A r c h i v e d  I n f o r m a t i o n

School Reform and Student Diversity - September 1995

Table 12

Case Study Research Area #2B:
Design and Implementation of the Reform at the Middle Grades

Curriculum and Instruction

Curricular Strategies The science curriculum focused on depth of understanding over breadth of coverage. The curriculum relied on a hands-on and observation-based approach. English was taught using Whole Language strategies (e.g., oral language, writing, creating books, composing poems). Language arts and social studies were integrated. The curriculum was based on the state curriculum frameworks and was delivered within the context of year-long interdisciplinary themes. To accomodate interdisciplinary instruction, core classes (language art/social studies and math/science) were integrated. Teachers were committed to delivering a "meaning-centered" curriculum that builds on student experiences. Meaningful content is a feature of "brain compatible learning." The curriculum also included "life skills." Curriculum was integrated across content areas through the use of thematic units and projects; the curriculum content was made meaningful to students by applying it to real life situations (i.e., environmental and social issues) and to the diverse experiences of the students. In an effort to enhance student understanding of mathematical concepts, math was integrated across all curricular areas. Within the family structure, teachers worked in teams to make curricular connection across content areas and to develop thematic units; they covered topics in-depth, rather survey the full science curriculum. They based curriculum on district-adopted textbooks and used the books as references while they made adaptations. They made efforts to incorporate examples from real life into the curriculum.
Instructional Strategies Science instruction relied on the use of the "inquiry method." which promotes instructional conversations based on students' science observations. Students often worked in cooperative groups and teachers worked as a team. Features of "brain compatible learning" were translated into instructional strategies; these features include absence of threat, choices, adequate time, enriched environment, collaboration, immediate feedback, and mastery. Teachers designed instruction to elicit active learning. As a result, hands-on, activity-oriented lessons predominated. Teachers promoted problem solving, rather than arriving at a single correct answer. Expectations were high for all students. Teachers emphasized active, cooperative learning. Students learned from one another through the use of heterogeneous grouping strategies (there was no tracking at Horace Mann). The presentation of curricula was multifaceted, allowing all students regardless of their strengths, interests, and experiencesto contribute. Teachers used problem-solving strategies in math and science instruction. All content areas were taught to LEP students with an emphasis on English language development. In beginning level classes, the focus was on oral English. Sheltered English strategies, including making eye contact with students, using total physical response, and speaking slowly and distinctly were emphasized in all LAMP classes. Cooperative learning was also used frequently. A problem-solving, hands-on, discovery approach to learning was emphasized.
Instructional Discourse/Role of Teacher and Student Teachers acted as facilitators of student learning. Using the inquiry method, teachers asked open-ended questions, encouraging students to formulate answers and pose additional questions. Teachers focused on generating more student talk and less teacher-dominated talk. The lessons stressed the importance of students generating questions and then finding answers to those questions. Students frequently directed discussions. Teachers played a facilitative role while students work in partners or cooperative groups; the teachers do not unduly direct student learning. Teachers ask open-ended questions to stimulate student thinking and expression; students do much of the talking and are encouraged to introduce new, related ideas to discussion. Students are encouraged to use other students as learning resources. Teachers play facilitative role in student discussions; these discussions help to strengthen students' understanding of math and science concepts, as well as to develop language. This type of teacher role is most prevalent in cooperative learning settings. Teachers are supportive and encouraging, asking students questions to extend their knowledge.

Table 12, continued

Use of Instructional Technology
Computers, TVs, VCRs in each classroom Some skill and drill, word processing; there is a required "elective" called computer literacy that takes place in the 1274-funded, Mac-stocked computer lab. There are TVs and VCRs in every classroom; the school participates in Chapter 1. There is a computer lab equip with Macs and PCs. Twelve Wiggs teachers have been designated as technology clinical teachers; they work with UTEP to receive training in innovative instructional uses of computers. These teachers have 3 Mac LC III computers with CD-ROM drives, an LCD panel, a scanner, and two printers; student teachers trained in educational technology are assigned to theses classes. In these classrooms, computers were integrated into the lessons in a meaningful way.
Assessment Strategies

The assessment system is based on students' performance, with an emphasis on the portfolios, as they progress toward specific school-wide learning outcomes. Based on the premise that meaningful assessment of student progress and achievement is integral to the educational process, staff use assessment tools (cooperative performance, oral presentations, substantive dialogue, essays, exhibitions, journals, etc.) to measure students' ability to construct and apply knowledge, not reproduce it.
Articulation with High School

As a magnet school, it feeds into a number of different high schools. Counselors from the high schools visit the school in the Spring to discuss programs and options with 8th graders. Schoolwide outcomes are set based on skills needed for success in high school. The focus at Wiggs is to equip students with proficiency in English so that they can succeed in an all-English high school; the current principal used to be VP at El Paso High. The high school is apparently resistant to restructuring and so there is some tension within the district regarding the implementation of the middle school concept and the traditional high schools.

[Table 11 Case Study Research Area #2A: Design and Implementation of the Reform at the Middle Grades School Restructuring] [Table of Contents] [Table 13 Case Study Research Area #2C: Design and Implementation of the Reform at the Middle Grades LEP Student Program]