for informing the less relevant elements of academic relationships and academic reasoning as the post surveys' primary purpose was to focus on academic experiences. Therefore, this survey places the greatest weight on the academic learning activities of the students, while still maintaining a healthy relationship with academic relationships and academic reasoning, as a preferred learner centered design model for the students.
During the post-survey oral feedback sessions and my personal observations, three important instructional methods resulted from this phase of the learner centered design for future application. The first was during student compilation of rap music historical videos. This class was the first group to use actual quotes from famous historical figures to deliver their content assignments. The second was clear student impact in the creation of the grading rubrics. And, the third was the students establishing the preeminence of academic experiences/activities over academic relationships and academic reasoning as the main catalyst for forming healthier and more ambitious academic self-efficacy. Likewise, feeling they play a more active role in the grading was equally edifying to their self-efficacy together with adding to the creative environment with their special versions of rap history videos. In fact, one particular group won the regional media festival.
In analyzing the self-efficacy questionnaire (see Appendix A), there was no doubt the application of learner centered instruction both promoted and accomplished student self-confidence. Over ninety percent of the ninety two completed questionnaires demonstrated evidence of increased academic self-confidence as evidenced by positive student responses to two out of three questionnaire elements. These students verbalized that at first they were skeptical about more responsibility in their academic performance. As previously postulated, they did not believe in their abilities to be successful without the teacher playing the primary role in the classroom at all times. However, once we implemented the transition from teacher centered to student centered, they realized their true potential and flourished in this new learning environment. Some embraced this learning model because they were able to be more efficient with their time and capable of accomplishing more academic success with what they perceived as less effort. In fact, my journal notes show consistent and unsolicited comments made by the participants in reference to how ". . . easy and simple . . ." these activities were in comparison to ". . . the old way of doing things" (Journal). Others, on the other hand, embraced student centered learning primarily due to their ability to learn independently, whereas before they constantly depended on a facilitator to guide them through the learning process. This is evident as one student stated in her questionnaire, "I learn the old way, and I'm not going to mess with what I know works" (49). In the end, the students reveled in their newfound abilities as more competent academic intellectuals able to use their new skills in other classrooms, such as mathematics, foreign languages, science, english and technology learning environments. In fact, one student compared her personal success and academic independence with learner centered instruction as a step into adulthood, stating "I have the ability to learn and demonstrate my mastery of academic skills independently. And isn't that the first step into adulthood?" (42) As we may see, the vast majority of the thirty-five percent post survey group who experienced cognitive dissonance in the direct form of hopelessness and helplessness found relief through improved academic activities and to a lesser extent academic reasoning skill acquisition. But the full thirty-five percent sample of dissenters found the socialization process, or academic relationships, painful and fully one in ten participants still maintained, post-project, a strong sense of hopelessness and helplessness.
Academic Experiences and Activities
The first set of questions in the questionnaire focused on academic experiences. By use of various classroom activities through a learner centered design, this allows the educator to cater to all learning styles of each student (Merriam, 1993). For example, some students are social learners and appreciate round table class discussions, for it complements their verbal learning style. On the other hand, students who are more introverted tend to appreciate independent learner centered design activities such as foldables, thinking maps or independent performance tasks. Over eighty percent of the students who took part in this study stated they benefitted from the various experiences implemented in the classroom, and truly appreciated the choice allowed to the learner in what activities they participated in. Thus, of the ninety percent overall favorability eighty percent found greatest efficacy in the learning experiences.
Moreover, they also were made fully aware of the unavoidable standardized tests they are all responsible for passing in order to graduate high school, and those assessments do not take into consideration that some students struggle with traditional learning styles such as a paper and pencil exam. What I have found is learner centered design positively contributes to success on traditional and standardized assessment methods. This is evident through the positive results of our cumulative nine weeks benchmark End of Course Test classes. The third nine weeks benchmark test was administered at the end of this study and resulted in an eighty two percent pass rate, compared to sixty-two percent last year.
To be more specific, eighty seven percent of the learners praised the variety of learning techniques for two primary reasons. One, they believed various approaches to the same topic made the information easier to comprehend and retained this information for a longer period of time. Second, with the many choices available to them in how they learned, this increased their feelings of independence in the learning environment. These choices also allowed those learners who struggle in one area to excel in others, and one student elaborated this point by saying "The variety of experiences made me feel that I was just as smart as the other kids, and that I could do anything I put my mind to." (15) All in all, the study participants thoroughly enjoyed the learner centered design with a variety of activities over a specific topic, in a layered approach, and it simplified the information in ways that motivated them to be academically successful.
