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International Journal
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Learning, Teaching
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Vol.15 No.1
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VOLUME 15 NUMBER 1 January 2016

Table of Contents
Funding Higher Education in Australia: Is it Time to Look at Income Share Agreement as an Alternative Model
to Income Contingent Loans? ............................................................................................................................................... 1
Steven Holliday and Ergun Gide

Discipline Based Art Education as an Approach to Art Instruction: The Case of Standard Seven Curriculum in
Botswana ................................................................................................................................................................................ 14
Dr Magdeline Chilalu Mannathoko

Inclusive Education and Challenges of Providing Classroom Support to Students with Blindness in a General
Education Classroom at a School in Botswana ................................................................................................................ 30
Joseph Habulezi, Odiretsemang Molao, Sandy Mphuting and Kebotlositswe Mark Kebotlositswe

Small-Group Discussion and the Development of Interpretive Strategies in Literature Classrooms: a Quasi-
Experimental Study with 9th - Grade Students ............................................................................................................... 42
Agapi Dalkou and Evangelia Frydaki

Experiences of School and Family Communications and Interactions Among Parents of Children with Reactive
Attachment Disorder ............................................................................................................................................................ 66
Raol Taft, Candace Schlein and Crystal M. Ramsay

The Predictive Power of Reasoning Ability on Academic Achievement ...................................................................... 79


Mehraj A. Bhat

Critical Analysis of Embedded and Summative Feedback from Online Doctoral Instructors on Benchmark
Assessments .......................................................................................................................................................................... 89
Kelley Walters, PhD and Patricia Henry, PhD
1

International Journal of Learning, Teaching and Educational Research


Vol. 15, No. 1, pp. 1-13, January 2016

Funding Higher Education in Australia: Is it Time to


Look at Income Share Agreement as an Alternative
Model to Income Contingent Loans?

Steven Holliday
Central Queensland University, Australia

Ergun Gide
Central Queensland University, Australia

Abstract. Human Capital Contracts are an emerging alternative means


for financing the up-front investment cost of university students. This
method involves investors financing the development of a students
human capital based on their expected future incomes and taking as
share of their future income for a defined period as a return on their
investment. In recent years such an approach has begun to emerge in the
United States in particular. In Australia student fees are funded through
an income contingent loan system however this system is struggling
with high debt levels and high proportional write offs. Would an
Income Share Agreement (ISA) program possibility be an alternative
scheme which may take pressure of the Australian Government funding
by transferring the risk to the private sector? Ideally such a scheme
would maintain the basic principles behind the current system, but
allow for private investors to predominantly fund the scheme.
Potentially principles from both financing systems may provide a
framework for a new innovative model into the future. This review
suggest that further research appears to be warranted as this alternative
scheme has potential to address some of the key Higher Education
funding concerns in Australia at this time.
Keywords: HECS; Human Capital; Funding; Higher Education; ISA;
Income share agreements

Introduction
Funding of higher education is vital for the achievement of the educational
aspirations of any nation. If the funding is not adequate, it is unlikely that the
desired results will be actualised.

The capital labour market is known for its limitations as the market has
difficulty pricing the work in progress value of individuals. According to Yu and
Salyards (2008) Capital Asset Pricing Models do not allow for the market to
adequately price human capital as a work in progress. An investment in an
individuals higher education is an investment in a future asset, but there is no

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2

way to secure that investment. As Chapman (1997) pointed out there is no


market for human slavery, so how does an investor invest in a future
graduates expected income? Future income is uncertain, and there is no
collateral to fall back on or recover should the future income streams not
eventuate.

Friedman outlined the reasoning for his Human Capital Contract ideas as
follows:
The counterpart for education would be to "buy" a share in an individual's earning
prospects: to advance him the funds needed to finance his training on condition that he
agrees to pay the lender a specified fraction of his future earnings. In this way, a lender
would get back more than his initial investment from relatively successful individuals,
which would compensate for the failure to recoup his original investment from the
unsuccessful (Friedman, 1955, np.).

On the other hand, if individuals sold 'stock' in themselves, i.e., obligated themselves
to pay a fixed proportion of future earnings, investors could 'diversify' their holdings
and balance capital appreciations against capital losses. The purchase of such 'stock
would be profitable so long as the expected return on investment in training exceeded the
market rate of interest(Friedman & Kuznets, 1945, p.90).

Over the last 5 to 7 years there has been considerable interest in Human Capital
Contracts or Income Share Agreements (ISAs) as they are sometimes known.
Contracts through organisations such as Pave, Upstart and Alumni have been
commenced in a Friedman style approach. This has also come to the attention of
regulators who have begun to consider guidelines for the operation of these
schemes (discussed further below).

Australia has a significantly different approach to the funding of higher


education (HE) to the United States, however these concepts should be explored
to further to examine whether they can be adopted successfully to the Australian
context and for the benefit of the public good.

Methodology
To further understand how these relatively new concepts can be applied to the
Australian Higher Education sector, a review of current literature has been
summarised below. The literature reviewed examine both contemporary
practices and current thinking both for arguments for and against this approach.
By looking at the recurrent themes arising from this literature, these concepts are
then considered with reference to our current higher education funding
arrangements in Australia and consideration is then made as to how these
concepts may be applied in that context.

Analysis and Results of Literature Review


a) What is a Human Capital Contract (HCC) and how does it work?
Palacios explained the concept and benefits of HCCs succinctly as follows:
Under a human capital contract, a student receives funding in exchange for a
percentage of his or her income during a fixed period of time. Human capital contracts

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3

are equity-like instruments because the investors return will depend on the earnings of
the student, not on a predefined interest rate. The effects of these arrangements are,
among others, less risk for the student, transfer of risk to a party that can manage it
better, increased information regarding the economic value of education, and increased
competition in the higher education market(Palacios, 2002, p.1).

Another term used for these type of arrangements are Income Share
Agreements(ISA), this title focuses more on the shared arrangement of
investing in an individuals future income, as those who share in the persons
success should also be rewarded with a share of that success as a return on their
investment. The Wall Street Journal has described such agreements as
individuals selling stock in themselves(Belkin, 2015).

In the United States legislation has been introduced to begin the regulation of
such arrangements under the Student Success Act (US Congress CRS, 2014)
whereby student loans would be capped at 30 years and a maximum of 15% of
earnings. This legislation is currently seeking passage in respect of these
agreements (Griswold, 2014a; Supiano, 2014) . Another important aspect of this
legislation is that it is not regarded a debt instrument (US Congress CRS, 2014)
which has the benefit for the student in terms of future borrowings and provides
a level of security for the student.

Companies such as Upstart, Pave and Lumni in the United States are currently
providing such financing and the terms are usually based on extensive
algorithms to assess the potential risks and potential benefits of the individual
being financed (Griswold, 2014b; Nisen, 2015; Surowieki, 2013). The investor is
also encouraged to mentor and support the student, however the recent
legislation places a prohibition on investors coercing or forcing certain actions or
choices on the borrower (CRS, 2014).

The idea of advance funding by private investors for a stake in an individuals


success is not new, for example the world champion boxer Muhammed Ali was
financed by investors in his early years. These investors paid for his training and
expenses in return for a share of his winnings (Surowieki, 2013). In the world of
publishing it is not unusual for a book company to advance a writer funds in
advance of the book being completed in anticipation of future reward
(Surowieki, 2013). Although these examples are similar to the concept discussed,
they are relatively unique situations which recognise rare talent.

The idea of income contingent loans are not new with such educational
financing occurring in many countries such as the U.S.A, U.K, Australia and
New Zealand but this financing is usually made by the government and not the
private sector (Chapman, 2006).

The benefits of an income share agreement was well put by Holt (2013), when
compared to private student loans which are common the United States.

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On a private student loan, my nominal monthly payment is fixed (sure, certainty is


nice) but my income could change or go away altogether (making certainty just a
monthly repetition of bad news). With an Income Share Agreement the converse is true:
I dont know what my nominal monthly payment will be over the entire term, or how
much I will pay overall, but I do know that I will always be able to afford it. Which
would you prefer? Ill take the certainty from an Income Share Agreement(Holt, 2013,
np.).

Income Share Agreements are based similarly on the concepts surrounding


income contingent loans such as the Higher Education Contribution Scheme
HECS) in Australia, however they have a market approach. An insightful
comment on the new Income Share Agreements was made by Surowieki from
the New Yorker Magazine:
Upstart may succeed or it may fail, but the principle behind it is unlikely to disappear.
This isnt entirely a benign development. Income-based plans make it easier for students
to repay their loans, but they also reinforce the idea that education funding is the
responsibility of the individual rather than of the state. Still, on their own terms, theyre
a step forward. The old way of borrowing was predicated on a world in which the job
market was stable and everyone had a steady income. That world of work is changing.
The way we finance it needs to change, too (Surowieki, 2013, np.).

b) Are income share agreements akin to a slavery model?


There are many commentators who view a Human Capital Contract or an
Income Share Agreement in respect of the funding of higher education and other
similar arrangements as a form of indentured service which is akin to a slavery
model (Previti, 2013). Whilst a common mental image associated with slavery
would involve chains and whips and harsh conditions, indentured slavery was
generally associated with debt and the exchange of human labour for a set
period of time (Oei, 2015).

The main objections centre on the availability of opt-out clauses over the course
of the agreement (Nerlove, 1975) and whether the lender was able to exercise a
level of control over the student that they had financed. The other considerations
are whether the conditions are too harsh or unreasonable and whether students
are being taken advantage of (Nerlove, 1975). These are reasonable concerns and
some of these aspects have been considered in recent legislation in the United
States, in particular the Student Success Act (CRS, 2014).

Some media commentators such as Kevin Roose from New York Magazine
express their social concerns as reflected below and this implies that there may
be an uneasiness toward financing where students pledge their future income:

A year-old company begun by ex-Googlers that is giving young people in the post-crash
economy the chance to indenture themselves to patrons in the investor class. It does this
by making it easy for users to create human-capital contracts (Roose, 2013, np.).

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Oie & Ring (2015, p.714) believe that although there are no human property
rights under such agreements, such property rights may be approximated under
a financial agreement and that it is important to define some of the legal aspects
and definitions in these agreements. This need for legal clarity appears to be a
common theme in respect of ISAs (Kelchen, 2015; Oei, 2015; Supiano, 2014).

Some considerations per Oei & Ring (2015 pp. 714-716) in respect of these
contracts which separate them from the notion of indentured servitude or
slavery are as follows :

(i) ISAs do not force the borrower to work for them;


(ii) ISAs are a voluntary agreement;
(iii) Work performed is compensated;
(iv) The type of work performed is not specified.

c) Availability of investors and the issue of bankruptcy or refusal to pay


According to the Wall Street Journal (Belkin, 2015), the financing company Pave
ran into problems in 2015 with carrying out this sort of arrangement, not due to
student demand for the loans, as demand for their Income Share Agreements
was exceptionally strong, the issue was the level of investor take up. Between
2012 and 2014 Pave received over 10,000 applications for funding, however they
could only provide for 70 students. Pave found that the lack of legal clarity made
it difficult for investors to commit to providing the capital funding (Belkin, 2015,
np.). As there are only a few commercial providers, this does represent a
potential difficulty for these types of funding arrangements. Whilst this is a
current problem, the moves towards legal clarification in the United States may
assist to improve investor confidence.

The other difficulty perceived by investors is surrounding bankruptcy, refusal to


pay and income hiding or even declaring their true intentions for study.

An ISA structure gives students incentive to be less than honest about their
intentions -for example, saying they plan to become computer scientists but
knowing they will go into social work (Supiano, 2014, np.).

The issue of income avoidance to avoid debt has been well discussed by various
commentators (McArdle, 2015; Nerlove, 1975; Oei & Ring, 2015; Supiano, 2014)
when considering this area of financing. It should be noted at this point that in
the Australian income contingent loan system, repayments are managed
through the taxation system and the data is collected from tax returns and
repayments made via tax deductions to cover the expected liability. This has
proven to be an effective method for recovery, however as Income Share
Agreements are generally in the private financing domain, such collection
options are not available. The inability to definitively determine the share to be
paid could be problematic and this increases the risk for potential investors.

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(d) What are the community benefit concerns of ISAs and how are differing
sectors and needs addressed?
As a general rule, in a capitalist society the free market will balance supply and
demand to determine optimal pricing and provide a diversity of options in the
market place. According to Yu & Salyards (2008) human capital models
generally have difficulty in this arena as humans are less predictable than
machinery or inanimate processes and therefore it is difficult to price in Capital
Assets Pricing Models (CAPM).

Risk and return play an important consideration, as it does in a normal free


market model. In terms of financing future graduates, the market for engineers
and doctors, the risk and return factors will be completely different as will be the
amount financed. Investors may reasonably prefer to invest in graduate careers
which typically generate more income, than investing in graduates in
professions which are typically lower paid. The lower the expected income
profile, the higher the risk of default and the market will tend towards pricing
that risk in the form of higher interest charges.

Palacios, the founder of Pave believes a market based approach will send the
correct resourcing signal to the student:

Because ISA investors earn a profit only when a student is successful, they offer
students better terms for programs that are expected to be of high value and have strong
incentives to support students both during school and after graduation. This process
gives students strong signals about which programs and fields are most likely to help
them be successful Palacios, De Sorrento & Kelly (2014, p.1).

Whilst market forces may drive students to make good economic choices for
their future, there is a concern about the social good aspect of education and
whether this can be protected in a free market model. Whilst nurses and
teachers are vitally important to the community, they are not paid as well as
lawyers and accountants. Under a market based Income Share Agreement model
there would be a tendency for those being trained in careers which are lower
paid, to have their proportional repayments at a higher level. There is a sense of
unfairness in this as there would be an additional risk loading which further
compounds their lower salary profile and ability to pay. Widespread adoption
of such a model could in time affect the supply of students entering these fields.

(e) Yale University Tuition Postponement Option


This Human Capital Contract concept was partially applied to the Tuition
Postponement Option (TPO) introduced to Yale University. This program ran
from 1971 to 1978 and was jointly contributed to by Tobin (President of Yale )
and Milton Friedman (Harris, 2013). It was discontinued in 1978 when the
government introduced alternative funding options for such students.

The concept was generally regarded as the first application of income contingent
loans for education, however this was also similar to a Human Capital Contract.

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The TPO levied the tuition cost for a cohort of students as a debt to that group of
students. A percentage of income would be charged to all of the cohort until the
debt was cleared for the entire group. This resulted in members of the cohort
paying significant amounts due to the default of others (Harris, 2013). Those
defaulting or with poor earnings resulted in a delay in the finalisation of the
overall debt obligation, the debt burden of which fell onto the successful
students. This arrangement was seen by the students as inequitable and the
Alumni of Yale University more than 20 years later pressed for the closure of
this arrangement and the write off of remaining debts.

The idea that successful graduates would help offset the costs of the
unsuccessful graduates was part of the Friedman concept, but his idea was that
this was not to be funded by the university itself (Harris, 2013). Under the TPO
the debt was defined, attracted interest and the potential term of the contract
was extremely long, in this case 35 years before the debt would be written off,
whereas the Friedman concept had no defined debt value but was an income
contingent payment over a shorter defined period (Friedman & Kuznets, 1945).

Whilst this scheme was generally regarded as a failure, it was an experiment


which can be learned from. Despite the fact that this program had to be
discontinued due to the protests from Yales Alumni two decades later, the
concept of income contingent financing was later revived through the Higher
Education Contribution Scheme (HECS) in Australia and similar schemes in
other countries such as the UK and New Zealand (Chapman, 2006).

(f) H.R.4436 - Investing in Student Success Act of 2014


This Act is important to the topic of human capital contracts, or income share
agreements as it represented the first moves in the legal sphere in the area of
these types of agreements. This legal move provides an indication of the public
issues and the safeguards which were considered important. It provides what
appears to be a clear set of guidelines for the protection of students.

In terms of a legal definition for an income share agreement, the following was
submitted to US Congress as a definition of an Income Share Agreement:

An agreement between an individual and any other person under which the individual
commits to pay a specified percentage of the individual's future income, for a specified
period of time, in exchange for payments to or on behalf of such individual for
postsecondary education, workforce development, or other purposes(CRS, 2014, np.).

The specific areas which were placed as guidelines can be summarized as


follows (CRS, 2014):
(i) Agreements must specify the percentage of future income agreed to;
(ii) The first $10,000 of any year is exempt (indexed each year for inflation);
(iii) It must specify what is included as future income;

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(iv) It must specify a maximum term and the act proposed a maximum period of
360 months not including any months where the borrowers income was
below the minimum;
(v) No more than 15% of a persons income should be obligated under the
agreement;
(vi) It should also specify the arrangements for early termination of the
agreement;
(vii) Prohibits the lender to place controls over the borrowers actions;
(viii) The agreement must clearly indicate that this is not a debt instrument.

(g) Review of the current Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS-


HELP) in Australia

The HECS system was regarded as an innovative solution and it has been in
operation since 1989 in Australia (Harris, 2013). There are many important
principles which underpin this system, and these need to be considered in
considering any alternative approaches. One of the important aspects of the
HECS program was to re-introduce private contributions from students, whilst
at the same time allowing access to university for poor but talented students
(Chapman, 1996). In 2005 as part of the Higher Education Support Act 2003, this
scheme which relates to students under Commonwealth Supported Places was
renamed as the Higher Education Loans Program (HELP) and has now become
known as HECS-HELP (Parliament of Australia, 2014). Some of the main
principles of HECS-HELP are as follows:
(i) Income Contingent financing lowers financial barriers to entry for students
who do not have access to funds for higher education, particularly for poor
but talented students (Chapman, 1997, p.741).
(ii) Income Contingent financing provides a level of insurance for the student,
should their career path be affected by unforeseen circumstances and their
income not be what was expected, there is no requirement for contributions
until they reach the average wage as was per the original scheme (Birch,
2008; Chapman, 1996, 1997).
(iii) Income contingent financing provides for students to still have capacity to
have future borrowing capacity by only requiring repayments when above
average income is earned (Chapman, 1997). Another important aspect is that
repayment is payable on death or out of an estate, nor is it payable upon
bankruptcy, it remains only payable on the student paying a future portion
of their income after they reach a minimum wage level. These factors allow
young graduates to be eligible to apply for finance. Concerns were raised
early in the scheme that the education loans would delay students in starting
families due to the financial burden and restricted borrowing capacity. These
concerns raised by Davis (2005), were refuted by a comprehensive analysis in
an article (Yu, Kippen & Chapman, 2007, pp.73-90).
(iv) As Chapman pointed out:
HECS offers a form of default insurance', such that the former student does not
have to bear the costs of reneging on their debt as a result of periods of low future
incomes. This is quite different from a mortgage-style loan, in which the costs of
defaulting may be very high in terms of being locked out of other capital markets

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9

(most notably for housing) through damage to a person's credit reputation


(Chapman, 1997, p.742).
(v) Alternative schemes are available for upfront payment and subsidies are
provided to reward and encourage that option.

(h) How are private fee charges determined in Australia?


The Australian undergraduate commonwealth funded places have two
components which are determined by the field of education (FOE). The
groupings of the fields of education determines the amount of government
funding which is provided to the university for that student, and the maximum
amount which the government will finance as a student contribution, which the
government then manages.

For example, based on 2015 rates, a student studying to be a teacher will have a
government contribution of $10,026 which will be paid to their university, and
the university can set a fee for the student contribution to a maximum of $6152.
The Government also pays the student contribution to the university and
manages the arrangements for repayment. It should be noted here that nearly all
universities in practice apply the full maximum student contribution.

In contrast a law student has a government contribution of $1961 and a


maximum student contribution of $10,266 which shows a more inverse
relationship between the private and government contributions. As an
additional contrast, the high cost courses have a different variation again e.g.
Engineering, and these relationships are shown in the table below.

Table 1: Commonwealth Grants Scheme (CGS) contributions 2015 comparison table


for Law, Education and Engineering
Maximum Percentage
Commonwealth Total
Subject field Student Student
Contribution Resourcing
Contribution Contribution

Education $10,026 $6,152 $16,178 38%

Law $1,961 $10,266 $12,227 84%

Engineering $8768 $16,850 $25,618 66%

Source: Total resourcing for a Commonwealth supported place by discipline


2015 (Australian Government, 2015).

Whilst the various student contribution rates are determined by the government
as part of political negotiation, perceived needs and national priorities, there is a
nexus between estimated future incomes and the amounts that students are
expected to contribute. Generally, lawyers and doctors earn much more than
teachers and this is reflected in the higher contributions for those fields of
education. In addition, the total resourcing amounts also reflect the relative costs

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10

associated with the delivery of programs, therefore law which is more classroom
based is less resourced than engineering which has higher costs in terms of
laboratories, internships and equipment and supplies.
Whilst it is difficult to find the guidelines for determining the basis of
contributions, the basis was described by Duckett around the time of the Nelson
review as:
They incorporate the same mix of policy considerations: cost of courses and perceived
private returns to education (Duckett, 2004, p.218).

This aspect of the Australian funding arrangements is particularly relevant to


this discussion as the level of contribution has a proportional relationship to
expected graduate salaries, therefore the finance risk is reduced for those on
lower anticipated career salaries, but reducing the amount that needs to be
financed by those students.

Discussion: Would an ISA arrangement work in Australia?


The Australian HECS-HELP system is managed by the Australian Government
and is not a private market based solution. The Australian Government as the
financer of the student contributions bears the risks of unrecovered debt and this
has been rising in the last few years and the level of write off is a concern for the
government. According the Grattan Institute, the Australian Government
finances around $6b each year in loans and it is expected that around $113m will
be uncollectable by 2017 with approximately 17% which is considered to be
doubtful debts, in other words they do not expect to obtain full recovery
(Norton, 2014, p.1).

Graduates are unlikely to move away from these current arrangements as the
HECS-HELP system provides a convenient and low risk method of financing in
respect of the fees those students must contribute towards their higher
education. If the current ICL arrangements remained unchanged, there would be
little incentive to move away from this government based program, unless there
was a viable alternative that was perceived to more advantageous.

In the United States the ISAs have in recent years gained interest due to the
financing gaps in the US system as the government loans are not accessible to
many and there are other perceived shortfalls and inequities (Palacios, De
Sorrento & Kelly, 2014).

Income Share Agreements to date have not been part of recent reform
discussions in Australia, however with the new interest in this style of financing
for education in the United States, it may be useful to at least consider the merits
of ICAS and how these could be applied to meet Australias needs. Australia
would particularly benefit from this particularly if the funding burden and risk
can be moved to the private sector. An increase in funding by private equity
could potentially free up government funds for investment and this could
potentially lead to increased development in the higher education sector.

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11

Conclusion
Income Share Agreements are a form of Income Contingent loans and they have
many of the same benefits in terms of providing access, lowering barrier to entry
to university, allowing the student to pay when they can afford to make
payments and so on.

The added benefit is these Share Agreements have the potential to move the
funding burden away from the Government or the university and into the
private sector, which is a significant outcome if achievable as it has the potential
to free up funds for improvements in the sector.

The main difference is that some successful graduates will pay more than they
would under the current HECS-HELP system in Australia, but this is offset by
the fact those less successful could also pay less, but on balance students should
be successful as a result of their higher education in terms of graduate outcomes
and salaries and these benefits can provide the return on investment to lenders.

Another key difference is the defined period of the ISA, the current HECS-HELP
arrangements continue until the debt is cleared and will index according to
inflation to maintain the real value of the outstanding debt. By comparison an
ICA potentially makes personal financial planning easier due to the defined
nature of the financial arrangement (lessens uncertainties and therefore risk).

There are many factors to consider, particularly in the area of legal guidelines
and protection of both investors and students, but some of this ground work is
already being established in the United States. If recovery of ISAs and income
determination for repayments was tackled through the taxation system in the
same way the current HECS-HELP system works, this would lessen some of the
investor concerns, however as this is a private market method of funding, a way
forward would need to be negotiated. Income Share Agreements are relatively
new, however further research into how this approach could be adopted in the
Australian context may prove to be worthwhile, particularly if it could provide
an innovative approach to Australias higher education funding systems.

