Effective Institutional Strategies For Improving Reading Skills – Education Research Paper

Statement of The Problem
Reading is a complex and dynamic process (Pearson & Stephens, 1994). Often a great deal of emphasis is placed on providing support for very young readers. Because older students, those in grades 4 and above,

generally do not get this same level of support their reading difficulties may go unchecked. Students in upper elementary grades who experience reading problems tend to be labeled instead of taught (Swadener & Lubeck, 1995).

The child is viewed as somehow deficient, which places the blame for the child’s academic difficulty on the child. This deficiency model is at the root of the at-risk label. Labeling a child at-risk implies that the child and his/her family are somehow deficient and that failure is almost inevitable.

The implication of the deficiency model is that the child needs remediation to make up for what is missing in order to fix him/her (Fine, 1995). It is true that some students have challenges, such as poverty, single parent families, difficulty in school, etc., which others do not have. In articles, papers, and government documents, these children are labeled as at-risk (Swadener & Lubeck, 1995). Changes in the

education, and lives, of these children begin with a “conceptual re-orientation of assumptions…from student risk to student potential” (Genevieve, 2000, p. 52); from children at-risk to children facing challenges. A more positive view of the child will lead to more positive ways to support children. According to Swadener (1995), it is time to move beyond the deficiency model. Instead of ascribing deficiencies to the child and family, educators need to begin to find solutions to assist these students. Education professionals need to stop viewing certain students as at-risk and instead take a more positive approach (Wang & Reynolds, 1995). By changing the way we view the child and his/her life circumstances, teacher and child are empowered to use those challenges as strengths. Thus, instead of using the term at-risk to describe these children, I will use children facing challenges.

True change will not just come from rearranging the way we think about these children; new labels are not the answer. We, as education professionals, must also know what instructional methods work to transform challenges to strengths. Children in grades four and above deserve the same level of research-based support that younger children already receive.
The focus of this paper is on students in grades 4-6 who are continuing to have reading problems and face additional challenges in their lives. Many times, their lack of success in school has led them to have feelings of academic insecurity and inferiority. It is not that these children cannot succeed in school; it is that they do not have the tools or the belief that they can. Through explanation and modeling, the teacher can give them the tools, but that is not enough. The teacher must strongly believe that the students can successfully implement these tools, train them how to use them, and allow them to be responsible for dong so. Once students experience the self-confidence that results from accomplishing a difficult academic task, they will feel more confident about accepting new educational challenges. Thus, by standing on the foundation built by the teacher, the student can put the cycle of achievement into motion.

The purpose of this documentary review is to identify those instructional strategies that research has shown effective in improving reading skills of children facing challenges in grades 4-6 in a general education classroom. This paper will also explain how the general classroom practitioner can implement those strategies in the classroom. The function of this paper is to serve as a tool for classroom teachers.

What instructional strategies are identified in research as effective in improving reading skills of children facing challenges in grades 4-6 in a general education classroom?

To date, reading research “has been narrowly interpreted and focused almost wholly on the very beginning stages of reading instruction” (Allington, 2001, p. 2). Students in the upper elementary grades have not gotten the attention that has been given those in the lower grades. There is also a need for additional information about the instruction of children facing challenges in the general education classroom. (Fuchs, Fuchs, & Bishop, 1992).

Cunningham and Allington (1999) state, “classroom teachers are the most important factor in the success or failure of at-risk children in our schools” (p. 1). Teachers who work with children facing challenges in grades 4-6 need a set of strategies that have shown to be successful. The strategies presented in this paper are supported by research, and teachers who use these strategies can feel confident that they are using strategies demonstrated as effective with these children. In addition, they will be able to back up their instructional methods in the classroom with the research presented in this paper.

In terms of reading development, children in grades 4-6 are in transition (Allington, 2001). Many times children in these grades were not identified at the beginning of their school careers as experiencing reading difficulty, and according to researchers (Madden & Slavin, 1989; Shanahan & Barr, 1995) even if they did receive early intervention, the learning gains students made in reading through programs such as Reading Recovery are difficult to sustain. By fourth grade, students who had previously been making academic progress in early intervention programs begin to have difficulties again (Allington, 2001). They are falling through the cracks in the educational system.

Although some attend pullout programs such as Title 1, Allington and McGill-Franzen (1989) found instruction that took place in these pullout programs to be less effective in improving reading ability than instruction in the regular education classroom. Of the Title 1 programs that do exhibit student gains, marginal increases in student achievement have been found (Madden & Slavin, 1989). Thus, in addition to the programs in which students do show gains, “effective instructional strategies within classrooms are needed to sustain the effects” (Taylor & Hanson, 1997, p. 197). According to Cunningham and Allington (1999) the majority of reading instruction still takes place in the regular education classroom. Consequently, it is increasingly important for teachers to use strategies in their classrooms that are not only effective but also appeal to this particular age group.

