Academic journal article Learning Disability Quarterly

Embedded Learning Strategy Instruction: Story-Structure Pedagogy in Heterogeneous Secondary Literature Classes

Academic journal article Learning Disability Quarterly

Embedded Learning Strategy Instruction: Story-Structure Pedagogy in Heterogeneous Secondary Literature Classes

Article excerpt

Abstract. The effects of using the Embedded Story-Structure (ESS) Routine in a literature course were investigated. A heterogeneous group of 79 ninth graders, including 14 students with LD, were randomly assigned to one of two conditions, with instruction occurring in groups of 12 to 14 students in general education literature classes over a nine-day period. ESS instruction focused on three reading strategies: (a) student self-questioning, (b) story-structure analysis, and (c) summarizing. Instruction for the alternative condition, called comprehension skills instruction (CSI), was comprised of a package of research-based reading interventions. Statistically significant differences were found between groups in favor of the ESS Routine on measures of strategy use, story-structure knowledge, and unit reading comprehension. Moreover, results indicated equivalent gains for ESS students regardless of disability versus nondisability category.


Meeting adequate-yearly-progress (AYP) goals in reading is a challenge for secondary school practitioners. Recently released National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) data indicate that more than two-thirds of secondary students, including a high percentage of students with learning disabilities (LD), lack the reading skills necessary to succeed in school and the world of work (Perie, Grigg, & Donahue, 2005).

This record of student failure leaves educators in search of evidence-based practices that can be implemented across secondary settings in an attempt to close the performance gap that emerges between students' literacy skills that have plateaued at the fourth-grade level and the increasing academic grade-level demands (Deshler & Schumaker, 2006). Moreover, because many adolescents with LD are taught in general education settings (IDEA, 2004) so they can earn credits toward graduation, language arts teachers are increasingly being asked to shoulder a major part of the burden for comprehension instruction, especially as it relates to narrative texts. These teachers need evidence-based methods of delivering direct and explicit comprehension instruction that provides the necessary skill development for students with LD and other low-achieving students while simultaneously challenging high-achieving students in the same classroom.

One approach to defining instructional design and delivery to improve reading comprehension was suggested by Kintsch (2004), who argued that the goal of literacy instruction should be to get students engaged in processes equivalent to those that expert readers employ. One such process involves categorizing information in light of certain text structures. According to Kintsch, student knowledge and use of text structure favorably impacts comprehension, just as knowledge of syntax or vocabulary can. Text structure is believed to be most relevant to the reading process during encoding and during the reader's organization of the text into high-order units. While syntactic and semantic instruction foster sentence-level knowledge construction, discourse-level structure construction can be improved by teaching genre-specific text structures. Thus, according to this model, instruction should explicitly introduce students to the use of narrative text structure (or story structure) to aid in the conceptual understanding of narrative texts.

Indeed, awareness of underlying story structure has been shown to improve basic academic performance and lead to higher-order thinking, including causal reasoning (Gersten, Fuchs, Williams, & Baker, 2001). Narrative text structure has been investigated within three successive phases of research (Olson & Gee, 1988). Early research centered on developing empirical evidence to support a taxonomy of narrative elements that can be used to develop a basic understanding of story construction during encoding (e.g., Mandler & Johnson, 1977; Rumelhart, 1975; Stein & Glenn, 1978; Thorndyke, 1977). …

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