Action Research

Socratic Seminars and Collaborative Learning in Regents Physics

Matthew Greene, Environmental Science and Physics Teacher, Rush-Henrietta Senior High School

Regents physics has been traditionally taught through the use of lecture-based instruction, which has been shown to be less than effective than more engagement-oriented teaching strategies. In this study I was interested to see if a more collaborative approach to learning would have an impact on my students’ understanding of physics.

I have been experimenting with a strategy called circle whiteboarding, a modified version of a Socratic seminar where students lead a discussion to come to a group consensus on a solution to a problem. In years past I have used whiteboarding infrequently in class, at the most once per unit due to the large amount of class time needed. In this study,  my classes participated in two to three seminars per unit for each of the four units in the first semester.

I saw a consistent growth in class test performance from unit to unit during the first semester. Student averages on the mid-term exam were higher this year than any of the past four years I have taught physics. Student perception of Socratic seminars also increased from the start of the school year to the end of the first semester.

Socratic seminars using circle whiteboarding as a tool improved my students understanding in physics, as test scores increased throughout the semester. Interestingly, my students began to enjoy and ask for the session with increased frequency. I was surprised to see students realize the value of the practice, and advocate for its use as a method of instruction. My classes now pick whiteboarding as the preferred method of review for tests and quizzes. For more information on Socratic seminars via circle whiteboarding, please visit my action research report Socratic Seminars and Collaborative Learning in Regents Physics.

Metacognition and Bloom’s Higher Order Questions in Biology 120

Edward Freeman, Associate Professor of Biology, St. John Fisher College

My action research project for the STEM Metacognition group involved the introduction of weekly quizzes into my freshman Introductory Biology course. Quiz questions focused on higher order questions from Bloom’s Taxonomy and were used to test the hypothesis that student performance on higher order exam questions would improve with increased exposure to these same question types through anonymous weekly quizzes.

Though the action research plan did not improve student performance on exams, there were other positive outcomes. Specifically, students appreciated the opportunity for additional practice and thought the idea of writing questions to further develop their own understanding of course content was a good use of class time. Additionally, following exam review and question type consideration students had a better grasp of why they performed poorly on exams. Note that poorly is a relative term and in this case it refers to their prior levels of performance in high school. College level coursework is an appropriate step up from the high school experience and for some this comes as quite a surprise. Therefore, students may have earned their first C, D or F on an exam and are interested in how they can improve their own performance. As they move forward in the Biology curriculum my hope is that their understanding of the different levels of knowledge facilitates their own efforts to master material at a level that will allow them to find success.

Along the way I learned that technology can be your friend, but only if you know what you want and how to properly use it. I struggled with the early quizzes because I was deploying them for the students through a course management system that encumbered the successful completion of the quizzes for a subset of students and or the interpretation of resultant data for me. I then switched to another provider and learned the hard way not to get too fancy. With that we were finally moving along smoothly, almost. It turns out that anonymity on the part of the students was a bigger factor than I had planned on. Anonymity can be a good thing because they can take chances with questions and not worry about others (me) knowing they answered incorrectly. However, anonymity can also be a bad thing if they decide to take advantage of it and not take the quizzes seriously. Buy- in on the project had not been an issue and the students seemed intrigued by the idea that I would involve them in the research process; apathy on their part was unexpected. Notably it was a small number of students that hid behind their anonymity and did not take quizzes seriously but it required me to strategize and determine better ways to deploy quizzes for the future. This project certainly taught me a number of unexpected things about how to manage this type of activity with students and it is these ‘lessons learned’ that will make this strategy more meaningful for my students in the future.

My task is now to take what I have learned and continue to do it, but more effectively, through reflection on the lessons I have learned. Further, I will be looking for strategies to bridge the gap between student exposure to and appreciation of Bloom’s Taxonomy and improving performance through use of that knowledge. Being in the metacognitive group has already facilitated my thinking on this through discussions at our affinity group meetings. Future action research (spring 14) will therefore be used to polish my efforts toward the original project and, importantly, to begin building that bridge.  For additional details, see my full report on Metacognition and Bloom’s Higher Order Questions in Biology 120.

Hands-On and Minds-On Art

Susan Rudy, Art Teacher, Rochester City School District

My action research project focused on how metacognition in the interpretation and creation of art builds critical thinking skills and the ability to apply those skills. I also looked at how students see the process as valuable and applicable beyond the art room.

I am very interested in the effects art has on learning and on the extent to which participating in the arts reaches beyond the art studio. I have been teaching high school Visual Arts for 14 years and it has become apparent to me that the art room activities my students are engaged in directly relate to so many other aspects of their life and learning. Through this study, I wanted to engage my students and inspire them to think about how they think about art and, thus, how this affects their art making and the value they gain from it.

My approach to this study began with a student-centered and student-facilitated ‘fishbowl’ art critique activity. My students were involved in all aspects of the lesson and participated in group planning and cooperative teamwork activities, as well as individual art making. They critiqued, observed and thought about how they think about art and art making. They were involved in creating rubrics, routines and potential outcomes. After the group activity the students had the opportunity apply critical thinking skills and complete a drawing that helped to them further interpret and assign personal meaning to the art piece that they critiqued. The information identified through the critique was used to create a rubric that directly applied to the interpretative drawing the students completed.

