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Vol.16 No.12
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VOLUME 16 NUMBER 12 December 2017

Table of Contents
Communication between Teachers and Parents using the WhatsApp Application ...................................................... 1
Egoza Wasserman, Yaffa Zwebner

The «Learning in Depth» Proposal: Its Importance as a Science Curriculum Strand ................................................. 13
Stathis Stivaktakis

Becoming a Teacher in Italy Today. The Origins of Current Paths ................................................................................ 23


Simona Savelli

Understanding the Process of Generalization in Mathematics through Activity Theory ........................................... 46


Gabriela Dumitrascu

Rasch Modeling to Drive Instruction of Content Area Concepts and Vocabulary: An Example from Secondary
Economics Instruction with Special Needs Students ....................................................................................................... 70
Cynthia B. Leung, W. Steve Lang, Steven C. Schaller

Trainee Teachers with Dyslexia: Results of a Qualitative Study of Teachers and their Mentors ............................... 87
Jonathan Glazzard

Punished For Being Normal! A Culturally Relevant Critique of the Deviant Behaviors of Minority Millennials 108
Miriam Chitiga, Tinotenda L Chitiga
1

International Journal of Learning, Teaching and Educational Research


Vol. 16, No. 12, pp. 1-12, December 2017
https://doi.org/10.26803/ijlter.16.12.1

Communication between Teachers and Parents


using the WhatsApp Application

Egoza Wasserman
Herzog Academic College
Jerusalem, Israel

Yaffa Zwebner
Elementary School, Gilo
Jerusalem, Israel

Abstract. The purpose of this research is to examine how the electronic


media, WhatsApp, effects the communication between teachers and
parents and the teacher's work. The research was conducted in the
qualitative method using an interpretive constructivist paradigm with
twelve teachers who use the WhatsApp media. Three main categories
were discovered from the analysis of the interviews: management of the
group which includes who is responsible for managing the group and
group time limitations, content of the WhatsApp which includes
material and technical content and the positive and negative effects of
using WhatsApp on the teachers. It can be concluded that the use of
WhatsApp is necessary and beneficial to the teacher's work, but the
boundaries must be examined and defined in the use of the WhatsApp
groups.

Keywords: WhatsApp Application, parent teacher relationships,


technology

Introduction
Communication between parents and teachers is referred to in the research
literature as "parental involvement". The concept of "parental involvement" is a
comprehensive name for the many and varied activities carried out by parents
with their children or with other significant persons related to the lives of their
children. In the context of parental involvement in school, the intention is the
reciprocal relationship between the parents and the educational establishment,
with regard to school work and the educational process (Fischer, 2010). This
involvement is anchored in law and is based on the parents' right to influence
their children's education. This involvement is reflected both in the technical and
organizational spheres and in the educational process (Friedman & Fischer,
2002).

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2

Parental involvement occurs in a positive manner when there is continuous and


efficient communication between the parents and the teachers (Hoover-
Dempsey & Whitaker, 2010; Taft, Schlein, & Ramsay, 2016; Kraft, & Rogers,
2015). In order to create this effective connection between teachers and parents,
the teacher needs to communicate with the parents and encourage them to be
involved both in the school activities and the education of their children (Ho,
Hung & Chen, 2013). In addition, the research indicates that parental
involvement has a significant impact on the student's achievements (Hakyemez,
2015; Hamlin & Flessa, 2016; Jeynes, 2016).
In the past few years, with the expansion in the use of new media and
information technologies, there has been an increase in communication channels
between teachers and parents. New media channels such as computers or smart
phones based on the internet. Also: e-mail (Thompson, 2008; Thompson, 2009),
social networks (Karapanos, Teixeira & Gouveia, 2016), SMS messages and
Instagram. Because these new media channels allow direct messaging from
everywhere and at any time – their use significantly increases mutual
availability between the parents and the teachers (Schectman & Boucherian,
2015; Jacobson, 2003).
The online environment therefore offers a variety of media channels, each of
which has its own unique characteristics (Witztum, 2014). This variety allows
teachers to choose the environment best suited to their needs. Kurtz's research
showed that e-mail is the most common media channel used by parents to
teachers (Kurtz, 2014). Other new channels are social networks like Facebook,
WhatsApp (used for sending immediate messages, photos and video clips),
twitter and more. Social network is a general term for web environments that
include a variety of online tools to create and save connections between surfers
24 hours a day. The world of the social media is a world of "here and now" –
they look, respond, exist (Kurtz, 2014). A large part of the communication
between parents and teachers is via social networks in general and instant
messages in particular, using smart phones, where there is wide use of
WhatsApp and little use of Facebook (Schectman & Boucherian, 2015).
Findings from various studies on e-mail communication raise four main topics
discussed in correspondence between parents and educators: student
achievement, schedule issues, health and mental well-being, and behavior issues
in the educational system (Kosaretskii & Chernyshova, 2013). In addition,
parents who transmit messages through these media channels are provided with
greater access to the teacher at all times and use this to transmit personal
information about their child or to clarify general school matters (Olmstead,
2013).
The electronic media, which has greatly increased the connection between
parents and teachers, has many advantages stemming from the very
empowerment and ease of use, but there are also disadvantages in the use of
these means, both in terms of context and characteristics of the media.

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3

Advantages of using electronic media between parents and teachers


A central component of involvement is the frequency of communication that
exists between the parent and the teacher and its depth. The use of new media
technology creates new opportunities to communicate between parents and
teacher mainly by increasing the access of the parent to the teacher (Schectman
& Boucherian, 2015). Mobile devices, especially smart phones, change the "rules
of the game" in the frequency of conversation between parent and teacher, in its
form as both a personal conversation and as a group conversation, in its visual
representation and especially in the fact that school matters accompany the
owners of smartphones - teachers and parents alike - everywhere, at any time
and non-stop.
Therefore, technology is perceived as shaping the patterns of discourse between
teachers and parents and providing greater involvement of the parents. (Kurtz,
2014). In addition, the use of media influences the depth of involvement of the
parents by increasing the sense of partnership between the parents and the
teacher (Starhovsky et al., 2008). It may bring the two sides closer together and
creates a healthy partnership based on mutual trust. In addition, the use of
media was found to be effective in the lessening of interpersonal tension
between the two sides and consequently to the increase of the parent's
satisfaction. The interaction between the parents and the educational
establishment is characterized by a lack of clarity and conflict. Parents do not
always know what their role is and the school system does not know the
parents' expectations. In this context, Kosaretskii and Chernyshov (2013) found
that the frequency of electronic media has a tangible effect on the parental
involvement. The informal dialogue contributes to reducing interpersonal
tensions and encourages positive attitudes and involvement of the parents in the
school. Moreover, the new media channels allow easy and effective involvement
which enables fast and efficient two-way communication. Olmstead (2013)
found that both the parents and the teachers indicated that technology optimizes
communication between them, shortens response time and therefore increases
parental involvement in the school and greatly influences the pupil's
achievements.

Disadvantages of using electric media between parents and teachers


The use of various types of electronic media might damage the correct parental
involvement in the school (Keley-Shahin & Gefen, 2014). A significant difficulty
is the over-involvement of the parents in what is happening in the school.
Setting boundaries on parents' involvement in what is going on in school is
discussed at great length in the literature. The issue of the boundaries that the
teacher is supposed to present to parents regarding school policy revolves
around the agreements and protocols that are made while coordinating initial
expectations (Fisher, 2010). In his research, Kurtz (2014) found that the teachers
expressed concern that as a result of the availability of access to the teacher and
information, the involvement of the parent would become intervention. Another
negative result of new electronic media is the illusion of friendship and
connection between parents and teachers and between parents of other pupils.

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This illusion is created mainly from the use of WhatsApp groups. But aside from
the technical connection there is no deeper relationship formed with the rest of
the parents in the group. Also, the use of new media channels during school
activities like sending photos or video clips in real time can evoke a false sense
of being part of the activity (Schectman & Boucherian, 2015).
As a result of this Schectman and Boucherian, (2015) warn that it is important to
reiterate to the teachers and parents that there is no substitute for face-to-face
communication which enables a close relationship and they should continue to
meet in order to create trust and professional working relationships between
parents and educators. Another consequence of the new media is the blurring of
the boundary between the home space and the classroom space. Blurring of
boundaries means sending private messages that include personal and intimate
information to the public. Kurt's research (2014) revealed that quite a few
parents claimed that using the media of Facebook creates a problem of
boundaries. A group that aims to serve as a professional means of
communication between parents and teachers can very easily become a social
group.
Using new media has the effect of neutralizing status symbols of the users. The
significance of this is that the communication is devoid of social and cultural
differences between the users including the levels of social hierarchy. This kind
of communication "deposes" the positions of authority and changes the
communication to one between equals. This can lead to communication
characterized by conflict and even aggression and insults. Egalitarianism
expressed in reducing the hierarchical model may also impair its efficiency. For
example, a parent can see himself free to address any subject directly to the
supervisor of the school. This direct contact, without prior contact with the
teacher, is liable to impair the effectiveness of the parent-teacher communication
(Shechtman & Busherian, 2015).
In addition there exists disadvantages in the use of the new media that involve
interaction between the parent and teacher. An overload of information, the
overload of information which results when every parent responds to every
message causes the parent to filter the messages and to the possibility of filtering
out important information (Kurtz, 2014).
Incorrect interpretation of the message, misunderstandings occur when the
message is not interpreted correctly, for example when the parent interprets the
message as being too angry or as less important than it is in reality (Shechtman
& Busherian, 2015). Disparaging remarks about the teacher in front of all the
parents, many times the use of new media channels cause the teacher to
experience insults and contempt from the parents (Fischer, 2010). The reactions
of the parents during the mutual interaction can sometimes relay to the teacher a
lack of appreciation by the parents for their work in the school. And the general
population's lack of access to new media channels, this communication is not
being used by the entire population due to the limitations of connection, speed,
lack of technology skills or low socio-economic backgrounds. Or they do not
own smart phones because of religious beliefs or economic constraints
(Shechtman & Busherian, 2015).

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5

Purpose of the Study


We can see from this that electronic communications has a wide influence in the
measure of parental involvement in the school, and the advantages and
disadvantages involved. In view of the ever increasing growth of electronic
media for use by parents and teachers, the question arises how the electronic
media affects the communication between parents and teachers and the amount
of parental involvement in the school. And because this application is the most
accessible and available communication channel among teachers and parents,
the research focuses on the WhatsApp phenomenon. The purpose of this
research is to examine how electronic media, specifically WhatsApp, influences
the connection between parents and teachers and its effect on the teacher's work.

Method
Research Method and Participants
The research was conducted in the qualitative method using an interpretive
constructivist paradigm. Twelve teachers participated from various primary
schools in Israel. In these schools it is acceptable to use electronic media for
sharing with the parents what is happening in the school. The teachers taught
classes from first to sixth grade.

Process and Research Tools


The research tools were in-depth, semi-structured interviews, the teachers were
asked questions relating to the use of WhatsApp. The questions were: why do
you use WhatsApp? How has this media tool affected your work as a teacher?
Are you pleased with the existence of this communication option? Etc. The
interviews lasted between half an hour to one hour. The interviews were
recorded and transcribed and later analyzed by Content Analysis where the
transcripts were classified into categories with a common denominator. At the
end of the proceeding, conclusions were drawn according to the different
categories. The research was conducted after written permission was granted by
the teachers. In addition, there were no identifying details about the schools
according to the conditions requested by the participants of the research.

Findings
Three main categories were discovered from the analysis of the interviews:
management of the group, content of the WhatsApp, The effects of using
WhatsApp on the teachers.

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6

Management of the Group


All of the participants noted that they created WhatsApp groups and that they
are the manager of the group. In addition, the participants say that they send
most of the messages. As H said "I use it all the time, I am connected to 12 groups
and I am quite active in some of them. You could say that I send most of the messages in
those groups". Z added that sometimes the parents send the messages "there are
some groups where the parents are the dominant ones and others where the teachers set
the tone". In addition, the interviewees point out the need to limit the time
schedule of the group's activities. Interviewee A suggests that the Ministry of
Education limit the hours of sending messages. "I think there is a need to draw up a
contract. A set of regulations regarding WhatsApp – from what hour to what hour you
can send messages". Her remarks indicate that it is important to set rules to
regulate the times of the group's activity. Teachers generally noted the
importance of the need for procedures, noting that there are no formally written
rules or customs.

Content
The interviewees noted that they use WhatsApp to communicate with the
parents on a variety of subjects. The interviewee A pointed out that she uses
WhatsApp for every kind of subject. "Everything! Today in the school where I work,
simply put, there is no mouth, and every communication is written. Communication
between parents and teachers and between teachers among themselves". In studying the
examples that the interviewees gave, the content of the WhatsApp conversations
can be divided into technical and essential topics.
The topics of discussion in WhatsApp concentrate on substantive issues. The
interviewee A gives an example of a substantive issue: "in order to see what the
learning situation is, to be in contact, etc." Conversations regarding the learning
situation of the pupil has changed from a telephone call or personal meeting to a
message on the WhatsApp. The interviewee S claims that the teachers use the
WhatsApp in order to remind the parents what the learning assignments are
throughout the day. Thus the pupils feel that it is important to the teacher that
they succeed and they progress in their learning. The pupil's success is defined
by her as "giving power to the teacher": "I think this kind of communication has
advanced us and given the teacher power…to repeat to the parents all the time and to
remind them. I think it is very important to remind them all the time because today we
are… overloaded with tasks, and the pupils are overloaded with work and television and
games, but the teacher does not forget them. And the pupil thinks 'hey, the teacher has
not forgotten me, it's important to her that I succeed'. It's enough even if we succeed
with two children, to encourage them. I have become enslaved to the smart phone. I must
write to them every day". We can see from this that the teacher is loading more
responsibility on her shoulders to remind the parents about school assignments.
Some of the interviewees noted that they only use WhatsApp for technical
topics. The interviewee B states: "most of the teachers who use WhatsApp use it to
pass messages to the parents". The interviewee Y also cited examples of technical
updates like: homework, absentee pupils: "at the end of the day sometimes I write

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which pupils were absent to update the parents if necessary". Another example: "to
circulate an important message very very fast". From these examples we can see that
teachers use WhatsApp for sending technical messages.

The Effect of WhatsApp on the Teachers

An examination of the interviews shows that communicating via WhatsApp


influences the teacher. The following is a description of the positive effects vs.
the adverse effects.

Positive Effects

Most of the interviewers stated that WhatsApp has a positive effect on their
work as teachers, it is an easy and accessible form of communication. If in the
past they had to send a written message home via the pupil and hope that it was
received, today as soon as the message is sent by WhatsApp everyone is
updated immediately. Like the Interviewee A noted: "in the past when I wanted to
send a message to the parents I had to type an info memo and attach it to the
communication notebook of every pupil in a class which numbered 40 pupils and hope
that the parents would actually see the message. More than once, an important message
did not reach parents for various reasons. Today all parents are with their smartphones
all day and so the moment you send a message it is received by the parents. In the past I
had a number of unpleasant experiences for the pupil where the parent did not receive the
message about a festive meal and the pupil was very uncomfortable. With the
introduction of WhatsApp I do not remember any incident like that. There is no doubt
that this is a tremendous tool for transmitting information in the most accessible manner
possible". From A's comments, we see that the use of WhatsApp made it easier
for the teachers on the technical level. The interviewee Y also described the
advantages of sending messages by WhatsApp instead of writing a message.
"All in all, it's a convenient thing. It's convenient that we can inform the parents with
the click of a button and each parent will receive the message, instead of having relay it
by broken telephone through the children, will they pass on the message, will they not
pass on the message". Similar things were mentioned by B: "the speed, the immediate
connection, the ability to share pictures during the school trip". Interviewee Y adds
the topic of accessibility to events that occur in the classroom in real time. "The
information is current and immediate. Which means when something happens in the
classroom at the same instant you can update the parent of the child or all of the parents.
Another example is planning a party, in just a few seconds you can know who will bring
what to the party and the party is planned. As well as permission slips for school trips,
etc". From these comments we can see that Interviewers can see the availability
immediately. Another interviewee claims that the media gives teachers power
that is reflected in the pupil's success.

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Negative Effects

Along with the advantages of WhatsApp media the interviewees cited negative
effects of the media as well.
An analysis of interviews shows that the biggest disadvantage of the media in
WhatsApp is the loss of control on the part of the teacher on the amount of
messages that are sent. Thus a parent who opposes the teacher can drag other
parents into the argument, according to the interviewee B "what happens is the
teacher loses control of all the messages in the group. This can lead to a situation where
the teacher sends a message, one of the parents gets angry and he agitates the other
parents against the teacher and the teacher is powerless to stop it". The interviewee A
states: "This reality of parents' opposition against stupid things becomes routine in
every place where the media operates like this. Stories about teachers who have been hurt
emotionally are numerous. I think that today every teacher working in the Ministry of
Education can publish a book about the hurt he/she experienced from the parents ... " It
can be said that sometimes the WhatsApp is used to send negative messages
from the parents about the teachers instantaneously and without thought, and
the teacher loses control of the media. Another disadvantage of this media is the
removal of responsibility. When the teacher communicates with the parents on a
daily basis, it remove all the burdens from the pupils of everything related to the
studies, because the teacher will send the material via the WhatsApp anyway. In
his words "another problem with this media is the removal of responsibility from the
pupils concerning any school tasks. There are teachers who send the test material and the
homework assignments via the WhatsApp, and this creates a situation where the pupils
become devoid of responsibility and it is the parents who have to remember and tell them
what to learn for the test". From this example it can be said that because of the
WhatsApp the responsibility of the pupils for learning is reduced. Another
aspect that is connected to negative consequences of WhatsApp use can be
learned from the words of interviewee A who claims that this media violates the
respect of the educational staff. In her words: "The big problem with this media is
that it violates the distance and respect that the educational staff had previously. In the
past a teacher was something to be respected. They used to say to me in certain situations
"I'm certain that this situation where parents feel they can write many things about the
teacher which they would never have said to her face to face... The reality is that parents
feel free to write things that happened with their child to all of the parents, these are
things which did not occur in the past". From A's comments it can be said that the
issue of respect for teachers has weakened. Another drawback that the
interviewees mentioned was related to nuisance. Many times someone sends a
message that does not relate to the entire group but rather to a particular person,
like T commented. "Even regarding the parents, I think it's not right that messages
that relate to one person are sent to the whole group, personally this bothers me very
much. The WhatsApp is for the group, not everyone is supposed to receive these non-
relevant messages that are not related to them". Another aspect of communicating
via WhatsApp is that it is not face to face and lacks expression and emotion as
the interviewee H commented "lack of communication, lack of facial expressions,
when a person talks he has facial expressions and feelings that he wants to express.
WhatsApp is cold and alienating. It's impossible to express things how you really want
to say them. When you see the ah, facial expression when you are talking. Now

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9

unfortunately, WhatsApp in recent years has become almost the only social connection".
From this example one can say that communication via WhatsApp, like any
communication that is not face to face, is missing the human characteristics of
communication: emotion, facial expressions and body language.

Discussion

This study examined how the electronic communication, WhatsApp, influences


the communication between teachers and parents and the work of the teacher.
Analysis of the data revealed three main categories: 1. Management of the
group, 2. Content of the WhatsApp 3. The effect of using WhatsApp on the
teachers.

Management of the group

The topic that emerged was the management of the WhatsApp groups. The
interviewees indicated that in all groups the teacher opened the initial group
and runs the group. Another finding that emerged from the research relates to
the issue of limits concerning times and updates via the WhatsApp. Many
teachers express concern that as a result of the immediacy and accessibility to
the teacher and the information the involvement will turn to intervention,
therefore limits should be set using various means and boundaries should be
established (Kurtz, 2014). According to Fischer (2010) the issue of limitations that
the teacher should set with the parents should be according to the policy of the
school and should revolve around agreements that have been built in
conjunction with initial expectations. In this research the interviewees suggested
limiting the use of WhatsApp to certain times and to emphasize that only the
teachers sends the messages.

WhatsApp Content

The research found that teachers use WhatsApp in order to establish


communication with the parents on subjects that are related to technical and
essential content. These findings are consistent with the professional literature
that sees the new channels of communication as a tool for transmitting
information to all the parents, updates and ongoing announcements (Kosaretskii
& Chernyshova, 2013). The interviewees claim that WhatsApp communication
allows them to send technical messages or essential announcements. This is
similar to what Kurtz (2014) explains that the new channels are used to transmit
messages and informal information, which helps parents to participate in school
life.

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10

Effects of the use of WhatsApp on the Teachers

The research found that communication via WhatsApp has positive but also
negative effects on the teacher's work. On the positive side, the interviewees
note that the media is available and accessible and all parents receive the
message immediately. This central component of the involvement in the
frequency of communication that exists between the parents and teacher is
raised by Schectman and Boucherian (2015) who point out that the use of new
communication media creates new possibilities of communications between
parents and teachers mainly because the new channels increase the accessibility
of the parent to the teachers. The interviewees stated that in contrast to the
communication methods of the past which was passing the message via the
students, where the parents did not always receive the message, today it is sent
by WhatsApp and everyone is updated immediately. Kurtz (2014) also states
that the speed and accessibility of the new media between parents and teachers,
are in contrast to the traditional means which are not fast or immediately
accessible like the communication notebook. In addition, some of the negative
aspects of WhatsApp surfaced. The interviewees stated that the teachers loses
control of the messages and sometimes the parents use the group against the
teacher. Schectman and Boucherian (2015) also note that sometimes parents can
misinterpret the messages sent by the new media. In their words, this is the main
obstacle of communication between parents and teachers. As a result of this,
parents get angry and drag additional parents into the fray. Thus the teachers
experience insult and disrespect from the teachers (Fisher, 2010). Moreover,
media channels can be used for negative purposes, such as intentional harm to
others while exploiting weaknesses and vulnerabilities (Valkenburg & Peter,
2011).
In addition, the media removes responsibility of the pupils in the process of
learning. The proliferation of messages to parents related to the school part may
cause the pupil to remove the burden and responsibility from the learning
process. He knows that the teacher will already update what the material is for
the test or what the homework is via the WhatsApp and so he can remove from
himself the responsibility of being a part of the learning process. Kurtz (2014)
also warns that the steady flow of information and updates via the new media
causes the removal of responsibility by the pupils for this learning process. The
present research shows that the media violates the respect of the teaching staff.
The parents' ability to write whatever they think is right leads to the loss of the
teacher's status and authority.
Schectman and Boucherian (2015) also point out that the use of new media has
implications for neutralizing the callers' status. This means that communication
takes place without reference to the social and cultural differences of the
communicators, including their place in the social hierarchy. Communication
under such conditions "demotes" positions of authority and makes the media a
kind of equalizer. As such, it may also lead to a media that has characteristics of
conflict and even aggression and insult. An egalitarian communication that is
expressed by ignoring the levels of hierarchy may also impair its effectiveness
(Shechtman & Boucherian, 2015). In addition, the research findings indicate that

© 2017 The authors and IJLTER.ORG. All rights reserved.


11

sometimes nuisance messages are sent that are not intended for the entire group.
Kurtz's (2014) study also found that some parents see the exchange of messages,
especially messages sent by the parents to the whole group, unnecessary and
bothersome, and do not contribute to everyone.
Finally, the interviewees state that communication via the WhatsApp is devoid
of emotion. Without the tone of voice and facial expression it is difficult to
understand what the sender meant. When you communicate face to face you can
see the speaker, his body language his facial expressions and his tone of voice.
But with WhatsApp you are missing all of these (Thompson, 2009). Accordingly,
Shechtman and Boucherian (2015) warn that it is important to reiterate that in
the eyes of teachers and parents there is no substitute for the continued existence
of face-to-face communication channels that allow close contact which creates
trust and professional working relationships between parents and educators.
Most studies see the development of new communication channels as a positive
phenomenon, intended to increase parental involvement but in no way
constitutes a substitute for face-to-face communication.

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13

International Journal of Learning, Teaching and Educational Research


Vol. 16, No. 12, pp. 13-22, December 2017
https://doi.org/10.26803/ijlter.16.12.2

The «Learning in Depth» Proposal: Its


Importance as a Science Curriculum Strand

Dr. Stathis Stivaktakis


School Counselor, Primary Education
Crete-Greece

Abstract: «The Learning in Depth» idea has been proposed by


educational theorist Kieran Egan. It is based on the recognition that
engaging students imaginations presupposes a significant amount of
knowledge. Even though a simple idea, it has nonetheless the potential
to transform education, in the sense that students will have the
opportunity to develop in-depth knowledge about a topic, and, at the
same time, inquiry skills and their creative imagination. This paper
provides a brief description of the «Learning in Depth» (LiD) proposal,
and then proceeds to the task of putting it in the science education
context by discussing the problem of content selection and the problem
of evaluating the results of its implementation.

Keywords: Learning, Science, Self-directed inquiry, Content


knowledge, Interdisciplinary knowledge.

1. Introduction

The «Learning in Depth» (LiD) idea has been proposed by educational


theorist Kieran Egan (2011). It is based on the recognition that engaging students
imaginations presupposes a significant amount of knowledge. Indeed, the more
a student knows about something, the more readily a student can be imaginative
about and can understand it. And if thinking presupposes knowledge, one can
understand the educational and the wider significance of this proposal.
According to Egan (2011), LiD is a simple and radical program, in which
students take on a specific topic about which they will build a portfolio during
their schooling. They should begin with the earliest grades and continue through
grade 12.
Even though such a proposal could be for students of all ages, as it can
help engage them with the subject matter, at both the elementary and high
school level, those who will benefit the most, according to Egan (2011), are those
of the elementary school. Such a 'preference' for the young ones can be justified
on the grounds that children are by their nature curious and thirsty for
knowledge. And, given the problems with science education in particular, the

© 2017 The author and IJLTER.ORG. All rights reserved.


14

LiD proposal, in the case of school science, can very well boost engagement with
science content knowledge and science in general.
In addition, however, there is another issue that can be addressed
through the implementation of the LiD proposal, and this applies to all school
subjects. It is the issue of how deep students' knowledge can be as a result of
their exposure to the school curriculum. For it is well known that one perennial
problem in curriculum development is the tension between breadth and depth.
One cannot achieve both, given the practical and also the theoretical constraints
imposed on the implementation of the curriculum (see Egan, 2005, 2011;
Hadzigeorgiou, 1997, 2005). The LiD proposal, by its very nature (see its
description in the next section), can help students go into some depth with
regard to their knowledge.
Egan (2011) convincingly argues that the LiD proposal is an answer to
the existing situation with students having very limited if any, opportunities to
study anything in depth. The common observation about the school curriculum
is that it is a mile wide and an inch deep. Schools are expected to cover a very
wide range of curricular knowledge. And, as a result of this, students do not
really learn enough about any topic, and rarely, if at all, have the opportunity to
develop true expertise about something.
The purpose of this paper is to provide a brief description of the
Learning in Depth’ (LiD) proposal and then proceed to the task of putting it in
the science education context by discussing the problem of content selection and
the problem of evaluating the results its implementation.

2. A description of the LiD proposal

The 'Learning in Depth' proposal/program can follow a simple design:


During the first weeks of the school year, each student is assigned (or,
alternatively, I would add to Egan's proposal, the student chooses) a topic to
learn in depth. Topics may be anything from rocks, icebergs, birds, airplanes,
insects, ships and whales to apples, trees, the measurement of time, spaceships,
rockets, stars and galaxies. The program can take only about one hour a week.
After students receive their topic, they will start building their personal portfolio
on it. They can be supported by their teachers, parents, and others (e.g., peers,
friends).
Even though the ideal situation would involve students starting their LiD
program in the kindergarten or first grade and continue with the same topic
until the end of schooling (Egan, 2011), students could start at any grade of the
elementary school; the sooner, the better. This continues alongside the
compulsory curriculum, and the outcome is ungraded.
The primary aims of the LiD proposal are to foster student engagement
with a specific topic so that students increase their knowledge about that topic.
What are the pedagogical and the overall educational benefits of such an idea? It
can increase students' specific knowledge about a specific topic, thus making
them experts, but, at the same time, it can help students develop inquiry skills,
and foster self-directed inquiry as well. Moreover, it can help them develop their
imagination. Indeed, the deeper a student goes with regard to a topic (e.g.,
airplanes, snakes, castles, pills, stars), the more connections she or he is able to

© 2017 The author and IJLTER.ORG. All rights reserved.


15

make, and therefore the more imaginative she or he becomes. Thus the student
becomes a better thinker.
What needs to be pointed out is that LiD is not a taught program, as
students determine both their workload (i.e., how many hours they are going to
work per week at home) and the direction their work will take (i.e., what
connections they will make and where their focus will be).

3. The educational philosophy behind the LiD proposal

The LiD proposal is based on a liberal philosophy of education. Even


though a consensus about the main purpose of liberal education appears to exist
- which is the development of free human beings who know how to use their
minds and are able to think for themselves (Adler, 1982; Oakeshott, 1989, 1991;
Moulakis, 1994; Peters, 1973) this purpose can be interpreted rather narrowly,
and liberal education be identified with a kind of intellectualism, and even
accused of being elitist. However, the purpose of liberal education is to cultivate
the mind of the student so that he or she can think critically and creatively. And
most importantly, to cultivate independent thinkers, who can think for
themselves. The cultivation of students' mind (i.e., their critical and imaginative
intellectual abilities) are to take place through their initiation into the various
forms of knowledge, such as mathematics, natural sciences, literature and fine
arts, philosophy, etc. (Hirst, 1974; Peters, 1973, 1998; see also Egan et al., 2014;
Higgins & Reid, 2017). Thus, from a liberal education perspective, the
acquisition of content knowledge is of crucial importance.
The LiD proposal, by focusing on the in-depth study of a topic,
emphasizes the development of content knowledge in a specific discipline
(depending on the nature of the topic) and also in other disciplines (depending
on the kind of connections that students make). And, as was said above, the
acquisition of content knowledge will foster the development of thinking skills.
Gardner (2011) warned teachers and educators against implementing
interdisciplinary approaches without students grasp of content knowledge. In
fact, according to him, only after students have been initiated into the various
disciplines does it make sense to speak of such notions as multidisciplinary and
transdisciplinary knowledge. He cautioned that:
A genuine interdisciplinary approach proves to be a difficult one to achieve, and
it can only be legitimately undertaken, let alone carried off with success, at a
time when individuals have achieved at least some rooting in the constitutive
disciplines. (Gardner, 2011, p. 104).
The crucial importance of content knowledge is supported by empirical
studies in the area of science education. These studies have explored the role
that content knowledge can play in making students perceive the world and
school science, as a school subject, differently, as a result of learning such
content (Girod et al., 2003; Pugh, 2004, 2011; Hadzigeorgiou & Garganourakis,
2010; Hadzigeorgiou, 2012).
On the other hand, the development of the creative imagination is
another aim of the liberal approach. According to Hadzigeorgiou (2014), the
stimulation of the imagination facilitates thinking, and students' inquiry can
very well foster the development of their creative imagination. The connections

© 2017 The author and IJLTER.ORG. All rights reserved.