It should also be noted at this point that there is an element of income


contingency in the student contributions in Australia. The level of contribution
by the students (currently set as maximums for universities to charge) is
reflective of expected graduate salaries, lawyers, doctors and accountants are
expected to contribute proportionally more than nurses or teachers. One overall
solution to funding may be to look at removing these notional contribution
proportions and moving to a form of income contingent loans based solely on
graduate income and providing the university funding proportion on more of a
standardised cost proportion or other measure which would be independent of
expected graduate ability to pay. From a funding management perspective, this
would allow proper consideration of both funding components (government
contributions and student contributions) rather than having these as a mix of
different concepts i.e. direct cost, ability to pay and national priorities. These

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12

sorts of ideas as well as the legal frameworks behind such Income Share
Agreements may be well worth further research. It is possible that within those
ideas an improved process will be generated for the funding of education in
Australia.

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International Journal of Learning, Teaching and Educational Research


Vol. 15, No. 1, pp. 14-29, January 2016

Discipline Based Art Education as an Approach


to Art Instruction: The Case of Standard Seven
Curriculum in Botswana

Dr Magdeline Chilalu Mannathoko


University of Botswana
Gaborone, Botswana

Abstract. There are various curricula models in Art and Design, some of
which are Critical Studies, Arts Propel and Discipline Based Art
Education (DBAE). While these models theoretically have different foci,
they are essentially similar in the critical content areas from which they
draw their disciplinary knowledge and skills. These are listed under the
DBAE as Art History, Art Criticism, Production and Aesthetics. The four
disciplinary content areas are critical in the development of fundamental
knowledge and skills in Art and Design. Production entails that students
apply the art elements and principles of design while at the same time
drawing a critical eye from aesthetics. Students explore a variety of
media in different ways. They also ask philosophical questions in the
process as well as drawing ideas from historical contexts. These are the
four things that students do with art. The purpose of this paper is to find
out the extent to which the Art and Design curriculum in Botswana is
reflective of the fundamental principles of DBAE which has pervaded
most art curricula in different countries.

Content analysis was done on the existing syllabus and other policy
documents that inform the curriculum to identify overlaps. The study
was an Action Research and it involved sixty-six level three Art
specialists in-service student-teachers from the University of Botswana
who worked in groups to share their Art teaching experiences in relation
to DBAE. They later identified and categorised Art objectives stipulated
in the Creative and Performing Arts (CAPA) syllabus according to
DBAE disciplines. When presenting their findings, Student-teachers
concluded that Art Production and Art Criticism were effectively
addressed during curriculum development compared to the other two
disciplines. Nevertheless, they argued that objectives which required
learners to explore colour schemes covered Aesthetics and the ones
seeking for explanation of Visual forms can address Art History As a
result, the study recommends that an evaluation be done to Art
education in the CAPA to include the components of DBAE. Teacher-
training institutions also need to prepare students-teachers to
incorporate DBAE components in their instruction.

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15

Key Words:
Creative and Performing Arts; Art Education; Attainment Targets; Objectives;
Art and Design curricula models.

Introduction
Art as a discipline was recently introduced in Botswana schools. It was
introduced at junior secondary school (1992) earlier than in lower primary
schools (in 2002). To me this is an anomaly as there is likely to be unsequential
development of the subject. At upper primary art was introduced in 2005.
Before the introduction of a curricula syllabus called Creative and Performing
Arts (CAPA), art in Botswana primary schools was taught without a guideline,
therefore, it was optional (Mannathoko, 2015). Among some of major
innovations in the Botswana school curriculum was the suggestion to introduce
practical subjects among them art and design, art and craft then (Report of the
National Commission on Education, 1993) (RNCE). This ideas was subsequently
adopted in 1994 under the Revised National Policy on Education (1994) and this
gave birth to the CAPA syllabus in 2002 (Phuthego, 2007). The main aim for the
introduction of practical subjects was to develop technological thinking and
manipulative skills in learners. Such appreciation would lay the foundation for
national development at an early stage. CAPA drew its content from disciplines
that include home economics, art and craft, business studies, design technology,
dance and drama and physical education (Curriculum Development and
Evaluation Unit, 2002).

The grouping of these subjects under the umbrella CAPA was recommended by
the American agency called Cream Wright which was assigned by the Ministry
of Education, Skills and Development to review the primary school curriculum
(Phibion, 2006). To account for this combination, the agency explained that
CAPA subjects were put together to facilitate project teaching and integration
(Wright, 1995). Moreover, the Curriculum Development and Evaluation Unit
(2002, 2005) has stipulated in the CAPA syllabus, Attainment Targets, which
guide teachers on what is expected of pupils at the end of each level of learning
(lower and upper primary). These Attainment Targets are categorised into four
aspects for lower primary: Knowledge and Understanding, Manipulative Skills,
Creativity and Attitudes. For Upper Primary skills were increased by adding the
aspect of Communication and hence making them five in this level. The
Attainment Targets are the basis upon which the Botswana Examination Council
(BEC) will base their examination questions on, to diagnose the pupils ability at
the end of each of the two levels. The Department further generated the general
and specific objectives which define the content to be delivered at each level of
learning. The CAPA syllabus main aims, are to help students develop
creativity skills; problem solving aptitudes, critical thinking competencies,
aesthetic recognition and appreciation, psychomotor dexterity along with
positive attitudes towards practical work and productivity as cited by the
Curriculum and Evaluation Department of 2005.

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16

Discipline-Based Art Education (DBAE) approach being the most recommended


mode of teaching and learning Art internationally, is not mentioned in the
CAPA syllabus and hence the need to investigate how teachers addressed it at
both lesson planning and lesson presentation stages. The methodology enhances
the interdisciplinary nature of the four DBAE disciplines (art production, art
criticism, aesthetics, art history) discussed at length in the literature review
section. DBAE framework has the greatest aim of teaching art in its social,
cultural and historical context and it combines practical work with theoretical
and contextual studies (Hayes, 2015). The four disciplines are aimed at
enhancement of in-depth knowledge of visual arts among art students.
Discipline-Based Art Education has been viewed by many art educationists to be
the most effective approach in the teaching and learning of art. The
methodology integrates the disciplines of aesthetics, production, art history and
art criticism into a coherent body of knowledge. This study, therefore, examined
the extent to which art education within the CAPA syllabus addressed DBAE
component. The study was a result of a recommendation in one of my studies
which examined education documents (Revised National Policy for Education,
Basic Education and Primary Education programmes) to find out the extent to
which they promoted DBAE. The study recommendation suggested a further
research to investigate the extent to which teachers addressed DBAE disciplines
during instruction. Two major questions guiding this study can be put forward
as:
How do the art education topics and objectives address DBAE
framework?
To what extent do strategies and methodologies in art address DBAE
approach?

Literature Review
This section discusses literature related to the study with more focus on
Discipline-Based Art Education framework; since all data was based on this
approach. DBAE is a curricula model that draws its content from the four
disciplines which will be discussed later in this section. It was designed by the
Paul Getty Trust in America in the early 1980s to support a diminished emphasis
on studio instruction and encouraged education across four aforementioned
disciplines within the arts (Greer, 1993). Following its footing in 1982, the Getty
Education Institute for the Arts based in America, recommended DBAE as an
effective approach to teaching art, arguing that it helps learners experience the
visual arts in a variety of ways. According to Greer (1993) the institutions
recommendation was an adoption of the ideas of art educators who had been
advocating a more integrative methodology that draws its knowledge and skills
competences from the four disciplines which follows: The first discipline,
production; is simply, how to create an artwork. It involves creative use of tools
and art equipment in innovative ways. It results in tangible studio products that
demonstrate critical thinking and imagination processes and art students get
stimulated as they explore or manipulate art media (Greene, 2014).

Art production is a critical component in any art programme. It is a domain that


promotes kinaesthetic development as students express themselves in some

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17

visual medium. Students are encouraged to explore a variety of media in the


process of production. They learn the peculiarities of different media. They are
also exposed to multi-media studies in which they learn how to combine media
in expressive ways. Students become masters of different media. According to
Greene (2014) studio production gives students the opportunity to express
themselves and show their individuality.

Another domain, art criticism, is equally important. In simple terms art criticism
is talking about art. It involves discussing, evaluating, interpreting and
analysing various aspects of art such as style, media and the use of art elements
and principles of design (Day and Hurwitz, 2012). Students carry out critiques
both verbal and in written form which heighten their understanding of the art
forms and their social context. As recommended by Feldman (1994) art criticism
follows four chronological steps, namely, description, analysis, interpretation
and judgement. Description involves describing what you see in the artwork
including the credit line information. In the second step, students analyse how
visual art elements such as colour, texture, shape are organised into principles of
design such as balance, variety, harmony, rhythm and proportion (Ragans,
2000). Talking about art elements and principles of design develops students
understanding of art as a means of visual communication (Lampert, 2006). Art
Criticism uses several areas of Blooms Taxonomy but also involves higher levels
of thinking. The third step, interpretation focuses on the diagnosis of the
artwork, to get its meaning while the last step, judgement, allows the viewers to
examine whether the artwork is successful or not, looking at how the art
elements were used. It also allows for personal feelings about an artwork, that is
whether one likes or dislikes the piece of work, with justification to their choices.
Eskine and Kozbelt (2015) view this stage as the critical judgement of specific
artworks which allows viewers to look within themselves and ask why they like
or dislike the piece of artwork. Choices can vary from one person to another
since it allows for individual opinions about the artifact. Thus, involving
children in this step will develop their critical, problem solving, self-reliant, self-
esteem and creativity skills (Schabmann et al, 2015).
Art History is described as the examination of the artists and arts contribution
to the societies and cultures. Studying art history helps students to understand
how visual communication has evolved overtime (Dash, 2006). It includes the
authors of the works and information about the work itself. Students get to
understand the artists themselves and the environment in which they
functioned, the historical periods and unfolding of events in time and space. We
get to understand the evolution of artistic styles and factors that influenced them
(Bamford, 2006). Thus, art work provides a visual record of the socio-cultural
changes over time, thus insights into the history of a people. It further provides
valuable insights and information about the present. Art and culture cannot be
separated from one another because both relates to the actions and continuation
of a people (Mannathoko, 2013). As a result, art students need to study art
history so that they get to understand how the artists understood their media,
means of expression as well as the philosophical underpinning their practices.
This leads to a better understanding of current practices which ideally are based
on the history and how art evolved through time (Merwe, 2007). This kind of

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18

methodology enables students to relate the past and the present and put their art
and understanding of art in context and comparison.

Art educationists have proven that art history relates to social studies as it helps
us examine historical events through an artists eyes. The discipline answers the
following questions: Why was the artwork created? How was it used? and What
was its purpose? Aesthetics on the other hand, deals with philosophical
questions, questions that address the nature of art and the beauty of phenomena.
It interrogates the notion of beauty and its relativity. It addresses the questions
on our judgement of art, whether good or bad (Day and Hurwitz, 2012). We all
react emotionally to artworks. The work of art can upset or excite us. Thus, our
values, experiences and thoughts of beauty influence what we think about the
art object. There are various activities that we can do with students that
challenge their understanding of the aesthetic domain. They can be asked to
define the subject and its nature. They should be asked to interrogate its nature
and epistemological origins. They learn to differentiate art from what is not art.
They identify art that belongs to the canon and why others cannot be similarly
canonised. Historicised works of art are identified and studied in detail. In their
philosophical inquiry, students make reference to socio-cultural factors that have
an influence on art production. They examine beliefs and values that influence
production and broaden their conceptual grasp of the nature of artistic
expression. A critical dimension of aesthetics is that it enables students to
appreciate art for its own sake without making reference to specific cultural
performances as models of good aesthetics. It therefore removes those cultural
barriers and limitations that could hinder them from an informed appreciation
of art from the other.

Through art criticism students develop the ability to justify their opinions and
positions. Moreover, Aesthetics helps students realise what kind of art pleases
most people. This is also helpful for them when decorating their homes and
choosing clothes. Furthermore, critical skills are used in Aesthetics because
questions such as; why one feels that way or why you came to a specific
conclusion may arise. As a result, Aesthetics sometimes go hand-in-hand with
Art Criticism. A number of people fail to differentiate aesthetics from art
criticism. However both are important in the development of critical and
reflective thinking. It is important to note that there is no one answer to a given
question. Diverse answers are all important. What is important is the effort to
work towards a solution. Such aesthetic interrogation is what is critical in the
two disciplines of aesthetics and art criticism. To address or to find solution for
the provided question is extremely significant. Thus, DBAE approach is
designed to insure that all learners obtain an in-depth study of art (Dhillon,
2006). This framework has been proven through time and research therefore, it
should be seriously considered by all the art teachers. Agosto (1993) in Dobbs
(1993) shares conclusions drawn from various researchers on DBAE
implementation. She says results revealed that students who approach their art
from the DBAE are in a position to construct their own personalised knowledge
as opposed to universalised knowledge. Their studio art is better informed and
quality is generally better. They have a broader perspective in their approach to

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19

art including their art and language comprehension and vocabularies which are
significantly enhanced. As a result, having an in-depth understanding of art
entails heightened abilities and capabilities to think critically, create, to write, to
evaluate and value art products.

Research Methodology
The paper aimed at examining the extent to which Botswana primary school art
curriculum and its pedagogical instruction addressed DBAE approach which is
believed by most art educationists in the Western countries to be the most
effective method of teaching and learning art. The study adopted a type of
education research called Action Research. The method is sometimes called
participatory action research since it includes findings by performing actions.
The method concentrates on a person carrying out findings with other people to
reach a conclusion. Mills (2014) states that Action research in education is about
investigating ones own practice in educational set ups. It involves gathering
data on their own teaching and students learning in their particular contexts.
This is linked to Deweys, Harbermas and Schons reflective practice critical in
the generation of self-knowledge. One can also investigate their operational
environments from a broader perspective such as the school environment,
resources and other factors that have a bearing on students learning outcomes
and performances. The aim is to improve practice by the individual or
participants in the given context.

According to Brundrett and Rhodes (2014) the purpose of action research is to


develop teacher researchers who are able to creatively solve everyday problems
encountered in the school context for the improvement of their own teaching
and students learning, improve curriculum and adapt instructional or
assessment strategies. The study adopted the Focus group method of interview
under qualitative research design. The decision to use focus group strategy was
prompted by Stewart and Shamdasanis (1990) ideas of focus group process
cited in Pickard (2007, p. 220). The aforementioned authors suggest the
following situations in which focus group discussions can be used: obtaining
general background information about a topic of interest; generating research
hypotheses that can be submitted to further research and testing using more
quantitative approaches; stimulating new ideas and creative concepts;
diagnosing the potential for problems with a new program, service or product;
generating impressions of products, programs, services institutions, or other
products of interest; learning how respondents talk about a phenomenon of
interest which may facilitate quantitative research tools and interpreting
previously obtained qualitative results. Adopting and adapting Stewart and
Shamdasanis (1990) advice, data was collected through engagement of
participants in groups, to examine the CAPA syllabus specifically, the art
component, in relation to DBAE framework. Participants were third-year in-
service student-teachers who were pursuing their primary education degree in
the University of Botswana as art education specialised. Thus, the study covered
what was practised in rural and urban learning contexts of Botswana.

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20

The geographical areas were sampled that way because students came from
various regions of the country under different cultural context and hence a good
representation of the study. I found it necessary to use this diverse and
representative sample so as to adequately cater for diverse contexts from which
the learners came from and teacher contexts articulating the CAPA curriculum
and methodology. Such an approach is emphasised by Parlett and Hamilton
(1972). The study was also informed by Paul Getty Trusts theory of Discipline
Based Art Education (DBAE) which advocated for encompassing the four
disciplinary categories for the purposes of teaching art. DBAE was introduced in
America in the early 1980s. According to Phung and Fendler, (2015) the
approach was designed to support a diminished emphasis on studio teaching
and encouraged education across the four aforementioned art disciplines. In-
service students-teachers from primary schools were found to be the most
appropriate target group as they were practicing teachers who were
implementers of the CAPA curriculum. Fifty-one (77%) of the participants held
Diploma in Education as art specialists while fifteen (23%) were art education
non-specialists teachers when pursuing diploma. The study focused on standard
seven class as it is the highest level of learning in primary school therefore,
having mature students who qualifies to a comprehensive art education
advocated by DBAE approach. They were assigned to first identify the objectives
which addressed DBAE approach and later categorise the selected objectives
according to specific DBAE components believed to be relating to them.

In addition, students were required to suggest activities which could be


developed during planning and teaching processes to cater for the omitted
DBAE disciplines. Prior to engaging students in the examination of the art
education curriculum, they were engaged in an activity to share their
experiences on how they implemented art modules within the CAPA syllabus. I
called this group Pre-Focus Group. Groups later presented their consolidated
results which showed no evidence of having knowledge of DBAE framework.
This prompted a formal class to introduce students to DBAE approach and later
engaged them in a second group activity which I named Post- Focus Group. At
this stage, the case study student-teachers were required to apply what they
learnt and hence check their understanding since they were in-service teachers
who were expected to implement what they learnt to promote DBAE and hence
making art education rich in all aspects of learning. The next stage involved
group presentations of their Post-Focus Group findings and opinions to
colleagues in class which led to common agreement as to which objectives in the
curriculum addressed specific DBAE disciplines.

Data was then consolidated so as to be disseminated to other academicians who


may use information for development of art education in their institutions. The
focus-group strategies followed to collect data were found to be very
appropriate for this type of study as per Packards (2007) advice that focus
group can be used at any point in the research design. During the early stages of
an investigation focus groups can allow you to explore a topic, to establish just
what the salient issues surrounding the topic are and what requires further
investigation. Using open focus groups allows your research participants to

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21

talk about the things that they feel are significant (p. 220). As a result, the focus
group method provided a useful guide to further studies as the results from the
Pre-Focus group prompted the next step which is teaching DBAE to student-
teachers and assign them to examine the CAPA syllabus in relation to DBAE.
The themes for discussion are centered around teacher competences in handling
the DBAE curriculum and student learning activities in this curriculum model.

Results
In this section I present the results in two main categories as data from student-
teachers is in two folds: Pre-Focus Groups where participants shared their
teaching in art and Post- Focus Groups where they examined the art education
modules in relation to DBAE framework.

Pre-Focus Groups: Sharing Experiences in the Teaching of Art


This section addresses the second research question which sought to find out the
extent to which strategies and methodologies used in Botswana primary schools
infuse aspects of DBAE as a curricula model. As aforementioned, student-
teachers were engaged in Pre-Focus Groups to share their experiences of how
they planned and taught art as a subject. This was after realising that the focus of
the art education objectives was on art production and a bit of the other three,
art history being the least covered after the study which prompted this research.
This was to find out the extent to which DBAE approach was catered for during
the implementation of the art curriculum. In terms of planning, participants said
schemes of work were done at regional level. According to responses, all regions
had teachers selected from schools to work together under the supervision of the
Education Officers. They were tasked with coming up with a common scheme of
work which could be used by all schools in a region for uniformity, since they
had common mid-examinations. This according to the case study student-
teachers involved just listing topics for a term so as to have common
arrangement. They explained with concern that, not all teachers who were
involved had knowledge of the subject and in some instances the whole team
lacked knowledge and skills in all the CAPA subjects. When responding to
approaches and methods of teaching art, all participants concurred that they
followed what was dictated by the specific objectives. For example, if the
objective required pupils to list art elements, they did exactly that since the
examination questions were guided by the objectives.

To check student- teachers effort in making art education comprehensive, a


guiding question was framed in the context of how student teachers made sure
their teaching addressed the CAPA attainment targets and how they
incorporated DBAE model into their teaching. All participants showed no
knowledge of the two concepts attainment targets and DBAE approach
although the CAPA syllabus stipulated attainment targets which informed the
designed objectives for each discipline listed under CAPA subject. Feedback
from student-teachers therefore, shows the need to help teachers understand the
nature of art as a subject and introduce them to effective approaches to teaching
and learning art, thus, equipping them with necessary skills and knowledge
which can help produce pupils with comprehensive art education. Mannathoko

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22

(2009) is of the view that if well implemented, DBAE strategy has the greatest
aim of teaching art in its social, cultural, and historical context and it combines
practical work with theoretical and contextual studies. She builds on the premise
that art is best approached from an interdisciplinary/integrative mode of fusing
the four DBAE disciplines, namely, art history, art criticism, art production and
aesthetics. This approach gives a holistic means of learning as opposed to the
fragmented and segmented approach. This philosophy of art according to
Walling (2000) came as a follow up of Bruners (1960) notion of giving students
an understanding of the fundamental structure of art. The good thing about the
strategy offered by DBAE to teach the arts using an integrated disciplines
approach is that, it does not only change what most art teachers teach but also
alters the view of the nature and value of art education. Having knowledge in
DBAE therefore, could assist teachers to identify gaps in the art curriculum and
come up with activities to biff the content. Thus, student-teachers were
introduced to the model of DBAE after realising their lack of knowledge in the
area. To check their understanding and preparing them for incorporation of the
approach when going back to schools, students were later tasked to examine the
CAPA syllabus specifically standard seven art education section in relation to
DBAE. They were to identify objectives addressing DBAE disciplines and
categorise them as shown in table 2 in the next section.

Post-Focus Groups: Examination of the Art Education Objectives within the


CAPA syllabus in relation to DBAE
The task under this theme was also designed to respond to the first research
question which was to investigate the extent to which upper primary art
education objectives addressed DBAE. As aforementioned, student-teachers
were tasked to examine the art education aspect of CAPA to identify objectives
addressing DBAE components and categorise them as shown in table 1. In
addition, students were required to suggest activities which pupils could be
engaged in to close the identified gaps. Some of the suggestions were an
extension of existing objectives while some were newly designed to cater for
omitted disciples. I have extracted standard seven Art education general
objectives listed in the CAPA syllabus and categorised them according to the
DBAE disciplines they address. Thereafter, specific objectives designed by the
Curriculum Development and Evaluation Unit (2005) which are stipulated in the
CAPA syllabus were arranged according to the DBAE disciplines that they
match and inserted in table 1. The general objectives as per the Curriculum
Development and Evaluation Unit (2005) state that at the end of standard seven,
learners should be able to: use art elements and principles in drawing (Art
Production); develop skills and techniques of colour schemes (Art production);
apply skills and techniques in batik making (Art production); apply skills and
techniques in ornament making (Art production); develop skills and techniques
in sculpture making by carving (Art production) and develop skills and
techniques of sculpture making by construction (Art production).

These results reveal that standard seven art education has six general objectives
which are all advocating art production discipline. There is no evidence of
emphasis on the other three disciplines namely; criticism, art history and
aesthetics.

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Table 1: Categories of Standard 7 Art Education Specific Objectives (from 2005 CAPA
syllabus)
according to DBAE
Topic Art Criticism Art History Art Production Aesthetics
Drawing (Art -Analyse art N/A - Explore the use of -Analyse art
elements & elements & art elements & elements &
principles) principles in a principles in principles in a
given artwork. drawing. given artwork. *
. -Create a - Explore the use
composition using of art elements &
art elements & principles in
principles. drawing. *
Painting -Recognise the N/A - Explore with -Recognise the use
(Colour use of colour colour schemes in of colour schemes
schemes) schemes in an painting. in an artwork. *
artwork. * -Create a
composition using a
chosen colour
scheme.
2-Dimensional -Define batik. * Experiment -Experiment with -Experiment with
Crafts (Batik) with artificial artificial & natural artificial & natural
& natural dyes dyes in batik dyes in batik
in batik making. making. *
making. * -Explore the use of -Explore the use of
tools & materials in tools & materials
batik making. in batik making. *
-Create a batik work
such as scarf, skirt &
wall hanging.
3-Dimensional -Explain body -Explore -Decorate jewellery -Decorate jewellery
Crafts (Body ornaments. * different made from paper by made from paper
ornaments) -Identify types of materials & painting & by painting &
ornaments. * techniques for texturing. texturing. *
making body -Explore different -Explore different
ornaments. * materials & materials &
-Make body techniques for techniques for
ornaments making body making body
using different ornaments. ornaments. *
materials. * -Make body -Make body
ornaments using ornaments using
different materials. different materials.
*
Sculpture -Recognise Identify -Explore with tools, -Recognise
(Carving) examples of materials materials & examples of
sculpture made suitable for techniques in sculpture made by
by carving. sculpture sculpture making.by carving. *
making by carving. -Explore with
carving. * -Create a sculpture tools, materials &

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by carving either in techniques in


relief or in the sculpture
round. making.by carving.
*
-Identify materials
suitable for
sculpture making
by carving. *
Construction -Explain mobile, -Explore with -Explore with tools, -Explore with
relief & tools, materials materials & tools, materials &
freestanding & techniques techniques in techniques in
sculptures. * in sculpture sculpture making by sculpture making
making by construction. by construction. *
construction. * -Construct a
sculpture using
appropriate
materials &
techniques.

