University of Illinois at Chicago

Curricular Implementation Patterns and Their Potential Influence on Student Achievement

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posted on 2020-05-01, 00:00 authored by Kamila Brodowinska Bruscianelli
In education reform, contemporary pedagogical practices that offer students the means to learn and develop 21st century skills are continuously being explored and vetted. Problem-based learning (PBL), an approach that emphasizes the role of authentic, ill-structured problems as impetus for collaborative learning and the development of problem-solving and critical thinking skills, has been considered a promising alternative to traditional methods. However, research examining the effectiveness of PBL has yielded inconsistent results. Fidelity of PBL implementation has been theorized to be one possible culprit in producing differential student outcomes. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to identify instructional profiles of PBL enactment and determine if differences in implementation might play a role in student learning. For this study, 53 middle school teachers were systematically observed over the span of 12 weeks while enacting a PBL curriculum. Cluster analysis of classroom observation data revealed two predominant implementation profiles; one in which teachers exemplified PBL tutor characteristics and supported their students’ learning throughout, and the other in which a hands-off approach to implementation was assumed by teachers and required students to work independently to a considerable degree. Analysis of covariance revealed a statistically significant difference between the two groups on student post-assessment scores. Students of teachers whose implementation closely aligned with PBL principles outperformed the students of teachers that took the hands-off approach (F(1, 909) = 32.849, p < .004). Content analysis of teacher interviews in addition to teacher background information and demographic data revealed that teachers who did not deliver the PBL program as intended, appeared to face greater challenges. They were predominantly new to the program and expressed that their students found the curriculum overwhelming. The findings of this study indicate that differences in PBL implementation do exist and can impact student learning outcomes. Nevertheless, in order to identify the supports and training necessary for teachers to enact it with greater fidelity, it is critical to investigate PBL implementation more comprehensively to better understand its efficacy in different contexts and under varying circumstances.



Lawless, Kimberly


Lawless, Kimberly


Educational Psychology

Degree Grantor

University of Illinois at Chicago

Degree Level

  • Doctoral

Degree name

PhD, Doctor of Philosophy

Committee Member

Brown, Scott Yin, Yue Thomas, Michael Lynn, Lisa

Submitted date

May 2020

Thesis type



  • en

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