Humanistic Studies

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Applied Leadership for Teaching & LearningPhoenix Rising


Writing In A Kindergarten Classroom:  How Can The Use of Peer Conferences and Target Skills Help Emergent Writers Find Their Voice?

Jane L. O’Hearn

The purpose of this action research project was to determine how the use of peer conferences and target skills could encourage kindergarten students to employ the trait of voice in their writing.  Throughout the school year the kindergartners were regularly involved in a writing workshop.  The use of two techniques, peer conferences and target skills introduced in the book, Teaching the Youngest Writers:  A Practical Guide by Marcia S. Freeman, were modeled and emphasized.  The focus was to encourage the children to write in the same ways they spoke, while using knee-to-knee conferences as a way to plan and rehearse before the actual writing.  In addition, books that displayed a strong sense of voice were read, oral languages skills were practiced, and picture prompts were utilized as way to reinforce target skills.  Qualitative data was the primary source of measurement.  The researcher used a field log to record observations and wrote the observations in a portraiture style narrative.  Other methods of data collection included a student interview, a parent questionnaire, a rubric the evaluated voice, and samples of student writing.  Observations done by teaching colleagues verified the researcher’s interpretations.  The results of the data showed that these two techniques did indeed have a positive effect on the writing of the students in this kindergarten class.  It was evidence to the growing belief that children as young as five can successfully be taught writing skills and techniques.  When confidence and comfort in the ability to write increase, the children’s personalities become evident in their writings.


Social and Emotional Needs of Gifted Students: A Classroom Teacher’s Perspective

Melissa L. Decker

Across the nation, in our schools, there are gifted children who struggle with the social and emotional pressures of life.  These pressures are compounded by the fact that they are different in many ways from their peers.  While many gifted children do just fine, there are others who benefit from additional support mechanisms that are aimed at helping them to flourish.

In our schools today, we are faced with increasing budget cuts.  Unfortunately, gifted programming seems to be one area that the cuts hit hard.  We will be forced to find new ways to deal with the compounding problems that gifted children face each day.  With fewer teachers and more social pressures, we must find a way to help these children meet and possibly exceed their potential.

The research that I studied, along with the research in my own classroom, shows that more needs to be done to provide guidance for gifted students. Funding needs to be made available and teachers need to be provided with additional training in dealing with this unique population of students.

I believe that if teachers, students, parents, administrators, and legislators all worked together, we could create an environment that would allow gifted children access to the support systems that they need in order to develop into the incredible people they were meant to be.


Modeling and Mimicking: Unmasking the Power of Our Voices

Trina Kuhnz

Now, more than ever, teachers are consumed with pressure to teach standards, reach academic goals, and do whatever it takes to help a child succeed.  Teaching is an art and a science.  The objective and scientific portion of teaching is where most time and energy is spent.  The artistic portion of teaching calls for detailed attention to the craft.  It is an exploration of the creativity that goes into teaching.

In this time of standardized testing and the NCLB Act creative teaching has been pushed aside.  Yet truly effective teaching cannot occur until teachers create and model good communication.  Specific attention is paid to how we communicate with voice, facial expression, hand gestures, and body language.  Spontaneity, humor, play, drama, and intuition all come together to form an atmosphere conducive to learning.  This creative risk taking increases the growth of both teachers and students.

In order to gain a better understanding of the artistic side of teaching, observations were made of the teacher and student via audio and video recordings.  Interviews were conducted with students and teachers.  Questions focused on the use of voice during instructional times and the words that were recalled.  Responses were recorded on tape, written, or drawn by students.

Results indicated that the daily challenges a teacher encounters make maintaining an awareness of voice an extreme challenge.  Teachers who experiment with voice are able to motivate and engage more students.  Students relate voice best to literary and personal stories as well as music.  Personification and humor captivate students and help them to retain information in their long-term memory.

Additional results showed a more structured need for voice and body communication through an improvisational club.  Students need to be made more aware of their voices and how they can specifically use voice.  The classroom atmosphere must feel safe enough to take creative risks.  Students participated with great enthusiasm; teacher developed a stronger connection to students and a decrease in the stress level.

Investigating Best Practices for Improving Reading Comprehension in Middle School Students With and Without Learning Disabilities

Heidi Delzer

The purpose of this study was to explore the best practices available in improving reading comprehension in my eighth grade students.  The major focus included examining changes in reading comprehension levels of my students, especially those with learning disabilities.  Questions I guided my research on were as follows:  1) What are the best practices teachers can use to improve reading comprehension levels of middle school students?, 2) Are the teaching methods I am currently using in the classroom working?, 3) What are the current reading attitudes/habits of my eighth grade students and their parents?, and 4) How have my eighth grade students’ reading abilities changed since fourth grade?

This study was conducted over the course of two semesters, the school calendar year of 2004-2005, in the small, rural, Northeastern Wisconsin school district of Lena.  Due to the limited enrollment, I have had the pleasure of teaching literature and English to many of these students since sixth grade.