Like the general objectives, specific objectives shown in Table 1 also show
emphasis on the discipline of art production because from the 16 (55%) specific
objectives identified as directly addressing DBAE from the overall total of 29, 15
(94%) were said to advocate art production while 1 (6%) focused on art
criticism. In addition, students identified 23 specific objectives which could be
adopted to cater for the omitted disciplines. 6 (26%) of these objectives were
attached to art criticism, 5 (22%) to art history and 12 (52%) to aesthetics.
Examples of activities pupils could be engaged in to cover for the omitted
objectives were suggested. It is important to note that some of these objectives
were adopted from the already existing objectives under art criticism and art
production in table 1 while some were newly identified from the syllabus and
added to the table. Activities were designed to suit specific disciplines as shown
in the examples below: This included art history under the topics Drawing
and Painting as the discipline was not attached to any specific objective.
Drawing & Painting under art history: Student-teachers were of the same view
that drawing and painting media and techniques used in the past including
purposes of the images created should be introduced to upper classes in
primary schools to prepare them for art history courses at high education.

Activities suggested included: introducing students to rock paintings; scratched


wood work and branded leather work. The objectives under art criticism state
that pupils should be able to talk about artwork and apply art elements and
principles of design were said to can develop pupils aesthetics skills because
they will be exposed to various artworks and analysing them will help them
understand the artists intensions and hence appreciate the works which is
aesthetics. In addition, the findings further reveals that as pupils experiment
with the visual elements which is an objective for drawing under art
production, they will incorporate ideas learnt when analysing art pieces and

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25

hence showing appreciation of other artists work which will result in the
discipline of aesthetics. Moreover, the objective which states that pupils should
recognise the use of colour schemes in an artwork was adopted and adapted to
suit art criticism and aesthetics, the explanation being that before children use
colour, they need to learn its importance and how it can communicate different
expressions and reality and that knowledge can only be gained through
discussion of artworks and hence pupils appreciating colours around them.
Steers (2005) concurs with this idea that children understand art better if
involved in art criticism. 2-Dimensional Crafts (Batik) The objective Define
batik was placed under the discipline of art criticism with the justification that
the definition of batik incorporate its processes therefore, for children to
understand the technique, the teacher should bring a sample for them to discuss
looking at how media and art elements were used in a design to address the
design principles. This view too can also lead to the discipline of aesthetics as
pupils will appreciate other designers work and benefit from their ideas when
creating their own work.

Furthermore, experimenting with improvised materials such as dyes from


natural matter in fabric design which is an objective under art production in
table 3, was said to can also address art history and aesthetics in the sense that
discussion of artificial dyes will lead to talking about batik media and techniques
used in the past such as boiling roots and leaves with colour to dye fabric for
decoration purposes or to communicate a certain culture. Student-teachers said
children will later on engage in the use of batik making tools and other
materials. (Objective under art production) assuming that they will be allowed
to explore both artificial and natural media and techniques and hence appreciate
both of them which is aesthetics. With respect to 3-Dimensional Crafts (Body
ornaments); suggestions were made that objectives adopted for art criticism
explain body ornaments and identify types of ornaments could be covered by
bringing different samples to class and asking pupils to identify materials used
and explain the processes they think were followed to create the product.

One of the student-teachers commented that the type or name of the ornaments
is derived from the material used and gave an example of beads necklace that
they are made from beads. As shown in table 3, the two objectives on
exploration of materials and making of body ornaments using different
materials were adopted from the discipline of art production to also cover art
history and aesthetics. Student-teachers suggested that under art history,
pupils should be exposed to materials and techniques used in the past such as
clay, snail shells and dry wild fruits beads so as to appreciate the work of
ornament which evolved over time which informs the present. According to
Mannathoko and Major (2013) exposing children to a variety of media develop
their creativity skills and hence gain confidence in their creation of artwork.
Sculpture (Carving): The objective recognise examples of sculpture made by
carving was seen by student- teachers to can cover art criticism and aesthetics
arguing that children can only be able to differentiate sculptures if engaged in an
activity which allows for deeper understanding of their media and techniques
and even their roles thus, resulting in appreciation which is aesthetics in art

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26

perspective. They therefore, suggested that teachers could bring samples or take
children for an art tour to a relevant art centre for them to critique sculptures
having guiding questions or statements designed by the teacher to focus
children on the activity. Identifying materials suitable for sculpture making by
carving objective categorised under art history was said to can cover art
history if children can be taught about the role of sculptures in the past, how
they were created and media used then later given images of various sculptures
both created in the past and contemporary ones to categorise according to
Traditional and Contemporary sculptures.

Examples were given as clay, wood, aluminium, plaster of paris and papier
mach sculptures. Chanda (1993) has discussed types and roles of African
sculptures in the past, giving an example of a small wooden human figure
sculpture which was tied to women who had problems of giving birth. They
were also other types buried in secret areas and honoured as they were believed
to be ancestors with powers that could destroy the community and no one was
allowed to go to the place or else disaster would be experienced by the whole
community. Finally, students concurred that two objectives based on exploration
of sculpture media and materials and the proper identification of such materials
under art history was adopted to can also cover the discipline of aesthetics
with the argument that as children understand sculpture of the past and explore
various media and techniques, they will understand them broadly and
appreciate sculpture created in different times and thus, developing aesthetics
skills. Construction The objective explain mobile, relief & freestanding
sculptures was believed if adopted could cater for art criticism with the
justification that children can be exposed to the images or real sculptures and
allowed to discuss them in terms of the media and techniques used to create
each of the three types. The student who suggested the activity explained to
colleagues that children will understand better if engaged in critiquing the
sculptures rather than just explaining the concepts. With art history and
aesthetics, an objective on exploration of sculpture materials and tools was
adopted from art production and students agreed that the two disciplines can
be covered by an activity discussed under sculpture (carving) which advocate
exposure of children to sculptures created over time and hence promote the
discipline of aesthetics. Educationists such as Lindstron (2007) and Bain (2004)
advice educators to effectively engage children in all the four aspects of DBAE so
as to produce citizens who are diverse and who can face all the challenges in life.

Conclusions and Recommendations


The document analysis data revealed that DBAE was not mentioned in the art
education within the CAPA syllabus. Nevertheless, some of the general
objectives and specific objectives linked well with the DBAE disciplines. The
objectives emphasised the discipline of Art Production with less focus on Art
History. In addition, the Pre-Focus Group data has revealed that all the
student-teachers lacked knowledge of DBAE framework as they have not been
considering components of the DBAE when implementing art education
modules within the CAPA syllabus. However, after being introduced to the
approach, they showed a lot of understanding as they were able to identify the

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27

objectives from the CAPA, matching DBAE disciplines and placed each at the
relevant discipline.

They further managed to come up with activities which could be implemented


to cover for the omissions. The study therefore; recommends a further study to
make a follow-up with students who were engaged in this project to see how far
and how well they implement what they learnt in terms of DBAE framework. It
would also be of benefit to the education system in Botswana to incorporate
DBAE approach in the arts syllabus so as to guide teachers who could be lacking
knowledge of this important approach to art teaching and learning. Thus, the
intension is to organise a workshop for various education personnel to share
with them the DBAE approach to teaching the arts.

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International Journal of Learning, Teaching and Educational Research


Vol. 15, No. 1, pp. 30-41, January 2016

Inclusive Education and Challenges of Providing


Classroom Support to Students with Blindness in a
General Education Classroom at a School in Botswana

Joseph Habulezi
University of Botswana,
Gaborone, Botswana

Odiretsemang Molao
Central Regional Education Office,
Serowe, Botswana

Sandy Mphuting
Kgalagadi Regional Education Office,
Kang, Botswana

Kebotlositswe Mark Kebotlositswe


Molefi Senior Secondary School,
Mochudi, Botswana

Abstract. The research investigated classroom support provision and the


challenges of providing support to students who are blind in a general
education classroom at an inclusive secondary school in Botswana.
Interviews, observation and questionnaires were used to collect the data.
The challenges of providing classroom assistance to students who are
blind in general education Biology classrooms are as diverse as the
students themselves. The teaching methods some teachers use do not
cater for all the students in an inclusive classroom. The main factors
leading to this include lack of adequate preparation and shortage of
both human and material resources. The class enrolments pose a
challenge because the classrooms are over enrolled. The study
recommends that special education Biology teachers be increased at the
school and more learning support workers equally be hired. Teacher
capacity building should also be considered as well as the acquisition of
more access technology.
Keywords: Classroom support; blindness; Botswana; challenges.

1. Introduction
Botswana has committed itself to achieving full inclusion in education to both
maximise the potential of its people for the future development of the country
and to fully comply with the international requirements for human and
educational rights. This is because the country views education, (Christie, 2010,

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31

UNESCO, 1994, 2001, 2008, 2009), a basic human right. In its positive efforts to
fulfil its commitment, the government of Botswana through the Ministry of
Education and Skills Development formulated a guiding mission statement; to
provide efficient, quality, and relevant education and training that is accessible
to all. Consequently, in 2011, an inclusive education policy was launched and
implemented.

The implementation of inclusive education, though, has faced some challenges.


Despite all the efforts to cater for all students equitably, students with blindness
at a senior secondary school in Kgatleng District in Botswana are academically
performing poorly. This study, therefore, investigated the challenges of
providing classroom support to students with blindness in a Biology class. The
research aimed at establishing the underlying challenges of providing assistance
to students with blindness in a general education Biology classroom at a
secondary school in Kgatleng District in Botswana. Basing on the findings, the
study suggested solutions to overcoming the challenges.

Overleaf is a table showing an extract of the performance of the students in


reference in their final form five results from the school. For ethical reasons, the
names of students have been replaced with letters. Botswana uses the points
system in which a distinction, A is 8 points, B is 7 points, C is 6 points, D is
5 points, E is 4 points while F, G and U attract no points.

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32

Table 1.1 Performance of students with visual impairment in the 2014 BGCSE
Student name examinations

English language

Setswana

Mathematics

Science Double Award

Chemistry

Physics

Biology

History

Geography

Social Studies

Literature in English

Religious Education

Commerce

Points attained
Art
A E C C DD D B C C 36

B D C C D D E D B C 35

C C D F DD C E 31

D D D D DD C D E E 31

E G C E EE D B 30

F C E E FF E D D 28

G E C F GG E E C F 24

H G D G GG E D C E 24

I E D U GG D D D 24
J E D U GG C F C F 21

K E D G UU E E E 17

L E D U UU U G B 16

M G E U UU U U C G 10

N F F U UU G F G 0

O F F U UU U F U 0

BGCSE-Botswana general certificate of secondary education


Source: Special Education Department, 2015

The trend of the results above prompted this research to find out the challenges of
providing classroom support to students with blindness in a general education
Biology class at a school in Botswana. Providing support to students who are
blind remains a challenge in general education classrooms and these challenges
vary as some lie with the teachers, while others lie with the students. Students
who are visually impaired have unique learning needs that must be addressed in
order for these students to become independent and productive citizens of the
society. It is against this back drop that today the family and educational
institutions face a significant challenge in providing services that will enhance the
positive academic outcomes for such students. One cannot over emphasis the fact

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33

that making appropriate decisions about students who are blind requires clear
understanding of their unique learning needs and interventions.

2. Classroom support
Classroom support mainly provides assistance to teachers during classroom
activities. Sharma et al (2010) emphasise that when students who are blind are
included in the classroom, it allows the mainstream teacher receive the much
needed assistance in the teaching of the needy students. Support basically refers
to resources and strategies that promote a students development, education,
interests and personal well-being in the classroom (Mphande, 2011). The support
offered needs to align with the teaching and learning methods the mainstream
class teacher uses for all the students to benefit academically (Abbott, 2014).

This environment should start with the attitude of school administrators


towards the inclusion of the students who are blind. The administrators attitude
influences the attitude of others, therefore creating acceptance or rejection. The
administrators should not only establish a school based support team and
encourage collaboration but also be active members of the team. Other members
of the team like learning support workers must be made available to increase
support in the classroom. In addition, classroom support can be provided by
specialist teachers who would support general education teachers during
lessons or they can co-teach. Travers et al (2014) warn that the organisation and
management of additional support for students require on-going monitoring
and review to evaluate its effectiveness. The support provided by learning
support workers should be importantly aiding the development of
independence in the students.

In the classrooms, the students who are blind should be availed opportunities to
learn like any other student. Firstly, the trained special education teacher should
assist students in the development of the sense of touch and use of other senses
in order to respond positively to situations. Williams (2015) and Fraser (2015)
recommend that the students who are blind should not be treated as passive
observers any more but must be involved actively in all the lessons. Greater
concept realisation and increased interest for students can only be realised if the
students are valued and given opportunities like all other students.

Piljl and Van den Bos (2001) advise that teachers should talk while they teach
and verbalise notes as they write legibly on the board. Delors (1996), Witburn
(2014) and William (2015) add that the use of verbal commentary, use of hands
on experience, sensitive questioning, explanations and descriptions can bring
alive the abstract material of some subject areas. In addition, students with
blindness should be strategically positioned to maximise their potential visually
or auditory. Students who are blind cannot fully access the curriculum if
modifications and adaptations are not considered. It is therefore important to
consider the abilities of students in any given subject and content. Nasib (2005)
asserts that changes to the syllabi, content or period of a course can be changed
to cater for students impairment in line with their abilities. Access technology
simplifies and aids in most of the operations of supporting the students learning
in inclusive education.

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34

3. The study
The study investigated current classroom support given to students who are
blind during Biology lessons at an identified school in Kgatleng District in
Botswana. The purpose was also to investigate existing challenges that interfere
with supporting the successful learning of students with blindness and academic
achievement of the students in Biology. The questions that guided the study
include:

1. What classroom support is currently offered to students who are blind in a


general education classroom at the school?
2. What are the studentrelated challenges that interfere with classroom support
that is provided to students with blindness in a general education classroom at
the school?
3. What are the teacher-related challenges that interfere with classroom support
that is provided to students with blindness in a general education classroom at
the school?

4. Population and sample


Students from six Form 5 classes which had students who are blind and the
teachers who taught those classes were the target population. A purposefully
selected sample of informants who were deemed knowledgeable about the
subject included a Biology specialist teacher for students who are blind, a
Biology general classroom teacher, 7 students with blindness and 8 sighted
learners. Volunteer sampling, though, was used on the sighted learners after the
research purpose was explained to the classes.

Table 1.2 Classification of interviewees

Participants No. of Participants Females Males

Biology specialist teacher 1 1 0

Students who are blind 7 2 5

Biology general classroom teacher 1 1 0

Sighted learners 8 5 3

Total 17 9 8

5. Methods
The study used a mixed methods approach to collect data. This included one-to-
one and focus group interviews, lesson observations and questionnaires. More
than one methods of data collection were used because they can show the result
and explain why it was obtained. Additionally, it places credibility and
dependability of the findings of the study (McMillan and Schumacher, 2014).
The lesson observations were done in two days in the two classrooms that had
students with blindness to understand the assistance students were accorded
during lessons. Two observations were done; each session lasted 40 minutes.
This was guided by a 10 point observation check list that was administered

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35

during lessons. The observations were done by the Senior Teacher Biology who
was also a member of the research team. The lessons were video recorded with
participants permission.

The interview was also used to collect data. 17 participants were used as shown
in table 1.2 above. The gender break down and statuses of participants are
provided in the table above. The participants age in years ranged from 16 to 40.
Arrangements for the interviews were made following the ethical procedures
and understanding of the research purpose. The interviews were video recorded
with participants permission. In addition, self-administered questionnaires
were used on students with blindness. The questions were formulated, brailled
and hand delivered to students. The responses were then transcribed from
braille to ink print.

6. Ethical considerations
The Regional Education office, which sponsored the research during the
Inclusive Education Action Research, assisted the researchers in obtaining
permission and consent from the relevant personnel.

7. Results
The findings from the data collected show that the trained and qualified general
education Biology teacher used diagrams which were not embossed. The
observations also showed that the diagrams used by the general biology teacher
were not bold enough (visible). They were also crowded with labels. The
inappropriate use of the diagrams in this case became a disadvantage to the
students with low vision since they could neither see nor read the information
clearly. The teacher confessed that sometimes she would only remember about
the students who are blind when she entered the class to teach. This presented a
big challenge for students who are blind since they could not see the materials.
The sighted students assisted by describing the diagrams to the students who
are blind. Lesson notes were most often made available in the form of hand-outs
in ordinary print and in large print, thus only useful to the sighted students
together with those with low vision. During the lesson, the general education
Biology classroom teacher wrote small letters on the chalk board, drew
illustrative diagrams which she did not let students with blindness know about.

On the other hand, the Biology specialist teacher for students who are blind was
descriptive in her teaching. Whilst teaching, she would pause to allow students
ask questions or walk to students who are blind to reinforce. She wrote bigger
letters on the chalk board and also spelled and read out some of the key words
as the lesson was in progress so that students with blindness could benefit.
Interview results indicated that some effort is made to support all students. The
special education Biology teacher had prepared some files with brailled hand
outs and embossed diagrams. These learning materials were made available to
the students with blindness during the lesson. There were no prescribed
recorded or brailled Biology text books found during the research in the library
or special education department.

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36

The students who are blind were very concerned with the absence of prescribed
text books in Biology. They pointed out that the diagrams and lesson hand outs
are mostly derived from text books. The students with blindness could not use
the available text books for the purpose of research, homework or preparation
for examination. The research findings indicated that there is an acute shortage
of human resources in the special education unit. The respondents mentioned
the need to provide more special education Biology teachers and learning
support workers.

During the observations, no learning support workers were found in any of the
classes. At the time of this research, there was only one learning support worker
against 21 students with blindness. Out of the nine Biology teachers in the
school, there was only one who was trained in special education. To add on to
this problem, the specialist Biology teacher had been allocated four (4) classes of
Biology to teach. This included the class which had a total of twenty nine (29)
students including four (4) with blindness. In both classes observed, the students
with blindness were strategically positioned; nearer to the chalk board and with
a buddy. Other than the perkins braillers and the hand frames, there were no
assistive devices found in the classrooms. At the Special Education Department
though, there were three closed circuit televisions, seven talking scientific
calculators, head phones, 2 braille printers connected to computers, perkins
braillers, a photocopying machine and two tape recorders.

8. Discussion

8.1 Teaching Methods


From the lesson observations conducted, the Biology special education teacher
taught a class for 40 minutes. During the lesson, the teacher was descriptive in
her teaching. She used a large hand writing to write on the chalk board and
spelled out all the words she wrote, pausing all the time to check whether all
students were on board. She also gave individualised attention to students with
blindness. This benefited all the students. Her teaching method is synonymous
with the recommendation of Piljl and Van den Bos (2001) that teachers should
talk while they teach and verbalise notes as they write legibly on the board. Roe
(2008), Williams (2015) and Niwagaba (2014) add that the use of verbal
commentary, use of hands on experience, sensitive questioning, explanations
and descriptions can bring alive the abstract material of some subject areas. On
the other hand, the general Biology classroom teacher used small hand writing
on the chalk board and did not spell out everything she wrote on the chalk
board. This disadvantaged both students who are totally blind and those with
low vision. More often, the students do not benefit from such lessons.

8.2 Learning materials provided


Observation, interview and questionnaire results reveal that students with
blindness in a class taught by a special education specialist Biology teacher were
given brailled notes, embossed diagrams, enlarged hand outs, magnifying
glasses and laboratory apparatus for tactile observation. Mavundukure (2001)
and Opretti and Belalcazar (2008) all support the use of learning materials for
students who are blind because they increase accessibility and clearer

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37

understanding of the subject matter. Contrary to the practice and sound views
above, students with blindness in a class that was taught by a general education
Biology teacher were not provided with any pre brailled materials, embossed
diagrams or any other learning material other than perkins braillers.
Occasionally, the teacher stated that she provides students with large print
materials and allows students with blindness to explore laboratory apparatus or
models. This makes the students use perkins braillers to take down notes in class
and eventually cause a lot of noise throughout the lesson because the braillers
did not even have rubber mats to absorb the noise.

8.3 Lack of access technology


In the self-administered questionnaire, 6 out of the 7 students with blindness
stated that digital or computer aided learning materials were not availed to them
during lessons. Interviews of both teachers and students yielded the same result
that there are no assistive devices being used during Biology lessons except for
hand frames, hand held magnifiers and perkins braillers. The students also
bemoaned the fact that they were unable to access internet to research because
there are no adapted computers except for the two which are used for materials
production. A snap survey in the Special Education Department revealed that
there are three closed circuit televisions, seven talking scientific calculators, head
phones, 2 braille printers connected to computers, perkins braillers, a
photocopying machine and two tape recorders.

At the time of this research, the school had an enrolment of 21 students with
blindness among whom 16 were braille users and five used large print. Going by
the numbers of the students and the available equipment, there is need to
increase the access technology that is available especially internet connection to
the Special Education Department and acquisition of adapted computers for
students with blindness. Adaptive technology is very important, as Bray, Brown
and Green (2004) and DePountis, Pogrund, Griffin-Shirley, and Lan (2015)
stipulate, because it has revolutionised, simplified and improved the efficiency
in modifying and adapting teaching and learning materials for students who are
blind.

8.4 Shortage of learning support staff


Interviews and observations showed that there is a serious shortage of learning
support staff. This includes braillists, learning support workers and special
education Biology teachers. The school has 9 Biology teachers but among them,
there is only one special education Biology teacher for students with blindness,
who does not only support students in her classes, but also other students too
and all the teachers for Physics and Chemistry. With her teaching load of four
classes at the time of the research, this seems to be too much for her to be
effective enough in the provision of meaningful learning support. This defeats
the Government of Botswanas (2006) efforts and guidelines that consideration
should be made to reduce special education teachers teaching loads by one class
to allow them time to assist other subject teachers as well as students who are
blind.

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38

There were no learning support workers in the classes during the observations;
students also confirmed this during interviews. The only learning support
worker mostly accompanies students who are visually impaired to the hospital.
Mwakyeja (2013) and Habulezi and Phasha (2012) state that the primary
responsibility of the learning support worker is to support the classroom
teacher, enabling the teacher to provide the educational programme that meets
the needs of all the students in the class, including the students with blindness.
This important role has not been played because there is only one learning
support worker against 21 students. This seriously impacts negatively in the
students participation and understanding of experiments conducted during
lessons. Teachers normally make students with blindness sit next to sighted
learners who lend their support by describing the diagrams drawn on the board
to their colleagues. This form of assistance enables the students with blindness to
visualise and comprehend the lesson instructions during the course of the
Biology lesson but may disadvantage the sighted students as they could miss
points in the process of learning.

8.5 Lesson preparation


The interview further revealed that the general Biology teachers lesson planning
did not cater much for the students who are blind. Planning ahead of the lesson
would help the teacher to organise the lesson and assemble materials
appropriate to the lesson content. If a student with low vision requires enlarged
print, audio tapes or brailled materials, they should be prepared ahead of time
(Nasib, 2005). With regard to the special education Biology teacher, interview
results indicated that some effort was made to support the students who are
blind. Before her lesson, she prepared some files with brailled notes and
embossed diagrams. These learning materials were made available to students
with blindness before or when they met for lessons. This foresight in planning
ensured the inclusion and increased participation of students with blindness
during lessons. In fact, Sharma et al (2010) assert that flexibility, adaptability and
positive attitudes toward inclusion are co-attributes of successful inclusive
teachers.

