School of Social Sciences and Education

MAY 2019

Table of Contents


This qualitative case-study examined a workshop where middle school math intervention students taught university students within a course at public California university. The theoretical framework included Critical Pedagogy and the Instructional Core in order to explore how the adults and children benefited when children performed the role of instructional leaders. Data collection included a focus group with the middle school students, a focus group with university students, interviews with middle school administrators, a researcher journal, field notes, and a video recording. A qualitative content analysis was conducted, with the results interpreted in a thematic analysis. The findings of this study indicate when academically or socially struggling middle school students led instruction for university students, both groups received a host of academic and social benefits; however, the children had significant barriers they needed to overcome to participate in the workshop. The study concludes with implications for theory, practice, and recommendations for future research.

Research Questions

RQ1: How is low-socioeconomic children’s instructional leadership perceived by both the adults they are teaching and the children themselves?

RQ2: How do low-socioeconomic students perceive the benefits of teaching adults?

RQ3: How do adult university students perceive the benefits of being taught by low-socioeconomic middle school students?

RQ4: How do school administrators perceive the benefits of middle school students teaching university students?

These questions contribute to the general knowledge in the research gap because they take the first step in understanding the benefits of children teaching adults. Pope, Beal, Long, and McCammon (2011) conclude that “middle school students have typically been silent partners in teacher preparation; their voices have been underrepresented” (p. 345). Thus, these questions give a voice to underserved children and act as a guide to understand how future research and learning opportunities can target middle school students.

Research Design and Methodology

Figure 2. Case study organizer based on Stake’s (2010) Boxes-and-Circle plan.

The components in Figure 2 include the observed phenomena, data collection, issues, information needed, and relevant research. The figure also illustrates how case study research is: (a) comprised of multiple skills sets such as rigorous research design, data collection, and a robust synthesis of prior research, (b) methodically organized to answer the research questions, and (c) transparent and explicit in collecting evidence from multiple sources to triangulate data for a scientific analysis. The blue circles include the most prominent themes that emerged from the literature and the theoretical framework.

The Learning Activity

Figure 1. Learning activity in the case study workshop.

The middle school participants in the case study were 7th and 8th-grade math intervention students. The children were all more than one grade level behind in math proficiency according to standardized test scores. Regular education teachers identified key standards they wanted the children to learn. The grade level standards were then deconstructed into essential skills. Figure 1 illustrates the progression from the deconstructed standard to the the grade-level standard.

The children were required to teach each skill they learned to a struggling student. 7th and 8th-grade students were identified as leaders who also cross-age peer-taught 6th-grade students. In the culminating activity, the children were required to teach a grade-level lesson that incorporated all the skills they learned in math intervention. The workshop in this case study was one event where the children taught adults the content they learned.

Analysis: Category - Benefits

Table 5


Comments on Benefits From the Learning Environment



University Student 1

Yes, yes, I think we should definitely have more interactions like this. As future teachers, having the younger student coming in to teach us is something that definitely should happen. I think we should spend more time with kids and being able to ask questions of them. Again, we are going to have to stand in a class…and all these books that we read and content we are being taught is coming from people who all they do is study and do research and this and that. They kind of just sit off and observe, they put these kids into general categories. We kind of need to get in front of these kids in a non-teaching environment and just talk to them and get to know them, ask them questions. What do they expect of us?

University Student 5

I mean, it was very eye-opening because I was like ‘wow’. So, it's really amazing to see how, what they (students) can do. I think we can benefit, us (teachers) that we meet every Wednesday to talk about what they (students) can’t do. It would be really cool to be like ‘this is what they can do, so how do we build from what they already know and then help them achieve whatever it is they need to do.’ It was really cool to experience that.

University Student 6

I believe teachers new and old should go through these experiences where they get taught by kids because kids learn things differently and when we find a way to know what their strengths are, we can develop more on it.

        The quotes on table 5 show the university students believed this type of experience can potentially influence other students and teachers. University Student 1 described how learning from the children was an active form of observation, and he hoped to participate in more similar experiences. University Student 6 was a graduate student and believed that new and veteran teachers would benefit from a similar experience. University Student 5 was a full-time teacher and advocated for a similar experience during professional development at her school site. In this progression, the participants expressed self-benefits, benefits to other educators, and potential professional development benefits.

Analysis: Category - Child Reflecting

Table 5

Comments on Children Reflecting



Middle School Student 6

She (university student) was asking questions and every question has to have a good explanation and also like how I was low-key getting frustrated, now I see how teachers feel when we be in there acting up, be asking all these questions.

Middle School Student 3

It can help us in our classes because now we know that when we’re getting teached not to be off-task and not to be asking too many questions cuz we feel how they feel. We feel how they feel when we ask too many questions, cuz they’re asking a lot of questions yesterday.

Middle School Student 2

It kind of shows how the teacher-student relationship works a little bit, so we can try to reverse that and put it in use in other classes.

Middle School Student 4

We don't like sitting for worksheets for long periods of time. Kids have a lot of useful things if you would only sit there and listen to us. We can actually teach you a lot about what's going on. Kids enjoy working on hands-on environments and sometimes we all go through stuff. Some of the teachers also have bad days and you could tell when they do because they bring out the worst in them by giving us attitude and worksheets and test all in one day. So we have those days too so simply just leave us alone and we will chill out.

        The theme of child reflecting had 72 codes and broke up into the categories of reflecting on systemic struggles, reflecting on the learning environment, and perceptions of adult learning. Through the reflective process of thinking about their accomplishments within the learning environment, the middle school students mentioned benefits, but the students also contrasted their experience in the workshop to their experiences in general education classes at the middle school.