Definitions of Terms
The following terms are defined so that the reader may fully understand their meaning within the context of this study:

Children facing challenges: Students who possess one or more of the following risk factors would be defined as children facing challenges: poverty, single parent homes, minority status, English as a second language, cognitive or behavioral problems.

Research supports this definition. Familial poverty is the single strongest factor that puts a child at risk for academic difficulties (Allington, 1993). Students say that neighborhood violence, single parent homes, and poverty are the most important contributing factors to problems with school (Haycock, 2001). The incidence of high-school drop out is higher for children of single parent homes than it is for two parent homes (Johnson, 1997). Ethnic minorities and ESL students may experience difficulty in school due to discrimination and cultural and language differences (Johnson, 1997). Cognitive and behavioral difficulties increase the chances that children will experience negative results (Johnson, 1998).
Negative Results: The negative outcomes that may evolve as a child grows. Some examples include academic delays, substance abuse, incarceration, high school drop out, pregnancy, and suicidal behavior (Johnson, 1998).
Title 1 (formerly Chapter 1): “Federally funded compensatory education program in the United States, intended to serve children of lower socioeconomic backgrounds who may be at risk of school failure, particularly in the elementary grades” (Harris & Hodges, 1995, p. 257).
This paper is subject to the following limitations and delimitations:
1. Material selection is limited to those available through the ERIC database and the libraries of Texas Woman’s University and University of North Texas.
2. Research is limited to that done by others.
3. The focus of this paper is on students who can be characterized as children facing challenges and are in grades 4-6.
1. Research used valid and reliable instruments and was accurate.
2. Certain strategies have a research base that indicates they are effective with children facing challenges.
3. These strategies would be applicable for use in the general education classroom.


Design of the study
The design of this study is a document review. I amalgamated research studies that center on instructional strategies effective in improving reading skills of children facing challenges in grades 4-6 in a general education classroom.
Database sources

I performed numerous computer searches for research information through Academic Search Premier, EBSCO Online Citations, ERIC, MasterFILE Premier, and Professional Development Collection databases. I also checked the reference lists of the initially selected articles that were related to instructional strategies or children facing challenges, but these studies were outside the scope of this review and were not included. Records were eradicated if they could not be located in databases in full text, at the libraries of Texas Woman’s University or University of North Texas, if the grade level of participants was outside grades 4-6, or if the focus was not distinctively related to instructional strategies effective in improving reading skills of children facing challenges. I refined the search using the following method:
Search 1
Database: ERIC
Descriptor: reading instruction
Number of Hits: 10,000

I wanted to be sure that I was not missing any resources on reading instruction that might be in other databases so I expanded my search to include Academic Search Premier, EBSCO Online Citations, and Professional Development Collection.
Search 2
Database: Academic Search Premier, EBSCO Online Citations, ERIC, Professional Development Collection
Descriptor: reading instruction
Number of Hits: 10,802
Looking back at the databases, I added MasterFILE Premier.

Search 3
Database: Academic Search Premier, EBSCO Online Citations, ERIC, MasterFILE Premier, Professional Development Collection
Descriptor: reading instruction
Number of Hits: 11,180
Initially, when I did the third search, I did not include a search for related words. However, when I did include them, I got the same number of hits. At this point, I began narrowing my search. In doing so, I would have used the descriptor at-risk, but I noticed that the list of ERIC descriptors used the term high risk instead. I therefore used the descriptor high risk. In all the searches that follow I used the same databases as in the previous search.
Search 4
Descriptor: reading instruction and high risk
Number of Hits: 372

I thought maybe I could narrow the number of hits drastically if I were to be very specific in my descriptor.
Search 5
Descriptor: reading instruction and high risk and grade 4 and grade 5 and grade 6
Number of Hits: None (no results were found for your query)
I now needed to broaden my search again. Thus, instead of including individual grade levels, I changed my descriptor to elementary education.
Search 6
Descriptor: reading instruction and high risk and elementary education
Number of Hits: 137
My method now was to look at article titles and abstracts from search 6. However, I thought I would try to be more specific and use the descriptor intermediate grades instead of elementary education and see how many hits I got.
Search 7
Descriptor: reading instruction and high risk and intermediate grades
Number of Hits: 13
I did five more searches after search 7 but used a different method. I went to the library and copied phrases from the ERIC book of descriptors and combined those with names of strategies I had read about in some of the articles.
Search 8
Descriptor: high risk students and direct instruction
Number of Hits: 43

Search 9
Descriptor: high risk students and story grammar
Number of Hits: 8
I decided to broaden my search because I hadn’t found enough sources that I thought would be very useful.
Search 10
Descriptor: high risk students and reading strategies
Number of Hits: 84
Again, I tried using a specific strategy in my descriptor.