16

also that young students make when studying a LiD topic help them become
more imaginative thinkers. There is evidence that supports the relationship
between the development of imagination and the making of connections among
objects, events, and ideas (Duffy, 2006; Louis, 2008).
What should be pointed out is that in the midst of curriculum reform
proposals, over the last two decades, that have put an emphasis on instrumental
and practical knowledge - especially nowadays with the focus on STEM subjects
(i.e., Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) - a liberal education
perspective on the philosophical foundation of the school curriculum is more
than welcome (Hadzigeorgiou, 2015, 2016; Zimlich, 2017). Notwithstanding the
benefits of such proposals - they indeed encourage engagement with school
subjects - there is a question about the scope of the curriculum (e.g., what things
beyond those that can be reduced to practical knowledge students actually
learn) and most importantly about whether everything that students are
supposed to learn can be reduced to practical problems and applications
(Hadzigeorgiou & Konsolas, 2001; Hadzigeorgiou & Fotinos, 2007; Hadzigeorgiou &
Stivaktakis 2008).
In addition, the educational philosophy, specifically, of science education
proposals and reform agendas (e.g., science literacy, science education for socio-
political action) are not based on an explicit educational philosophy. While one
might argue, their philosophy is implicit (e.g., science education for socio-
political action is based on a utilitarian/pragmatist philosophy), confusion
surrounding the goals of the science education proposals due to lack of an
explicit educational philosophy is not uncommon (i.e., scientific literacy)
(Hadzigeorgiou, 2005; Hadzigeorgiou, 2017; Schulz, 2009, 2013; Hadzigeorgiou &
Stamatis, 2017).
This shortcoming and, in fact, problem, is overcome because the aims of
LiD are clear. Indeed, the main thrust of LiD is the development of deeper
content knowledge about a topic, and the development of inquiry skills. LiD, in
my view, is the best example of a program that is about 'learning how to learn'
even though there are some issues that are raised specifically for the case in
which LiD is implemented in the school science context, which I will discuss in
the next section.

4. The LiD proposal in the school science education context

It is no news that students finish their schooling with very limited detailed
knowledge about any science topic. In many cases, such detailed knowledge is
non-existent. And the students rarely develop any intense interest in science
(Alberts, 2013). It is for these reasons that LiD in school science can provide new
avenues for engagement and learning.
However, in my view, the implementation of LiD in the context of school
science, presupposes that three issues have been discussed and the questions
raised by them have also been adequately answered. These issues refer to: (a)
topic selection and the nature of the topics, (b) student guidance, that is, the
frequency student-teacher interaction and (c) the problem of what to assess with
regard the impact of the LiD proposal on science learning. Apparently, these
three issues and will influence the way in which LiD in the context of science

© 2017 The author and IJLTER.ORG. All rights reserved.


17

will be implemented and evaluated. Certainly, there are other issues to be dealt
with, such as, for example, finding curriculum time, letting students choose their
specific topic, etc. However, the three issues are central and specific, I would say,
to science.
With regard to the topic selection, one could move, in general, in two
directions: (a) topics that are not related to those covered by the compulsory
curriculum and (b) topics that are part of the compulsory curriculum. Whether
we opt for the former or the latter, LiD work can be an accompaniment to the
school curriculum, and, as such, can enrich and extend students' knowledge
about what they are already learning or simply broaden their interests through
their exposure to new ideas. In either case though students will be developing
inquiry skills through self-directed and collaborative inquiry.
On the other hand, with regard to the selection process, assignment or
lottery is one option, and free choice is another. This is not something that can be
settled here, but the depending on age and other characteristics and parameters
(e.g., students' interests, degree of parental involvement, availability of
resources) both options can be considered. Egan (2011), of course, recommends
the topic assignment. But I think, especially in the case of older students, that
free choice may be a better option. Adoloscents, for example, in the case that LiD
was to be implemented in a grade 7 classroom, despite their contradictory needs,
and fleeting interest, do want to have the possibility to choose something freely.
However, it deserves to be noted that, even if one were to bypass the
process of topic selection (i.e., chosen freely by each student or assigned by the
teacher), there is the issue of the nature of the topics. Science is a broad area and
topics could be from the life sciences, the earth sciences, the physical sciences,
the space sciences. There two questions to be asked here: Should all sciences be
represented equally in the 'basket' of topics from which students will pick their
own topic, or some sciences (e.g. life sciences) are preferable or rather more
suitable for very young students? Are, for example, life science issues and
concepts more pedagogically appropriate for the lower grades students, while
physical science concepts are more appropriate for the upper levels and grades?
Personally, I do not agree with this kind of differentiation but I think that it is an
issue to be considered and discussed.
Even though, In general, science topics can be anything from everyday
familiar entities and phenomena, such as. "birds," "apples," "dust," "the
measurement of time," to distant and unfamiliar ones, such as, "the solar
system," sp.ace travel and "galaxies", we need to include broad areas from the
outset Such areas refer to mechanics, heat and electricity, with topics such as
forces, lamps, thermometers. Such topics are within the chidrens capacity to
understand and then, as they progress, help them, through regular consultations
and guidance, build connections and thus subsume whatever new ideas they
learn under those broad topics.
In my view, depending on the educational level (e.g., lower elementary,
upper elementary, junior high), LiD in Science topics can be natural phenomena,
Science/Technology issues, Socio-scientific issues and/or science concepts. For
the lower grades, (abstract) science concepts may not be appealing to the
students. For this reason, topics at the interface of science and technology (e.g.,
cell-phone communication), which address anyway science concepts (e.g., in the

© 2017 The author and IJLTER.ORG. All rights reserved.


18

cell-phone topic, the concept of the electromagnetic wave, that of energy, etc.) or
socio-scientific issues appear more pedagogically appropriate.
In regard to students' guidance, some points also need to be made. Even
though LiD work can result in self-directed inquiry - an important outcome from
the perspective of the development of students‟ autonomy - teacher-student
interactions are crucial from a socio-cultural perspective on teaching and
learning (Vygotsky, 1978, 1997). Notwithstanding the pedagogical and
educational significance of independent work through self-directed inquiry,
such work, as far as the development of scientific understanding is concerned,
can result in misconceptions (or naïve conceptions). So if one the goals of the LiD
proposal in science is the development of scientific knowledge. Thus, more
frequent teacher-student interactions seem necessary, in comparison with
traditional LiD work. Although from the point of view of content knowledge
acquisition there seems to be no difference between learning, for example, about
apples, bridges, and lighthouses, on the one hand, and learning about forces,
energy or atoms, on the other, conceptual knowledge, especially in the case of
physical science concepts, is not easy to achieve without some guidance. Even in
the case in which students choose, or are assigned «lighthouses» as their topic,
conceptual knowledge of light is not something that students can do it on their
own. However, this is something that can be assessed. That is, we can assess the
degree in which independent work can lead to conceptual understanding.
Which brings me to the issue of assessment.
The question how one can go about in order to assess the impact of LiD is of
crucial importance, not simply because we are talking about the outcomes of
learning - what things have students actually learned -but because assesment
refers to a variety of outcomes, not just to knowledge if science. Indeed, what
things should we look at after we start implementing the LiD programme?
All three components of the science curriculum, that is content knowledge,
skills and attitudes should be assessed. This assessment process can be
approached with an open mind mainly through naturalistic research designs,
even though a quantitative approach is also necessary for the measurement of
attitudes and learning outcomes. In this way we can also assess how LiD work
aids the learning of the mandatory curriculum.
It is crucial, if we talk about LiD in the school science context, that we bear
in mind that a topic that is related directly or indirectly to a science concept or
phenomenon, and/or which could help develop in students an interest in the
topic or the science concept per se, does not necessarily does so. For example, the
topic of "lighthouses", even though it is directly related to the concept of light,
and indirectly to a number of physical phenomena involving light (e.g.,
reflection, refraction), may very well spark an interest in travelling, poetry, sea
wrecks, etc.), but not foster an inquiry into the phenomena of light. By the same
token, a student cannot learn the mechanical principles of bridge design and
construction by collecting in his/her portfolio photographs of bridges. In other
words, students cannot learn science simply by doing, even with great
enthusiasm, a number of things, but which are unrelated to science. A student, it
needs to point out, cannot learn science by collecting photos of various natural
phenomena, any more than she or he can understand electricity and
photosynthesis, for example, by observing light bulbs and tree leaves

© 2017 The author and IJLTER.ORG. All rights reserved.


19

respectively.
I also think that impact of content knowledge acquisition on learning
science should also be assessed. In fact, such impact can be the main objective of
assessment, as the main thrust of LiD, as an educational innovation is the
acquisition of detailed knowledge.
It deserves to be pointed out though that before a large scale implementation
of LiD in science education takes place we need to explore several things, some
of which have not been researched before. For example, the effect of content
knowledge acquisition on student motivation and on learning has not been
studied in general or specifically in they field of school science education. So
with regard to implications for research, according to Hadzigeorgiou (personal
communication, April 2016), we need to answer the following research
questions:
 Does participation in the LiD programme foster the development of
scientific knowledge and understanding?
 Does the acquisition of science content knowledge increase engagement
with science and in what ways?
 What effect does knowledge of a specific topic have on students’ overall
curricular progress?
 To what extend do students become creative thinkers?
 To what extent does topic investigation promote self-directed inquiry?
 What kind of curricular connections do students actually make through
their inquiry?
 To what extend do students promote their knowledge of STEM subjects?
 Does acquisition of science content knowledge transform and in what
ways students’ view of the nature science and the nature of scientific
knowledge?
 Does LiD in science promote a transformative kind of learning?

5. Conclusion and Final Comments

The LiD proposal has the potential to transform school learning and
education in general. Its implementation in the context of school science can help
with the achievement of significant educational goals, such as autonomous
learning, creativity, inquiry skills, and, of course, in-depth knowledge about a
science topic.
We certainly need to trial LiD, as was already discussed, given that science
learning refers to factual and conceptual knowledge, as well as knowledge about
the nature of science, science process skills, and attitudes. However, its potential
is undisputed, as the discussion in this paper has tried to show. Moreover, Lid
work, in the case of very young children, even preschool children, does not
violate pedagogically appropriate practices (Hadzigeorgiou, 2001, 2002;
Hadzigeorgiou et al., 2009; Barry & Raftery, 2016).
Ever since I became familiar with LiD, after Professor Hadzigeorgiou, of the
University of the Aegean, made a presentation in my school district, I realized
the potential of LiD as a curriculum, especially science curriculum, strand. I
strongly believe that teachers should become familiar with the LiD programme
and should find a curriculum slot in order to implement it in their classrooms.

© 2017 The author and IJLTER.ORG. All rights reserved.


20

If ours is an age of learning, as Pugh (2107) argues - not simply, or only,


information or knowledge age - LiD can play a crucial role in young students'
learning process. And, at the same time, help foster, through their (students')
inquiry and research, inquiring minds that are thirsty for learning. Pugh (2017)
makes reference to Richard Feynman's love and in fact passion for learning.
However, even though many students are not like Feynman, for a number of
reasons, who would argue against Pugh's view that "The world needs more
Richard Feynmans" or, perhaps, that "we all need a bit more Feynman in us"
(Pugh. 2017, p.3)? The challenge today, I believe, is to foster learning in all
students, and this challenge should be taken by elementary school teachers. LiD,
by its very conception by educational theorist Kieran Egan, can be an
indispensable tool that can help teachers meet this challenge.

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International Journal of Learning, Teaching and Educational Research


Vol. 16, No. 12, pp. 23-45, December 2017
https://doi.org/10.26803/ijlter.16.12.3

Becoming a Teacher in Italy Today.


The Origins of Current Paths.

Simona Savelli
Università degli studi Guglielmo Marconi
Roma, Italia

Abstract. Bearing in mind the recent law of comprehensive reform of the


Education and Training System, this paper summarizes the origin and
development of specific paths devoted to the professional training of
Teachers who want to work in Italian Public Schools. A comparison
between the United States and the Italian contexts offers a starting point
for subsequent analysis. Hence, they are described the essential features
of the Education and Training Courses dedicated to teaching in Italian
public Schools of various levels and grades. Following the development
of regulation, I address issues such as: the role of initial training and
internship, the ways of achieving licensures/certifications, the
mechanism that regulates public competitions for permanent positions,
the formation of rankings and the introduction to the teaching function.
The paper concludes with an overview of the levels of governance
provided by the Integrated Education and Training System that the
government intends to implement in the coming years.

Keywords: Teachers’ Training; Italian Education and Training System;


Vocational Training; Teacher’s professional profile; Concorso.

1. Introduction
At present, the Italian education and training system is undergoing a new wave
of reforms. Actually, changes never cease to happen, making it difficult to take a
picture of the existing situation every time. I have been addressing this issue
recently, first of all considering the political-institutional role of the National
State and of the Regioni (Savelli, 2014a). Similarly, in the same period, I took an
interest in the United States Education and Training System and in another short
essay I investigated the role played by the Federal State and Federated States in
that context (Savelli, 2015). In both cases then, I examined the internal systems’
articulation. The following table presents a comparison of the two (Table 1)1.

1The table was compiled by updating the information drawn from: Savelli, 2014b; Savelli, 2016; D.L. 59/2004; D.M.
254/2012; D.L. 226/2005; D.P.C.M. 25 gennaio 2008; D.P.R. 89/2010. In this text, normative acts are cited,
indicating, in order (where applicable): type of act, act number, (date or) year of publication. Among the types of
normative acts mentioned: Legge (L.) (Law); Decreto Legge (D.L.) (Decree Law); Decreto Legislativo (D.Lgs)

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24

This framework is intended to be a starting point and a major point of reference


in addressing the subject covered by this paper: the training path that needs to
be undertaken by those who want to become teachers in Italy today.

Table 1. Italian and US Education and Training Systems in comparison.

2. Education and training paths for school teaching


In the 1990s, a specific graduate course with two programs of study provides for
the cultural and professional training of Nursery and Elementary School
teachers 2 (L. 341/1990). The Bachelor’s Degrees in Primary Education 3 are
required to be admitted to the related concorsi4 for teaching positions in the two
school levels. The concorsi have a funzione abilitante 5.
The degree course is placed in the Faculty of Education6 and lasts four years,
two of which are a common biennium. The activities are both theoretical-formal
and theoretical-practical with didactic and teaching workshops. The minimum

(Legislative Decree); Decreto del Presidente del Consiglio dei Ministri (D.P.C.M.) (Prime Ministerial Decree);
Decreto del Presidente della Repubblica (D.P.R.) (Presidential Decree); Decreto Ministeriale (D.M.) (Ministerial
Decree); Decreto Interministeriale (D.I.) (Interministerial Decree); Decreto Direttoriale (D.D.) (Directorial Decree).
For what concerns the internal structure of normative acts: articolo (art.) (first level sub-division) is article (American
English), comma (second level sub-division) refers to paragraph, the third level is indicated by lettera (letter).
Normative acts have also Allegati and Tabelle (Annexes and Tables).
2Today, Scuola dell’infanzia (Kindergarten) and Scuola Primaria (Primary School).
3Diplomi di Laurea in Scienze della Formazione Primaria, SFP.
4The italian concorsi can be can be defined synthetically as open competitive examinations for state level employment.
The word comes from the latin concŭrsu(m), to run together. The text will further clarify their operation in the field of
Education.
5 The funzione abilitante can be literally translated with 'qualifying function' and can be assimilated to the teacher’s
licensure/certification. This last topic is addressed in the paper mentioned in (Savelli, 2015).
6 Facoltà di Scienze della Formazione. Following the reorganization legislation (particularly law L.240/2010), the
University system is starting to formalize the suppression of Faculties in favor of Research Departments
(Dipartimenti di Ricerca) and Specialization Schools (Scuole di Specializzazione). However, they are not expressly
prohibited by current legislation.

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25

total commitment is 2000 hours, of which 400 are of supervised practice 7 .


Supervised student teaching is held from the third year under the guidance of a
teacher or of the Instructional Director and is regulated by a convention between
the University and the School Authority. The supervisor expresses an evaluation
of the student’s activity, which, if negative, involves repetition.
The required study plans include:
• at least one semester module in: the Legal Area; the Socio-Anthropological
Area; the Area of Music and Sound Communication; the Area of Drawing;
• at least the equivalent of an annuality in: the Environmental, Natural and
Hygienic Sciences Area; the Historical-Social Area;
• two annualities in: the Linguistic-Literary Area; the Pedagogical Area; the
Methodological-Didactic Area.
For the Methodological-Didactic, the Linguistic-Literary and the Physical-
Mathematical Areas is compulsory to pass at least one Didactic examination.
The Nursery Program of Study is oriented to the Expressive-Artistic
Communication, Motoring and Socialization Areas. The Elementary School
Program of Study is oriented to the Literary, the Mathematical-Scientific and the
Modern Language Teaching Areas.
To be admitted to the graduation examination, the student must have passed all
the tests prescribed in the required study plan, a verification test on foreign
language knowledge and must complete the internship 8 . The graduation
examination consists in discussing a dissertation and a report on the internship
activity.
In the same period, the Graduate School for Secondary School Teachers 9 is
established. The School is structured in two programs of study and provides for
the training of secondary school teachers, also through guided activities. The
number of people enrolled is established annually (D.P.R. 470/1996). The course
lasts two years and includes a minimum of 700 hours of teaching and 300 hours
of guided student teaching entrusted to Permanent Secondary School Teachers10.
The required study plans include:
• at least 5 semesters in Education Sciences common to students of all
programs of study;
• at least 5 semesters in Disciplinary Didactics corresponding to the
abilitazioni 11 to achieve.
The School Board develops a study plan for each student that takes into account
his curriculum and the abilitazioni he intends to attain. At the conclusion of the
course the student prepares a report on his teaching activity that is evaluated
during the final examination. In accordance with the diplomas that have given
access to the Graduate School, the Diplomas awarded allow access to the
concorsi for the related teaching positions in Secondary Schools (D.P.R.
470/1996). In 2010, in the turbulent succession of reforms, a new decree (D.M.

7Tirocinio didattico.
8Tirocinio.

9Scuola di specializzazione per gli insegnanti della scuola secondaria, SSIS.


10Insegnanti di ruolo.
11The term abilitazione (plural: abilitazioni) has the meaning of licensure and certification. It certifies that a teacher is
able to teach and that he has the legal possibility to do so. For this reason I decided to use the italian term
throughout the text.

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26

249/2010) was issued to specifically regulate the necessary requirements and


modalities for the initial training of teachers of Kindergarten, Primary and Junior
and Senior High Schools.
So, it is established that initial training of teachers involves the acquisition of
Disciplinary, Methodological-Didactic, Organizational and Relational
competences and skills necessary for the development and support of the
autonomy of school institutions 12.
For teaching in Kindergarten and Primary Schools the training path involves
attending a Master’s degree course lasting five years, in a single cycle, with
supervised student teaching starting from the second year of the course.
For teaching in Junior and Senior High Schools, the training path involves the
attendance of a biennial Master’s Degree course and the subsequent completion
of one year of Supervised Active Practice13.
They are an integral part of the training paths the acquisition of: English
language skills of B2 level14, digital competences15, Didactics skills to facilitate
the integration of pupils with disabilities (L.104/1992).

2.1 Paths for teaching in Kindergartens and Primary Schools


The Master’s Degree program for teaching in Kindergarten and Primary School16
is typically activated at the Faculty of Education. In order to be admitted to the
course is required to hold a Senior High School Diploma and pass an access test.
The degree program aims to provide solid knowledge in the various discipline
fields subject matter of teaching, to train to manage the classroom and to plan
the education and teaching path, in addition to the knowledge and skills needed
to tackle school integration of children with special needs. Therefore, beside
most disciplines, they are provided one or more Pedagogical-Didactic
Workshops enabling students to experiment personally the practical
transposition of what they learned in the classroom. Starting from the second
year, they are carried out supervised indirect activities of preparation, reflection,
discussion and documentation and supervised direct activities in schools. These
activities develop over 600 hours, equivalent to 24 College Credit Hours17 and
they expand gradually from the second year of the course to the fifth, ending
with a report. Student teaching is followed by Teacher Tutors and coordinated
by Tutor Coordinators and Tutor Organizers. It provides observation activities,
work activities in guided situations and activities where the student is fully
autonomous. The degree thesis focuses on disciplinary topics related to teaching,
which may be related to the internship.

12This is the premise of the development of the staff of autonomy prescribed by law L. 107/2015.
13Tirocinio Formativo Attivo, TFA.
14Providedfor by the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages adopted in 1996 by the Council of
Europe.
15Provided for by the Recommendation of the European Parliament and of the Council of 18 December 2006.
16Corso di laurea magistrale per l’insegnamento nella scuola dell’infanzia e nella scuola primaria, class LM-85 bis.
17Crediti Formativi Universitari, CFU. The major difference between the U.S. College Credit System and the European
Credit System is that the first is based on contact hours and the second on student workload (Retrieved from:
http://www.mastersportal.eu/articles/1110/what-you-need-to-know-about-academic-credit-systems-in-the-us.html).
This distinction is also true for the italian system. One credit corresponds to a minimum of 25 hours of work per
student. The average amount of academic work done in one year for a student engaged in full-time University
Studies is conventionally fixed at 60 credits (Savelli, 2014a).

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27

At the end of the path, the graduates of each degree class18 get their abilitazione
to teach in Primary Schools. The achievement of the certification is the result of
an overall assessment of the study curriculum, the degree thesis and the
internship report by a Committee consisting of University teachers
supplemented by two tutors and a ministerial representative nominated by the
Regional School Offices19.
The profile of graduates includes knowledge of specific elements in the
disciplines of Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Italian Literature,
Italian Language, English Language, History, Motor Activity, Art, Music,
Childhood Literatures, Pedagogy, Special Pedagogy, Experimental Pedagogy,
Psychology, Sociology, Anthropology, Law, Infantile Neuropsychiatry, Clinical
Psychology, General and Applied Hygiene. In teaching the disciplines they are
taken into account the two school levels for which the course qualifies.

2.2 Paths for teaching in Junior and Senior High Schools


Training paths for teaching in Junior High Schools include: the achievement of
the restricted access Master’s degrees; the successful completion of the TFA,
including the examination having the value of abilitazione.
For each class of abilitazione, they are defined the requirements for access the test
and the Master’s Degree needed to access the tirocinio (D.M. 249/2010).
The proposed table (Table 2) has explanatory purposes and intends to clarify the
mechanism underlying the operation of the entire system20.
Similarly, training courses for teaching in Senior High Schools include the
achievement of the restricted access Master’s Degree; the development of the
TFA including the abilitazione examination (D.M. 249/2010).
The 2010 decree regulates the tirocinio for Junior and Senior High Schools
teachers. This is a training course for teaching reserved for those who have
completed the restricted access Master’s Degree above-mentioned. Upon
completion of the supervised active practice (TFA), after passing the final
examination, they are achieved the abilitazioni to teach in Junior and Senior High
Schools, in one of the abilitazione classes prescribed by the MIUR (D.M. 37/2009;
D.M. 39/1998).
The decree mentioned above, amended and supplemented by a subsequent
decree of 2013 (D.M. 81/2013), regulates the access test to TFA courses. This is a
test aimed at verifying the disciplinary knowledge in the subject matters of
teaching of the abilitazione classes. The test is structured in a preliminary national
test, a written test and an oral examination. In addition to the study path and the
average of the examinations of the Master’s Degree and the Master’s Degree
thesis, within the boundaries of each abilitazione class, further points can be
attributed to: the Ph.D; the service provided in the institutions of the National

18Classe di laurea.

19The Regional School Offices (Uffici Scolastici Regionali, USR) are established by a decree of 2000 (D.P.R. 347/2000) and disciplined
by a Decree of 2007 (D.P.R. 260/2007). They replace the previous Provveditorati agli Studi.
20For Junior High Schools, the table synthesizes the abilitazione that can be achieved (a) after having obtained the Academic Degree
in the corresponding Class (d) performing the required Study Program (b) (c) and after having carried out the TFA. The degree
class indicated is the compulsory class degree required to gain access to the tirocinio. For each of these degree classes, the
legislation indicates the mandatory CFUs that must be achieved for each scientific-disciplinary sector. It also indicates and
disciplines the CFUs related to workshops, internships and practical activities.

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28

Education Service; the scientific research activity carried out; publications or


other qualifications.

Table 2. Required certifications for teaching in Junior High Schools.

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29

The preliminary test consists of closed-ended questions with four options. The
questions are of different types, including questions to verify language skills and
the understanding of texts. To be admitted to the written test, the candidate
must have a minimum grade. The written test, prepared by Universities, consists
of open-ended questions on the subject matters of teaching in the related
concorso classes (D.M. 249/2010). To be admitted to the oral examination, the
candidate must have a minimum grade and it is passed if the candidate scores a
minimum rating. The examination is organized taking into account the
specificities of the various degree classes. Succeeding in the oral examination is
an indispensable condition for accessing the TFA.
The ranking of the candidates admitted to the TFA is formed by adding the
scores obtained in the preliminary test, the written test, and the oral examination
with the score attributed to qualifications.
Tests programs are defined annually by MIUR decrees. The following table
(Table 3) refers to their discipline for a.y. 2014/2015.

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30

Table 3. Discipline of test programs for a.y. 2014/2015 (D.M. 312/2014).

The TFA has an annual duration and correspond to 60 CFUs. It is set up at a


Faculty where all the activities take place, but can also be realized in
collaboration by several Faculties.
The Internship Training Council21 curates the integration of activities, organizes
didactic-disciplinary workshops and establishes the forms of collaboration
among Trainees Tutors, Tutor Coordinators and University Professors.
Those who obtain the abilitazione in the TFA courses: acquire solid knowledge of
the subjects matters of teaching and have the ability to propose them in the most
appropriate way to the school level of the students they come in contact with;
they are able to manage the progression of learning by adapting times and
modes to the class, choosing time after time the tools most suited to the
considered path; posses Pedagogical, Didactic, Relational and Managerial
abilities; have the ability to work with broad autonomy also by taking
organizational responsibilities.
In order to achieve these objectives, the TFA path includes: Education Sciences
teachings, with particular emphasis on Didactic Methodologies and Special
Needs; Disciplinary Didactics teachings that can also be carried out in a
laboratory context so as to secure content with teaching methods; an internship
of 475 hours equal to 19 CFUs, which involves indirect activities and observation
and active teaching at schools, under a tutor’s guidance; Pedagogical-Didactic
laboratories oriented at re-elaborating and comparing the proposed teaching
practices and internship experiences22.
The internship activity is concluded by the trainee’s writing of a report in
collaboration with the Teacher Tutor who followed the activity as Co-
Supervisor. The Supervisor is a University Professor.
The report highlights the ability to integrate the skills acquired in classroom
activities with Psycho-Pedagogical knowledge and the acquired knowledge in
Disciplinary Didactics, particularly in workshop activities.

21Consiglio di Corso di Tirocinio, CCT. The Internship Training Council consists of: Tutor Coordinators, Teachers and
University Researchers that are carrying out teaching assignments in the internship, two School Principals or
Instructional Coordinators designated by the USR among the School Principals or Instructional coordinators that
host the Internships and a Representative of trainee students. The President of the Council is elected by University
Professors, his term lasts three years and is renewable only once.
22Compulsory attendance is required for: 70% of Education Sciences lessons, 80% of tirocinio, 70% of Disciplinary
Didactics lessons, 70% of Pedagogical and Didactic workshops.

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31

At the end of the course is evaluated the activity carried out, the oral
presentation of a didactic path on a topic selected by the examination
committee 23 , the discussion of the final report. A minimum total grade is
necessary to pass the examination. To the score obtained is added the score
resulting from the weighted average of the grades of the final examinations of
each discipline of the Master’s Degree and of the examinations taken during the
year of internship. The total score expressed as a percentage is the grade of the
abilitazione for teaching.
At the end of the path, the students will award the qualification required for
teaching in one of the concorso classes prescribed by the MIUR (D.M. 39/1998;
D.M. 22/2005).

3. Recruitment of the teaching staff


In 1994 the recruitment of the teaching staff takes place at provincial level
through a concorso 24 . Here I am going to provide an idea of the complex
mechanism underlying it and the legacy it has left to our day.
The concorsi can be based on qualifications and examinations or based only on
qualifications (D.LGS 297/1994). Access to permanent positions takes place for
50% by the first type of concorso and for 50% by the second type of concorso
(D.Lgs 297/1994). The Ministry of Public Education25 calls the concorsi on the
basis of the actual availability of chairs26 or of teaching positions in the three-
year reference period, the Provveditorati agli Studi27 curate their implementation.
Concorsi based on qualifications and examinations consist of one or more written
tests, of an oral examination and of the evaluation of qualifications. In addition,
it is assessed the abilitazione for the concorso classes for which it is prescribed.
Each written test consists of an articulated discussion of cultural and
professional issues. The oral examination is intended to ensure that future
teachers are prepared on educational and didactic issues, contents of teaching
programs and ordinamenti scolastici28. A minimum grade is required to pass the
test.
The sum of the scores in the written test (or tests), the oral examination and the
evaluation of qualifications forms the merit ranking, valid for the three years

23The Examination Board consists of three University Professors who conducted the activities of tirocinio, two Tutor
Coordinators, one Representative appointed by the USR. The Board is chaired by a Professor appointed by the
Faculty of reference.
24In 1994 the consolidated law in Education is published. This is a decree law (D.Lgs 297/1994) consisting of 676
articles, which regulates the entire school system. With its modifications and integrations it still constitutes a
normative reference point in this area.
25Ministero della pubblica istruzione (MPI). This Ministry is instituted in 1989. The current configuration of the Ministry of
Education, University and Research (Ministero dell'istruzione, dell'università e della ricerca, MIUR) is established for
the first time in 1999 and then, after various events, is restored in 2008.
26Cattedre.

