Academic journal article Journal of College Reading and Learning

A Contextualized Curricular Supplement for Developmental Reading and Writing

Academic journal article Journal of College Reading and Learning

A Contextualized Curricular Supplement for Developmental Reading and Writing

Article excerpt

The overarching purpose of developmental education is to enable academically underprepared students to benefit from the postsecondary curriculum. An important part of developmental reading and writing education is instruction in the literacy skills needed in college-level disciplinary courses (Brockman, Täylor, Kreth, & Crawford, 2011). Different content areas involve unique vocabulary, organization of text, and styles of expression, creating special, disciplinespecific reading and writing demands (Beaufort, 2004; Haas, 1994; Shanahan, Shanahan, & Misischia, 2011). One way to prepare developmental students for college-level discipline-area reading and writing demands is to contextualize developmental instruction in the specific types of text they will encounter in content courses. Discussion with developmental instructors (Perm & Charron, 2006) as well as examination of developmental textbooks (e.g., McWhorter, 2010) suggest that, although content-area text is often used in developmental education, especially in basic reading courses, themes and tasks are varied. This approach gives students a sampling of what is to come, but not experience of the sustained reading and writing in one subject area they will need once in a college-credit disciplinary course. Developmental education instructors can provide such practice by contextualizing skills in a selected discipline.

Contextualization has been defined as "a diverse family of instructional strategies designed to more seamlessly link the learning of foundational skills and academic or occupational content by focusing teaching and learning squarely on concrete applications in a specific context that is of interest to the student" (Mazzeo, Rab, & Alssid, 2003, pp. 3-4). This approach is also known as embedded instruction, anchored instruction, integrative curriculum, theme-based instruction, and infused instruction. College educators consider contextualization of basic skills useful (Baker, Hope, & Karandjeff, 2009; Boroch et al., 2007), and several empirical studies in higher education suggest positive effects (Caverly, Nicholson, & Radcliffe, 2004; Martino, Norris, & Hoffman, 2001; Perm, 2011; Snyder, 2002). Further, the contextualization of reading and writing instruction is an approach that would help students meet the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy, which include reading and writing in the disciplines (National Governors' Association and Council of Chief State School Officers, 2010).

Contextualization may help academically underprepared students overcome several difficulties, including limited transfer of skill (Carnine & Camine, 2004; Thi & Rochford, 2007), low motivation (Burgess, 2009; Dean & Dagostino, 2007), and limited background knowledge (Diakidoy, Mouskounti, & Ioannides, 2011). Contextualized instruction creates similarities between the contexts of instruction and application, which in turn can promote generalization of skill (Stone, Alfeld, Pearson, Lewis, & Jensen, 2006). Further, developmental education maybe more motivating to students if instructors use disciplinary text that students know is typical of material assigned in concurrent or future content courses required for degree completion. In addition, sustained experience with text in a specific content area may result in implicit learning of disciplinary concepts, which can create the background knowledge that is essential for reading. For these reasons, improvement of reading and writing skills based on extended exposure to discipline-specific text in selected content areas may lead developmental students to apply the acquired skills in college-credit content courses.

Although contextualization has strong advocates (Baker et al., 2009; Johnson, 2002), its benefits as an intervention have rarely been directly tested (Perm, 2011). This paper reports findings for a contextualized intervention, the Content Comprehension Strategy Intervention (CCSI), a semesterlong curricular supplement designed to give community college students attending upper-level developmental reading and writing courses sustained practice in basic reading and writing skills in the context of science text. …

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