Reshaping change: The implementation of the senior project in one English class

Barbara Elizabeth Combs, Syracuse University


The purpose of this qualitative study was to observe the ways in which 25 English students and their teacher came to understand a constructivist approach to teaching and learning, The Senior Project. Four research questions were developed to explore this topic: (1) What were the informants' perspectives of the innovation? (2) How was the innovation implemented in this classroom? (3) In what ways were the innovation and/or the informants' perspectives modified during the implementation process? (4) What was the impact of the ongoing classroom world on the innovation?

Participant observations were conducted in a senior English class from September to May. Visits were frequent, ranging from one to three times per week. In addition, taped interviews were conducted with the teacher and ten student volunteers, and written artifacts were collected.

Symbolic interactionism served as the theoretical framework and constant comparative methodology for data analysis was employed. Analysis of data was ongoing. Memos and observer's comments were written to explore emerging categories and further focus the study.

Results of the study demonstrate that The Senior Project was reshaped from a student-directed approach to a more traditional teacher-directed one. Three factors appeared to relate to the reshaping process: (1) students' and teacher's traditional understandings about teaching and learning; (2) student and teacher's beliefs about roles and responsibilities in the classroom; (3) the ongoing life of the classroom community. Results are consistent with research that suggests the following: (1) teacher beliefs influence the implementation process; (2) the perceived need, quality, clarity, and complexity of an innovation are related to the implementation process; (3) the innovation is adapted as the users work with it in the classroom setting; (4) the classroom culture is resistant to change; (5) change is marked by anxiety, discomfort, ambivalence and uncertainty; (6) the implementation process is a complex one for students and teachers. In addition, because there has been little research to date that considers the students' perspectives about change, or the daily struggles between the teacher and students as change is attempted, results contribute new understandings in these areas.