The Effects of Web-Based Instruction in Digital Classrooms on Math and by nfy87895


									The Effects of Web-Based Instruction in Digital Classrooms on Math and
Reading Performance on the CT Academic Performance Test (CAPT) and
Related Outcomes for a 10th Grade Cohort of CT Urban Vocational-
Technical School Students

       Dr. George Cicchetti, Educational Technology Consultant, Connecticut Distance Learning

       Ann Sandagata, Educational Administrator for Management Information Systems,
       Connecticut Regional Vocational-Technical School System

       Michael Suntag, Educational Administrator for Educational Technology/Grants
       Management, Connecticut Regional Vocational-Technical School System

       John Tarnuzzer, Assistant Superintendent of Schools, Connecticut Regional Vocational-
       Technical School System

   This report is published on the The Knowledge Loom, in the Good Models of Teaching with
   Technology spotlight (

   Publication date: November 15, 2003.
   Document url:

   The Knowledge Loom is a free, web-based professional development resource for educators
   maintained by The Education Alliance at Brown University.

The purpose of this quasi-experimental, time series study was to determine if student-centered
instruction with web-based units would improve urban students’ reading and math performance
on the Connecticut Academic Performance Test (CAPT) and related outcomes such as
attendance, discipline, grades and students’ engagement and self-esteem about learning. All 10
grade students at J.M. Wright Regional Vocational-Technical School in Stamford, CT received
student-centered instruction with web-based learning units in digital classrooms equipped with 25
computers, conference tables and chairs and Internet access. There were three main findings. (1)
All students, especially the free and reduced-price lunch subgroup, made marked, steady
improvement in reading and math performance during the treatment period as compared to the
baseline measures. (2) Students’ engagement in learning appears to increase students’
attendance and grades and decrease detentions and suspensions. (3) Students’ ownership of
learning and self-esteem about academic capabilities increased.

The instructional design emphasized inclusion of all subgroups rather than breaking out
subgroups for pullout type support. Title 1 teachers, special education teachers and reading
teachers worked in the digital classrooms and coached and supported students’ learning. All web-
based units included literacy strategies such as reciprocal teaching and before, during and after
reading strategies. Metacognitive strategies were an integral part of math units that required
students to make thinking visible as math problems were solved. Dialogue center activities with
student facilitators and scribes helped to increase students’ ownership of learning and students’
self-esteem about their academic capabilities. The oral communication in non-threatening
dialogue center activities “run” by peers appears to have increased and had an especially positive
effect on English Language Learners (ELLs).

Students were very positive about teaching and learning in digital classrooms as contrasted with
traditional classroom instruction and textbooks. The rich variety of multimedia Internet resources
played a role in increasing students’ engagement in learning. Teachers were assisted in
becoming instructional designers and coaches in large part through: an online professional
development program, online opportunities for review and feedback about instructional design of
units, an online learning unit database and onsite coaching and support.


Context of the Problem

There are two major issues facing urban high schools in CT and perhaps throughout the country.
In April 2004, all CT 10 grade students (class of 2006) will be required to take and pass the CT
Academic Performance Test (CAPT) as a requirement for obtaining a high school diploma. Also,
the No Child Left Behind Act has set math and reading standards for improvement that ratchet up
each year. Urban high schools are much more likely to be identified as under performing and
failing schools. The subgroups (minorities, bilingual, special education and free and reduced-price
lunch students) at urban schools are at greater risk for not meeting graduation requirements and
receiving diplomas.

J.M. Wright RVTS, Stamford, CT is one of four urban CT Vocational Technical Schools that was
designated as under-performing based on CAPT results for 2001 and 2002 in accordance with
standards set by the No Child Left Behind legislation.

The experience with high-stakes testing in Massachusetts, a state with comparable
demographics to Connecticut, should be instructive. Approximately 16,000 Massachusetts high
school students failed one or more parts of the MCAS in 2001. According to the MA State
Department of Education’s administrator for MCAS remediation and academic support services,
approximately 14,000 students who failed the MCAS in 2001 have received tutoring and other
services and programs from the school districts at a cost of $50,000,000 (Boston Globe,
September 19, 2002.) Despite the extensive tutoring and the fact that students took the MCAS
repeatedly, 1 in 4 black students did not receive a diploma and nearly 1 in 3 Hispanics didn’t
graduate as compared with 6% of white students. Also, 1 in 3 special education students and
students with limited English did not receive a diploma (Boston Globe, March 4, 2003). A
headline, “95% in class of 2003 pass MCAS”, masks some underlying issues. Students took the
test up to six times in order to pass the test and the remediation funding had decreased to $10,
000,000. In MA urban high schools with large minority and English Language Learners (ELLs)
subgroups, the MCAS passing rates are much lower (Boston – 83%, Springfield – 77% and
Lawrence – 72%). In addition, thousands of students in the class of 2003 left school between 9
and 12 grade. Therefore about 1 in 5 freshmen in the class of 2003 did not finish school and are
not taken into account in reporting MCAS passing rates (Boston Globe, September 30, 2003).

