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Phase 2: Findings and Next Steps

By: Maria Llamas, Spring/Summer 2016


Action Research Question:
How does providing my 4th and 5th grade students with academic choice in mathematics
instruction, affect their learning?

Academic Achievement
Sub-question 1: How can academic choice, peer/teacher feedback, and student recognition in the
classroom affect academic progress in mathematics?
Phase #1: Overall students seem to be more successful academically when they are given
choices in instruction.
Phase #2: The findings for Phase #2 confirm Phase #1 findings in that overall students
academic growth is evident when they are provided with choices in instruction.
New Phase #2 Finding: Students academic progress may also vary depending on the medium
of assessment that they are allowed to express their learning in.
Students were able to exhibit their academic growth through their Phase #2 Post Test
scores, Math Whizzes, and Student-Teacher Conferences. Growth was evidenced in all these
areas as described in detail in the Phase #2 summary of results, however, meeting and/or
exceeding of grade level criteria by the majority of my students was only evident in Math
Whizzes and Student-Teacher Conferences.
Thus, as a teacher-researcher there are various questions that arise. In particular, what
was it about the Pre and Post-Tests that the students had difficulty with and/or that inhibited
them from expressing the content knowledge they seem to know, as evidenced by the other data
collection tools, such as conferences and Math Whizzes? In addition, it leads to pondering if in
fact students below grade level performance has been not solely due to students lack of choice
in the classroom, but also perhaps their lack of familiarity with test formats, testing strategies,
etc. In my original needs assessment, I had asked students to describe their opinions on their
performance, progress in math and the resulting 29 students out of 33 claiming, as evidenced by
Graph #7 Opinions on Mathematics Progress, that they perceived themselves doing alright
and/or very well in math, originally led me to consider that perhaps... [my] students may have
not been fully aware of what the grade level criteria for Mathematics [is]. However, now that I
have seen students growth through other formats besides formal tests, such as conferences,
journal writing, etc., it makes me wonder if perhaps students require support in test-taking, for
even further tangible, numerical academic achievement increase.

It is due to these questions and newly gained wonderings that although I saw much
growth academically, I am guided to some next steps.
If time allowed, the next steps of implementation for academic achievement support,
would center on reinforcing and reviewing testing strategies. Evidence from Phase #2 that further
support the need for this, includes the fact many of students errors in testing often were more
computational than conceptual, and also due to the fact 26 out of 27 students were able to
successfully explain and label content learned in conferences while this was not the ratio of
student growth in Post-Test results. Implementation would center on preparation for test
format(s), specifically multiple choice and short answer as pre and post testing has included this.
Implementation will also include having students create a center for peer feedback on pre and
post-tests, since 20 out of 27 students indicated they like peer feedback during conferences and 5
additional students said it was alright. All other implementations would remain the same, such as
Math Whizzes, Recognition, Peer/Teacher Feedback, etc. I would also be adding beyond test
taking strategy support, something I would call, Greater Teacher Targeted Support. Overall I
will still continue Math Lab however, I will be targeting extra or additional support to the groups
of students I have noticed have stayed the same or decreased in their performance academically
based on the already provided phase 1 pre to post test scores. Thus, my phase #2 action research
question: Sub-question 1: How can academic choice, peer/teacher feedback, and student
recognition in the classroom affect academic progress in mathematics?, will remain the same.
The significance of this finding is the fact that in our classrooms, allowing students to
have choice, teaching to be interest based, and their voices to be heard can support them in their
academic learning. However, at the same time as data and this finding also suggest, it is
important to also support students in attaining tools necessary to exhibit this learning in test

formats we present them with in our classroom. As research by Hamzeh Dodeen in 2015
indicated, students need test taking strategies independently of the knowledge of the test
content that they may possess (Dodeen, 2015, p.108). This research further elaborates on the
fact that some students do poorly on tests because of the lack of these strategies (Dodeen, 2015,
p.109). Luckily, in my action research, choice, interest based activities, and the variety of
mediums for knowledge communication (data collection tools beyond pre and post-tests, such as
conferences, etc.) that my students had access to, allowed me to realize their academic growth,
but perhaps the lack of sufficient testing strategies could be indicative of post test score results
not being as high as other data tools indicated.

Autonomy
Sub-question 2: How can academic choice and class share time affect students autonomy?
Phase #1:
1) Overall my students seem to enjoy the ability to decide their tasks as well as create their
own activities or projects in the centers.
2) Overall my students enjoy choosing their working groups (individual, small-group, etc.),
and in doing so are better able to monitor their behavior, collaborate, problem solve, etc.
3) Overall when students are given greater freedom in the classroom they are more likely to
take on autonomous roles.
Phase #2: Results of Phase #2 strongly further support and confirm finding number 1 and
number 3 of Phase #1 as overall students exhibited enjoyment of deciding their tasks and
creating their centers and when given greater freedom and control over their learning they were
more likely to take on autonomous roles. In regards to Phase #1s second finding, Phase #2
extended this to highlight that not only was students autonomy encouraging improved behavior,
collaboration and problem solving, but it also encouraged a growth mindset in the classroom.
In regards to exhibiting enjoyment when given the opportunity to create or decide on
their tasks, this was evident in students reflection responses and journal entries where they
indicated that not only did they enjoy Math Lab and Math Lab Creations, but in fact the highest
number of students voted that what they most liked about these Math Labs were the fact they had
choice in what center to work on.
Moreover, in regards to the fact that increased freedom and control over their learning
leads to students being more likely to take on autonomous roles, this was evident through various
data collection tools, including the I Can...Checklist, where on days where the students had
Math Lab and Math Lab Creations, the majority of the students had the most number of
checkmarks or close to on these days, in comparison to other days without Math Labs. Students
had the greatest freedom and choice during these days, but nevertheless, it was during these days,
that students also showed most acts of autonomy and control over their learning.
The third finding in this area was the fact that increased autonomy led to increased
student collaboration, problem solving, as well as growth mindset in the classroom. This was
evidenced in Phase#2 through students journal entries, reflection responses (feedback form),
and Student-Teacher Conferences. Students repeatedly included and reflected on the fact they
had some problem with their peers and would discuss how they would solve the issue through
new approaches, etc. All these problems they described were never addressed by me as their
teacher; they were all resolved through them directly. Beyond this, the majority of students

