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 II (2005). This is a publication of the Education Alliance at Brown University funded by the Northeast and Islands Regional Educational Laboratory.
General Research on Component B: Strategies
The best practices associated with each of the five headings below are based on an extensive research base and must be used synergistically, in combination with one another, in order to be effective (e.g. Alvermann & Phelps, 1998; Davidson & Koppenhaver, 1993; Langer, 1999, 2001; Schoenbach et al, 1999; Tharp, 1999).
Best Practices Related to the Roles of the TeacherAccording to the research, literacy skills and strategies should be taught in context, as opposed to in isolation; this represents a direct contradiction to the "skills and drills" worksheets often advocated for remediation (Langer, 2001; Schoenbach et al, 1999). There is ample evidence that a number of particular literacy strategies--when explicitly taught, modeled, and practiced--enhance the ability of secondary students to read and write to learn across the content areas (e.g. Alvermann & More, 1991; Rosenshine & Meister, 1994; Rosenshine et al, 1996; Rosenshine, 1997; Schoenbach, et al, 1999). These include pre-reading activities, such as the activation of prior knowledge (see, for example, http://www.ericdigests.org/pre-9219/prior.htm), during reading and post-reading strategies (see, for example, Billmeyer & Barton, 1995 and http://www.indiana.edu/~reading/ieo/bibs/rdcompsc.html). Research confirms the effectiveness of modeling and the use of a literacy apprenticeship framework (Schoenbach et al 1999). It also supports using information from a variety of literacy assessment strategies (Langer, 1999, 2001) to inform instruction.
Promising Practices Related to Reading and WritingResearch supports the common-sense notion that time spent reading and writing will help students to improve those skills (e.g. Davidson & Koppenhaver, 1993). Research also shows a link between Sustained Silent Reading (when effectively implemented) and improved reading skills (Flaspeter, 1995). The research also supports the use of the writing process as an integral part of content-area literacy development (e.g. Alvermann & Phelps, 1998; Cotton, 1988; Langer, 2001; Schoenbach et al, 1999).
Promising Practices Related to Speaking and ListeningThe evidence is clear: When teachers purposefully integrate speaking and listening into the content-area classroom, students' reading comprehension and writing skills improve. Effective collaborative learning also contributes to adolescent literacy development. This is particularly true for second language learners (e.g. Alvermann & Phelps, 1998; Collins et al; Krogness, 1995; Palincsar, 1986; Tharp, 1999).
Promising Practices Related to an Emphasis on ThinkingHere the research shows strong connections between adolescent literacy development and the deliberate introduction of, and regular use of, cognitive and metacognitive strategies (see, for example, Collins, 1994; Collins et al; Duke & Pearson, in press; Garner, 1992; Haller et al, 1988; Langer, 2001; Paris, et al, 1994; Rosenshine, 1997; Ruddell & Unrau, 1994; Schoenbach et al, 1999; Weinstein & Mayer, 1986).
Promising Practices Related to Creating a Student-Centered ClassroomAs discussed extensively in Core Principle A, a student-centered classroom is a key component of effective adolescent literacy development. This is a classroom where background information, interests, and experience are built upon--and where it is the norm to have experience-based activities that encourage student choice and involvement. Such characteristics will support reading comprehension, student engagement, motivation, and development of positive literacy identities. In such a classroom, interactive discussions regularly occur, and the teacher uses varied groupings to meet the needs of diverse learners and the goals of a variety of types of teaching and learning experiences (e.g. Alvermann & Phelps, 1998; Collins, 1996; McCombs & Barton 1998; Tharp, 1999; Tierney & Pearson, 1981, 1992).