8.6 Sitting arrangement and number of students in classes


In Biology classrooms and laboratories, just like Niwagaba (2014) advices, the
students with blindness were strategically positioned in the front row nearer to
the teacher and chalk board. They are also made to sit side by side with the
sighted students. According to both of the teachers, this sitting arrangement
enabled the students with blindness to easily hear the lesson instructions since
they were closer to the teacher. The front row seats allow the students with low
vision to see the diagrams drawn on the chalkboard. The sighted students who
sit next to students who are visually impaired also play an important role in the
support system. As already pointed out, the sighted students assist by dictating
notes, spelling words and describing diagrams and pictures used during the
lesson. The number of students was slightly lower where there were students
with visual impairment but somehow higher. It must be realised that one (1)
student who is blind in Botswana, is equated to 4 sighted students. Taking this
scenario into consideration it therefore means a class with 37 students including
four students with visual impairment is quite large, with a very high teacher

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39

student ratio. This further curtails the support that the specialist teacher renders
to the students with visual impairment.

8.7 Remedial lessons


Rarely, the general education Biology teacher conducts remedial lessons. On the
other hand, this is a regular practice for the special education Biology teacher
who takes time to meet and conduct remedial lessons with the students who are
visually impaired separately during study time. This gives the students an
opportunity to learn some of the concepts they could not fully comprehend
during normal lessons. Witburn (2014) and Mwakyeja (2013) recommend pre
and post tutoring sessions in the sense that they give an opportunity to go over
key concepts and discuss what went well or was particularly difficult and
examine the quality of any work produced. In addition to teaching normal
lessons the special education Biology teacher emphasized the need to meet with
the students with visual impairment for the purpose of guidance and
counselling. In terms of life skills learning, these occasions reinforce the sense in
which students take responsibilities for aspects of their own organization and
keep them well-grounded both in their academic and personal lives. In contrast,
the general Biology teacher did not mention ever conducting guidance sessions
with the students who are blind.

9. Conclusion
The challenges of providing classroom support to students who are blind in a
general education Biology classroom are as diverse as the students themselves.
The teaching methods most teachers use do not cater for all the students in the
inclusive classroom because most of the teachers in the school are not trained in
the teaching and learning methods for students with special educational needs.
In addition, the majority of the teachers lack adequate preparation for their
lessons in that they may prepare for the mainstream students but forget that
there are students who are blind who may need brailled, enlarged, embossed or
recorded teaching and learning materials. The challenges are compounded by
the shortage of trained special education Biology teachers, learning support
workers, access technology and brailled or recorded prescribed Biology text
books. The human resource shortages translate into workloads that are too much
to efficiently manage for the trained special education Biology teacher and the
only learning support worker. The class enrolments also pose a challenge
because the more the students in the class, the more difficult it becomes to
support them.

10. Recommendations
The study recommends that more special education Biology teachers be
deployed to the school and more learning support workers should equally be
hired. Access technology simplifies work and reduces demand for human
resources; more of the access technology should therefore be procured. Teacher
capacity building should equally be considered.

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40

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42

International Journal of Learning, Teaching and Educational Research


Vol. 15, No. 1, pp. 42-65, January 2016

Small-Group Discussion and the Development


of Interpretive Strategies in Literature
Classrooms: a Quasi-Experimental Study with 9th
- Grade Students

Agapi Dalkou and Evangelia Frydaki


National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece

Abstract. This article presents a quasi-experimental study exploring the


effect of small-group discussion on students ability to develop
interpretive strategies in literature classrooms. In the absence of such
research in secondary education, we conducted a study with 9th-grade
students, including one experimental group and one control group. The
main hypothesis was that, when students approach literary texts by
working in peer-led small groups, with a teacher facilitator, they
develop interpretive strategies to a greater extent than when they
approach texts within the context of teacher-centered instruction.
Results indicated that, by the end of the academic year, a) students who
studied literary texts in small groups developed interpretive strategies
to a higher level than students who worked on texts alone, within the
context of teacher-centered instruction and b) students of the
experimental group demonstrated higher individual competence in the
development of interpretive strategies, but the improvement was not
statistically significant. Conclusions and implications for educational
practice are being discussed.

Keywords: secondary education; literature classrooms; interpretive


strategies; interpretation; small group discussion

Introduction
A common problem often identified in literature classrooms, both in
secondary and college education, is students lack of ability -or preparedness- to
assume an interpretive stance on their own (Eckert, 2008). Relevant research
suggests that struggling readers comprehension of literary texts can be
improved if their teachers provide them with suitable reading skills, as well as
with regular opportunities to read, discuss texts and respond to literature
(Almasi & Fullerton, 2012).
However, as Hamel & Smith (1998) point out, there are few models that can
help teachers overcome the difficulties they face in helping students

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43

comprehend texts and, at the same time, be involved in student-centered


discussions. Likewise, teachers find themselves in an awkward position when
they try to teach their students how to deal with a literary text how to interpret
it - by avoiding the danger to impose the one and only correct interpretation.
A possible solution to this problem is claimed to be the use of small-
group discussion. Small-group work is the essential aspect of cooperative
learning, which, according to R. Slavin, refers to a variety of teaching methods in
which students work in small groups to help one another learn academic content
(Slavin, 1995, p. 2). Working in small groups is considered as a fundamental
part of academic learning in general (Gillies & Ashman, 2003), as it enhances
student involvement in the learning process (Hiltz, 1998). Moreover, when it
comes to secondary education, cooperation matches with the adolescent culture,
since, as Slavin (1995) points out, during adolescence, the peer group becomes all-
important (Slavin, 1995, p. 3) and small-group work provides both high and
low-achieving students with the opportunity to succeed academically without
peer contempt.
Given the limited research in this area, particularly in the case of Greece,
this study aims to explore whether middle adolescents approaching literary texts
by working in small groups develop interpretive strategies to a greater extent
than when they approach texts within the context of teacher-led instruction. We
consider that such an exploration could be helpful for both the research
community and literature teachers in secondary schools.

Review of Related Literature: Small Groups and their Effects on Adolescent


Students Reading Skills
Research on Primary School Students and Early Adolescents. Over the
last two decades, a number of studies on small-groups and their use on literature
instruction has demonstrated the positive effects of peer-led, small-group
discussions on students interaction with literary texts. Many of these studies
focus on primary school students (up to 11 years of age), like the work of
Almasi, (1995) on peer-groups and their effect on students ability to solve socio-
cognitive conflicts that occur during literature discussions, the study of Law
(2011) on cooperative learning and reading comprehension, or the work of
Slavin et al. (2009) on the effects of The Reading Edge, a cooperative program
for the teaching of literature in middle schools (sixth-grade students).
Supporting evidence of the relationship between cooperative or
collaborative learning and enhanced literacy outcomes is also provided by a
recent meta-analytic review conducted by Puzio & Colby (2013). The authors
reviewed over thirty years of research on literacy. They found that, overall,
student performance on literacy tests was significantly higher when teaching
practices included cooperative and collaborative learning activities. This review
included studies with students from Grades 2 through 12.
Early adolescents are also the center of Fletchers (2014) research on
effective reading strategies for early adolescents (11-13 years old). Fletcher
conducted an extensive literature search of related studies that have taken place
since the mid-1990s. The review ends up with a summary of effective teaching
features and practices, including small group work; however, working in small
groups is just one of the many practices that effective teachers implement, and
it is not presented as the key to a successful teaching.

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Stevens (2003) has conducted a study which focused on adolescents and


their specific learning needs. Stevens implemented a literacy program called
Student Team Reading and Writing (STRW). The program focuses on early
adolescents (6th-8th grade , age 11-14), its primary goal being to respond to their
needs and abilities, by incorporating a number of instructional changes, like
using good literature as the basis for reading instruction, providing
instruction on reading comprehension strategies, using cooperative learning
strategies, etc. Results favored students of the experimental schools against
students of the comparison schools, whose teachers used traditional instructional
methods (p.153). The author believes that cooperative learning is probably the
most effective component of the program, since it motivates students to actively
engage in the learning process and it takes advantage of adolescents strong peer
orientation (p. 156). Like most studies in literacy instruction, this study also
focuses on reading comprehension as a desired learning outcome or ability.
In their experimental study, Vaughn et al. (2011) examined the effects of
a reading program called Collaborative Strategic Reading (CSR) on reading
comprehension. It was a large-scale experiment, with 7th and 8th grade
students. Results showed that treatment students scored higher than control
students on the reading comprehension tests. The authors state that it is possible
that collaborative work, which promotes student engagement and discussion
about text, may be the key element of CSR. However, their study does not
address which elements of CSR have a major impact on reading comprehension.
Research on Middle Adolescents. When it comes to middle adolescent
students, research seems to be more limited. Studies in this field have also
illustrated the positive outcomes of small-group discussions of literature. In an
earlier study on 9th grade students, Nystrand, Gamoran & Heck (1993)
investigated whether and under what conditions peer-group work would help
students think and reason about literary texts. They found that small-group
discussion can be very effective if teachers want students to develop higher
order thinking, compare ideas, or reach a general agreement on a controversial
issue. However, the positive effects of small-group work are visible only if
certain conditions are met; groups must be highly autonomous and group tasks
must be carefully designed, so that they are inherently collaborative and
interesting to students.
With 10th-grade students as participants, the study of Fall, Webb &
Chudowsky, (2000) demonstrated the positive effects of small-group discussion
on students comprehension of literature. The authors compared academic
performance on language arts tests between students who discussed the story
they had read in small groups and students who did not discuss it. The key
finding of the study was that peer-group cooperation in a 10-minute discussion
within groups of 3 had an essentially positive impact on students
comprehension of the story. The mechanisms that students used to solve socio-
cognitive conflicts during group discussions included the construction of fuller
and more accurate meanings of the stories, as a result of students exposure to
alternative ideas.
Research on Small Groups and Students Reading Skills: the Case of
Greece. In the case of Greece, the search results of the relevant literature were
highly disappointing. Research in Greece on cooperative/collaborative learning

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45

alone, is limited. Review of the most prominent Greek scientific journals


(educational and literacy) 1 from 1995 until today, did not reveal any scientific
studies on small-group work. Research on the Internet was more fruitful, since it
uncovered that there is a research team at the University of Patras (the HCI-
UPatras group), that has remarkable research activity in the area of Computer
Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL)2. Their studies describe computer-
supported collaborative learning modelling environments and evaluate
collaborative learning within these environments. As interesting these studies
may be, unfortunately, none of them refers to literature instruction. Similarly,
research in the Greek National Archive of PhD theses has shown a few studies in
cooperative/collaborative learning, but none of them explored its effects on
literature instruction. Most of these studies also focused on CSCL, which was
usually implemented in math and science classrooms.
Conclusions from the Literature Review. In reviewing the research on
small-group work and its effects on adolescent students reading skills, we
realized two things. First, the vast majority of the studies focuses on the effects
of small-group discussion on comprehension3, which is usually measured with
standardized multiple-choice tests. Interpretation of literary texts, on the other
hand, is usually considered in these studies as an intellectual ability or action
incorporated into the wider concept of literature response. Few studies focus on
interpretation itself, like the work of Scott & Huntington (2007), which compared
how novice learners interpreted literary texts while working in small, peer
groups, versus when they engaged in whole class discussion. Even fewer studies
focus on the development of interpretive strategies, like the work of Mayo
(2001), which explores the effects of collaborative learning on students ability to
change the interpretive strategies they use. The results of this research indicated
that collaborative contexts can effectively broaden the range of students
interpretive strategies. However, participants in both studies were university
students. There is a lack of evidence that small-group discussion works equally
well with younger students, when it comes to literature interpretation.
This concern brings us to the second issue that emerged from the
literature review, which is the question of the age of participants. Recent
research with middle adolescents is considerably more limited. Therefore, this
study aims to enrich the research on middle adolescent students, and, at the
same time, introduce the issue of the development of interpretive strategies as a
research objective in secondary education. In particular, it explores whether
middle adolescents approaching literary texts through small-group discussion
develop interpretive strategies to a greater extent than when they approach texts
within the context of teacher-led instruction over a period of one academic year.
Needless to say, this is a pioneer study for Greece, since research on
small-groups and its effects on students reading skills practically does not exist
in Greek education.

Theoretical Background
The Notion of Interpretive Strategies. Secondary school teachers often
expect students to use sophisticated reading and interpretive approaches
requiring them to display an interpretive stance, without systematically
supporting them to develop interpretive strategies (Orlando, Caverly, Swetnam

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46

& Flippo, 2003). However, a clear definition of the notion of interpretive strategies
has not been given yet in literary theory, neither has it been clearly defined
which these strategies exactly are.
When the term interpretive strategies is used by literary theorists, it
usually refers to the methods of interpretation of literary texts. The notion of
interpretive strategies is frequently used by Stanley Fish (1980) to denote the
strategies employed by interpretive communities4. According to Fish,
interpretive strategies are methods not for reading (in the conventional sense) but
for writing texts, for constituting their properties and assigning their intentions (p.
171). When Fish talks of methods for writing texts, he does not use the term
literally; he refers to the notion of creative reading, through which the reader
creates the text by assigning intentions to it. Another definition of interpretive
strategies is given by Jonathan Culler (1975), who identifies as interpretive
strategies the conventions for reading literary texts (p.118), and interpretive
operations (p. 162).
Kintgen (1990) has described the dual role of interpretive strategies,
arguing that these strategies impose both the goal of interpretation that is, the
kind of meaning we are looking for - and the methods we use to interpret literary
texts (Kintgen, p. 3). Thus, the search for the authors intentions or the search for
historical, ideological and socio-cultural influences, constitute interpretive
strategies concerning the kind of a valid interpretation. Likewise, the use of
narratology features, like Genettes (1980) concepts of the narrators voice and
mood, or looking for metaphors and symbols, constitute interpretive strategies
concerning the methods for reaching valid interpretations; by valid meaning
interpretations based on textual and not arbitrary data. A different type of
categorizing interpretive strategies is used by Lee & Hughes (2012), who adopt
in their research ten predetermined interpretive strategies, which fall under four
broader categories: Preview, Authors craft, Interpretation and Personal
Response. For example, identifying the rhyme is indicated as an interpretive
strategy under the Authors Craft category, while making predictions is an
interpretive strategy under the Preview category (Lee & Hughes, pp. 496-499).
However, this particular categorization of interpretive strategies is incorporated
in the broader sense of comprehension, whereas the study presented here
focuses on interpretation.
Therefore, based upon the literature on interpretive strategies, in the
present study the term interpretive strategies is used to describe the set of
expectations and methods based on which readers interpret literary texts. These
strategies determine both the kind of valid interpretations and the processes that
lead us to these interpretations. For example, when we seek the authors
intention in a poem, or when we look for socio-political messages within a
literary text, we are using interpretive strategies that determine the kind of valid
interpretations; that is, the kind of meaning a reader expects to find. Likewise,
when we choose to observe the structure of a story, by looking for narratology
features, or when we decide to look for metaphors and symbols, we are
implementing interpretive strategies that determine processes which can help us
interpret the text. There are numerous interpretive strategies; as Fish (1980)
points out, the list is not meant to be exhaustive (p.168). In any case, readers in
our case, students who use interpretive strategies, are those who make

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47

autonomous interpretive efforts; they try to identify the literary discourse by


taking into account textual and/or non-textual data; and they attempt to locate
the main theme and the essential points of a literary text, in order to find its
meaning.
It was considered of essential importance to focus on the notion of
interpretive strategies, for two main reasons. First, through the implementation
of interpretive strategies, we can see the students various intellectual abilities
unfold. The development and implementation of interpretive strategies is a
complex, high-level intellectual process, which presupposes and develops, at the
same time, multiple cognitive and aesthetic functions, and engages students into
problem-solving processes. Second, as Hamel and Smith (1998) discovered in
their research, putting interpretive strategies into the center of the teaching
process freed the teacher from endorsing a particular interpretation (p. 355).
The acceptance and encouragement of multiple, yet valid interpretations, sets
the base for a literature instruction that enhances critical and creative thinking.
Small-Group Discussion, Teacher-centered Instruction and Literature
Interpretation. In the present study we use the term small-group discussion to
describe a teaching practice that is the center of cooperative and collaborative
learning and is considered as a key feature of what Alvermann (2002) describes
as participatory approaches to literacy instruction (p. 201). According to
Alvermann, participatory approaches are student-centered approaches, which
incorporate classroom structures and activities that enhance peer interaction,
like literature discussions in small groups. In participatory approaches teachers
act as scaffolders, gradually withdrawing their support as students seem more
capable of constructing their own learning. When constructing small groups, the
level of autonomy given to students can vary. For the needs of the present study,
it was decided that discussions of literature in small groups should incorporate
the main features of collaborative reasoning, as it is described by Chinn, Anderson
& Waggoner (2001). According to the authors, in collaborative reasoning
discussions, the teacher asks a single central question about the story read.
Students adopt positions on the story and then they provide explanations and
arguments to support or contradict these positions. Students collaboratively
construct their arguments and teachers are encouraged to reduce the amount of
time they talk; however, they are invited to scaffold their students on the
development of reasoning. In the present study we refer to small-group
discussions of literature as a participatory approach to literature instruction, in
which students discuss literary texts in groups of 4 or 5, as it is indicated in most
cooperative learning methods (Slavin, 1995), following the main principles of
collaborative reasoning.
In this study, small-group discussion is compared to the teacher-centered
transmission model of instruction (Alvermann, 2002, p. 201), or, the traditional
teacher-led whole-class approach (Law, 2011, p. 402) as it has also been called.
According to Alvermann (2002), the teacher-centered transmission model of
instruction has a lock-step approach to literacy learning (p. 201), focusing on
subject matter coverage over in-depth, active learning. Teacher-led discussions
of literature incorporate the main features of recitations (Chinn, Anderson &
Waggoner, 2001; Nystrand, 2006). According to Chinn, Anderson & Waggoner,
the recitation format has an IRE form: teacher Initiation - student Response -

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teacher Evaluation. Moreover, in recitations, the interpretive stance adopted by


teachers and students is mainly efferent; that is, readers mainly look for
information. The interpretive authority is generally controlled by the teacher,
who also controls the turn-taking during the discussion. The teacher also
possesses control over the topic, mainly by asking questions, to test students
about a matter already known by him/her. Despite the literature supporting
cooperative and collaborative learning in literature instruction, the teacher-
centered model seems to be the most common, at least in the United States
(Alvermann, 2002), whereas, the use of small groups seems to be more limited
than we would expect, as Vaughn et al. (2011) state: We also realized that few
teachers used small groups prior to participating in our study, and when they did, these
small groups were not executed with procedures following cooperative grouping,
including giving specified roles to students and requiring interactive work around text
and responses (p. 959). This is also the case for Greece, although this is an
empirical rather than a scientific realization, due to the lack of relevant research
in Greece. However, if we suppose that educational practices in the classroom
follow the national educational policy in each country, we have strong reasons
to believe that the use of small groups in Greek classrooms is a rare
phenomenon, since, until the year 2013, when the Ministry of Education
introduced the project method as obligatory for the teaching of literature on the
10th grade, all teaching instructions5 for literature recommended that teachers
should apply the teacher-centered instruction model. Small-group work was
simply absent in the official guidelines towards teachers.
Choosing small-group discussions for the teaching of literature and
literature interpretation in particular, was based not only on the supporting
research data already mentioned. Small-group discussion can foster the
development of interpretive strategies, due to the social dimension of literature,
which is supported by many theorists: Fish (1980) denotes that the interpretation
of literature takes place within a community of readers; that is, an interpretive
community. Smagorinsky (2001) believes that readers construct the meanings of
literary texts as a result of cultural mediation, since meaning is located not only
in the reader or the text, but also in the cultural history that precedes them.
Nussbaum (2010) points out that through literature people develop the ability to
get into other peoples shoes, to understand their feelings and desires.
Therefore, interpreting literature is, in many aspects, a social action and small-
group discussions seem to be a powerful tool in the hands of a teacher who
desires to help his/her students develop interpretive strategies.

Aim and Research Questions


The purpose of our study was to explore whether small-group, peer-led
discussion fosters the development of interpretive strategies in the teaching of
literature in a more effective way compared to teacher-centered instruction. Two
research hypotheses guided our study:
1. During the teaching of literary texts, students who work in small groups
come up with interpretations of greater diversity and validity compared to
students who work within the context of teacher-centered instruction.
2. Students who work in small groups demonstrate higher individual
competence in the development of interpretive strategies than students who
work within the context of teacher-centered instruction.

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49

The hypotheses indicate that we make a distinction between group


productivity and individual competence (Webb, 1995).

