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Academically at-risk students' perceptions of a constructivist high school biology pedagogy

Dissertation
Author: Heidi Sweeney
Abstract:
Successful completion of the Living Environment, one state's high school biology course, is a state graduation requirement. The academically at-risk students enrolled in one suburban public high school had been disproportionately unsuccessful at achieving a passing grade in this course. In response, a constructivist biology curriculum was created to address the needs of at-risk students in a heterogeneous ability classroom. There is a gap in current research on students' perceptions of their learning experiences; consequently, the purpose of this phenomenological study was to obtain at-risk students' perceptions of a constructivist-based curriculum and to clarify what aspects of the Living Environment course assisted in their success. Eight academically at-risk students who successfully passed the Living Environment course were surveyed to seek their perceptions of the curricular and pedagogical change. These data were analyzed using the typological method with the inclusion of both inductive and predetermined categories. The students stated a preference for group work and active engagement. They also found that the binder system introduced in the course kept them better organized and helped them increase academic performance. Students perceived that effort was required but was rewarding. Findings derived from this study may contribute to social change by assisting teachers in tailoring curriculum and pedagogical decisions. This study provided a voice for the academically at-risk student and, in doing so, may contribute to social change by providing insight to teachers and administrators that can help students succeed academically, increase graduation rates, and enhance employment opportunities.

TABLE OF CONTENTS SECTION 1: INTRODUCTION TO THE STUDY ........................................................... 1 Problem Statement .......................................................................................................... 4 Nature of the Study ......................................................................................................... 6 Research Questions ......................................................................................................... 6 Purpose of the Study ....................................................................................................... 7 Conceptual Framework ................................................................................................... 7 Definition of Terms....................................................................................................... 12 Assumptions .................................................................................................................. 13 Limitations .................................................................................................................... 14 Scope and Delimitations ............................................................................................... 14 Significance of the Study .............................................................................................. 14 Transition Statement ..................................................................................................... 16

SECTION 2: REVIEW OF LITERATURE ..................................................................... 18 Curriculum and Pedagogy............................................................................................. 19 Student Arrangement .................................................................................................... 26 The Teacher’s Influence on Academic Achievement ................................................... 30 Students’ Perceptions of Pedagogical Changes ............................................................ 31 Organizational Assistance ............................................................................................. 35 Research Methods ......................................................................................................... 38 Qualitative Research ................................................................................................. 38 Summary ....................................................................................................................... 39

SECTION 3: RESEARCH METHODOLOGY................................................................ 41 Research Design............................................................................................................ 41 Phenomenology Design ............................................................................................ 42 Research Questions ....................................................................................................... 43 Context of the Study ..................................................................................................... 44 Ethical Considerations .................................................................................................. 46 Role of the Researcher .................................................................................................. 47 Population ..................................................................................................................... 49 Sampling ....................................................................................................................... 50 Data Collection ............................................................................................................. 50 Surveys ...................................................................................................................... 52 Data Analysis Plan ........................................................................................................ 53 Validity ......................................................................................................................... 54

SECTION 4: RESULTS ................................................................................................... 57 Research Questions ....................................................................................................... 57 Participant Selection ..................................................................................................... 57 Data Collection ............................................................................................................. 59 Study Participants ......................................................................................................... 62

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Presentation of Findings ............................................................................................... 62 Classroom Appeal ......................................................................................................... 62 Working in a Group .................................................................................................. 63 Lab Activities ............................................................................................................ 64 Grading ..................................................................................................................... 64 Increasing Academic Confidence and Student Responsibility ..................................... 66 Academic Confidence ............................................................................................... 66 Student Responsibility .............................................................................................. 67 Active Participation ...................................................................................................... 68 Efforts to Remain Organized ........................................................................................ 72 Increasing Motivation and Meeting Teacher Expectations .......................................... 74 Evidence of Quality ...................................................................................................... 77 Summary ....................................................................................................................... 79

SECTION 5: SUMMARY, CONCLUSION, AND RECOMMENDATIONS ................ 80 Research Questions and Interpretation of Findings ...................................................... 81 Research Question 1 ................................................................................................. 81 Research Question 2 ................................................................................................. 83 Research Question 3 ................................................................................................. 84 Practical Applications and Recommendations for Action ............................................ 86 Implications for Social Change ..................................................................................... 89 Recommendations for Further Study ............................................................................ 90 Personal Reflection ....................................................................................................... 91 Conclusion .................................................................................................................... 93

