I believe that I was able to come up with some concrete data to answer my research question. I learned through my observation collection that "early finishers" do in fact have the ability to disrupt the learning environment for struggling students, EL's, and students who are easily distracted and/ or who have focusing issues(learning disabilities) causing the classroom to be a place of unequal student success.
The idea of a complete reconstruction of the classroom based on academic performance rather than age is something that I would like to see more research about. If we can build classrooms where many common issues can be significantly decreased or made so the don't exist at all is something worth exploring.
Because the main issue was managing multi-level students all in one room, the way the teacher delivers instruction also needs to be multi-level. Differentiation plays a huge role. Teacher strategies such as organized grouping of students, extensions to independent work and increasing student engagement are a few small changes that can make a difference in the learning process.
The method of data analysis I chose was qualitative because the qualitative research design better fit the needs of my research question. My research question inquired more about a behavior rather than data, numbers, scores and assessments/tests like a quantitative study would do. I needed for my technique to have a less structured approach because of how broad and open-ended my topic is. The bulk of of my data are simply observations or what Mertler (2016) refers to as "watching". Because qualitative data is known for being narrative I was able to make daily observational notes in the classroom during teaching and work time without having to change or add any routines or structures already put in place.
I was able to take my data and represent the information in a graph pre innovation/intervention and then post and look for positive changes by the participating students in the study. There were 5 categories that I was looking to see a decrease in among all 4 of the students. Once the data was recorded on the post innovative/intervention graph I was able to see a drop in the number of disruptive behaviors by all the students in at least 2 of the categories.
So what? Who cares?
Unfortunately very often the group of students that are at the higher learning levels than the rest of the class find the classwork easy and boring. This handful of students commonly known as “early finishers” have the potential to change the whole learning environment of the classroom once they have completed the assigned classwork. Typically as a result they misbehave while waiting for the others to finish and distract lower level students who are really being challenged to complete it. (Danzi, J., Reul, K., Smith, R., 2008).
Sub Question- "Do early finishers disrupt other students still trying to complete a task?"
I plan to keep track by using tally marks of how many times I redirect daily off task behaviors of my "early finishers" in one category and how many times those re directions are due to disruption of student learning. I could also document and compare how many times "early finishers" are sent out of the classroom, receive referrals, time off of recess/fun Friday and their behavioral chart changes related to and not related to disrupting classmates completing an assignment.
Danzi, J., Reul, K., Smith, R. 2008. Improving Student Motivation in Mixed Ability Classrooms using Differentiation. https://eric.ed.gov/contentdelivery/servlet/ERICServlet?accno=ED500838
After my 1:1 I needed to change my keyword search because I am embarking on a slightly different path and I was able to come up with some interesting things. Two of articles focused mainly on differentiation in the classroom which has been a common theme with most of research but I came across one article that discussed a complete classroom restructure and replacing it with multi-age classrooms according to students developmental level K-3 and 4-5.
Because my essential question is geared more towards all students having equal access to learning, this article explored an new idea of what that might look like compared to those I have researched in the past.
Katherine Schweitzer (2015) notes that when students finish early this often becomes a time that is difficult for classroom management as students look for other ways to occupy their time. In theory multi-age classrooms address such issues as multi-level learners, ELD, disciplinary behaviors, etc. However teachers will need to make significant shifts in teaching because there is no curriculum and the idea doesn't support grade level testing.
I personally like the idea and have seen similar school structures thrive at Montessori and private schools where family members of mine attend. I don't see this happening anytime soon in our public schools though. I find small group instruction and interventions inside the school setting the best way I can really teach similar developmental students but even then after a while they began to realize which kids are in the "smart group and the "dumb" group which can make or break certain kids.
One person's research that really stuck out to me was Carol Ann Tomilnson. Every time I modified my search I noticed at least 2 articles or books by her came up and she was referenced in a couple of articles that I choose for my Literature review list.
Her work focuses on differentiation. She discusses how the need has increased due to diversity in the classroom. She stresses how differentiation should revolve around the student's readiness, interest and learning profile and should include some form of technology. She explains how teachers need to give quality instruction and produce academically responsive classrooms.
Her research relates to my driving question because her approach to "one size fits all" classrooms as being ineffective correlates to my need of classrooms needing to respond all the needs of all learners even if they are "gifted" and/or an "early finisher". I noticed in my research both terms were used to describe the same student. Her work has also been helpful because she offers designs and tools for gifted students.