Method
Design
In order to test the hypotheses, we conducted a quasi-experimental
study, with one experimental group and one control group, which took place
during the academic year 2010 2011. We introduced as intervention for the
experimental group the teaching of literary texts through small-group
discussion: students were taught 7 literary texts from the curriculum in groups
of 4 or 5. These teaching sessions were equally distributed throughout the whole
academic year, interjected by teaching sessions with no intervention. At the
same time, the control group received no intervention regarding the teaching
strategy. Both groups took a pre-test and a post-test, which measured the
students ability to develop interpretive strategies, before and after the
intervention, respectively. During the experiment, all 7 teaching sessions were
followed by measurements of the dependent variable the development of
interpretive strategies.
Participants
Two classes of 9th-grade students from the same school -a public junior
high school in a district of Athens, Greece- participated in the study. The class
that constituted the experimental group had 24 students (10 boys and 14 girls)
and the class that became the control group had 22 students (13 boys and 9
girls). In choosing our participants, our first concern was to ensure that our
students would be able to develop, at some level, interpretive strategies. The
ability to interpret is not something exclusively taught in schools; it is
constitutive of being human (Fish, 1980, p. 172). We can expect that students of
all ages can develop interpretive strategies according to the level of their
maturation. We chose a school from an urban, middle-class area, so that the
students included in the study would be of a socio-economic status
representative of the mean of the wider student population (more than half of
the Greek population resides in Athens). 9th grade was considered a reasonable
choice, since students in this grade are old enough to develop interpretive
strategies to a satisfactory level, and yet they do not have to meet the demands,
pressure and workload that come along with senior high school. The two
particular classes (out of four 9th- grade classes in the same school), were chosen
based on their academic performance. That is, we included the two classes
whose students had similar grades in the course of Modern Greek Literature. We
used the grades of the previous academic year as a criterion.
Materials
Students of both groups were taught 7 Modern Greek literary texts (both
poems and prose) from the national curriculum, that is, texts contained in the
school book. The texts were: a) The bridge of Arta, a folk song, b) R. Ferraios,
Thourios, a poem written in 1797, inviting the Greeks to revolt against the
ttoman dominion, c) I. Makrygiannis, Memoirs, an excerpt from the memoirs of
a Greek general who fought in the revolution against the Ottoman empire, d) E.
Roidis, The Glass Stores, a humorous short story satirizing the intolerable
situation in the Athenian streets and sidewalks, e) K. Palamas, Ode to the

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Parthenon, a poem about the Greek monument, f) K.P. Cavafy, In 200 B.C., a
poem talking (among others) about the emergence of the Hellenistic world and
g) N. Kazantzakis, Life and Adventures of Alexis Zorbas, an excerpt of Kazantzakis
biographical novel.
In every teaching session all students were given discussion sheets, which
were specially designed for the instruction of the texts. The concept underlying
the design of the sheets was the creation of a tool that would be used as a guide
for students in their attempt to interpret the text, but also as a data source
concerning the learning outcome; that is, students interpretations and the
interpretive strategies behind these interpretations. Constructing an instrument
was necessary, since no validated test existed to measure the dependent variable
(development of interpretive strategies) for the specific literary texts taught.
However, we used as our guide the instrument designed by Fall, Webb &
Chudowsky (2000, p. 900), which measured 10nth-grade students performance in
a variety of skills: comprehension, interpretation and evaluation of literary texts.
This instrument was modified to meet the present studys demands, by focusing
on interpretation and serving as a teaching and measurement tool at the same
time. Specifically, 7 discussion sheets were designed, one for each text, based on
the concept of the hermeneutic circle (Dilthey, 1976). According to this concept,
the act of reading is a continuous movement between the whole and the parts of
the text. In designing our tools we incorporated the principles of the recent
hermeneutics, as well as certain principles of the reader-response theory, which
focuses on the reader and accepts multiple interpretations. This is why the
questions provide the students with some hints or reading guidelines to help
them interpret the text, but they do not impose or strictly direct students
towards a single interpretation. Each discussion sheet included three questions,
which should be answered in written form. The first one asked students to
narrate the text or give a summary of its content, by assuming a role of a
character in the story. This question focused on a first, holistic approach of the
text. The second question focused on the analysis of specific parts of the text (e.g.
thematic units, character and literary style evaluation, etc.). The reading
instructions became more specific here. The third question asked students to
narrate or give a summary of the whole text again, this time from a different
perspective, so that the preceding analysis could be utilized (see Appendix A).
The discussion sheets given to the experimental group and the control
group were the same, the main difference being that the students in the
experimental group were told to answer the first question individually and the
next two questions as a team, whereas the students in the control group were
told to answer all three questions individually. he students written answers
would be evaluated in terms of interpretive diversity and validity, and the
comparison of the grades emerging for the two groups would allow us to test
the research hypotheses.
Another data source was the pretest and posttest, used to test the second
research hypothesis, which refers to the students individual competence in the
development of interpretive strategies. Since no such standardized test was
found in the bibliography, we proceeded again with a self-developed tool.
Taking into consideration the relevant research (e.g. Mayo, 2001, Fall, Webb &
Chudowsky, 2000; Kucan & Beck, 2003; Boscolo & Carotti, 2003), we ended up

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with a test which had the following form: students were given a literary text
they had not been taught. The text a poem was chosen considering the
students academic level and background. For example, the poem used in the
pretest, The Companions in Hades by Giorgos Seferis, has a content familiar to 9th-
grade students, since they had been taught the epic poem of Odyssey in the 7th
grade. At the same time, this poem has an allegoric and symbolic character,
which leaves it open to multiple interpretations. The poem for the posttest was
chosen in similar grounds. The text was followed by two open questions,
designed in a way that encouraged multiple interpretations. Questions also
asked students to justify their answers, so that we could identify the interpretive
strategies behind these interpretations (see Appendix B).
Both instruments described above were tested for their reliability. In
particular, for the pretest and posttest, the instruments were tested through the
split-half technique (Wiersma & Jurs, 2005). The Guttman Split-Half Coefficient
was 0.88 and 0.86 for the pretest and the posttest respectively, which was
considered to be satisfactory as a reliability indicator for the instrument.
Regarding the worksheets, a different technique was implemented, since the
instrument could not be divided in half (it contained three questions activities).
Instead, we followed the parallel or alternate forms procedure (Wiersma & Jurs,
2005). As it was mentioned, all worksheets were constructed under the same
concept: the hermeneutic circle. It was not possible to test two worksheets at the
same time, because this would mean that students would be taught two
different texts simultaneously. However, we tested the correlation between the
grades in the first and the second worksheet, which were given to the students
within a time period of two weeks. Correlation was quite high (r = 0.90), giving,
thus, a positive indication about the reliability of the instrument. Finally, all
measurement tools were evaluated by two graders: the researcher and the school
teacher. Correlation between the two graders varied from r = 0.84 to 0.87, which
was considered as quite satisfactory, taking into account the subjective nature of
evaluating interpretation of literary texts.
During teaching sessions, observation forms were used for the
experimental group, in order to follow students participation during the lesson,
especially during the group work phase. This tool was similar to Lloyd &
Beards (1995) observation tool for whole class discussions, with some
adjustments to fit group work observation. The original Lloyd & Beards tool
was used with the control group. Field notes were also kept during teaching
sessions for both groups, as a means of evaluating the teaching and learning
process and making possible changes, when needed. Field notes also fostered a
deeper knowledge of the learning situation, allowing for richer descriptions and
more accurate conclusions (Cohen, Manion & Morrison, 2008).
Procedures
The main study covered almost a whole school year (October 2010 - May
2011). There was a preliminary phase (April-September 2010), which included
the sampling process, the meetings with the school teacher of the two classes
chosen, the decisions about the composition of teams in the experimental group,
a preparatory meeting with the students, the pretest, and, finally, a short pilot-
research.

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It was decided that both groups should have the same teacher in the
Modern Greek Language class, in order to ensure equality within groups in
terms of a significant variable: the teacher. The problem was that, in Greece,
collaborative learning is not widely used yet, and very few teachers have
expertise on it. This was also the case of the school teacher in our experiment. It
was mutually decided that it would be best for the validity of the experiment if
the teacher for both experimental and control group during the intervention was
one of the researchers. The researcher, a teacher as well, had been systematically
implementing collaborative learning strategies in the teaching of literature for
the past 3 years. Being a researcher and a teacher at the same time raises of
course the question of bias: the researcher might be tempted to favor the
experimental group as a teacher. This is a common challenge when a researcher
is also the designer of an intervention (Barab & Squire, 2004). We tried to avoid
this by using an observer, who would be present in all teaching sessions and
would point out if the researcher was acting in favor of the experimental group.
For the same reason, all teaching sessions were tape-recorded. Finally, the school
teacher that taught the rest of the texts without intervention during the
academic year, was the same for both groups, as well.
Regarding the composition of the teams for the experimental group, 5
teams were formed: four with 5 members and one with 4 members.
One hour was spent to inform both experimental and control group
students of the procedures concerning their work with the teacher-researcher
and the worksheets they would be using. Students were roughly informed about
the experiment; that is, they were told that their class was chosen to participate
in a study which explored the outcomes of a new method of teaching literature.
In the last 20 minutes the pretest took place. Another two hours were spent for a
short pilot research, in order to test our tools: work sheets, tests and observation
forms.
The main research (October 2010 April 2011) was the intervention itself,
which was implemented in 46 teaching hours. This means that the experimental
group was taught Modern Greek literature in small groups with the researcher
as the teacher for 23 hours over the academic year, whereas, for the rest of the
year, the same group was taught the same lesson with their school teacher,
through direct instruction. Likewise, the control group was taught Modern
Greek literature through direct, teacher-led instruction with the researcher as the
teacher for 23 hours over the academic year, whereas, for the rest of the year,
they were taught the same lesson with their school teacher, through direct
instruction again.
Interpreting Literature in Small Groups: a Teaching Model. Teaching
sessions were articulated as follows (each session lasting three 45-minute hours):
Phase 1: Preparing the Whole Class. This phase began with the teacher
reading the text aloud, so that reading ability differences among students could
be controlled. In the end of the reading, the teacher answered possible student
questions, concerning vocabulary or comprehension. Next, students were asked
to answer the first question in the worksheets individually, within a time limit of
10 minutes. After the time had expired, certain answers (as many as possible,
depending on time constraints) were read aloud in class and a whole class

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53

discussion followed, with the students making comments on the answers


preceded and the teacher making necessary clarifications.
Phase 2: Working in Groups. This was the core part of each teaching
session. Students were told to answer the second question on the work sheet,
this time as a group, based on certain instructions that had been given to them in
the preparatory meeting in the beginning of the school year, based on Johnson &
Johnson, 2009a, p. 42 (see Appendix C).
Students were also reminded to follow the instructions on their work
sheets (see Appendix A). Apart from the reader and secretary role, teams were not
asked to appoint any other role to their members. It was clearly stated, though,
that, as a group, each team would hand only one discussion sheet. The time limit
for the second question to be answered was 15 minutes this time. As the
students were proceeding with their discussion of the text and the formation of
their answer, the teacher was walking around the classroom, observing the
teams, encouraging students to cooperate and offering support and facilitation,
when necessary.
Phase 3: Whole Class Discussion of Team Work. After all teams had
composed their answers, the reader of each team read aloud his teams answer
to the 2nd question. Teams answers were discussed with the whole class.
Students were encouraged to comment on other teams answers and the teacher
asked questions that further promoted the conversation on the text and helped
clarify vague or ambiguous points.
Phases 2 and 3 were repeated for the third and last question of the
worksheet.
Phase 4: Team Work Evaluation. After the text instruction was over, teams
were evaluated on the grounds of both academic performance and collaboration
skills. The evaluation was mainly performed by the teacher, based on the grades
of the 2nd and 3rd question on the discussion sheets, as well as on the observation
sheets where she recorded each students participation during group work. Each
team received a final grade (out of 20), which was the sum of the two grades:
performance and collaboration.
Ensuring Team Work. In order to foster true collaboration among team
members and avoid undesirable phenomena such as the free rider effect
(Slavin, 1995; Webb, 1995), we tried to ensure that certain conditions would be
met. First, we focused on Positive Interdependence and Individual Accountability
(Johnson & Johnson, 2009a & 2009b). We invested a great deal of effort to make
our students realize that, within the group, the only way for someone to succeed
is the team itself to succeed and that one persons indifference had a significant
negative impact. Second, we tried to promote face-to-face interaction,
interpersonal skills, and group processing (Johnson & Johnson, 2009a & 2009b).
We tried to promote real interaction by forming relatively small groups, with
direct eye contact among members, and with the same composition throughout
the year, so that strong collaborative bonds would be created. Moreover, we
insisted on developing interpersonal skills by regularly giving feedback about
acceptable behavior. Next, we chose to construct groups that would be partially
structured, since, according to the research, these groups tend to be more
effective (Sawyer, 2004). Regarding the composition of the student groups, we
chose to form teams that would be heterogeneous in terms of academic

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54

performance (Cohen, 1994; Tunkle, Anderson & Evans, 1999) and sex. Finally,
the teacher acted as a facilitator, by modeling, coaching and scaffolding (Jonassen,
1999). During group work, she intervened when it was absolutely necessary (for
example to answer a question that other group members could not answer or to
point out social loafing phenomena).
The Control Group Teaching Model. At the same time, during the
intervention, the students of the control group were being taught the same texts
by the same teacher / researcher, through teacher-centered instruction, with the
number of sessions being kept constant in comparing the experimental and the
control group. In general, we followed the direct instruction model by Joyce &
Weil (1986), which includes five main phases: a) Orientation, b) Presentation, c)
Structured Practice, d) Guided Practice, e) Independent Practice. In the first two
phases the teacher presented the text and provided general guidelines for its
interpretive approach. In phase c and d, students worked under the teachers
guidance, involved in whole class discussion, whereas in phase e they worked
alone completing their discussion sheets, with the teacher helping each one
individually, in case a student asked for help. Therefore, compared to the
experimental group teaching model, the control group model did not involve
any small group work; instead, it involved teacher-led whole class discussion
and individual practice.
The evaluation phase (April May 2011) included discussion with the
students of both groups concerning the intervention: how they experienced the
whole process, whether they found it effective and/or pleasant. The study
ended with the posttest.
Data Analysis
In order to test the first research hypothesis, we compared the grades of
students of the control and the experimental group for their answers to the 2nd
and 3rd question in the discussion sheets. In this way, we could compare
interpretations that resulted from teamwork with interpretations that resulted
from individual work, for the experimental and the control group, respectively.
Answers were given a grade from 1 to 5, with 1 corresponding to comments or
interpretations with little or no relation to the text, and 5 corresponding to valid
interpretations. When we refer to valid interpretations, we mean
interpretations sufficiently justified with textual data, meaning that alternative
interpretations are possible. Middle grades (2,3,4) corresponded to valid
interpretations with no or little justification. Grade 0 was appointed only when
there was no answer at all. This grading system, inspired by Boscolo and Carotti
(2003), was considered appropriate, because it was open to the evaluation of
multiple interpretations. Therefore, in order to compare the answers of the two
groups, we added the grades appointed to each one of the two questions in the
discussion sheet, that is, 5 + 5= 10. Next, we estimated the means for each
worksheet, for the experimental and the control group separately. The means of
the two groups were compared using ANOVA.
In order to test the second research hypothesis, we compared individual
interpretations of students of the experimental and the control group. In
particular, we used two data sources: grades in the pretest and posttest, and
grades of the answers in the first question in each one of the 7 discussion sheets,
which was also answered individually by students of both groups. The means of

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55

the grades in the posttest and in the first question of the worksheets were
compared using ANOVA. We also ran an ANCOVA to compare the means of
the grades in the posttest, controlling for performance in the pretest. Statistical
analysis was performed with the statistical package IBM SPSS, ed. 19.

Results
Correlation between Teaching Strategy and the Development of Interpretive
Strategies in Literature Instruction
Comparison of the mean grades of students in the last 2 questions of all
7 worksheets tested whether discussion in small groups resulted into more
diverse and valid interpretations than whole class discussion within the context
of teacher-centered instruction. Means and standard deviations of students
grades in literary text interpretation for all 7 teaching sessions, comparing group
performance of the experimental group with the respective individual
performance of the control group, are presented in Table 1.

Table 1: Means and Standard Deviations for the Development of Interpretive


Strategies by Students of the Experimental Group and the Control Group in all 7
Teaching Sessions (Comparing Group Work with Individual Work).

Group

Experimental (=24) Control (=22)

Interpretation Mean Standard Mean Standard


Deviation Deviation
1st teaching
session 7.73 1.01 4.57 1.56
2nd teaching
session 7.67 1.49 5.05 1.95
3rd teaching
session 7.70 0.45 4.35 2.19
4th teaching
session 8.88 0.28 5.80 1.95
5th teaching
session 7.46 1.42 5.83 1.47
6th teaching
session 8.71 0.53 6.20 1.94
7th teaching
session 8.34 0.31 6.41 1.66

Total 8.07 0.58 5.52 1.56


Note. Grades are from 1 to 10.

Data from Table 1 indicate that the experimental group scored higher
than the control group, in all 7 teaching sessions (total mean grade 8.07 versus
5.52). ANOVA showed that these differences were statistically significant: for the
differences in the total mean grades between the two groups, F was 55.892,
statistically significant at 0.000. F for the differences in each teaching session

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separately, varied from 14.602 to 66.575, in every case statistically significant at


0.000. Finally, 2 for the difference between the total mean grades was 0.560,
meaning that the teaching strategy accounted for 56% of the variance of student
grades.
These differences, which are indicated as numbers, are practically
differences concerning the validity and variability of interpretive strategies
developed by students of both groups, which were expressed in their answers in
the second and third question of the worksheets. In order to make this picture
clearer, we are presenting an example of students answers, choosing answers
representative of the average level of interpretive validity and variability for
both groups. The example is taken from the last teaching session. The text taught
was an excerpt from N. Kazantzakis, Life and Adventures of Alexis Zorbas. This
passage describes the scene where the narrator first meets Zorbas. The two
heroes characters emerge from the vivid description and the dialogue that takes
place: Zorbas is presented as a passionate, spontaneous person, who enjoys life,
mainly with his senses. On the other hand, the narrator (one of the two heroes in
the book) is presented as a well-educated, reasonable and sensible person. The
last part of the excerpt engages with the description of Zorbas relationship with
his santouri6. We are citing answers to the last question of the worksheet, which
is the following:
Suppose, now, that you are a group of sailors drinking their coffee in the same
coffee shop as the writer, sitting on the next table. You are present at the scene of Zorbas
arrival and you are eavesdropping on the whole conversation that follows. After a while,
another friend of yours arrives and sits with you. Describe to him, as a group now, the
whole scene of the two mens acquaintance and conversation, commenting on their
characters and stressing out some of their ideas that might have impressed you. Finally,
tell him if, in your opinion, the writer decided to take Zorbas with him and why.
The students of the team of Athena7, from the experimental group,
answered as follows8:
- Hello, Lazarus! Where have you been? You are late!
- What can I say, guys, I was waiting for the rain to stop!
- Well, you missed a great scene: listen: while we were drinking our coffee, we overheard
an interesting conversation. It all began when a grey-haired, tall guy, came near a quiet
man who was drinking sage, sitting on the table next to us. Although they didnt know
each other, the tall guy asked the other one to take him along on his journey to Crete. At
first he was surprised, but then he saw that he was special. He made tasty soups and he
enjoyed life. It is worth mentioning that the quiet man asked him to sit with him and we
saw the grey-haired guy ordering rum instead of sage. Moreover, we heard about the
several part-time jobs he said he had done and that he had beaten up his boss, just
because he felt like doing so. He was saying that his biggest love was the santouri, in his
happy and sad times he plays santouri and, you wont believe this, that live wire, who
had such passion for santouri and freedom, has a family! We also had the chance to listen
to him playing the santouri. Finally, the man in the next table decided to take him along
in his journey. But they are so different
- Well, you know, opposites attract. And what is the name of the stranger?
- Alexis Zorbas.
The students of this team, in their attempt to interpret the text, seem to
have adequately comprehended the characters of the two heroes, especially the
character of Zorbas. They have learned how to observe and utilize the heroes

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external features, their actions and their ideas, in order to deeply understand the
heroes ethos, character and state of mind. They focus on essential points, even
when these concern details (e.g. they observed the fact that Zorbas ordered rum
instead of sage and evaluated it accordingly). Moreover, they seem to have
learned how to observe the scenery (I was waiting for the rain to stop in the
first paragraph of the passage it is mentioned that it was raining in the
beginning). The students have also realized the uniqueness in Zorbas
personality. Finally, they have spotted one of the basic strategies used in literary
texts: the strategy of opposite characters, which helps the heroes personalities
emerge and stand out (Well, you know, opposites attract). These
accomplishments come as a result of the fact that the students used a set of
interpretive strategies: focusing on the characters and comparing them,
observing the scenery (time and place) and keeping track of the plot. In other
words, the students altogether chose to focus on narratology features, in order to
approach the text in a meaningful way. This set of interpretive strategies
concerns the processes that lead to valid interpretations, as they were described in
the Introduction of the present study.
The following answer written by a student from the control group, also
exemplifies the average level in terms of interpretive validity and variability:
- Welcome, Takis. Have a seat whats new? Hear me out a while ago, two
gentlemen were sitting here, having a conversation.
- So, what of it?
- They were two strangers, who started talking. The one was spontaneous and witty, and
he was straightforward and he wanted the other guy to take him with him on a journey.
The other one was calm, cautious, he was weighing things. And, deep inside, he wanted
to take him along, this old man with his callous hands and his sparkling eyes. He was
probably fascinated by his straightforwardness and his ideologies. And he will probably
take him with him, although they are different. However, he had an opinion about
everything and I was fascinated by him, as well.
Although this student seems to have perceived the basic aspects of the
two heroes characters, as well as the differences between them, it can be
observed that her description is not as deep and comprehensive as the one made
by the Athena team. She mainly focuses on superficial aspects (e.g. his
straightforwardness, a term that is taken from the text as it is), she is not
utilizing basic text information (e.g. Zorbas passion for santouri) and she cannot
focus on one of the main characteristics of the hero, that is, his passion for life
and his tendency to feel first and think afterwards. Even though she uses more or
less the same interpretive strategies as the students who worked in a group, the
implementation is carried out in a rather careless and superficial way.
The examples presented above are representative of the differences
between group work and individual work in all 7 teachings. Students of the
control group usually but not always tried to make an interpretive comment.
However, in every case, interpretations that came as a result of team work
(which applies to the students of the experimental group) were more valid, more
variable and they clearly took into account more textual data.
Another comment concerns the validity of the results presented so far.
One could claim that the answers composed by the teams in the control group
do not represent the interpretations of all team members; since the teams were
heterogeneous, the answers could be just the work of the best student in the

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58

team, or the product of the cooperation of 2-3 good students. As it was


mentioned in the Method chapter, we focused on the establishment of an
environment that would ensure true collaboration within the teams by setting
common goals, observing team work, providing feedback on each teams
collaborative performance etc. Based on our observation of the team work
during all teaching sessions, as well as on the data gathered by the observation
sheets and our field notes, we came to the conclusion that 4 out of 5 teams in the
control group developed true collaboration; everybody contributed to the
conversation and the team members seemed to have developed a strong
community identity (Bielaczyc & Collins, 1999). Only one of the teams presented
signs of dysfunction, since the weaker students were also quite introverted and
could not manage to keep up with the rest of the group.
Overall, our first research hypothesis, according to which students who
work in groups end up with more valid and variable literary interpretations
than students who work individually, is confirmed by our results.
Correlation between Teaching Strategy and Individual Performance in the
Development of Interpretive Strategies
Two data sources were used to test the second hypothesis. First, the
performance of students of the experimental and the control group on the
pretest and the posttest was compared. Second, we compared their grades in the
first question of the worksheets, which was individually answered by students
of both groups. Table 2 presents means and standard deviations of students
grades in literary text interpretation for the Pretest and the Posttest, comparing
individual performance between the experimental group and the control group.

Table 2: Means and Standard Deviations for the Development of Interpretive


Strategies by Students of the Experimental Group and the Control Group in
the Pretest and the Posttest.

Group

Experimental (=24) Control (=22)

Interpretation Mean Standard Mean Standard


Deviation Deviation

Pretest 3.80 2.46 4.26 3.70

Posttest 4.02 1.83 3.70 1.60


Note. Grades are from 1 to 10.

Data from table 2 indicate that the experimental group scored lower than
the control group in the pretest (3.80 versus 4.26) and higher than the control
group in the posttest (4.02 versus 3.70). ANOVA showed that these differences
were not statistically significant: for the differences in the pretest grades between
the two groups, F was 0.434, p = 0.514. For the differences in the posttest grades
between the two groups, F was 0.375, p = 0.543 (probability standards were set at
0.05). For our second hypothesis to be confirmed, we would expect to get two
findings: first, a non-significant difference in the pretest, so that equality in
performance could be demonstrated, supporting, thus, the studys validity, and

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59

second, a significant difference in the posttest, in favor of the experimental


group, to support the argument that collaborative learning raises individual
performance. Our first expectation was met, but the second expectation was not.
However, although the difference in the posttest was not statistically significant,
it should be pointed out that the direction of the correlation between the
independent and the dependent variable was the one predicted by the
hypothesis, that is, students of the experimental group scored higher in the
posttest. In fact, we observe a reverse in student performance: the control group
scored higher in the pretest and lower in the posttest; still, these differences
might be due to random factors. An ANCOVA was also run to test whether
student performance in the posttest was affected by individual performance
before the intervention. Performance in the posttest was used as the dependent
variable; the teaching strategy was the independent variable, with performance
in the pretest as covariate. Table 3 presents the results.

Table 3: Analysis of Covariance Summary Table of the Development of


Interpretive Strategies in the Posttest, by Teaching Strategy and Performance
in the Pretest.
Source SS df MS F p 2
Teaching 1.180 1 1.180 0.433 0.515 0.012
Strategy
Pretest 17.122 1 17.122 6.275 0.017 0.148

Error 98.234 36 2.729

Total 124.375 39

The model on Table 3 describes the difference of mean grades for the
development of interpretive strategies in the posttest between the experimental
and the control group, controlling for the development of interpretive strategies
in the pretest. Again, the effect of the teaching strategy on the posttest
performance is not statistically significant. On the contrary, performance in the
pretest highly correlates with performance in the posttest (p = 0.017).
It was considered necessary to use another data source in order to check
our hypothesis. The mean scores in the first question of the students discussion
sheets, which was answered individually by students of both the control and the
experimental group, were also examined. This was considered to be a valid data
source, because a measurement which occurs regularly during the school year,
in the form of an activity that takes place during a teaching session, may give a
more complete and systematic picture of students ability to develop interpretive
strategies than a written test which takes place only twice a year. Table 4
presents means and standard deviations of students grades in literary text
interpretation for all 7 teaching sessions, comparing individual performance of
students of both groups.

