Alternative Learning in Primary Schools

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Children often exhibit signs of being a nontraditional learner in elementary school. Encyclopedia of Children’s Health (2018) defines an alternative learning environment is an educational setting designed to accommodate behavioral, educational, and medical needs of children that cannot be addressed in a traditional school environment. This study will explore the benefits of a learning environment that is student-centered and hands-on in elementary school; which would ultimately improve behavior and grades throughout their education.


The traditional classroom is designed to be cookie cutter or one size fits all in learning style. A great classroom expects all children to be successful, but it doesn’t expect them to take the same path (Crew & Dyja, 2007). A lot of children leave elementary school without having the fundamental skills that are required to be successful throughout their educational career. In my current profession and being married to an elementary school teacher, I often hear stories of students who do not get the educational attention they need to understand concepts they are taught. I also have a child in elementary school who I feel would benefit from an alternative learning classroom. The government has implemented laws such as The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) to help lower the number of children who fall between the educational gaps but there’s still a lot work to be done. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) measures trends of academic achievement of U.S. elementary and secondary students in various subjects (McCluskey & Neil, 2015) and table below shows the slow improvement or lack thereof in reading amongst fourth graders in the nation from 2007 to 2017 since the NCLB has been put in place.

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of this study is to inform administrators, teachers, and parents of the benefits of alternative learning in classrooms at the primary school level.

Significance of the Study

This study will benefit students, educators, administrators, parents, and communities considering elementary education builds a foundation for secondary education. Success in elementary school is imperative to a student’s success throughout their life. Understanding the importance of alternative learning in elementary schools would alleviate behavior issues, teacher frustrations, low test scores, and dropout rates. My husband, who is an elementary school teacher, often comes home with stories about 1 or 2 children in his class who are not able to grasp concepts in his curriculum but also would not qualify for special education.

We often discuss alternative classrooms for those children who do not fit well in a traditional classroom and also would not fit well in a special education classroom. These children are often overlooked. Schools will use RTI (Response to Intervention) to meet the needs of these struggling students with differences learning or behavior. After speaking to educators and parents, they often complain that RTI is difficult to implement in addition to all the other responsibilities they have in the classroom and parents often do not know RTI is an option. Society is steadily evolving, thus the way we teach our children should evolve also.

Keywords: The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), RTI (Response to Intervention)

Research Questions

  1. How can we provide options to elementary students who are nontraditional learners?
  2. What effect will alternative education have on elementary students?
  3. Will alternative learning have a positive effect on students?
  4. How can schools implement an alternative learning classroom in elementary schools?
  5. How can we make alternative learning positive as opposed to having a negative stigma on students?

Testable Null Hypotheses

  1. Teachers can identify students who are not traditional learners and offer a student-centered curriculum to caregivers.
  2. Alternative education will have a positive effect on students.
  3. Alternative education will improve test scores and morale of students.
  4. Elementary schools can design a classroom that is hands on and student centered with more breaks for students and motivational teachers.
  5. Administrators can advocate for those students who would benefit from alternative learning in a positive manner.

Literature Review

The No Child Left Behind Act was signed into law in 2002 but not much has changed. According to Dr. Crew (2007), six years later; one-third of American eight graders cannot perform basic math, half of all teachers leave within five years of starting their careers, and only one in five students entering college are prepared for that level of work.

The goal of this research is to bring awareness to nontraditional learners who fall between the cracks of today’s educational system and bring awareness to how alternative learning can help close the gap. Alternative learning or personalized learning is teaching a child based on their personal needs, learning style, interests, and strengths. This style of learning should be addressed in elementary school, yet many elementary schools are teaching the same way they did a century ago. Teachers are delivering a standard curriculum, every student is expected to sit, learn, and participate at the same level and pace.

By the time children make it to high school, one third do not get the opportunity to receive a diploma. Traditional learning just doesn’t work for everyone. In my personal experience as a home health Speech Therapist, I have one-on-one contact with nontraditional elementary learners, their families, teachers, and communities. We often brainstorm ideas to help personalize their learning in school through RTI (Response to Intervention), ARD (Admission, Review, Dismissal) meetings, or IEP (Individualized Education Program). Certainly, these programs are meant to help students who are struggling academically but all of the interventions are administered in a traditional class setting.

As Brian Crosby states in his book, Smart Kids, Bad Schools, “Children deserve imaginative environments that allow their minds to contemplate, places where their spirits can soar.” (Crosby, 2008, p. 3). I agree with that quote and believe that’s how a child should feel when walking into an alternative learning classroom. When a child feels comfortable and confident in academics, they will show more interest in learning, improved behavior, and awareness of the importance of education. The smaller class sizes will build better student-teacher relationship and better relationships with peers who learn in similar nontraditional manner. Those traits can be carried onto secondary education and decrease dropout rates. People who drop out often have negative impact on society. They tend to commit more crimes and rely on government assistance for long periods of time.