REFERENCES ................................................................................................................. 95

APPENDIX A: SURVEY PROTOCOL ......................................................................... 107 APPENDIX B: SAMPLE FOLLOW-UP QUESTIONS ................................................ 110 APPENDIX C: DATA CODING AND ANALYSIS ..................................................... 111

CURRICULUM VITAE ................................................................................................. 113

SECTION 1: INTRODUCTION TO THE STUDY It is generally accepted in American society that students who fail to graduate from high school face a bleak future. The role of a high school diploma in providing access to further education and economic stability is significant (Barton, 2009). Studies have shown that students who do not complete high school are more involved with the justice system and are likely to suffer significantly reduced earnings and have limited employment prospects (Greene, 2001). The importance of improving graduation rates for all students is emphasized in the federal No Child Left Behind Act (2001) that requires all high schools take completion rates and achievement test scores into account when measuring the schools’ current performance and the progress made towards reaching long-term performance goals (Joftus & Maddox-Dolan, 2003). Promoting successful school completion for students who are at risk of dropping out is recognized as “especially challenging in light of current national reform efforts to achieve high academic standards, end social promotion, and ratchet up educational accountability” (Christenson & Thurlow, 2004, p. 36). Teachers and administrators have struggled for decades with how to group students effectively and increase academic achievement (Duflo, Dupas, & Kremer, 2009; Oakes, 1995). These methods of ability grouping, however, are often disadvantageous to at-risk students (Butin, 1999; Thompson, 2002). With the requirement to provide more students a high quality curriculum (NCLB, 2001) and the evidence that tracking academically challenged students is detrimental to educational achievement, many teachers and administrators have created heterogeneous ability classrooms and evaluate or modify classroom pedagogical methods (Rubin, 2006). This practice is supported by the research of Burris

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and Welner (2005) and Mattern and Nakagawa (2003), who provided evidence to illustrate that tracking students in high school courses is unsuccessful at increasing student achievement and decreasing the achievement gap between high and low socioeconomic groups. School faculty should take into account the types of teaching strategies they employ, as well as the effects of homogeneous ability grouping, or tracking, on students (Burris, Wiley, Welner, & Murphy, 2008). In spite of “its widespread legitimacy, there is no question that tracking, the assessment practices that support it, and the differences in educational opportunity that result from it limit many students’ schooling opportunities and life chances” (Oakes, 1995, p.682). Possible strategies for increasing academic performance may be found by eliminating tracking, increasing the numbers of heterogeneously grouped courses, and making the necessary adjustments to classroom pedagogical methods (Ansalone, 2001; Burris & Welner, 2005; Ferguson, 2002). This idea is not necessarily new to the educational community, but one that is receiving more attention (Tieso, 2003). As school districts begin to undertake this shift in operations away from tracking, proponents may have to convince reluctant teachers or administrators that past practice is not always the best practice (Butin, 1999; Oakes & Wells, 1998; Welner & Burris, 2006). Until 2004, students in all science classes in my high school were homogeneously grouped by ability. In 2004, the school administrators established classes that used heterogeneous classroom settings consisting of both academically at-risk and higher performing students. One of the reasons for the decision to change to heterogeneously

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grouped classrooms was that the academically at-risk students enrolled in the Living Environment course had not been passing the course at a satisfactory rate. As the course is a New York State graduation requirement; this low achievement had consequences for the students and was also detrimental to the school’s meeting its performance goals. Working under these changed circumstances, teachers of Living Environment had a choice in making adjustments to their pedagogical practices. Some teachers chose simply to instruct as they always had using traditional methods. Other teachers and I focused our efforts on employing constructivist-based techniques to improve students’ conceptual understanding and increase course passing rates. This employment was consistent with research which has indicated that using constructivist methods or active learning techniques increases student performance (Sungur, Tekkaya, & Geban, 2006). In addition to curriculum change, researchers have suggested that at-risk students also require additional support when placed in a heterogeneous classroom setting because academically challenged students do not typically excel with traditional means of instruction (Banet & Ayoso, 2003; Bush & Kelly, 2004; Jofili, Geraldo, & Watts, 1999). Rubin (2006) indicated that although heterogeneously grouped classes are advantageous to academically at-risk students, it is often unclear how to successfully integrate at-risk students into multiability classrooms. Students who struggle academically need more than a one-size-fits-all solution; they need role models, high expectations, differentiated instruction, and organizational skills (Ansalone, 2001). As such, different pedagogical techniques, such as those rooted in constructivism, should be examined. A more detailed

