Teaching reading to Asian students with English as an additional language in innovative learning environments in comparison to single cell traditional classrooms (2021)
Type of ContentTheses / Dissertations
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
PublisherUniversity of Canterbury
This thesis grew out of two interests: (i) the New Zealand Government’s investment in building flexible, open learning spaces (innovative learning environments) in primary schools; and (ii) the ongoing achievement gaps in reading literacy among New Zealand schoolchildren.
Because of the growing body of research on innovative learning environments, I decided to compare some facets of English-language-reading-related teaching and learning across two learning environments—innovative and traditional—and with two different groups of students: Asian students for whom English was an additional language and students who spoke only English. A mixed-methods approach was used to investigate students’ growth in reading and reading-related skills, teacher and student perceptions of their learning experiences and environments, and teacher views of their teaching practices.
I invited Year 5 and Year 6 students from innovative learning environments and traditional schools (i.e., single-cell, sole-teacher classrooms) in the Canterbury district to participate in the quantitative part of the study. Of the one hundred and fifty student volunteers, eighty-one were studying in innovative learning environments and sixty-nine in traditional schools. Three measures were used to assess the students’ development in English-language competency across a school year. This involved pre-and post-tests of reading comprehension, listening comprehension and vocabulary development. Differences in growth in the three measures were compared statistically across the two participant groups (Asian students versus English-only-speaking students) and the two types of learning environment (innovative versus traditional). Analyses also controlled for the potential effects of school decile, number of years residing in New Zealand, and language-support classes. The results indicated some inconsistent (across measures and year groups) differences in growth between the two learning environments and across the two student groups. However, there was no evidence to suggest that the innovative learning environments had a negative effect on growth in reading and reading related skills, particularly for the Asian-background students who performed as well, if not better, in the innovative learning environments than their English-only peers and as well as their fellow Asian-background students in traditional classrooms.
Students also completed a questionnaire that asked for their perceptions of their learning experiences during their reading lessons. Questions focussed on teacher support, equity in the classroom, attitudes towards reading, conduciveness of the learning environment for reading, and noise. Analyses, similar to those performed for the growth measures, were performed to compare the responses of the two participant groups and the two types of learning environment. The results indicated few statistically significant differences, suggesting that the participating students’ perceptions were similar across student type and environment. Again, there was no evidence that Asian-background students felt disadvantaged in innovative learning environments compared to their peers in the same or traditional classrooms.
Semi-structured interviews were used to collect qualitative data on teachers’ perceptions of teaching reading. Fourteen teachers agreed to be interviewed. They were all teachers of the participating students. Eight teachers were teaching in innovative learning environments and six teachers in single cell traditional classrooms. The themes identified from the interviews were teacher collaboration, teachers’ pedagogical style, classroom noise, culturally responsive teaching, peer teaching and student collaborations. These teacher data suggested some contradictory findings compared to the student data.
Overall, the study indicated that innovative learning environments need not be a barrier to learning and developing reading and reading-related language skill, even for students from a second or additional language background (Asian students in this case) that may be perceived (e.g., by their teachers) as susceptible to the negative effects associated with noisy and potentially distracting and inhibiting environments. Clearly further research is necessary to determine the most effective practices in innovative learning environments, but the results do indicate that they can be as effective as traditional classrooms given appropriate teacher experience/skills and support from school leaders.
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