In the United States, an elevated percentage of high school students with a recorded learning disability are opted-out of foreign language education. The assertion is that learning an additional language provides extreme stress and/or exacerbates the learning disability in and out of the classroom, thereby making the learning disabled student feel more frustrated and defeated in their ability to acquire another language. This phenomenon of opting learning disabled students out of foreign language altogether has increased in U.S. public schools over the past twenty years but with little to no research supporting the rationale behind the decision. Therefore, the scholar- practitioner would like to focus attention on this educational phenomena through the use of Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) as a qualitative approach to understand lived experiences of participants dealing with language acquisition issues. The primary objective of IPA will provide an opportunity for the scholar-practitioner to explore in great detail the lived learning experiences of participants with the goal of drawing connections, socio-emotionally and/or cognitively, of how LD students find little to no success in their language acquisition. It is hoped that participant accounts will yield information that will allow the scholar-practitioner to reflect on students learning attempts, potentially creating options for improved learning opportunities in foreign language acquisition for all learning levels.
As a whole, qualitative study imparts auxiliary returns to the experimental competency researchers need to explore and investigate their studies. Delving deeper into the beginnings of research methodology, interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) was developed within the field of psychology to allow thorough consideration of idiographic experiences and social perceptions. To be more specific, IPA can provide researchers with an intimate connection to their participants shared experiences which formulates a tight bond and provides an opportunity to understand lived experience from the perspective of the interviewee. Yet, researchers considering IPA must first understand the theoretical underpinnings of this contemporary methodology as it is rooted in the phenomenology of Husserl, ideography, and hermeneutics. This paper will provide a transitory glimpse at the aforementioned theoretical subsections through a literature review of research supporting the benefits of IPA as a methodology best suited to the scholar-practitioner’s area of study.
Harkening back to the field of psychology, IPA was fashioned in response to the emergent division between two alternate approaches of qualitative thought geared toward the laws of human behavior: phenomenological and post-positivist (Smith, 2015). Seminal researchers like Smith (2015) pointed out how positivist streams of thought were front and center; thereby relegating alternative approaches that focused in on the understanding of the individual experience. However, Alase (2017) contends that it was Husserl who conceptualized and theorized IPA in context to the understanding of lived experience. Linking the theory of phenomenology to IPA underpinnings, historical research points to the extensive use of hermeneutical phenomenology (participant experience) as it related to the interpretation of the life lived. Again, Alase (2017) refers to researchers like van Manen and Moustakas as essential forerunners in the clarification and employment of phenomenological theories as they increased the application of IPA’s usability to different research concentrations.
Other seminal researchers like William James and Gordon Allport (as cited in Smith, Larkin, and Flowers, 2009) buoyed this point and argued for the analysis of a qualitative study that didn’t focus on large population samples and generalize data quantitatively. As Husserl contended (Alase, 2017), qualitative data analysis through a phenomenological approach provides a structured method of collection as there is a common meaning for several individuals when looking at their lived experiences. The process is interpretive on the part of the researcher who then must make meaning of the language. Though the reality of experience cannot be denied, assumptions about it must be bracketed. As Alase (2017) asserts, the experience is the source of knowledge. Adherence to these guidelines is straightforward and effective in creating a foundation of accessible data.
Researchers like Ferriera (2018) defend IPA idiography and its strengths as a method to examine participant experiences individually. Indeed, the purposeful design of IPA seeks to address two specific aims: one, to understand and communicate the experience(s) of the participants involved and two, to provide an interpretation of the phenomenological account as it is viewed within a wider social and cultural context. In the case of the scholar-practitioner, the phenomenon of LD students opting out of foreign language class on a continual basis within US public schools. In turn, there is an acceptance of the personal information provided by the interviewees that are taken at place value (Ferriera, 2018). Though there is a shared sense of the human condition found with IPA idiography, the level of in-depth questioning that is associated with this methodological approach must be scrutinized so not to veer off track and become watered down.
In Reid (2005), specificity associated with idiography is mentioned, as it concerns itself with the “particular” instead of the universal. Again, researchers should commit to the detailed analysis that is thorough. Reid highlights how commitment to deep understanding creates a natural progression of understanding how experiential phenomena is received from the perspective of an individual instead of a general context. While generalized ideas are not rejected, the development of generalized ideas is developed in a cautious manner.