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60

Table 4: Means and Standard Deviations for the Development of Interpretive


Strategies by Students of the Experimental Group and the Control Group in
all 7 Teaching Sessions (Comparing Individual Work between the Two
Groups).

Group

Experimental (=24) Control (=22)

Individual Mean Standard Mean Standard


Interpretation Deviation Deviation

1st teaching session 2.41 1.22 2.39 1.09

2nd teaching session 2.68 1.12 2.68 1.19


ssession
3rd teaching session 2.97 1.49 2.15 1.18

4th teaching session 3.45 1.18 2.83 1.28

5th teaching session 2.56 1.04 2.44 0.96

6th teaching session 3.17 1.77 2.73 1.28

7th teaching session 3.41 1.13 3.04 1.18

Total 2.87 1.08 2.60 1.00


Note. Grades are from 1 to 5.

It can be observed that both groups started with almost equal average
grades for the first two teaching sessions, but from the third one until the last
one, the experimental group was consistently ahead. We ran an ANOVA again
to compare the average grades between the two groups for each teaching session
separately. ANOVA showed that these differences were not statistically
significant, except for the third teaching session, were F = 4.056, p = 0.05.
However, for the total average of all 7 teaching sessions (2.87 for the
experimental group and 2.60 for the control group), F was 0.903, which was not
statistically significant (p = 0.347).
Therefore, the second hypothesis was not confirmed by our findings.
However, we could say that our results demonstrate a tendency for a positive
correlation between collaborative learning and individual performance in the
development of interpretive strategies.

Discussion
Our results set the ground for certain inferences and remarks. Initially,
our first research hypothesis, according to which students who work in small
groups end up with more valid and variable literary interpretations than
students who work individually, was confirmed by our results. The positive

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61

effects of small-group work on the development of interpretive strategies are


mainly visible during the discussion of the literary text in small groups. This
procedure seems to be the one that makes a difference, compared to teacher-
centered instruction. The genuine and autonomous interpretive effort takes
place during small group work. Students who work in groups attempt a deeper
and more insightful interpretation of the literary text, by carefully observing and
analyzing textual and/or non-textual data. There are various possible
explanations to this phenomenon. Students are not afraid to express their views,
since they are not exposed to whole class and teacher criticism (see Nystrand,
Gamoran & Heck, 1993; Alvermann et al., 1996). As a result, small group
discussion provides students with access to a greater variety of opinions,
perspectives and interpretations of the literary text. Rosenblatts (1995) view
about the variability of interpretations seems to be confirmed here. The others
bring their own experiences and interpretations to the discussion and the whole
reading experience is richer than the one provided by individual reading. In
addition, the use of an instrument like the worksheets given to our students,
based on the hermeneutic circle, inviting them to approach literary texts in terms
of real life situations, seemed to support this effort importantly.
The second hypothesis was not confirmed by our findings. The
supremacy of students who work in small groups over those who are taught
with direct instruction, is not as visible when students are asked to interpret
literary texts individually. Results favor the experimental group again, but not to
a statistically significant level. Other research has showed similar results (e.g.
Kucan & Beck, 2003). Why is this happening? An explanation for this asymmetry
between the experimental groups performance during group work and during
individual work may lie within what is described as situated cognition. According
to the situated cognition concept, knowledge is basically situated, not
independent; it is partly the product of the activity, the environment and the
culture within which it is developed (Brown, Collins & Duguid, 1988).
Therefore, when a certain knowledge or ability like the development of
interpretive strategies - is acquired within a certain learning context like small
group discussion is it so implicit that it can be successfully transferred within a
different context, for example during an individual reading or a test? All
teachers must at some point have observed students who seem to have fully
comprehended the lesson during the teaching session, but have great difficulty
in writing a report about it at home. This is what C. Bereiter (1997) refers to as
the problem of knowledge transfer: What we learn in one situation we often fail to
apply in another (Bereiter, p. 288). However, our data, especially the ones testing
the students improvement overtime, favored the experimental group in all
cases, even though statistical significance did not occur.
Limitations of the Study
The present study is a small scale experiment. Due to the small sample,
the studys basic restriction lies in its external validity. Moreover, as with every
quasi-experimental design, the participants were not chosen through random
sampling; intact groups were used. Therefore, although the groups used were
similar regarding certain crucial variables (age, academic performance, socio-
economic background, the teacher), and thus some confidence could be placed

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62

in the conclusions drawn, the results should be still interpreted and generalized
with caution. (Wiersma & Jurs, 2005).
Further research concerning the kind of small-group experiences and
environments fostering the development of valid and variable literary
interpretations might be revealing different dimensions of improvement of
teaching literature. Moreover, the question about individual improvement as a
result of small-group work needs to be further explored.

Conclusion
Our findings showed that small group discussion enhances the
development of interpretive strategies. The finding is of more importance given
that the State of Greece, in which the current study was conducted, differs from
many European nations in terms of school culture (less collectivist) and the
organization of the educational system (a more centralized system) (Dimaras,
1995; Skourtou, & Kourtis-Kazoullis, 2003). Such an educational system seems
discouraging regarding teachers and students engagement in innovative
efforts. Small-group discussion can be a valuable instrument in the hands of a
teacher who has difficulties teaching students how to interpret literary texts or
wishes to support them to better respond to literature. Regarding the notion of
interpretive strategies, it is a useful concept for teachers who are interested in
working towards that direction. Small-group discussion seems to help students
use the interpretive skills inherent in them, by enhancing active learning and
peer interaction, and by avoiding the imposition of a single interpretation.
Therefore, this study can be of practical value for literature teachers in secondary
schools.

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Footnotes
1 In particular, we reviewed the publications from 1995 until today of the following
journals: Review of Educational Issues, Pedagogical Review, Pedagogical Discourse, Pedagogical
Review, Philologist and Philological.
2 The research work of the Human Computer Interaction team of the University of

Patras is described in detail in the University website:


http://hci.ece.upatras.gr/index.php?id=23&option=com_content&task=view&lang=iso-
8859-7
3 We are making a distinction here between comprehension and interpretation,

considering as comprehension of texts what Purves & Rippere (1968) describe as


perception, that is, description of a text, including retelling and summarizing.
Interpretation, on the other hand, is considered here as what Gibson (2006) roughly
describes as the activity of bringing to light what a literary work is trying to say (p.440).
Culler (1997, p. 64) makes a very clear distinction between comprehension and
interpretation, by giving an example: suppose we are asked: What is Hamlet about? If
we answer: It is about a prince in Denmark, we are not interpreting the text. But if we
answer Hamlet is about the breakdown of the Elizabethan world order, then we are
engaging on an interpretive action.
4 The notion of interpretive communities was introduced by Stanley Fish (1980), in

order to explain why two or more readers share the same interpretations (since there is
no such thing as an objective text, according to the reader-response theory) and why one
single reader regularly changes his/her interpretations. Interpretive communities consist
of readers who share interpretive strategies. These strategies exist before the act of
reading and, therefore, they determine the form of the reading object the text rather
than the other way around, as it is usually supposed to be. This explains why different
readers give the same interpretations (they belong to the same interpretive community)
and why one single reader uses different interpretive strategies and, thus, gives different
interpretations (he/she moves between multiple communities). Interpretive
communities grow or deminish and people move from one to another (Fish, pp. 171-
172).
5 For further reference, the relevant document is (translated in English from Greek):

Guidelines for the teaching of philological courses in junior high school (academic year 2003-
2004). Ministry of National Education and Religion, Pedagogical Institute, Department of
Secondary Education, pp. 174-217. These guidelines are still used by teachers today.
6 Santouri: a traditional musical instrument
7 Students in the experimental group named their teams as follows: Hermes, Victory,

Panthers, Athena and Aris.


8 All student answers were translated from Greek, maintaining the students

language and style. Possible mistakes in grammar, syntax or expression were not
corrected.

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Appendix A

Example of work sheet used in the teaching of literary texts by the students of the
experimental group.
Discussion sheet
Course: Modern Greek Literature
Text: Nikos Kazantzakis, The Life and Adventures of Alexis Zorbas (schoolbook pp. 164-168)
Team name:
Team Members: 1).............................................. 2)............................................
3).......................................... 4) .............................................. 5)......................... ...........
Instructions
1. Answer all three questions (with open books).
2. Answer the first question individually, and the next two questions as a team. The
answers of the last two questions must emerge from the participation of all team
members. Your ideas must be supported by specific citations from the text.
3. Choose a secretary, who will be writing down the teams answers to the questions,
and a reader, who will be reading them in front of the whole class.
4. If you have any questions, ask all your team members first. Only if none of them can
give you an answer, you may ask the teacher.
5. At the end of the lesson, you will hand all the work sheets to the teacher.
Questions
1) Suppose you are the writer (and main character of the novel) and, the night after you
first met Zorbas, you run into an old friend of yours, on the boat to Crete. Describe to
him, in short, the scene of your acquaintance with Zorbas, pointing out his personal
characteristics and ideas that impressed you. Then, say whether you finally decided to
take him with you to Crete or not, and why.

2) a) Complete the table below by gathering as many evidence as you can about
The scenery (where The characters The narrators The way the author
is the story taking (Who are they, comments (about writes (style,
place?) and the plot appearance and whatever impresses words)
(what is going on?) behavior) him)

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b) Try to make Alexis Zorbas profile, by completing the diagram below:

3) Suppose, now, that you are a group of sailors drinking their coffee in the same coffee
shop as the writer, sitting on the next table. You are present at the scene of Zorbas arrival
and you are eavesdropping on the whole conversation that follows. After a while,
another friend of yours arrives and sits with you. Describe to him, as a group now, the
whole scene of the two mens acquaintance and conversation, commenting on their
characters and stressing out some of their ideas that might have impressed you. Finally,
tell him if, in your opinion, the writer decided to take Zorbas with him and why.

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Appendix B

B1. Pretest
Text: The Companions in Hades, by George Seferis

fools, who ate the cattle of Helios Hyperion;


but he deprived them of the day of their return.
Odyssey

Since we still had some hardtack


how stupid of us
to go ashore and eat
the Suns slow cattle,

for each was a castle


youd have to battle
forty years, till youd become
a hero and a star!

On the earths back we hungered,


but when wed eaten well
we fell to these lower regions
mindless and satisfied.

(Translated By Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard)

Questions

Question 1.a. What do you think the Companions in Hades, the Suns Cattle, and their
story symbolize? b. On what evidence from the text is your answer based?
Question 2. Who do you think the companions are speaking to? What are their words
aiming at? Are there any clues in the poem that lead you to this conclusion?

B2. Posttest

Text: To have taken the trouble, by K.P. Cavafy

Im broke and practically homeless.


This fatal city, Antioch,
has devoured all my money:
this fatal city with its extravagant life.

But Im young and in excellent health.


Prodigious master of things Greek,
I know Aristotle and Plato through and through,
poets, orators, or anyone else you could mention.
I have some idea about military matters
and friends among the senior mercenaries.
I also have a foot in the administrative world;
I spent six months in Alexandria last year:
I know (and this is useful) something about what goes on there
the scheming of Kakergetis, his dirty deals, and the rest of it.

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So I consider myself completely qualified
to serve this country,
my beloved fatherland, Syria.

Whatever job they give me,


Ill try to be useful to the country. Thats my intention.
But if they frustrate me with their maneuvers
we know them, those smart operators: no need to say more here
if they frustrate me, its not my fault.

Ill approach Zabinas first,


and if that idiot doesnt appreciate me,
Ill go to his rival, Grypos.
And if that imbecile doesnt take me on,
Ill go straight to Hyrkanos.

One of the three will want me anyway.

And my conscience is quiet


about my not caring which one I chose:
the three of them are equally bad for Syria.

But, a ruined man, its not my fault.


Im only trying, poor devil, to make ends meet.
The almighty gods ought to have taken the trouble
to create a fourth, an honest man.
I would gladly have gone along with him.

Questions
Question 1. The person who speaks in the poem is telling us how he plans to serve his
country. What do these plans tell us about his ethics? On what evidence from the text is your
answer based?
Question 2. But, a ruined man with him: Write a paragraph in which you will describe
what, in your opinion, is the meaning of this verse. Which are the textual data that lead you
to your conclusion?
Appendix C

Instructions for student behavior during group work (adopted by Johnson & Johnson,
2009a, p. 42)
i) Be critical of ideas, not people.
ii) Remember that we are in this together.
iii) Encourage everyone to participate.
iv) Listen carefully to everyones ideas, even if you do not agree.
v) Rephrase something somebody said, if it was not clear.
vi) Try to understand all sides of the issue.
vii) First we express all the ideas and then we put them together.

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66

International Journal of Learning, Teaching and Educational Research


Vol. 15, No. 1, pp. 66-78, January 2016

Experiences of School and Family


Communications and Interactions Among
Parents of Children with Reactive Attachment
Disorder
Raol Taft and Candace Schlein
University of Missouri-Kansas City
Kansas City, MO, USA

Crystal M. Ramsay
Pennsylvania State University
University Park, PA, USA

Abstract. Effective communications between schools and family


members about curricular concerns can positively impact students
performance across behavioral, academic, and social domains.
Moreover, family involvement in schooling may be more important for
children with disabilities, especially students with severe emotional and
behavioral concerns, such as with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD).
Students with RAD present some of the most challenging behaviors to
school personnel. In turn, needs of students with RAD require their
families to work together with school staff as equal curriculum decision
makers to promote hopeful outcomes for this group of learners. In this
article, we discuss the findings of an investigation into the experiences
of parents of children with RAD. We uncover their storied perceptions
of encountering a lack of proactive, positive, and useful communications
throughout their childrens educational careers.

Keywords: reactive attachment disorder; adoptive and foster parents;


home-school communications; curricular stakeholders; special
education.

Introduction

Effective school and family interactions and communications that


increase family participation are crucial for promoting more positive outcomes
for children in school across academic, social, and behavioral domains (Epstein
& Sanders, 2002; Fan & Chen, 2001; Hill & Taylor, 2004; Jeynes, 2005; Pomerantz,
Moorman, & Litwack, 2007). Engaging with parents as partners in the
educational process is universally considered best practice, particularly in

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67

special education. It is also necessary in order to optimize student performance


(Fine, 1990; Indelicato, 1980; Miedel & Reynolds, 1999; Nowell & Salem, 2007;
Shortt, Douglas, & McLain, 2000; Simon, 2001).
The importance of building positive and collaborative interactions with
families can be seen in the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) in the United States
(Epstein, 2005; United States Department of Education, 2010). One of the basic
tenets of the Act is to empower parents and provide them with meaningful
information so that they can make informed decisions about their children's
education. This is especially pertinent for children with disabilities. Key pieces of
the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) (Senate and House of
Representatives of the United States of America, 2004), in fact, are predicated on
this notion (e.g., IDEA, Sects. 300.322, 300.504).
Among the concepts that are embodied in IDEA is the imperative that
schools and families must collaborate with one another (Katsiyannis, Yell, &
Bradley, 2001; Turnbull, Turnbull, Erwin, Soodak, & Shogren, 2011). What IDEA
does not do is go so far as to operationalize and define positive interactions and
strong communications. The literature, however, highlights several concepts
aimed at supporting good relationships across members of the school
community (BlueBanning, Summers, Frankland, Lord Nelson, & Beegle, 2004;
Schlein, Taft, & TuckerBlackwell, 2013; Turnbull et al., 2011). While positive
home and school interactions and communications are effective for promoting
the best outcomes for students with disabilities, it may be even more important
for students with emotional and behavioral disorders (Duchnowski et al., 2012;
Dunlap & Fox, 2007; Flick, 2011). Parental involvement is suggested as a
necessary component in the treatment of children with behavior disorders. It is
further recommended for relationships to be cultivated between school,
community, and family and to establish collaborations that allow families and
community members access to roles in decisionmaking. Collaborations
between key stakeholders help to establish a systems approach for addressing
issues presented by children with challenging behaviors (Dunlap & Fox, 2007;
Flick, 2011; Kaufmann & Landrum, 2013; Yell, Meadows, Drasgow, & Shriner,
2009). Farmer, Quinn, Hussey, & Holahan (2001) proposed a systems approach
to addressing the needs of students with behavioral issues. Farmer et al. (2001)
suggested employing a multidisciplinary team for individuals at high risk to
intervene on multiple levels as a means of addressing system variables that
promote change across students behavior systems. This approach aims to
reorganize the behavior system of correlated constraints affecting the student.
Parental factors are specifically cited as one of five factors that need to be
considered when addressing the needs of youth with disruptive and challenging
behaviors.
In this article, we discuss an investigation into the experiences of parents
of children with severe psychological and emotional issues called Reactive
Attachment Disorder (RAD). RAD children can present with severe aggressive
and challenging behaviors (Cain, 2006; Schwartz & Davis, 2006; Taft, Ramsay, &
Schlein, 2015). In particular, we focus on home and school communications and
interactions of parents of children with RAD. We highlight stories of experiences
suggesting that for these parents, communications between families and schools
were complex and dysfunctional. Significantly, we underscore the pivotal gap

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68

between home and school that might mark the schooling experiences of children
with RAD and their families to elucidate ways of enhancing home and school
communications.

Background: Students With RAD and Parental Involvement

Children with RAD can present schools and education professionals with
very challenging behaviors (Davis, Kruczek, & McIntosh, 2006; Floyd, Hester,
Griffin, Golden, & SmithCanter, 2008; Schwartz & Davis, 2006). They often
exhibit inappropriate behaviors that range from subtle planned behaviors to
extreme and proactively planned inappropriate behaviors or overt dangerous
aggression (Taft, Ramsay, & Schlein, 2015). Research supports that children with
RAD can be the most difficult group of children with problem behaviors that
service providers will work with in schools (Dunlap & Fox, 2007; Green, 2003).
Additionally, Schwartz and Davis (2006) discussed the effects of RAD on school
readiness and concluded that RAD children present the school with academic,
social, and behavioral challenges and problems that need to be addressed so that
the learners can optimally benefit from their learning environments.
Other problems to consider when working with children with RAD are
identifying triggers of behavior, determining appropriate and effective
consequences, and understanding the behavior in terms of behavioral function.
With most children, school professionals can identify triggers or events likely to
elicit inappropriate behavior. This is not always the case with children with RAD
(Cain, 2006; Thomas, 2005; Trout & Thomas, 2005). In fact, it is not uncommon
for children with RAD to exhibit extreme behaviors without any noticeable
antecedent or trigger for the behavior (Cain, 2006; Taft, Ramsay, & Schlein,
2015).
It is accepted behavioral principles that antecedents can predict the
occurrence of behavior and that consequences maintain or decrease behaviors
(Alberto & Troutman, 2013, Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2007). Unfortunately,
consequences that maintain behaviors are often more difficult to identify in
children with RAD (Cain, 2006). Difficulties identifying antecedents and
consequences make determining a verifiable functional relation between
behaviors and consequences extremely problematic. This, in turn, negatively
impacts attempts to design effective behavior intervention plans. Even when
antecedents, consequences, and behavioral function are determined, children
with RAD often do not respond to behavior intervention practices and
programs. This includes those that have been commonly and effectively used for
interventions to address behavior problems for children with behavior disorders
(Cain, 2006; Taft, Ramsay, & Schlein, 2015; Thomas, 2005; Trout & Thomas,
2005).
Problems that children with RAD exhibit are due to the negative impact
of disturbed and dysfunctional early relationships effectuated by extreme
neglect, abuse, violence, and changes in primary caregivers (Schwartz & Davis,
2006). Families must be included as stakeholders in their childs educational
team, given the difficulties presented by students with RAD. Family members
know their children better than anyone else. A family-centered and team-based
process is crucial for addressing the needs of this student population. Families

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69

need to be involved so that they can support children during the assessment
process, validate data collected by interventionists, report on behaviors, provide
information about the performance of their children, and provide critiques of
suggestions that are offered by intervention teams (Cain, 2006; Thomas, 2005).

Methodology

Participants were parents of children with RAD; they are information


rich, having lived with their children and experienced the behaviors that are key
to understanding the central phenomenon in this study. We made use of
opportunistic purposive and criterionbased sampling to recruit and select
parents for investigative participation. We required two criteria for participation
in this study: (1) Parents child had to be diagnosed with RAD or significant
attachment disorder, and (2) Parents child had to be currently enrolled in school
or be of school age.
We met potential participants at a RAD parent support group, at an
academic conference, and through the recommendation of friends. Each
participant received an explanation of the purpose of the research study and
informed written consent was obtained from them. Participants were foster
parents, adoptive parents, or both foster and adoptive parents. Our participants
included 10 parents (9 mothers and 1 father) from four states and nine different
school districts. Their children attended rural, suburban, and urban schools.
This study made use of the narrative inquiry research tradition of
Clandinin and Connelly (2000). This form of investigation enabled us to focus on
collecting and analyzing stories of experiences as data (Connelly & Clandinin,
1990, 1991). Moreover, narrative inquiry was selected as the method for
conducting this study due to the detailed ethical considerations that are
intertwined with this methodology. Angel, Stoner, and Shelden (2009)
highlighted the great need for a relationship that is founded on trust between
professionals and mothers of children with disabilities. In turn, we endeavored
to work together with our participants in relational narrative research
(Clandinin et al., 2006).
We conducted semistructured interviews to allow us to ask clarifying
questions, further probe specific responses, and provide our participants with an
opportunity to elaborate on their stories if they so desired. The first author was
the sole interviewer as a means of concentrating rapport and establishing trust
between one interviewer and participants. Moreover, our participants were
provided with a copy of interview transcriptions following our interview
sessions, and they were asked to provide feedback regarding the accuracy of the
information collected.
Our interview questions focused on the experiences of parents of
children with RAD or significant attachment issues. The interview protocol
included questions to stimulate discussion, to allow our participants to openly
express their views, and to elaborate on topics prompted by questions. Interview
sessions were openended, recorded, and later transcribed. Individual
interviews were conducted at a place chosen by the participant. Session length
varied depending on participants answers.
Ten interview sessions were conducted over the course of one year,

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70

totaling 677 minutes of recorded interviews. One interview session was


conducted with one mother and father together at their request. One participant
engaged in two interview sessions for scheduling reasons. We completed
descriptive and reflective field notes following all interviews. We replaced all
person names and place names with pseudonyms.
We reviewed the transcriptions indepth to determine major emergent
codes and common narrative themes. Finally, we used the threedimensional
narrative inquiry space (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000) to shed light on some of
the personal, social, temporal, and contextual variables of our participants
narratives of experiences. We then drew narrative interpretations from our data
as investigative findings to deliberate over the level and quality of home and
school communications that participants outlined.