During my students’ eighth grade year, the best practices of read out louds, literature circles, journals, and study guides were incorporated into regular classroom practice.  At the conclusion of the study, students were asked to complete questionnaires focused on evaluating personal attitudes about their reading abilities.  Several parents also voluntarily completed questionnaires similar to that of the students.  To further assess changes in reading comprehension, I compared my students’ fourth grade Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination reading test results to their eighth grade test results.  This study is written mainly in a qualitative style.  Other data collected is presented in a quantitative manner.

Results of this study suggest that the majority of my students have made gains in their reading comprehension abilities; however, many uncontrollable variables could have possibly influenced the outcome. A further explanation of the limitations and suggestions for further study is included later in this thesis.


Creating Literacy Communities through Service Learning: A collaboration of Reading and Writing Between High School and Elementary Aged Students

Kelly A Lamkin

What began as a “simple” one-semester volunteer project for my 12th grade students became an exciting, dynamic three-year experience.  The question of motivation always surfaces with high school students.  Many times the lack of motivation stems from the fact that students feel disconnected from the learning community because they require the literacy skills needed to participate.  I wanted to create an experience for my students that would increase their motivation, make them think about their own previous learning experiences, build self-confidence using their skills, and help young readers as part of a community service project.  For three years, my 12th grade students walked a block every Tuesday morning to read to the elementary students at Laura Ingalls Wilder School.  The students spent ten weeks each semester coaching young readers who had a vast range of learning challenges from all grade levels.

My students read books, listened to readers, and explained concepts to their young partners.  The students discussed their experience at Wilder; they wrote thoughts in their journals; and reflected on the experience along with their own ideas in their reflection papers.  They experience literacy in the community-in their community.  The students became connected to their community through this “simple” project and gained confidence as life-long learners.



Denise A. Jacobs

Drums have an almost universal appeal to people across all ages, cultures, and socio-economic strata.  Rhythm itself is deeply enmeshed within us, from our own heartbeat to the larger rhythms of the earth itself.  We all have an inborn calling to rhythm, an ability to create it and use it for our own self-expression.  Yet most people feel that unless they are trained in some way, they will be restricted to observing others.

Our modern American culture has assigned music to the role of entertainment.  However, music has from the beginning of recorded history been used for so much more.  Rituals, ceremonies, healing, work, teaching, sporting events, and daily activities all had specific musical elements integral to the event.  Although we retain some of this today (pep bands at a football game, for example) music plays a more limited role, and does not have the participation of the community at large that it once did.

This is indeed our loss, because the benefits of music are far-reaching.  Music has been shown to promote feelings of well-being and foster a sense of community.  In recent years, hand drumming has been proven an effective means of addressing stress, grief, addiction, depression, and anger management.  It is also being used to promote unity, develop listening skills, focus the mind, and promote self-esteem.

These benefits would greatly enhance the school community.  Many pre-teen students deal with these issues and, in addition, struggle every day for acceptance by their peer group.  If they have a place where they feel valued and can take risks safely, they will experience heightened self-esteem and a sense of accomplishment, which leads to the improved attitudes toward school.

My purposes in starting a hand drumming group at my school were to give students an alternative music opportunity, to enhance the character education program at our school, and to give students a means of self-expression.

Results of the study indicated that students in the group made new friends, gained self-confidence, and learned the values of teamwork, respect, and perseverance.



Michael T. Friis

The purpose of this study was to examine the effectiveness of a freshmen transition program in order to make recommendations for its implementation at Preble High School for the 2005-2006 school year.  Of particular interest was the impact of the transition program on extracurricular involvement.

The study included a literature review to examine the merits of extracurricular involvement as well as possible ways to increase such participation.  This information was then used in conjunction with an examination of the Link Crew transition program at Green Bay Southwest High School in order to determine how Preble can best implement the program.

Through the literature review it was determined that quite often attendance, participation and academic achievement go hand-in-hand.  Therefore, the introduction of any transition program worth its salt will include specific measures to address all three of these areas.  In order to determine if this was accomplished at Southwest, both qualitative and quantitative data was collected.  Existing survey data and other records were analyzed, and two new on-line surveys were conducted.

Although all freshmen and all junior/senior Link Leaders were not convinced that Link Crew was a completely successful program, most students expressed positive feelings towards it.  The results reinforced the positive effect of participating in extracurricular activities and also provided some guidance for successfully introducing Link Crew at Preble.

In order for Preble to be successful with a freshmen transition program, a number of factors must be in place.  Both administration and faculty need to support the program.  The district needs to provide adequate funding.  Most importantly, though, the right types of juniors and seniors must be selected and trained to help the freshmen transition throughout the school year.  This means making a yearlong commitment that is fully supported by the faculty Link Crew coordinators and assistants.  With these elements, the Link Crew program can have a very positive impact on attendance, academics, extracurricular participation and overall school spirit at Preble High School.


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