Table 1 contains the CT Mastery Test results (8 grade) for the class of 2005 for four under-
performing CT RVTS and illustrates the high percentage of students who are at an intervention
level when they enter urban CT RVTS. All schools that were identified as under performing have
high percentages of the following subgroups: free and reduced-price lunch students, minorities,
bilingual students and special education students.

                               Table 1 - Math – CMT 2000 Results

Levels              Goodwin RVTS         Prince RVTS       Whitney RVTS         Wright RVTS
                    New Britain, CT      Hartford, CT      New Haven, CT        Stamford, CT
1 - Intervention    38%                  18%               40%                  58%
2 - Basic           29%                  31%               29%                  28%
3 - Proficient      21%                  34%               25%                  11%
4 - Goal            12%                  17%                6%                   4%

                             Table 2 - Reading – CMT 2000 Results

Levels              Goodwin RVTS         Prince RVTS       Whitney RVTS         Wright RVTS
                    New Britain, CT      Hartford, CT      New Haven, CT        Stamford, CT
1 - Intervention    46%                  34%               51%                  68%
2 - Basic           17%                  18%               17%                   9%
3 - Proficient      10%                  20%               12%                  12%
4 - Goal            27%                  27%               20%                   11%

The tables clearly show that J.M. Wright RVTS has the highest percentages of students at the
Intervention or Below Basic levels in both Math and Reading.

Statement of the Problem

J.M. Wright RVTS in Stamford, CT has been the lowest performing of all of the CT Regional
Vocational Technical Schools. At entry into the 9 grade, approximately 70% of the students were
at the Intervention level in Reading and 60% of the students have been constantly at the
Intervention level in Math based on CT Mastery Test results. Prior to the treatment or
intervention, classroom observations by the authors of the study indicated that instruction at J.M.
Wright was teacher-centered and students were passive and minimally engaged in learning.

Attempts to improve reading and math performance are further compounded by the instructional
time at the CT RVTS that is split between academic instruction and trade instruction
Consequently, students spend only 90 days of instructional time per year on academics.

 The purpose of this quasi-experimental, time series study was to determine if student-centered
instruction with web-based units in digital classrooms would improve performance on the CT
Academic Performance Test (CAPT) in the reading and math areas for at-risk subgroups. Many
studies are non-experimental and compare different cohorts of students to demonstrate
improvement on high-stakes testing such as CAPT. However, these are non-experimental
comparisons, so no causal interpretation can be made; more important, replication of the
interventions is difficult to produce.

If the percentages of students at the Intervention levels in reading and math remain at the same
level as the baseline, large numbers of students with subgroups comparable to J.M. Wright are
unlikely to pass CAPT and receive a high school diploma and the schools will have great difficulty
reaching target standards for achievement set by the No Child Left Behind legislation.

Review of the Literature

Low reading and math achievement have been a persistent, ongoing problem at our urban CT
RVTS. In general, teachers are faced with passive readers and math students who can execute
calculations and operations at the expense of understanding and planning of solutions to
problems. Winograd and Johnson (1985) described passive readers who fail to comprehend text
because they do not actively interact with and construct meaning from a text. Cicchetti (2003)
describes passive readers who do not connect text to prior knowledge or elaborate on text with
images or graphic organizers or summarizing. During reading, they do not question their
understanding, and if there is a lack of understanding, they do not attempt to construct meaning
with fix-up strategies.

Many math students have learned to carry out the operations and calculations to solve problems
at the expense of understanding problems and devising plans to solve them. Math textbooks,
lecture type explanations and drill and practice often focus on the execution of operations at the
expense of the thinking and planning that comes before calculations or operations (Cicchetti,
2003). If there is to be an improvement of students’ reading and math performance, teachers will
have to design instruction and coach students to become active, constructive readers who
interact with text and flexibly monitor and fix-up their comprehension. Teachers also must design
instruction and coach students to become problem solvers who think through and devise a plan
for solving problems as well as execute the calculations and operations.

