EARCOS Action Research 2016-2017

 

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EARCOS Action Research 2016-2017 by Zander Lyvers AISHK

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Action Research >> AAsnyEnxchprloornaotiuosnPoafcitnhgeoEnffeLcittesroacf y By Zander Lyvers, Grade 7 Humanities American International School of Hong Kong Introduction Asynchronous learning is an approach where students move through assignments at their own pace with the help of both online platforms and personalized coaching. While asynchronous courses are typically used as a means for university teachers and students to communicate outside of the classroom, the same tools of distance learning can be valuable within the brick and mortar middle school. There is ample evidence to suggest that self-paced courses more effectively emphasize students’ literacy skills than traditional teacher-centered pacing. Using literacy skills as the metric, it was decided to focus on argumentative writing techniques, as well as the organizational and grammatical challenges unique to each student.The goal of this action research was to gauge the effects of asynchronous pacing on literacy within a humanities unit. Method In order to complete the research, the curriculum was structured in a way that allowed comparisons of student writing in both synchronous and asynchronous pacings. The research was conducted in a unit that juxtaposed the economic, political and religious aspects of the “Crusades and the War on Terror”. During the first month of the unit, students analysed primary sources from the medieval period and then contrasted them with Ridley Scott’s 2005 film, Kingdom of Heaven. Students were given 30 minutes each day to write their comparative analysis in a Google Doc. Students were provided feedback, as time allowed, by inserting comments into their respective Google Docs. At the end of the month, students were given a grade reflecting all of these short writing assessments. The worry that struggling students might not complete the project in time, keeping them from fully answering the driving question of the unit was a real question. Due to the flexible nature of the asynchronous classroom, the worries and concerns could be quickly addressed. Since the “War on Terror” is a complex and evolving topic, mini-debates were introduced at the beginning of class to help students clarify key players, events and themes to avoid confusion and misconceptions. These activities helped to reinforce expectations that students should be able to engage in Socratic questioning and collaboration, while navigating an asynchronous unit. Further adaptations were implemented and differentiated tasks were integrated for struggling students, so they would not fall behind. Together, a collaborative solution was sorted and other necessary tweaks were prepared. These adjustments to tasks were based on student’s respective zone of proximal development. This redesigning of certain aspects of the curriculum necessitated realignment of activities to ensure the right balance of content, comprehension, and student reflection on literacy skills. Conclusion Despite the initial challenge of accommodating each student’s specific skill level, the flexibility of an asynchronous schedule allows the teacher to improvise, modify and re-teach concepts to ensure that students improve their literacy. In a class survey comparing the two methods practiced in this unit, 39.6% of students answered that multiple skills were strengthened during the synchronous day-to-day lessons. (See Figure 6. included herein.) Conversely, 76% of students stated multiple skills improved over the course of the asynchronous tasks. (See Figure 7. included herein.) By disrupting the rigid schedules of synchronous curriculum maps, teachers can better adapt to more personalized learning through frequent check-ins, and students in turn have the time to process and implement feedback. Did practicing your writing in the synthesis log help you strengthen your writing skills? (48 responses) In the second month of the unit, the lessons were restructured to accommodate students working at their own pace. Students completed tasks that blended primary sources, secondary sources, documentary film clips and narrative film clips. After the student completed a task, they were given informal feedback in their Google Doc. When the next task was ready for grading, a conference was conducted during which they were required to demonstrate use of feedback from the first task to guide them in their approach to the second task. Each student was graded on how he or she improved in the specific targeted skills. 54.2% 39.6% o Yes, I was able to focus on weak spots and improve my organisation, analysis, argument and grammar. o I learned at least 1 skill to strengthen my writing. o My writing pretty much stayed the same. o Other Figure 6. The results of a survey taken after the synchronous lessons. Results and Reflection At the beginnning of the asynchronous lessons many students were focused. However, a typically bustling classroom had become much too quiet. Initial intentions were to introduce techniques from distance learning to maintain focus on skills without compromising class discussion. The worry that class would become too personalised and self-absorbed seemed to be realized. And, fears that the environement was no longer conducive to collaboration were reinforced. It was also evident that while most students were engaged and moving along their individual trajectories, a few students plateaued. After having individual discussions with them, it was realised that some felt overwhelmed by the tasks, despite having been differentiated by lexile level. Did practicing your writing from task to task help you strengthen your writing skills? (48 responses) 24.4% 75.6% o Yes, I was able to focus on weak spots and improve my organisation, analysis, argument and grammar. o I learned at least 1 skill to strengthen my writing. o My writing pretty much stayed the same. o Other Figure 7. The results of a survey taken after the asynchronous tasks. 32 EARCOS Triannual Journal

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