Every year elementary students in the Racine Unified School District are required to take the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination (WKCE). Many students fail especially in completing the constructed response sections of the exam. With the constructed response sections weighing at 20% of the WKCE scores in each subject, several students are falling below level due to their inability to form a constructed response.
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This paper will discuss ways that can help solve the above-mentioned problem. The instructional goals of this project are:
- To improve the 3rd grade constructed response (CR) in reading on the Wisconsin knowledge and concept exam.
- To improve 10% of the students who score 0-1 on the WKCE constructed response rubric by at least one point that will lead to improved test scores.
To achieve improved performance on CR questions by elementary students in Racine Unified School District, the instructional program will focus on five major performance objectives encompassing the condition of the task, learning outcome, and the acceptable level of performance (Dick, Carey, & Carey, 2005, p.79). By the end of the instructional program:
- Each student at elementary level in Racine Unified School District should be able to demonstrate greater understanding of vocabulary words learned through reading or listening to challenging stories. They should be able to use simple vocabulary words in class discussions or conversations involving familiar, yet challenging stories in school or at home.
- 90% of elementary students in Racine Unified School District will score an average of 80% in WKCE.
- Students should report increased parental involvement in their class activities, which should be reflected in their CR performance.
- 80% of elementary students in Racine Unified School District will meet high achievement standards in writing, reading, science, and mathematics. Through curriculum reforms and appropriate teaching techniques, focus should be directed at improving the students’ performance to ensure that their performance increases to an average of 80% in these areas.
- Students should be able to express themselves clearly and confidently, both orally and in written language.
The instructional program designed was based on three learning theories namely: Behaviourism, Cognitivism and Constructivism. The objective of instruction is to communicate and transmit knowledge to students in the most sufficient manner. Behaviourism bases learning on reinforcement. Its precepts focus on the predictability of behaviour patterns using reinforcements (either positive or negative) and extinction of negative behaviour by withholding reinforcements. This theory supports the fact that the child must be capable to execute and receive support before being capable of learning (Willis, 2006). In Cognitivism, cognitive theorists acknowledge that much learning entails associations developed via contiguity and reiteration.
They also recognize the significance of reinforcement, though they emphasize on its role in offering responses about the rightness of feedback over its position as a motivator. According to Cognitivism, relevant information is quick to learn and recall. It is also easier to recall items from the start or end of a record rather than those at the centre. What an individual knows is based on discernments of the corporal and social practices which are understood by the mind (Morrison, Ross & Kemp, 2001). Constructivism concentrates on organizing the student to be able to solve problems in confusing conditions. Constructivists trust that students construct their own learning from their experiences. An individual’s awareness is a function of his experience, psychological structures and convictions that are used to understand objects and occurrences. Theoretical growth originates from the conciliation of meaning, the distribution of multiple opinions and the shifting of internal views through cooperative learning. Learning should be positioned in practical settings and testing of what has been learned should be incorporated in the activity (Shields, 1999).
Behaviourism and cognitivism both hold up their process of evaluating a task and splitting it down into controllable chunks, developing goals and measuring accomplishments. Constructivism, however, supports learning experiences, which are more, open-ended. The techniques and outcomes of learning are not easily estimated and may not be identical for the students. Cognitivism and constructivism have a similarity of comparing the procedures of the brain to that of a computer. Behaviourists assess students to establish a starting point that is instructional. Cognitivists just look at the student to establish their predisposition to being taught (Dick & Carey, 2009).
The best process of instruction that will ensure that students will complete and do well in the constructed response section of the exam is Gagne’s nine events of instruction (Reigeluth,1999). This method of instruction is ideal because it is goal-driven (Wiggins & McTighe, 1998). It is appropriate for the students as it enables them to form a constructed response. Gagne’s nine events of instruction enhance the learning process because it has the ability to identify the learning outcome. Also, it identifies the events that should take place, organizes them in a sequential manner and ensures that each event includes all the relevant information for the objectives to be attained.
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Each of Gagne’s nine events is meant to boost the learning process or to ensure that learning takes place effectively. Information processing learning theory is the main basis of these events and is key to the success of every event. According to this theory, the first presentation of the instruction is supposed to motivate the learner. The event has the role of focusing the learners on the goals to be accomplished. Learning cannot take place effectively without focusing on the tasks. Some of the methods that are used for gaining the attention of the students include presenting discrepant events. It can improve the constructed response in reading because the teachers can gain the attention of learners through actions that makes them focus on the tasks to be learned (Mastrian, McGonigle & Mahan, 2011).
The second event is informing the learner about the objective to be accomplished. The learner should be provided with the learning outcomes. This plays an important role in enabling the learner to know his or her instructional destination. The learner is able sort out the necessary materials from a list (Briggs, 1991).
Stimulating recall of prerequisite learning is the third event of Gagne’s learning theory. According to this theory, learning is intended to build on what is already known. Learners are required to have prerequisite knowledge or skill in order to integrate them with new ones. This in turn helps to improve the constructed response in reading (Briggs, 1991).