Richard Elmore (1996) argues that school reform efforts have had a limited effect on students’
performance since changes are made to the broad policies and the mechanics of education such
as schedules and curriculum at the expense of teaching teachers the skills needed to implement
reforms in the classroom. "If you're not changing the way teachers behave in the classroom,
what are you doing?" says Elmore. "Whatever it is, it will have at best an indirect relationship to
student learning, or more likely no relationship, or a completely random relationship-which
explains why virtually all of the major reforms this century have missed their mark. We've become
very good at changing the overarching structure of the education system without really changing

The Digital Classroom Design model (Cicchetti, 2003) attempts to change the roles of teachers
and students and how they interact in the classroom. Teachers are expected to become
instructional designers and coaches who focus on the students’ work and how to improve the
work. Students are expected to become active, constructive learners who are expected to
assume responsibility for their learning and eventually become independent learners.


The following hypotheses were formulated:

    1. Students who receive student-centered, web-based instruction in digital classrooms will
       demonstrate marked improvement on the CAPT reading and math tests.
    2. Students who receive student-centered, web-based instruction in digital classrooms will
       demonstrate marked improvement on related measures such as attendance, detentions,
       suspensions and grades.
    3. Students who receive student-centered, web-based instruction in digital classrooms will
       demonstrate increased self-esteem, ownership and responsibility for learning.


Subjects and Setting

This study was conducted at J.M. Wright RVTS with a cohort of 10 graders, class of 2005. As
of 9/15/03, J.M. Wright RVTS is a CT urban regional vocational technical high school that draws
students from Bridgeport (53%), Stamford (36%), and Norwalk (9%), CT. J.M. Wright RVTS had
443 students enrolled as of 10/1/02. Wright was built in 1961 in downtown Stamford. For the
2001-02 school year, 87% of the students are minorities.

The breakdown follows:

    •   Hispanic --------------------------- 45%
    •   Black ------------------------------- 41%
    •   Caucasian------------------------- 13%
    •   American - Indian and Asian -- 1%

Table 3: J.M. Wright Subgroups – 2002–2003*

Subgroups of Students                         J.M. Wright   Other CT     CT High
                                              RVTS          RVTS         Schools
Eligible for free/reduced price lunch         46%           34%          16%
Non-English Language at Home                  45%           11%          11%
Bilingual Education and English as a          18%           4%           3%
Second Language
Compensatory Education                        60%           35%          7%
Special Education                             16%           16%          12%
*Percentages are rounded.

There are significant differences between J.M. Wright RVTS and CT High Schools. J.M. Wright
has approximately three (3) times more students eligible for free or reduced price lunch and four
(4) times more students who have a non-English home language than all CT High School
students. J .M. Wright has almost five (5) times more students who are bilingual as compared to
other CT RVTS and all CT High Schools. Also, J.M Wright has 25% more students who require
special education as compared to all CT High Schools. All of these factors are correlates of
literacy problems. J.M. Wright has a “day about” schedule in that students alternate between
academic and trades every other day.

Research Method and Design

There are almost always ethical and practical limitations upon a researcher’s ability to randomly
assign subjects to conditions or set up control conditions in an educational setting. Therefore, at
J.M. Wright RVTS, a quasi-experimental, time series design, was used to test the effect of
student-centered instruction with web-based units and Internet resources on students’ math and
reading performance on CAPT (Tuckman, 1978). With this approach, subjects are used as their
own control group. Baseline measures and patterns prior to the intervention are established and
compared to measures after the intervention.

 In this study, baseline patterns of achievement on CMT and other tests were compared with
CAPT results for the same cohort, the 10 grade class of 2003. Also baseline measures and
patterns of attendance and discipline were compared to measures take after intervention.

The quasi-experimental design controls for maturation and history, two major source of internal
invalidity. Maturation can be a source of internal invalidity and may be defined as what happens
as students get older and mature. History is another potential source of internal invalidity and may
be defined as general effects of teaching, teachers, parents, schools and various programs and
all the extraneous factors that might influence learning. The baseline measures taken in grades 8
and 9 control for time and general history. As a rule of thumb, baseline data consists of at least
two measures of data.

The symbols for the design are as follows. An X will designate treatment (Instruction in a digital
classroom) A space will designate a control (absence of Instruction in a digital classroom and
traditional classroom instruction with any Title 1 interventions) and an O will designate an
observation or measurement. A number for identification will follow each O.