A theory of interpretation, hermeneutics was vigorously supported by researchers like Heidegger and Schleiermacher (Davey, 2017). Since IPA is rooted in the capturing of quality, experience, and participant meaning as they acknowledge their own experience, such revelations are not directly accessible to the researcher. In reality, all accounts recorded in an interview/conversation carry a level of preset interpretation. This is viewed as participant interpretation and their commitment to making sense of the phenomenon in question. As this method relates to the scholar-practitioners area of interest, having a learning disabled (LD) students try to make sense of why they do not do well with learning another language is hermeneutic in its design. However, the scholar-practitioner’s role as interpreter of the accounts recorded appears as a hermeneutic as well (Smith, 2015)
The theory of interpretation is clear, following the philosophy of Schleiermacher an interpreter develops in their range of interpretive skills when he/she understands the interviewee better than he/she can understand him/herself (Larkin, M., Eatough, V., and Osborn, 2001). Indeed, the development of this craft is somewhat evolutionary, as the interpreter must consider his or her own insights as they exceed or subsume the claims of the research participants.
While the performance of an experiential qualitative study is not without its challenges, each stage draws on skills which are taught somewhat consecutively. As stated by Dowling (2007), IPA researchers must appreciate the developmental process in which the gathering of data (memoing and interviews) builds confidence over time as trust and confidence between the interviewer and interviewee(s) develops and strengthens over time. Specifically, procedural formats become less formal over time with the understanding of positionality (on behalf of the researcher and the interviewee).
In a qualitative research methodology, there are variations of analytical approaches that researchers can utilize for their data analysis. Some of these analytical approaches are Narrative Inquiry, Narrative Research, Case Study, and IPA. Regardless of the qualitative approach, the scholar-practitioner has the momentum to create and organize files of information. Second, the scholar-practitioner must engage in the process of a general reading and memoing of information. As alluded in Creswell (2013) this develops an impression of the data and allows the researcher to begin the process of making sense of the information collected. When all methods organize a phase of description, the researcher will begin to construct a scheme of the process. Suitable questions must be formulated by the scholar-practitioner so the focus is centered on personal meaning and the identification of a potential “shared experience.”
Though the scholar-practitioner could make arguments for the justification of any one of these methods, at present time, IPA seems to be the most promising in terms of exploring trends in the opting out of foreign language courses when identified LD students are completing their academics studies. More specifically, the scholar-practitioner wishes to understand the lived experiences of a selected sampling of her LD students. By examining their individual narratives, the scholar-practitioner seeks to find out what foreign language experiences have been like up to this point in the students’ academic careers. The aim is to actively look at the direction of the phenomena and determine what literature will be used to ground the research data to identify potential problems LD students have/face when entering a foreign language environment.
In contrast to IPA, the scholar-practitioner is battling the efficacy of case study methodology as it is useful in the utilization of data collection. Case study analysis also aligns well to the phenomenon of the investigative study as it is beneficial in testing theories and running models that could be transferred to real-world applications such as the redevelopment of foreign language curriculum for LD students. With the scholar-practitioner’s area of focus, an in-depth study of a phenomenon is more beneficial than a broad-based statistical survey. Furthermore, the scholar-practitioner wishes to look at all data collected and possibly disaggregate the information. The pool of research participant information will be interpreted by the scholar-practitioner in a manner that could potentially yield indication and allow for a further explanation of a hypothesis on the subject of foreign language acquisition in general. However, IPA affords the scholar-practitioner the opportunity to explore personal experience instead of producing an objective statement about the event itself. This is critical for the scholar-practitioner if a phenomenon is to be seen.
While it could be argued that qualitative methodologies possess margins that are somewhat blurred, as they draw on multidisciplinary fields like phenomenology and or hermeneutics, different methods of phenomenology are socially constructed and have an extensive overlap in their purposes and vary in the manner in which they detach the experience from the experienced persons at the end of the research. Comparing narrative inquiry to IPA, evidence of phenomenological and interpretive analysis (Smith, 2015) is varied. With narrative inquiry, research produces findings that are well-grounded, supportable, and emphasize the linguistic reality of human experience. Stories are used for interpretive and phenomenological research (Creswell, 2013). Although comparable to IPA in the chronicling of participant experience, narrative inquiry delves deeper into the understanding of researcher/participant collaboration over a period of time as well as the social interaction of the environment. The simple principle of narrative inquiry is that individuals are viewed as storytellers. Provocation and examination of accounts are the common focus in the narrative inquiry (McGannon, K.