Research on Speaking, Listening, and Viewing
Purposeful integration of speaking and listening skills into the content-area classroom improves reading comprehension and writing skills (Applebee, Langer, Nystrand, & Gamoran, 2003; Wilkinson & Silliman, 2000). Allowing for regular exchanges and use of spoken language, both interactional and transactional, supports the development and expansion of ideas and allows learners to articulate connections between their prior knowledge and the topic at hand. Frequent collaborative opportunities to test ideas for writing, including opportunities to brainstorm, organize, write, read, share, revise, and present work, can build multiple literacy skills. Speaking and listening strategies can also reinforce the apprenticeship framework of literacy learning and can assist with scaffolding, motivation, and drawing connections to texts (e.g., Greenleaf, Schoenbach, Cziko, & Mueller, 2001; Krogness, 1995; Langer, 1999; Schoenbach et al., 1999). Examples of the wide variety of ways in which speaking, listening, and viewing can be built into content-focused teaching and learning include book talks, book commercials, readers' theater presentations, debate, PowerPoint presentations, gallery walks, news briefs, story retelling and summarizing, compare/contrast activities of written texts and visual media, translation of written text to visual representation or vice versa, structured note taking while listening/viewing, website development, website critique, literature circles, peer editing, and pair shares.
The use of classroom talk in conjunction with learning from and creating texts may be particularly useful for supporting academic literacy development in struggling readers and second language learners, especially when opportunities to talk about text are structured as small group discussions (Alvermann & Phelps, 1998; Collins, Brown, & Newman, 1989; Tharp, 1999). Adolescents are generally cognizant of small group dynamics and how small group discussion helps them understand texts (Alvermann et al., 1996). Findings suggest that peer-led discussions produced richer and more complex interactions than did teacher-led discussions and resulted in the internalization of the cognitive processes associated with engaged reading (Almasi, 1995; Almasi & Gambrell, 1994; Almasi, McKeown, & Beck, 1996; Rutherford, 1999; Weir, 1998). Indeed, time to speak and listen is built directly into evidence-based small group reading comprehension routines including QtA (Beck & McKeown, 2002; Sandora, Beck, & McKeown, 1999), Collaborative Strategy Instruction (Anderson & Roit, 1993), Collaborative Strategic Reading (Klingner & Vaughn, 1996; Klingner, Vaughn, & Schumm, 1998), and Reciprocal Teaching (Palincsar & Brown, 1984, 1989; Rosenshine & Meister, 1994).
Although students perceive that small group discussion assists them with text comprehension, Alvermann (2000) cautions that teachers still need to help students learn how to discuss text and conduct conversations that permit all voices to be heard. She also argues that teachers need to help students
Helping students to apply these same critical literacy skills to the analysis and discussion of visual media, including political cartoons, graphic novels, films, photographs, and images found online and on television, is also important. In daily life, students are flooded with visual images and need strategies for analyzing and evaluating their meaning and value. Several researchers (e.g., Alvermann, 2003; Leu, 2002) studying the intersections of content-area literacy with
Despite the demonstrated benefits of the extensive use of speaking and listening/viewing in conjunction with reading, studies have found that such activity is still not common in most secondary classrooms. When it does happen, the discussion is generally teacher controlled and governed, occurring primarily in large groups with only a small proportion of students actively participating (e.g., Alvermann & Moore, 1991; Langer, 1999; Wood & Muth, 1991). About half of the students in grades 7 and 11 report never exchanging ideas in a group discussion after reading (Applebee et al., 2003). Williams (2003) comments on the paucity of student talk overall in today's middle school and high school classrooms, noting that even when teachers believe that they do not lecture, they often do. Referring to a 1997 study by Nystrand and colleagues, Williams recounts how their study of a large sample of eighth and ninth graders revealed that
. . . teacher-talk dominated the classes they observed. Many participating teachers insisted that their classes werediscussion basedyet Nystrand et al. observed that discussions actually averaged less than a minute per day per class. In the few classes in which teachers encouraged dialogic interactions and asked authentic questions rather than questions that served merely to test knowledge, there were higher levels of achievement. (p.105)
Bennett (1984) investigated whether teachers consciously and systematically provide a bridge between informal oral language and formal text language and found that proportionally little oral language instruction took place in the classrooms in conjunction with reading. Her conclusions still seem relevant more than 20 years later:
(1) educators need to be convinced of students' need for instruction in written language and listening opportunities at all levels, (2) classrooms need reorganizing to encourage authentic discussions, and (3) teacher training needs overhauling to include emphasis on the importance of oral language. (1984, study abstract)
Research on Using this Practice with English Language Learners
Nurss and Hough (1992) concur with many others that oral language is a key aspect of literacy development for ELLs:
Henze and Lucas (1993) take this a step further, noting that oral explanation and use of text can be complemented by the expanded use of visual material, dramatization, and hands-on activities. Such additional routes to engage with content ease the double load of mastering new language and new content by giving students additional means to gain access to serious content and thus more energy for tackling the new language.