Quasi-Experimental, Time Series Design

                                  O1 O2 X O3

O1 = CMT results - 10/2000l - grade 8
O2 = Degrees of Reading Power Test or Star Math Test - 10/2001 - grade 9
X = Instruction in a digital classroom every other day for one academic year
O3 = CAPT results – 5/2003 - grade10 – Focus group results, surveys, discipline, attendance

Since August 2002, all 10 grade students at J.M. Wright RVTS have been taught Math, Science,
English and Social Studies in digital classrooms during academic days. Each classroom contains
25 computers with Internet access arranged in a horseshoe shape around the perimeter of a
room. The dialogue center consists of conference tables and chairs in the middle of the
horseshoe arrangement. There are no desks in a digital classroom.

Students are taught with web-based learning units that contain these elements: an introduction or
project, problem or question to be resolved, higher-order instructional objectives aligned with the
CT Framework, Curricular Standards, an activation of background knowledge section, a learning
activity with scaffolding (graphic organizers, directions, links etc.) and rubrics for assessing

Dialogue center activities where students cooperate and clarify and demonstrate understandings
are part of every class and unit. Oral communication and sharing and clarification of ideas is
emphasized. Also, reading and writing strategies are embedded in every unit. Go to the CT

RVTS learning units at to view the learning units. The database was
developed and is maintained by the CT Distance Learning Consortium.


Hypothesis #1: Students who receive student-centered, web-based instruction in digital
classrooms will demonstrate marked improvement on the CAPT reading and math performance.

Table 5: Overall Reading Performance – Same Cohort
                  CMT Gr. 8       *DRP – Gr. 9   CAPT – 10               Change
Level             10/2000         10/2001         5/2003
4 - Goal          11%              2% - 70-90      0%                    - 11%
3 - Proficient    12%              7% - 60-69    17.2%                   + 5.2%
2 – Basic          9%             13% - 50-59    34.4%                   + 25.4%
1 – Below Basic   68%             78% - 49 and 48.4%                     - 19.6%
or Intervention                   below

The percentage of students who performed at Level 1- Intervention during the baseline period
remained constant. A major shift of students from Level 1 – Intervention to Levels 2 and 3 is

*The Degrees of Reading Power (DRP) Test is part of the CT Mastery Test at grades 4, 6, and 8.
DRP scores at a p. value of .90 are reported

Table 6: Reading Performance - Subgroup - Eligibility for Free or Reduced-Price Lunch
Reading Performance – *Different Cohorts

Level               CAPT Gr. 10               CAPT Gr. 10                Change
                    5/2002                    5/2003
4 - Goal            11%                        0%                        - 11%
3 - Proficient      12%                       28.6%                      + 16.6%
2 – Basic           38.5%                     28.6%                      - 9.9%
1 – Below Basic     53.8%                     42.9%                      - 10.9%
or Intervention

When the reading performance for different cohorts of the same subgroup (eligibility for free or
reduced-price lunch) was compared, a clear trend was observed. The percentage of students at a
Proficient level more than doubled.
*A breakout by subgroups for the grade 8 CMT subgroups was not available for comparison.

Table 7: *Reading and Writing Performance of Bilingual Students – Language Assessment
Scales (LAS) – Same Cohort

Levels                                LAS Results -       LAS Results -      Change
                                      5/02, n = 25        5/03, n = 19*
Level 3 – Competent Literate           0%                  0%
Level 2 – Limited Literate            50%                 78%                + 28%
Level 1 – Non-Literate                50%                 22%                - 23%

The overall reading performance of the 2003 cohort improved considerably as compared to the
5/02 LAS results. Bilingual students improved dramatically on the Language Assessment Scales
as 28% of the student moved from non-literate to a limited literate level.

* There is no breakout of CAPT performance for subgroups less than 20. Both the bilingual and
special education subgroups contained less than 20 students.

Table 8: Math Performance – Overall Results - Same Different Cohort

Level               CMT Gr. 8       *Star Math Test                  CAPT –       Change
                    10/2000         Gr. 9 - 10/2001                  10
                                    Percentiles                       5/2003
4 - Goal              4%            (61 percentile and above)         1.1%        - 3.9%
                                    5% of students
                                         st    th
3 - Proficient      11%              (41 – 60 percentile)             13.8%       + 2.8%
                                    5% of students
                                        st  th
2 – Basic           28%             (21 -40 percentile)               32.2%       + 4.2%
                                    20% of students
1 – Below Basic     58%             (20 percentile and below)         52.9%       - 5.1%
or Intervention                     70% of students

The percentage of students who performed at Level 1- Intervention during the baseline period
remained constant and there may well be a drop-off of math skills. A modest trend of movement
of students from Level 1 – Intervention to Levels 2 and 3 was observed.