indicated that they found peer feedback valuable and useful for their learning, as it allowed them
to consider different points of view. These aspects suggest students willingness to collaborate
and learn from one another in the midst of their attained freedom and expression of autonomy.
Moreover, students autonomy also seems to reinforce a use and acceptance of a growth mindset,
as students included in their journals, phrases such as, I can struggle through it, when referring
to the challenges ahead, in addition to including their desire to creating challenges for
themselves, creating a problem ...maybe a little advanced...not more easy and work on more
harder things. These results have led me to consider some next steps.
If the current implementations are already indicating some impact positively in my
students even beyond what I expected (growth mindset, etc.), then I had more implementation
time, my Phase #3 would be furthering the already in place implementations. Students looking
ahead would be focusing on Math Lab Creations and creating their own activities for Math Labs
much as it occurred during Phase #2. It would be ideal to continue implementation for a longer
time interval also, in order to see if these current results from Phase #2 are still prevalent when
evaluating and collecting additional data. Thus, my Phase #2 Sub-question 2: How can academic
choice and class share time affect students autonomy?, will remain the same, as I will still be
focusing on the effects choice can have in students sense of control and responsibility over their
learning.
The significance of the finding in regards to autonomy are that allowing students freedom
and autonomy in the classroom can actually not only create independent learners, but also
learners willing to better and support those around them as well. However, in addition to this, the
already attained collaboration, according to research from Murphey and Jacobs from 2000, can
actually serve to preserve and further nourish autonomy itself, almost as if collaboration and
autonomy had a symbiotic relationship. They mentioned, autonomy combines well with
collaborative, because collaboration offers a powerful means of promoting and enacting
autonomy among [students] (Murphey, Jacobs, 2000, p. 10). Thus, looking ahead, the
implementations would be the same, (I Can Checklist, choices of centers, Math Lab Creations,
etc.), in order to allow students already in place collaboration to further their autonomy in the
classroom.

Motivation
Sub-question 3: How does student choice affect students motivation and perceptions of
success in mathematics?
Phase #1: Overall students have shown increased positive perceptions of themselves and their
learning in content areas as a response to choice, interest-based, and novelty incorporating
activities during Math Lab.
Phase #2: The findings of Phase #2 strongly confirm Phase #1 findings in that overall students
have shown increased positive perceptions of themselves as learners as a response to choice,
interest-based, and novelty incorporating activities (Math Lab and Math Lab Creations). In
extension to this finding, the increased motivation seemed to give way to increased student
confidence as well.
Throughout Phase #2 students indicated increased positive perceptions through data
collections tools of Perception Wheel, reflection/feedback form responses, journal entries, and
Student-Teacher Conferences. In particular, negative perceptions in Phase #1 prior to
implementations were at about 32% of the students, while Phase #2 initiated at 21%, suggesting
an 11% decline in negative perceptions as a result of Phase #1, a 4 week implementation time
span. By the end of Phase #2, negative perceptions of math content and students themselves as
learners were at 4% (96% selected positive perceptions of themselves), suggesting a 17% decline
in negative perceptions in Phase #2 alone, a 2 week only implementation time span. Further, in
addition, students commented on their desire to further learning and Math Labs
implementations. Student motivations and positive perceptions in essence seemed to give way
for even more positivity and increased student confidence as evidenced by students increased
desire to be involved in Math Labs and math related activities/content. For example, Student A
initiated her progress with the perception that math was hard and that she hated math.
Moving forward, this student eventually included things such as, Usually I HATE math and
now I get to create it my way so it is more fun for me. This finding is supported by research on
fostering motivation by Williams, in which self-confidence is said to support students [in
being] more inclined to engage in learning (Williams K. & C., n.d., p. 9).
Thus, if time allotted, current implementation would be continued in order to further
nourish positive transformation in students such as was evident in students such as Student A.
Math Lab Creations in particular would be continued on a more regular basis, since students
preferred this approach to Math Lab. It would also be ideal to continue implementation for a
longer time interval to see if the results of Phase #2 are still prevalent when evaluating and
collecting additional data. Thus, Sub-question 3: How does student choice affect students
motivation and perceptions of success in mathematics?, will also remain the same as I will still
be focusing on analyzing the effects of choice on students perceptions and motivation in teh
classroom.

The significance of this finding is therefore the fact that choice and interest based
activities can truly support students in wanting to genuinely learn and pursue content they would
otherwise categorize themselves as unsuccessful in. It can broaden students view of what they
think they are good at versus what they are capable of. One major consideration moving forward
would be ensuring that students continue to see themselves capable and successful in math
through continual and regular recognition with the student leader board (Gold and Silver Star
Mathematician categories). This effort is in response to the research by both K. and C. Williams
on improving student motivation, in which they included that Ensuring that students experience
success is an extremely important strategy for motivation (Williams K. & C., n.d., p. 9). All
other implementations would also remain (Perception Wheel, etc.).