27 The Provveditorato agli Studi is a peripheral office of the MPI from which Nursery, Elementary and Secondary
Teachers, Inspectors, School Directors and Instructional Directors are dependent. The Provveditorati agli Studi are
established in 1859 and abolished in 2000 (D.P.R. 347/2000).
28 The ordinamenti didattici scolastici discipline school operation in a way similar to how the ordinamenti didattici
universitari discipline universities. The ordinamenti didattici universitari discipline: the list of subjects that constitute
each course of study, the specific learning objectives and related credits, the set of learning activities considered for
the achievement of the qualification and the rules for the submission of the individual curricula, the regulations
regarding the possible compulsory attendance (Savelli, 2014a).

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32

indicated in the concorso notices29. They are nominated the candidates that are
placed in a convenient position in relation to the number of chairs or posts
available.
They are admitted to the concorsi based on qualifications 30 those who have
passed a previous concorso based on qualifications and examinations for the
same concorso class or the same position and who have provided teaching
services in State Institutes and Schools of every level and grade for at least 360
days in the previous three years31.
A Legislative Decree of 1994 defines these last 'permanent rankings': competitors
already included in them, but not yet nominated, have the right to remain in the
ranking and to obtain a change of score by the evaluation of new qualifications
(D.Lgs. 297/1994).
Subsequently, by a Law of 1999 (L. 124/1999) it is established that:
• if a merit ranking runs out of the assigned positions, these are to be
added to those of the corresponding permanent ranking;
• permanent rankings are integrated by teachers requesting the transfer
from the corresponding permanent ranking of another district
(provincia) and, in order of priority, by:
 staff meeting the requirements for participation in the concorsi
for qualifications only (the suppressed concorsi) (L. 124/1999;
D.L. 255/2001), this is called 'first batch'32;
 teachers who have passed the tests of a previous concorso
based on qualifications and examinations in relation to the
same concorso class and the same position (D.L. 255/2001), this
is called 'second' or 'last batch' 33.
• Starting from the school year (s.y.) 2004/2005, the rankings of the last
batch are restated:
• a specific number of points are awarded for passing a concorso based
on qualifications and examinations or for achieving the abilitazione as
a result of the attendance of the SISS or for the degree in Primary
Education valid for accessing the Nursery and Elementary Schools
rankings;
• a specific number of points are awarded for the teaching service
provided in schools starting from s.y. 2003/2004 (L. 97/2004; D.L.
236/2004).
In 2004, a new decree legally establishes that starting from the a.y. 2005/2006,
the non-application for permanence entails the cancellation from the permanent
ranking and that, since 2004 the abilitazione from the SISS is a qualifying entry
only for the purpose of inclusion in the last batch of permanent rankings (D.L.
97/2004).

29Bandi di concorso.
30The concorsi based on qualifications (but not the related rankings) are suppressed by the law L. 124 /1999.
31 Thesubject matter of teaching must correspond to the permanent position, it must be done on the basis of the
qualification required to access the position, for teachings related to the concorso classes (D.Lgs. 297/1994).
32Primo scaglione.
33Secondo or ultimo scaglione. For further details on this matter please see the transitional rules of the law L. 124 /1999
and the authentic interpretation rules of the D.L. 255/2001.

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33

Then, by law of 2006, permanent rankings are transformed in until exhaustion


rankings34 (L. 296/2006).

4. The Good School Reform


In 2015 a new reform of the National Education and Training System is launched
and a reorganization of existing legislation is provided (L. 107/2015)35.
In this context, they are defined an extraordinary recruitment plan and the
ordinary procedures for accessing permanent positions, as summarized below.

4.1 Recruitment procedures


For the s.y. 2015/2016 the MIUR36 is authorized to implement an extraordinary
plan of recruitment for teaching staff vacant and available posts after the
operations of the introduction to permanent positions for the same s.y.. After
these operations, the rankings for the concorsi based on qualifications and
examinations called before 2012 are suppressed.
In addition, the Ministry is authorized to cover curriculum enhancement
positions for the achievement of national priority targets37 and for up to ten days
substitute teaching, in accordance with the educational needs expressed by
institutions. These positions may not be covered by the staff holding a contract
for short-term substitute teaching and since s.y. 2016/2017, flow into the
Autonomy Staff38.
Thus, they are employed permanently for the above mentioned posts:
• those entered in the rankings of the public concorso based on
qualifications and examinations for permanent positions called in 2012
(D.D. 82/2012) for the recruitment of the teaching staff for State Schools
of every level and grade;
• those listed on the teaching staff until exhaustion rankings.
• At the same time, an extraordinary plan for territorial and professional
mobility of teachers employed permanently is undertaken within the s.y.
2014/2015 on all vacancies of the autonomy staff, derogating from the
three-year restriction of stay in the provincia (D.Lgs 297/1994; L.
107/2015).
The Autonomy Staff is set up in order to fully implement the process of
fulfilment of autonomy and reorganization of the entire Education System.
Determined on a regional basis every three-years, it is functional to the didactic,

34Graduatorie ad esaurimento.
35The L. 107/2015 is also known as La Buona Scuola (The Good School). This is the last law of comprehensive reform
of the school system. It consists of 212 articles.
36Please, see note 25.
37Curriculum enhancement positions are aimed at: enhancing Language skills; enhancing Mathematical-Logical and
Scientific skills: enhancing skills in Music, Art, Cinema, Images and Sounds; developing skills in Active and
Democratic Citizenship and strengthening Legal and Economic-Financial knowledge; developing responsible
behaviors; making literate on Art and Images; developing Motor disciplines; developing of workshops methodologies
and activities; preventing and counteracting school dispersion, discrimination, bullying and enhancing inclusion;
enhancing of schools as active communities; afternoon opening and the reduction in the number of pupils and
students per class; increasing structured work-integrated learning in the Second Cycle of Education; enhancing
individualized training paths; identifying functional paths to rewarding and recognition of performance; making
literate and perfectionate on Italian as a Second Language; defining a guidance system (L. 107/2015).
38Organico dell'autonomia.

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34

organizational and design needs that emerge from the Three-Year Curriculum
Plan 39 of each single school. Thereby School Institutions identify permanent
positions needs in relation to the Educational Offer they intend to realize40.
The Curriculum Plan constitutes the cultural and design identity of each school
institution: it clarifies the curricular, extracurricular 41 , educational and
organizational design adopted and contains the training activities programming
addressed to the teaching staff. Teachers contribute to its realization with
teaching, enhancement, support42, organization, design and coordination.
The Curriculum Plan is consistent with the General and Educational Objectives
of the different types and programs of study and takes into account the
territorial programming of the Educational Offer, which reflects the needs of the
Cultural, Social and Economic context of the local reality. It indicates the
teachings and disciplines that cover the needs of common, support 43 and
enhancement posts44.
Therefore, this last Law of reform establishes that access to permanent positions
by the State Schools’ teaching staff occurs through concorsi based on
qualifications and examinations (L. 107/2015). The determination of positions to
allocate for the concorso takes into account the needs expressed by the School
Institutions in the Three-Year Training Plans. These concorsi are national, called
on a regional basis every three years, for all positions vacant and available,
within the limits of financial resources and places available in the three-year
period. The relative rankings are valid for three years.
Those who conveniently place themselves in the merit rankings are employed
within the limits of the positions allocated. They are the addressees of
assignment proposals and express, according to the ranking order, the
preference for the local level45 within the regione for which they have competed.
Starting from the public concorso for teachers’ permanent positions recruitment
called in 2015, they can access the concorso procedures based on qualifications
and examinations only candidates who hold the abilitazione for teaching.
Starting from s.y. 2016/2017, the School Principal proposes the appointment to
permanent teachers assigned to the local level of reference, also taking into
account the applications submitted by the teachers themselves and formulates

39Piano Triennale dell’Offerta Formativa, PTOF.


40Within the limits of the available resources, respecting the teachers’ timetable, taking into account the autonomy of
curricula and flexibility spaces, referring to curriculum enhancement initiatives and planning activities and for the
achievement of some priority goals (L. 107/2015; D.P.R. 81/2009).
41On the meaning and evolution of the concept of curricolo in the italian context (in italian), please see: Cerini G., Saperi,
curricolo, competenze. Fonti, indicazioni normative, materiali. Retrieved from:
http://www.edscuola.it/archivio/riformeonline/saperi.html.
42The word sostegno, meaning literally 'support', is often used to indicate a special education teacher: insegnante di
sostegno (support teacher).
43Please, see note 27.
44 The distribution of staff numbers among the regions occurs: for common positions, according to the number of
classes; for curriculum enhancement positions, according to the number of pupils. Coverage of vacant and available
posts has priority, but they are also considered the needs related to projects of particular Educational relevance and
projects of National value. To meet further staffing requests, a further quota of posts is provided annually with
MIUR’s decree. For the coverage of these positions they draw from the rankings of those who aspire to the
stipulation of fixed-term contracts or they employ permanent position staff with measures effective for a school year.
45The ambiti territoriali are defined by the USR, as instructed by the MIUR, according to the school population, the
proximity of school institutions, the characteristics of the territory (L. 107/2015).

© 2017 The author and IJLTER.ORG. All rights reserved.


35

the proposal for a three-year assignment and the possible renewals in


accordance with the Three-Year Curriculum Plan. If the teacher accepts, the job
is assigned.

4.2 Training and Trial periods


The teaching staff is undergoing a Training and Trial Period 46 , which if
positively passed, determines the actual placing in permanent positions. To pass
this period, the teacher must have a minimum of days of service with a
minimum of didactic activity. The evaluation is carried out by the School
principal, having heard the opinion of the Evaluation Committee47 and on the
basis of an investigation by a Teacher Tutor 48 designated by the Principal.
The PFP49 is aimed at verifying the mastery of professional standards of the
newly recruited teachers, with reference to the following criteria: correct
possession and exercise of Cultural, Disciplinary, Didactic and Methodological
competences, with reference to the founding nuclei of knowledge, competence
goals and learning targets provided by the existing ordinamenti; correct
possession and exercise of Relational, Organizational and Managerial skills;
observance of the duties connected with the status of a public employee and
inherent the teaching function; participation in training activities and
achievement of the objectives set out therein (D.M. 850/2015).
Within the second month of service, the newly recruited teacher traces a
preliminary analysis of skills, in the form of a structured self-assessment, with
the collaboration of the Teacher Tutor. This allows to outline the points to be
strengthened and to develop an in-training project consistent with the
accomplished diagnosis.
On the basis of this preliminary analysis, the School Principal and the newly
recruited teacher, heard the Teacher Tutor and taking into account the needs of
the school, establish a specific Professional Development Agreement 50 . The
agreement explains the goals of professional development of Cultural,
Disciplinary, Didactic-Methodological and Relational nature to be achieved
through training activities, including those activated by the School Institution or
by School Networks and the possible use of the resources of the Teacher’s
Card51.

46Periodo di Formazione e di Prova, PFP.


47Comitato per la Valutazione. The School Principal chairs the Committee, which remains in office for three scholastic
years and consists of three Teachers of the Educational Institution; two parents’ representatives or a student
representative and a parent representative; an external component. For further information on this matter (in italian),
please see: (MIUR) Ministero dell’Istruzione, dell’Università e della Ricerca, Ufficio Relazioni con il Pubblico, (2012)
Organi collegiali della scuola, retrieved from: http://www.istruzione.it/urp/organi_collegiali.shtml.
48 The Teacher Tutor is the person that welcomes the newly recruited in the professional community, encourages
participation in the various moments of school collegial life and exerts all forms of listening, counselling and
collaboration useful to improve the quality and effectiveness of teaching. He prepares moments of mutual
observation in the classroom and can collaborate with the newly recruited in the elaboration, experimentation and
validation of teaching resources and learning units (D.M. 850/2015). On the features that the tutor must possess,
please see D.M.
49Please, see note 46.
50Patto per lo Sviluppo Professionale, PSP.
51Carta del docente. The law L. 107/2015 establishes an electronic card for the upgrading and training of permanent
teachers of Educational Institutions of every level and grade. The Card is worth 500 Euros per each school year. For
all the uses that the card allows, please see D.P.C.M. 28 novembre 2016.

© 2017 The author and IJLTER.ORG. All rights reserved.


36

At the end of the Training and Trial Period, the newly recruited teacher with the
supervision of the Teacher Tutor, draws up a new analysis of skills to record the
progress on professional expertise, the impact of the Educational actions
realized, the further developments to hypothesize.
The training activities are organized in the following four phases, for a total
duration of 50 hours: preparatory and final restitution meetings; training
workshops, peer to peer and classroom observation, online training.
At least one preparatory training meeting is organized by the local school
administration at the local level, aiming at illustrating the general modalities of
the training course, the expected professional profile, innovations underway in
the school. At least one final meeting is intended to complete an overall
evaluation of the training action fulfilled. To the initial and final plenary
meetings are usually devoted no more than six hours overall.
Training workshops are planned at the local level, taking into account the
analysis of skills and on the basis of the recognition of the resulting training
needs. These initiatives are characterized by the adoption of professional
exchange laboratory-based methods, action research and re-elaboration and
production of teaching sequences and by contents closely related to teaching.
Normally these activities are structured in four in person meetings of three
hours52.
Classroom observation activity is aimed at improving didactic practices and
shared reflection on the salient aspects of the teaching action. It focuses on ways
of conducting activities and lessons, support pupil motivations, build positive
and motivating climates and ways to test learning. The observation sequences,
designed and reworked with the Teacher Tutor, are the subject matter of a report
by the newly hired. To these activities are devoted at least 12 hours.
Online training of the newly employed teacher lasts 20 hours and consists of: the
analysis and reflections on the personal training path; the development of a
personal Portfolio that documents the design, implementation and evaluation of
teaching activities; the compilation of questionnaires for monitoring the different
phases; the free research of study materials, learning resources, dedicated sites,
made available53.
At the end of the year, the Evaluation proceeds with the expression of opinion
on the successful completion of the Period. The teacher takes the interview
before the committee that begins with the presentation of the teaching and
training activities and the relevant documentation contained in the Professional
Portfolio. The tutor presents the emerging results of the investigation on the
prearranged training activities, teaching experiences and participation in the
school life of the newly hired teacher. The School Principal submits a report that
includes the documentation of the training activities, of the tutoring forms and

52It is planned the compilation of documentation and research activities, which is validated by the Workshop Coordinator
Teacher. The documentation is included in the Professional Portfolio (D.M. 850/2015).
53 The Directorate-General for School Staff, taking advantage of the technical structure of the Istituto Nazionale di
Documentazione Pedagogica, Innovazione e Ricerca Educativa (INDIRE), coordinates the activities for the
implementation and updating of the digital platform that supports newly recruited teachers throughout the Training
and Trial Period. The Direzione Generale per il Personale della Scuola (13 Offices) carries out the duties and
responsibilities of the Ministry in specific fields. For further details on this matter please see D.P.R. 17/2009. The
history of INDIRE can be found on the institutional website at: http://www.indire.it.

© 2017 The author and IJLTER.ORG. All rights reserved.


37

any other information element or evidence useful for the expression of an


opinion.
At this point the School Principal can issue a substanciated decision of
confirmation or a measure of repetition, indicating the critical elements and the
forms of training support and verification of the standards’ achievement
required for confirmation. In case of a second Training and Trial Period, the
teacher’s testing for eligibility is entrusted to a Technical Manager, who assumes
every useful assessment element and presents a report to the Committee. This
second assessment may include recognition of adequacy and confirmation, or
lack of recognition of adequacy and no confirmation (D.M. 850/2015).

5. Initial training for High School teaching in 2017


In April this year, following the entry into force of the reform act, to which
reference has so far been made, a decree54 is issued to reorganize, adapt and
simplify the system of initial training and access to teacher’s permanent
positions in High Schools.
The initial training system provides for: (1) a national public concorso called on a
regional or interregional basis; (2) a three-year path of initial training, supervised
practice and placement in the teaching function (FIT path); (3) a procedure for
accessing permanent positions, after passing the training path intermediate and
final evaluations (D.Lgs 59/2017).

5.1 The FIT path


The FIT path is structured in: (a) a first year aimed to the achievement of the
Specialist Degree for teaching in High Schools; (b) a second year of training,
supervised practice and initial placement in the teaching function; (c) a third
year of training, supervised practice and placement in the teaching function.
The path is realized through a structured collaboration as equals among Schools,
Universities and AFAM Institutions 55 and it finds expression in designing,
managing and monitoring through specialized regional collegial bodies.
The FIT path aims to develop and strengthen in future teachers: Cultural,
Disciplinary, Didactic and Methodological skills in relation to the founding
nuclei of knowledge and the skills goals set for students; the unique skills of
teachers’ training, especially Pedagogical, Relational, Evaluative, Organizational
and Technological, integrated in a balanced manner with Disciplinary
Knowledge; the ability to Design Flexible Educational Paths and appropriate to
the school context, in order to promote Critical and Informed Learning and
student acquisition of Skills; the ability to consciously carry out the tasks related
to the Teaching Function and the School Organization.
The FIT path is designed and implemented in coordination with the National
Training Plan.
The National Conference on Initial Training and Access to Teacher Profession56,
established this year, aims to coordinate and monitor the system on the basis of

54 D. Lgs 59/2017. This decree provides for a further definition of the system and procedures in successive MIUR
decrees, having heard the opinion of the specific advisory bodies.
55Istituti di formazione artistica, musicale e coreutica, AFAM. Institutes of Artistic, Musical and Coreutic Education.
56Conferenza Nazionale per la Formazione Iniziale e l’accesso alla Professione Docente.

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38

an organic framework of the skills of teaching as a profession, to be updated


continuously, also in comparison with the main training models and
international studies. The Conference is composed as equals of experts coming
from the School System and the University System. It has advisory and proactive
tasks regarding: organization, operation and programs of the FIT paths,
structured in vertical curricula and ordinamenti didattici of the specialist courses.
It also monitors the activities and results of the system, promoting possible
corrective and improvement actions and proposes initiatives for bridging and
harmonizing initial training and in-service training for teachers.

5.2 Access to the FIT path


The national concorso based on examinations and qualifications to select
candidates for accessing the FIT path on Common Positions and Special Needs
Positions in High Schools is published twice a year to cover the posts that are
expected to become vacant and available in the third and fourth school years
following the one in which the completion of the concorso is expected. Based on
merit rankings, the winners of the concorso are admitted to the path in two
successive annual batches. They are identified positions related to: Junior and
Senior High Schools, also grouped in discipline fields; Technical-Practical
Teachers; Special Needs.
The concorso classes are reorganized and updated periodically in order to ensure
the consistency among subject matters of teaching, teachers’ disciplinary classes
of entitlement and degree courses’ classes57.
It is a qualifying entry to the concorso for teachers’ positions the joint possession
of: a Master’s Degree; 24 CFUs acquired in curricular, supplemental or extra
curricular form in Anthropo-Psycho-Pedagogical disciplines and Didactic
Methodologies and Technologies, of which at least 6 CFUs in each of three of the
following four discipline fields: Pedagogy, Special Pedagogy and Didactics of
Inclusion; Psychology; Anthropology; Didactic Methodologies and
Technologies.
The concorso involves three examination tests: two nationwide written tests and
an oral examination. The first written test aims to evaluate the degree of
knowledge and skills of the candidate in a specific discipline chosen by the
person concerned among those pertinent to the concorso class. The first test must
be passed to access the following test.
The second written test aims to evaluate the level of knowledge and skills of the
candidate in the Anthropo-Psycho-Pedagogical disciplines and in Didactic
Methodologies and Technologies. Successful completion of the second test is
required to access the following test.
The oral examination consists of an interview aimed at assessing the level of
knowledge and skills of the candidate in all the disciplines that are part of the
concorso class, with particular reference to the disciplines not chosen in the first
written test; at verifying the knowledge of a European Foreign Language at least
at level B2 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages
and the possession of basic computer skills.

57However, in-service permanent teachers can participate in specific training activities to supplement their preparation in
order to teach subject matters in similar disciplinary classes or to modify their own disciplinary class of entitlement or
typology of position (D.Lgs 59/2017).

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39

The candidates who have passed all the tests scheduled enter the merit ranking
with a score that is given by the sum of scores recorded in all the tests and the
evaluation of qualifications. For each concorso class, the winners in a useful
position within the limits of the posts allocated are required to start the related
FIT path.

5.3 The FIT path contract


The winners of the concorso sign a three year FIT contract with the USR of the
chosen local level58. The contract provides a gradual placement into the teaching
function. The contract holder is required to achieve, at the end of the first year,
the Specialist Degree, and during the second and third year, to complete his own
professional preparation with further study activities, with direct and indirect
supervised activities and with teaching activities.
The Specialist Course is established in agreement with the USR, by Universities,
with the involvement of Schools. It requires compulsory attendance with
financial burden at the expense of the State. The course corresponds to a total of
60 CFUs. It is structured in: lessons, seminars and workshops for completing the
preparation of enrolled students in the field of Didactics of all disciplines
pertinent to the class of concorso of Pedagogy, Special Pedagogy and Didactics of
Inclusion, Psychology, Assessment and School Legislation; supervised direct
activities (at least 10 CFUs) to be held at the schools of the local level of
belonging in the presence of the Class Teacher and under the guidance of the
School Tutor; supervised indirect activities (at least 6 CFUs) aimed at the
reflective accompaniment/support on the experience gained in the supervised
direct activities; optional, additional learning activities aimed at acquiring
linguistic skills in the perspective of teaching by Content and Language
Integrated Learning (CLIL).
Specialist courses conclude with a final examination that takes into account the
results achieved by the FIT contract holder in all the training activities.
Successful completion of the final exam leads to the achievement of the
Specialist Degree.
The contract is confirmed for the second year provided that the holder has
completed the Specialist Degree and for the third year, provided that he has
successfully passed the intermediate evaluation at the end of the second year.
In the second and third year of contract, the holder is required to prepare and
conduct an Action Research Project under the guidance of the University Tutor
and of the Tutor Coordinator and to acquire in the two-year period 15 CFUs
related to Didactic Innovation and Experimentation, of which at least 9 in
workshops.
On the basis of the assignments made by the School Principal, in the second year
the holder carries out short term and occasional substitute teaching not
exceeding 15 days in the belonging local level, and in the third year he serves on
vacant and available posts. The holders choose the position on the basis of the
concorso ranking and within the local level in which they are entered.

58Thechoice of the local level in the region occurs in order of score and according to the available positions (D.Lgs
59/2017).

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40

Tirocinio Activities are carried out under the guidance of a School Tutor59, a
Tutor Coordinator60 and a University Tutor61.
Direct activities are carried out in the School Institutions accredited by the MIUR
with the coordination of a Pole School within the local level of reference. It is
about observation, analysis, design and subsequent realization of teaching
activities and of activities serving the purpose of teaching, realized under the
guidance of the University Tutor and in collaboration with the Tutor
Coordinator. Indirect activities are carried out in Universities and consist of
planning, discussion and reflection on the direct tirocinio, under the guidance of
the University Tutor and in collaboration with Tutor Coordinators.
The attendance of tirocinio activities is compulsory.
The final evaluation takes into account the degree of development of
professional competence, in relation to the Methodological, Didactic, Design and
Relational aspects within the classroom and the School Institution.
The third year of the FIT path is specifically aimed at verifying the teachers’
mastery of professional standards and concludes with the final evaluation. This
year is not repeatable.
The Final Assessment Board for accessing teachers positions is chaired by the
School Principal of the school in which the FIT contract holder has served in the
third year. The Board includes the University Teachers engaged in the Specialist
Courses, the University Tutor and the Tutor Coordinator of the person
concerned, the School Tutor of the third year of the contract.
In the case of a positive final assessment, the contract holder is assigned to the
local level in which he served during the third year and he is awarded a three-
year assignment.

6. Conclusion
With the law on the Good School and the measures stemming from it, the
Government intends to implement a System of Education and Training that can
possibly harmonize the training actions undertaken by the individual teacher in
the context of the professional and school communities of reference with the
training plans of individual School Institutions and the contribution of the
National Training Plans.
Starting from the elaboration of the curricula of study and of tirocini for
specialization and teaching, the aim is to make sure that Universities and
Schools can form real spaces of evolution of professional knowledge and a
ground for building training alliances, even in the future perspective of lifelong
learning. In this sense, all the training required for professional development of
teachers is pondered, designed and implemented in accordance with the initial
training. Table 4 below provides an overview of the new organization of the

59 School Tutors are the teachers of the schools where direct activities are realized and they have the task of
coordinating these activities in the School Institution. They participate in the definition of the tirocinio paths and are
part of the boards evaluating the third year of the FIT course.
60Tutor Coordinators are responsible for the planning, organization and co-ordination of supervised indirect and direct
activities in collaboration with the School Tutor and the University Tutor. They participate in the Examination Boards
for the intermediate and final evaluations of the FIT path.
61University Tutors are identified by Universities and constitute the University reference for the training activities required
in the study plans. In collaboration with Tutor Coordinators, they have the task of integrating lessons and seminars
with the workshops and tirocini carried out by the contract holders.

© 2017 The author and IJLTER.ORG. All rights reserved.


41

training system, highlighting the different levels of governance planned (Table


4) (Allegato to the D.M. 797/2016).

Table 4. How training will be organized (Allegato to the D.M. 797/2016)

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46

International Journal of Learning, Teaching and Educational Research


Vol. 16, No. 12, pp. 46-69, December 2017
https://doi.org/10.26803/ijlter.16.12.4

Understanding the Process of Generalization in


Mathematics through Activity Theory

Gabriela Dumitrascu
Eastern Michigan University
Ypsilanti, USA

Abstract. The practice of generalization is a powerful process that


should be present in mathematical learning from kindergarten to
college. It is crucial for teachers at all school levels to have a deep
understanding of the process down to knowing its genetic
decomposition. Activity theory framework provides basic principles
that allows us to define generalization as an activity that is socially and
historically developed through tools and artifacts mediations,
internalization of social knowledge, and that is transformed through
learning and development I present the means of the generalization
activity using Leontiev‟s activity theory intertwined with Rubinshtein‟s
description of the generalization process. This theoretical framework
may also support teacher educators and teachers while they use high-
leverage teaching practices such as: eliciting and interpreting individual
student‟s thinking, diagnosing particular common patterns of student
thinking and development, or leading a group discussion.

Keywords: Activity Theory; Davydov; Vygotsky; Leontiev;


generalization.

Introduction
In mathematics, we are well used with statements as the following ones:

1. Find the general term for the sequence: 1, 5, 9, 13, 17, …


2. Find a formula for computing the measure of the interior angle of a
regular polygon with n sides.
3. Consider the sequence defined recursively by
x1 = 2
x n = 2 + x n-1
Find an explicit formula for the nth term.
4. The sum of any two consecutive integers is odd.
5. The segment connecting the midpoints of two sides of a triangle is
parallel to the third side and is half as long.
6. The first derivative of an increasing function is positive.

© 2017 The author and IJLTER.ORG. All rights reserved.


47

From a mathematician‟s perspective, these statements request mathematical


computations; from a psychologist‟s perspective, the statements demand a
higher level of thinking; for mathematics educator‟s perspective, these
statements are learning outcomes of a complex process. All three perspectives
have a common target: the process of generalization.

As mathematics teacher, I see the above statements divided into two categories
of generalization. The first category of problems (1, 2, and 3) asks to search for a
general statement and the second category (4, 5, and 6) asks to search for a
generalization process. We use to teach and to learn these categories as represent
different mathematical entities. However, they are parts of the same process: the
process of generalization.

As mathematicians, we are so used to focus on content and reasoning


development when we learn and teach mathematics, and we seem to forget that
generalization is the “heartbeat” of mathematics (Mason, 1996):
“Generality is so central to all of mathematics that many
professionals no longer notice its presence in what is, for them,
elementary. But, it is precisely the shifts of attention that experts
have integrated into their thinking, which are problematic for
novices.” (Mason, 1996)

Mason stresses that mathematicians, teachers, and even mathematics educators


are too used to perform some thinking processes and they become unaware of
them. Consequently, we need to become aware that the process of generalization
is one of the most powerful thinking processes, and to understand its
decomposition when we examine a mathematical situation.

From Literature Review


In the mathematics literature, generalization can be seen as a statement that is
true for a whole category of objects; it can be understood as the process through
which we obtain a general statement; or it can be the way to transfer knowledge
from one setting to a different one. Most of the studies that looked at the place
of generalization in mathematics instruction choose to analyze the introduction
of algebra to young students. There are studies that researched how to create
activities for “awakening of pupil sensitivity to the nature of mathematical
generalization and dually, to specialization” in order to improve students‟
algebraic thinking. In other words, how to get students comfortable to see “a
generality through the particular” and “the particular in the general” (Mason, 1996).
Lee (1996) considers that functions, modeling, and problem solving are all types
of generalization and proposes that algebra should be taught through patterns.

Another set of studies on generalization is researching ways to develop algebraic


thinking at the elementary school children. J. J. Kaput, D. W. Carraher, and M. L.
Blanton (2008) brought a comprehensive collection of research studies together
that investigated the introduction of early algebra in elementary school in which
generalization plays a crucial role. Note that the contributors to that volume
consider “early algebra” a context to develop the potential for generalization at

© 2017 The author and IJLTER.ORG. All rights reserved.


48

elementary schoolchildren and not the introduction of algebra concepts in the


early school years. This is a crucial difference highlighted by Kaput. Early
algebra focuses on making elementary students comfortable with the process of
generalization, which enhances algebraic thinking.