*The Star Math software (Grades 8-12) creates a computer generated math test that adjusts to
each student’s performance. Star Math has acceptable reliability and validity data generated by
correlations with the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, California Achievement Tests, Comprehensive
Test of Basic Skills and the Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress and Missouri
Mastery Achievement Tests.

Table 9: Math Performance – Subgroup - Eligibility for Free or Reduced-Price Lunch
Subgroup- Different Cohorts

Level              CAPT Gr. 10 - 5/2002       CAPT Gr. 10 - 5/2003       Change
4 - Goal             0%                        3.1%                      + 3.1%
3 - Proficient     13.9%                      18.8%                      + 4.9%
2 – Basic           25%                       37.5%                      +12.5%
1 – Below Basic     61.1%                     40.6%                      - 20.5%
or Intervention

The overall math performance of the 2003 cohort showed a marked improvement across all
levels as compared to the 2002 cohort. The results for the subgroup, eligibility for free and
reduced lunch, are even more impressive as the number of students moving to the basic and
proficient and goal levels increased by 20%.

Hypothesis #2: Students who receive student-centered, web-based instruction in digital
classrooms will demonstrate marked improvement on related measures such as attendance,
detentions, suspensions and grades.

Table 10: Attendance – Different Cohorts

Baseline -10/1/2000             Baseline - 10/1/2001            Intervention -10/1/2002
  86%                              90%                              95%

The CT RVTS takes attendance on October 1 of each academic year for reporting purposes.
Attendance has increased from 86% to 90% to 95%. This is an increase of 7% as compared to a
median of baseline periods and also exceeds the average attendance (91%) of students of CT
urban RVTS schools (Hartford, Bridgeport, New Haven and New Britain, CT for 10/1/03).

Table 11: Detentions – Different Cohorts

Baseline - 2001-2002                               Intervention – 2002-2003
  1761 detentions                                     1160 detentions

The total number of detentions in 2001-2002 was 1761 and the number of detentions in 2002-
2003 was 1160, a decrease of 35%. As a general rule, 40% of the detentions are given for cutting

Table 12: Suspensions – Different Cohorts

Baseline - 1999-2000                               Intervention - 2002-2003
1793 incidents                                     329 incidents
70% of enrolled students were suspended.           37% of enrolled students were suspended.

   The suspensions for 2002-2003 as compared to the period 1999 - 2000, have decreased
significantly. The number of suspension incidents for 2002-2003 (329) decreased by
approximately 82% as compared to 1999-2000 (1793)

Table 13 Grades – Different Cohorts

Baseline - 1999-2000                               Intervention - 2002-2003
  497 “F” Failing grades                              246 “F” – Failing grades

The failing grades during the baseline period were double the failing grades during the
intervention period. Teachers report that prior to the intervention the major reasons for failing
grades were students’ poor attendance and non-completion of assignments and tests.

Hypothesis #3 - Students who receive student-centered, web-based instruction in digital
classrooms will demonstrate increased self-esteem, ownership and responsibility for their own
Focus Group 10 grade students – J.M Wright RVTS, Spring 2002 after CAPT Testing -The
content was videotaped, paraphrased and represents a consensus of the participants

We like the digital classroom approach as compared to the regular teaching. Most teachers just
talk and talk and the classes are boring. We like to be active and work on projects, read
interesting articles on the Internet and then come back to the dialogue center to discuss what we
have learned.

We enjoy being in charge and taking turns being facilitators and scribes at the dialogue center.
We’re active and involved and learning and not sitting and listening to a teacher talk. We felt
really prepared for the CAPT. We used the strategies such as two-column notes and selective
highlighting when we took the CAPT.
Focus Group 10 grade students - J.M Wright RVTS, Spring 2003 after CAPT Testing - The
content is paraphrased and represents a consensus of the participants.

