Teaching Learners- Learners Teaching: Using Reciprocal Teaching to Improve Comprehension Strategies in Challenged Readers

By Little, Queenie; Richards, Rhonda Taylor | Reading Improvement, Winter 2000 | Go to article overview
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Teaching Learners- Learners Teaching: Using Reciprocal Teaching to Improve Comprehension Strategies in Challenged Readers


Little, Queenie, Richards, Rhonda Taylor, Reading Improvement


This article describes one teacher's quest for a strategy to use with her students that would improve their comprehension skills. Interested in the reciprocal teaching strategy, she modified the approach to use with a group of students who were experiencing reading difficulties. The article details her experiences as she implements the strategy, reviews the data to determine effectiveness with her students, and recommends modifications for students engaged in silent reading.

Poorer readers do little to monitor themselves as they are reading. As a middle school teacher, however, it is my goal to develop in my students self-monitoring skills that include making predictions about their reading, asking questions during and following reading, using context clues, visualizing, and even going back and rereading parts that are confusing. The better readers often employ these strategies without thinking. Unfortunately, the poorer readers often have a hard time performing such tasks and frequently abandon the reading exercise midstream, leading to frustration and further delays in the development of comprehension skills.

My sixth grade classroom, like many across the nation, is comprised of students who represent a wide array of reading levels and skills, from those several years below grade level to those who reading independently at 8th-9th grade levels. Trying to ensure all students learn and that all experience success in reading is often a daunting, challenging task that requires experience, knowledge, enthusiasm and energy. I knew I would need all of these attributes to help my students meet the higher standards that had been established by my state.

Knowing that I would benefit from additional knowledge that would complement my daily experiences as a teacher, I enrolled in a graduate reading program. When I was given the opportunity to develop, implement, and analyze action research using students in my classroom, I immediately focused my research on students' comprehension during silent reading. Silent reading comprehension is one area where the student assumes responsibility for the reading, evoking skills and images while reading that are not immediately observable by the teacher or others. This can be an overwhelming task. I wanted to provide my students, particularly those readers who are challenged, specific strategies grounded in research that would prove beneficial during silent reading.

My research uncovered several interesting strategies, but I was most interested in the reciprocal method of teaching developed by Palincsar (1998). Reciprocal teaching involves four major components: predicting, questioning, clarifying, and summarizing, all of which are valuable in reading comprehension. According to Palincsar, teachers are encouraged to model the reciprocal teaching strategy to students, and after the procedure has been demonstrated and understood, students take the lead by asking questions and leading discussions. The research concluded that discussions were a successful means of improving comprehension skills and strategies. The method encompasses many of the skills sixth grade students are required to master according to state and national language arts standards. What I wanted to know as a classroom teacher was whether the reciprocal method of teaching would have a positive impact on comprehension during silent reading. Based on research of students who used these strategies, I knew that typically the reciprocal method of teaching has a positive impact on comprehension during silent reading, but would this work with my students?.

To begin my study, I chose six children who scored 25% or below in Reading on the Metropolitan Achievement Test (MAT-7) their fifth grade year. This is considered below standard according to the federal Accountability Act. The sample consisted of one black boy, three black girls, and two white girls. I performed the CARP Informal Reading Inventory on each child in my convenience sample.

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