The fourth event of Gagne’s learning theory is presenting the stimulus material. This event of instruction presents the learners with the necessary information to be learned. The main aim of presenting materials is to ensure that the learners have basic knowledge on the tasks to be learned (Briggs, 1991).
The other event of Gagne’s event of instruction is providing learning guidance. The main role of this event is to provide the learners opportunities to know what actions can bring an ideal performance. Usually, learners perform tasks better on their own after observing from others. The teachers can provide learning guidance to learners by showing them all the steps involved in solving a problem (Briggs,1991).
Eliciting performance is the sixth of Gagne’s nine events of instruction. The learners are provided with an opportunity to test out their understanding through certain activities or questions. The learner is thus given an opportunity to practice what requires to be learned in this event (Briggs, 1991).
Providing feedback is the seventh event of instruction according to Gagne’s nine events. Feedback is usually provided to learners in order to convey information about their accuracy or correctness of their performance (Briggs, 1991).
The other instruction event of Gagne’s nine events is assessing performance. Assessing performance provides the learner with an opportunity to demonstrate the learning outcomes without the assistance from teachers (Briggs, 199).
The last event of Gagne’s nine events of instruction is the enhancement of retention and transfer. Knowledge and skills are mainly valuable if the learners can apply them at appropriate times (Briggs, 1991).
According to Gagne’s plan, there are different levels of learning that require unique types of instruction. This model can be applied in teaching students in third grade how to answer CR questions. The nine events according to Gagne’s plan will aid in the achievement of the objectives that were set in the initial analysis. The model involved nine steps namely: capturing or gaining attention; informing of learners about the objectives of learning; simulation recall of prior learning; presentation of stimulus material; provision of learner guidance; eliciting performance; provision of feedback; performance assessment; and enhancement of retention transfer (Briggs, 1991).
This involves arousing the third-grade students’ attention. Novelty or surprise will be essential. It may involve asking the third graders questions to ensure they are motivated to participate in learning about answering CR questions. The strategy here is asking the right questions wherein the teacher acts as the conductor in order to orchestrate learning. The teacher also guides performance. The student will act as the expert and will respond to the questions while seeking new information.
Informing the learner of the objectives
The teacher will inform the third graders what is expected of them by the end of the lesson. This can be contained in the objectives hand-out that will be issued at the beginning of the lesson. For instance, the objectives may be stated as such:
By the end of the lesson, you will be:
- Able to read and understand CR questions
- Able to answer CR questions
- Able to apply them in your real-life conversations
Stimulation of recall or prior learning
Young students, especially those in third grade, retain concepts and new information better when they are related to something, they already are familiar with. The teacher will be aiming to help them make a connection with their personal experiences that relate to answering CR questions. This can be done by posing of a question that helps students focus on the task at hand.
Presentation of stimulus material
Information is presented to students at this stage and teachers will ensure it is organized in into meaningful portions that they will be able to remember. Gagne suggests using real life examples to help the third graders retain the information. Experts suggest plenty of exercises and case studies that will help students remember what they have been taught.
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Provision of learner guidance
This stage puts emphasis on the communication between the student and the teacher. It is a critical means of providing guidance to the third graders. It will help the teacher evaluate how the students are doing and if they are absorbing the skill being taught. Gagne suggests that teachers include other means of guidance like case studies and examples of CR questions. It’s also important at this stage to use visual aids.
This stage will involve a lot of practice from the students under the guidance of both teachers and parents. Parents will play a big role especially with homework exercises. New and old examples will be used to test if the third graders understand the CR answering skills they have been taught. It is imperative for the teacher to specify the practice format and the nature of the responses he/she expects from the students while being relevant to the objectives set earlier on and eliciting the exact performance that is stated in the objective.
Provision of feedback
From the performance, the teacher will gather feedback that will give further provide guidance on whether the third-grade student has grasped CR answering techniques or not. The teacher will then act on the information to provide more information and examples to the students.
The assessment will be carried out to determine if the desired learning among students occurred. The best assessment is portfolio assessment. It involves the collection of materials including tests and assignments that the student has been doing. The teacher then assesses to determine if there is any progress. The scoring method will be done on the predetermined rubrics set by the school or department.
Enhancement of retention and transfer
The teacher should aim at helping students retain the knowledge they gained in CR response programs and using them in their daily activities.
Activities Used to Facilitate the Instructional Goal
John Dewey (1916) believes that quality education stems from how children are trained to think. Dewey claims that learning must be experienced by the learner if it is to be effectively retained. He does not agree with teaching students via lectures about things children have no direct experience with and reliance on mere textbooks. Dewey advocates active learning to stimulate a student’s thinking on his own. Teachers cannot expect to be the main dispensers of knowledge to their students, but should recognize and respect that children are capable of coming up with their own opinions, and conclusions and ideas.
Allowing students to explore their ,own ideas gives them more power in the acquisition of learning. Using information they have previously acquired, they are encouraged to invent their own solutions and try out their own ideas and hypotheses with the able support of their teachers. This way, they can indulge in concrete experiences that focus on their interests. The process of searching for information, analysing data and reaching conclusions is considered more important than learning facts.
