Educators are always looking for ways to promote literacy and self-regulated learning. Recently, I developed a paper-based format that has multiple benefits:
- It engages students deeply in textbook content.
- It is useful across any content area.
- It incorporates research-based literacy and instructional strategies.
- It promotes student choice, responsibility, and scholarship.
I now use it to guide learning in my core subject areas of the middle school. It’s relatively easy to implement, but, like everything else, careful planning is the key to its success. As my students got accustomed to its design, they took charge of their learning, truly making me a facilitator of their learning. An example of this document is included with this blog.
Student-Driven Quality Control
The document opens by requiring students to choose a quality control (QC) partner. This student-driven activity is an opportunity to teach social and cooperative skills. At intervals, the QC peer will provide the first layer of feedback regarding mechanics, completeness, and presentation. Via demonstrations and a simple scoring guide, learners get a vision of what quality looks like:
- 2 points = All parts completed well
- 1 point = Most parts completed well
- Redo = Few parts completed well
Advanced Organizers to Build Schema
It is now time to give the students a vision of what they would learn. Accompanying a brief high-impact introduction (e.g., videos, drama, art, or real-world problems build relevance), they receive the lesson objectives and lesson outline in cloze format. Students use their textbooks to hunt for answers, complete the cloze, and cut and paste these into their notebooks. The interactive notebook style is non-threatening and offers a kinesthetic learning opportunity. Students also enjoy looking for page numbers and titles of diagrams, making predictive questions and answers regarding what they think they might learn, and completing anticipation guides.
Vocabulary in Context
A vocabulary context clue hunt (or other vocabulary strategy) follows. Rather than formal definitions, students identify the sentence-level context clue giving meaning to the highlighted vocabulary words of the textbook. This works very well for math, science, and social studies. They also choose a single vocabulary word to complete a detailed concept map. This is cut and pasted into their notebook.
While various forms of note taking exist, my students worked best with graphic organizers and various forms of non-linguistic representation. These are beneficial to both lower-achieving and advanced learners, are less stressful to struggling writers, and go directly to the meaning of a portion of text. Based on the structure of the content, students complete pre-made graphic organizers to express comparison, component parts, sequences, metaphors, and the like. These are cut and pasted into their notebook. A level up from this is to let the students decide on the structure that best represents the content and have them create their own structures.
Also important to note is that each graphic structure is made to relate directly to the objectives. Further, each structure is referenced by a Roman numeral indicating its correspondence to the outline. In this way, students are pointed directly to the section of the text they would read to complete the organizer.
Scaffolding Critical Thinking Items
Whether teacher or publisher-made, some learners struggle to write narrative responses to higher-order thinking items typical at the end of a lesson or chapter. As an experiment, I provided cloze versions of the scrambled answers. The students’ task was to match the question with its answer, as well as complete the cloze. By varying the number of blanks, the level of difficulty could be managed.
Summary frames are also very useful. Like the cloze, there are fill-in-the-blanks structures. However, the blanks in a summary frame are much longer so as to accommodate full sentences and entire trains of thoughts. The prompts also guide the student toward a complete and thorough response rather than a one-word answer.
As a resource, textbooks offer a wide array of content. Our students can learn to engage with the content in ways that support literacy across content areas while learning to be self-regulated. Literacy and self-government are both powerful assets each student will need to develop for the effective spreading of the gospel.
1. Marzano, R.J., D. Pickering, and J.E. Pollock. 2001. Classroom instruction that works: Research-based strategies for increasing student achievement. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.