Using Reciprocal Teaching to Develop Students' Language and Understanding: A Franchising Case Study

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

This article presents an approach to using case studies that aims to exploit their potential for developing students' language skills.

This approach is guided by three main ideas. Firstly, we have aimed to deal with the problem of students being put off by excessive amounts of information when confronted with a complete case study. To overcome this obstacle, we have made the information available in small units which students have to put together.

Secondly, we have aimed to structure the tasks so that students themselves take the prime responsibility for working out how the elements of the case study should be put together. In doing so we draw upon the idea of `reciprocal teaching', a concept which we explain later in the article.

Thirdly, we have aimed to develop students' narrative skills as a contribution to improving their literacy. We explain how the quality of students' narratives - or stories - has been analysed and how this relates to the way we have organised our tasks. In developing this approach we have aimed to provide a way in which the use of case studies in business studies can be more strongly geared to the aim of developing literacy, which currently has such a high profile through the Key Stage 3 Literacy Strategy.

We describe how we implemented the approach through a case study on franchising, we give an account of how this approach worked in three different schools, and we explain how we would amend it in the light of our experience.

DEVELOPING LITERACY THROUGH BUSINESS STUDIES

The Key Stage 3 Literacy Strategy (DFES, 2001) stresses the importance of the development of students' language skills for their achievement in secondary school. We might, therefore, hope that the Literacy Strategy will lead to improvements in students' writing in business studies. However, given the focus of most departments in our subject area on teaching at Key Stage 4 and above, there is a risk that the Literacy Strategy will have only marginal influence on our thinking and practice.

This would be unfortunate for two reasons. Firstly, subjects that wish to retain the image of being 'up with the pace' in school need to participate in and be influenced by developments that are affecting core subjects. Isolation from mainstream developments in the curriculum leads to the development of an image of being out-of-touch, old-- fashioned and irrelevant.

Secondly, teaching in business studies has much to gain from careful attention to the relationship between language and learning. Teachers of business studies have long relied on case studies, and these are really no more than specific types of story. Different types of fictional and non-fictional story share a `story grammar' although the form of the plot will vary according to the story type. The ability of students to understand, analyse and create stories is, therefore, highly relevant to achievement in business studies.

As might be expected, improving these abilities has been the attention of a great deal of research within the field of language in education, and one strategy is known as `reciprocal teaching' (Palincsar and Brown, 1984). We are all familiar with the impact that teaching a subject has on our own understanding. Reciprocal teaching takes this idea and applies it to students' learning. That is, if teaching has such an impact on our own learning, why not try to incorporate the essential elements of this process into what we require of students?

Palincsar and Brown claim to identify those elements, and their reciprocal teaching strategy provides a framework that can be used in planning teaching so that the activities required of students make demands on their thinking that are similar in type to those that teachers experience in delivering lessons.

In this article we briefly summarise some principles of story grammar and reciprocal teaching and explain how we used these as a basis for devising a lesson on franchising. …