Teachers can encourage students to produce more intellectual work in the form of real-world applications, and hence increase their performance (Newmann, Secada, and Wehlage, 1995). Performance-based assessments such as science experiments, oral presentations, essays, video documentations of performances, etc. show evidence of students’ use of various strategies to solve problems rather than merely seeing the right answer asked for on a test (Darling-Hammond et al, 1993).
For this instructional program, a variety of activities will be tasked to the students to help them develop vocabulary, comprehension and other higher-order skills such as re-phrasing the meaning of vocabulary words from the story in their own words, defending a position in a debate, mind-mapping the story, coming up with a different ending for the story, etc. These activities not only engage the participation of students, but also promote socialization due to the group work involved, and enhance the comprehension of the reading material to help them develop the necessary skills for CR learning.
Assessments Used to Measure the Performance Objectives
The performance objectives set will be assessed through a variety of instruments. They include course-embedded assessment, performance assessment, portfolio assessment, standardized assessment and localized instruments (Argüelles & Gonczi, 2000, p. 109). Course embedded assessment include tests and assignments done in class or at home. Its standards have been developed according to the school and state standards. Such standards dictate the assessment of discipline-specific knowledge and skills. Performance assessment emphasizes the use of activities by the student to assess his/her skills and knowledge. It assesses student skills that are put into practice as well as can produce in CR learning. This kind of assessment allows for the evaluation of both process and product of the CR learning and not just focus on the end product of score/grade.
This assessment may include essay tests, oral presentations, and data from projects the student has participated in. Portfolio assessment involves the collection of the works of the student over a specified period of time. The works will be analyzed to determine if there have been any achievements or growth. The works may include student assignment done at home and/or class, data from participation in language programs and exams (both internal and WKCE). This collection of work helps students self-reflect on their performance and make adjustments in order to reach their targeted grades. Standardized assessment is done based on the set standards of the state. This instrument is developed outside the schools by the state’s standardized administration. The assessment will be used in comparing the district’s students with the rest of the students in the state. It is important that school administrators cautiously use this instrument since it may not be explicitly aligned with the institution’s objectives. Finally, localized instruments involve the internal mechanisms that will be developed by the languages department in the individual schools. The content of the instrument will be designed to match the expected outcomes. Internal validation however will be necessary to ensure the success of the instrument.
“Effective assessment means much more than giving paper-and-pencil tests and assigning letter grades. The process occurs before, during and after lessons, units, or marking periods” (Shalaway, 1997, p. 142). For example, When asked “What do you think will happen next?” Children fall back on their available knowledge and experiences to associate events. When students share their predictions, they may be asked to elaborate on why they think that is what will happen next. This allows students to see various viewpoints aside from their own. Unfortunately, when assessment is restricted to quizzes and writing tasks, the authenticity of what children have learned is compromised.
How Strategies, Activities, and Assessments Address
the Needs of Third Graders
In order to successfully address the needs of the third graders at Racine Unified School District, it is necessary to understand their current situation and nature. Most of them do not perform well on construed responses in Math and Reading with an average score of 77% on the WKCE test. The poor performance can be attributed to students’ laziness or failure to pay attention in class, which affects their performance on content passage and literature. Parents who fail to follow up their children’s school performance, either due to ignorance or due to negative attitude, also affect the students’ performance in these areas.
Students in third grade possess distinctive characteristics important in learning. Third graders are inquisitive, they are curious to know developments in their surroundings; hence, there is a need to relate class work to their real life learning experiences. Since third graders are energetic and playful, they need teaching methods that focus on play-based learning. Third graders also exhibit a great sense of individualism, therefore, teaching that focuses on self-discipline and responsibility should be taught at this stage. In addition, students at this stage are also very talkative. Teaching, therefore, should focus on personality building and enhancing the confidence of the student.
Teachers, using appropriate teaching techniques to address student-learning needs, can promote students’ performance in constructed responses. Most teachers put a lot of effort and thinking in designing their tests. Since its goal is to evaluate how much the students have learned from their lessons, teachers may come up with various strategies in their tests. Math tests are usually perceived to be easy to create because it entails some problems to answer and there is just one accurate answer expected, however, math teachers know that the process is equally important as the product. They have to ensure that students are correct in the process they go through to come up with the answers. What makes it more complex is the fact that Mathematics is a hierarchical discipline where concepts build on previous concepts and more often than not, need full understanding before proceeding to the next, more complicated concept. (Ruthven, 1987).
In written examinations, children should be ready in expressing their thoughts and understanding of a concept on print. Writing as an expression of thoughts is a higher level of skill. This implies that before a student can be successful in a written examination, he must have been involved in a social learning context so when he is on his own, he can cull from his learning from the group and apply it on his own. However, he must be challenged enough to think on a higher level than what he is more comfortable with. This means third graders should be exposed to a variety of learning experiences from which they can derive much understanding of various concepts that may be addressed in written examinations.
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