Findings

We present here some of the narratives of experiences of our participants


regarding their interactions with school staff. We examine our participants lived
scenarios of family and school communications and interactions. In exploring
these experiential stories, we underscore our participants perceived need to be
involved in curricular advocacy for their children who have severe
psychological, behavioral, and emotional problems.
Participants explained their perspectives on communication efforts with
their childrens schools. Although some viewed communications with school
staff more positively than others, all agreed that there was not a solid system in
place to work together on a continuous basis. Our participants highlighted how
they sometimes felt isolated from schools and even from other family members.
In fact, many participants are regular members of a support group for parents of
children with RAD so that they might gain support and reduce feelings of
isolation. They further expressed a perceived need for connections with their
childrens schools.
For example, Georgia and Harvey have a 14yearold daughter,
Amanda, and a 13yearold son, John, with RAD. They related that they did not
feel as though there is an emphasis in their childrens schools on communicating
with parents. They discussed their belief that working with students with RAD
might require a team effort.
I dont think educators really get training, or its not really
emphasized to connect with the parents and have relationships
with the parents. And with these kids, you really have to work
together as a team or its not going to, I mean nobodys going to
get a full picture.
Although Georgia and Harvey would prefer to work together with their
childrens school as a team in order to effectively make curricular decisions for
their son and daughter, they felt that a lack of training among educational
professionals about home and school communications was responsible for
stifling such connections between them and their childrens educators. Megan,
who adopted a 12yearold son with RAD, Shane, also added in the next
narrative her perception that schools are apprehensive about communicating at
length with parents:

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71

My experience is that most teachers and people in the education


system profession are usually scared to death of parents. And so
its easy for them to kind of see this cute little kid and think, 'Oh,
well Ill just work with this cute little kid, and really the parents
are probably the ones with all the problems.
Significantly, Megan expressed her perspective that the school is both fearful of
input from parents and that they blame parents for childrens behaviors. This
theme was similar among our participants, since their childrens negative
behaviors were not always present in school. Children with RAD sometimes
only present behavioral symptoms or extreme behavioral responses in the home
environment. Instead, Megan illuminated how she has interpreted her
interactions with her son Shanes school negatively, as a story of both fear and
blame. In addition, Clare noted how some of the negative communications that
she encountered with the school also run counter to supporting the needs of her
15yearold son, Mark.
Well I cant tell you how many phone calls Ive had with teachers
and I just had a phone call with my sons principal a couple
weeks ago. They called me to tell me some behavior that my kids
done, and then say, But they felt really bad about it, so were not
going to really do anything. No, they didnt feel bad about it.
Document it! Get it in the computer! I dont care if he felt bad
about it! He still needs to be held accountable. My son, 15, stole
from the cafeteria, and theyre calling me to tell me, Well, were
sorry to have to call you and tell you that he stole. He got caught
by the resource officer and the lunch ladies, and now hes
gonna and Im like, Good! He steals all the time. Im glad he
got caught. Keep an eye on him. Can you write this down? But
no. The principal was like, Oh, but he felt really bad about it,
and he is a cute kid. And he is a flirt, and he can schmooze.
People feel bad for him. And so he gets away with lying and
stealing and cheating and people are like, Aw, but how could
that cute, sweet little kid? But really, I have to work really hard
as a parent to get to introduce myself to all the school people and
now that were in high school its even harder because theres all
these teachers and all these new administrators that dont know
us. I say, Heres the story, heres the deal, heres his struggle.
Please hold him accountable. Because its not helping him by just
saying, Oh, there, dont do that again.
Clare had previously related to the school that Mark, like many children with
RAD, is able to manipulate others for gain and hide bad behaviors from certain
people. Clare asked the school to help her to make Mark accountable for his
negative behaviors. Instead, she discovered that Mark had successfully charmed
his teachers so that they were sympathetic to him. They felt that it would be
better not to document the incident or reprimand Mark, since he expressed that
he was sorry for his actions. However, Clare was frustrated that the school was
not helping to reinforce methods that she was using at home with Mark to lessen
his negative behaviors and to make him accountable for his actions. Clares story
is thus important for indicating a common theme among our participants, where

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72

communications and interactions with the school often did not seek to attend to
parents needs or requests, nor to unify emotional and behavioral management
across the home and the school. In these cases, school professionals simply
ignored the input from parents.
Interacting with our participants reinforced a shared narrative that these
parents of children with RAD do not feel like their input was considered fully or
respected. Our participants clearly conveyed that when curricular power is not
shared, they feel as if they have no control over their childrens education. The
next narrative is highly useful for considering facets of the interactions between
school staff and our participants during the Individualized Education Plan (IEP)
process, which is critical for structuring students written learning plans that
account for their special needs in school. Janet, commented on the IEP process
for her 7yearold son, Warren, in the following story.
When it came time for the IEP process, and we were in there, the
principals over there texting under the table while were talking
about these things and Im expressing concern. Just didnt really
feel like they were hearing anything I had to say. They didnt
want to know what my input was. They pretty much had a
mindset of what they were going to do. And thats what they
were going to do.
Janets story displayed how she did not feel as though she was treated as a
member of her sons education team with respect to curricular decisionmaking
for her child. Janet discussed how this situation resulted in her feeling
disempowered. Since the principal did not attend to Janets concerns or provide
full attention during the parent conference, she was not convinced that the
principal was acting in Warrens best interest.
When students have special emotional needs, it is crucial that educators
maintain sensitivity to the needs of both families and children. Teasing,
stigmatization, worries about future needs, and other concerns can add
emotional burdens to families that may not be experienced by families of
children without disabilities. Thus, school personnel need to be especially
supportive of parents of children with RAD and other severe emotional and
behavioral disorders. In spite of this expectation, Georgia and Harveys lived
scenario below about their son, John, demonstrated that communications
acknowledging the needs of students and their family members were lacking.
This formed a barrier inhibiting the efficacious implementation of resources to
support Georgia and Harveys children.
Our sons home district has not shown much initiative in wanting
to help us address our sons need to reduce his excessive
transitions. They have not responded to our request for them to
participate in our sons case management team, which is to
function and help us bring together the multiple agencies and
entities involved in his care, treatment, and education planning
related to his disability and need for a group-home setting with
family involvement for a longer period of time.
Georgia and Harveys experiential narrative is important for understanding
their experience that schools do not always communicate with families or
advocate for children in ways that satisfy the interconnected needs of parents

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73

and their children. As a result, Georgia and Harvey suggested that school staff
are not able to act on behalf of their children in meaningful ways. This was also
the situation for many of our other participants. For example, Nicole, whose
daughter, Jenny, has RAD, revealed her belief that the school did not properly
inform her about options for services and help to support her daughter.
I didnt realize with RAD that she needed to haveIt would have
been nice if they had that, but I thought that the special services
were only for the children who were severely handicapped, like
that needed wheelchairs to get around and stuff. I didnt realize
Nicole emphasized how she felt as though she is on her own to navigate an
intricate system of agencies and to find a solution for her child, because the
school provided misinformation or responded to her with a lack of information
about resources in their communications. Georgia and Harvey also underscored
this situation with their experiences in communicating with the school with
respect to the needs of their daughter, Amanda.
Harvey: Oh, my gosh. We met with them at least 10, 12 times. The
principal is not tops on my list there.
Georgia: The principal, we met with one-on-one, and then he
handed us off to the counselor.
Harvey: He got tired of us.
Georgia: We probably met with her about 4 or 5 times and then
they had a special ed person that we met with in the school,
which was Mrs. Diner. Then we met with the district person in
charge of special ed, and its like each time you have to drag the
information out of them. They wont volunteer, Okay, heres
what you guys need to give. Go do this, this
Harvey: Oh no, they didnt help us. We had to figure it out on our
own.
Georgia: They wont give you any information as to what you
need to do to help this kid. They said, Well, you know maybe we
could take her out and give her a half an hour of extra this during
the day. And you know, sometimes when wed leave these
meetings wed feel pretty good but then nothing would change. I
mean, Amanda would still be struggling. She couldnt do the
homework.
This narrative of experiences is significant for showcasing how our participants
encountered several roadblocks in their efforts to support their children. Georgia
and Harvey highlighted how they believed that the school administrator at their
daughters school became tired of interacting with them and passed them on to
other support staff. Ultimately, however, they were unable to receive aid that
they felt to be valuable. At the same time, Megan exemplified, in the following
narrative, the fatigue that our parent participants related to us in attempting to
engage with the school.
The communication piece, like if he didnt have to It really feels
like you have to push to find out whats necessary, but then
sometimes there should be a limit to what they communicate.
There was a point in time just being really honest, mid-school
year, where I was just exhausted with hearing about all of his

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74

bad, and it was kind of had gotten to this point where I dreaded
checking the email to know what he had done that day.
Megan, like our other participants, expressed how communications with faculty
and staff at the school were often negative. Although our participants revealed
that they would like to have more productive conversations with the school
about ways of helping their children, Megan highlighted how the most frequent
form of school communications were to report to parents negative behaviors of
their children. Such reports were often highly frequent in number and resulted
in our participants wanting less interaction with the school.
The stories that we collected from our participants experiences highlight
a great need to improving homeschool communications. The narratives of
experiences that we discussed expose areas in which our participants would
benefit if schools would foster better ties with them. Our participants voiced
experiences serve to specifically delineate some of the needs of children with
RAD and their families, and the types of communications and interactions that
they require.

Discussion

Until now, the voices of parents of children with RAD have gone largely
unheard, and their experiences have been unknown or misunderstood. When
discussing children with RAD it is obvious that parents raising these children
need support. Children with RAD behave in ways that are extraordinary when
compared to other children, even those with emotional and behavioral disorders
(Taft, Ramsay, & Schlein, 2015), and parenting a child with RAD is a task fraught
with extraordinary challenges. A disorder that begins with a lack of initial
healthy attachment early in life becomes a daily trial for the children and for
those who care for them. The American Professional Society on the Abuse of
Childrens (APSAC) recent report confirmed a lack of clarity about how to help
families and children with RAD or attachment issues. (Chaffin et al., 2006). For
the caregivers of children with RAD, who face daily and ongoing challenges,
positive communications with their childrens schools are essential.
Evidence indicates that the childrens educational system is one of the
most important variables to consider in any remediation effort, and best
practices dictate that family participation must be encouraged when designing
academic, social, and behavioral goals and interventions for students with
behavioral disorders. Further, IDEA mandates that parents should be considered
full and equal partners on the IEP team (Senate and House of Representatives of
the United States of America, 2004). Parents and the family are crucial variables
for success of any intervention plan. In this study, however, we found that the
information and input families offer is often ignored by education professionals
or other caregivers. Unfortunately, such was the case for our parent participants
who experienced interactions with their childrens schools across four states and
nine school districts.
This study is significant, since within this investigation we address a
great gap in the literature in terms of examining some of the experiences of
parents of children with RAD, particularly with respect to communicating and
interacting with their childrens schools. Although positive interactions and

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75

strong communications between the home and the school might prove to be
helpful for attaining positive academic, emotional, and social outcomes for
children with RAD, the experiences highlighted here showcase how, for our
participants, related efforts were lacking or limited. Findings from this study
indicated that for these parents of children with RAD, families experienced a
lack of respectful, proactive, positive, and useful communication throughout the
educational process.
This study does not aim to generalize findings. Nevertheless, our
participants narratives of experiences might be useful for depicting some of the
situations and needs of other parents of children with RAD or parents of
children with other severe emotional and behavioral disorders. Direct interviews
were conducted with 10 parents from across four states and nine school districts.
Despite the geographic diversity, their stories were strikingly similar. It is
anticipated that this study will be informative to others dealing with children
with RAD, and that it will offer verisimilitude and transferability to other
settings. We thus hope that this paper will prompt educators and school leaders
to recognize some of their own practices in home and school communications
and to identify concrete ways of improving and expanding upon them.

Limitations and Future Research

The strength of this study is the window that the parent voices provide
into the nature of their interactions and communications with school personnel.
Although the findings of this study might not be generalized to other families
with children who have RAD, it is plausible that the stated findings might prove
to be relevant for other families experiencing challenges with communicating
with their childrens schools. Parents of children with RAD or those who have
children with other severe emotional and behavioral disorders might also
resonate with the experiences discussed in this article. School administrators,
school counselors, and support staff for students with special emotional and
behavioral difficulties might find this work useful for delineating some of the
needs of students and their families. It might further highlight areas in provided
services that need to be addressed to improve students academic and social
lives in school.
A potential limitation of this study is the fact that almost all of our
participants were members of a support group for parents of children with RAD.
Our participants might share specific home situations that have led them to seek
out a support group. They might also converge in terms of shared parenting
characteristics or similar personal needs. In this way, our findings might be
shaped accordingly.
Future research needs to investigate effective methods of promoting
improved communications between schools and parents of children with RAD.
Such methods would enable positive supports for families and school personnel,
and they would address the complex challenges that currently prevent or
minimize interactions between the home and school. Additionally, narrative
inquiry might continue to be a means of exploring RAD and its implications for
caregivers and children because of the depth and richness of experiences it
captures. Significantly, parent voices might be essential in helping close the gap

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76

in the research on students with RAD and for developing effective interventions
and strategies.

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79

International Journal of Learning, Teaching and Educational Research


Vol. 15, No. 1, pp. 79-88, January 2016

The Predictive Power of Reasoning Ability on


Academic Achievement

Mehraj A. Bhat
Department of Education
University of Kashmir, South Campus, Anantnag-192 101
Jammu and Kashmir, India.
Email: mehrajsc@gmail.com

Abstract. The present study examined the contribution of six


components of reasoning ability (inductive reasoning, deductive
reasoning, linear reasoning, conditional reasoning, cause-and-effect
reasoning and analogical reasoning) to explain the variation in academic
achievement of class 10th students. Through stratified random sampling
technique five hundred and ninety eight students solved 35
contextualized different components of reasoning problems
standardised by the investigator. The different components of reasoning
ability were assessed with help of automatic linear modelling. The
predictive power of various components of reasoning ability for
academic achievement was 31.5 %. Out of the six dimensions of
reasoning ability, the maximum involvement was reflected by deductive
reasoning (.49) followed by cause and effect reasoning (.26) inductive
reasoning (.16), linear reasoning (.05), conditional reasoning (.03) and
analogical reasoning (.02) on academic achievement. The results
achieved with the help of this method predicted greater accuracy and
authenticity.

Keywords: Reasoning Ability; Academic Achievement; Predictive


Power

Introduction
Since the evolution of human beings, reasoning ability has been used as an
important element to solve their day to day related problems. It has been
acknowledged as the main component of human nature. Its expression can be
found in the teaching of Socrates, Confucius and others (Chen, 2000). The aim of
education is to equip the people with the ability to reason out. Therefore the
development of reasoning skills, its improvement and various approaches
invited the attention of teachers, thinkers, and academics for years (Kemler,
1998).

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80

Reasoning is a thoughtful activity that has vital significance during the whole
life. All most all the theories of intelligence give much emphasis on the
reasoning and have crucial importance in daily routines and patters of life
(Wilhelm, 2004).

The students make use of reasoning ability in various life patterns in general and
education in particular. It helps students to draw conclusions and these
conclusions help them to solve their problems. It assists students in gaining true
knowledge, because knowledge is based on logic and rationality. Besides, it
helps students in decision making, problem solving, causal relationships,
making inductive and deductive generalizations and academic excellence.
Studies also revealed that reasoning helps in developing IQ (Leighton &
Sternberg, 2004).

In various thought process such as decision making, critical thinking and


problem solving, reasoning is pivotal (Samarapungavan, 2009). The researchers
(Tella etal, 2008) claimed that pupils reasoning ability is an essential condition
for the assessment of the performance in learning and is also an indicator of their
future performance. Moore and Bruder (1996) highlighted the significance of
reasoning ability they stated that reasoning skills help students think clearly and
logically to act upon multiple problems with a rational approach.

Reasoning is a very important aspect of human existence. In todays complex


world, the ability to think and reason logically is essential for everybody. The
ability to reason is indispensable when problem solving skills are required.
Without reasoning, already acquired knowledge and experiences cannot be
applied to new situations (Bhat, 2014).

Progressive psychologists explore the growth and expansion of reasoning from


birth to maturity. The first comprehensive theory of reasoning development was
Piaget's theory of cognitive development (Demetriou, 1998). Cognitive
psychologists and mathematics teachers have great interest in area of reasoning
(National Council of Mathematics Teachers [NCTM], 2000). Without reasoning,
already accomplished knowledge and experiences cannot be applied to new
situations. Reasoning is broadly defined as the process of drawing
conclusions (Leighton and Sternberg, 2004, p. 3, 4). The true conclusions assist
in problem solving because they are reliable representations of the external
environment. Therefore, the main aim of education is to make available the
situations which will stimulate the students with reasoning abilities (Valanides,
1997).

Various Dimensions of Reasoning


Earlier there were two categories of reasoning such as inductive and deductive
made by philosophers. Later on abduction was introduced and finally it was
acknowledged that there are three categories of reasoning (Allan, 2006).
Roediger & Rushton (1987) in their book Psychology has mentioned some
types of reasoning, like- conditional, analogical and linear reasoning.

Although, there are some more categories of reasoning from which some are not
familiar. These are cause-and effect reasoning, comparative reasoning, criteria

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81

reasoning, decompositional reasoning, systematic reasoning, syllogistic


reasoning (Vince, 2011; Shank, 1998; Wason and Johnson, 1972; Jeotee, 2012).

In the present study the researcher selected six types of reasoning (inductive
reasoning, deductive reasoning, linear reasoning, conditional reasoning, cause-
and-effect reasoning and analogical reasoning) because these are widely
applicable in daily routines and patterns of life in general and classroom
situation in particular. The brief descriptions of them are as:

In inductive reasoning one can articulate generalized principles and inferences


on the basis of certain evidences (Mangal, 2007). However, the deductive
reasoning is a process of drawing inferences on the basis logic and fact. In this
type of reasoning one can draw logical inferences from identified reports or
indications. The conditional reasoning encompasses making conclusions with
given major evidence (Markovits and Barrouillet, 2002). Similarly, the linear
reasoning involves straightforward relationship among elements (Mangal, 2007).
The analogical reasoning is the capability to identify and practice interpersonal
resemblance among conditions or actions and is a basic feature of human
perception. It is an essential method in scientific results and problem-solving,
classification and decision-making (Gust et al. 2012). Lastly Cause-and-effect
reasoning observes the reasons of definite activities, occasions, or circumstances
(causes) make specific concerns (effects). It is central to human reasoning in
everyday life as well as in other disciplines (Robert, 2005).

Relationship between Reasoning ability and Academic Achievement


Academic achievement has become an indicator of a childs future in the present
extremely competitive world. Many students seem not to get recognition
proportionate with their known or related abilities. Generally, we find students
with average abilities excel in different areas. The perplexing facts, which have
come into forefront, are that in spite of having similar educational amenities,
atmosphere, desires etc. academic achievement of students differs from one
another (Gakhar & Aseema, 2004). Therefore, the topic of academic achievement
has assumed a lot of meaning in the modern educational system.

In our social set up, academic achievement is considered as a main standard to


judge ones whole capabilities and competencies. Therefore, academic
achievement occupies an essential place in teaching learning process. In the
present socioeconomic and cultural context academic achievement is of
paramount significance. Right from the beginning great stress is placed on
achievement at secondary school level (Gupta, Sharma & Gupta, 2012). This
stage has its own organized hierarchy which is mainly based on achievement
and performance, because this period is a path to enter professional courses.

The academic achievement is a multidimensional and multifaceted


phenomenon. There are various factors, which influence pupils academic
achievement viz. school climate, parental involvement, intelligence, learning
experiences at schools, parental occupation, their educational level, reasoning,
personality, motivation, heredity, problem solving interest aptitudes, learning
styles and socio-economic status of the parents and many more factors (Can,
2009).

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82

In the present times everyone desires to have a high academic performance. The
entire system of education is centred on students academic performance. An
insignificant research occurs concentrating on the role of reasoning ability on
pupils performance in science and other subjects but they are limited and
inconsistent. The results of Ertepmar (1995) and Oloyede (2012) found that
formal reasoning ability as a strong predictor for the achievement in chemistry.
It has been also studied that reasoning can be used to predict the performance of
students achievement in chemistry (Abdu, 1998). The results of Sungur et al.
(2001) also indicated that reasoning ability significantly affects students
achievements. Tekkaya and Yenilmez (2006) discovered that reasoning skill was
the chief predictor of understanding, showing 31% of variation. Kuhn and
Holling (2009) showed that reasoning ability appears to be significant for
predicting academic achievement in science. The results of Nnorom (2013)
depicted that those students who had high reasoning ability achieved better in
biology than the students who had low reasoning ability.

However, the above studies suffer from one or more shortcomings. These are as:

Reasoning ability was frequently measured using an insignificant,


haphazard set of tasks. The resulting representation of the paradigm is
therefore contaminated by task-specific variance and does not necessarily
replicate all appropriate characteristics of reasoning ability.
Similarly, studies relating reasoning ability and academic achievement
showing variations in their results, due to some extraneous errors in the
data, therefore results are not conclusive.
Besides, most studies usually focused on a single construct of reasoning
ability, such as inductive reasoning or deductive reasoning, which fails to
provide a synthetic view of reasoning ability.
The tools used to measure reasoning ability were not accurate with
respect to their constructs and sometimes vague from common reasoning
tasks. This problem is apparent, e.g., in the work of Valanides (1997)
used Test of Logical Thinking (TOLT) to measure formal reasoning
ability where the same type of test served as a formal operation
performance (1998) task in another. The test used to measure formal
reasoning ability have several common characteristics with those used to
measure formal operation performance, it is not clear which
characteristics are accountable for the high correlation acquired between
them.
Previous researches used common techniques (linear regression analysis)
to know the effect of reasoning ability on students achievement.
Nevertheless, this aspect of the program also has shortcomings.
According to Yang (2013) linear regression is restricted to the stepwise
process merely having no competence of showing all feasible subsets of
regression. It is restricted in terms of optimal statistics for variable
collection and present standards are in the practice of significance
assessments liable to to Type I/II errors. Besides, linear regression
analysis incapable to automatically ascertain and handle distant cases
and finally incapable to conduct model together to improve predictions.

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83

Current Study
The present study addresses these issues by using reasoning ability tasks
carefully selected from previous researches to represent all aspects of reasoning
ability to know the power of different dimensions of reasoning ability on the
students academic achievement. Furthermore, investigator investigated the
predictive power (whether predictor variables account for variability in a
dependent variable) of reasoning ability on academic achievement by using
different method (automatic linear modelling). This quickens the data
investigation procedure through numerous automatic mechanisms. The
innovative technique is an enhancement over the outdated method in the
limitations drawn above. Predominantly, two main areas of development are in
involuntary variable selection and involuntary data planning.

Method
Participants
Participants were 598 of the age group 16-17 years. The students were selected
from 18 high schools from two districts of State J&K (India).

Design and Procedure


In the present study the investigator used survey method. The data was
collected with the help of reasoning ability test having six dimensions
(analogical, linear, conditional, deductive, inductive and cause and effect
reasoning) constructed by the investigators on a representative sample of 598
secondary school students through stratified random sampling technique.

The reliability was calculated through Crombach alpha having reliability


coefficient 0.71 and the reliability for each dimension is .65, .75, .63, .65, .73
and.71 respectively.

The validity of the test was evaluated through face validity and construct
validity. The face validity was evaluated through experts and to evaluate
construct validity of the test, the investigator used two methods i.e. relationship
between the total score of test and scores of each dimension (using Pearsons
correlation) and compare high and low group to know the discrimination
validity (two independent sample t test) of the test. All the values are
significant at 0.01 and 0.05 level.

For academic achievement the researcher used previous marks obtained by the
schoolchildren in the final end term examination (2013-2014) conducted by
Board of School Education. The marks were collected from students results
records kept in the respective schools.

The following criteria were kept in mind for using academic scores as measure
of achievement:

i) The annual examinations are conducted by State level body, thus


contain objectivity and comprehensiveness.
ii) The marks are the sum total of all the subjects taken together, thus
controlling all the intervening variables.

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84

iii) Experts of different subjects prepare the exam papers, thus papers may
be considered as standardized tests.
iv) Marks include performance on theoretical, practical as well as internal
assessment. Thus the annual scores are reliable, dependable and give
complete report of overall assessment of the child.

Besides, it has been also found that a number of researchers (Uzuntiryaki, 2007;
Kuhn and Holling, 2009; Ghazvini and Khajehpou, 2011) have used academic
achievement scores as measures of academic achievement.

Results
In order to know the end product of different dimensions of reasoning ability on
students achievement, automatic linear modeling has been used with the help
of SPSS 20. The data for the same is presented in figure 1, table 1 and figure 2.

Adjusted R2= .315

Figure 1: Model Summary of Reasoning ability on Academic Achievement

From the above model it indicates that 31.5% of variance in academic


achievement is explained by different dimensions of reasoning ability, it reflects
that model has accuracy. The model also shows the effect and importance of
various dimensions of reasoning ability on academic achievement which is
shown in table 1.