From outside of the mathematics education field, many educational


psychologists researched how the thinking process manifests through the
process of generalization. Vygotsky (1986) considered that every concept is the
result of a process of generalization. He emphasized the distinction between
spontaneous/everyday concept, where the generalization means to move from
particular to general, and scientific concept, which means to see the particular
from the general. Piaget (1964) considered two different experiences that
promote learning: 1) the physical experience that consists in manipulation of
objects and in drawing some knowledge by abstractions from the objects; 2) the
logical-mathematical experience in which knowledge is drawn by abstracting from
the actions effectuated upon the objects. Rubinshtein (Davydov, 1990) made the
difference between two types of generalization: the empirical generalization that is
the result of comparing and identifying the external characteristics that are
similar or identical to things; and the theoretical generalization that is the result of
analysis and abstraction that happen while the data received through senses is
transformed in order to determine the essence of things. Krutetskii (1976)
identified two ways in which schoolchildren learn mathematical concepts
through generalization. The first method is the empirical generalization, which
consists in a gradual generalization by analyzing a sequence of concrete
examples in which the nonessential attributes are systematically changed. This
method is used by the children that are not or almost not successful in
mathematics learning to master the general mathematical knowledge. The most
successful children in learning mathematics are using a different way to
approach the generalization. They are able to generalize a solution, which is
unique to a theoretical generalization, just from a single example by identifying the
internal connections/relationships involved in the solution.

In the book, Types of Generalization in Instruction: Logical and Psychological


Problems in the Structuring of School Curricula (1990), V. V. Davydov discussed his
concern that the empirical generalization used in traditional Russian instruction
is one of the sources that create difficulties for schoolchildren to master the
instructional material. Regarding the case of mathematics, Davydov used the
findings of Krutetskii‟s research on mathematical abilities to propose a
generalization-based instruction at the elementary school levels. Several
experimental studies conducted in the Unites States (Dougherty & Slovin, 2004;
Moxhay, 2008; Schmittau, 2003; Schmittau, 2004) based on Davydov‟s
instructional theory showed that the participating children were able to perform
theoretical reasoning based on generalization by the end of the second or third
year of instruction.

Analyzing the studies that were done so far from the lens of a teacher that looks
to find ways to help students finalize a generalization process, I noticed that: the
term “generalization” is heavily loaded in mathematics. Even if we consider that

© 2017 The author and IJLTER.ORG. All rights reserved.


49

it is most commonly understood as a duality between going from particular to


general and seeing the particular through the general, this interpretation does
not include a description for the reasoning involved in the process of
generalization that would allow teachers and educators to design a
generalization-based instruction.

In my quest to understand the needs of pupils to achieve higher-level thinking,


which implies generalization, I found the theories developed by the educational
psychologists A. N. Leont‟ev (1903-1979), Krutetskii (1917-1991), S. L.
Rubinshtein (1889-1960), and Dubinsky to provide a supportive background.
From their perspectives, I will interpret the process of generalization in
mathematics as follow:

1) An activity system that contains specific actions and operations (in the
way Leont‟ev [1978] defined the concepts of activity, action, and
operation);
2) It has two specific motives:
a. to identify something general that is already known in particular
cases and to apply the general to the particular, and
b. to find something general that is not known from isolated and
particular cases (as Krutetskii [1976] discovered in his research on
schoolchildren mathematical abilities);
3) It has three main ways to be performed: empirical generalization,
pseudo-generalization, and reflective generalization (which are the three
“routes” to generalization described by Rubinshtein [Davydov, 1990],
where I incorporate the definitions of empirical abstraction, pseudo-
abstraction, and reflective abstraction given by Dubinsky [1991]).

Next, I will discuss these theories as a framework, which may provide


foundation for developing the pedagogical content knowledge needed to
construct settings for students to participate in a activity of generalization.

Theoretical Framework
Vygotsky considered that all the concepts learned by humans become
internalized through a process of generalization. He classified the internalized
concepts into spontaneous/everyday concepts and scientific concepts. The
spontaneous/everyday concepts are created by child‟s personal experience, and they
can form without systematic instruction. The scientific concepts are what the child
cannot directly observe or experience. They should be taught to the child by
creating conditions in which the child studies the formation of an “artificially
devised experimental concept” (Vygotsky, 1986, p. 161). The two types of
concepts form a unitary process; they are continuously related, and reciprocally
contribute to each other‟s development. The overall development of a child and
learning are two simultaneous processes that depend qualitatively on each other
(Vygotsky, 1986). The qualitatively duality between development and learning is
essentially based on the types of experiences that the child has. The everyday
experience of a child provides knowledge from a direct physical contact with the
environment when the child uses his/her senses to analyze, compare, classify,

© 2017 The author and IJLTER.ORG. All rights reserved.


50

and synthesize. Through a systematic instruction, the child experiences


“artificially designed” situations where in collaboration with another more
knowledgeable peer or an adult he/she analyzes, compares, classifies, and
synthesizes at a high psychological level and the child travels his/her Zone of
Proximal Development (ZPD) (Vygotsky, 1978).

Besides the strong opinion that Piaget had against Vygotsky‟s theory about the
duality of the development and learning (Piaget, 1964), he also identified, similar
to Vygotsky, two different experiences that a child should go through during a
learning process: physical experiences and logical-mathematical experiences. First,
there are physical experiences that consist on having direct contact with objects.
During this experience, knowledge is drawn from the physical properties of the
object by making abstraction from them. Second, there are logical-mathematical
experiences, in which knowledge is drawn through actions effectuated on objects.
The objects are physically present, but there is also the set of actions that modify
the objects, which transforms the process into a learning experience.

Vygotsky‟s and Piaget‟s perspectives on learning are complementary to each


other in the following way: Every day concepts are predominantly learned
through physical experiences, where scientific concepts are predominantly
learned through logical-mathematical experiences. Rubinshtein‟s theory of
thought and Krutetskii‟s work on schoolchildren abilities also support this
combined theory of learning.

Rubinshtein divided human thoughts into empirical/visual thoughts and


theoretical/abstract thoughts. The empirical thought is the result of comparing
and identifying the external characteristics that are similar or identical in things.
The theoretical thought is the result of analysis and abstraction that arise while
the data received through senses is transformed in order to determine the
essence of things.

Krutetskii, through his research on schoolchildren mathematical abilities, was


able to provide concrete examples of children thinking that reflect the two
categories of thoughts described by Rubinshtein. Krutetskii (1976) discovered
two ways in which schoolchildren learn mathematical concepts through
generalization. The first method, named empirical generalization, consists in a
gradual generalization by analyzing a series of concrete examples in which the
nonessential attributes are systematically changed. The children, who are not or
almost not successful in mathematics learning, use this method in order to
understand general mathematical knowledge. The most successful children in
learning mathematics are using a different way to approach the process of
generalization. They do a theoretical generalization. They are able to generalize a
solution just from a single example by identifying the internal
connections/relationships involved in the task. These children are generalizing
solutions and methods to approach a problem instead of generalizing particular
or external aspects of a problem.

© 2017 The author and IJLTER.ORG. All rights reserved.


51

The experiment conducted by Krutetskii and his collaborators was quite


sophisticated and laborious. He selected schoolchildren from 6th and 7th grade
that did not receive any instruction in algebra. An experimenter taught a child
the way in which the square of a binomial may be obtained through “the
formula for short multiplication”, that is: ( a + b) = a2 + 2ab + b2. Then, the child
2

was asked to solve a sequence of tasks similar with the following:

( a + b) =
2
1.
2. (1+ a b ) =
3 2 2

3. (-5x + 0.6xy ) 2 2
=
(3x - 6y ) =
2
4.
(m + x + b) =
2
5.

(4 x + y - a) =
3 2
6.
7. 512 =
8. (C + D + E )( E + C + D) =
The order of these examples depended on their level of generalization. After the
child who was interviewed became familiar with the short multiplication
formula for the square of a binomial, the experimenter asked the child to solve
task 8. If the child was not able to solve it correctly, the experimenter proposed
task 2 and, if it was necessary, helped the child to become comfortable solving
these types of problems. Then, again, the experimenter asked the child to solve
task 8. If the child was not successful, the experimenter showed task 3. The
procedure was repeated until the child solved correctly the task 8. Krutetskii
analyzed the number of iterations needed for each child. The findings of this
analysis revealed that the children who used a theoretical generalization, at
some point during the interview, were able to solve example 8 faster than the
ones who based their method of solving the problems only on empirical
generalization.

For example, one child was able apply correctly the short formula for the square
of a binomial right after experimenter‟s presentation. Therefore, through
interaction with the experimenter, the child learned a scientific concept:
(a + b)= a2 + 2ab + b2. Next, a new situation is presented to the child, the
2

product (C + D + E )( E + C + D). First, the child analyzed the external


characteristics of this example and from this physical experience he learned that
it is not a binomial, and it is not a square. He had a strategy in mind for solving
the problem, but it was a laborious one. He said: “But that will be 9 terms. That‟s
a lot.” This triggered him to transform the row data. The child started now to
experience a logical-mathematical process. He commuted the first term E from
the second parenthesis from the first place to the last one and obtained:
(C + D + E )(C + D + E ) = (C + D + E )
2
, the child transformed the information
given. Next, he grouped the last two terms together and obtained:

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52

[C + ( D + E )] . At this moment, the child ignored the physical characteristic of


2

(D + E ) therefore he performed an abstraction. It was essential for the child that


(D + E ) had the role of the second term in the expression [C + ( D + E )] . From
2

this point, all the conditions needed to use the short multiplication formula for
the square of a binomial were satisfied, and the child solved the example
correctly.

The thinking process of the child from previous example is a clear representation
of the complementarity of Vygotsky‟s and Piaget‟s views about the learning
process. At the beginning, the child in his/her interaction with an adult learned
a scientific concept: the short multiplication formula for the square of a binomial.
Then the child came to learn a new concept, a spontaneous one, which was the
short formula for the square of a trinomial by physical contact with a new
example and by logical/mathematical transformations of this example.

Things happened different with another child. In this case, the child became
(a + b)
2
comfortable to solve problems of the form and was able to solve
correctly the example (2x + y) = 4x + 2× 2x × y + y = 4x 2 + 4xy + y 2. But when
2 2 2

æ 1 3 2 ö2
the child saw the example ç1+ a b ÷ , he/she said that this is different because
è 2 ø
1 6 1
a and b are not separated by „+‟. The child wrote a + 2 a 3b2 + b 4, which
4 2
shows that the child was able to manipulate physically the parts of a squared
binomial only if they are externally identical (in this case each term had to
contain a letter) with the parts of the given formula.

The previous example shows that the child was not able to overcome the
physical experience and enter in the realm of the logical-mathematical
experience by himself. Therefore, from Piaget‟s perspective the child did not
complete the learning process since he was not able to generalize the short
multiplication formula for the square of the binomial. From Vygotsky‟s
perspective, the child should develop his Zone of Proximal Development by
interaction with an adult in order to learn the scientific concept of the short
multiplication formula for the square of the binomial.

A conclusion that Krutetskii drew from his experiment was that the mental
actions, used by the successful children in order to make generalizations, are
qualitatively higher than the ones used by the children that are not successful in
math. The successful children are performing theoretical generalizations while
the less successful children are getting stuck in empirical generalizations. The
ability to do theoretical generalizations helps the schoolchildren, from the first
group, to solve problems that are different in context and to overcome situations
that are new to them. The absence of this ability makes the children to be afraid
to tackle anything that is not familiar to them.
In the book Types of Generalization in Instruction: Logical and Psychological
Problems in the Structuring of School Curricula (1990), V. V. Davydov discusses his

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53

concern that the empirical type of generalization used in traditional Russian


instruction is one of the sources that create difficulties for schoolchildren to
understand the instructional material. Regarding the domain of mathematics,
Davydov is using the findings of Krutetskii‟s research on mathematical abilities
to examine the effect of Russian traditional instruction on schoolchildren
mathematical thinking. He analyzed how the concept of number is developed in
traditional Russian instruction. He looked at Russian‟s first grade textbooks, at
the methods books used to prepare teachers for elementary school, and
interviewed first-grade students. Davydov found that many of the 1st grade
students were not able to comprehend the unit as a relationship between the
physical parts of an object and the action of measurement. Davydov wrote:

“Solving the essential problems in contemporary school education is


ultimately linked to changing the type of thinking that is projected by the
goals, content, and methods of instruction. The entire instruction system
must be reoriented from the children‟s development of rational-empirical
thought to their development of modern theoretical scientific thought.”
(Davydov, 1990)

With his colleague El‟konin, Davydov designed a content-based generalization


curriculum for the elementary school. Their approach of instruction was
considered at that time, and it still continues to be regarded today, as „quite‟
exotic because:

“The „technique‟ of forming content-based generalization is quite


different from the one that is peculiar to empirical generalizations. A
transforming, object-related action and an analysis that establish essential
connections in an integral entity, its genetically original (universal) form,
rather than observation and comparison of the external properties of
objects (traditional visuality), serve as the basis for this process. Here,
discovery and mastery of the abstract and universal precedes mastery of
the concrete and particular, and the concept itself as a certain method of
activity serves as a means of ascending from the abstract to concrete.”
(Davydov, 1990)

The mathematics curriculum designed by Davydov was oriented toward


children‟s formation of content-based abstractions and the development of
theoretical thought. The goal of the curriculum was to create a theoretical
understanding of the real number, which is the concept of quantity. First grade
students begin their experience by measuring, comparing different quantities by
singling out their basic properties. They analyze the relationships that exist
between and within quantities, and they start to record them using symbols,
which are letters for quantities and signs (e.g., =, <, >) for relationships between
quantities. Next, the children analyze the changes that may occur in a quantity
and they indicate the change by using the signs „+‟ or “-“. Only after these
experiences, the children are introduced to the number concept as a way of
representing a relationship among quantities:
A/C=N, where N is any number, A is any object represented as a

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54

quantity, and C is any measure. (Davydov, 2008)

This definition implies that any number is the result of a measurement. If we


have an object and we see the object just through one of its measurable features
(e.g., a segment is represented by its length) and we have a measure (e.g., a paper
clip), then the result of measurement is a number (e.g., the result of measuring
the length of the segment with the paper clip is a number).

The following example shows how the concept of whole numbers multiplication
may be introduced by using content-based generalization curriculum. A teacher
brings in front of the children a large and heavy bucket filled with water a very
small cup. He asks them to find out to how many rabbits they can give water if
each rabbit would get one small cup of water. The students give the answer right
away: they need to measure the water from the bucket with the small cup. A
child starts measuring and counting the glasses. The work is laborious, and it
will last a long time to be done. In the process, some of the water spilled over so
the teacher points out that the measuring will not be accurate. But children
continue the work, and are happy with their solution, even if it would take the
whole class to finish the job, and even if the number found would not represent
exactly the number of rabbits. Teacher‟s responsibility is to reorient the children
from having only physical experience to start having a logical-mathematical
experience. He points out how inefficient is the procedure performed by the kids
because of the little unit that they are using to measure the water. However, the
problem has to be solved. Therefore, the students have to “think” to find another
method that will provide an answer faster and more accurate. After several
trials, the teacher suggests setting aside this problem, and trying to solve another
situation. This time, the children have to find out from how many bricks were
used to build the wall shown in a picture that hangs in front of the classroom.
The side of the wall from the picture is 52 cm  75 cm, and it is made out of
bricks represented by rectangles of the dimensions 2 cm  3 cm. Children start to
count the bricks from their sits straggling to keep the counting strait. Teacher
notices how hard it is to count the bricks from faraway, so he calls a student to
come closer and count the bricks. The whole class follows the student‟s
counting. They would have continued counting because in this way they would
find the number of bricks in the wall, but the teacher stops them and makes
them understand how long time they have to spend counting even if they are
extremely good counters. This is another situation, beside the first one where
they had to count the little glass of water, in which the method of counting takes
too much time to find the answer, and many mistakes can be made during the
process.

The teacher‟s intention is to motivate the children to look for another method to
solve the problem. He wants to make his students look for a method that
requests more than just physical experiences. The teacher has to guide his
students through a setting that may contribute to the development of their
ability to have a logical-mathematical experience. First, the teacher does not let
the students find the answer by counting and points out how the counting
method is time consuming and inefficient. Second, he asks children to “think,”

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55

to search for another method, even if they are not able to provide satisfactory
answers. However, the setting is created for children to reach their Zone of
Proximal Development and the teacher leads them to the most expected logical-
mathematical experience.

In the next part of the lesson, the teacher asks children to do a series of actions
that transform the process of counting with the little cup. He shows them that if
they use a bigger unit of measure, a mug, it is easier to measure the water from
the bucket. Then he leads children to discover the relationship between the mug
and the little cup. At the end, children are able to find by themselves the total
number of the little cups that filed the bucket by using the new method.

If we go back at the beginning of the lesson and look for its outline, we can
clearly identify the theoretical background. First, the teacher created the setting
that position the students in their ZPD (Vygotsky), he makes sure that students
have physical and logical–mathematical experiences (Piaget), and he focuses on
having his students generalize methods of solving (Krutetskii).

I started this section by presenting some theoretical perspectives on learning and


at the end I presented an example of a lesson created on the foundation of these
theories. This section was an example of how a theoretical framework can
inform and transform teaching practices. In the next part, I will take a similar
approach and I will present a way to think about generalization in mathematics
that may be a theoretical framework to support teacher educators and teachers
while they research and use high-leverage teaching practices such as eliciting
and interpreting individual student‟s thinking, diagnosing particular common
patterns of student thinking and development, or leading a group discussion.

A Definition for Generalization in Mathematics


The concept of generalization is most commonly understood as a duality
between going from particular to general and seeing the particular through the
general. In order to provide an understanding of the thinking involved in a
mathematical generalization process, I describe in this section the process of
generalization from the perspectives of the theories developed by the
educational psychologists A. N. Leont‟ev (1903-1979), Krutetskii (1917-1991), and
S. L. Rubinshtein (1889-1960), and of contemporary mathematics educator Ed
Dubinsky.

The Human Activity in Leontief’s Interpretation


Leont‟ev (1978) defined human activity as “a process in which mutual transfers
between two poles “subject-object” are accomplished” (p. 50). Also, Leont‟ev
stressed that an activity has to be understood as “a system that has structure, its
own internal transitions and transformations, its own development” (p. 50). An
activity is not a reaction or a set of reactions to different conditions. For an activity
to occur, it has to be a need for something. When the need is “disclosed” it
becomes a motive for the activity (p. 116). In other words, when the decision to
satisfy a need is taken, the need becomes a motive for an activity. From this
perspective, an activity and its motive are “necessarily” connected (p. 62).

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56

Furthermore, a need is the motive that triggers an activity. The goal of the
activity is to satisfy the need. Most of the times, the goal of an activity cannot be
attained through a single process. Therefore, it has to be divided into a series of
sub-goals and a sequence of goal-oriented processes has to be constructed. Each
of these processes is an action subordinated to a particular purpose. At its turn,
each action is performed through a set of rules and laws (named operations) that
had been historically established. These operations are applied to the particular
conditions imposed by the purpose of the action. In conclusion, the transfer
between the two poles, subject and object, generates the interaction between the
subject, represented by the subsystem {need, motive, goal, purpose, conditions},
and the object, represented by the subsystem {activity, actions, operations}.
Harry (2008, p.119) used the following graphical representation in order to
capture the characteristics of an activity with their interactions.

Figure 1: The schematic representation of an activity, Harry (2008, p. 119).

I will consider a similar schematic representation of an activity, which is given in


Figure 2. In this schemata, the interaction between “subject” and “object” is
represented through arrows that should be read in the following way:

 a need triggers a motive;


 the motive triggers an activity;
 the activity is associated with a genetic goal that is subordinated to the
need;
 the generic goal triggers an action or a chain of actions;
 each action is associated with a purpose that is subordinated to the
generic goal;
 each action consists in performing a set of operations.

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57

Figure 2: The schematic representation of a system that is characteristic to an activity

Let us expand of Leontief‟s example of learning to drive a car (Leontief, 1978, p.


66). I live in a house located at the position A, and my work place is located at
the position B. Each weekday, I have to go from my house to my work place.
Therefore, I need to commute from A to B. This need that I have identified has to
be satisfied through an activity that I should perform. There are several activities
that I can perform to move myself from point A to point B, e.g., walking, biking,
driving a car, or using public transportation. I choose the option of driving a car.
Consequently, in order to satisfy the need to commute from A to B, I choose to
perform the activity of driving a car for the motive (the need is transformed into a
motive) to commute from my house to my work place. My goal is now to drive a
car. To be able to drive a car, I have to perform a chain of actions: for the purpose
to make the car to move, I have to start the engine of the car; for the purpose to
get car on the road, I have to orient the car to move in a certain direction; for the
purpose to make the car stop, I have to stop the engine of the car. Each of the
actions that I already enumerated is accomplished through a set of operations,
which are already well-established methods. The procedure for starting the
engine of my car consists on pushing the START button while keeping the brake
pedal down. To make the car move in the direction that I want, I have to
position the automatic shift, accelerate by pushing the acceleration pedal down,
and rotate the steering wheel. To stop the car, I have to push down the brake
pedal until the car stops moving, bring the automatic shift in the P position, and
press STOP button. The operations that I just enumerated are particular for the
Nissan Altima 2008 car that I drive. For a different car, there may be different
operations involved. Also, the actions that I mentioned above are triggered by
the activity of driving a car. If I had chosen the activity of biking with the goal to
ride a bike, I would have had different actions and different operations.
Therefore, once chosen the activity that has the goal to satisfy the need, the
actions are purposefully performed to achieve the goal of the activity.

In conclusion, an activity, from Leontief‟s perspective, has to have the following


identifiable components:
 the need that motivates the activity;

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58

 the goal of the activity and how it would satisfy the need;
 the sub-goals that would lead to achieve the goal of the activity;
 the actions that need to be performed and how their purposes would meet
each sub-goal;
 the operations involved in each action and how they apply and transform in
the particular conditions of the activity.

At this point, it is important to mention that since Leontief activity theory


continued to develop and to expand its interpretations and implications.
Engestrom (2001) talks about three generations of research that contribute to the
evolution of the activity theory. The first generation is centered around
Vygotsky‟s work on the triad of human development Subject–Object–Mediation.
The second generation is established by Leontief‟s differentiation between
individual action and collective activity. And, the third generation introduces
the interconnectivity and interaction of at least two activity systems. All the
contemporary research on activity theory (Jooganah &Williams, (2016); Gedera
& Williams (2016); Solomon, Croft, Duah, and Lawson, 2014) is part of the third
generation. The approach that I am taking, goes back to the second generation
and I am considering the process of generalization in mathematics as being the
individual activity system that has the characteristics enumerated in the
previous paragraph.

Mathematical Generalization as Activity System


In mathematics, the need for solving a mathematical situation becomes the motive
to identify an activity that has as goal to discover a solution accepted by the
mathematical community. This activity is, in fact, a mental activity or a mental
process. As a mental activity it is generated and determined by mental actions
such as analysis, synthesis, and abstraction identified by Rubinshtein (1994) as
critical components in a process of thinking. Each of these actions has the
purpose to contribute to the process of solving the mathematical situation. All
these actions, in order to be performed, request a number of operations that need
to be manipulated in the specific conditions imposed by the problem that has to
be solved.

The requirements of an activity system were enumerated in the previous section.


In this section, I will show how the process of generalization satisfies all these
requirements. First, I will discuss the goals of generalization and how they
correspond to the need of solving a mathematical problem. The arguments that I
will use here are based on Krutetskii‟s work on students‟ mathematical abilities,
which provides evidence of how children do generalization in mathematics.
Next, I will describe the key actions involved in the process of generalization,
which are analysis, synthesis and abstracting. Then, I will describe the inter-
relationships that exist in a generalization activity by using Rubinshtein‟s
“routes” through generalization. In other words, the next part of this section will
deplete the schemata from Figure 3, which is a transformation of the activity
schemata represented in Figure 2.

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59

Problem, question, surprise,


contradiction, interest. Etc.

Solve a mathematical
situation

GENERALIZATION<=>
(a) to identify something
general that is already
known in particular cases
and apply the general to the
particular, and (b) to find
something general that is
not known from isolated
and particular cases

ANALYSIS<=>Breaking SYNTHESIS<=>Putting ABSTRACTION<=>


material into its constituent elements together to form a (a) Empirical abstraction:
parts and detecting how the novel, coherent whole or deriving knowledge from
parts relate to one another make an original product the properties of objects;
and to an overall structure (Krathwohl, 2002, p. 215) (b) Pseudo-empirical
or purpose (Krathwohl, abstraction: deriving
2002, p. 215) knowledge from the
properties of the objects
that were introduced by
acting on objects;
(c) Reflective abstraction:
drawing properties from
mental or physical actions
and project these actions at
a higher level of thought
(Dubinsky, 1991)

OPERATIONS OPERATIONS OPERATIONS

<––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––>

Figure 3: The schematic representation of the system that is characteristic to the


process of generalization in mathematics seen as an activity.

The Goals of the Generalization Activity


To start, I want to highlight one more time that generalization is considered a
process and not a result (Rubinshtein, 1994, Krutetskii, 1976). Rubinshtein (1994)
proposed to study thinking as a process (a generalization process) that derives
from mental activities such as analysis and synthesis instead of studying the
assimilation of knowledge, which is a result of a thinking process. Krutetskii
(1976) followed Rubinstein‟s approach and investigated what abilities are
needed in order to learn mathematics. The meaning for abilities that Krutetskii

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60

used in his research is that of “individual traits of mental activity on which the
relative swiftness of mastery of skills and habits and their qualitative
distinctions depend” (p. 14). Also, Krutetskii noticed that: “the aptitude for
learning mathematics is manifested by a pupil‟s ability to generalize
mathematical material” (p. 24).

Generalization is a mental process that supports mathematical learning.


Krutetskii (1976) differentiated between two levels of the ability to generalize
mathematical materials:

(1) the ability of a child to identify something general that is already known to
him in particular cases and apply the general to the particular, for example, to
apply the distributive property of multiplication over addition to find the
product 6 ´18;
(2) the ability of a child to find something general that is not known to him from
isolated and particular cases, for example, to find the 100 term for the sequence:
1,5,9,13,17…. Consequently, the goals for the activity of generalization are:
(1) to apply a general concept to a particular situation;
(2) to discover a general concept from particular cases.

The actions of analysis, synthesis, and abstraction


Rubinshtein (1994) considered that mental actions such as analysis, synthesis, and
abstraction have to take place in order to perform a generalization activity.
Davydov (1990) describes these actions in the following way:

 Analysis is the method or logical technique by which the objects are


represented by observed common attributes (p. 44). This action has the
purpose to identify the characteristics that some given objects have in
common. It is performed through operations that lead to know each
object. The operations used delineate how an object is similar, or identical
with other objects. These common properties are called the attributes of
the object (Davydov, 1990, p. 38).
 Synthesis is the method or logical technique that uses the attributes
observed through analysis to create a new system (p. 44).
 Abstraction is the mental delineation of certain properties of objects and
the segregation of them from all other properties (p. 38).

Krathwohl (2002) gives similar descriptions for analysis, synthesis in A revision of


Bloom’s Taxonomy: An Overview. Dubinsky (1991) discusses the process of
abstraction in Reflective Abstraction in Advanced Mathematical Thinking. For a more
detailed presentation of the generalization activity, I will further describe the
meanings that analysis and synthesis have in the Revised Bloom‟s taxonomy and
how Dubinsky interpreted Piaget‟s three types of abstraction in the study of
mathematical thinking.

The process of analysis implies to break the “material into its constituent parts
and detecting how the parts relate to one another and to an overall structure or
purpose” (Krathwohl, 2002, p. 215). Its subcategories are differentiating,

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61

organizing, and attributing. Assume, for example, that we have the following
activity: Use the distributive property of multiplication over addition to find the
product 7 ´19. The process of analysis starts by differentiating the parts of the
activity: “use the distributive property of multiplication over addition” and
“find the product 7 ´19.” First, I focus on the first part, which refers to the
general property a ´ (b + c ) = a ´ b + a ´ c or (b + c ) ´ a = b ´ a + c ´ a. Then, I
consider the second part, which refers to the product of two whole numbers 7
and 19. The number 7 is one digit. The number 19 is a two digit number. The
general property involves two operations, multiplication and addition, e.g.,
a ´ (b + c ) and a ´ b + a ´ c). The second part contains only a multiplication,
719 . For the purpose of finding the product 7 ´19 using the distributive
property of multiplication over addition, the expression has to contain an
addition attached to the multiplication. I know that any of the numbers 7 or 19
can be written like a sum, e.g., 7 = 3+ 4 and 19 =10 + 9. At this point, I finished
analyzing the data provided. Next, I have to perform the process of synthesis.

As another example, consider the following activity: “what is the 100th term in
the sequence: 1,5,9,13,17…?” The parts of this activity are: “what is the 100th
term” and the “sequence: 1,5,9,13,17….” I will focus on the second part, the
sequence. Its first 5 terms are, 1, 5, 9, and 17, which are all odd numbers.
However, they are not consecutive odd numbers. It is 1, skip 3, 5, skip 7, 9, skip
11, 13, skip 15, 17. Also, I see that 5 is with 4 more than 1; 9 is with 4 more than 5;
13 is with 4 more than 9; and 17 is with 4 more than 13. At this point, the process
of analysis ends. The next action is the process of synthesis.

Synthesis is the process that brings “elements together to form a novel, coherent
whole or make an original product” (Krathwohl, 2002, p. 215). It has the
subcategories generating, planning, and producing. In the first example given
above, I may synthesize that: 7 ´ (10 + 9) = 7 ´10 + 7 ´ 9 or
(3+ 4) ´19 = 3´19 + 4 ´19. Then, by performing the operations involved in the
expression, I am able to find a solution for the problem. For the second example,
the synthesis may be 1, _, 5, _, 9, _, 13, _, 17… or 1, 1+4=5, 5+4=9, 9+4=13,
13+4=17…. In contrast with the previous example, at this stage of my thinking
process I am not able to make a statement about the 100th term of the given
sequence. I need to complete another mental action.