   We like the digital classroom. Regular teaching is just teacher talk and it is boring. We like to
work independently on projects and not just sit and listen to teachers talk. The teachers coach us
and give us help when we need it, although there are still a few teachers who talk too much,
boring! We like being facilitators and scribes. When you explain something to the group, it helps
you understand and remember. We learn at our own pace. After we took the CAPT, we felt our
teachers really prepared us for taking the CAPT. We have practiced for CAPT without even
knowing it. We read, take notes, find main idea and author’s purpose, write persuasive essays,
design science experiments, solve math problems, show calculations and write explanations.
Focus Group 12 grade students – Eli Whitney RVTS, Spring 2003 -The content was
videotaped, paraphrased and represents a consensus of the participants.

   We like the digital classroom approach as compared to the traditional teaching. It is not just
boring teacher talk. The Internet is much more interesting than textbooks and we are learning to
research, read and take notes independently. We also like to work at our own pace and have the
teacher give us individual help when we need it. It makes you feel “big” and important to be the
facilitator at the dialogue center. When you are the scribe and take notes for the group, it helps
everyone remember what is being learned. We have done twice as much work in the digital
classroom as compared to our other classes and we like to work on PowerPoint projects.

Students’ Digital Classroom Questionnaire Results: 2002-2003

    A cross-section of 387 students in digital classrooms from all grade levels responded
anonymously to this questionnaire. Two or three classes of students responded from the following
schools: Bullard-Havens, Bridgeport, Grasso, Groton, Kaynor, Waterbury, O’Brien, Ansonia, Platt,
Milford, Vinal, Middletown and Wright, Stamford, CT. The results provide a baseline assessment
of students’ perceptions of learning in a digital classroom across the CT RVTS system and not
just Wright RVTS. The questionnaire items focus on active, constructive, authentic, collaborative
and reflective learning.

    Overall, students’ responses were positive about learning in a digital classroom. They were
most positive about the use of the dialogue center to clarify ideas and understandings. Students
asked to work on more interdisciplinary and real-world projects and this should be kept in mind as
learning units are developed. Collaborating on a project, working as a team and explaining
thinking processes and solutions are new skills for many students and require practice and time
to develop. Most students have been graded in a traditional way with quizzes and tests; the use
of rubrics for improving products is a new process for most students and requires practice and
time to develop.

An electronic portfolio came online in late Spring 2003. The opportunity for students to publish to
the e-portfolio played a role in validating students’ academic performance and served as an
incentive for revising and publishing best work samples.

See Appendix I for tables of students’ responses to questionnaire items.


The innovative use of technology, an online professional development program (Digital
Classroom Design) plus the—in most cases—immediate online review and feedback for the
design of web-based units and a growing database of vetted learning units as resources have
made this program feasible and practical for teachers to implement. The resources and support
of the CT Distance Learning consortium were invaluable. A train the trainer approach was used
and collegial onsite coaching, classroom observations and debriefings also played a major role in
the success of the implementation. (See the Appendix II for Teachers’ Observations).

The reading gains are especially dramatic for the subgroup "eligible for free and reduced lunch,"
as the number of students moving from the baseline for the proficient level more than doubled as
well as the percentage of bilingual students moving from non-literate to limited literate levels on
the Language Assessment Scales.

The gains are attributed to the before, during and after reading strategies (Cicchetti, 2003) that
are embedded in all learning units and the adaptation of Palinscar and Brown’s (1985) reciprocal
teaching and metacognitive (reflective) strategies for dialogue center activities. Many students
learned to become active, constructive readers.

The math gains are attributed to the reflective or meta-cognitive strategies that are built into all
math-learning units (Cicchetti, 2003) and the adaptation of Palinscar and Brown’s (1985)
reciprocal teaching strategies and Collins, Brown and Holum’s (1991) cognitive apprenticeship
model for dialogue center activities. Students were expected to not only do the calculations and
solve problems but to explain the problem solving process both orally and in writing. Thinking is
made visible at the dialogue center.

The dialogue center process and activities that are part of all academic areas can be viewed as a
reading or problem-solving group where students have an opportunity to share and clarify ideas
and understandings across all academic areas. Student facilitators and scribes “run” the dialogue
center activities and the entire process appears to have increased students’ teamwork, ownership
and self-esteem about learning. For English Language Learners (ELLs) especially, the dialogue
center activities are a natural, non-threatening way to improve oral communication skills through
dialogue with peers and activities “run” by peers. Students’ questionnaire results indicated that
students were especially positive about the use of the dialogue center to share ideas and clarify
understandings and the use of web resources to explore and construct knowledge. Also,
students’ attention and engagement appear to be sustained by the change of pace between
activities at the dialogue center and working online on computers.

