Educators are always looking for ways to promote literacy and self-regulated learning. Recently, I developed a paper-based format that:
- Engages students deeply in textbook content.
- Is useful across any content area.
- Incorporates research-based literacy and instructional strategies.
- 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 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.
Student-Driven Quality Control
The document opens by requiring students to choose a quality control (QC) partner. This teaches social and cooperative skills. 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
Next students are shown an overview of what they will learn. Along with a brief high-impact introduction, they receive a sheet containing the lesson objectives and lesson outline with key words omitted. Students use their textbooks to hunt for answers, fill in the blanks, and cut and paste these into their notebooks. The interactive notebook style is non-threatening and offers a kinesthetic learning opportunity. Students also look for page numbers and titles of diagrams, make predictive questions and answers regarding what they think they might learn, and complete anticipation guides.
Vocabulary in Context
A vocabulary context clue hunt or other vocabulary strategy follows. Students identify the sentence-level context clue giving meaning to the highlighted vocabulary words. This works very well for math, science, and social studies. They also choose a single vocabulary word to use to complete a detailed concept map. This is cut and pasted into their notebook.
While there are many forms of note taking, my students work best with graphic organizers and other non-linguistic representations. 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. Another option is to let students decide on the structure that best represents the content and create their own structures.
Each graphic structure is made to relate directly to the objectives and each structure is referenced by a Roman numeral indicating its correspondence to the outline. This points students directly to the section of the text they should read to complete the organizer.
Scaffolding Critical Thinking Items
Some learners struggle to write narrative responses to higher-order thinking items typical at the end of a lesson. As an experiment, I provided fill-in-the-blank questions and scrambled the answers. The students’ matched the question with its answer and fill in the blanks. Varying the number of blanks adjusts the level of difficulty.
Summary frames are also very useful. These are also fill-in-the-blanks structures, but the blanks are much longer to accommodate full sentences. The prompts also encourage a complete and thorough response rather than a one-word answer.
Our students can learn to engage with textbook content in ways that support literacy across content areas while learning to be self-regulated. Literacy and self-government are powerful assets that can help each student in the future as they spread 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.