Issues of the Achievement Gap
What We Can Do About the Achievement Gap
Achievement gap, as a long existing historical problem caused by uneven education results, has been accepting attention and discussions by scholars and experts. It is not only influencing the individual’s future, but also affecting the pace of the development and the economy of the nation. Although the achievement gap has giant differences between African Americans and White students since 1950s, the national trend has been declining and became stable recent years.
There are three main causes to the giant achievement gap: racial differences, school, and students. First of all, the racial differences came from history back to 1950s. At that time, the enormous income differences of white and black families direct cause the chances to enter the higher-quality school and the opportunities to experiences and to gain social capital.
The government has been trying different methods in these years. In 2002, the President George signed a federal law, NCLB (No Child Left Behind), that aims to support every child with their education. The law requires and monitored several aspects to guarantee the quality of education and make sure every student is beneficial from it.
First of all, it is requiring every teacher to have a bachelors’ degree. The elementary teacher needs to pass state test in order to prove the ability to teach and the understandable in reading, language, writing, and math. For the middle school teacher, they need to pass the statewide test. The main goal for these strict requests means to improve the quality of educator in order to guarantee the quality of the education that students received. Secondly, the government set the standardized tests for every state. Students from grade 3 to grade 8 have to take the statewide tests. By the end of the 2007-2008 school year, each of the 3–5, 6–9, and 10-11 grades will be followed by a science exam. However, this action give rise to a lot of opposite voice. Some experts point out that by implementing the standardized tests, teachers will teach narrower topics but focus on what will be on tests (International Reading Association). Teacher might not pay attention to the deep understanding of the overall curriculum but only cares about the academic performance. Actually, this is not an improvement of education but a form of exam-oriented education. According to the law, the teacher will also have some punishments like reducing the salaries. By looking at the results from NAEP, a lot of teachers misunderstood the meaning of test scores after NCLB action. NAEP, the National Assessment of Educational Progress is the only appointed organization that measures what U.S. students know and can do in various subjects across the nation, states, and in some urban districts. Educators tend to be predicted the test content that will appear on the tests to help the school get higher scores (2005). Other factors might influence the test scores even the students were hard-working and have high academic performance in regular school. He/she might suffer from family factors and failed the test once. Therefore, the NCLB tests not take these factors in to account. Thirdly, the NCLB action also asked the public school to have progress and meet the AYP two years, or the students can choose to transfer to another school, let the student receive free tutoring or after-school programs. AYP standards for Adequate Yearly Progress, which is a measurement designed by United States Federal Law how every public school and school district in the country is performing academically depend on the results on standardized tests. The academic performance is the almost the only way to determine if the school meet the requirements and might also affect the funding from the government or other punishments that contribute to the increased accountability if the school fail to do so. Lastly, the school also have to provide the specific reports that explain the academic performance of school, and also informs the situations of the teacher as “not highly qualified” if the school fail to meet the AYP. According to the a policy that announced by Pennsylvania, the salaries of the teacher will connect to the test scores by the students they taught. And the school will receive less funding in the following years. Many experts also have opposite views that if a poor district that originally have lower academic performance is going to have less funding and salaries for teacher, this will be a vicious circle and more and more child will be “left behind”.
In my perspective, this legislation failed to provide better education especially for low-income and minority students. First of all, the actual transfer rate is much less than the eligible transfer rate. According to the data that collected from 2002 to 2003 over 10 poor districts in America, some of the transfer granted rate are even 10 times than transfer requests rates (Table 1). This comparation proves the ineffectiveness of the transfer school option provided by NCLB legislation. There are several reasons behind this data. Firstly, there is no data that shows a school can approve all the requests that need to transfer. Secondly, parents tend to let the children stay in the neighborhood school than distinct schools (2003). Thirdly, the NCLB transfer failed to provide affordable transfer school fees especially for the low-income family’s students to high academic performance schools. Fourth, there is limited number of schools that students can choose to transfer in urban areas. Lastly, all the policies, requirements and the number of performers are tremendous pressure to the local government both financially and mentally.
The second solution that believes can close the achievement gap is dismantling tracking and providing the high-track curriculum to all the students (Kevin, 2005). Tracking curriculum is mixing all the students in classrooms instead of classifying students to various students depend on their grades. This tracking curriculum contains values, beliefs, and techniques that a student need. However, in the past, school and parents tend to believe that the curriculum will only benefit the higher-achiever because they can learn more and effective in the class under high-track curriculum (Harris, 2010). Besides, the way to implement the high-track curriculum is much simpler than low-track curriculum. There are many factors need to consider. Like the suggestions from the teacher, the academic performance, and the potential capacity a student has.