Typically we have early finishers because hand few students have found the assignment easy therefore they get through the work before the rest of the class leaving them with nothing else to do. The experienced teacher would prepare for this by having a worksheet or "early finishers packet" (busy work) or have routines in place such as a "May Do" or Quiet Activity" for these students to complete, usually unrelated to the topic or lesson. This is necessary because when these early finishers are done with their work they want something else to do and if it isn't engaging they either become a distraction to the rest of the class and their learning or a behavior problem.
Through my driving question, I plan to explore what can be done to reduce various behavior issues in my class when particularly, my advanced boys, have completed their assigned work by not just throwing addition empty work at them.
In researching articles related to my topic I found that internationally this is an issue as well. A study by Jane Marshall explores the oldest problem in education, the epidemic of ennui,(dissatisfaction/excitement, i.e- bored) of school among pupils in France considering its centrally controlled system appearing to be the foundation of other school problems.
Nationally is where most of my articles were centered. I found many other studies where teachers struggled in the classroom with teaching mixed ability students and how to incorporate differentiation towards advanced learners. One article that caught my attention was, "Juxtaposing mathematical extensions with cognitively loaded questions in the mathematics classroom", by various authors published by the University of Calgary. This article offered ideas of bonus questions after the initial assignment is completed still on the current lesson or topic to deepen students mathematical understanding. By simply extending what they are already doing it gives opportunity for more practice. Calling them bonus questions leads the students to believe the are continuing on with the classwork not doing anything extra or more because they finished early and it's okay if everyone doesn't get to it.
As far as districts I know data and numbers are important. If the amount of behavior related infractions are entered in SWISS such as referrals; suspensions; drop outs decrease and a noticeable positive increase with advanced learner's academics, districts get acknowledged by the state.
Finally school wide, ideally we would see classrooms with engaged students at all learning levels. Teachers with less time taken away from learning to deal with behavior issues, building a classroom community that respects all students learning among peers.
On a given day I have 24 six year olds, 15 boys and 9 girls. We have created a classroom community of routines and structures and for the most part we do well. On the other hand I have 5 very rumbustious, competitive advanced boys that are a constant distraction to the rest of the class because they race through their work to be be the first ones done and end up being a behavior issue.
These boys get bored easily with nothing for them to do so they find little secret places around the classroom to go hang out and talk, make up excuses to stand at their friends desk, talk to their elbow partner(most likely a struggling learner) and find toys, paper, clips and other random items to fidget with.
One of the issues I had was not wanting to move them ahead of the class by teaching them the next concept or just giving them random worksheet that have little to do with the topic we are working on.
Through my essential question, "Will adding more challenging rigor to my advanced student's assignments decrease their behavioral issues in the classroom?" I hope to change this competitive behavior by eliminating much of their down time.
These students will be doing the same work as the rest of the class it will just be modified so that they are taking more time to do extended work. An example would be for a writing assignment. I would produce a more complex sentence frame for them to follow and instead of providing 1 detail they would need to provide 3. Or when we do word work with sight words I would challenge them to write the words, backwards, with their opposite hand, in alphabetical order while the rest of the class is still practicing recognition.
I would like to see all my students engaged whether the work be difficult or easy and not witness poor behavior due to either one of these factors.
As suggested in Beverly Falk's, The Power of Questions, I decided to keep a journal of some of the issues that I experience in my classroom. This week I struggled with the following: Competitive students(particularly advanced boys) rushing and racing each other to finish their work before the rest of the class then becoming a behavior problem, i.e.- playing around/joking/visiting around the classroom. I wondered what can be done about this? The easy fix is just to give them additional or busy work but what can I do that would be meaningful? In most cases I can't just stop teaching or helping the rest of the class to show them the next concept, so if they are not being challenged(bored), what can I do to keep them out of trouble? Another interesting thing that I documented was the difficulties I had managing instructing the rest of my class when my special needs (SPED) student needs so much of my attention. Very often the entire class has to completely stop whatever we are doing until the situation is resolved with this student. I've asked myself what strategies can I put in place so that learning is still happening instead of me throwing a worksheet at them?
Need to know: I need to know what is going to keep these advanced learners wanting to keep learning even after they think the learning is done. What is going to motivate them to challenge themselves and put more into their assignments. How to change their thinking so that they understand it is not important to be the first one done.
What I already know: That when there is challenging rigor taking place in the classroom students are less likely to be a behavior issue.