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85

Table 1: Effect and Importance of Different Dimensions of Reasoning Ability on


Academic Achievement

The table 1 shows that all the dimensions of reasoning ability are important
predictors and have significant importance on academic achievement. Further
the table 1 shows that all the F values of different dimensions of reasoning
ability (F=137.29, 36.85, 45.88, 13.82, 7.46, 4.29 P < 0.01, 0.05) are significant at
0.01 and 0.05 level. Thus, it can be concluded that each dimension of reasoning
ability have significant effect and importance on academic achievement. Out of
the six dimensions of reasoning ability, the maximum importance is shown by
deductive reasoning 0.49 followed by cause and effect reasoning 0.26, inductive
reasoning 0.16, linear reasoning 0.05, conditional reasoning 0.03 and analogical
reasoning 0.02 on academic achievement. The model depicts the graphical
presentation is shown in figure 2.

0.49

0.26

0.16

0.05

0.03

0.02

Figure 2: Effect of Different Dimensions of Reasoning Ability on Academic


Achievement

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86

Conclusions
According to the results of the study it has been found that reasoning ability
seemed to be the main predictor of academic achievement. This means that
having greater reasoning ability promotes better academic achievement. There
is also evidence from the present study that students show competence in
different reasoning components. The individual differences in reasoning ability
could be explained by performance in academic achievement. The results which
have been drawn with the help of automatic linear modelling showed greater
accuracy, compatibility, authenticity. Therefore, it is imperative to foster
reasoning ability among students, so that they could excel in all walks of life in
general and academic pursuits in particular.

It is further suggested that schools should make provision for materials that can
stimulate the reasoning ability of the students. Things like computer games,
fascinating objects, simulation and games of different kinds may be provided. It
becomes progressively imperative to develop reasoning ability through all-time
learning so that the learner may be able to face challenges and may lead
important life, and build a balanced world (Shu, 2000). Hence, present systems
of education all over the world have acknowledged the need and improve
pupils reasoning ability (Moshman, 1990; Wu, 2001). Besides, teachers should
ask the students questions like why and why not and cultivate the habit of if-
then-else. Teachers can also play an important role by adopting various
strategies and techniques, which help in the development of reasoning ability.
They can help students to develop their advanced levels of reasoning through
careful range of tasks and the use of probing questions so that students may
learn problem solving approaches and use the power of extra formal reasoning
to better formulate and justify mathematical calculations. The continuous
development of mathematical reasoning habits should be given priority in the
high school students.

From the findings of the study it has been also revealed that out of the six
dimensions of reasoning ability, the maximum importance is of made by
deductive reasoning (0.49), cause and effect reasoning (0.26) and inductive
reasoning (0.16), on academic achievement. Therefore, it is imperative that
school teachers should promote these types of reasoning among school going
students.

Moreover, teachers should to plan their lessons and classroom setting according
to learners reasoning ability. School administrators may put extra efforts to
embed curriculum with reasoning and skills, so that students may get
opportunity to sharpen their skills.

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87

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89

International Journal of Learning, Teaching and Educational Research


Vol. 15, No. 1, pp. 89-102, January 2016

Critical Analysis of Embedded and Summative


Feedback from Online Doctoral Instructors on
Benchmark Assessments

Kelley Walters, PhD


Northcentral University
California, United States

Patricia Henry, PhD


Northcentral University
California, United States

Abstract. Providing transparent written feedback to doctoral students is


essential to the learning process and preparation for the capstone.
Written feedback is even more critical in an online environment where
face-to-face interaction is limited. Two major types of feedback that play
a determining factor to student success are embedded and summative
feedback. Hence, providing students with clear and consistent feedback
on scholarly written course work enhances the writing abilities of
doctoral candidates and prepares them to write their final capstone. The
purpose of this study was to conduct an exploration of faculty feedback
on benchmark written assignments in an online doctoral program. The
researchers examined instructor feedback provided to online doctoral
students on scholarly writing assignments throughout their doctoral
program. The Corpus for this analysis included 236 doctoral level
written assignments that included feedback from approximately 51
faculty members. Student papers were retrieved from all content courses
in the doctoral program. Researchers identified the types and
frequencies of embedded and summative written feedback, while also
developing an analysis of relationships that existed between page length
and embedded feedback. This study sought to accomplish four goals: (1)
Describe the types and frequency of embedded feedback. (2) Describe
the frequency and patterns of faculty summative feedback on student
papers. (3) Analyze if there is a relationship between embedded
feedback and summative feedback. (4) Analyze if there is a relationship
between length of paper and embedded feedback.

Keywords: faculty feedback; online doctoral programs; embedded


feedback; summative feedback

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90

Introduction
The purpose of this study was to conduct a qualitative exploration of faculty
feedback on benchmark written assignments in an online doctoral program. The
researchers examined instructor feedback provided to online doctoral students
on scholarly writing assignments throughout their program. Researchers
identified the types and frequency of embedded and summative written
feedback. Using a method of move structure analysis, embedded feedback was
reviewed and coded to determine moves and their frequency. Then moves were
examined to determine if and/or how these were synthesized into patterns to
provide summative written feedback on student papers. In addition, an analysis
was conducted to determine if there were any relationships that could be
determined between feedback and length of paper.

Background
Despite attention given to doctoral education, there is still a lack of attrition and
retention research at this level. High rates of doctoral student attrition, which
consistently range from 40 to 50 per cent, are one of academia's well-kept secrets
(Berelson, 1960; Bowen & Rudenstine, 1992; Lovitts, 1996; Cook & Pullaro, 2010).
However, according to Cook and Pullaro (2010), Although none of the existing
national databases can provide a graduation rate that accounts for all students,
all the databases do provide valuable information that contributes to our
understanding of student success (p. iv).

Degree completion and graduation rates can be linked with many different
factors - such as institutional resources, student academic characteristics, and
demographics (Scott, Bailey, & Kienzl, 2006). One of the most critical factors in
completing the doctorate is adequate preparation of students for research. The
role of the relationship between the mentor and the student has been found
significant (Earl-Novell, 2006). Other factors include providing students with
clear expectations and encouragement to finish the doctoral study in a timely
matter (Ehrenberg, 2011). While it is the responsibility of the university to
provide resources and institute policies that increase student success (Johnsrud
& Banaria, 2004), it is the experience of the student throughout the program and
the relationship with faculty that can make the difference.

Instructional faculty are in the position to determine the developmental needs of


students and provide a transfer of knowledge and skills from their own
experiences and education. This is consistent with the scaffolding of knowledge
concept offered by Vygotsky (1979). Vygotskys idea of scaffolding includes
tools and techniques to provide support for students where they learn to become
independent learners. Appropriate support is necessary for students to progress
through the milestones in order to complete the doctoral degree.

In every doctoral course in this study, students are asked to submit written
assignments that are aligned to program learning outcomes and course
objectives. Giving written feedback on assignments has always been an
important aspect of the teaching profession. While there is research that
supports that instructor feedback is important to online students (Arbaugh &

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91

Hornik, 2006; Wolsey, 2008), little research has focused on the frequency of
instructor feedback in online doctoral courses. This study on embedded and
summative feedback frequency was designed to offer a fuller understanding of
the online teaching and learning experience.

Problem
Students in the doctoral programs of this study participate in two years of
coursework before entering the doctoral study phase. During this time, they
work with many faculty members on assignments that range from discussion
boards, to reflection pieces, to research papers. All of these courses include
written assignments and most include a final benchmark assignment. Students
must pass this benchmark assessment in order to continue in the program.
Faculty are expected to provide feedback on these written assessments in order
to scaffold student learning, improve student writing ability, and prepare
students for the doctoral study process.

Providing transparent written feedback to doctoral students is essential to the


learning process and preparation for the capstone. This may be even more
critical in an online environment where face-to-face interaction is limited. Two
major types of feedback that may play a determining factor to student success
are embedded and summative feedback. Hence, providing students with clear
and consistent feedback on scholarly written course work enhances the writing
abilities of doctoral candidates and prepare them to write their final capstone.

Purpose
The purpose of this study was to examine instructor feedback provided to online
doctoral students on benchmark scholarly writing assignments throughout their
program. The research team analyzed all feedback within these assessments,
identifying the types and frequency of both embedded and summative
comments, as well as noting any relationships between feedback and page
length.

This study sought to accomplish four goals: (1) Describe the types and frequency
of embedded feedback. (2) Describe the frequency and patterns of faculty
summative feedback on student papers. (3) Analyze if there is a relationship
between embedded feedback and summative feedback. (4) Analyze if there is a
relationship between length of paper and embedded feedback.

Rationale
Concise formative written feedback during the course work phase of an online
doctoral program can be challenging. This formative feedback on written
assignments should be aligned to the summative task of writing the final
capstone. Using formative feedback during course work should support the
philosophy of assessment for learning as opposed to assessment of learning.
Although feedback takes many forms, embedded and summative feedback on
student work can create a process of transparency, which allows faculty to
clearly convey proficiency levels to their students. Therefore, understanding the
frequency and types of embedded and summative feedback provided by this

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92

large group of faculty may help online universities to determine if the feedback
measures implemented in fact align to the skills needed to complete the
capstone.

A recent review of the literature revealed limited findings on the role of written
feedback in an online doctoral program (Scott, Bailey, & Kienzl, 2006; Earl-
Novell, 2006; Walters, Henry, Vinella, Wells, Shaw, & Miller, 2015). While many
studies have been conducted on feedback to students at the undergraduate level,
limited studies have focused on the role of embedded and summative feedback
at the post graduate level (Fook, & Sidhu, 2010; McVey, 2008). Furthermore,
when narrowing the focus to online doctoral students, the results became scarce.

This study sought to offer an understanding of the type and frequency of


embedded and summative feedback found in doctoral level assignments. The
Research Questions follow:
1. What types of embedded and summative feedback are found in doctoral
level written assignments?
2. What is the frequency of each type of feedback?
3. What relationship exists between the different types of feedback, if any?
4. What relationship exists between paper length and embedded feedback,
if any?

Research Design & Methods

Data Analysis
Faculty feedback were examined at the MACRO: SUMMATIVE FEEDBACK and
the MICRO: EMBEDDED FEEDBACK domains. Within the MICRO:
EMBEDDED FEEDBACK domain, move structure analysis (Sinclair &
Courtland, 1977; Swales, 1981; 1990; Bhatia, 1983; Halliday & Hassan 1985;
Skelton, 1994; Mirador, 2000; Lewin, Fine, & Young, 2001) was used to examine
the foundational components of faculty formative feedback on written student
assignments. Move structure analysis is based on the analysis of both
communicative purpose and linguistic structure. Skelton (1994) stated Move
structure analysis is a technique particularly used in the teaching of professional
or academic writing, and is typically used as a means of describing what may
always be done rather than what must or is always done (p. 456). A move
refers to frequently occurring short phrases, with functions purporting short
sentences and exponents as frequent individual words. Through the use of
these identifiers, common themes, patterns, and frequencies were developed.

Participants
There were no participants involved in this study. All data used was collected
from archived courses from 2011 in an online University. The students
represented in this data are all working on their doctorate of education degree.
Based on Fall 2010 demographic data, the students represented in these
programs are all working on an advanced graduate degree. The student
population is comprised of 43% African Americans, 39% European, 4% Hispanic

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93

and 14% other individuals. The mean age is 43, with 76% of the population being
female.

Data Collection
The doctoral program consists of many different program specializations across
a single College. Specifically, the College of Education ranges in specializations
from K-12 programs to higher education teacher and leadership programs. Each
of the specializations includes courses with benchmark assignments known
commonly as major assessments. These benchmark assessment assignments
were used for this corpus. The final analysis included 236 doctoral level written
benchmark assessments that include feedback from approximately 51 faculty
members.

Student papers were retrieved from all content courses in the doctoral program
that were submitted between January and December 2011. Papers were pulled
from approximately 16 courses (from all specializations) taught over the course
of the year. The course instructors included both full time and contributing
faculty members and are all employed by the online institution where the
research was conducted, while also representing a plethora of universities where
many of the contributing faculty are also employed.

Study Limitations
The data collected in this study was rich and varied and provides valuable
insights into the frequency and nature of academic feedback as a tool to guide,
direct, and support students in their learning. Time constraints placed some
limitations on labor intensive manual coding resulting in some instances where
only a descriptive account of the nature and frequency of feedback comments
could be provided in this report.

Whether faculty used other types of feedback was entirely beyond the scope of
the analysis as the data provided did not cover methods of feedback outside of
embedded comments recorded in the assignments under scrutiny. Academics
may well use other means of providing feedback such as tutorials, formal or
informal meetings, university website and other communicative technologies,
such as Skype for example, to augment assignment feedback. No account of
these methods is considered in this analysis of students assignments and where
such additional methods are used to communicate to students that may mitigate
some of the findings of this report.

Part A: Overview of Benchmark assessment papers within the scope of


the study
Papers in this study ranged in page length from 4-33 pages. Sixty-three percent
of all papers had between 8-15 pages. More than half (52.2%) were between 10-
15 pages. Figure 1 summarizes this information and shows that just over four
out of every five papers were between four and sixteen pages in length.

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Figure 1 Number of Papers with Greater or Less than 16 Pages

Of the 80% of papers with less than 16 pages, one out of every eight assignments
was 10 pages in length.

Summary for Part A


Papers submitted for doctoral benchmark assessments averaged between 10 to
15 pages in length. Most interesting was that of the 236 papers reviewed more
than 80% were less than 16 pages in length, while 52.2% of papers were between
10-15 pages.

Part B: Types of embedded feedback found in doctoral level benchmark


assessments
The four types of embedded feedback across all these papers include:
Comments in the margin
Using track changes in Microsoft Word
Using highlighters
Using summative comments

When weighted by frequency, these types of embedded comments are set out
relative to each other in Figure 2:

Figure 2 Types of embedded feedback

Comments in the margin resulted in the largest amount of embedded feedback


followed by the use of highlighting. Summative comments resulted in only 3%
of total feedback across all papers in the study. These types of feedback were
further analyzed for their location in the paper and the following types of
feedback were identified and coded as set out now in Figure 3.

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95

Figure 3 - Location of Embedded Feedback

Summary for Part B


There appears to be alignment between the 53% type of comments in the
margin and location of feedback in the margin at 38%. Both locations of
feedback in the body and feedback in the text comprised 46% of all embedded
feedback located in the textual part of the papers. This aligns with both text type
highlighting and track changes that comprise 44% of all feedback. In
addition, the 3% of summative feedback corresponds to the 2% summative
feedback and the 1% in both the abstract and cover page where most summative
feedback was considered.

Part C - Frequency of each type of embedded feedback


The types of embedded feedback from Part B comprised:
Comments in the margin
Using track changes in Microsoft Word
Using highlighters
Using summative comments
Part C details the frequency of each of the four identified types of embedded
feedback.

Comments in the Margin


Feedback that comprised comments written into the margins of student papers
averaged eight comments per paper across the entire data set, or ten comments if
only papers that used this means are considered. One-hundred-and seventy-
nine of two-hundred-and-thirty-six papers coded had comments in the margin,
interestingly that when this was the only means of embedded feedback only 10
comments were provided. The range of comments ran from the highest amount
recorded being sixty-six to the lowest recorded being one. Seventy-six papers
had between fifty to ten comments. The range of these frequencies is now set out
in Figure 4.

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Figure 4 Range of Frequencies of Comments in the Margin

Of all papers analyzed, nearly a quarter did not have comments in the margin at
all. Nearly a third of all margin comments for a paper extended between 5-9
total comments. Another third consisted of between 10 25 comments
throughout the papers. Based on the analysis between page length and
comments in the margin conclusions can be developed that paper lengths
between 6 and 15 pages had between 6 and 25 comments noted in the margins.
In addition, the highest concentration of comments in the margin was on
papers that ranged from 10-13 pages. This is interesting in that the determined
average number of margin comments across all papers was eight with combined
feedback and 10 when this was the sole feedback.

Using Track Changes in Microsoft Word


Feedback which relied on the use of Track Changes in Microsoft Word as a
means of embedding responses on student papers averaged three changes per
paper across the entire data set, or seven changes if only papers that used this
means of feedback are considered. One hundred of the two-hundred-and-thirty-
six papers analyzed used this method. The range of comments ran from the
highest amount recorded being one-hundred-and-fifty-six to the lowest recorded
being one. Fourteen papers had between forty-three to ten comments. The range
of these frequencies is now set out in Figure 5:

Figure 5 - Frequencies of Track Changes' in Microsoft Word

Using Highlighters
Feedback which relied on the use of highlighters as a means of embedding
feeding back on student papers averaged four highlighted sections per paper
across the entire data set, or twelve highlighted sections if only papers that used
this means of feedback are considered. Seventy-three of the two-hundred-and-

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thirty-six papers analyzed used this method. The range of highlighted sections
ran from the highest amount recorded being one-hundred-and-sixty-five, to the
lowest recorded being one. Thirty-one papers had between ten and forty-eight
highlighted sections. Highlighting consisted of 25% of all embedded feedback.
The range of these frequencies is now set out in Figure 6:

Figure 6 Frequencies of Highlighted Sections

Highlighting resulted in nearly a quarter of all embedded feedback. Instances of


highlighting were sometimes not accompanied by additional comments and
therefore made analysis difficult from a student perspective. Highlighting is not
necessarily intuitive without accompanying text therefore any use of
highlighting would need to be accompanied by descriptors to benefit the
student.

Summary for Part C


Aligning these findings with the frequencies figure indicating that papers with
ten pages had received nearly twice as many track changes comments than any
other number of pages paper the next closest in track changes comments were in
the 11-13 page ranges. After 13 pages the number of track changes dropped.
Patterns developed between types and frequencies of embedded feedback and
paper length. Papers between 10-13 pages seemingly attracted the most
embedded feedback across the entire dataset with highlighting being nearly one
quarter of all feedback.

Part D: Relationship between length of paper and embedded feedback


Analysis indicates that there is a relationship between page length and the
amount of embedded comments in papers. Papers with page lengths between
10-13 pages had the most types of embedded feedback regardless of the type of
embedded feedback. Ten page papers had the most significantly noted
embedded feedback. In addition, papers longer than 16 pages had a significant
drop in embedded comments when compared with papers less than 16 pages.
Table 1 indicates the specific relationships between page length and embedded
feedback.

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Table 1 Relationship between length of paper and embedded feedback

Relationship Between
Track changes made Summative
Length of Paper and Comments in Margin Using Highlighters
within MS Word Comments
Embedded Feedback

Pages = 04
Pages = 05
Pages = 06
Pages = 07
Pages = 08
Pages = 09
Pages = 10
Pages = 11
Pages = 12
Pages = 13
Pages = 14
Pages = 15
Pages = 16
Pages = 17
Pages = 18
Pages = 19
Pages = 20
Pages = 21
Pages = 22
Pages = 24
Pages = 25
Pages = 29
Pages = 30
Pages = 33

Figure 7 shows a cross-reference between embedded feedback and length of


paper.

Figure 7 Embedded Feedback Cross Referenced with Length of Paper

Longer papers, defined as more than fifteen pages, comprised twenty per cent of
all papers yet only received fifteen per cent of all feedback provided. Therefore,
longer papers receive less rather than more feedback when considered against
the entire data set.

Summary for Part D


The insertion of comments into the margin of the paper was the most frequently
used method of embedded feedback. Three out of every four papers analyzed
had comments in the margin. Six out of every ten papers where comments were
used had between one and fourteen comments inserted. Only four out of every
ten papers used Track Changes in Microsoft Word as a means of embedding
feedback. Of these, there were between one and ten insertions in all cases except
one that had more than that. Proportionately, longer papers received less
feedback than shorter ones.

There was a relationship between the length of the paper submitted and the
amount of feedback received. This means that prorated embedded feedback
should equate to the one in four papers containing over sixteen pages drawing
one quarter of all feedback as shown in Figure 8, while Figure 9 shows that
when all four forms of feedback are cross referenced with papers with more than

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or less than sixteen pages, larger papers draw only fifteen per cent of feedback
although they make up twenty per cent of all papers.

From a teaching and learning perspective in using embedded feedback as a


means to increase student understanding and scaffold learning opportunities
this analysis reveals that assignment lengths for the most frequent types and
occurrences of instructor embedded feedback from instructors should be
targeted to no more than 13-15 pages. Longer and shorter paper page lengths in
this dataset received less feedback from both frequency and type perspectives.
Part E Summative review
Feedback that comprised the use of summative statements as a means of
embedding feedback on student papers comprised twenty-one per cent of all
papers across the entire data set. Fifty of the two-hundred-and-thirty-six papers
analyzed used this method. The range of summative comments ran from the
highest amount recorded being nine, to the lowest amount recorded being one.
Fourteen papers had between two to nine summative comments. The range of
these frequencies is now set out in Figure 8:

Figure 8 Frequencies of Use of Summative Comments

In the initial coding stage, the category summative feedback had not been given
a definition and only one-hundred-and-seven feedback comments had been
coded to this category. The relationship between summative and embedded
feedback was not distilled enough after the first round of coding. Therefore,
additional detailed comparative analysis and re-coding was necessary to filter
the actual embedded feedback into specific categories leaving the summative
feedback relating to the rubric criteria of the assessments. Only fifty of the two-
hundred-and-thirty-six papers analyzed used this feedback style. Summative
feedback comments also comprised a variety of data that was re-coded to other
feedback categories that had been developed during the process of distilling and
refining thematic categories; and the weightings of this coding are shown in
Figure 9.

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Figure 9 - Feedback Re-coded from Summative Comments

Thus comments re-coded from the category summative feedback fit into the
categories that had already been developed. Nearly 79% of summative
comments were aligned with areas covering aspects of the assignment rubric
that was used for assessing the assignment for a grade, leaving only 3% of
comments remaining as coded summative. A pattern was identified for
summative comments with general comments provided by the instructor
relating to overall student performance in regards to the alignment of the
students work to the requirements of the assignment.

Summary for Part E


Many of the original elements coded to the summative category ended up to be
re-coded to eleven other categories. Once re-coding of summative feedback was
complete only 3% of all feedback related to the summative category. These
summative items related to overall student performance. Interestingly, the re-
coded elements originally aligned to the summative category and re-coded to
embedded feedback categories were aligned to categories relating specifically to
the rubric criteria for the assignment.

Key Findings and Suggestions


The levels of summative feedback re-coded to elements relating to the use of a
rubric were noteworthy. In qualitative terms, it could be suggested that use of a
rubric provides the student with the most comprehensive form of feedback, as it
is explicative in addressing all the key elements and expectations of an
assignment and the extent to which a student has met or fallen short of those
standards. The quantitative analysis demonstrated a co-relation between paper
length and amount of feedback given. Longer papers defined as more than
sixteen pages comprised twenty per cent of all papers yet only received fifteen
per cent of all feedback provided.

Although limited in scope, this study determined that both track changes and
margin comments were the most frequently used online doctoral writing
benchmark assessment feedback comments to students. In addition, the use of
highlighting could be more useful to students as a mechanism for feedback

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101

when accompanied by additional comments explaining the highlighted areas of


the assignment. A relationship developed between the amount of feedback
provided by faculty and the number of pages in assignments. Papers between 10
and 13 pages received the most detailed feedback from faculty when considering
paper lengths between 4 and 33 pages.

Universities considering course benchmark assessments should be cognizant of


the declining input from faculty when page length exceeds 16. Assignments
ranging from 6-15 pages should be considered for maximizing faculty feedback
to students, with an optimal page length of 10 for capitalizing instructor
feedback to students. Limited summative feedback is provided when the
assignment is evaluated through the use of a rubric that can provide detailed
assignment criteria expectations intuitively for the student.

Conclusion
There were four types of embedded feedback used by faculty members in an
online Universities benchmark assessment papers. The four types include
comments in the margin, using track changes in MS Word, highlighting, and
summative comments. The most frequently used type of embedded feedback
was margin comments with the least as summative comments. Initially, there
was overlap between what was coded as summative feedback and what was
coded as embedded feedback. Through comparative analyses, most elements
originally coded as summative were re-coded to embedded feedback categories.
Many of these categories related back to the evaluation rubric used for the
assignment. Therefore, the relationship between embedded feedback and
summative feedback included re-coding of comments from the summative to
categories relating to the assignment rubric. Additionally, there was a
relationship between paper length and embedded feedback. Papers between 13-
16 pages received the most feedback, while papers longer than 16 pages declined
in the amount of feedback provided.

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