Academic journal article Reading Horizons (Online)

A Formative Study: Inquiry and Informational Text with Fifth-Grade Bilinguals

Academic journal article Reading Horizons (Online)

A Formative Study: Inquiry and Informational Text with Fifth-Grade Bilinguals

Article excerpt

Katie, a fifth-grade teacher at a local bilingual elementary school, requested assistance in promoting engagement with reading and writing informational texts in her classroom. As with every classroom, there are varying amounts of flexibility allowed in terms of instructional approaches as well as student outcomes and products. This particular school followed a strictly paced curriculum leading up to state assessments in the spring, but allowed for academic freedom the final six weeks with the only requirement being a research presentation during the last week of school. Katie was aware of my research on inquiry with younger bilinguals and requested support for integrating more experiences with reading and writing informational texts utilizing an inquiry approach.

Katie: I really want to reward my kids with meaningful and engaging projects after the state assessments. They have been working so hard, and it seems like everything we have been doing this semester has been focused on test prep. After the tests are done, we don't have any required curriculum to cover for the rest of the year except they have to have a final research project. But, it can be about anything- maybe we could do the solar system this year. They seemed pretty interested in that.

Researcher: Do they all have to research on the same general topic and theme, or could they individually select an inquiry project that interests them?

Katie: Well, 1 guess they could do whatever they wanted, but 1 only have so many informational books at their reading level that are not textbooks. And, they have to have something to present because all the fifth graders will be presenting reports the last week of school. 1 don't know...it seems like any topic would be a little chaotic, but 1 want them to engage with texts to answer their own curiosities, not ideas that I mandate (Initial planning conversation).

I offered to gather resources before and during the inquiry project process to alleviate the limited access to texts. We brainstormed our goals and ideas for this project. Katie had attempted to follow instructional guidelines for facilitating inquiry and research in previous years with frustration and little success, so she invited me to team teach the lessons with constant reflection and revision of our instructional approach in order to best support the students and simultaneously address new informational text demands found in the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). We agreed we wanted to use a formative experiment (Bradley et al., 2012) design to facilitate engaged reading and writing and build content knowledge and related academic vocabulary in English for native Spanish-speakers who were assigned to the "ESL/bilingual" classroom.

A formative experiment focuses on what is required to reach a pedagogical goal and factors that enhance or hinder the effectiveness of the intervention (Reinking & Bradley, 2004b). While there are many available commercial interventions to support language and literacy development, our goal was to facilitate engagement with informational texts and research on self-selected topics, and this required an intervention that could not be standardized or replicated with a commercial intervention. We selected inquiry projects as our intervention. Reinking and Bradley (2004a) explain, "Formative experiments, unlike experimental or naturalistic studies of instructional interventions, accommodate both the variation inherent in classrooms and the need to adapt interventions in response to relevant variation" (p. 153). The purpose of this study was to examine the effectiveness of literacy interventions based on teacher-designed, pedagogical goals in a Title 1, fifth-grade classroom with emerging bilinguals. The formative experiment allowed for us to adjust our instruction accordingly as we analyzed instruction and engagement based on student monitoring, student surveys and teacher reflection during the six-week study. …

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