All subgroups received instruction for regular classroom teachers and support teachers in the
classroom rather than pullout type support. Title 1 teachers, special education teachers and
reading teachers worked in the digital classrooms and coached and supported students’ learning.
For a variety of reasons, many high school students do not like to be pulled out for remediation.
Differentiated and individualized instruction took place in the digital classrooms.

Student engagement with learning and working on project-based assignments contributed to the
increase in attendance and a positive climate for learning. The major reasons for the decrease in
detentions and suspensions appear to be the following: (1) students are actively engaged in
working on projects in the digital classroom and there are fewer disruptive behaviors in the
classrooms; and (2) students have increased ownership of the process and are learning to work
as a team and develop respect for other students’ ideas and views. Students publishing “best
work samples” to an online electronic portfolio appears to validate students’ academic

Classroom management issues have been decreased due to the student-centered process and
engagement of students in learning. Most teachers felt that they were not “on center stage” and
expending effort trying to maintain students’ attention. Also, since the learning resources are
online and available immediately, teachers did not have to spend time collecting and preparing
print materials. Teacher preparation time is spent designing the instructional units and selecting
appropriate online resources. In a traditional classroom, organizing and collecting materials has
to be done for each class.

Time and practice (repetition) of skills and strategies are very important in bringing about transfer
of classroom or shop learning to performance on CAPT. Academic teachers conducted the
intervention since digital classrooms were not available to trades instructors during 2002-2003.

Some trades instructors did use the Digital Classroom Design strategies and process with print
copies of materials in the spring of 2003. Given the “day about” schedule between academics and
trades, intervention was conducted during 90 days of academic instruction.

Since digital classrooms are available for trade instructors for the 2003-2004 academic year, a
major goal should be the systematic and consistent use of reading and math problem solving
units, strategies and process by trades instructors. If units are taught with content that is project-
based and meaningful for the trade area, students are much more likely to transfer shop learning
to performance on CAPT.

Also, the math problem solving process was taught almost exclusively in the math classes.
Another goal should be the use of the math problem solving units and process by Science
teachers and also trades instructors. Transfer of learning is much more likely when a process is
taught in different contexts with real-world problems.

The challenge is to sustain the effort at J.M. Wright in the face of new administration and turnover
of teachers and to increase the scale of the model to other under-performing CT RVTS. The train
the trainer approach appears to be working successfully. Experienced digital classroom teachers
and some retired teachers are collaborating with and coaching new teachers and also conducting
professional development sessions at both J.M. Wright and other urban CT RVTS. The online
resources help maintain the integrity and quality of the digital classroom design process.


Campbell, D.T. and Stanley, J. C. Experimental and quasi-experimental design for research on teaching. In
N.L. Gage (Ed.) Handbook of research on teaching. Chicago: Rand McNally, 1963, pp. 171-246.
Cicchetti, G. (2003) Digital Classroom Design, Online Professional Development Program, supported by the
Connecticut Distance Learning Consortium (CTDLC). For more information about CTDLC, go to
Collins, H., Brown, J.S. and Holum, A. (1991) Cognitive Apprenticeship: Making thinking visible. American
Educator. 6 -11, 38 - 46.
Elmore, Richard (1996) “Getting to Scale with Good Education Practice”. Harvard School of Education
Gagne, R., Briggs, L., and Wagner, W. 1988, Principles of Instructional Design, New York, Holt, Rinehart
and Winston
Jonassen, D, Good Models of Teaching with Technology,
J.M. Wright RVTS, Stamford, CT, Pilot Study. Go to, Click “Good
Models of Teaching with Technology” and then click “Investigate” and “Multiple Learning
Strategies” and finally, “Policy, stories, research”. Kurtz, Michelle, “90% of Seniors Pass MCAS,
Underperformers Gain on Final Try”, Boston Globe, March 4, 2003.
Massey, Joanna, “Strategies Boosting MCAS Test Pass Rate, Some Districts Struggle with
Retest Failures”, Boston Globe, September 19, 2002.
Palinscar, A., and Brown, A., (1985) Reciprocal Teaching of Comprehension Fostering and
Comprehension Monitoring Activities, Cognition and Instruction, 1, 117-175.
State Education Directors Technology Association (SEDTA). Go to,
School Reform Criteria, Southwest Educational Development Laboratory (2001) Go to,
Tuckman, B., Conducting educational research, (2 Edition), New York, Harcourt Brace
Jovanovich, 1978.
Vaishnav, Anand. “95% in class of ’03 pass on MCAS, Boston Globe, September 30, 2003.
Winograd, P. & Johnson, P., “Passive Failure in Reading”, Journal of Reading Behavior, 1985,

                                              Appendix I

                               Students’ Digital Classroom Questionnaire
                                    George Cicchetti, Ed.D. 2003

School___________________ Grade___________ Subject___________
Please read each statement about learning in a Digital Classroom. Circle whether you agree, disagree or
have no opinion about the statement. You may also add comments.