Verplaetse (2000b) notes four underlying reasons for the importance of classroom interaction for ELL students:
First, the social and communicative strategies needed to gain access to the content are acquired simultaneously during the learning of the academic content (Mehan, 1978). As stated by Green and Harker,curriculum...is tripartite in nature; it is composed of academic, social, and communicative demands(1982 p. 183). In other words, students learn how to communicate and how to express social relationships at the same time that they are learning course content. Second, interaction allows the student the opportunity to share in the co-construction of knowledge (Wertsch & Toma, 1990). Students who take part in the interaction take part in the construction of the knowledge. Third, with regard to higher level academic communicative skills, interaction provides a learner the repeated practice needed to develop this communicative competency (Hall, 1993; Snow, 1990). As an example, Rosebery, Warren, and Conant (1992) describe Haitian middle school students appropriating scientific discourse patterns through a highly interactive classroom practice calledcollaborative inquiry.Fourth, with regard to social role definition, interaction determines the level of co-membership a student is to experience with the group (Zuengler, 1993). In other words, students establish social roles within the classroom community, in part, through their interactive roles. Consequently, limited interactive roles [limited in type or number] for LEP students could restrict the development of their social and academic communicative skills, limit their opportunities to co-construct knowledge, and simultaneously marginalize their social roles within the classroom community. (pp. 20-21)
Scarcella (2002) notes that ELLs' classroom interaction with speakers of Standard English contributes to the acquisition of advanced English literacy skills. Such interaction exposes ELL students to academically sanctioned forms of English and offers them the practice and feedback needed to develop phonology, lexicon, morphology, syntax, and pragmatics. Anderson and Berger (1975) describe a tutoring initiative in which 4th grade ELLs were paired with fourth grade native English speakers. Tutors used prepared lessons on basic English syntax, such as the verbs
Although Anderson and Berger's story provides an example of one-way peer interaction (i.e., toward ELLs' English language development), there is also a literature on two-way peer interactions for language and literacy learning. Some are conventionally between two students who speak different first languages, for example, an L1 Spanish speaking student can teach Spanish to an L1 English student and, reciprocally, learn English from that partner (e.g., August, 1982). Others are still more creative, such as the project described by Price and Dequine (1982) that paired learning-disabled native English speakers (students with attention challenges) with ELLs. In that instance, the tutoring task helped attention-challenged tutors stay sufficiently focused so they could learn organization and attention skills; improve their reading comprehension, sense of syntax, and general verbal ability; increase their self-esteem; and feel the satisfaction of developing a close peer relationship. Tutees improved their general English language skills.
Although this is a point addressed more thoroughly in the next section of the paper, such peer interaction also offers ELLs the chance to practice the vocabularies and genres specific to various content areas. Improving advanced English literacy skills is relevant to improving accomplishment in the content areas. However, if ELLs lack frequent opportunity to learn Standard English forms (from teachers, peers, and community), it is imperative that instruction explicitly correct this deficit (Scarcella, 2002). It should also be clarified that access to oral forms of academic English is likely to have the most influence on oral proficiency development and that the transfer of this learning to reading and writing can still require additional explicit instruction.
If much of the emphasis on speaking and listening can be accomplished at the level of the classroom, Sarroub, Pernicek, & Sweeney (under review) provide a useful reminder of just how individualized explicit speaking instruction must be. They describe a teacher helping a Yezidi Kurdish refugee high school student strategize about appropriate conversation patterns for the workplace, a topic highly relevant to the student who was looking for a job and who risked dropping out if the quest was unsuccessful.
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