Search 11
Descriptor: high risk students and teacher modeling
Number of Hits: 6
I broadened my search by using a more general descriptor, reading skills, instead of naming a specific strategy in the descriptor.
Search 12
Descriptor: high risk students and reading skills
Number of Hits: 162
After all this I had enough resources that I could look through the references and then go to those sources. Ultimately, I identified five studies that are included in this documentary review.

Data Analysis
For this analysis, research literature was organized according to the instructional strategy. I took information from the studies and put it into chart format to include citation information, purpose/rationale, participants, design, findings, and implications/future research (See example in Appendix A). Commonalities that emerged from the literature were techniques linked to oral transactions. Communication between teacher and learner, tutor and tutee, and student and student was a vital part of the studies. In each case, the use of a specific instructional strategy resulted in gains in the reading skill of children facing challenges in grades 4, 5, or 6. In the next chapter, I will describe these strategies, and in the fourth chapter I will identify the threads that were evident in the studies, discuss implications for classroom teachers, and make recommendations for future study.

Vygotsky (1986) emphasizes the vital role dialogue and social interaction have in a student’s literacy development. He posits that an environment in which instruction emphasizes collaboration is of utmost importance to the cognitive growth and development of students. Students should be active partners in classroom interactions, responsible for constructing their own knowledge, skills, and attitudes and not just emulating the teacher (Leong & Bodrova, 2001). The role of the teacher is to interact with students to jointly construct meaning since it is teachers and peers who most effectively guide a student’s learning (Jaramillo, 1996).

Three key factors contribute to constructing meaning during reading: the reader, the material, and the reading environment. All of the strategies presented in this paper focus on how the reader and teacher, which may sometimes be another peer, interact with one another in the reading environment. The reading process is made up of multiple components: word recognition, fluency, comprehension, an understanding of vocabulary and language structures, active learning, and enjoyment of reading (Richek, Caldwell, Jennings, & Lerner, 1996). Good readers automatically use these components, but children who are facing other challenges in their lives often require guidance in the use of these components. Through the use of the following strategies teachers can guide students’ reading development.
Cross Age Tutoring

A number of research studies indicate the importance of social interaction in learning. Several support the use of cross-age tutoring as an effective way to incorporate the social aspects of reading and to improve the reading skills of children facing challenges.
Giesecke and Cartledge
Giesecke and Cartledge (1993) conducted a study to determine the benefits of peer tutoring and the effects of cross-age peer tutoring when low-achieving students serve as tutors. The authors wanted to find out if low-achieving students could tutor their younger peers effectively while at the same time improving tutor achievement and self-confidence.

Participants were third- and fourth-grade students, six males and two females. Four of the students were Black, and four were White. All attended an inner-city elementary school located in a low-socioeconomic area of a large city. Teachers identified the fourth-grade tutors based on below average reading performance on standardized tests and low peer social status. Third graders reading at grade level were chosen to serve as tutees in order for all students to be on the same third-grade reading level.

Researchers trained tutors the week prior to beginning tutoring. After this initial training of the tutors, they met with their tutees 16 times over 5 weeks for 30 to 40 minutes per session.
During the sessions, students followed a four part routine. During the first 10 minutes, researchers passed out materials including sight words to be taught that day, while tutors helped one another define unknown words, and discussed problems that had previously arisen or might arise during tutoring. In addition, tutors shared successes from the previous sessions.

For the second part of the session, tutors worked with tutees for 5-minutes to learn new sight words. During this time the tutee was given three opportunities to respond correctly. After three attempts, the tutor told the tutee the word, tutee repeated the word, and tutor praised tutee.

During the third part of the session, which lasted 10 minutes, the tutor and tutee played one of four word games that required them to practice the sight words as well as their use in sentences. The tutor’s only role during the games was to provide assistance when needed.

The final part of the tutoring session, testing and charting, lasted 5 minutes. The tutees were given 3 seconds to respond to word cards. Tutors drew a happy face or an X on the back of each card to differentiate between words read correctly and incorrectly.

The results indicated that low-achieving students, who served as tutors, made gains in reading skills (Giesecke & Cartledge, 1993). They showed improved achievement in sight-word recognition and improved self-concept. These findings demonstrate that when low achieving students serve as tutors there is a positive impact on their reading achievement and self-concept.

