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).
Promising 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 Emphasizing 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 Emphasizing Thinking
The research strongly indicates positive correlations between adolescent literacy development and the deliberate and frequent use of cognitive and metacognitive strategies when reading and producing text (Alvermann & Moore, 1991; Collins, 1994; Duke & Pearson, 2002; Garner, 1992; Haller, Child, & Walberg, 1988; Langer, 1999; Paris, Lipson, & Wixson, 1994; Rosenshine et al., 1996; Ruddell & Unrau, 1996; Schoenbach et al., 1999; Weinstein & Mayer, 1986). As defined by Weinstein and Mayer, learning strategies include rehearsing, elaborating, organizing, and comprehension monitoring. There is substantive evidence that students' combined use of cognitive and metacognitive strategies enhances content-area learning, thereby contributing to student success. For example, teaching students to generate questions is generally effective in supporting improved reading comprehension and content-area learning (e.g., Ciardiello, 1993, 1998; Rosenshine et al., 1996). Good questioning skills need to be explicitly taught and modeled. When students develop these in conjunction with text and/or content, they combine cognitive and metacognitive skills in ways that advance their literacy development.
Anderson (2002) discusses the key role of metacognition in second language teaching and learning. He describes a five-part model of metacognition that combines thinking and reflective processes: 1) preparing and planning for learning, 2) selecting and using learning strategies, 3) monitoring strategy use, 4) orchestrating various strategies, and 5) evaluating strategy use and learning (p. 2-3). He stresses the interdependent nature of the model, its reliance on the use of cognition, and the importance of instruction to develop metacognitive skills for the second language learner. For the remainder of this section, however, we refer explicitly to the use of metacognitive and cognitive strategies in conjunction with content-area texts, that is, thinking strategies that improve students' abilities to use reading and writing to learn.
Collins, Dickson, Simmons, and Kameenue (2001) caution that the terms cognitive and metacognitive have been used interchangeably throughout the literature. They assert that in some cases, strategies that were formerly considered cognitive, such as activating prior knowledge, modifying reading due to variation in purpose, or compensating for failure to understand the text, are now regarded as metacognitive. Given that these are complex, interrelated constructs of invisible processes, it is not surprising that the distinctions in the literature are not readily clear or consistent. For the purposes of this paper, we have differentiated the terms as follows:
Cognitive strategy instruction: allows students to use higher-order thinking skills. Cognitive strategy research on developing higher-order thinking skills repeatedly refers to the use of reading, writing, speaking, and listening both to learn and to demonstrate learning (Fitzgerald, 1995a, 1995b; Graves, 2000a, 2000b; Rosenshine & Meister, 1994).
Metacognitive strategy instruction: allows students to effectively monitor their own comprehension and skill in reading, writing, speaking, and listening. Although stronger and weaker readers use different metacognitive strategies, the research shows that weaker readers can learn the metacognitive strategies that stronger readers use (Alvermann & Moore, 1991; Pressley, 2001; Weinstein & Mayer, 1986). These strategies help weaker readers improve reading comprehension and, therefore, content-area learning (Collins et al., 2001; Duke & Pearson, 2002; Graves & Graves, 1994; Palinscar & Brown, 1984, 1989).
Cognitive strategy instruction: Successful academic achievement and lifelong learning depend on a student's ability to effectively use language to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate. Meeting content-area standards requires students to:
These tasks all have a heavy cognitive load and rely on the effective development of reasoning abilities. In one study, reasoning abilities, as opposed to prior experience or courses taken, was the most reliable predictor of success in a college biology course (Johnson & Lawson, 1998).
Cognitive strategies are guided learning procedures for internalizing new information and performing higher level thinking operations (Rosenshine et al., 1996). These strategies must be taught, modeled, and practiced. The infusion of literacy strategies into content-area instruction supports the development of higher-order thinking skills necessary for in-depth understanding of content (e.g., Bulgren, Deshler, Schumaker, & Lenz, 2000; Mastropieri et al., 1996; Moll & Allen, 1982). Further, the application of higher-order thinking skills to the process of reading improves reading comprehension. Strategies that help readers to question the text-such as QtA (Sandora et al., 1999)-or to dissect the text through use of analytical graphic organizers (Braselton & Decker, 2000) are examples of this.
Metacognitive strategy instruction: Beyond learning and using cognitive strategies, students must become aware of themselves as learners.