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discussion of the pedagogical changes and various academic support systems is presented in section 2. In this qualitative study, academically challenged students who had successfully completed the Living Environment course with a constructivist curriculum were surveyed to establish their perceptions of what factors led to their success. Findings derived from this study will assist in tailoring curriculum and adjusting pedagogical decisions in my own science classroom, as well as provide needed information to my colleagues and administrators. Data from the study has added further knowledge to the profession on how academically challenged students benefit from constructivism and active learning pedagogy in heterogeneously grouped ability science courses. Problem Statement Traditional, or didactic, teaching methods have been unsuccessful in terms of the at-risk population’s acquisition of the necessary numbers of credits for graduation, including a credit for the Living Environment course, which is a New York State high school graduation requirement. Results from a school wide achievement report showed that in 2005 nearly one-third of all enrolled students at this suburban high school failed one or more core subjects (D. Cowell, personal communication, November, 2005). A majority of these students were labeled academically at risk for not graduating with their cohort, and the subjects failed were graduation requirements. Although research stated that creating a heterogeneous instructional setting can have desirable benefits, such as positive role models and higher teacher expectations, it can also be problematic because academically challenged students might be overlooked in high stakes classes that move at

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a fast pace (Ansalone, 2001; Mattern & Nakagawa, 2003). While a quantitative research design can be used to determine if the change from homogeneously grouped classes to heterogeneously grouped classes resulted in more at-risk students being successful in the Living Environment course, the quandary was to determine which factors contributed to at-risk student success in such a heterogeneous setting. Currently there is little research that indicates how to support these students within the heterogeneous classroom and put pedagogical theory into practice (Burris & Welner, 2005). In order to gain clarity about these important factors, a qualitative approach was needed that asked at-risk students who successfully completed the Living Environment course to describe their perceptions of a constructivist curriculum and their perceptions of the “other supports” and how they have helped the students achieve course outcomes. Such a study could contribute to the knowledge needed to increase course completion rates at my school and address the NCLB Act’s (2001) guideline that “schools use research-based methods to teach science and measure results” (NCLB, Facts About Science Education, modified 2004). Furthermore, exploring at-risk students’ ideas about which factors made a difference to them can provide direction in creating professional development opportunities for other teachers focusing on instructional practices that increase positive student outcomes in Living Environment. In addition, findings from this study may provide all teachers of at-risk students in heterogeneous settings with information about how to improve classroom instruction.

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Nature of the Study A phenomenological study was conducted to gather students’ perceptions of a constructivist-based curriculum and to discover what aspects of the Living Environment course helped them achieve their success. The questions addressed in this study pertained to increasing the academic success of low achieving students. This study focused on identifying what types of teaching strategies stimulated student interests while building their science knowledge. In this qualitative study, academically challenged students who had successfully completed the Living Environment course were surveyed to determine their perceptions of what factors led to their success. Data gathered during this study were used to interpret the students’ perceptions of a constructivist classroom and my pedagogical changes, and have provided teachers and administrators more information and direction. A further explanation of the research design and methodology is found in section 3. Research Questions This qualitative study addressed the following research questions: 1. What attributes of pedagogical change did at-risk students identify as being made in my Living Environment classroom? 2. What are the at-risk students’ perceptions of a constructivist-based curriculum and what aspects of the course did they perceive as making a difference toward their success? 3. What are the at-risk students’ perceptions of the other implemented academic supports?

