Saturday, September 27, 2014

Reciprocal teaching for continued independence across content areas

I’ve kind of avoided this topic over the last few years, and I’m not sure why – maybe because initially it seems like a labor intensive strategy to teach.  It really isn’t, though.  It’s meaty, hearty, sound teaching, and once your students get the process, your job gets a little less exhausting.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – Work smarter, not harder.  We already work hard enough.

One of my all-time favorite books for tackling content-area learning (reading or not) is Guiding Readers Through Text: Strategy Guides for New Times (Wood, et. al, 2008).  The books is organized beautifully by chapters on different learning guides, and one of them is the reciprocal teaching guide, which tends to make the entire process easier.  I’m a firm believer in the idea that we never want to make our students dependent on an organizer or a guide, but to start them off on it, give them the guide and then eventually have them begin creating their own.  Unfortunately, Wood, et. al seems to be the only author group that has created the organizer that I love, and it is copyright protected in their book, so I can't copy it and throw it up on this blog for you.  But I have taken the time to create one similar so that you can get a visual of what one might look like as you read through its use below.

The reciprocal teaching guide begins with a little background information on the media you want students to tackle, and then spots for the following items: predictions about the media based upon whatever you gave them as a background knowledge activator or a preview of the text, confirmations of those predictions, and evidence from the passage that support those confirmations, a place to write down questions about what the student is learning, and the answers as the group discusses the questions.  Finally, on the bottom of the page there is a place to write two or three ideas that the student thinks are the most important and wants to share with the group.  The group will then decide together which piece of information is most important.

Here’s how I would use it in the classroom:
  • Put students into groups of 2-3.
  • Give them the Reciprocal Teaching Guide.
  • Do a background knowledge activating or building activity.  If you are using text, have students do a quick preview of the text and point out features that will help them with the process (subtitles, graphics, vocabulary, etc.).
  • Model the steps as the students go through the guide the first time.
  • Students in the group should discuss and decide upon predictions.  Guide them in making their predictions the first time through.  Use features of the media to help predict.  This will also help you to choose media that will allow them TO predict.  Without the ability to predict learning, students can't begin to build purpose independently.  
  • Instruct students to make their way through the media in small chunks (paragraph by paragraph or another way if not using physical text), stopping after each to discuss whether there was evidence to support any of their predictions and writing down any questions they had about the section.
  • As students write down their questions, encourage them to discuss the answers and write down what they discussed, showing they had managed to clarify the information.  
  • After the reading is over, have students individually write down three of the most important ideas in the passage.
  • Groups should share their ideas and decide on one idea that they thought was the most important.  They should write that one down at the bottom of their notes.

So after all this, can you see why using an organizer at the beginning might come in handy!  This strategy is so versatile, though.  I mean, it can be used with media in any subject, be it a text book or an article – even a piece of music could lend itself to using a reciprocal teaching guide!  You could use it with a video or an entire lesson, but keep in mind that you want your students to do the working so that you can monitor and observe what is happening with their learning. 

The harder you work up front of the classroom, the further from your students you become.  You cannot observe and monitor while you’re doing a song and dance up front, so try to put your kiddos at the front of their learning and see what they can come up with.  You may find that you don’t have to get up there at all and that you can teach them from the back of the room instead.

Can you think of ways you can use this strategy in your own content area?  Share that with us in the comments below.

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