1. I explore ideas and information and construct my own interpretations.
                        Agree           No opinion        Disagree
                      273 / 70%          84 / 22%         30 / 8%

2. I work on meaningful, real-world problems or projects.
                        Agree           No opinion        Disagree
                     246 / 64%           79 / 20%         62 / 16%

3. I build on what I know about topics using Web resources and the Dialogue Center activities.
                        Agree           No opinion        Disagree
                      311 / 80%          46 / 12%          30 / 8%
4. At the Dialogue Center, we discuss and clarify our understanding of ideas, problems and solutions.
                        Agree           No opinion        Disagree
                      307 / 79%          54 / 14%          26 / 7%

5. At the Dialogue Center, we work together and help clarify and revise our products and complete
                       Agree            No opinion         Disagree
                     271 / 70%           84 / 22%           32 / 8%

6. At the Dialogue Center, we work as a team and respect the ideas of others.
                       Agree            No opinion       Disagree
                     253 / 66%           94 / 24%        40 / 10%

7. I explain my thinking and the problem solving process at the Dialogue Center.
                        Agree          No opinion       Disagree
                      235 / 61%         108 / 28%       44 / 11%

8. The rubrics used to assess my products have helped improve my products.
                       Agree          No opinion        Disagree
                     224 / 58%         89 / 23%         74 / 19%

9. I am learning how to become an independent, self-directed learner.
                        Agree         No opinion          Disagree
                      238 / 61%        97 / 25%           52 / 14%

                                           Appendix II
Peg Sonntag, Social Studies Instructor, J.M. Wright RVTS, Stamford, CT
"The Digital Classroom System has changed everything about teaching and learning. The
students are excited about learning about the past, fascinated with the primary sources available
for research, and enthusiastic about video and multimedia projects. Students now assess their
own learning using rubrics and help me assess the design of my learning unit.
Students and I continually discuss and give each other feedback about the quality and conditions
of learning and our work. I have more individual conferences with students that focus on the
questions the students have about the past and how it relates to their lives. Students have
become much more engaged in the learning process and are raising many questions and are
learning skills to answer their own questions.”

James Rizzio, Chef, Culinary Arts, J.M. Wright RVTS, Stamford, CT

“My students are really enjoying publishing samples of their work to the electronic portfolio. They
have taken responsibility for the process and are coaching each other. They enjoy using taking
digital images of projects and creating presentations with pictures and descriptions of the
projects. Also, Excel spreadsheets and menus and menu plans have been published to the
portfolio. My students have a real purpose for publishing work samples: an electronic resume and
portfolio will assist them with getting a job. They are revising and editing products before
publishing and are proud of what they published to the electronic portfolio. It’s a great motivator.”

Diane Waldron, English Instructor, Eli Whitney RVTS, Greater New Haven Region, CT

 “The digital classroom approach has energized my students. Students are taking more
responsibility for their own learning and are producing more and higher quality work than any of
my non-digital classroom classes in previous years. Thanks to the vast Internet resources, and
the constructivist teaching approach, students spend classroom time engaged in genuine learning
– and they are having fun doing it! In most classes, students are still working when the bell rings,
and have to be encouraged to go to their next class. Also, I love the coaching role and still have
energy at the end of a day. As a teacher, that’s a great feeling.”

Paula Paccadolmi, Social Studies Instructor, W.F. Kaynor RVTS, Waterbury, CT

“My students have been very, very productive and the growth in their writing skills has been
dramatic. I feel like an English teacher who just happens to be teaching Social Studies concepts.
My students have internalized the scaffolding for writing and the rubrics and know what they have
to do to improve their products. They are allowed to revise a product and resubmit it before the
end of the marking period and many students are doing so, on their own time. As a teacher, I’m
not just assigning grades but am using the rubrics to analyze students’ weaknesses and set
individual goals for improvement. My time and energy is spent on preparation and not motivating,
gaining and holding students’ attention and at the end of a day, I have some energy.


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