Sections II and III in the research summary below are direct excerpts from Julie Meltzer and Edmund Hamann's Meeting the Literacy Development Needs of Adolescent English Language Learners Through Content Area Learning, Part I (2004). This is a publication of the Education Alliance at Brown University funded by the Northeast and Islands Regional Educational Laboratory.
General Research on Component A: Literacy and Motivation
The research is clear that one key to motivating students to develop positive literacy identities involves creating a student-centered classroom. This is a classroom where students feel a sense of belonging, feel competent, feel respected, and feel trusted to make choices--and, therefore, to strengthen their literacy skills (e.g. Alvermann & Phelps, 1998; McCombs & Barton, 1998). Such an environment allows for 1) formation of meaningful adult and peer relationships; 2) dialogue, collaboration, and the expression of personal and collective views; and, 3) acknowledgement and respect for unique abilities and talents (McCombs & Barton, 1998). Essential aspects of this environment that appear throughout the literature and have proven connections to enhancing literacy development include 1) the availability and use of a wide range of reading materials (e.g. Collins, 1996; Rycik & Irvin, 2001), 2) use of collaborative learning (Langer, 2001; Tinzmann, et. al. 1990), and 3) the importance of a responsive classroom environment where diverse life experiences and perspectives are welcomed (e.g. Oldfather, 1994; Schoenbach et al, 1999).
According to the literature, success depends on the effective use of 1) a critical literacy approach (e.g. Schoenbach et al 1999) and, 2) the teaching, practice and use of specific research-based strategies to structure literacy-related interactions. These include Reciprocal Teaching (Alfassi, 1998; Langer, 2001; Roshenshine & Meister, 1994), Question Generating (Rosenshine, et al. 1996) and Think Alouds ( Kucan & Beck, 1997). In combination, these help to create a classroom culture where the expectation is that all students and teachers will be regularly engaged in negotiating co-constructed meanings of texts.
Three best practices encapsulate the research in this critical area: 1) Making connections to students' lives (e.g. Alvermann & Phelps, 1998; Davidson & Koppenhaver, 1993; Langer, 2001); 2) Having students interact with each other and with text (e.g. Langer, 2001; Schoenbach, et al, 1999; Wilhelm, 1995); and 3) Creating responsive classrooms (e.g. Oldfather, 1994; Schoenbach et al, 1999). To facilitate an environment which supports such connections, interactions and responsiveness requires 1) that teachers know their students, 2) know how to teach reading and writing, and 3) know how to optimize the social and motivational needs of adolescents in service of content area learning (e.g. Langer, 2001; McCombs & Barton, 1998; Moore, et al., 2000; Schoenbach et al, 1999; Tierney & Pearson, 1981, 1992).
Research on Having Students Interact With Each Other and With TextFrom the Adolescent Literacy Support Framework:
Teachers expect that readers will actively interact with text to transact meaning; that students will interactively explore content and develop common understandings; and that both teachers and students will interact to understand point of view. Teachers consistently expect responses to text and experience as a part of teaching and learning. Teachers foster literacy development in the classroom by using collaborative learning techniques as well as creating a classroom environment where diverse perspectives are welcomed and supported. - Meltzer (2001)
Having students interact with text and with each other in ways that stimulate questioning, predicting, visualizing, summarizing, and clarifying leads to improved reading comprehension and skill at content area reading (e.g., Alvermann & Moore, 1991; Langer, 1999; NRP, 2000; Palincsar & Brown, 1984; Ruddell & Unrau, 1996; Schoenbach, et al., 1999; Symons, Richards & Greene, 1995; Wilhelm, 1995). This instructional principle acknowledges the effectiveness of a
Placing students in an interactive stance with text positions them to be active readers of text and negotiators of meaning. This stance results in improved reading comprehension (Alvermann, 2001, Ruddell & Unrau, 1996). Many adolescent literacy researchers also advocate that students be taught and encouraged to take a critical approach to literacy; that is, to actively question authorial position, credibility, audience, language, and validity. Critical literacy, which involves the cultural and political analysis of text, clearly motivates the engagement of adolescents with text and, according to some researchers and literacy theorists, is an essential component of adolescent literacy growth and development (see, for example, Appleman, 2000; Alvermann, 2001; Reed et al., 2004; Schoenbach et al., 1999).
