Academic Journals and Small Groups: Confluencing Strategies for Content Area Comprehension in Middle School

Article excerpt

The effective use of academic journals in elementary school has been well documented (Hall & Robinson, 1995; Masse, 1999). Rosenblatt (1978, 1983) spoke of the need for interactive reading and writing activities to promote comprehension. Research has indicated that journal writing activities, as an outgrowth of content area learning, facilitate student reading comprehension (Atwell, 1990; Bode, 1989; Fulps & Young, 1991). Commander and Smith (1996) found that with college students, academic journals (learning logs) stimulate mctacognitivc awareness and promote reflection on specific aspects of learning. Hanrahan (1999) found that journal writing enhanced communication and participation in high school science. Similar results have been found in high school mathematics (Williams & Wynne, 200O). In addition, academic journal writing allows students to internalize concepts through a different mode of communication (writing).

Another corpus of research has established the efficacy of small group (3-4) work for increasing reading comprehension in the elementary school (Taylor, Pearson, Clark & Walpole, 2OOO; Kean, Summers, Ravielz & Farber, 1979). Rosenshine and Stevens (1984) indicated that instruction in groups has been correlated with higher reading achievement. Through small groups, students are allowed to voice their ideas and feelings regarding lessons and issues to which they are exposed (Reid, 1994; Nystrand, 1993). Especially for shy or reserved students, there is much less reluctance to participate when small groups arc utilized.

With the exception of a few studies, (Cantrcll, Fusaro and Doughcrty, 2OOO; Wcbb and Farivar, 1994), very little research has been conducted to ascertain the effectiveness of academic journals with middle school students. Indeed, very few teachers at the middle school level employ academic journals. Although small group work is used more often than academic journal writing in the middle school, its occurrence is far less than the opportunities that present themselves. In view of the above statements, it is apparent that more research is needed not only on the uses of academic journals and small group instruction in the middle school, but also on how these two strategies could be conflucnced to enhance students' content area reading comprehension.

This article will advance a stcp-by-stcp strategy for teachers to meld academic journal writing and small group work for use with middle school students. The strategy advanced herein was informally implemented in two middle schools. The schools were situated in a suburban/rural area located in a southern state. Six classrooms were utilized to observe the progress and examine the results of the strategy. The six-classroom breakdown was as follows: school number one-three classrooms (sixth grade social studies, seventh grade math, eighth grade science); school number two-three classrooms (sixth grade science, seventh grade social studies, eighth grade math). The total number of students involved was 134. In order to ascertain the effectiveness of the strategy, post-intervention interviews were conducted with the different categories of participants.

STEP 1.

INTRODUCE THE CONCEPT OF ACADEMIC JOURNALS

This step will only need Io be done the first time the teacher uses this strategy. If students lose sight of, or become detached from the general purpose of the procedure, a reintroduction could be necessary.

The teacher will explain to the students what academic journals are and the best reasons for using them. Among the things that could be mentioned are as follows:

1. They provide a way to continue thinking about content area lessons.

2. They provide a means to reexperience and reexamine the same concepts in an expressive (writing) rather than receptive (reading) mode.

3. They provide practice in writing, which could result in connections to other activities. …