Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Instructional Approaches and Interventions That Can Improve the Academic Performance of African American Students

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Instructional Approaches and Interventions That Can Improve the Academic Performance of African American Students

Article excerpt



Data collected by the National Assessment of Educational Progress and other organizations indicate that average achievement levels of African American students are distressingly low, particularly with respect to higher-order comprehension and thinking skills (Cooper & Levine, 1993; Levine & Eubanks, 1990). During the past two decades or so, educators have developed and/or refined instructional strategies that many observers believe provide us with the capacity to bring about virtually a revolution in successfully developing comprehension and thinking skills of students whose performance currently is unsatisfactory in reading, history, mathematics, science, and other subjects (C. Block, 1993; Idol & Jones, 1991; Means, Chelemer, & Knapp, 1991; Pearson, 1985). Some of the most prominent of these instructional strategies include use of graphic organizers, semantic webbing and mapping, inferencing and prediction techniques, and summarization guidelines (C. Block, 1993; Levine & Sherk, 1989). Assisting faculties to learn how to use these strategies and introduce them as part of regular classroom instruction typically requires a large-scale, continuing staff development effort; considerable technical assistance; and improvements in school climate, leadership, expectations for students, and other characteristics or correlates of unusually effective schools. However, impressive gains have been registered thereby in the performance of students, particularly those who otherwise would be low achievers or at risk of dropping out of school (C. Block, 1993; Cooper & Levine, 1993; Levine & Lezotte, 1990, 1994; Levine & Sherk, 1989; Means, Chelemer, & Knapp, 1991).

The results of a recent study by Knapp, Shields, and Turnbull (1992) support the conclusion that instructional strategies stressing comprehension and thinking can improve the achievement of disadvantaged students. Knapp et al. examined the effects of emphasizing or not emphasizing meaning and understanding in 140 elementary classrooms with high percentages o poverty students. They offer the following generalizations regarding implications for the "design and conduct of instruction" in schools with a high proportion of students from low-income families:

The findings dispel the myth that, for most of the children of poverty, academically challenging work in mathematics and literacy should be postponed until they are "ready"--that is, until they have acquired full mastery of basic skills. Although such students are often lacking in certain basic skills, they can acquire these skills at the same time that they gain advanced skills (which provide a broader, more meaningful context for learning "the basics"). (p. i)

Indeed, instructional practices aimed at developing meaning and understanding provide avenues for teachers to expand their repertoires. Those who wish to do so can expand their practices provided they receive the appropriate mix of encouragement, support, and flexibility.


One good example of a technology-based approach designed specifically to help students acquire the skills and knowledge necessary to become independent thinkers and learners is the "anchored instruction" approach being developed by the Cognition and Technology Group (CTG) (1990). Anchored instruction aims to create "problem-solving environments" based on the use of videodisc and computer technologies that provide a framework for sustained exploration of "authentic" tasks (p. 2). CTG's initial work has involved painstaking creation of videodiscs, computer software, and instructional materials designed to improve average- and low-achieving students' problem-formulation and problemsolving capacities as well as various comprehension and communications skills. Students work cooperatively in small groups much of the time, and guidance in learning-to-learn is provided by both the teacher and the technology. …

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