Interested students went beyond the classroom to the library and to newspapers, anyplace, for more information on the subjects they were studying in class. My children learned that you don't have to have the same book to explore, investigate, enjoy personal experiences, and gather information. Tradebooks enable students to learn to read, establish strategies, and continue to gain knowledge about their own goal.
In one grade 5, Concept-Oriented Reading Instruction classroom, students experienced coherence through the concept of adaptation. In their initial observational activities, students considered the adaptive characteristics of a hillside behind the school. Gathering plants and insects provided opportunities for exciting, hands-on observations. Questions that children inevitably posed became the basis for concept learning. Self-directed learning began with permitting students to ask their own questions and keep their own journals. Metacognitive strategies for literacy, including finding books, searching for information, comprehending text and enjoying folktales were linked to the theme of adaptation of animals to the environment. When the texts were fused with the observational activities, and reading/ writing merged with learning about the hillside behind the school, students unified their school experience. Collaborative teams that shared books about the common theme of adaptation, learned about the useful portions of the books; and they also learned about the processes of constructive social interaction. Finally, when students gained command of the concepts they were exploring, and they gained a sense of competence with the tools of literacy, they became expressive. Ideas about mutual adaptation of plant and animal worlds that emerge from observations, questions, reading, and discussion were synthesized through a variety of communicative arts. Coherence culminates in the integration of literacy as an avenue of engagement between self, the social and the natural worlds.
Secondary School Level. We observed highly interconnected learning activities in both types of integrations. The fabric of reading, writing, discussion, and content learning appeared to be seamless. Literacy was situated in specific tasks related to students' learning of content, making them relevant and purposeful. In the physics class students read texts to help them explain their lab observations. They wrote journal entries about their thinking process, and discussed their thoughts with peers. In the three-subject integration, students read literature learning about theme, figurative language, and political conflict at the same time. Connections between the literature they were reading and the time period they were studying in history were abundant. These interconnections afforded students with ways of looking at the world that encouraged critical thinking.
The notion of engagement moves teachers and researchers beyond models of literacy as a language process or a set of cognitive competencies. An engaged reader, of any age, possesses a desire for literacy. Her intrinsic motivation powers her conceptual understanding and aesthetic enjoyment, which foster a lifelong disposition for reading. However, literacy engagement does not spontaneously arise for all students, and engagement is not sustained for long periods unless teachers nurture it. Our collaborative inquiries reveal that the tapestry of literacy engagement is best supported in classroom contexts that contain integrated instruction. Because engagement unites motivations with strategies and conceptual learning, it is sensible that classroom integrations of conceptual, strategic and motivational themes should be particularly promising. Many questions arise from our view of engaging classrooms: Does integrated instruction work well for multicultural populations? Can it be instituted school-wide? What are the professional development experiences needed to support teachers in these classrooms? What are the costs? Although not all these questions are addressed yet, we are optimistic that answers will be forthcoming as an increasing number of literacy professionals build integrations into the classrooms for which they are responsible.
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