Collins (1994) discusses reading to learn from a metacognitive perspective as it relates to four variables: texts, tasks, strategies, and learner characteristics. She notes the importance of understanding the cognitive and metacognitive skills involved with various reading tasks and texts. Examples of instructional strategies that support the development of metacognitive skills in the arena of reading to learn include reciprocal teaching; two-column note taking; visualization; use of graphic organizers; recognition of text features; assessing and addressing misconceptions; discussion of the reading process; study strategies such as outlining, coding, or underlining; concept mapping; structured questioning of the text; SMART (self-monitoring approach to reading); and use of rubrics (Collins, 1994; DiGisi & Yore, 1992; Greenleaf & Mueller, 1997; Underwood, 1997). Many of these strategies support cognitive development as well because they require embedded higher-order thinking tasks for their effective use. Greenleaf et al. (2001) describe the effectiveness and utility of using metacognitively oriented conversations (i.e., conversations that explicitly draw learners' reflective attention to their learning strategies) with struggling readers, including ELLs:
The metacognitive conversation occurs through many means-class discussions between teachers and students, small-group conversations, written private reflections and logs, and letters to the teacher or even to characters in books. Such conversations and reflections, if they become routine, offer students ongoing opportunities to consider what they are doing as they read-how they are trying to make sense of texts and how well their strategies and approaches are working for them (Borkowski, Carr, Rellinger, & Pressley, 1990; Kucan & Beck, 1997). These conversations about reading and reading processes demystify the invisible ways we read and make sense of texts, as well as generate them. Through the metacognitive conversation, readers' knowledge, strategies, and ways of reading particular kinds of texts become an explicit part of the secondary curriculum. (p. 9)
Corson (1997) makes a similar observation:
Research on Using this practice with English Language Learners
Garcia (1992) illustrates the importance of overt attention to higher-order thinking in effective education for ELLs in his description of the THEME project collaboration between the University of California-Santa Cruz and two seventh grade cohorts in the Pajaro, California district. He notes that because of the strategies employed, one of the cohorts outperformed the control group and the other, taught bilingually, matched the whole control group and outperformed the bilingual students in the control group. THEME had four core strategies:
Strategy #1: Use of thematic, integrated curriculum, such that academic objectives are achieved through content-integrated instruction Strategy #2: Emphasis on small group activities incorporating heterogeneous language grouping and peer tutoring, and emphasizing higher-order linguistic and cognitive processes (in which learning proceeds from the concrete to the representational and then to the symbolic) Strategy #3: Emphasis on literacy activities: interactive journals, silent reading followed by small group discussion, interactive literature study, individual and group-written literature, and mathematics logs Strategy #4: Use of cooperative learning strategies, emphasizing the systematic participation of each student in processing curriculum materials
Describing the Cognitive Academic Language Learning Approach (CALLA) math and science interventions for middle school ELLs in one district, Chamot (1995) found that instructional activities promoting active student participation, such as hands-on experiences, cooperative learning, and higher level questioning, were key reasons for above average student performance in math.
Reasoning strategies can be culturally dependent, however, so the criteria that underlie reasoning must be made explicit. In Luria's classic experiment (1976 [originally 1932]), non-literate individuals (individuals who never had schooling) were shown four objects-hammer, saw, hatchet, and log-and asked to remove the one that did not belong. Instead of throwing out the log (as a non-tool), subjects usually kept the log and discarded one of the tools because it did not make sense to keep tools if one had nothing to build with (i.e., a log). Marshall (1998) has used the Luria example to illustrate how Hmong refugee students might respond differently to a story-writing assignment depending upon whether the teacher prompts students' background knowledge of traditional folktale conventions.
Describing effective reading and writing strategies as part of content instruction with ELLs, Carrasquillo and Rodríguez (2002) draw our attention back to a key long-term goal of schooling-creating independent, self-starting users of literacy. They note that ELLs need to be taught the skills and the will to monitor their own interpretation and generation of text. If all assignments are teacher driven, learners will not develop decision-making skills, including which skills to apply when, nor will they learn to view literacy as a vehicle for their own thinking and expressive interaction with the world. Carrasquillo and Rodríguez write:
Teachers need to encourage students to take risks and to give personal written response when interpreting what they read or heard. Teachers should use questions such as: What did you notice in the story? How did the story make you feel? What does the story remind you of in your own life? (Kelly, 1990). Answers to these questions do not demand correct responses. This allows freedom to explore meaning and to express one's understanding of the text. ...But LEP/ELL students need to be guided in writing answers to open-ended questions. They may be intimidated by the lack of vocabulary and language structures to express their thoughts. (p. 91)
This last point also reminds us that thinking as part of literacy is inseparable from some of its more tangible tasks such as vocabulary and language structure selection. Ultimately, this suggests a virtuous loop for learners schooled in metacognitive strategies; their explicit reflection on comprehension and production tasks motivates them to identify the appropriate vocabulary, text strategies, and even discourse features that will authentically convey their thoughts and understandings in a contextually appropriate manner. The teacher's role is first to assist this process and then to help learners continue to deploy it with increasing independence.
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