The next action included in the schemata for the generalization activity is
abstraction. For the description of this process, I am using Dubinsky‟s review of
Piaget‟s work, on the process of abstraction in mathematics, scattered over many
articles and books written by Piaget in his last 15 years of life.

Piaget considered three stages of the process of abstraction (Dubinsky, 1991):


empirical abstraction, pseudo-empirical abstraction, and reflective abstraction. First
stage, the empirical abstraction, consists in deriving statements from the external
properties of the given data. As Dubinsky explained, it means to extend the
properties from being particular to “some” data (the given ones) to “all” possible
data. For example, if I synthesize that the first terms of the sequence 1, 5, 9, 13, 17
are the odd numbers 1, _, 5, _, 9, _, 13, _, 17, then I can make the generalization

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62

that the sequence represents the odd whole numbers beginning with 1 and skips
every other odd number. To find the 100th term of the sequence, I will continue
enumerating the odd numbers until I get to the 100th term. If my synthesis for
the first 5 terms of the sequence is 1, 1+4=5, 5+4=9, 9+4=13, 13+4=17, then I can
make the statement that the sequence starts with 1 and then each term is the sum
from the previous term and 4. To find the 100th term, I will continue to add 4 to
the last term of the sequence that I know until I obtain the 100th term. In both
examples, I performed an empirical abstraction because I extended an external
property that exists among the 5 terms of the sequence to any of its terms.

The second level of abstraction is the pseudo-empirical abstraction. It is


intermediary between empirical abstraction and reflective abstraction. The pseudo-
abstraction consists in deriving new properties by transforming the initial data.
We obtain a new set of data after we apply some operations to the initial set of
data. Let us, again, consider the case of the sequence 1, 5, 9, 13, 17…. Suppose
that my empirical abstraction was that the sequence is the whole odd numbers
starting with 1 and skipping every other odd number. I know that each whole
odd number can be written in the form 2k +1, where k is a whole number.
Therefore, I transform my initial data by rewriting each term using the previous
representation. My new set of data is: 2 ´ 0 +1=1, 2 ´ 2 +1= 5, 2 ´ 4 +1= 9,
2 ´ 6 +1=13, 2 ´ 8 +1=17, … I make the statement that the initial sequence is
the same as the sequence, 2 ´ 0 +1, 2 ´ 2 +1, 2 ´ 4 +1, 2 ´ 6 +1, 2 ´ 8 +1, … At
this time, I performed a pseudo-empirical abstraction. If I do not know how to
represent an odd number, then I will transform the initial sequence by adding
the missing odd numbers, and I consider the sequence 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 15, 17,
… I analyze this new sequence, and I see that 3 is with 2 more than 1, 5 is with 2
more than 3, etc. My synthesis is that the first nine terms of the sequence are 1,
1+2=3, 3+2=5, etc. I take out the numbers that I added to the initial sequence,
and I obtain the following: 1, 3+2=5, 7+2=9, 11+2=13, 15+2=17, … I declare now
that my initial sequence is the same as 1, 3+2, 7+2, 11+2, 15+2, … Therefore, I
performed a pseudo-abstraction.

The third level of abstraction is reflective abstraction. In this process, in order to


delineate general properties, the focus is on a single case and the actions became
coordinated by using high mental functions that are involved in logico-
mathematical operations (e.g., using known mathematical laws, properties,
concepts). For example, from pseudo-empirical abstraction, I have the sequence:
2 ´ 0 +1, 2 ´ 2 +1, 2 ´ 4 +1, 2 ´ 6 +1, 2 ´ 8 +1, …. My intention is to find how I
can determine the term when I know its position in the sequence. I do a new
analysis, synthesis, and empirical abstraction and I declare that the terms of the
sequence are of the form 2 multiplied by an even number plus 1. I focus on the
first term: 2 ´ 0 +1. Since, 2 and 1 are fixed in the form of a term, I coordinate my
actions in order to connect 0 with the position 1. I consider the actions: 0 is an
even number, 0 = 2 ´ 0 = 2 ´ (1-1) and I connect the first 1 with the position of
the term. Therefore, if the position of a term is n, then it equals
2 ´ 2 ´ ( n -1) +1= 4 ´ (n -1) +1= 4n - 4 +1= 4n - 3.
This is a general property of the initial data that was discovered through the
process of reflective abstraction, as Dubinsky described it.

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63

The three stages of the process of abstraction interrelated. The pseudo-empirical


and reflective abstractions are using the results of the empirical abstraction.
Before performing a reflective abstraction the processes of empirical and
pseudo-empirical abstractions may be carried out more than once. Moreover, if
we consider all the actions involved in the process of generalization (analysis,
synthesis, and abstraction), there is no strict order in which they are performed.
However, we may direct ourselves through a generalization activity by using as
reference the three routes through generalization described by Rubinshtein,
which I will describe next.

Rubinshtein’s Three Routes Through Generalization


As cited by Davydov (1990), Rubinshtein noticed three routes toward
generalization, which describe the actions taken in order to complete the activity
of generalization. The first route is called “empirical generalization”. In this
case, the goal of finding a general statement is attained through actions that have
the purpose to determine what some given objects have in common. This action
is performed through operations that lead to identify each object. These
operations are usually comparisons that describe how an object is similar, or
identical with other objects.

Rubinshtein described the first route is the “empirical generalization” in the


following way:

“…[The elementary empirical generalization] is accomplished as


a result of comparison by singling out the general (similar)
properties in which the phenomena being compared coincide. …
This sort of generalization is merely a selection from a number of
properties that are given empirically, directly, and sincerely; it is
thus not capable of leading to the discovery of anything above
what is given directly, by the senses.” (Citation taken from
Davydov, 1990, p. 192)

For empirical generalization, the primary mental operation is comparison, which


is the method or logical technique by which the common attributes of particular
objects are determined (Davydov, 1990, p. 38). The operations applied during the
comparison action use only what are immediately given and the information
received through senses. No transformation is performed on row data. The
following example presents an empirical generalization.

Suppose that I need to find the class of the numbers 2, 4, 6, 8. First I compare 2
with 4. I notice: that 2 and 4 are whole numbers; that they are even; that 4 is the
double of 2; that 2 is half of 4; that 2 is the square root of 4; and that 4 is the
square of 2. Then, I compare 2 with 6, 2 with 8, 4 with 6, 4 with 8, and 6 with 8. I
look at all the results of my comparison, and I see that all of them are whole
numbers and even (the common attributes). Therefore, I did an analysis. By
synthesizing, I conclude that the numbers are even whole numbers. Now, I can

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64

abstract by declaring that there is an even whole numbers class that contains the
given numbers. The process of generalization was successfully performed.

Unfortunately, by performing an empirical generalization we cannot guaranty


the success in all situations, as I will illustrate with the next example. Suppose
that I need to find the next term in the sequence 1, 5, 9, 13, 17…. First I compare 1
with 5. I notice that 1 and 5 are whole numbers, that they are odd. Then, I
compare 1 with 9, 1 with 13, 1 with 17, 5 with 9, 5 with 13, 5 with 17, 9 with 13, 9
with 17, and 13 with 17. I look at all the results of my comparison, and I notice
that all of them are whole numbers, and they are odd (the common attributes).
Therefore, I did an analysis. By synthesizing, I conclude that the numbers are
odd whole numbers. Now, I can that there is an odd whole numbers class that
contains the given numbers, which is true but the process of generalization is not
finished. If I say that the general term is 2n+1, the general representation of an
odd number, I do not give the correct answer since 2×1+1= 3 is not a member
of the sequence. Therefore, I did not perform a successful generalization. At this
point, we need to look for a different approach to solve the problem.

The second route to generalization described by Rubinshtein (as presented by


Davydov, 1990) is to focus the mental activity on analysis and abstraction. The
purpose of the analysis is to distinguish what is essential from what is not
essential. The essential of an object is a characteristic that remains unchanged in
the object when it is transformed during its interactions with other objects. When
the essential is delineated, it becomes right away abstracted. Then the abstract
can be synthesized into a concrete conclusion, by a mental restoration and
interpretation of the observed phenomena. This generalization is called scientific
or theoretical generalization and it is described as:

“Not merely a selection but a transformation as well… The transformation


of what is immediately given, which leads to an abstract concept of a
phenomenon, consists in breaking the contact … of the attendant
circumstances, which complicate or mask the essence of phenomena.”
(Rubinshtein, cited by Davydov, 1990, p. 193)

I will use the second route to generalization to the previous example where the
problem was to find the next term in the sequence 1, 5, 9, 13, 17…. I start looking
at each number, and I observe that each of them is odd. My next step is to
analyze what remains unchanged in a number when it interacts with the
numbers that are close to it. I pick up an object, for example, 5 (I would not pick
1 because it has fewer interactions with other objects). I see that 5-1=4 and that 9-
5=4 (I transformed the give data). Analyzing the results of this transformation, I
see that the distance between 5 and its neighbors is the same, 4. I make the
abstraction that each term of the sequence is with 4 greater than its left neighbor
and with 4 less than its right neighbor. I synthesize that 9 is with 4 less than 13,
and that 13 is with 4 less than 17. I do another analysis, and I see that the relation
between a term and its predecessor is always the same, 4. Now, I make the
abstraction that every term is its predecessor plus 4. Finally, I say that the next
term in the sequence is 17+4=21. Therefore, by following the second route to

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65

generalization described by Rubinstein I was able to generalize the relationship


between the numbers and I applied this general relation to solve the problem.
The question is, now, what should I do if the problem would seek to find the
general term of the sequence 1, 5, 9, 13, 17…?

Rubinshtein mentioned a third route through generalization that can be taken.


This route requires a theoretical derivation that is “accomplished by a two-way
movement from general to the particular and from the particular to the general –
generalization and theoretical cognition are interrelated” (Davydov, 1990, p.
194).

In the case of the problem that requests the general term for the sequence 1, 5, 9,
13, 17…, I will start from the general statement that I made before: each term is
its predecessor+4. I will use symbols to present this statement in the following
way: an +1 = an + 4. I will apply this general formula to the first particular cases:
a2 = a1 + 4 =1+ 4, a3 = a2 + 4 =1+ 4 + 4 and so on.

By analyzing the transformations that I performed, I notice that for each term
has 1 as a constant component and that 4 is a repeated addend. I do the
abstraction that an =1+ (n -1)× 4. I am checking now if the formula is working
for the first terms of the sequence. The proposition 5 =1+ (2 -1)× 4 is true. Also,
the proposition 9 =1+ (3-1)× 4 is true. For this special case in which the
problem involves a number sequence, to prove that the abstract formula
represents the general term, I will show that if ak =1+ (k -1)× 4 is true, then
ak+1 =1+ k × 4 is true. That is:
ak+1 = ak + 4 =1+ (k -1)× 4 + 4 =1+ k × 4 - 4 + 4 =1+ k × 4
Therefore, ak+1 =1+ k × 4 is true.

In the later computations, I used the letter k instead of n because I wanted to


emphasize that those computations are general but preformed for the particular
situation where the formula for ak +1 can be derived from the formula of ak. This
is an instance in which we see the two-way move from general to particular and
from particular to general. Now, I decide that the general term for the given
sequence is an =1+ (n -1)× 4. The technique that I used to determine the general
formula is known in mathematics as mathematical induction. This method is a
relevant example for the third route to generalization described by Rubinstein.

Three Categories of Mathematical Generalization Activities


Similar to Rubinshtein‟s description of the three types of thinking processes that
may develop during a generalization activity, in mathematical activities we may
consider three routes that lead toward generalization: the empirical
generalization, the pseudo-empirical generalization, and the reflective
generalization. The key element, which differentiates the generalization
activities, is the purpose of the action of abstraction. Therefore, the categories of
mathematical generalization activities follow the three “routes” through
generalization described by Rubinshtein empowered by the categories of
abstraction resumed by Dubinsky from Piaget‟s work.

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66

An empirical generalization activity involves the actions of analysis, synthesis, and


empirical abstraction. The purpose of the action of analysis is to separate the
problem situation into distinct parts. Then, by comparing the parts among them,
we determine the common properties of these components. Suppose that we
need to find the area of a triangle that has the length of the base 7 cm and a
height of 4 cm. By analyzing this statement, we can separate the following parts:
a triangle with a base of 7 cm long and a height of 4 cm long; and the concept of
area of a triangle. Both parts have in common the geometrical shape of a
triangle. We may synthesize this information. This means that we may describe
the situation by using the observations made during the action of analysis.
Therefore, we have a triangle (base=7cm, height=4cm) that has an area. The area
of a triangle can be computed by using the general formula
base ´ height
Areatriangle = . Now, we can find the area of the given triangle:
2
7cm ´ 4cm
Area = =14cm 2. The final result was the outcome of an empirical
2
abstraction. We used only external properties of the specified triangle and the
general formula for the area of a triangle.

The second category of mathematical generalization activities involves the


pseudo-empirical generalization. The actions used in this process are analysis,
synthesis, and pseudo-abstraction. Suppose that we need to determine the area
of a right triangle that has the legs of lengths 7cm respective 4cm. The analysis
and synthesis actions are similar to the previous example, but we cannot go
further with an empirical abstraction because the external properties of the parts
of the problem do not match. The given triangle is a right triangle with its legs of
7cm and 4cm. The second part is a general formula for the area of a triangle that
uses the lengths of the base and height. We have to return to the information
that we have from the action of analysis. We have a right triangle, and we need
to find the lengths of its base and height in order to compute its area. We know
that in a triangle we can choose as a base any of its side. Therefore, if in the right
triangle we choose the leg of side 4cm as the base, then the leg of side 7cm
becomes the height of the triangle. With this transformation of the initial
information, we are able to compute the area that we need to find. We obtained
the solution through a pseudo-empirical abstraction.

The third category of mathematical activities is the reflective generalization. In a


reflective generalization, the actions involved are analysis, synthesis and
reflective abstraction. Assume that we need to find the area of an equilateral
triangle with the side of length 7cm. The information that we have from analysis
and synthesis is that we have an equilateral triangle of side 7cm and we have to
know the lengths of its base and height. Through pseudo-empirical abstraction,
we transform the initial data by considering the length of the base of the triangle
equal with 7cm. In the information, that we have, there are no data about the
height of the triangle. We have to do a reflective abstraction in order to find the
length of the triangle‟s height.

© 2017 The author and IJLTER.ORG. All rights reserved.


67

Therefore, we start construct an equilateral triangle in which I draw its height.


We know that the height of the equilateral triangle divides the base in half (if we
do not know this property, we have to do another reflective generalization
activity). We separate from the first equilateral triangle a half that forms a right
triangle with one of the legs being the height of the initial triangle, the second
7
leg is a half of the base of the initial triangle (its length is cm), and the
2
hypotenuse is a side of the first triangle (its length is 7cm). In the new triangle,
we use a consequence of the Pythagorean Theorem. Therefore, we have that
æ 7 ö2 7 3
Leg = ( ) ç cm÷ =
-
2
7cm cm. Now, we reverse the reasoning process. We
è2 ø 2
have the length of the leg of the right triangle, which was separated from the
initial equilateral triangle. We reconstruct the equilateral triangle using the new
information that we have. Now, we have a triangle with a base of length 7cm
7 3
and a height of cm. The area of the equilateral triangle of side 7cm is
2
7 3
7cm ´ cm
2 49 3 2
Area = = cm .
2 4

The examples, which I used to illustrate the three categories of mathematical


generalization activities, are all focused to identify something general that is
already known (the general formula for the area of a triangle) and apply it in
particular cases. For situations when we need to find something general that is
not known from isolated and particular cases, the examples used to illustrate
Rubinshtein‟s three routes through generalizations are reasonable
representations for the three categories of mathematical generalization activities.

Conclusion
To conclude, the generalization process in mathematics can be regarded as an
activity system. By explaining the means of the generalization activity using
Leontief‟s activity theory and Rubinshtein‟s descriptions of the generalization
process, we are able to follow the thinking trends that are behind a mathematical
generalization. The understanding of the process of generalization in
mathematics as an activity system is only the first step in developing a
perspective of teaching mathematics through generalization. This paper is aimed
to provide a space for reflection on what it means to perform a generalization in
mathematics and a starting point for a new work approach in several areas of
research: student learning, teacher education, curriculum development.

In the realm of student learning, the theory may be used to get more insight in
students‟ development of mathematics reasoning and to identify the correlation
between the biological development and the process of generalization in
mathematics. For the area of teacher preparation and teacher practices research,
the theory may be used to identify the support needed for implementing high
leverage teaching practices (TeachingWorks, 2017) into school curriculum. Some
research questions that arise are: What questions do teachers ask in order to

© 2017 The author and IJLTER.ORG. All rights reserved.


68

provoke student‟s sharing about their analysis, synthesis, and their abstraction
level? What patterns of abstraction, synthesis, and abstraction do students use
while they work on a mathematical task? How do teachers lead a classroom
discussion in order to elevate students‟ abstract thinking? In the area of
curriculum development, we have to develop and research designing curricula
and classroom activities that would follow the principles of generalization.

There are a couple of limitations for the way in which I interpret the activity of
generalization. First, Leont‟ev strongly highlighted the “essential” connection
between the motive for an activity and the activity itself, which will not be too
much emphasized in my description. This aspect of an activity involves a
separate analysis from the position of motivational theory. My focus is on what
is happening after the motivational level. The second limitation, which is the
most critical, is that the definition is purely theoretical. However, it is a valuable
tool to analyze classroom activities.

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International Journal of Learning, Teaching and Educational Research


Vol. 16, No. 12, pp. 70-86, December 2017
https://doi.org/10.26803/ijlter.16.12.5

Rasch Modeling to Drive Instruction of Content Area


Concepts and Vocabulary:
An Example from Secondary Economics Instruction
with Special Needs Students

Cynthia B. Leung, Ph.D. and W. Steve Lang, Ph.D.


University of South Florida St. Petersburg
St. Petersburg, Florida, USA

Steven C. Schaller, M.A.


Nassau County School District
Fernandina Beach, Florida, USA

Abstract. This study explores the use of Rasch modeling to assess the
appropriateness of using unique instructional activities for classroom
learning of content vocabulary and concepts. Through a case study of
secondary students’ learning economics vocabulary from a multimedia
instructional activity, the authors identify the difficulty level of key
vocabulary items after instruction and estimate the word learning ability
of individual students. A teacher of interdisciplinary reading/social
studies at an American alternative school for learning and socially
challenged adolescents integrated a technology activity into an
economics unit. Students in all of his classes created PowerPoint slides
for 16 target words and presented them to their peers. Vocabulary
knowledge was assessed after the presentations with two teacher-
created definition assessments: a matching and a free recall test. Rasch
analysis of individual word scores showed creating PowerPoints resulted
in many of the words becoming easier, but some of the words remained
difficult even after instruction. These vocabulary words and the
concepts they refer to may require different instructional strategies for
optimum student learning.

Keywords: learning disabilities; vocabulary acquisition; adolescents;


Rasch modeling; multimedia.

Introduction
The Rasch model (1960) is an item response theory (RTI) model that places person
ability and item difficulty on the same interval scale, called a psychometric “ruler.”
Using individual calculations of error and fit, rather than the standard error of
measurement (SEM), Rasch modeling can determine if predictions are valid for
individual examinees or participants. Large sample sizes are not necessary to carry out

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71

Rasch modeling, and normality of the distribution does not need to be assumed. While
Rasch modeling most often is used to provide diagnostic information on how well test
items measure particular abilities or traits, it can also be used to assess the difficulty of
learning target concepts or vocabulary in particular instructional settings (see Leung &
Lang, 2009 and Leung, Silverman, Nandakumar, Qian, & Hines, 2011). In this situation,
Rasch modeling can estimate an individual’s word or concept learning ability from
different instructional activities, as well as the difficulty level of different vocabulary
words or concepts targeted for learning.

In the present study, a classroom teacher of learning and socially challenged secondary
students worked with a literacy researcher and an educational measurement researcher
to analyze students’ learning of economics content vocabulary. The teacher planned a
multimedia project to infuse technology into his integrated literacy and social studies
unit on economics. The goal of the activity was to add a hands-on motivating activity
for his students to learn key economics terms and concepts they would encounter in
their textbook. The research team, which included the classroom teacher, used Rasch
modeling to identify the difficulty level of individual economics-related words after
instruction in order to evaluate the effectiveness of the instructional activity on meeting
curriculum goals. While the focus of this analysis was the learning of students in this
particular classroom from participation in the multimedia project, Rasch modeling can
be used to evaluate the learning of concepts and vocabulary from any instructional
activity in any content area or instructional setting. This article presents a case study of
learning economics content vocabulary as an example of how Rasch modeling can be
used to evaluate learning for the purpose of driving and improving instruction of
particular concepts.

Theoretical Perspectives on Multimedia Learning


Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning
Cognitive theories of learning, referred to as the science of learning, have been used to
understand multimedia learning. The dual-channel assumption conceptualized by
Paivio (1986, 1991) to explain mental representations is a central feature of the dual-
coding theory. This theory holds that the human information-processing system has
two different channels, an auditory/verbal channel and a visual/pictorial channel, and
that a combination of verbal and visual information improves processing. At any one
time, a limited amount of processing can take place in the verbal or visual channel
alone, as explained by Baddeley (1998) in his working memory theory. Meaningful
learning takes place through the active processing of verbal and visual channels in
working memory and through building connections between verbal and pictorial
representations in long-term memory, what Mayer contends is the major assumption in
his selecting-organizing- integrating theory of active learning (Mayer, 2008; Mayer &
Moreno, 2003). Mayer developed the cognitive theory of multimedia learning from
these most relevant elements of the science of learning – dual channels for processing
visual and verbal information, limited capacity of processing, and active processing
during learning (Mayer, 2008, 2009). Thus, the five core processes involved in essential
processing of multimedia are “selecting words, selecting images, organizing words,
organizing images, and integrating” (Mayer & Moreno, 2003, p. 45).

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72

Through empirical studies of multiple comparisons of multimedia instructional


features, Mayer and his colleagues determined principles for designing effective
multimedia learning environments. Mayer’s (2008, 2009) cognitive theory of
multimedia learning along with the instructional design principles he identified as
important to multimedia learning are widely recognized as pillars of multimedia
learning. Since meaningful learning requires considerable cognitive processing,
instructors and instructional designers must be careful not to exceed the learner’s
cognitive capacity in the design of materials. Cognitive overload is a potential problem
that can be reduced by segmenting presentations so the learner has time to organize and
integrate the material or, when multimedia includes animation, by presenting words
orally as narration rather than as printed words to reduce visual processing. Other
techniques Mayer (2008, 2009) found to be effective in enhancing learning from
multimedia include eliminating extraneous material to make the narration as concise as
possible, presenting words and corresponding pictures on the same screen, and
simultaneously presenting words and images that go together rather than presenting
the words and images successively with narration first and then animation, or vice
versa. Also, conversational style in verbal presentation is more effective than formal
style. If the multimedia resource, such as an Internet video, cannot be modified but can
contribute to learning, students can be instructed before viewing the multimedia on
what to focus on, or they can be taught vocabulary and characteristics of essential
components if that information is necessary to understand a more complex concept
presented in the multimedia.

Constructivist Learning with Technology


Constructivist theories of learning have emerged across disciplines as a way to
understand how to promote substantive and meaningful learning. Much research on
constructivist learning through technology is based on seminal works by Dewey (1902,
1938/1997), who advocated for hands-on and experiential learning that would deepen
connections between prior knowledge and new knowledge, and by social
constructivists like Vygotsky (1978) and Bruner (1960) who emphasized the social
nature of learning. All three of these theorists argued that learning is a social and
interactive process and that students learn best when they are active participants in the
learning process. In classroom settings where teachers apply the constructive view of
learning, students are encouraged to construct their own knowledge through inquiry
learning activities, such as experiments or real-world problem solving, and then reflect
and talk about their understandings. Teachers guide the activities while students
categorize and organize information in a process of discovery learning (Bruner, 1961).
With adult guidance or collaboration with peers, students can advance their individual
learning by working within their zone of proximal development (Vygotsky, 1978).

Process-oriented projects that allow students to explore the Internet have the potential
to provide opportunities for meaningful experiential learning. Technologies engage
students in authentic tasks where they can apply their own strategies and learning
styles. Teachers are better able to differentiate instruction and identify misconceptions
as they observe their students working in realistic contexts. Collaborative learning
environments centered around computers and other technologies lead to interactive
learning where students are transformed from passive recipients of information to
active participants in the learning process. From a constructivist perspective,

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73

“constructing meaning comes from interacting with others to explain, defend, discuss,
and assess our ideas and challenge, question, and comprehend the ideas of others”
(Sherman & Kurshan, 2005, p. 12). Technology is a tool for learning that offers a range
of instructional options to meet the needs of diverse learners by providing alternatives
for mastering concepts and processes (Sherman & Kurshan, 2004/2005, 2005). Research
on teaching to students’ learning styles (Silver, Strong, & Perini, 2000), constructivist
theories of learning applied to using technology to create learner-centered classrooms
(Sherman & Kurshan, 2005), and research on building academic language (Zwiers, 2008)
support technologies that provide students with multiple learning modalities,
especially visual representations.

Psycholinguistic Theories of Active Vocabulary Learning


In literacy development, active learning has been found to aid in vocabulary
acquisition. Channell (1988), a psycholinguist studying second language acquisition,
developed a theory of the active role of learners in vocabulary acquisition. She noted
that in previous research, associations between the form and meaning of words made
by individual learners resulted in successful vocabulary learning. She concluded
“learners should be encouraged to make their own lexical associations when they are
actively learning new vocabulary” (p. 94). Her theory is compatible with the noticing
hypothesis, which when applied to vocabulary learning, suggests memory traces of
words are created through interactive learning activities that promote the noticing of
particular words (Robinson, 1995). The imageability of words, the degree to which
words can elicit mental images, also affects the learning of new vocabulary since the
greater the imageability of a word, the greater the chance of it being recalled (Ellis &
Beaton, 1993; Paivio, 1971). Student creation of multimedia materials to acquire new
vocabulary involves them in active learning where they focus on particular words,
make lexical associations, and find images to help them remember the meaning of
words.

Research on Multimedia Learning of Vocabulary


Multimedia technology plays an important role in creating Computer Assisted
Language Learning (CALL) materials, which are used in the teaching of second or other
languages, including English. For example, Rusanganwa (2015) studied the effects of a
multimedia program created by two English as a Foreign Language (EFL)
undergraduate physics teachers in Rwanda on student content vocabulary learning. The
program used PowerPoint as a framework to provide access to movies, images, sound
recordings, and an online pronouncing dictionary. The study showed the potential of
using teacher-created multimedia programs to facilitate technical vocabulary
acquisition in one-computer classrooms.

In empirical studies, vocabulary leaning of EFL students has been shown to be


enhanced through teacher use of PowerPoints. A study by Nam and Trinh (2012) in two
Vietnamese EFL secondary classrooms found the teacher’s use of PowerPoints
significantly increased English vocabulary learning by providing authentic material in a
meaningful context involving sound, pictures, video, and animation. Creative use of
PowerPoints in a storytelling approach to teaching English vocabulary significantly
increased vocabulary learning of students 8 to 14 years old in a language center in Iran
(Kalantar & Hashemian, 2015). Coleman (2009) reviewed studies of PowerPoint software

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74

used effectively as an assistive technology to develop reading skills curriculum for


individuals with profound communication and cognitive disorders and to reformat
texts to make them more accessible for students with various disabilities.

Kennedy, Deshler, and Lloyd (2015) developed multimedia-based instructional


modules using PowerPoint, which they called content acquisition podcasts (CAPs), to
teach content vocabulary in a world history unit on World War I to high school
students, mostly 10th graders, diagnosed with a specific learning disability related to
reading as well as their non-learning disabled peers. The researchers followed Mayer’s
(2008, 2009) principles in designing the modules. For research purposes they created
four types of CAPs so they could compare four experimental conditions. Thirty
vocabulary words became the focus of ten vignettes, with a podcast for each vignette.
Students with learning disabilities related to reading who viewed the CAPs with both
explicit instruction and the keyword pneumonic strategy had significantly higher scores
on two definition tests than those who viewed the CAPs not following Mayer’s
principles. Both vocabulary tests assessed knowledge of word definitions, one with a
multiple choice test and the other with an open-ended format where students were
asked to write definitions of the words and any other understanding of the terms. The
study shows how PowerPoint can be used to create effective learning materials for
students with learning disabilities related to reading.

While teacher-created PowerPoints have been the subject of many research studies (e.g.,
Coleman, 2009; Gier & Kreiner, 2009; Savoy, Proctor, & Salvendy, 2009), few researchers
have studied the effects of student creation of PowerPoints on their literacy learning.
Curriculum and instruction and instructional design specialists have discussed benefits
of having students create their own PowerPoint presentations. These benefits include
better understanding of curriculum content and motivating students to learn material
that may otherwise be uninteresting (e.g., Ezell, Johnson, & Rice, 2007; Royer & Royer,
2002; Sherman & Kurshan, 2005). Since PowerPoint is widely available, easy to use, and
allows for multimodal learning, it has the potential to be used by students at all levels of
instruction as a tool for literacy learning.

Research on vocabulary development has shown active and systematic vocabulary


instruction can improve vocabulary learning (Beck, McKeown, Kucan, 2013; Blachowicz
& Fisher, 2015; Pearson, Hiebert, & Kamil, 2007). Recent studies have also explored
ways children and adolescents develop vocabulary through the use of various
technologies, but this work is in its infancy (Blachowicz, Beyersdorfer, & Fisher, 2006 for
review of studies). Dalton and Gresham (2011) published an article in The Reading
Teacher on ways to use technology to build vocabulary. One of their suggestions was for
students to use multimedia, such as PowerPoint, to express their vocabulary knowledge.
Students could create a multimedia glossary with individual slides for each focus word.
The slides could follow a template that includes the word, a short definition of the
word, an image representing the word, and the importance of the word or personal
associations with the word. Audio recordings, graphics, and other sources could be
included in the slide or hyperlinked to it. Classroom teachers are exploring approaches
such as this to teach vocabulary.

