Reciprocal Teaching

Reciprocal teaching is a method of teaching developed to improve reading skills. It is an instructional act which takes place in the form of a dialogue between teachers and students studying portions of academic text. It is most effective when applied to a small group of students overseen by a teacher or tutor. The concept of reciprocal teaching was first developed by Annemarie Palincsar in 1982. Palinscar refined her theory two years later while working alongside her colleague Ann Brown.

Reciprocal teaching has been developed as a technique for teachers in order for them to aid students who regularly show a discrepancy between decoding and comprehension skills. In reciprocal teaching students and teachers take turns leading discussions about shared text which they have read silently, aloud, or listened to via an audiotape. Palincsar and Brown's method involves students assuming the role previously upheld by the teacher or tutor. They identified the key roles in reciprocal teaching as the following: summarizing text, composing questions relating to content, clarifying the meaning of the text, and predicting its future content.

In practice, reciprocal teaching works like this: The leader of the group whether it is an adult or child will begin the discussion by asking questions relating to the content of a chosen piece of text. The group will then discuss these questions while raising additional questions and theories along the way. In the event of a disagreement or misunderstanding, the adult or child will re-read the text in order to clarify its meaning.

Although questions are used to stimulate the discussion, summarizing is applied in order to identify the meaning of what has been read and discussed. Summarizing allows students time to take in the information in preparation for the next portion of the text. Clarification is used for the purpose of regenerating the meaning of the text when an idea, theory, word, or choice of phrase has been misunderstood by any member or the group. The discussion leader offers their students the opportunity to make informed predictions ahead of any forthcoming content. Group members generate their predictions based upon their prior knowledge of the text as well as clues that are provided in the text itself.

The teacher's role in reciprocal teaching is to support the students' involvement in the discussion by providing explanations, suggestions and feedback that will enable the full participation of the students in all aspects of the dialogue. The chosen teaching strategies allow teachers the opportunity to understand the mental processes of their students, improve their comprehension, and support informative discussion via interaction.

Reciprocal teaching encourages children to copy the ideas espoused by successful readers. A successful participant will re-phrase information and seek relationships between important ideas, storylines and characters. They are also more likely to look for breakdowns in their understanding of what they are reading.

In the early stages of reciprocal teaching, the teacher or tutor will shape the working process to suit the students. This allows students time to practice their strategies while the teacher provides feedback and any additional help. In general, this process continues until every child becomes competent with their interactions with one another. Once every child has reached a similar level, the teacher will then see fit to increase the study demands, which means that every participating child will be able to work at a higher and more challenging level. Reciprocal teaching has also been used successfully in the study of mathematics among children at risk of academic failure, and to great effect in enhancing the reading comprehension of students who suffer from learning disabilities.

Results have shown that children who have received reciprocal teaching are more likely to outperform their peers when it comes to creating and answering questions and composing summaries. In addition, children who are taught via reciprocal teaching quite often obtained higher comprehension scores than their peers who were taught by using traditional school methods.

The majority of research looking into reciprocal teaching has been within the area of reading and listening comprehension. Generally, students who entered these studies scored 30% on independent measures of text comprehension. The criteria applied in order to determine success was the goal of an independent score of 75 to 80% across four or five consecutive tests. After taking part in reciprocal teaching, approximately 80% of students were judged proved to be successful. These gains were observed to be maintained for up to six months to a year after the initial period of instruction.

Reciprocal Teaching: Selected full-text books and articles

Mind as Action By James V. Wertsch Oxford University Press, 1998
Librarian's tip: "Reciprocal Teaching as Instructional Discourse" begins on p. 124
Knowing, Learning, and Instruction: Essays in Honor of Robert Glaser By Lauren B. Resnick Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1989
Librarian's tip: "Reciprocal Teaching of Comprehension Strategies" begins on pg. 413 and "Reciprocal Teaching, Argument Structure, and Systematic Knowledge Acquisition" begins on p. 443
Cognitive Perspectives on Peer Learning By Angela M. O'Donnell; Alison King Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1999
Librarian's tip: "Three Contexts for Collaborative Learning: Reciprocal Teaching" begins on p. 155
Contexts for Learning: Sociocultural Dynamics in Children's Development By Ellice A. Forman; Norris Minick; C. Addison Stone Oxford University Press, 1993
Librarian's tip: "Reciprocal Teaching" begins on p. 43
Teaching for Transfer: Fostering Generalization in Learning By Anne McKeough; Judy Lupart; Anthony Marini Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1995
Librarian's tip: Discussion of reciprocal teaching begins on p. 43
Educational Values and Cognitive Instruction: Implications for Reform By Lorna Idol; Beau Fly Jones Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1991
Librarian's tip: Discussion of reciprocal teaching begins on p. 85
The Application of the Cognitive Learning Theory to Instructional Design By Blanton, Betty B International Journal of Instructional Media, Vol. 25, No. 2, Spring 1998
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