In the 1990s, there is a school district in Long Island had implemented the high-track curriculum to all the students. The results turned out very well: in 2007, 75% of students earned a New York State Regents diploma compared to the 58% in the past. Another example that shows the effectiveness of the high-track curriculum is about the math Regents exam and the diploma in this district. There is a math test that appeared the question related to the stumbling block. However, high-track students have already sufficient about this kind of question while low-track students just started to learn about algebra. After address the curriculum to standardized high-track curriculum to all students, the math teacher Delia Garrity made a new curriculum to all students and created after-school programs as study groups to help struggling students. Students can share their ideas about the questions or what they are good at in order to help each other. Surprisingly, compared to the 23% of Hispanic or African Americans students passed algebra-based Regents exam in 1995, increased to 75% in 1997. The achievement gap not only declined in Hispanic and African Americans, but also shows in White and Asian Americans from 54% to 98%.
Table 1: Participation in Transfer Program: Eligible Students, Transfer Requests, Transfers Granted in ten Districts, 2002-03. The actual transfer rate is much less than the granted requests.
Another example that provide strong evidence for the advantages of implementing the high-track curriculum to all students. For the special education students will have alternative assessments compared with other students. They will not take the Regents math test until 9th grade. These students will receive low-track classes with longer period time in school. However, this method did not really bring any positive changes to the low-track students will their academic performance and the passion of learning. Teachers and school tend to spend more time on the disciplines and regulations in the low-track classrooms. Therefore, the school started to change and implement new high-track curriculum to all the students. From 1996 to 2000 after implementing the new method, the rates and the achievements have dramatically decreased (Table 2).
The closing of achievement gap in the district after implementing the high-track curriculum instead of the heterogeneous classes. This new method not only helped the Hispanic and African Americans, but also improved the academic performance of Asian and White students.
However, some people might argue for the advantages of low-track curriculum, which divided all students to several classrooms based on their academic achievement. One of the most common recognized pros is this curriculum offers the classes that are “suitable” to the students, which allows each student to reach their potential abilities with their own pace. In the opposite, I disagree this argument for several reasons. First of all, the temporary academic scores do not represent the ability of the student. There are many factors that might influence the test scores. For example, rest will directly affect the students’ performance during the test. Secondly, appropriate competition and pressure can have positive influences. If all the students have the same learning abilities and academic performances, it is hard to have some high-score students as models. When someone has higher performance, it might stimulate students to study hard and learn from it. According to the research, pressure makes people focus. Pressure forces people to eliminate distractions and trying to reach the goal. When people are focusing on something, it dramatically improves the efficient and perseverance to finish it. Besides, when there is appropriate pressure, people tend to work harder and reach their full potential power (Deb, 2016). Furthermore, using low-track curriculum might also affect the mentality of students. They might have negative emotions like self-abasement or self-conceit if the diving of classes is beyond their expectations. Lastly, the teacher will have different teaching purposes and expectation with different classes. While high-track curriculum tends to be more engaging, reflective, and challenging, the low-track curriculum emphasizes on good behavior and menial skills (Education Trust, 2004). This low-track curriculum uses the word “achievement” instead of “ability”, which is not appropriate. The achievement is measurable through a specific time about what and how the students learning; whereas the ability is does not have a standard way to test it and make a conclusion. This method invisibly tag all the students by their temporary academic performace.
Therefore, I think the second solution that suggests implementing the high-track curriculum to all the students is much more effective than the No Child Left Behind action. Even there are many more methods that have been tried by government and educators, the achievement gap is still existing and have profound negative effects to individual and the nation. It might take time to solve this problem, as it contains so many factors that lead to the achievement. In other aspects, I think the school and teacher have responsibilities to raise the consciousness of the outcome and the power of students and families. Once they understand the importance of the learning would be, they might pay more attention to the education of the children in order to improve the academic performance of the students. If the parents are too busy or are not eligible to afford afterschool tutoring, the parents can encourage and communicate more with the children about study. According to the research, encouragement is a salute learning. The evidence from neuroscience: the reptilian part of our brain, which sits in the center of our brain, when it’s threatened, it shuts down everything, and shut down the learning part. Punishment and examinations are seen as threats. Therefore, there are something that parents and the families can do to have some positive influences in closing the achievement gap.
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