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75

Findings from researchers studying second language learning suggest student


authoring of hypermedia, sometimes involving PowerPoint, can aid in learning
vocabulary in a new language. Pritchard and O’Hara (2009) found 14 English as a
second language (ESL) middle school students’ scientific vocabulary knowledge
developed when the students created PowerPoint slides of vocabulary definitions along
with other paper-based vocabulary learning strategies. In another study of 40 Spanish
speaking middle school students, O’Hara and Pritchard (2008) found student
participation in hypermedia authoring resulted in significant vocabulary gains.
Nikolova (2002) had similar results with English speaking college students learning
French. Students who linked picture and sound files to target words learned
significantly more words than a control group who learned through teacher created
hypermedia with hot links.

The Current Study


The study presented here continues the exploration of students’ development of content
vocabulary knowledge through their creation of PowerPoint slides for target words. The
research team worked together to analyze the effects of students’ creation of PowerPoints
on their learning the meanings of key vocabulary needed to understand basic economics
concepts. The classroom teacher, who taught in an alternative school for adolescents
with learning disabilities and social and behavioral challenges, explored ways for his
students to learn content vocabulary for concepts presented in an economics textbook
by integrating technology into a class assignment. He followed guidelines for
integrating technology into literacy instruction for learning disabled youth as suggested
by King-Sears and Evmenova (2007). They refer to this process as TECH:
o Target the students' needs and the learning outcome.
o Examine the technology choices, then decide what to use.
o Create opportunities to integrate technology with other instructional
activities.
o Handle the implementation, and monitor the impact on the students'
learning. (p. 10).

The classroom teacher also applied findings from research on teaching secondary
school content to students with learning disabilities. A meta-analysis of special
education interventions for secondary content area learning (Scruggs, Mastropieri,
Berkeley, & Graetz, 2010) found that computer-assisted instruction and hands-on
activities were effective in increasing content area knowledge for students with learning
disabilities. In a review of empirical studies of evidence-based strategies for instruction
of older students with learning disabilities, Roberts, Torgesen, Boardman, and
Scammacca (2008) concluded that a lack of motivation adversely affects adolescents’
abilities to enhance vocabulary and reading comprehension skills. They noted that
direct instruction of keywords and a focus on simple definitions, examples and non-
examples, and semantic maps may be especially effective for students with learning
disabilities.

The teacher in this study selected the PowerPoint format for the activity because it was
an authentic learning activity that was readily available to most of his students and
could be accessed in the school’s computer lab. As his students developed skill creating
PowerPoints, they would become more proficient using the Internet and other literacy

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76

resources, and their knowledge of PowerPoint creation could be applied to learning how
to use other educational technology resources. Students would develop social skills as
they worked together, helping each other with their PowerPoints. The teacher could
verify his students’ understanding of the target vocabulary and correct any
misconceptions as he interacted with them when they worked on their PowerPoints.
Students would be more motivated to present their ideas to the class with their
PowerPoint presentation, and they would be exposed to the target vocabulary multiple
times as they viewed their classmates’ presentations. Above all, the teacher hoped his
students would enjoy their time creating on the computer and searching the Internet.

The purpose of this study was to explore the students’ learning of economics
vocabulary through their creation and presentation of PowerPoint slides to see if this use
of technology would be an effective means to build content vocabulary. The researchers
explored the use of Rasch modeling to identify economics words/concepts that
remained difficult even after the students had completed the PowerPoint assignment.
Through Rasch modeling, the researchers could identify the difficulty levels of target
words, from easiest to most difficult, after students created and presented their
PowerPoint productions. Words that remained difficult might need adaptations to the
PowerPoint assignment or other methods of teaching in order for students to learn these
words/concepts. Another purpose of the study was to compare results of two types of
vocabulary assessments: a definition assessment with written responses and an
assessment to match definitions to terms. This was done to identify words that were
most difficult for these students to define in writing and words the students could
match easily with definitions but could not define in writing.

Method
Setting and Participants
Students who took part in this study were middle school and high school students
attending an alternative school in an urban setting in the southeastern United States.
The students were all identified as having specific learning disabilities and had
behavioral and motivational issues. At this school, students were grouped in classes to
maximize learning and for behavior reasons. The teacher had four social studies classes
with mixed age students from 7th to 12th grade: a middle school class, a freshman class,
a sophomore class, and a junior/senior class. A total of 41 students, all the students
taught social studies by this teacher, participated in the study. The number of students
at each grade level was 7 in 7th grade, 7 in 8th grade, 9 in 9th grade, 9 in 10th grade, 2 in
11th grade, and 7 in 12th grade. Student data are as follows: 29 male and12 female; 29
European American, 8 African American, 2 Hispanic, and 2 Middle Eastern ethnicities.

Procedure
The classroom teacher introduced an instructional strategy that combined PowerPoint
creation with vocabulary learning to motivate his students to learn about economics
concepts. He selected 16 target vocabulary words from the school’s economics textbook,
Pacemaker® Economics 3e (Pelinski, 2001), which is geared to special needs students. The
textbook is written at the 3rd to 4th grade reading level and is identified as having a
lexile level of 870. Note that Lexiles are a form of Rasch Calibration (MetaMetrics, 2017).
All target words were in the glossary. Target vocabulary were barter, charity,

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77

complementary goods, consumer, corporation, currency, financial institution, generic, goods,


graph, labor, natural resources, robot, strike, technology, and utility company.

Students each created a PowerPoint with individual slides for individual target words.
On each slide students wrote the target word and the definition of the word from the
textbook glossary. Students then added visual images to the same slide to demonstrate
an understanding of the word. They could paste images from the Internet or draw and
scan original drawings or images from magazines. Before starting the project, the
teacher introduced the activity by drawing on the board a basic design for the
PowerPoint slides, with the word at the top of the slide followed by images and then the
definition of the word. He also noted ways students could individualize their
PowerPoint, if they chose, by adding transitions, changing the backgrounds, or using
other options. Students could work together and could continue working on their
PowerPoint outside of school. They were given four weeks to complete the assignment.
During the last two weeks of the project, the teacher scheduled time in the computer
lab. The teacher assisted any students who needed help scanning images or wanted his
assistance in developing their PowerPoint. When the PowerPoints were completed,
students presented their PowerPoints to the class, which provided additional exposure to
the target words and definitions.

Measure of Intrinsic Motivation


Since students in this study had motivation issues, the classroom teacher assessed his
students’ intrinsic motivation, whether they were motivated from within and were
interested in and enjoyed the PowerPoint assignment (McGrew, 2008). The teacher
developed the assessment by combining selected subscales of the Intrinsic Motivation
Inventory (IMI) (Self-Determination Theory, 2017), which is a multidimensional
instrument for students to self-report their subjective experiences from participation in
particular instructional activities. The IMI is available online and can be modified to fit
the particular instructional activity and needs of teachers and researchers. The test items
consist of statements that students respond to using a Likert scale. Students indicate
how true statements are related to their experiences by assigning a number from 1-7,
where 1 = not at all true, 4 = somewhat true, and 7 = very true. Negative question types
are scored in reverse.

The teacher-developed assessment used in this study consisted of three of the seven
variables (factors) from the original “Post-Experiential Intrinsic Motivation Inventory.”
The variables along with related statements were presented in the following order:
value/usefulness of the assignment (7 statements), effort/ importance placed on the
assignment (5 statements), and interest/enjoyment the students felt towards the
assignment (7 statements). Test items included such statements as “This activity was
fun to do.” and “It was important to me to do well at this task.” The motivation
assessment was administered on the day students’ gave their presentations in order for
the teacher to gauge his students’ interest in the assignment.

Observation Record
The classroom teacher took field notes as students worked on their PowerPoints. He
focused on students’ skills at using computers and the PowerPoint software and on their
ability to work together.

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78

Measures of Vocabulary Learning


Because of learning difficulties and motivational and behavioral issues, this teacher’s
students typically would not agree to taking pre- and posttests. Therefore, he had to
learn about his students’ knowledge and skills through only one administration of any
test he created. For this study, students were assessed on the 16 target words with two
teacher-created assessments following the presentations: (a) a definitional test where
they were asked to define the word and (b) a matching test where they matched
definitions with target words. See Figure 1 for the matching test. Each student was
assessed on both instruments the day after they completed the four-week assignment.
The definition test was administered first, followed by the matching test. Students
turned in the definition test when it was completed and then received the matching test.
Each correct word received one point, which resulted in a dichotomous score of 0/1 for
each word.

Match words with definitions

___Barter a. A bank, credit union, savings and loan, or other organization that
offers services related to saving.
___Charity b. Goods that are used with each other, such as cars and tires.
___Complementary c. A business that is owned by stockholders.
goods
___Consumer d. Without a brand name.
___Corporation e. Things that can be seen, touched, and bought or sold.
___Currency f. The use of science to create new or better goods and services or
more efficient methods of production.
___Financial g. A work stoppage by labor to win terms of an agreement.
institution
___Generic h. Money or A unit of exchange, facilitating the transfer of goods
and/or services.
___Goods i. A business that provides vital services such as electricity, natural
gas, and water
___Graph j. Workers
___Labor k. A diagram that shows the relationship between two or more sets of
things
___Natural l. A nonprofit organization that accepts donations such as money,
resource goods, and volunteers time, and then provides aid to needy people

___Robot m. The direct exchange of one good or service for another without the
use of money.
___Strike n. A person who buys goods and services.
___Technology o. Something provided by nature, such as wood, oil, and coal, which
can be used to produce goods and services.
___Utility company p. An electronic machine that is programmed to do tasks on an
assembly line

Figure 1: Matching Test on Target Vocabulary

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79

Rasch Modeling
At the completion of the assignment and administration of assessments, Rasch modeling
was carried out using WINSTEPS (Linacre, 2006) software to calibrate words on the two
economics definition posttests by level of difficulty. The Rasch method (Rasch, 1960)
creates a psychometric “ruler” upon which people and items are placed based on their
probability of success. The Rasch ruler is an interval scale (Stevens, 1946) with
measurement units called “logits” that are analogous to inches on a wooden ruler. The
Lexile Framework, a common measure of readability difficulty, is a Rasch scale (Stenner,
1996, 2001). Rasch modeling was also used to develop the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test
(PPVT-4) now in its fourth edition (Dunn & Dunn, 2007) and the Expressive Vocabulary Test
(EVT-2) now in its second edition (Williams, 2007).

What makes Rasch modeling appropriate for vocabulary research is that it includes people
in the measurement process (called conjoint measurement). The ability of participants is
put on the same scale as items. It is “the only item response theory (IRT) model in which
the total score across items characterizes a person totally” (RUMM, 2017, ¶ 3). Other
features of the Rasch model that make it appropriate for vocabulary research are that it “is
not sample dependent, does not require a large sample of people, and does not make
assumptions about the normality of the distribution. It also works well with missing data”
(Wilkerson & Lang, 2007, p. 315). See Leung and Lang (2009) for a complete discussion of a
Rasch model prototype for assessing vocabulary learning.

To find model parameters, the Rasch model provides sophisticated and precise results
based on mathematical models for the data. The basic model for dichotomous data is:

exp(  n   i1 )
ønil =
1  exp(  n   il )

where ønil is person n’s probability of scoring 1 on item i,  n is the ability of person n, and
 i1 is the difficulty level of item i. Therefore, the probability of success to answer a
question correctly is governed by person ability and item difficulty.

The purpose of the Rasch analysis in this study was to ascertain the difficulty of individual
economics words/concepts following instruction. Students were given identification
numbers, referred to as person numbers, to be used in the Rasch analysis. For each of the
41 students, the 16 target words were individually scored for the two vocabulary measures
explained above. Individual word scores of 0/1 for each word were used in the Rasch
analysis. The assessment with written definitions was coded D for each word, and the
matching assessment was coded M for each word.

Results
Observation Record
From recorded observations of his students working to create their PowerPoint
presentations, the classroom teacher found the older students had more experience with
PowerPoint software. A summary of his field notes follows:
The Senior/Junior class had the most experience with the PowerPoint program and helped each other
with very little assistance from me. They put more faith in each other’s expertise than mine in working
with PowerPoint. They took many liberties regarding creativity and showed more skill in
manipulating and editing photos for their slides than did the other classes.

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80

The majority of the sophomore class knew how to use PowerPoint, including the transitions and
background choices. They knew how to modify photos pulled off the internet, and by observing their
classmates they learned to use the transitions. Almost all of them seemed to enjoy making the
slideshow.

The freshman class needed more guidance getting started. Most of the assistance centered on layout
and design. They also needed help getting pictures off Internet sites and adjusting them to fit the slides.
Once they got the technical aspects of the creation down, they really enjoyed the project, particularly
searching for the photos.

The middle school class needed much more scaffolding and guidance. They often needed two or three
“walk-throughs” before they gained proficiency with the various processes. Half of the class needed
constant guidance and the other half took off on their own and completed the assignment in two or
three class periods.

Intrinsic Motivation
Student responses on the teacher-modified Intrinsic Motivation Inventory indicated students
considered statements on the questionnaire to be moderately true or very true. For
statements on the value/usefulness of the assignment, 68% (28 students) found the
assignment to be of moderate value and 32% (13 students) found the assignment to be of
high value. For statements on the effort/importance placed on the assignment, 46% (19
students) put moderate effort into the assignment or placed moderate importance on the
assignment and 54% (22 students) put much effort into or placed much importance on the
assignment. Finally, on the interest/enjoyment students felt towards the assignment, one
student did not enjoy the assignment, 71% (29 students) considered the assignment
moderately interesting while 27% (11 students) were highly interested in or greatly
enjoyed the assignment. For all but one of the students, intrinsic motivation was at a
moderate or high level.

Definition Vocabulary Tests


Table 1 shows the number and percentage of students who had correct responses on the
matching and definition vocabulary assessments. Twenty students could correctly match
13 or more target words with their glossary definitions, and 8 students had all 16 words
correct on the matching test. The definition assessment was more difficult with only 3
students being able to define 13 or more target words. However, students represented a
wide range of abilities and motivation levels. About half of the students had half of the
definitions correct and over 70% had half of the matching items correct.

Table 1: Number and Percent of Students Having Words Correct on the Definition and Matching
Tests
Words Correct Definition Test Matching Test
n with correct responses n with correct responses
0-4 6 15% 2 5%
5-8 16 39% 9 22%
9 - 12 16 39% 10 24%
13 - 16 3 7% 20 49%

Rasch Analysis
Misfit MNSQ values were observed for persons and items (target words) submitted to the
Rasch analysis. All persons and items were within an acceptable range. Model reliability
was .87, which suggests the items created a well-defined scale. A statistically significant
difference, p. = .004, existed between scores on the Definition and Matching measures.
Pearson correlation for the two assessments was low/moderate at .367. As anticipated,

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81

writing definitions for targeted economics words was more difficult for these students
than matching the words with their glossary meanings. This can be seen on the Rasch ruler
in Figure 2 where definition items are higher on the ruler than matching items.

(41 students on left, 16 words on right) Most difficult words are at top of ruler.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Person - MAP - Item
<more>|<rare>
80 + Dcorporation
|
|
|
21 |
|
| Dchartiy Dfinancial institution
T|
|T
02 |
70 +
06 |
08 24 37 | Dgeneric
|
01 04 |
19 27 31 S | Dutility
|
16 |
20 | Dbarter
09 17 22 30 |S
60 +
18 36 | Dcomplementary goods
M|
14 34 | Dcurreny Mfinancial institution
25 | Mbarter Mcurrency
29 35 | Drobot
11 23 41 | Dnatural resources Mcorporation
07 13 | Dstrike
28 | Dgraphs
05 33 |
50 22 26 38 39 S+M Mgoods Mutility
15 32 40 | Dgoods Mcharity Mgeneric
03 |
10 | Dconsumer Mcomplementary goods
|
| Dtechnology
| Mstrike Mtechnology
T|
| Mconsumer Mnatural resources
|
40 + Mgraph
|S
|
|
|
|
| Dlabor Mlabor Mrobot
|
|
|
30 +
|
|T
|
|
|
|
|
|
|
20 +
<less>|<frequent>

Figure 2: Rasch Ruler for Economics Vocabulary Words (D = Definition, M = Matching)

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82

The Rasch ruler calibrates words according to difficulty level, with most difficult words at
the top of the map and easiest words at the bottom of the map. The numbers to the left of
the map represent persons. The students’ ability estimates are left of the center line. It is
estimated that students have a .50 probability of knowing words across from their person
measure, and a greater probability of knowing words that are below their person measure.
M is the mean, S is one standard deviation, and T is two standard deviations. From the
Rasch ruler, we can estimate that all the students will be able to define labor, technology,
and consumer after creating PowerPoint slides, and they will be able to match definitions to
labor, robot, graphs, consumer, natural resources, strike, technology, and complementary goods.
These words are ranked as easiest on the Rasch ruler and appear to be words the students
may have had some exposure to before working on the PowerPoint project. Defining
corporation was a particularly difficult task, and from the Rasch analysis no students were
expected to define it. Defining charity, financial institution, and corporation ranked over two
standard deviations above the mean. Other difficult words to define that were ranked
between one and two standard deviations above the mean were barter, utility, and generic.

Complimentary goods, generic, charity, utility, and corporation were all of average difficulty as
identified by the matching assessment, but these words in particular were more difficult to
define than to match. It appears that when students were able to match labor, technology,
and currency to their definitions, they could also write a definition for those words. Table 1
shows words as they appear on the Rasch ruler, as easier words at the bottom of the ruler,
average words in the middle of the ruler, and more difficult words at the top of the ruler.
From the table it can be seen that after students participated in the PowerPoint activity
including the presentations, only six words remained difficult.

Table 2: Difficulty Levels of Target Economics Vocabulary from Rasch Analysis


(D = Definition Assessment, M = Matching Test)

Easy Words Easier Average Words More Difficult Average Difficult Words
(1 & 2 SD below (from Mean to1SD Words (1 & 2 SD above Mean)
Mean) below Mean) (from Mean to 1 SD above
Mean)
1 SD below goods - M complementary goods - D 2 SD above
labor - D utility - M currency - D corporation -D
labor - M goods - D financial institution - M charity - D
robot - M charity - M barter - M financial institution - D
generic - M currency – M
consumer - D robot - D 1 SD above
complementary goods - M natural resources - D generic - D
technology - D corporation - M utility - D
strike - D strike - D barter - D
technology - M graphs - D
consumer - M
natural resources - M
graph – M

Discussion
This study shows that adolescents with learning difficulties and behavioral and
motivational issues can develop content vocabulary and concepts by creating and
presenting PowerPoint slides of content words from textbook glossaries, in this case

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83

economics terms. Illustrating economics terms and definitions with pictures from the
internet or scanned from magazines resulted in most of the students learning some target
vocabulary and some students learning all the vocabulary. Focusing on definitions and
illustrations of concepts can help students understand terms they read, but they may need
additional practice or different learning strategies to be able to write definitions for some
difficult content vocabulary.

However, some glossary items in the economics textbook written at a 3rd to 4th grade
reading level, along with the discussion in the textbook, may not have provided enough
information for students to understand some of the concepts. For example, the definition
of corporation in the glossary was “a business that is owned by stockholders.” In their
PowerPoint presentations, most students illustrated the slide for corporation with pictures of
the front of buildings that displayed the names of corporations. This provided an overly
simplified illustration to explain the glossary definition. In order to more fully understand
what corporations are and what they by law can do, students would need to understand
other related concepts, including stock, shareholders, dividends, limited liability, contracts,
management, and Board of Directors. A different instructional strategy such as role playing
may help students better understand what a corporation is. Students could set up their
own corporation with a Board of Directors and stockholders. By acting out the roles of
people involved in a corporation, students could acquire a deeper understanding of
corporation. Also, business simulations are available online for game participants to create
companies, buy and sell shares of stock, and react to daily news postings. Some examples
of simulation game websites are simCEO (https://www.simceo.org/action/welcome)
(Jetlag Learning, 2017), and Tycoon Games
(https://www.learn4good.com/games/tycoonbusiness.htm) (Learn4Good, 2017), which
offers a number of simulations for students at different age levels. These simulations
provide learning opportunities for students to reason for authentic purposes.

Conclusion
While this study focused on economics vocabulary and students with special needs, the
application of Rasch modeling developed for this context can be applied to any content
areas where students are learning new technical or academic vocabulary and concepts or
with any groups or classifications of students. Through Rasch analysis instructors can
identify words or concepts that are difficult for their particular students to learn, and they
can evaluate the degree of learning assessed by various measures. Literacy researchers are
exploring ways to measure word difficulty and to identify words and concepts that are
easier or more difficult for students at different ages to learn (Leung & Lang, 2009; Leung,
Silverman, Nandakumar, Qian, & Hines, 2011). The Rasch model provides a way to
measure word difficulty while at the same time taking into consideration the ability of
individuals to learn vocabulary. These statistical measures have the potential to make
clearer the process of learning academic vocabulary from participation in technology rich
classrooms. If classroom teachers can look at the results of Rasch analyses to rank content
area vocabulary and understand which terms and concepts are easiest and most difficult
for their students to learn by different instructional strategies, they can plan their
curriculum to include technology-enhanced instruction, such as student PowerPoint
creation, for words and concepts appropriate for students to learn with this medium. For
concepts that are more difficult, they can provide additional instruction through different
activities that may lead to deeper understanding.

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84

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International Journal of Learning, Teaching and Educational Research


Vol. 16, No. 12, pp. 87-107, December 2017
https://doi.org/10.26803/ijlter.16.12.6

Trainee Teachers with Dyslexia: Results of a


Qualitative Study of Teachers and their Mentors

Jonathan Glazzard
Leeds Beckett University
Leeds, United Kingdom

Abstract. This study explored the perceptions of trainee teachers with


dyslexia, and their mentors, of their placement experiences during their
initial teacher training course. The research was conducted within one
initial teacher education partnership in the north of England. Data were
collected through two focus groups; one of trainees and one of mentors.
Trainees described the difficulties they experienced with teaching
literacy (particularly phonics), difficulties with memory and difficulties
with the administrative demands of placement. Mentors emphasised
trainees’ weaknesses and although some mentors wanted to recognise
and support the strengths of the trainees, they felt responsible as gate-
keepers to the profession.

Keywords: Dyslexia; Literacy; Initial teacher training; Placements.

1.0 Introduction and Literature Review

1.1 Focus of the study


All initial teacher training courses must provide trainees with structured,
supervised time in schools in order to develop the practical skills of teaching.
This is referred to as ‘placement’. This qualitative study examines the
perceptions of a group of trainee teachers with dyslexia of their experiences of
school placements. Additionally, the study examines the perspectives of a group
of mentors who had experience of mentoring trainees with dyslexia. The term
‘mentor’ is used to refer to teachers who work in placement schools and who
assume responsibility for the direct supervision of trainee teachers during
placement. Data were collected from participants representing one initial teacher
education partnership in the north of England. The university provider, its
trainees and mentors from partnership schools represent the ‘partnership’. The
author of this study, at the time of collecting the data, was programme leader for
all primary education initial teacher training courses in this partnership.

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1.2 Context
The Equality Act (HMSO, 2010) places a legal responsibility on higher education
providers to ensure equality of opportunity for students with recognised
disabilities by removing barriers to participation and achievement. Universities
need to ensure that students with disabilities have not been subjected to direct or
indirect discrimination and have had equality of opportunity to achieve their
potential.
However, competing policies result in the marginalisation of people with
disabilities. Professions such as teaching, nursing and social work are subject to
fitness to practice regulations and teacher training providers have a
responsibility to ensure that all trainees meet the minimum expectations as set
out in the teachers’ standards (DfE, 2011). Thus, providers face the challenge of
meeting the individual needs of trainees with disabilities at the same time as
maintaining the integrity of their teacher training programmes. Additionally, the
introduction of a more rigorous National Curriculum (DfE, 2013) in schools has
meant that primary teacher training providers must now ensure that all trainees
are able to demonstrate higher standards of literacy than was previously the
case.
The focus on raising standards in schools has resulted in a political focus on the
quality of initial teacher training courses. Inspection frameworks for initial
teacher training have become increasingly rigorous over the past decade with a
sharper focus on how effectively trainees teach subjects, for example, literacy.
This can present trainees with disabilities with significant challenges if they
experience barriers to learning in specific areas of the curriculum. In order for
providers of initial teacher training to demonstrate that they are compliant with
the Equality Act, they need to be able to demonstrate that reasonable
adjustments have been provided for trainees with disabilities. The
implementation of reasonable adjustments aims to ensure that barriers to
achievement are removed, thus enabling equality of opportunity. This reflects
the principles of the social model of disability.

1.3 Students with dyslexia in higher education


Research on the experiences of students with dyslexia during their higher
education suggests that academic staff lack knowledge or understanding of
dyslexia or have not been trained to support students’ needs (Hanafin et al.,
2007; Mortimore & Crozier, 2009; Riddell & Weedon, 2006). Students with
dyslexia have reported unsympathetic attitudes from lecturers (Madriaga, 2007)
and lack of flexibility in the way they are assessed through an over-emphasis on
written assessments (Fuller et al., 2004). Riddell and Weedon (2006) found that
academic staff were sceptical about dyslexia and did not consistently agree with
making reasonable adjustments. More recent research indicates that the quality
and quantity of support and reasonable adjustments to students with dyslexia in
higher education is inconsistent (Fuller et al. 2009; Pavey et al., 2010) and
amounts to little more than a ‘lottery’ (Griffiths, 2012). All of these studies are
qualitative and involve small numbers of participants, thus reducing their
reliability.

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1.4 Challenges for trainee teachers with dyslexia


Dyslexia is classified as a disability under the Equality Act (HMSO, 2010).
Despite the introduction of the Equality Act trainee teachers with dyslexia still
fear discrimination and this results in a reluctance to declare their disability
(Griffiths, 2012). There is an expectation that all trainee teachers are able to
demonstrate high standards in literacy in order to safeguard standards in
schools. Consequently, trainees with dyslexia are often viewed as a threat to
standards rather than a valuable resource to the teaching profession (Ferri et al,
2001; Griffiths, 2012; Riddick & English, 2006).
The requirement for teachers to demonstrate high standards of literacy has been
seen as central to raising standards of literacy in schools and this raises
questions about the suitability of those with dyslexia as teachers (Riddick, 2003;
Riddick & English, 2006). Implicit within this is the assumption that trainees
with dyslexia are not able to teach reading and writing skills to a sufficiently
high standard.
Research has indicated that trainees with dyslexia are viewed as a burden in that
they may require additional support and may threaten the standards which
schools aspire to achieve (Griffiths, 2012). Riddick and English (2006) have
questioned the focus on standards by asking:
Do teachers’ own standards impact on the literacy standards of the children they
are teaching? … How many children have left school unhappy (or poorly
educated for that matter) because their teacher misspelled the odd word?
(p. 206)
The focus on literacy standards in schools presents trainees with dyslexia with a
significant barrier and diverts attention away from curriculum areas or other
attributes which may be significant strengths. Additionally, the political focus on
teaching children to read through synthetic phonics (DfE, 2010; DfE, 2016; Rose
2006) has resulted in the development of inspection frameworks for schools and
initial teacher training providers which emphasise this aspect of the curriculum
above others. For the past decade inspections of schools and initial teacher
training have focused on how effectively teachers and trainees teach phonics
and for trainees and teachers with dyslexia this is a skill which does not develop
automatically. This is because dyslexia arises from a phonological deficit
affecting the processing of speech sounds in words (Snowling, 1995; 1998;
Snowling, 2013). Trainees who are placed with children aged 5-6 years are likely
to find that a significant proportion of curriculum time is invested into
preparing children for the phonics screening check and for trainees with
dyslexia this presents them with an additional barrier in comparison to other
trainees who may develop phonics knowledge and skills with greater
automaticity.

1.5 Placement experiences of trainee teachers with dyslexia


Although there is some research on the effect of dyslexia on pupils’ self-esteem
(Glazzard, 2010; Humphrey, 2002; Humphrey & Mullins, 2002b), there is a
paucity of research on the experiences of trainee teachers with dyslexia during
their initial teacher training course, specifically in relation to placements.
Evidence suggests that training experiences, particularly experiences of
placements, can impact on trainees’ self-esteem (Hobson & Malderez, 2013).

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Whilst there is some literature on teachers’ experiences of dyslexia (Burns & Bell,
2010; 2011), only one study has been located which specifically discusses the
experiences of trainee teachers with dyslexia of their initial teacher training
placements (Griffiths, 2012). This was a small-scale study in which data were
collected from six student teachers in one higher education institution. No
information has been provided on how these participants were selected and the
sample size was small. These factors reduce the reliability of the study.
Additionally, the study did not explore mentor perceptions and therefore lacked
triangulation. This reduces the validity of the research. The literature which does
exist focuses more on the selection process onto initial teacher training courses in
relation to those with dyslexia (Riddick & English, 2006) or the general
experiences of trainee teachers with dyslexia of their university courses
(Cameron & Nunkoosing, 2012; Morgan & Burn, 2000). Consequently, little is
known about the challenges that trainees with dyslexia face on placement and
how they overcome these.
Furthermore, research has found that the transfer of support from the university
to school placements for trainee teachers with dyslexia is variable (Griffiths et al.
2010). Whilst many universities now have central departments which are
responsible for assessing students’ needs and determining reasonable
adjustments for students on campus, insufficient consideration is often given to
planning reasonable adjustments for students on placement (Griffiths et al.,
2010; Griffiths, 2012). The cognitive impairments associated with dyslexia may
have detrimental effects upon attainment in reading, writing, numeracy, oral
fluency, organisation, attention and self-esteem (Pavey et al., 2010; Pollak, 2009)
but the profile of impairments is unique to each individual. Reasonable
adjustments needed to help students achieve on placement may be different to
those adjustments which are provided to students on campus and careful
planning is required to ensure that the correct adjustments are put in place when
students undertake a placement. One study concluded that placements and
mentors are often not carefully matched to individual students’ needs resulting
in impaired confidence and self-esteem and stress (Timmerman, 2009). This was
a small-scale study in which data were collected from 13 teacher-educators. The
validity of this claim could have been strengthened had the perspectives of
student teachers been explored in addition to the perspectives of the teacher-
educators.
As a result of the challenges which have been highlighted, trainees with dyslexia
fear being misunderstood, stigmatised, labelled and misjudged because
colleagues in school lack awareness of dyslexia (Beverton et al., 2008; Pollak,
2009). Research has indicated that students with dyslexia may not perceive any
tangible benefits of disclosing their disability to their placement setting (Morris
& Turnbull, 2007) and disclosure to the mentor has been considered high risk
(Griffiths, 2012). The focus on high performance results in their unique strengths
being ignored and their differences being undervalued (Onken & Slaten, 2000).

