Academic diversity in Rhode Island middle schools: Teacher beliefs about instructional practice

Natalie Brunelle Dunning, Johnson & Wales University

Abstract

National and state data indicate that the majority of schools continue to struggle in reaching the goal of 100% academic proficiency for all students (Campbell, Hombo, & Mazzeo, 2000; Information Works! , 2005, 2006). Experts in the area of meeting the needs of diverse learners have offered opinions about how teacher belief systems influence curricular, instructional, and assessment practices. Teacher practices significantly impact student performance providing evidence that it is the failure to effectively differentiate instruction to meet the needs of diverse learners, preventing schools from meeting accountability targets (Marzano, 2003; Tomlinson, 2005; Tomlinson & Allan, 2002).^ The purpose of this research study was to identify the degree to which the literature base and Rhode Island regulations have influenced the belief structures of middle level educators and how those belief systems drive the instructional practices of teachers in Rhode Island middle schools. The study was guided by three research questions, including: (a) What do middle school practitioners in RI believe about the nature and needs of middle school learners, and what do those beliefs foreshadow for academically diverse students? (b) To what degree do middle school educators appear to understand, plan for, and engage students in developmentally appropriate practices likely to address the wide range of academic readiness, interests, and learning profiles inevitable in middle level populations? (c) Are there differences between teachers' beliefs and instructional practices with respect to teacher certification type?^ The mixed methods design consisted of a survey containing closed questions and one focus group discussion. The research was conducted using purposeful, stratified sampling procedures, to elicit responses from (N=107) teachers in (N=5) middle schools. Descriptive statistical analyses were used to determine the ways in which the current best practices for meeting the needs of diverse learners are reflected in the beliefs and instructional practices of middle level educators across Rhode Island. The results of the study suggest that teachers in Rhode Island middle schools continue to hold old school beliefs about the nature and needs of adolescent learners. While teachers are aware of academic diversity in the classroom, teacher belief systems are more responsive to student academic diversity than actual classroom practice. Teachers have relatively the same expectations for all students with regard to the type of work students are required to do. A narrow range of instructional strategies are used to support academically diverse students by modifying rather than macro-differentiating learning opportunities based on student need. Lastly, this study found that there are no significant differences between teachers' beliefs and instructional practices with respect to teacher certification type.^ The results of the study may be relevant to school, district, and state level leaders making curricular, instructional, and professional development decisions related to middle level education.^

Subject Area

Education, Curriculum and Instruction

Recommended Citation

Natalie Brunelle Dunning, "Academic diversity in Rhode Island middle schools: Teacher beliefs about instructional practice" (January 1, 2008). Dissertation & Theses Collection. Paper AAI3315755.
http://scholarsarchive.jwu.edu/dissertations/AAI3315755

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