Analysis: Category - Barriers

Table 13

Comments on Social Challenges and Systemic Barriers  Before the Workshop



Administrator 1

I always think that a lot of the quote ‘bad kids’ or the kids that misbehave most, most of them have leadership qualities. That's why they're able to run the street and be very independent, whether they become gang members or the leadership of gang members, but they have the qualities. It's about making sure those qualities don't become street qualities rather than academic leadership qualities. (Administrator 1)

Administrator 2

We didn’t know he was (had a social-emotional disability), all we knew was that we had a new kid. We place him in classes; I scheduled his classes as a regular day. When I got the CUME folder and the IEP, it shows that he had (a social-emotional disability) and here he is doing all these fabulous things. Had we saw his file before, he would never have an opportunity, so that was the aha moment for me. That not just the really smart kids, but all kids can learn and benefit from something like this. (Administrator 2)

Administrator 3

 I realize he has been taught wrong the entire time. He was ‘hands-on’ versus ‘let’s take notes.’ I think it made him feel successful, built his self-esteem and then he had the ability to be a leader in a good aspect, instead of a leader in a bad aspect. (Administrator 3)


The comments from Table 13 illuminate specific barriers that students can not control. The barriers are arranged from social barriers, to education-systemic barriers, and then instructional barriers. Administrator 1 mentions the concept of zero tolerance relating to discipline issues and social challenges. Administrator 2 mentions the issue of access within the school system, and how children require opportunities. Finally, Administrator 3 mentions how the children struggled academically and had gaps in their learning. This theme is significant because it is the only instance in the study that offers a possible explanation as to why struggling students don’t have similar opportunities. Unfortunately for the students, any of these barriers had the potential to exclude a child from the workshop.

Findings: Thematic Analysis

Figure 10. Content analysis of themes aligned to research questions.

The themes in Figure 10 are the most dominant because of the frequency they were mentioned in the interviews. There was a ratio of 9:1 for dominant to negative themes. Neutral themes were classified as such because there were both positive and negative examples.

Figure 11. An overview of positive, neutral, and negative themes.

Findings: Thematic Analysis

Figure 9. Barriers children faced before the workshop.

Administrator participants described the barriers students faced even before they participated in the workshop. These barriers were classified as academic and social. Any of the barriers shown in Figure 9 had the potential of excluding a child from the workshop. Administrator 3 shared her experience with a student who thrived after participating in activities where he taught teachers:

 I realize he has been taught wrong the entire time. He was ‘hands-on’ versus ‘let’s take notes.’ I think it made him feel successful, built his self-esteem and then he had the ability to be a leader in a good aspect, instead of a leader in a bad aspect. (Administrator 3)

Conclusions/The Big Picture

Figure 13. Student support removing barriers for student inclusion.

The findings of this study indicate when academically or socially struggling middle school students led instruction for university students, both groups received a host of academic and social benefits; however, the children had significant barriers they needed to overcome to participate in the workshop.The alignment of specific roles and barriers in Figure 13 illustrates how student support services facilitated the inclusion of the intervention students in the workshop. The barriers of academic history and ability, and instructional challenges were removed by the teachers and instructional assistants who taught the children. The barriers of teachers resistant to change and access to the opportunity were removed by administrators who facilitated the experience. The barriers of discipline issues and social challenges were removed by the restorative classroom teacher and the behavior intervention support specialist who worked extensively with the children before the workshop.

Implications for Practice

University and District New Teacher Support

  • Include model-lessons, led by students in the gamut of observation practices.
  • Enter the trenches and bring a shovel (stay connected, build empathy).
  • Recognize the difference between access, and equitable access.

School and Classroom

  • Include activities where children peer-teach and cross-age peer-teach.
  • Create opportunities for middle and high school students to work with elementary schools.
  • Continue to expand services that lead to equitable access for ALL students.


  • Methodologies that empower participants such as Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR).
  • Include input from educators and parents who work with children.
  • Design research that simultaneously studies and supports struggling schools.

Leaders in the Class, the School,

and the Community

7th grade students peer teaching in a hands on remedial lesson 10/18.

8th grade students teaching 6th grade students how to solve word problems 10/18.

Middle school students leading a session at the Kern CUE Tech Fest 11/18.

Middle school students leading late-start professional development 11/18.

Middle school students leading a class at CSUB on 12/18Emerson students leading a lesson for McKinley students 12/18.

Emerson students leading a lesson for McKinley students 2/19.

Emerson students at the National CUE Conference 3/19.

6th grade Emerson middle school students hosting a workshop for

CSUB students 4/19.

About Edward Gonzalez

Thank you very much for joining me in my dissertation defense! Currently, you can find me working as a middle school intervention teacher and as a lead course instructor at California State University, Bakersfield. In my community I am known for having my intervention students lead workshops for teachers at conferences, students participating and leading in professional development sessions, intervention students teaching credential candidates, and students peer-teaching younger children.

The last few years have been a blessing. Just recently I was named to the 2019 Computer Using Educators Rockstar Faculty. In March of 2018, I was awarded the Computer Using Educators LeRoy Finkle Fellow for an innovative lesson design. In 2016 I graduated with the top Master’s program honor of the Edwin Carr Fellow from the Department of Elementary and Bilingual Education at California State University, Fullerton. Through my time in the doctoral program I also began to lead keynote speaking engagements for audiences of up to 600 participants.  For more information about my work please follow me at my blog or follow me on Twitter under the handle @eddiesclass.


Edward Gonzalez