1.6 Strengths of trainees with dyslexia


Trainees with dyslexia have many strengths which they can bring to the
teaching profession (Duquette, 2000; Riddick, 2000; 2001; 2003). Research has

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indicated that trainees with dyslexia feel that they unique insights into the
difficulties experienced by the children they are teaching (Glazzard & Dale, 2013;
Griffiths, 2012). Burns and Bell (2010) found that trainees with dyslexia
demonstrated empathy and sensitivity towards children with disabilities as a
result of their own experiences of educational exclusion. Often, they developed
their own compensatory coping strategies to make their professional lives easier
(Burns & Bell, 2010), such as purchasing technological aids to help them with
spelling. Other research has demonstrated how trainees with dyslexia were
particularly skilled at developing highly effective relationships with pupils with
behavioural difficulties (Burns & Bell, 2011). Griffiths (2012) found that trainees
with dyslexia had strengths in curriculum areas such as art, drama and physical
education and were able to develop skills such as differentiating the curriculum
for children with special educational needs and disabilities more automatically
than trainees without dyslexia.

1.7 Strategies for supporting trainees with dyslexia


The ICF model provides a useful framework for understanding the impact of
dyslexia on an individual’s ability to perform a task or participate in a life
situation. In relation to trainee teachers with dyslexia, impaired bodily functions
(i.e. difficulties with phonological processing) can affect specific activities such as
reading and writing. This can affect a trainee’s ability to participate in teaching
these aspect of the curriculum. Environmental factors (i.e. the attitudes of mentors
and provision of reasonable adjustments) can alleviate or exacerbate the
difficulties which are experienced and personal factors, such as self-concept and
self-esteem must also be taken into account.
The literature makes clear recommendations for ways in which schools and
universities can more effectively support the needs of trainee teachers with
dyslexia. Examples of recommendations from Griffiths (2012) include:
proactively planning placement support; placing the student at the centre of the
planning process; applying a model of placement support which is flexible and
responsive to trainees’ individual needs; pairing trainees with dyslexia with
dyslexic mentors and developing alternative ways of presenting portfolio
evidence. Whilst these recommendations are important and will potentially
improve trainees’ placement experiences, there is insufficient consideration
given to the type of support that may be required to enable trainees with
dyslexia to develop their knowledge and confidence in relation to teaching
phonics on placement. Given that the core deficit in dyslexics appears to be
phonological processing (Snowling, 2013) and the political emphasis on phonics,
it seems logical to suggest that universities and schools should further consider
what support may be required in this area before, during and after placements.

1.8 Theoretical framework


Building on the medical and social models of disability this study is framed
within the bio-psycho-social model of disability. The World Health Organization
released the bio-psycho-social model for disability, the International
Classification of Functioning, disability and health (ICF) (WHO, 2001), which
aims to provide a holistic definition of health by essentially merging the medical
and social models. The model recognises the complex inter-relationships

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between biological and contextual factors which influence how disability is


experienced by the individual. These are identified below:
Body functions and structures: the body functions and structures of people;
problems with the integrity of structures or their functions are termed
impairments (functioning at the level of the body).
Activity: the activities/tasks people undertake; difficulties undertaking those are
termed activity limitations (functioning at the level of the individual).
Participation: the participation/involvement of people in life situations;
difficulties are termed participation restrictions (functioning of a person as a
member of society).
Environmental factors: the external factors (physical, social and attitudinal) which
affect people’s experiences (and whether these factors are facilitators or barriers).
Personal factors: these are the internal factors which affect people’s experiences
(and whether these factors are facilitators or barriers).
(WHO, 2001)
The ICF was created to define/describe health, but recognizes that a
breakdown/problem with any of the components can affect health experiences.
For instance, an impairment of a body function may exist, but the impact of that
is only seen when we consider how it affects an individual’s ability to perform a
task or participate in a life situation, and that the degree to which that
participation is affected is moderated by contextual factors (personal and
environmental) that acts as barriers/facilitators.
Often the models of disability are represented as though they are distinct and
the critical literature on the medical model (Thomas & Loxley, 2001; 2007)
underplays the role that a person’s biological impairments can play in restricting
access to goods and services. However, the implementation of interventions
which address biological and contextual factors can potentially have a greater
impact than operating within the principles of one model in isolation to the
others.

1.9 Research aims and questions


Trainees with dyslexia have much to offer as students and future teachers, but
require support in order to develop their skills. Universities have an obligation
to support trainees, but it is unclear whether this is happening in the most
effective way. One of the key reasons is that trainees undertake significant
learning away from universities; when on placement. Yet the beliefs and skills of
mentors who support trainees with dyslexia on placement is not known and
their need for further training and capacity-building to support these students is
also unclear. This study explored the following research aims:
 What were the collective experiences and perceptions of dyslexic trainee
teachers of their initial teacher training placements?
 What were the collective experiences and perceptions of mentors in
relation to trainee teachers with dyslexia?
 What benefits do trainees with dyslexia bring to the teaching profession
and what are challenges are associated with being a teacher with
dyslexia?

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93

2.0 Methodology and Methods


Given that the aims of the study focused on eliciting the perceptions of mentors
and trainees a qualitative, interpretive approach was deemed to be suitable. Two
focus groups were conducted; one with trainees and one with mentors.
Each group comprised six participants. Each participant in the mentor focus
group was female. Each mentor had been mentoring trainees for ten years or
more. Two of the mentors had mentored four trainees with dyslexia, three had
mentored two trainees with dyslexia and one mentor had mentored one trainee
with dyslexia. All mentors had experience of mentoring a trainee with dyslexia
within the last two years. In the trainee focus group there was an uneven split of
males and females (males n = 2; females n= 4). All trainees were in their second
year of an undergraduate degree in primary education and had completed two
six-week placements in a primary school prior to their participation in this
study. The trainee sample was a purposive sample and consequently ‘it does not
pretend to represent the wider population; it is deliberately and unashamedly
selective and biased’ (Cohen et al., 2011, p.104). All of the trainee participants
volunteered to be part of the study because each of them had negative
experiences of placements that they wished to share. The mentor sample was
purposive in that it only included teachers who had experience of mentoring
trainees with dyslexia. Both focus groups were digitally recorded to reduce the
potential for data loss which happens when researchers only take notes from
interviews. Data were later transcribed and analysed using Interpretive
Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) (Smith et al., 1997).

3.0 Results
3.1 Overview of results
The themes that emerged from the transcripts focused difficulties trainees
experienced with literacy, specifically in relation to teaching phonics and
writing. Trainees also identified difficulties with memory and managing the
administrative requirements of placement. Mentors concurred with many of
these difficulties. Additionally, trainees associated criticism from mentors as
discrimination. Trainees highlighted specific strengths in their teaching which
they attributed to their personal experiences of dyslexia. In the following
sections, each theme will be discussed with excerpts from the focus groups used
to illustrate the experiences of the trainees and mentors.
Data analysis revealed that all trainee participants had experienced challenges
whilst on placement, particularly in relation to the teaching of early reading,
spelling, grammar and punctuation. Detailed analysis indicated each individual
had unique experiences, but all identified challenging situations, caused by their
condition, the requirements of their role and the context in which they worked.
This included the attitudes and support of their mentors. The challenges which
they experienced reflected the interaction between the medical and social
models of disability. Some trainees were scared about the prospect of not
passing, some were disappointed about the perceived lack of support they
received and others questioned whether to continue. Mentors confirmed some
of these challenges but also expressed concerns about the impact that trainees’
literacy difficulties had on children’s development and progress, thus

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illustrating the complex nature of the issues. Part of the complexity arises from
the fact that the mentors created the environment in which the trainees worked
and which impacted on the degree of disability they experienced. However, the
mentors also existed within an environment which impacted on them. They were
influenced by the curriculum standards and the expectations of their
stakeholders, to which they were accountable.
Pseudonyms have been used throughout this section as shown below:

Table 1: Names of participants


Trainees Mentors
Sally Dorothy
Kate Shirley
James Fran
Tom Jane
Alice Sarah
Ayesha Susan

3.2 Literacy difficulties


All trainee participants experienced difficulties with teaching literacy and these
difficulties were categorised into either ‘difficulties with teaching phonics’ or
‘difficulties with teaching writing’. Mentors confirmed that these specific
difficulties were problematic in the context of a standards agenda in schools.

3.2.1 Difficulties with teaching phonics


Although all trainee participants acknowledged their difficulties with phonics
individual participants emphasised different issues in relation to this theme.
Whilst Tom focused on the limitations of his own subject knowledge, Alice and
Sally emphasised the criticism that they had encountered by their mentors. Kate
emphasised the anxiety that she experienced prior to an assessment of her
teaching capability:
‘I find it difficult to hear the sounds in words. I know that a word like ‘dog’ has three
sounds (d-o-g) but when I have to break down a more complex word like ‘cornflakes’ I
find it difficult to identify the units of sound.’ (Tom).
‘My mentor criticised my phonics teaching because I could not identify and address
children’s misconceptions.’ (Alice).
‘I just can’t seem to grasp the complex alphabetic code and my mentor became very
frustrated with me because I kept needing to ask for her support when planning lessons’
(Sally).
‘Every time I taught phonics I was nervous. I was terrified that I would make a mistake.’
(Kate).
Mentors all expressed concerns about the difficulties that trainees with dyslexia
experience when teaching phonics. However, individual mentors acknowledged
different issues in relation to this. Whilst most mentors focused on the
detrimental impact on pupils’ learning (Sarah, Jane), Jane also emphasised that
she felt torn between supporting her trainee and ensuring that her pupils

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achieved highly. Some mentors resented the increase in workload that was
created by providing trainees with dyslexia with additional support (Sarah).
‘I resent providing additional support to those trainees. My energies need to be directed
towards supporting my pupils.’ (Sarah).
I had a trainee with dyslexia who taught brilliant, creative lessons. Her lessons were fun
and exciting and when she was teaching phonics she focused on planning interesting
activities which engaged the children…I had to pull her up on her subject knowledge and
I felt terrible for doing this when she had worked so hard in planning interesting lessons.
But at the end of the day the children are tested and if they are not taught correctly they
will not pass’ (Jane).
Dorothy commented that her trainee experienced difficulties in teaching phonics
but that he had also interpreted any criticism of his teaching as a form of
discrimination. Fran also failed two trainees with dyslexia because they were
‘not able to teach phonics’. Shirley prevented her trainee from teaching phonics
because the trainee’s subject knowledge was weak. Sarah, Jane and Shirley all
emphasised their commitment towards their pupils achieving highly. Susan
highlighted how she had to provide additional support to enable her trainee to
plan phonics lessons.

3.2.2 Difficulties with teaching writing


All participants reported difficulties with spelling. However, individual
participants emphasised different issues arising from difficulties with writing.
Some participants reported difficulties with memorising grammatical rules and
the rules of punctuation (Tom, Alice). Two trainees emphasised a lack of
confidence in relation to teaching as a chosen profession as a result of their
difficulties with writing (James, Tom). Some trainees emphasised mentor
criticism arising from their writing difficulties (James, Tom). One trainee
reported that her difficulties with spelling were exacerbated when she felt under
pressure (James). Some trainees questioned the value of teaching grammar and
punctuation through tasks which are decontextualized (Tom, Alice):
‘I hate writing on the board because I am terrified that I will make a spelling mistake. I
try to avoid it as much as possible. I dread shared writing lessons where I have to model
the writing process. I once modelled some writing using the computer but my mentor
pulled me up for that because she said I wasn’t modelling letter formation. It made me
question whether I should be going into teaching’’ (James).
‘We now have to teach so much spelling, grammar and punctuation and the children are
tested on it in Year 2 and Year 6. I find all of this very difficult and it makes me nervous
when I have to teach it. I want children to enjoy writing. I am good at developing
creative ideas which hook children into writing but my mentor said there was no
substance to it because I was not teaching children the skills they needed to become better
writers. After she said that I thought- I’m crap, I should not be teaching’ (Tom).
‘I find the rules about grammar and punctuation difficult because I wasn’t taught those
rules at school and I can’t see the point of asking children to underline a noun, verb or
adjective in a sentence. How does this make them better writers?’ (Alice).
All mentors expressed considerable concern in relation to the teaching of writing
but individual mentors emphasised different issues. Some mentors emphasised
the importance of teachers being accountable to children, parents and official
agencies such as the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted). Dorothy’s
feedback to her trainee was interpreted by her trainee as ‘discrimination’ rather

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96

than constructive help. One mentor emphasised the tension between supporting
the needs of the trainee at the same time as being a teacher of children (Susan).
Another mentor focused on how her trainee could support the weaker writers
very effectively but was less effective at challenging the more-able writers
(Fran). Most mentors emphasised the difficulties that trainees had with spelling:
‘I had a trainee with dyslexia who kept making spelling mistakes on the board. I had to
intervene and I felt terrible for doing so. Yes, they were upset, but surely it is more
important to make sure the children are taught correctly. I am a teacher first and a
mentor second’ (Susan).
‘He [trainee] kept making spelling mistakes in the children’s books and on the children’s
reading records. How do I explain that to parents and to Ofsted?’ (Sarah).
‘She sent home a list of spellings with words which were incorrectly spelt. How
embarrassing! The parents came into school and complained I had to speak to her
[trainee] and she responded by saying I was discriminating against her because she had
dyslexia.’ (Dorothy).
‘I had a trainee with dyslexia who was very good at supporting the weak writers. She
was able to address the needs of these pupils quite well. However, she was hopeless at
stretching the more able writers because she did not grasp the skills herself’ (Fran).

3.3 Difficulties with memory


All trainee participants reported having difficulties with working memory,
specifically in relation to literacy. However, memory difficulties resulted in
different problems for individuals. Some participants emphasised difficulties
with memorising phonemes (Sally), others focused on grammar, spelling and
punctuation rules (Kate) and one trainee reported difficulties in memorising
letter joins in handwriting:
‘I could not remember the phonemes and their corresponding graphemes. This was more
difficult for me because I have a poor memory because of my dyslexia but I was teaching
the complex code and I just could not remember all the different variations’ (Sally).
‘I am hopeless at remembering spelling rules. I find spelling difficult anyway and I learn
spellings by visualising the whole word. The rules for spelling in English are so
inconsistent that I just cannot remember them all’ (Kate).
‘I could not remember all the different things I had to do outside my teaching. I forgot to
do record keeping. Writing lesson evaluations was just too much effort. I wanted to do it
all electronically but my mentor said everything had to be in a ring binder and available
to see’ (Kate).
Mentors emphasised difficulties with working memory but tended to emphasise
non-subject specific issues. Individual mentors focused on different issues that
related to the category of ‘difficulties with memory’. Some mentors emphasised
how problems with memory resulted in problems with personal organisation
(Sarah) whilst others emphasised ways in which memory difficulties impacted
detrimentally on their teaching (Susan). There was no mention by trainees or
mentors of additional support from mentors to help trainees retain important
information.
‘I told him every day what the class routines were and he still mixed them all up. One
day I was completely exasperated and I said to him – ‘how many times do you need to be
told?’ I mean, routines are important for young children’ (Susan).

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97

‘He would forget his resources and his lesson plans. I started to question whether he had
really planned his lessons at all. I told him loads of really important stuff about each
child that he needed to know but he just forgot everything’ (Sarah).

3.4 Administrative difficulties


All trainee participants reported difficulties with paper work. The nature of the
difficulties varied but all related to the general administrative duties that
teachers are required to complete in their day-to-day work. Although trainees
provided insights into the views of mentors in relation to these difficulties, this
was not an issue that mentors addressed in the focus group:
‘My teaching file was a total mess and my tutor criticised it. It was so disorganised that
she could not track through it and get a sense of my development. She told me to improve
it between her visits’ (Ayesha).
‘I hate filling in lesson plan forms. My mentor told me that my lesson plans were not
good enough. I could not remember what to put in all the boxes’. (Tom).
‘I just could not organise myself to get everything done. My mentor had a massive go at
me because I had not completed some assessments of the children’ (Sally).
Although the issues raised by participants all related to administration,
individual participants emphasised different aspects of administration. Whilst
some trainees focused on the organisation and presentation of files (Ayesha),
others emphasised difficulties with understanding how to complete the required
paperwork which they needed to do to pass the placement (Tom). Some trainees
focused on the criticism of their paperwork by tutors and mentors (Ayesha,
Tom, Sally) and others questioned the value of the documentation in the files
and the value of other general administrative tasks that had been assigned to
them. One trainee had suggested an adaptation to help with the burden of
administration but this was not accepted by her mentor. There was no mention
of any specific support or adjustments which might have been provided to make
the administration easier.

3.5 Criticism and ‘discrimination’


Most trainees highlighted different ways in which they felt they had experienced
discrimination. The nature of the perceived discrimination varied across the
participants but all implied that the initial teacher training partnership had not
fulfilled its obligation to make reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act.
Trainees mentioned specific adjustments which would have been beneficial to
them, yet were not provided:
‘I hated it. My mentor was totally unsupportive. It has damaged my confidence. They
wouldn’t do that to kids. No-one asked me before the placement started what help I
needed to help me to complete the placement successfully. I passed but I could have
passed with a much higher grade if some simple adjustments had been made. If I had
been allowed to set out my lesson plans as mind maps that would have helped me for
example’ (Tom)
‘There was no joint meeting with my, my link tutor and mentor prior to the placement
starting. This would have been helpful in that it would have given me an opportunity to
explain my specific needs’ (Kate).
‘I had to buy a spell-checker but I feel this should have been provided’ (Ayesha).
‘I asked if I could verbally record my lesson planning and evaluations on a Dictaphone
and my mentor said this was not allowed. If I had been allowed to do this I could have

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98

concentrated on providing children with exciting lessons. The paper work took me so
long to complete that it definitively impacted on my teaching. Being constantly criticised
for my teaching of literacy was demotivating and I nearly gave up. She discriminated
against me.’ (James).
‘I took so much criticism that now I have broad shoulders. It just bounces off me. Yes, I
feel it was discrimination.’ (Sally).

Some trainees emphasised the issue of mentor criticism and where this was
discussed it was associated by the participants as a form of discrimination (Sally,
James). Whilst it is possible that criticism could constitute discrimination, it is
important to emphasise that criticism of performance is not in itself
discriminatory but perhaps reflects a lack of understanding by the mentors on
how to effectively support a trainee with dyslexia. This could be due to
inadequate mentor training. It could also reflect the pressure on mentors to
maintain high standards of pupil achievement. These themes were identified by
the mentors:
‘I felt inadequately prepared for my role in supporting a trainee with dyslexia. The
university did not cover this in mentor training’ (Jane).
‘I was so worried that my pupils would not make the expected rate of progress that half
term when my trainee was in. I criticised his teaching but it was because the Head is
breathing down my neck to get the results up’. (Shirley)

3.6 Strengths
All trainee participants were able to identify ways in which their dyslexia
impacted positively on their teaching. Individual participants emphasised
different strengths. Some focused on how their experiences of dyslexia had
made them more empathic towards children who have learning difficulties
(Kate, Sally, Alice). Others emphasised how their own learning difficulties had
enabled them to automatically differentiate tasks for less-able learners and
support them in overcoming barriers to learning (Kate). Some trainees
emphasised their skills in teaching creative subjects (James, Tom), whilst others
emphasised their ability to think laterally (James):
‘I love working with the children who struggle with literacy. I find it easy to differentiate
the tasks for them. I understand the difficulties they have because I have also experienced
the same difficulties.’ (Kate).
‘I am more caring, particularly towards children who find learning difficult. I love
working with children with special educational needs.’ (Sally).
‘I am a more creative teacher because of my dyslexia. I am a creative person and I am able
to think outside the box.’ (James).
‘I have my weaknesses but I am a creative teacher. I love teaching subjects such as art
and drama and this is what has kept me on the course.’(Tom).
‘The amount of criticism of my teaching made me question – ‘do I really want to teach if
teaching is like this?’. But in another way it has made me more determined to help kids
with difficulties. I know I’m good at that. I think I will go into special needs.’ (Ayesha).
‘If children don’t understand something I am able to show them other ways of
approaching it. I love working with children with special needs and I think having
dyslexia makes me more caring towards them’ (Alice).
The mentor participants highlighted the strengths of trainees with dyslexia but
often commented on corresponding weakness at the same time:

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‘My trainee was creative and he was able to excite the children through drama. But at
the end of the day he could not teach literacy and children are tested in that, not in
drama’ (Jane)
‘Yes, she was brilliant with children with special needs but she could not stretch the
more-able ones and that is a skill that is identified in the teachers’ standards’ (Fran).
‘It’s all well and good being able to teach art, which she did very well, but she could not
teach phonics and I have to balance this against the expectations of the Year 1 phonics
screening test’ (Sarah).
‘It is no good being able to teach children with special needs. He was brilliant with this
group. However, these children will not make any difference to our results. If he is going
to survive as a teacher he needs to be able to push the top end’ (Shirley).

4.0 Discussion
Although the findings are grouped into broad themes individual participants
emphasised different experiences in relation to each theme. Thus, rather than
generating collective experiences it must be recognised that the experiences of
individual mentors and trainees are unique.
The findings were largely consistent with previous research in that all trainee
participants reported literacy difficulties, particularly in relation to spelling,
grammar and punctuation (Griffiths, 2012). These difficulties varied across
individuals but included gaps in their own subject knowledge and problems
with memorising rules. Trainee participants also reported difficulties with
memory and administration. Trainees felt unsupported by their mentors in
addressing their difficulties with literacy, memory and administration. These
difficulties are consistent with previous research and are well-documented in the
literature (Griffiths, 2012; Hatcher et al., 2002; Mcloughlin et al., 2002; Mortimore
& Crozier, 2009; Pollak, 2009).
An emergent theme in the data specifically related to difficulties with phonics.
This specific difficulty was also confirmed by the mentor participants. Trainees
reported limitations in their own phonic knowledge and difficulties in the
teaching of phonics. This specific issue had not been identified in previous
research on trainee teachers’ experiences (Burns & Bell, 2010; 2011; Griffiths,
2012; Morgan & Burns, 2000). It is perhaps unsurprising that trainees reported
difficulties in phonics given the research on causation which indicates that
dyslexia is caused by difficulties in phonological processing (Carroll &
Snowling, 2004; Velluntino et al., 2004; Snowling & Hulme, 2012). However,
irrespective of these difficulties, the teaching of phonics in primary schools is
‘high-stakes’ following the introduction of the phonics screening check in Year 1
and revisions to school and initial teacher education inspection frameworks over
the past decade. In view of this wider policy context, supporting all teachers to
develop good subject and pedagogical knowledge in this curriculum area must
be a priority for every initial teacher education partnership.
There is a clear need for initial teacher training partnerships to consider carefully
how they support trainees with dyslexia both to develop good phonemic and
pedagogical knowledge so that they are able to teach phonics effectively. Whilst
there is a paucity of literature on how trainee teachers with dyslexia can be
better supported to teach phonics, there is literature on how children and young
people with dyslexia can be better supported in learning to read (Rose, 2009). It

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is possible to draw out of this research aspects of effective practice which could
be used to support trainee teachers with dyslexia in higher education.
According to Barber and Mourshed (2007, p.6) ‘the quality of an education
system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers’. Initial teacher training
partnerships therefore need to consider what types of interventions will best
support the needs of student teachers with dyslexia to teach phonics more
effectively. Brooks (2007) highlighted the need for intensive interventions for
children and young people with dyslexia and this may also be appropriate for
trainee teachers in higher education. In relation to supporting children and
young people with dyslexia, it is considered to be good practice to provide a
multisensory, structured, daily programme of phonics which provides
opportunities for consolidation and reinforcement (Rose, 2009). Trainee teachers
with dyslexia may also benefit from exactly this type of intervention through
which they can gradually develop their phonic knowledge through a process
which provides them with opportunities to revisit prior learning. Intensive one-
to-one tuition (Rose, 2009) may also benefit trainees in addition to the phonic
training which they receive as part of their regular training. Regular on-going
assessment of trainees’ phonic knowledge and skills is critical to effective
progress, as is the case when planning interventions for children and young
people (Rose, 2009). In addition, trainees’ progress should be regularly
monitored during the intervention and teaching should be flexibly adapted in
response to misconceptions. Explicit training in the skills of phoneme addition,
phoneme deletion, phoneme substitution, blending and segmenting will also
help trainees to systematically develop the skills they will be required to teach in
schools.
The need to place trainee teachers at the centre of any intervention is critical to
ensure that they have ownership of their training. Initial teacher education
partnerships will need to decide which interventions are implemented by
specific partners. It is perhaps more appropriate for the university to take
ownership of the systematic intervention which is carefully designed to develop
trainees’ phonological skills. Trainees might benefit also from timely
intervention prior to a placement to revise some of the knowledge and skills
they have developed during the intervention. This could be delivered by the
university. The university intervention programme could then be supplemented
by a well-planned programme of school-based intervention which takes place
during placements. Again, trainees should be involved in planning such
interventions. Examples of school-based interventions could include coaching by
an expert mentor who is skilled in teaching phonics. The trainee participants in
this study were left ‘floundering’ on placement and might have benefitted from
joint planning, team teaching and guided observations of phonics lessons by
expert teachers.
Bassey (1999) emphasised the need for effective communication across initial
teacher education partnerships. The trainee participants in this study struggled
to teach literacy but some of the issues could have been addressed more
proactively had a joint planning meeting taken place between the trainee,
mentor and tutor prior to the start of the placement. Kate mentioned there had
been no joint meeting between herself, the mentor and the university tutor prior
to her placement. These meetings are useful in highlighting potential difficulties

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at the start of placements and identifying reasonable adjustments which can be


put into place quite quickly (Riddell & Weedon, 2006).
What was clearly evident within the data was that the mentors adopted a
medical model which focused on discussing trainees’ deficits rather than
embracing an affirmation model of disability (French & Swain, 2000). Sarah’s use
of language – ‘those trainees’- also creates an othering effect. The trainee
participants felt that they had many strengths to bring to the teaching
profession. They highlighted personal traits such as their empathic and caring
nature and their skills in building children’s self-efficacy. In addition, they
emphasised their skills in supporting children with special educational needs
through effective differentiation and their ability to think laterally. Creativity
was also identified as a strength. Data were consistent with previous research
which has highlighted the strengths that trainees with dyslexia bring to the
teaching profession (Chih Hoong et al. 2006; Duquette, 2000; Riddick, 2003).
Despite the fact that the mentors also acknowledged these strengths they
emphasised their weaknesses, thus indicating a focus on their deficits rather
than focusing on their skills.
It would appear that we live in an ‘ableist’ society (Onken & Slaten, 2000: 101)
which does not tolerate weaknesses. Although the mentors emphasised the
trainees’ weaknesses, they had not considered how they might more effectively
support their trainees in order to help them achieve to a higher level. Some of
the trainee participants (Tom / James) felt that they could have achieved a
higher grade if they had been given more support. The trainees talked about
being criticised (Alice / James) and humiliated by mentors stepping in and
‘rescuing’ lessons (James) but there was no indication across the data that
mentors had put strategies (reasonable adjustments) in place to enable trainees
to achieve their full potential. The trainees perceived criticism as a form of
discrimination which impacted detrimentally on their confidence, self-concept
and self-esteem. As a result of mentor criticism some trainees experienced
feelings of stress and anxiety and even questioned whether teaching was a
suitable career option. For others, it made them more resilient. However, the
data from the mentors also illustrate that there are complex issues at stake. Some
mentors expressed concerns about trainees’ weaknesses in relation to the
competing demands that the mentors experienced. Some mentors emphasised
that they wanted to recognise and support the strengths of the trainees, but felt
responsible as gate-keepers to the profession, and were conscious of meeting the
needs of the key stakeholders to which they were responsible – the children,
senior leaders, parents and Ofsted. Some mentors felt torn between meeting the
needs of their trainee and meeting the needs of their pupils. Although the
trainees associated mentor criticism with discrimination, criticism of
performance does not in itself constitute discrimination but perhaps reflects
mentors’ limited understanding of how to more effectively support trainees with
dyslexia. Mentors commented that this was not addressed in mentor training.
Criticism of trainee performance could also reflect the pressures that mentors
experienced in relation to accountability.
The trainees’ automatic association of criticism with discrimination also reflected
a lack of understanding on the trainees’ part of the function of criticism.
Criticism of performance can be a powerful tool in improving teacher

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development if it is constructive (Pearson, 2012). The trainees did not appear to


recognise the conflicting demands on their mentors in relation to balancing the
needs of their trainee against the needs of other stakeholders. Since an important
part of teacher development is to understand accountability it would appear that
the university could have done more to support the trainees in understanding
the competing priorities of their mentors. Woodhouse and Woodhouse (2012)
emphasised the importance of trainees learning from experience to improve the
quality of their own performance. Whilst some trainees were quick to criticise
mentors who did not help them to improve, they also did not acknowledge
explicitly their own responsibility for improving their professional development.