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Purpose of the Study Integrating at-risk students into the Regents Living Environment course presents a necessity to reevaluate pedagogical methods, expectations, and needs of the academically challenged students. New York State requires all high school students to successfully complete the Living Environment course as a requisite for high school graduation. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to gain at-risk students’ perceptions of the pedagogical changes made to a heterogeneously ability grouped classroom with the following characteristics: (a) a high expectation curriculum that addressed their needs, (b) teacher implemented support systems, both academic and personal, necessary to assure their success, and (c) academic organizational assistance. Conceptual Framework Acquiring the students’ perceptions of a pedagogical change is often lacking in studies of at-risk student populations, as the success of an educational or classroom change can be gauged in ways beyond simple test results (Marquez-Zenkov, Harmon, van Lier, & Marquez-Zenkov, 2007). Because teaching techniques have been shown to be an important factor in the success of the at-risk student (Rubin, 2006; Tomlinson & Doubet, 2005), constructivism, scientific inquiry, and active learning were used as instructional and conceptual frameworks in this study. Constructivism has its foundations in both Piaget’s and Vygotsky’s works and is based on the notion of students constructing new knowledge by building on what they already know (Dacey & Travers, 1996; Driver, 1995). Scientific inquiry draws on Dewey’s ideas of experiences based on real world problem solving, as opposed to performing didactic, prescribed laboratory experiments

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where the answers are predetermined (Crawford, 2000). Active learning is compatible with constructivism and scientific inquiry in that students are responsible for their learning and activities are used to practice concepts or skills that have been taught traditionally (Nykamp, Marshall, & Ashworth, 2008). The conceptual framework this study was built upon came from the works of constructivist theorists. Piaget’s works from the 1950s and 1960s described the stages of child development and stressed how each newly learned concept must be incorporated into the child’s existing knowledge. Piaget (1969) asserted that the child physically experienced a concept and, in doing so, derived new knowledge. Based on his theories, it follows that the use of interactive lessons and demonstrations, strategies that are readily available to science teachers, will increase students’ involvement in their learning (Lawson, 2000; Straits & Wilke, 2006). Vygotsky’s constructivist ideas built upon Piaget’s theories of intellectual development, but Vygotsky stated that a child’s “skill of thinking conceptually is developed as a certain kind of social practice” (Steffe & Gale, 1995, p. 51). Social interactions between students or between a teacher and a student, along with the introduction of new tasks, provide an opportunity for children to build on prior knowledge or construct new knowledge. This resolution between prior knowledge and new knowledge to negotiate new meaning is Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development (Walker, 2002). The teacher assumes the role of a facilitator, guiding activities and conversations about the topic. Constructivist teaching methods usually require a shift away from more traditional techniques and can be especially successful with students who have

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difficulties academically (Lord, 1998). Constructivism is a pedagogical theory, not simply a teaching method or technique. Educators can create constructivist lessons which build “on students prior knowledge, provides authentic context for understanding, and allows opportunities for social discourse, interaction, and negotiation” (Straits & Wilke, 2007, p. 59). However, constructivism is not simply group work as some educators presume and often requires in-service or preservice training on proper use of constructivist methods (Lord, 1998). Even with training, some teachers can be resistant to such change. Jofili, Geraldo, and Watts (1999) studied a revamped constructivist biology course and came to the conclusion that even with data to support such a change, teachers held onto their misgivings about changing their “tried and true” classroom methods. It can be difficult to convince educators that an idea discussed in training can be successfully conveyed to the classroom with positive results. Jofili, Geraldo, and Watts (1999) also found that more time was required to teach a topic using constructivist methods than if teacher-centered methods were used. Teachers must have time to review student work in journals, writings, and frequent assessments and the pace overall is much slower than a lecture driven format (Casem, 2006). Crawford (2000) and Banet and Ayuso (2003) concurred that instructional time in a science course is of the essence. State standards, mandated curricula, and high stakes testing all work to curtail the freedom a teacher has to set the pace of the classroom. In a perfect world, teachers could teach fewer topics but in greater depth and students could spend as much time as necessary to construct new knowledge while modifying misconceptions. Realistically, teachers must adapt their curriculum to incorporate some

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aspects of constructivism, when time permits, but continue to employ traditional methods in order to prepare students for required assessments (Johnson, 2009). This study focused on the use of constructivist pedagogy with academically at- risk students in a mixed grade heterogeneously grouped Living Environment classroom. In order to ensure success for as many students as possible, engaging learning activities and new lesson plans were created using constructivist methods. To elucidate, a lesson taught constructively can encompass the same educational objectives as a teacher centered, traditionally taught lesson but may engage students in such a manner as to increase the conceptual understanding of the objective. One such lesson taught in my classroom was on the topic of scientific inquiry. Rather than simply list the steps of the scientific method and provide an example of each, students were provided the steps to be used in an experiment that the class conducted as a whole. Students were given a task, such as stapling packets of paper, and then asked to create a hypothesis regarding productivity and the consumption of a caffeinated beverage. The class created a testable, consensus hypothesis and an outlined experiment. Students who wished to be in the experimental group obtained parental permission to consume the caffeinated beverage; the other half of the class consumed water. The experiment was conducted and the results tallied. A peer review was conducted to determine the acceptance or rejection of the hypothesis. In my classroom, when the scientific method was taught in such a manner, students reported a better retention of the material as opposed to a lecture which the students considered dull and the material was difficult to recall.