There also seems to be a connection between motivation and strategy use in that intrinsic motivation seems to predict strategy use, and strategy use seems to increase motivation (e.g., Curtis, 2002; Guthrie & Wigfield, 2000; Roe, 2001). Most research-grounded literacy strategies are directly connected to increasing strategic or focused interaction with text. (See, for example, Duke & Pearson, 2002; Rosenshine, Meister, & Chapman, 1996.) This can subsequently create a cycle of motivation where interaction with text, increasingly autonomous use of literacy support strategies, and growing confidence and competence as a reader reinforce one another (e.g., Jetton & Alexander, 2004).
Using collaborative learning structures to discuss and negotiate text positively correlates with students' engagement, reading comprehension, and content area learning (e.g., Biancarosa & Snow, 2004; Guthrie, 2001; Ruddell & Unrau 1996; Langer, 1999; Guthrie, 2001). In Langer's (1999) study of high performing secondary English language arts classrooms, one of the six distinguishing characteristics was
There is evidence of effectiveness for academic literacy development when these strategies are used strategically in conjunction with one another. For example, there are two strategies that combine structured interaction with text and collaborative learning which have been shown to improve both student engagement and reading comprehension: Reciprocal Teaching (Palincsar, 2003; Palincsar & Brown, 1984, 1989; Rosenshine & Meister, 1994) and Collaborative Strategic Reading (Klingner & Vaughn, 1996; Klingner, Vaughn, & Schumm, 1998). (There are a variety of cognitive strategies addressed in the research summaries for Components B and C that pertain to improved literacy and learning across the content areas, but that are not specifically associated with improved literacy motivation and engagement.) There is a further motivational outcome in classroom cultures where the social expectation is that students will read, discuss, and share books. Social motivation for reading is correlated with increased reading and higher achievement (Guthrie, 2001).
Research on Using This Practice With English Language Learners
Text-based discussion and collaborative learning also emerge in the ELL literature as two key instructional approaches for engaging ELLs with content area learning and literacy development. There is a lot of evidence that interactional learning encourages cooperation and discourse, which, in turn, drive language learning (Waxman & Tellez, 2002). This seems to be the case even where all the students in the group lack full English proficiency (e.g., Joyce, 1997). Discussion-based English language arts classrooms support greater academic achievement than those that do not use discussion as a primary instructional strategy; this is true for both ELLs and their monolingual English-speaking peers (Applebee, et al., 2003).
Such learning conditions are more common in higher track classes (Oakes, 1985) where, unfortunately, ELLs and former ELLs are less likely to be enrolled (Valdés, 2003). Still, when ELL high school students do manage to successfully advocate for their placement in more advanced tracks where these best practices are present, evidence suggests that they thrived (see, for example, Dwyer, 1998; Harklau, 1994a, 1994b; Lucas, 1993).
Text, itself, also emerges in the ELL literature as a key instructional aid to content area learning. The reviewability of text and the act of producing text (writing), supplemented by speaking and listening activities, seem to be more effective than lecture or discussion alone for enhancing content area learning and academic literacy development (Harklau, 2002).
Opportunities and expectations for interactions with text
Creating the expectations that students will make text-to-text, text-to-self, and text-to-world connections with all reading they encounter must be scaffolded by opportunities to do so and assignments that require it. Too often the classrooms encountered by secondary-level ELLs lack these rigorous but appropriate expectations (Ochoa & Cadeiro-Kaplan, 2004; Valdés, 2001). Beyond just discussion of content, there is also need for teacher-led attention to, and exploration of, the languages used in texts for rhetorical and aesthetic effect (Fillmore & Snow, 2000).
Providing frequent opportunities for students to engage in interactive discussion supports reading comprehension, content understanding, and spoken academic language development. Such
Text-based discussion supports interactive exploration of themes, ideas, and opinions with required connections back to the text: Where in the text is the evidence for what you just described? Where in the text does the character say those things that give you that impression? Does the language used by the author support your contention? Effective strategies to support text-based discussion include: the use of essential questions to set purpose for reading; two-column note-taking, or coding, with subsequent discussion; extended wait time; think-pair-share; reciprocal teaching; small-group-to-large-group responses to questions and prompts (where the small group discusses the question first and then reports out to the larger group); group comparison and contrast of text with visual material or another text through collaborative completion of graphic organizers; and use of quick writes before opening up the discussion (e.g., Anstrom, 1997, Adger & Peyton, 1999).