5.0 Conclusion
The medical model was the dominant model adopted by the mentors who
tended to focus on trainees’ weaknesses. The principles of the social and
affirmative models of disability were not embedded during the placements of
the trainees who participated in this study. The trainees who participated in this
study had many strengths, as a result of having dyslexia, which they brought to
the teaching profession. However, it would seem that they did not experience a
positive affirmation of their disability. This led to trainees feeling unsupported,
undervalued and feeling that they were detrimental to the profession. This is
consistent with previous research (Griffiths, 2012). The data indicate that the role
of a mentor as a teacher of teachers, i.e. as a coach, had not been understood by
the mentors who participated in this study. This is an important skill in
mentoring (Carter, 2015). There was no evidence that mentors had provided
explicit coaching to trainees to help them develop their subject knowledge,
memory and organisation and there was no evidence that trainees’ strengths
were harnessed so as to develop their confidence. Until the principles of the
affirmative model of disability are fully embedded into schools and applied
equally to all members of the school community then schools cannot develop
inclusive cultures. Additionally, there was no evidence across the data that
reasonable adjustments had been embedded during the trainees’ placements.
However, whilst the trainees criticised their mentors for these issues, it was also
apparent that the mentors had not been provided with adequate training by the
university to enable them to understand more comprehensively the role of the
mentor as a teacher of teachers. Instead, they focused on assessing the
performance of their trainees and making judgements on that performance.
Aspects of teacher development, such as teacher modelling and coaching, were
not discussed either by trainees or by mentors. In order to develop the capacity
of mentors to more effectively support the professional development of trainees,
including those with disabilities, the university has a pivotal role to play. It
would appear that the university had not fulfilled its obligations towards its
mentors who participated in this study and consequently the blame cannot be
placed solely on them.

6.0 Recommendations
In relation to the ICF model (WHO, 2001) the trainees demonstrated functional
difficulties at the level of the body. Examples of these included difficulty with
understanding phonics and difficulties with memory. Intervention was not

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made available to address the difficulties with these functions. The trainees
demonstrated activity limitations in relation to teaching literacy and difficulties
with administration. For some, their participation was restricted through mentors
preventing them from teaching specific curriculum areas. The attitudes of
mentors and the wider policy context (i.e. the curriculum and assessment
structures that they had to work within) constituted environmental barriers to
trainees’ participation and achievement and training for mentors did not address
these issues. For some, personal strengths, such as creativity and differentiation,
acted as facilitators rather than barriers to achievement, although their strengths
were not used to address their difficulties.
If initial teacher education partnerships start to recognise the multi-dimensional
nature of disability and the interaction between the biological and contextual
factors which affect the experiences of individuals with disabilities, interventions
can then be applied to address each of these factors. Partnerships could then use
the ICF model to plan reasonable adjustments that specifically target different
aspects of this framework. Schools and universities should work collaboratively
to plan reasonable adjustments to placements prior to trainees commencing
periods of school-based training and trainees should be included in this process
so that their perspectives are taken in to account.

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International Journal of Learning, Teaching and Educational Research


Vol. 16, No. 12, pp. 108-121, December 2017
https://doi.org/10.26803/ijlter.16.12.7

Punished For Being Normal!


A Culturally Relevant Critique of the Deviant
Behaviors of Minority Millennials

Miriam Chitiga
Educational Leadership and Policies
Fayetteville State University
Fayetteville, North Carolina

Abstract: Socially disadvantaged minority students, including African


American students are disproportionately, singled out for disciplinary action
and behavior intervention programs in schools in the United States. The article
draws from triangulated evidence sources, including the researcher‘s
experience as an educational leadership administrator, faculty member
teaching educational leadership, research, and policies, classroom lesson
observations, collaborations and input from practicing teachers and principals,
and literature reviews. Perhaps one of the readily accepted collective
stereotypes is that socially disadvantaged minority students including African-
American children are more prone to engage in negatively deviant behavior
than any other group of students. This factor is one of the major contributors
to the disproportionately high number of discipline referrals, parent-
conferences, in school and out of school suspensions, grade retention,
underperformance, alternative school placements, school-to-prison pipeline,
and dropout rates, among the seemingly endless list of other problems
minority students face. To help educational leaders and teachers to better
understand more of the diverse students that they serve, the paper critically
examines some of the commonly misinterpreted behaviors of black K-12
students and offers possible culturally relevant interpretations and rationale
for such otherwise ‗normal‘ behavior. Further, for each of the behaviors
analyzed, the paper suggests alternative avenues for re-examining culturally
‗normal‘ behavior that mainstream public schools routinely label as deviant.
The article argues that leaders and other educators ought to continue to
critically examine this issue, in order to deepen their insights into the cultural
and home backgrounds of their students, and to find novel mechanisms of
labelling, curbing, and appropriately dealing with otherwise normal behavior
that is mischaracterized as deviant. The paper also suggests innovative ways
for educators to help students and families identify potential triggers and
causes for behavior and attitudes that are likely to be construed by mainstream
educators as negative deviance.

Keywords: Punished Deviant Behavior; Disproportionate Discipline; Minority


Students; Linguistic Differences; School-to-prison pipeline.

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109

Background
The problems that minority students face within the education systems, can be
best understood is examined within the larger societal context of the challenges
that minority populations - who are often marginalized - are compelled to
endure in their engagement within predominantly monolithic mainstream
cultures. Majority perceptions of the behaviors that are considered acceptable or
deviant determine the benchmarks for measuring the conduct of the minority
groups, in various social situations. This is especially problematic in the public-
school sector, where the behaviors and tendencies that fall outside the confines
of established norms and perceptions are either formally classified or ultimately
labeled deviant. Students from minority groups struggle with establishing a
healthy personal concept, because they are constantly under scrutiny from
teachers, who expect them to act within the confines of a behavior and value
system that is derived from the majority culture - a value system which is alien
to them and which seeks to squeeze them in a constrictive mold of mainstream
culture. The dilemma that these students face is that the more they try to act in
resonance with the conventional and fixed standard of the dominant group, the
more they lose a sense of self and feel alienated. Conversely, by resisting the
majority culture in an effort to preserve theirs, they expose themselves to
disproportionate prejudices and disciplinary consequences.
Research shows that minorities, including African American students,
are often disproportionately targeted by the United States criminal justice
system (Brewer & Heitzeg, 2008; US Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2007; Cole, 1999).
For example, Herrera, Holmes, & Kavimandan (2012) discuss the problems that
African American students face as they try to navigate the mainstream Euro-
centric education system. Such ideological baggage, which is premised on a
monolithic culture, stifles the potential of many African American learners and
adversely clouds the perception of mainstream teachers towards the behavior,
attitudes, and potential of minority students. Every semblance of expression of
minority students is a field of contestation in which the worst pathetic
constructions are formulated that continue to feed in the mantra of the pathetic
performance of the minority students especially the African American students.
To these teachers, the time-honored adage ‗it‘s all yellow to the jaundiced eye‘
grows in relevance because the teachers, as expected, now ‗see‘ hopelessness and
deviance only. Indeed, one of the most widespread, deeply entrenched, and
readily accepted social stereotypes is that socially disadvantaged minority
students are more prone to engage in a deviant behavior than any other group of
students (Becker, 1963; Jabbra, 2001; Moore, 2003). Critical theorists and critical
race theorists view power hierarchies in terms of oppressive groups that impose
their views, cultures, and languages on the oppressed (Freire, 2010; Robinson &
Lewis, 2017; Weber, 2010). The wide adoption of zero-tolerance discipline
policies and harsh, and punitive suspension policies further complicates the
relationship between the schools and students of color and other minorities,
including those with learning and other disabilities. The then Assistant Attorney
General Thomas E. Perez states, ―Education should offer a lifeline to those
students for whom a successful future is not predetermined … education should
be the key that opens the door to a better future,‖ (

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110

https://www.justice.gov/archives/opa/ blog/civil-rights-and-school-
discipline).

Introduction
This paper does not focus on the types of punishment that schools use to
discourage and deal with the culturally misinterpreted behaviors of African-
Americans; instead, it aims to elucidate both the behaviors and the mainstream
interpretations, in an effort to help educational leaders and educators rethink
and interrogate their own behaviors, reactions, and understanding of the diverse
students that they serve. In this way, this paper contributes to a growing body
of literature that critically examines the institutionalization of policies and
behaviors that disproportionally disadvantage minority students in ways that
hinder or demolish their chances of using education to open the doors to better
futures, prosperity, upward social mobility, and as a tool to interrupt or end
intergenerational cycles of poverty failure. Essentially, the problem emanates
from the dissonance and disparities that exist between the different value
systems and perceptions that guide the behaviors of the mainstream teachers
and the minority students. These different perspectives, standpoints, and
ideological underpinnings critically influence behaviors and attitudes of both
parties. Owing to the mainstream teachers‘ general lack of understanding and
or empathy for the totality of experiences and modes of expression of the
minority students, any behavior by the student which runs contrary to the fixed
script is perceived as deviance, and probably warranting disciplinary
consequences. This further heightens the advocacy of a Cultural Responsive
Pedagogy and Biography-driven instruction models of engagement between
teachers and their students, especially those coming from a minority group.
These pedagogies call for teacher educators to empower candidates those skills
needed to create inclusive classroom environments, where diversity is valued.
This could enhance culturally responsive pedagogy and biography-driven
instruction, which emphasizes the need for teachers holistically engage students,
taking into consideration their collective cultural backgrounds and experiences
as crucial to their current values, psyche and behaviors (Herrera, et al 2012;
Samuels, Samuels & Cook, 2017).
Socially-disadvantaged minority students, often African-American and
Latino, are disproportionately singled out for disciplinary action and behavior
intervention programs in schools in the United States (Baker, Cameron, Rimm-
Kaufman, & Grissmer, 2012). This is one of the major contributing factors to the
alarmingly high number of discipline referrals, parent-conferences, in-school
and out-of-school suspensions, grade retention, alternative school placements,
under-performance, and dropout rates (Jenkins, 1995; Skiba, Michael, Nardo, &
Peterson, 2000). These visible trends in education have come to the attention of
the public in recent years (Rocque, 2010). Educators should continue to critically
examine this issue to deepen their insights into the behavioral challenges those
students face, thereby finding better ways of curbing deviance, appropriately
dealing with deviant behavior, and helping students and families identify
potential causes of negative behaviors. Although, as noted above, both African-
American and Latino students are targeted in similar ways when it comes to
discipline, this article concentrates primarily on African-American school age

© 2017 The author and IJLTER.ORG. All rights reserved.


111

children and teens. In 2007, the National Urban League reported that only 43
percent of African-American males, compared to 78 percent of white males,
graduated from high schools in the early 2000s (as cited in Baker, Cameron,
Rimm-Kaufman, & Grissmer, 2012). Moreover, according to the report presented
by the Council for Exceptional Children & National Alliance of Black School Educators
(2002), African-American children are more likely to be referred to receive
special education on the basis of mental retardation, emotional disturbance, or
the presence of a learning disability. Although African-American students
between the ages of six and twenty-one make up less than 15 percent of
American society, they are represented by 20 percent of special education
students (Council for Exceptional Children & National Alliance of Black School
Educators, 2002). These discrepancies are quite disturbing, especially with regard
to the quest to offer all students the opportunity for upward social mobility.
Such disproportionate group membership can be traced to many other areas of
the education and criminal justice systems in the United States (McKenna, 2013;
Skiba, Poloni-Staudinger, Gallini, Simmons, Feggins-Azziz, 2006; Zhang,
Katsiyannis, Ju, & Roberts, 2014).
While the debate exists on the foundation of the problem mentioned
above (whether African-Americans are more likely to commit disciplinary
violations or whether they are more likely to be punished harshly for similar
actions), Tyler and colleagues (2008) explained academic difficulties for minority
students by referring to lack of connection between home and school
environments for these students. Schools are often tasked with assuming
responsibility for teaching appropriate behaviors to children and teens (Jenkins,
1995). When home lives are significantly different and, in some cases, even
contradictory to the desired school environment, the student is caught in
between.
Delinquency is defined as ―acts against persons or property that disrupt
the educational processes of teaching and learning‖ (Jenkins, 1995). Delinquency
and deviance, like many other social aspects, are instrumental in nature. They
also can be perceived as tools of social control and maintenance of the status quo
(Ulmer, 2000). These definitions allow for social stratification (Phelan &
Rudman, 2010). Deviance is determined by the powerful forces of society with
the intent of disadvantaging and labeling certain others, who are often also
members of the oppressed, marginalized, disenfranchised groups (Ulmer, 2000).
In other words, the dominant group defines deviance. In 2008, Higgins and
Mackinem declared: ―When we think about deviance, we should not just have in
mind some ―fringe‖ segment of society. When we think about deviance, we can
think about ourselves, too.‖ Certain behaviors of school-age children are labeled
as normal, while other behaviors are deemed deviant. Often, in attempts to
quickly address delinquency and deviance at schools, finding answers of why
students behave a certain way are overlooked. This paper addresses commonly-
considered ―deviances‖ and offers alternative views when it comes to attending
to them in a classroom environment.

Rationale
Home culture and socialization often influence the nature of inter- and intra-
cultural interactions. While some behaviors are accepted as normal at home,

© 2017 The author and IJLTER.ORG. All rights reserved.


112

those very same behaviors might be viewed as acts of delinquency at schools.


Those students, who do not adhere to traditional approaches in education, are
labeled as ―disabled‖ (Guild, 2011; McKenna, 2013). Some experts believe that
certain learning patterns, including oral, physical, and peer engagement, are
essential for African-American children and teens (Guild, 2011; Watkins, 2002).
In order to improve the educational experiences of African-American children
and to make progress in correcting historic and current injustices, it‘s necessary
to identify areas of concern—where mere cultural differences may be
misidentified as delinquency—and to suggest solutions to them. These areas of
concern are loud voices and back-talk, language and linguistic differences, and
rhythmic and kinesthetic learning. Furthermore, because of societal
stratification systems that serve to sort people into categories that correspond to
the way that valued resources are distributed and rationed, minorities are often
disadvantaged by certain laws and regulations that often become overly
punitive to certain segments of the population. These minorities often include,
but are not limited to the following groups: the less politically and economically
powerful, the poor, those with mental/physical/emotional disabilities, women,
foreigners, people of color and others whose features depart considerably from
the mainstream and the policy makers, One set of policies that has
disproportionally jeopardized African American students is commonly referred
to as the ―zero-tolerance discipline policies, [which] impose increasingly harsher
punishments for seemingly minor infractions,‖ (US Department of Justice, 2010,
https://www.justice.gov/archives/opa/blog/civil-rights-and-school-discipline.
The negative consequences of zero-tolerance discipline policies have a
disproportional effect on students of color, leading to the increase of the
criminalization of Black, Latino, and disabled students. Therefore, to compound
the socio-cultural misinterpretations of student behavior in schools, the legal and
policy components further discriminate against minority students, including
African-American children. This legal complication is a major factor in fueling
the school-to-prison pipeline that is evident in the fact that blacks are
disproportionally represented in US prisons.

Loud Voices and Back-Talk


One of the major complaints teachers have about African-American students is
that they are too ―loud‖ or ―noisy‖ (Fordham, 1993; Morris, 2007). This, in the
educators‘ eyes, deserves disciplinary action, albeit not as severe as that given
for other ―disruptive behaviors.‖ Anyone who has spent time with black youths
has heard them talk on the phone, to each other, joke around with each other,
and simply engage in various conversations. The majority of time, they are
generally boisterous and their voices are strong and quite audible (Morris, 2007).
A good number of them speak loudly in happy conversations and their voices
and conversations can be heard clearly in the next room. Generally, they are not
trying to hide anything or gossip about anybody—they simply speak freely
(Fordham, 1993). Their ―loudness‖ is often mistaken for aggression or
intentionally disruptive behavior.
The ―loudness problem‖ like many of the cultural behaviors that Black
students are punished for, is also problematic for some adults in the United
States. Most students speak at the same volume that they hear adults and their

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113

peers speak in the same in a variety of settings. For example, eleven Black female
book club members were unceremoniously kicked off a Napa Valley tour train,
for being too loud for other passengers. (Napa Valley wine train incident.
http://beta.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-wine-tour-settlement-20160419-
story.html). ―Loud‖ voices are used at home: in conversations with parents and
siblings, with peers, at church by the pastor and congregation as they praise and
worship together, and in the community. African-Americans are often perceived
as loud talkers and loud laughers. Those unfamiliar with this phenomenon may
look at African-Americans engaging in ―loud‖ talks, referred to as talking with
an attitude (TWA) by some scholars, negatively (Koonce, 2012; Troutman, 2010).
However, to the members of this group, TWA can also be perceived as positive
and even required (Koonce, 2012). Simone (2013) reported that this stereotype of
―loudness‖ is especially harsh on African-American females.
However, the need to speak up to be heard is culturally ingrained from
childhood—in African-American churches, at assemblies, at home, and even
sometimes in school. There is nothing out of the ordinary in ―loud‖ interactions
in the home communities of these students. In various instances, young
conversationalists speak in their same, ―normal‖ voices in their home
environments. If anything, they might be encouraged to speak louder as might
be the case in a church or in an assembly, when the pastor or the speaker might
call to them to respond to a greeting or question. In almost every educational
assembly or other event the author of this article attended, the speaker, after the
first greeting, would beckon the students to shout or respond louder, often using
remarks such as: ―Surely, you can do better than that! ―I can‘t hear you!‖ Let‘s
try again!‖ In class, it is common for teachers to ask those students who respond
to the teacher‘s prompt in low voices with a comment: ―Speak up, so that
everyone can hear you!‖ Therefore, even in formal and semi-formal educational
settings, these young students ―speak up,‖ so that they can be acknowledged.
Thus, when these same students are punished for doing something that they
have been socialized, trained, and encouraged to do in a variety of settings,
including the formal classroom, they are taken aback. Teachers tend to plead for
the use of an ―inside voice.‖ And what do you do when your inside voice
sounds obnoxious to others?
Especially for younger students, this dissonance can be very confusing
and disturbing, as they struggle to understand what the rules are, and how and
why they are variedly applied. Such confusion can lead to more disorientation
for the students, as they try, in vain, to make sense of the new, unclear,
unexplained rules of the alien school culture. For some of their parents, too, this
seemingly inconsistent application of the rules can be very frustrating and
difficult to comprehend, let alone explain to their children. In situations where
this and similar problems persist, it would be unrealistic for teachers and other
school officials to expect parents to be their allies in helping encourage students
to enthusiastically attend school and diligently pursue education. If both
parents and students are confused, frustrated, and suspicious of the school
culture, they may become stronger allies against the school culture and what it
stands for. In addition to speaking loudly, African-American teens are
sometimes also reprimanded for talking back to an educator. Sometimes back-
talking is viewed by educators as a sign of disrespect. However, United States

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culture encourages individuality and self-expression. In 1996, Baumrind stated


that issues of ―personal agency and autonomy‖ were not only to be expected
during preschool years and adolescence, but were absolutely necessary during
these periods of finding one‘s voice and identity. We learn about freedom of self-
expression and the notion that all men are created equal, yet we are taken aback
when a student speaks up or has an opinion significantly different from ours.
We present the students with conflicting ideas. On the one hand, they are
encouraged to express themselves freely, and on the other hand, diligently
trained not to talk back. No doubt, this is confusing for a developing mind.
Flanagan (2013) presented his view on a child who talked back; it was divided
between being a parent and a psychologist. Which side does an educator pick?
According to Flanagan (2013), students should be allowed to tell their own story
and voice their own opinion. Otherwise, would prevent us from viewing
ourselves as useful to the community and the world in general and would allow
the world to use us instead. Outlined below are some possible solutions.

Possible Solutions
Given that the teachers and school officials are often the only people, in this
―circle‖ (of students, teachers, parents, guardians, community, etc.), who are
aware of the variations of the rule application and the rationale for such, the
onus is on them to painstakingly explain to both the students and their
guardians the differences in implications and expectations for voice-loudness in
the school setting. For example, students can be trained to recognize appropriate
instances to use the ―inside‖ voice (which should be clarified by the educators)
as opposed to the ―outside‖ voice. As many culturally aware teachers often do, it
is essential to socialize the students into the ―new‖ culture by helping them
understand how and when to appropriately ―code-switch‖ between their home
culture and their school culture (Flowers, 2000). Higgins and Mackinem (2008)
noted that while we may ―abhor the destruction caused by some deviance,‖ we
must realize that ―deviance is fundamental to human life.‖ Thus, an
acknowledgment must be made that what is often labeled as destructive
loudness and back-talk might be the emergence of ―self-assertive aspects of
human nature‖ (Baumrind, 1996). Educators also need to realize that this self-
assertiveness often creates the foundation for self-esteem and competence
(Baumrind, 1996). This very self-assertiveness is necessary for the educational
process and dialog.

Language and Linguistic Differences


Many public schools prohibit—de facto—the use of any other language other
than English—specifically the Standard English dialect used as the official
medium of instruction and all other communication in schools. Where the
―prohibition‖ rules do not specifically mention language use, the latter is
implied and punishable through various other subtle, but consequential ways.
Intentionally or unintentionally, the practice discriminates against many
traditionally American citizens who can claim no other language but English—
just not the officially sanctioned language of the school, i.e., Standard English.
For example, those who do not use Standard English for academic writing and
presentations usually get penalized, grade-wise, for their ―sub-standard‖

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115

linguistic skills. This group includes, but is not limited to, white Southern
Americans whose home languages comprise a variety of Southern White English
dialects, and African-Americans, who speak what is collectively referred to as
African-American Vernacular English (AAVE) and also is referred to as the
Black Vernacular English (BVE) (Mayher, 1974). Research shows that the
majority of African-American students switch between ―a variety of social
registers to produce inherent variability in the features of their speech‖ (Linn,
1975).
Given the pivotal role that language and culture play in socialization and
identity, students who are prohibited, punished, and/or disadvantaged for
using their home languages during class time and certain school activities often
feel alienated from school. Consequently, many find it difficult to overcome the
socio-linguistic barriers quickly enough to master the subject content to the
degree required for educational success. Some would say that it is not the young
students who have a cultural deficit. Instead, it is the adult, school officials who
do, as most lack the knowledge and or appreciation of the cultural diversity of
their students. Those who have some knowledge of different cultures, even
those who might share the same cultural roots with the students in question,
might nevertheless lack a full appreciation of how to incorporate home culture
into the middle-class school culture.

Possible Solutions
Teachers should make an extra effort to recognize the variants of Standard
English often utilized by African-American students (Linn, 1975). Moreover,
avoiding a stereotypic view of speech differences can teach a student that the
use of Standard English does not necessarily entail the rejection of the students‘
culture and favoritism of the white middle-class culture (Linn, 1975). In 1974,
Mayher recognized that Black Vernacular English should be regarded as a
recognized dialect of English. This dialect is fully capable in ―principle of
expressing anything which can be meant in any dialect in English.‖ Most English
teachers receive their education on the foundation of the traditional language
model (the use of the Standard English), so they are unfamiliar with the model
of BEV. If a student is given an opportunity to use the language he or she is
accustomed to, it is easier to establish clear standards and expectations for all
students for written and spoken languages.
It is essential to help all students feel and believe that their home cultures
are key to their learning and personal growth. In a study of the implementation
of an education language act in another multilingual nation it was found that,
there was dissonance among their attitudes on the most appropriate medium of
instruction held by students, teachers, principals, and parents (Kadodo & Zanga
2015). Lindsay (2003) stated that only the ―integrative meshing‖ of cultures and
subcultures of educational settings can produce fruitful results. Educators
should help students understand the value of learning new cultures without
erasing their home cultures. Students benefit from understanding the benefits of
being multicultural, with the ability to code-switch both language and behaviors
in different contexts, as appropriate. They should be helped to appreciate the
fact that it is okay to speak fluently, both Standard English and their home
dialect in the appropriate linguistic contexts. This cannot be achieved by

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punishing them for using their home language in class; instead, teachers should
take the opportunities to illustrate how different dialects or languages are best
suited for different linguistic environments, as well as illustrate areas of overlap.
Further, educators should feel free to code-switch between dialects for
pedagogical enhancement. For example, teachers could code-switch for
emphasizing certain disciplinary issues if they feel the specific students would
respond best to.

Rhythmic and Kinesthetic Learning


Another common problem that teachers complain about is that black students
often sing at inappropriate times. Some of them suddenly break into song in the
middle of the lesson. Others sing during ―quiet‖ times when they are supposed
to be working silently on individual assignments. Teachers and some students
might complain about the ―disturbing‖ noises or ―disruptive behavior.‖
It is widely acknowledged that internal rhythms helped many African
ancestors survive the horrors and hardships of enslavement in the forced
diaspora and colonization on the continent of Africa (Breckenridge, 2000).
Accordingly, a rich musical tradition has developed that provides emotional
soothing and spiritual enrichment, helps people cope with external pressures,
helps them ease the strain of inhumane physical labor, strengthens social
cohesion, provides voice to the voiceless, and provides a vehicle for transmitting
in-group coded messages. Music has served as an integral part of health
maintenance as well as emotional and social stability (Breckenridge, 2000).
Music continues to be an extension of the African-American culture and is
regarded as a necessity for one‘s daily functioning in this culture (Carter,
Hawkins, & Natesan, 2008). Therefore, when young African-American students
sing to themselves while doing homework, they are merely doing so to reduce
the intensity of the mental stress that can be brought about by academic tasks.
They generally have no intentions of being disrespectful to their teachers and
peers or disruptive to the class. Teachers usually give students the rules and the
accompanying penalties for breaking them; in some cases, they might also
provide external incentives and rewards for following the rules. However,
simply giving them the rules, without explaining the differences in home and
school cultures and explaining the intrinsic advantages of following those rules
might not help the students feel motivated enough to embrace the ―new‖
cultural norms.
To further explain the rhythmic nature of African-American students,
Carter, Hawkins, and Natesan (2008) relied on the term verve. Boykin (1983)
described it as the tendency for ―energetic, intense, stylistic body language and
expression.‖ This propensity for stimulating learning environments is often
relevant for African-American children, and is said to have its roots in West
Africa, where a large number of African-Americans originated. If children are
not given the proper opportunities to move about as well as express themselves
through such movement, they find those opportunities without any intention to
cause mayhem. Carter, Hawkins, and Natesan (2008) referenced several authors
who believe that African-American children are often punished for their natural
propensities, because they must adhere to the standards designed by and for
European American, middle-class, schooling. This culture creates a conflict for

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young children and teens that are used to home cultures that promote free
expression.
Boykin (2001) stated that students with highly vervistic expressions are
regularly referred to as having poor concentration and organizational skills.
Verve can be expressed in many ways. For instance, these students might thrive
in rather noisy working environment and prefer working collaboratively rather
than individually. They also might show preference to interactive learning
rather than passive, individual tasks such as quiet reading and note-taking.

Possible Solutions
Boykin (2001) proposed several instructional techniques that can be effective in
addressing the vervistic nature of many African-American children. These
techniques include communications and interactions that encourage self-
expression. The use of rhythmic language, expressive gestures, and
opportunities for collaboration, movement, and lively discussions are more
likely to encourage productivity in students. Students should be given ample
chances to merge home environment. Diversity should be celebrated not
punished in the classrooms throughout the United States.

Putting It All Together


In the late 1970s, first attempts were made to institutionalize reforms that can
make educational settings as well as the teacher education curricula more
ethnically and culturally inclusive (Banks, 1979). A major goal of such reform
was to reduce racial and ethnic prejudice and discrimination. Although, since
the 1970s, much has been achieved through social reformation, more work needs
to be done. We cannot completely disregard the history and must recognize that
the societal rules were created by the ruling class (Ulmer, 2000). Some scholars
refer to this as ―Anglo-conformity‖ (Banks, 1979). It is imperative to recognize
that the disciplinary climates of every school emerge out of a ―complex
interaction‖ between the demographic characteristics of everyone involved, as
well as interpersonal communities surrounding the school environments (Arum,
2000). Discontinuity continues to exist between a child‘s home experience and
the value structures typically encouraged in many public schools (Council for
Exceptional Children & National Alliance of Black School Educators, 2002).
Demanding complete separation of home and school cultures from students in
not only unnecessary, but also impossible. Cross-cultural competence of
educators is very important for all students (Banks, 1979). This competence and
respect of diversity discourages over-representations on African-American
students when it comes to school suspensions and other infractions. It also stops
the alienation of any students from the rest of the school.
If, as educators, we believe as John Dewey did, that formal education is
not preparation for, but life itself, then we must ask ourselves what kind of life
our schools are giving our students. Even if we believe that education is simply
the preparation of the young for their future roles, we still need to ask ourselves
what kind of life we are preparing these young and vulnerable students of life
for. Are we giving them or preparing them for a life where their cultures and
personal identities are inferior and rejected, and even punished? Freire and other
transformative educators believe that teachers owe it to the students and to their

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societies to help students acquire the skills and knowledge types needed for the
critical examination and consequent transformation of their societies into
freedom filled, socially just ones. If schools are microcosms of their societies,
perhaps it is time for communities to come together to transform those societies
that are mirrored by those failing schools whose cultures alienate many of our
students, especially the economically, culturally, physically, and mentally
different, and racial, ethnic, gender, and religious, minorities. If educators,
policy makers, and citizens at large make a concerted effort to strive for and
implement social justice across the social landscape, we will begin to see schools
that value and celebrate all students, regardless of their backgrounds.
More progress will be made only when more and more educators,
especially educational leaders, acknowledge the fact that some discrimination
continues to exist and when the rest of the country engages in reformation. U.S.
Department of Education (2014) noted that, although many teachers are familiar
with making difficult decisions in practicing discipline, these decisions often
come with unfair and unnecessary use of suspensions and expulsions. Many
educators continue to rely on outdated laws that were created at the turn of
nineteenth century to keep students at schools instead of being made to work in
the fields and factories (PBS, 2014). Today, students might receive a
misdemeanor charge for missing a certain number of unexcused absences. Is the
punishment going too far? Is it going even further for the minority students?
Often, authorities practice criminalization of behaviors without making any
attempt of understanding it. It takes time and resources to develop alternative
ways to discipline a classroom, while celebrating diversity. It is the job for the
whole county to make sure that every student has an equal opportunity to
succeed at school and life in general. Resistance to change in ideology might be
the root of our problem. Thus, it is vital to increase the occurrences of
meaningful, honest, and deliberative dialogue among educators, students,
counselors, families, community and other influential leaders, policy makers and
implementers, and government agencies, including those in the justice and
education departments.

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