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Another example of constructivist methods employed in my classroom came from the use of whiteboards within the topic of diffusion. Diffusion is a topic which is somewhat difficult for students to understand, but is essential when discussing biochemistry and living organisms (Panizzon, 1998). After the different concepts of diffusion were taught, groups of three or four students were each given one aspect of diffusion and a whiteboard. They were asked to define their term and provide an illustrative diagram. These whiteboards were displayed so other groups could review and compare their own understandings of the term. The class as a whole continued the discussion, making adjustments and corrections until the class arrived at an accurate depiction of the term. These final answers were then made into flashcards for student review prior to an assessment. The two examples above provide a small window into the constructivist pedagogy used with the academically at-risk students enrolled in my Living Environment course. Critiqued further in section 2 are studies that discussed constructivism, active learning, pedagogical changes, and student academic support ideas. For example, student organizational systems are addressed, which afforded assistance through the use of a binder system introduced in this course, along with strategies to make personal connections with the students (Cahill, 2008). Students who are academically challenged characteristically due to socioeconomic disadvantage benefit from heterogeneous grouping in the classroom (Horwitz & Snipes, 2008). This study has added to the literature on how to make the transition from homogeneous settings to successful heterogeneous classrooms settings.

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Definition of Terms Academically challenged students: a population of students “whose education and treatment required the use of innovative and comprehensive techniques and methodologies” (De La Ossa, 2005, p. 25). For the purposes of this study, this term was synonymous with at-risk students or academically at-risk students. These terms also described students who had not received an adequate number of passing grades in their core courses to place them on a path to graduate from high school within four academic years or who had been identified prior to coming to the high school by either their guidance counselor or a committee of teachers based upon academic performance or scores of state required assessments. Constructivism: a pedagogical framework based on the notion that students will construct new knowledge by building on what they already know (Dacey & Travers, 1996). Heterogeneous classroom setting: a classroom in which there is a wide range of measured student abilities present (Oakes, 1995). Homogeneous ability grouping: also called educational stratification; occurs when students are grouped according to ability, which may include honors courses, low tracks, or high tracks (Van Houtte, 2004). Living Environment: New York State’s written core curriculum, which is comparable to a high school biology curriculum elsewhere. “It addresses… the content and skills to be assessed at the commencement level by the Living Environment Regents

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science examination” (New York State Department of Education, 2001, p. 3). The term is synonymous with Regents biology. Minority student: does not necessarily refer to racial status in this study but to populations of students who are marginalized within a school, such as those of lower socioeconomic status. Opportunity to Learn (OTL): “All students must have an equal opportunity to learn the items being used to assess achievement” and this factor is ranked as having the “most impact on student achievement” (Marzano, 2003, p. 22). The opportunity to learn can also result from the difference between the intended curriculum and the implemented curriculum, with educators making independent decisions regarding which groups of student are exposed to different depths of coverage of material. Student success: students achieving a passing grade for the course in question. Tracking: an educational structure whereby students are separated by ability (Ansalone, 2001). Ansalone further stated, “Students are tracked by individual course subjects or by an overarching program leading to vocational or academic training” (p. 38). Assumptions The following assumptions were pertinent to this study: 1. Constructivist teaching methods improved student performance and increased the at-risk student’s academic success. 2. The at-risk student’s success was due to aspects of the changed curriculum and pedagogy, not outside factors such as additional tutoring or external incentives.