Harklau (2002) notes that the bulk of secondary-level ELLs' acquisition of academic literacy skills and content knowledge comes through textual rather than oral means. Of the high school students she studied, she writes,
There are many potential incentives for literate learners to make use of writing and reading in their [English language] acquisition process. At a basic level, writing is handy. It serves as a mnemonic strategy; e.g., lists of vocabulary or common phrases. It can also serve analytic purposes; e.g., writing down examples of grammatical rules or diagramming sentences. On a broader level, a distinguishing characteristic of print is the possibility for language learners to interact without the pressures of face-to-face communication, allowing them to slow the pace, make exchanges reviewable and self-paced, and to put contributions in editable form. (p. 337)
Text, therefore, becomes an even more important vehicle for engaging adolescent ELLs than for other adolescents. For ELLs, thus, there is an additional imperative for creating challenging environments for learning that expect students to respond in meaningful ways to text and to create meaningful texts themselves. Lower expectations do not support ELLs' co-development of literacy skills and content area understanding; a rigorous, challenging environment does (Echevarria & Graves, 2003; Walquí, 2000a). What is needed is in direct contrast to the watered-down diet of isolated skills practice and low expectations for written output and higher order thinking that most high school ELLs currently experience as part of their schooling (Jimenez & Gersten, 1999; Ochoa & Cadeiro-Kaplan, 2004).
There is also evidence that the purposeful use of cooperative learning structures in content-area classrooms motivates ELLs' participation and supports their achievement (e.g., Montes, 2002). Well-designed cooperative learning is an important literacy development strategy for adolescent native and non-native speakers, because it allows the social construction of meaning through collaborative effort (Montes, 2002; Waxman & Tellez, 2002). Effective cooperative grouping strategies include purposeful assigning of students to groups (mixing native and non-native speakers; creating groups around interest/inquiry; choosing group membership based on strengths brought to bear on project completion); using inquiry-based authentic or project-based tasks; scaffolding tasks so that check-in is required at different points in the process; requiring group and individual assessment; and establishing working group routines around particular types of tasks, for example, reciprocal teaching and collaborative strategic reading (e.g., Anstrom, 1997). To maximize literacy development, assignments should require students to use reading, writing, and speaking to learn and should contain aspects that draw students' attention to both spoken and written language use (their own and others) and content (Fillmore & Snow, 2002).
Cooperative learning can also be usefully extended to having peers review each others' written work. In their study of second language learners at the secondary level, Tsui and Ng (2000) found that while students preferred feedback on their writing from their teacher, most found peer comments to also be helpful. In particular, peer comments enhanced a sense of audience, raised learners' awareness of their own strengths and weaknesses, encouraged collaborative learning, and fostered the ownership of text. This was true for both less experienced and more experienced second language writers.
Student-directed activities, cooperative learning, peer coaching, and opportunities for practice were all associated with more effective classrooms for ELLs (August & Hakuta, 1997; de Felix, Waxman, & Paige, 1993; Gándara, 1997; Ortiz, 2001; and Walquí, 2000a). In a quasi-experimental study comparing two college-prep algebra classes with high ELL enrollments in Southern California, Brenner (1998) found that, in the classroom where students regularly engaged in small group discussions, students more frequently communicated about math (i.e., were more often engaged in the learning task) and were more comfortable participating in large-group communication about math. In a review of the Cognitive Academic Language Learning Approach (CALLA), a dual language immersion math and science instruction model, Chamot (1995) found that the program regularly promoted active student participation-such as hands-on experiences, cooperative learning, and higher-level questioning-and that it consistently yielded above-average student achievement.
Again, the value and importance of the use of this promising practice for ELLs was affirmed through our review of the ELL literature. Teachers who focus on engaging their students in substantive interactions with text and with one another about text/content will be serving the learning and literacy development needs of their ELL students, as well as of their other students.
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