Through the use of videotaping, journals, art projects and surveys, this study reveals changes in how students think about and approach art and the art making process. My findings showed that the students used metacognitive thinking strategies to apply critical thinking and problem solving skills. In support of higher level learning, this activity helped the students make connections between disciplines, topics and problem solving. They were able to generate ideas and find personal meaning related to a theme. The data I gathered from the surveys and daily journals revealed that, overall, the students reacted positively to the experience and expressed that they felt the experience was valuable and applicable to areas outside of the art room.  For examples of student art and my full report please see Hands-On and Minds-On Art.

Integrated Reading and Writing in English 101

Dr. Elizabeth Johnston, English 101 Course Coordinator

As English 101 course coordinator at MCC, it has come to my attention in the last few years that students’ writing abilities seem to be decreasing. Working closely with our developmental studies department, I’ve also come firmly to believe that low writing ability is linked to low reading ability. A few semesters ago, I radically revised my English 101 course to a source-based approach; experiencing much success with it, I then led the charge to revise our curriculum to this approach. When I joined the CCTE, I was interested in how working with high school English teachers to create more of a sense of sequencing in our assignments might also impact the success and retention of students in college composition. I was also interested in studying how teaching integrated reading and writing, particularly through source-based writing approaches, impacts students.

I began the semester by assigning to students chapters from Writing from Sources, 8th ed. These chapters introduced students to critical reading, reviewing how to annotate, take notes, identify main claims and subclaims, and write a summary. We also discussed why writing a summary is essential to any academic or career field. We spent about two weeks in class practicing through group discussion analysis of sample essays. I next assigned to them Nicholas Carr’s article, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” with an assignment to write a summary of it. I provided them with the assignment, the rubric I would use to grade the assignment (which used language they would now be familiar with because of two weeks of practice), a worksheet to help them revise their first draft, a set of transitions they could use to create flow between sentences, and a checklist to use with their rubric. I asked students to submit the summary and self-evaluation with their assignment.

The successes of this approach to teaching summary as a base for all other source-based writing assignments seem to be the following:
• Students are reading more critically with practice, as is clear from the fact that the majority continued to meet or exceed expectations even as the assignments grew more demanding.
• Students are retaining what they’re learning, possibly through repetitive practice of these skills. The scaffolding of these assignments appears useful.
• Students’ revision skills improve over the course of the semester. This seems to be in response to one or more of the following factors: they are motivated to revise because their revisions are graded; they are motivated to revise because they can see improvement in concrete categories of skill; they are learning to revise by reading my comments to them about their strengths and weaknesses in respect to revision.
• Students ranked improved revision skills as one of the most important skills learned in this course.
• Students ranked learning how to critically read as one of the most important skills learned in his course.
• Students are able to identify concrete connections between the skills learned in this course and their academic and/or career pathways.
• In their final self-evaluations, students seem to better understand writing as a process; students are using the language of critical reading, referencing and employing terminology from the rubric to describe their own writing.

My action research report, Common Assignments and Evaluation Tools in College Composition and 11th Grade English, provides additional information.

Planning Action Research & Writing Inquiry Briefs

Planning action research was the focal point of Fellows session 5, where Fellows spent most of the time discussing their action research ideas and getting input from visiting resource experts.  Kirstin Pryor from the Center for Governmental Research (CGR) and Dr. Karen Sangmeister from the Rochester City School District (RCSD) attended the Wednesday and Saturday Fellows sessions respectively, and shared their action research expertise.  Developing, massaging, and refining ideas for action research was exciting for some, and a bit frustrating for others.  Many folks started with broad, general, and/or multi-faceted ideas, and through the process of discussion, began to consider ways to narrow their focus and construct an inquiry brief.

Inquiry briefs are intended to provide an overview of the action research plan.  For CCTE,  inquiry briefs  include:

Inquiry question & sub-questions

Overview of the intended instructional change, reflections on classroom practice, and  brief discussion of related research on the topic

Methodology for data collection and analysis

Work plan with tasks, time frame, and for collaborative projects, roles & responsibilities

Fellows developed draft briefs which were reviewed by the CCTE staff, and returned with comments for further consideration.  A small group of Fellows met at a voluntary drop-in session in June to discuss briefs and further develop ideas for their action research.  Moving into summer, CCTE is available to assist with planning in preparation for fall 2012 action research projects.

Creating Connections & Action Research Ideas

The rhythm of the Fellows Program started with some intensity–three meetings in March with classroom visits between the 2nd and 3rd meetings!  Our 4th and 5th meetings occurred in April and May respectively.  By meeting frequently at the beginning and visiting each other’s classrooms early on,  Fellows were able to make connections with one another quickly, and to begin discovering the range of expertise and interests among their colleagues in each group.

In addition to connections between group members, Fellows were journaling regularly about specific topical articles and web resources related to core concepts and instructional strategies.  Discussions at each Fellows meeting were based in part on their questions and reflections on the readings provided.  At each session, we worked to draw out the connections between classroom experience, research-based pedagogies, and diverse views of group members.  By our 5th session (in May), Fellows were working on preliminary ideas for their action research (to be implemented in fall 2012).