The second set of questions in the questionnaire focused on academic relationships. As previously mentioned only sixty five percent enjoyed and appreciated the student collaboration that was both allowed and encouraged in the learner centered design classroom. Many felt this environment contributed to a positive academic relationship with other classmates, which aided their learning of important information and improved their self-confidence for building relationships. Furthermore, the implementation of a learner centered design in this study encouraged openness and acceptance of various points of view and allowed the learners to flex their patience and open-mindedness by listening to other's ideas and respecting their opinions as valid. In return, they were given the same treatment by their classmates. Consequently, the learning environment became one of academic equality and trust that furthered intellectual growth and independence, without scrutiny or negativity, as well as understanding and acceptance of the one third who found no merit in this domain. Thus, tolerance was learned. This is evident as one student elaborated, "I learned a lot from working with our German foreign exchange student during group activities. She showed me there are different ways to think about politics and religion, and just because we think different[ly], doesn't mean one person is better than the other" (84).
Academic peer relationships also spawned a sense of accountability for each participant. Many students expressed their need to work hard on their part of a group project with the hopes of not letting down others in the group. However, as mentioned fully one third of students did not enjoy or benefit from group or whole class activities. The primary reason being they do not have strong communication skills, which they willingly admitted stems from the lack of communication, trust and openness in their own family, which unfortunately was evident by one student proclaiming ". . . so it doesn't matter what I do, no one in my family has ever graduated high school, so I know I'll be lucky to just make it that far. I'm not going to fool myself into thinking anything else" (47).
In addition to peer relationships, the student answers to the questionnaire in the academic relationships section often demonstrated an increased positive relationship with both family and teacher as well. Another participant elaborated the family aspect of this point by saying "Well, my mom and I get online and play computer games on Miss McCall's website, competing on our knowledge of U.S. History. It's actually fun, and my mom and I have to struggle to get along lately . . ." (70). Many students addressed their desire to perform well in school in order to receive praise at home for all their hard work. Thus, with student centered instruction, they had more opportunities to push themselves to be academically successful. This use of accountability in order to receive praise can also prove a valuable tool in teaching a child how to become an adult, for adults have more independence. What my students have conveyed is that with adult independence come adult responsibilities and much more accountability for oneself, as well as to one's peers, family and mentors. In large part, this study has given them skills to more smoothly take the next step into adulthood, whether post secondary education or the job market.
In implementing this study, the first step was teaching students to correctly evaluate their learning styles. Therefore, we began by over viewing Bloom's Taxonomy (Schon, 1987). Once students were able to successfully learn by way of higher order thinking, such as analysis and synthesis, they felt more confident in their performance in the classroom. This accomplishment allowed for learner centered design to be implemented more smoothly. However, not all students were able to conceptualize higher order thinking skills, and for them I modified the study to their ability level. Nonetheless, allowing each student to have a choice in various learning styles gave them a sense of power and autonomy many had never experienced before in an academic arena. This is clearly evident by the following participant remark, "I like that I have the power in how I learn, but I understand that Miss McCall still has the power in how I am test[ed] to show how much I have learned" (5), it's equality and democracy in action.
This study furthered the students' sense of accomplishment and consequently academic self-efficacy. The cognitive strength this study has brought to the learners is clearly evident. One student stated, "When I take a test, I don't have to cram for it because the way I learned it makes it stick and all I have to do is review the information beforehand." (3) This approach has also taught students to think, as one of my students put it "out of the box", (41) and it has definitely promoted self confidence. Another student declared, "Miss McCall has given me [the] tools to be smart, and I never thought that was possible. I get it now, and if you feel good about yourself and your intelligence, you feel better about your self awareness. Whoever said learning can't be fun has never been in Miss McCall's U.S. History Class." (24) Furthermore, in reading this quote I was reminded of the importance of an educator that cares about his/her students and is willing to change teaching styles to benefit the learner, not the teacher.