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3. The semistructured survey questions in this qualitative study were assumed to provide sufficient data to answer the research questions. 4. The definitions of academically challenged students and success were operationally defined for this study. 5. All students were assumed to have answered the survey questions honestly. Limitations 1. Because these programs are specific to a single suburban high school, findings may not be generalized to other school districts or high schools. 2. In a qualitative study, the findings could be subject to different interpretations. 3. There may be students who were reluctant to share their personal experiences and thoughts, and I may have lacked expertise in constructing a survey to help the students do so. Scope and Delimitations This study was delimited to a small group of students who were previously enrolled in a Living Environment course in a suburban high school in upstate New York. The students were previously enrolled in the Living Environment, a course delivered in a heterogeneous classroom setting. Significance of the Study For school administrators and teachers, the challenges of increasing graduation rates, closing the achievement gap, and meeting NCLB requirements establish the importance of clarifying and developing a deeper understanding of the academically challenged students’ perception of their educational process. Although there is research

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that encouraged the use of constructivist pedagogy and heterogeneous classroom settings, there are scant guidelines regarding successful implementation of these ideas. The rich descriptions that can be provided by at-risk students of the benefits and detractors found in a constructivist classroom may aid teachers and administrators engaged in school improvement efforts. A study grounded in examining academically challenged students’ perceptions of pedagogical changes made to improve their performance is significant in many ways. By eliciting students’ perceptions, this study generated data to improve classroom practices. Even though the negative outcomes of teacher centered techniques and homogeneous ability grouping are evident, little had been published on what occurs in heterogeneous classroom settings and how teachers and students make the necessary adjustments (McDermott, Rothenberg, & Martin, 1995; Oakes, Wells, Jones, & Datnow, 1997; Watanabe et al., 2007). This study was designed to help fill that gap in the research and provide a further example of a teacher who had developed and implemented a constructivist curriculum with organizational supports for all students. The overall goal of this study was to increase the educational success of academically at-risk students. Furthermore, as administrators and teachers begin to examine the benefits of heterogeneous classroom settings, teacher leaders must display their willingness to successfully implement and model detracking (Hyland, 2006).There is a need to “teach against the grain of tradition when teaching in a detracked class” (Hyland, 2006, p. 70). The traditional methods of instructing may not be the most effective or successful with a new curriculum in place (Crawford, 2000; De La Ossa, 2005). In order to effect a change

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pedagogically, a teacher must convey the qualities of a leader, not only in the classroom but also within the school (Crowther, Kaagan, Ferguson & Hann, 2002). Curriculum reform presents an opportunity for the teacher leader to step forward and assume a role in the transition of pedagogical methods and implementation of academic support. There are many aspects of a heterogeneously grouped science class which should be considered, particularly pedagogical shifts and supporting the organizational needs of students. The perceptions of at-risk students who were successful in such a classroom may provide insights to other teachers who are striving to best serve and support them. The study may contribute to social change by improving classroom practices and providing a voice for the academically at-risk student. Transition Statement The at-risk population is an ever-growing group of students who need teachers’ thoughtful consideration if they are not to be overlooked in a heterogeneous instructional setting. The first section provided an introduction to this study about student perceptions of pedagogical changes made in a Living Environment classroom. The problem lies in the lack of available data regarding students’ perceptions of these pedagogical changes, especially the perceptions of students who are academically at risk. The purpose of this phenomenological study was to present student views and perceptions of the changes made during the Living Environment course. This study may add to the existing literature addressing curriculum change and provide more specific information on how to support academically challenged students as they progress through their secondary education.

Full document contains 122 pages
Abstract: Successful completion of the Living Environment, one state's high school biology course, is a state graduation requirement. The academically at-risk students enrolled in one suburban public high school had been disproportionately unsuccessful at achieving a passing grade in this course. In response, a constructivist biology curriculum was created to address the needs of at-risk students in a heterogeneous ability classroom. There is a gap in current research on students' perceptions of their learning experiences; consequently, the purpose of this phenomenological study was to obtain at-risk students' perceptions of a constructivist-based curriculum and to clarify what aspects of the Living Environment course assisted in their success. Eight academically at-risk students who successfully passed the Living Environment course were surveyed to seek their perceptions of the curricular and pedagogical change. These data were analyzed using the typological method with the inclusion of both inductive and predetermined categories. The students stated a preference for group work and active engagement. They also found that the binder system introduced in the course kept them better organized and helped them increase academic performance. Students perceived that effort was required but was rewarding. Findings derived from this study may contribute to social change by assisting teachers in tailoring curriculum and pedagogical decisions. This study provided a voice for the academically at-risk student and, in doing so, may contribute to social change by providing insight to teachers and administrators that can help students succeed academically, increase graduation rates, and enhance employment opportunities.