There are a variety of ways to incorporate alternative learning in elementary schools. The book, Reinventing Education lists the following strategies to reform the traditional classroom:

  1. Set Clear Goals, and Measure Progress Toward Them
  2. Find Leaders, and Give Them Responsibilities
  3. Find Talented Employees, Invest in Them and Reward Them
  4. Invest to Increase School Productivity
  5. Create New Relationships Among Schools, Parents, and Communities
  6. Engage Students
  7. Reward Success, Penalize Failure

Although providing a personalized learning environment does not guarantee one hundred percent graduation rate, it does provide an alternative opportunity to remove learning barriers a traditional classroom has and provide and an opportunity to increase classroom success which will benefit society as a whole. Providing alternative learning to help children reach their full academic potential will increase their chances of being a productive part of society.

Methodology and Conclusion

This chapter will describe research method used to obtain data and the selection process of participants. Suggestions for future research and conclusion will also be reviewed.

With approval from Institutional Review Board (IRB), a qualitative research study will be conducted by using a focus group interview. The group will consist of 4-10 teachers from local elementary schools that does not have alternative education options for their students. They will discuss the following research questions:

  1. How can we provide options to elementary students who are nontraditional learners?
  2. What effect will alternative education have on elementary students?
  3. Will alternative learning have a positive effect on students?
  4. How can schools implement an alternative learning classroom in elementary schools?
  5. How can we make alternative learning positive as opposed to having a negative stigma on students?

Each participant will have an opportunity for input on each question.

Selection of Participants

Participants will be selected by contacting local elementary school principals; explaining the research and benefits, getting permission to contact teachers via email, and asking for volunteers. Ten volunteers will be randomly selected. Once selection of 10 teachers from different elementary schools is complete, the participants will be contacted in writing two weeks before the focus group with details such as date, time, consent forms, and location (local elementary school in district).

The moderator of the focus group will explain the purpose and review guidelines:

  • Use of first names only
  • No wrong or right answers
  • Listen respectfully
  • Everyone has an opportunity to express views
  • Share views even though it may not be in agreement with others
  • Talk to each other
  • Moderator will guide discussion
  • Focus group will be recorded for analysis purposes only

Once the focus group interview is complete, within two weeks, video analysis will be conducted, and a written report will outline the findings. The goal is to present the findings to local school boards and present benefits of alternative learning in elementary in hopes to begin alternative learning programs in local elementary schools. These programs will require longitudinal research and data collection of the same variables until these elementary school children reach high school.


All the findings in the study suggest positive results in alternative learning for elementary students. Alternative schools or classrooms are not widely available at the elementary school level but based on the results of this study it would be beneficial for schools to implement alternative programs. It could also be concluded that alternative education will decrease behavior problems and increase reading and math scores to students who do not work well in a traditional classroom.


  1. Alternative school. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.healthofchildren.com/A/Alternative-School.html
  2. Crew, R. (2007). Only connect: The way to save our schools. New York: Sarah Crichton Books/Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
  3. Crosby, B. (2008). Smart kids, bad schools: 38 ways to save Americas future. New York: Thomas Dunne Books.
  4. Dyson, B., & Osullivan, M. (1998). Innovation in Two Alternative Elementary School Programs: Why it Works. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport,69(3), 242-253. doi:10.1080/02701367.1998.10607691
  5. Focus groups vs. interviews: Pro’s and con’s. (2016, May 18). Retrieved from https://www.intotheminds.com/blog/en/focus-groups-vs-interviews-pros-and-cons/
  6. Gerstner, L. V. (1994). Reinventing education: Entrepreneurship in Americas public schools. New York: Dutton.
  7. Johnson, L. (2016). Teaching outside the box: How to grab your students by their brains. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, a Wiley Brand.
  8. Kim, A. (2016, July 28). Why Traditional Schooling Can’t Prepare Students for the Modern Workplace. Retrieved from https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/279365
  9. McCluskey, N. (2015, February 09). Has No Child Left Behind Worked? Retrieved from https://www.cato.org/publications/testimony/has-no-child-left-behind-worked
  10. Ripley, A. (2014). The smartest kids in the world: And how they got that way. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks.

Cite this paper

Alternative Learning in Primary Schools. (2021, Aug 23). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/alternative-learning-in-primary-schools/

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