Throughout the planning and implementation of this action research project, the over-arching goal has been to promote academic self-efficacy in learners. With that ability and confidence, the learner will recognize the plethora of opportunities that await him/her after high school. This study allowed for this possibility. Each participant was given the opportunity to play a more active role in how they learned, which gave them more independence and they thoroughly understood that came with more accountability as well. This is constantly alluded to in my journal as students conveyed to me the fact they fully embraced more responsibilities as the trade-off to more academic independence, and went a step further in demonstrating their comprehension of this by stating ". . . getting to drive is both a privilege and a responsibility, and we all couldn't wait until we had this responsibility" (Journal). Nonetheless, the majority of the students successfully embraced this practice and academically flourished. This was proven to me when I evaluated my students' grades for the first semester and third nine weeks, where there was a ninety seven percent pass rate in my six United States history classes, compared to eighty-eight percent last year.
Almost all students that participated in the questionnaire addressed the flexibility of the classroom environment, and how they felt comfortable knowing many different learning styles would be manipulated to suit all students. In fact one student said, "This classroom style makes me feel very comfortable discussing something like prohibition and realizing it's okay to be wrong, because you can learn from being wrong just as easily as you can learn from being right." (27) In fact, a large majority of students stated they can think for themselves for the first time ever, and as one learner remarked, ". . . confidence doesn't even start to describe it. I feel like I am truly FREE." (39) Hence, personal empowerment can be attained through personal independence.
After thoroughly reviewing the qualitative research of this study, I have found the majority of students benefitted from the learner centered design as it applies to academic experiences/activities, academic relationships and academic reasoning. If the instructor is willing to hand over responsibilities to the learners and the learners are willing to take this duty seriously, success is possible. However, we must maintain a use of more traditional methods even rote memorization, which will serve as a base for the learning spectrum. I have found this can only be successfully built upon through respect and an open line of communication between the participants and the facilitator implementing the study, representing a reasonable sense of equality for all involved.
What is the next step of successfully implementing learner centered design through academic activities/experiences, relationships and reasoning skills? I believe it would be beneficial to manipulate this teaching style to younger students and rate its success. If learner centered instruction can be successfully executed in middle or even elementary levels at a progressive rate, it is possible independent academic achievement can be attained at earlier stages in the learning process. In effect, this could lead to stronger intellectuals able to use higher order thinking at earlier ages thus speeding along cognitive development, as well as social adjustment.
In response to the thirty-five percent of learners who experienced some sense of failure during this learner centered design study, it is important to note that the vast majority did perceive success in at least one of two academic element domains of experiences and reasoning skills. Yet ten percent of the sample are likely in dire need of school counseling due to their absolute sense of hopelessness and helplessness with no mitigation experienced. Thus, no matter what model of education (Traditional, Learner Centered Design, Etc.), none are likely to help without intervention within the school, as well as family and community.
On a more positive note, I was pleasantly amazed with what one of the participants demonstrated beyond true understanding of this study, and presented me with an outlook I had never considered. To preface, as we begin a new unit, in order to aid the students' ability to visualize the upcoming framework, I typically use the structure of an umbrella, labeling it with the title of the unit, such as World War II. Then, underneath I place all the important events, people, inventions, documents, etc. Then, in discussing the three elements of this study, one of the participants used the visual of the umbrella titling it as academic experiences/activities and proceeded by saying academic relationships and reasoning skills fall underneath the umbrella, which, when the class confirmed his position, gave me an entirely new outlook, as it pertains to application of learner centered design. Therefore, adapting the framework of my study to fit this new idea could very possibly be the next step in successful application of learner centered design as it promotes and encourages academic self-efficacy.
No educator should be under the misconception that he/she can adapt learner centered design with one sweeping effort. To be effective, it must be done over time with regular feedback from the participants. For, if the students do not believe in it and if the students do not believe in the efforts of past classes during the evolution of the model, then the model is useless. In effect, developing a learner centered design must be multi-layered and holistic.
In conclusion, I must honestly say this action research project was much more successful than I had expected, and I am very happy with the results. My primary desire, as it applies to the realm of academics, is that other educators can be exposed to the positive results of this study and will then choose to implement this learning strategy in their own classrooms, in manners fitting to their content domain.
- Alfassi, M. (2003). Promoting the Will and Skill of Students at Academic Risk: An Evaluation of an Instructional Design Geared to Foster Achievement, Self-Efficacy and Motivation. Journal of Instructional Psychology, 30(1), 28-40.
- Boyer, Paul. (2005). American Nation. Austin, Texas: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.
- Brookfield, S. D. (1995). Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher. San Francisco, Jossey-Bass
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