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Sunday, February 26, 2012

notes on literacy

In a book I'm reading on literacy, the following term is introduced: Explicit Strategy Instruction. This term, essentially, seeks to scaffold comprehension so the students are aware of not simply what they're learning, but more importantly why and how they're learning. Yes this sounds a lot like "learning as self-reflection" and "learning through metacognition," and it should—both terms are central to Explicit Strategy Instruction. Whatever you call it (perhaps just "good ol' common sense"?), the point is this: teachers can help their students increase performance by designing units that foreground the value, rationale, and outcome of the learning.

Below are the four stages of Explicit Strategy Instruction and the brief notes I sketched on each one. And while I (as a college composition instructor) see this model through the lens of teaching rhetorical awareness, Explicit Strategy Instruction is meant for any discipline where deep content-area reading is required.

Before I "teach" a particular rhetorical strategy, I should first pre-test (hold a "tryout" on) the students' prior levels of abilities with the trait in question. What the students "do" during this informal tryout is not a question of good or bad, right or wrong. It is only a chance for me to observe, to collect data, and to provide a departure point for leading a class discussion on the value (the why and how) of the given rhetorical strategy.

The aim of this stage is to prepare the students so they can try the strategy again. In this phase, I must model the rituals and habits of mind I want the students to evidence. I must also provide all the necessary materials and heuristics that will help the students develop self-sufficiency. Modeling metacognitive protocols is key in this stage.

If the first stage is a try out and the second stage is a demonstration, this stage is a trial run. This is where I fade the scaffolding and see how the students do on their own. Afterwards, we debrief and reflect and take stock. The main goal here, as the book suggests, is for the students to practice and experience the strategy to point where they have "internalized the steps and feel in control."

If the instruction has achieved the desired level of learning, the students should not only know "what to do but also why, how, and when." Which, from a Bloomian perspective, means the students have progressed to a higher-order level of thinking. In sum, the students should now be able to wield a certain degree of power and control over the rhetorical strategy. The students, in other words, should be able to use and apply the targeted skill. To do so, I have to ensure that my follow-up assignments aren't merely questions to test if they know what the strategy is, but rather provide opportunities for the class to authentically apply their learning.


Jabiz said...

Seems so simple and obvious, but we so often get stuck in the model of content delivery and assessment.

Teach it, test it.

Your post is a good reminder that students need rationalization and practice to truly make learning stick. Thanks. I am loving your thoughts on teaching and learning and writing.

billieball said...