Name of Project/Intervention: Differentiated Support: Academic Support in Grade 10 – 12 Mathematics, Science and English
Name of Organisation/service provider: Quality Projects in Education
Duration of Project: 2013 - 2014
Where was the Project based: KwaZulu-Natal
The Zenex Foundation supports three learner projects through its Learner Development Programme, which focuses on increasing the number of quality passes in Mathematics, Science and English among Black learners from economically and educationally disadvantaged backgrounds.
Support for learners take the form of placement in a quality public or independent school, academic support, life skills support, counselling and mentorship as well as support for special needs.
Evidence from monitoring by the Zenex Foundation and the external evaluation has shown that despite the holistic approach to improving learner performance, the outcomes of the Programme have not been concomitant with the investment being made. The evaluators have recommended that the Foundation review the academic support component of the Programme, believing that a more focused, targeted and differentiated approach to academic support is required, given that the learners in the Programme come from a range of educational and socio-economic backgrounds.
The Differentiated Academic Support intervention seeks to contribute to the strategic objectives and outcomes of the Learner Development Programme by:
• providing targeted academic support to learners; and
• introducing teachers to differentiated instruction.
A secondary outcome is that the differentiated learning approach will become embedded in day-to-day teaching practices.
The proposed intervention will offer teachers an approach to teaching in the extra lessons that will address backlogs and that assists to develop methodologies that are able to support two types of learners, namely:
• learners who have significant backlogs in terms of their foundational knowledge and skills; and
• learners who need more support for consolidating their concept development and opportunities for practice.
The specific focus will be on Mathematics, Science and English to close conceptual gaps and develop learners’ critical thinking skills. The project will be implemented using an action research methodology given that it is piloting an innovative concept.
The differentiated academic support intervention will cover three components:
1. Closing the conceptual gaps (Remediation)
Learner profiles will be developed to maximise the benefits of the differentiated support. This will involve diagnosing learners’ conceptual levels, motivation, attitudes, language abilities and learning styles. The diagnostic findings will reveal knowledge gaps and misconceptions and then inform the development of teaching and learning materials for contact sessions.
A weekend camp programme will be designed which focuses on addressing the gaps identified based on the diagnostic results. In addition, individualised graded activities for self study will be produced at the camps.
2. Developing learners’ critical thinking skills for learning (Extension)
The researchers argue that self-regulated learning using critical thinking skills is the key to unlocking potential for learners to succeed at school level, and more important, at tertiary level. The time available for out-of-school instruction is limited. Therefore the plan is to focus on only one or two critical thinking skills per term and to develop these in some depth.
3. An action research study
Action research is a constructivist approach which is well suited to exploring and refining educational activities by involving real actors (here, tutors and learners) in researching their practices in real settings such as classrooms. It is particularly suited when constructing a pilot intervention.
After each period of observation and data collection, the whole research team will meet to interpret the data and to reflect on what has been learnt from the preceding period of action. This deliberate, expert-led reflection will then inform the changes made to the activities for the next period of action.
In the action research, the teachers will be trained to observe and record data essential to the research while at the same time delivering the educational content. Data that will be collected and recorded to inform the steps of reflect, plan and act, will include:
• Qualitative data from learner admission interviews and profiles; learner journals about what they know and understand and where they struggle; tutor journals and observation sheets; minutes of reflective meetings; videotaped learner focus groups; and audio tapes of tutor reflections when updating the learner diagnostic profiles and photographs.
• Quantitative data, including all periodic diagnostic test results, achievement test and exam results as well as attendance records.
Anticipated outcomes from the Zenex Foundation Differentiated Support programme include:
• a package of materials that provides a term-by-term programme for addressing backlogs and building learners’ critical thinking skills;
• a methodology implemented by teachers that focuses on backlogs and critical thinking skills for learning;
• an anticipated improvement in learner performance by improving learners’ marks on the minimum targets set of 60% and above; and
• a package of materials that can be shared with other donors and NGOs focusing on academic support for learners – as a contribution to the sector.
Monitoring and tracking mechanisms
The project will be monitored as part of the action research by the research team with Quality Projects in Education (QPiE) as overall project manager. In addition, each of the three learner projects has their own project managers who will play a role in the ongoing monitoring of implementation in the schools.
The Differentiated Academic Support programme will address the gaps in the learner development programme. The research will pioneer a way of dealing with backlogs which is currently a system-wide problem and thus the materials and the programme on a term-to-term basis will be of great benefit to the broader schooling sector.
In addition, many donors run learner programmes and the Foundation could similarly share the programme and materials with these programmes.