Taylor & Hanson
Similar results were found in the cross-age tutoring program conducted at Webster Magnet School, an elementary school located in a large city (Taylor & Hanson, 1997). Of the students who attended Webster, 56% were minorities and 49% qualified for subsidized lunches. The program was created as a supplement to a classroom intervention for challenged second-grade readers and paired those readers with fourth-grade tutors. Twelve second-grade students, whose mean score was at about the tenth percentile on the fall Metropolitan Achievement Text 7, were chosen to serve as tutees. Twelve fourth-graders were selected by their teachers to serve as tutors based on below grade level reading and reading a third-grade basal with 85% accuracy. The purpose in pairing these students for cross-age tutoring was to extend reading help to those children who needed support beyond Reading Recovery.

The cross-age tutoring program lasted 21 weeks. For the first 14 weeks, the sessions were held 5 days a week. On Monday and Tuesday, tutors met with the reading coordinator and one of their teachers for 45 minutes to prepare to tutor. Tutors kept a record of word recognition strategies discussed so that they could refer back to them as they practiced with one another or tutored the second graders. The fourth graders also practiced reading the books the tutees would be reading aloud to them and the picture book they would be reading aloud to their tutees. Teachers modeled, and students practiced, how to coach by giving clues instead of telling the answer. Tutors and teachers worked together to create a comprehension extension activity based on the picture book.

On Wednesday and Thursday, tutors and tutees met for 25 minutes. During this time tutees read aloud to their tutors, while tutors offered prompts to help tutees decode words. Tutors read to their tutees the picture book they had practiced. Tutors also engaged their tutees in story discussions, using questions they had written beforehand as a guide, and discussed words that might be new to the tutees. The final activity of the tutoring session was the comprehension extension activity. Following this, the tutors met for another 20 minutes for a review session. They discussed what went well and concerns regarding the tutoring sessions. Teachers provided positive input and guided the tutors in solving problems.

For the remaining seven weeks of the program tutors met once a week with tutees for a 25 minute session. Tutors received a copy of the book the tutees were reading in class so tutors could practice reading it and tutors selected and practiced reading a picture book (Taylor & Hanson, 1997).

Assessments of tutor reading indicated that tutors made progress in reading. At the beginning of the fourth grade, tutors read aloud from a narrative passage in the third grade basal and got a mean word recognition score of 94.3%. By the end of the school year all “12 children could read a narrative passage from the end of the fourth-grade basal with at least 95% word recognition accuracy” (Taylor & Hanson, 1997, p. 202). Metropolitan Achievement Text 7 scores also indicated reading improvement by tutors. In the fall of fourth grade all 12 tutors had a mean raw score on the reading subtest in the twelfth percentile, in the fall of fifth grade they scored in the nineteenth percentile. “Together, the oral reading and standardized test results suggest that…[tutors] made progress in reading during the school year” (Taylor & Hanson, 1997, p. 202).

Common Characteristics
Although not conducted in exactly the same manner, both the cross-age tutoring program conducted by Giesecke and Cartledge (1993) and that conducted at Webster Magnet School (Taylor & Hanson, 1997) possess some common characteristics. Time for discussion and reflection by the tutors was integral. Students were empowered to take responsibility for their own learning and the learning of others. Teachers were involved in initial stages of tutor training but mostly served as a facilitator, or coach, while the students did the teaching. Through using these fundamental components, both cross-age tutoring programs demonstrated increases in the reading process skills of word recognition, vocabulary, and active learning in children facing challenges when they serve as tutors. In addition, although the general focus of this review addresses grades 4-6, results for the studies also showed that younger students made gains on standardized tests and in word-recognition skills. Therefore, the results indicated that both the low-achieving students who served as tutors, and their younger peers benefited from cross-age tutoring (Giesecke & Cartledge, 1993).
Strategy Instruction

A second strategy supported by research to be effective in improving the reading skills of children facing challenges is strategy instruction. Research shows strategy instruction to be effective in improving skills of children facing challenges.

Dole, Brown, and Trathen
Dole, Brown, and Trathen (1996) conducted a study that was designed to determine whether a student-centered strategy or a teacher-directed strategy would better assist students with independent reading. In this study they compared strategy instruction, which is student centered, to content instruction and basal instruction, which are teacher-directed. A student-centered activity is one in which students and teacher interact to build knowledge while a teacher-directed activity is one in which there is much less interaction and the teacher more or less provides the knowledge for the students by telling them what they need to know. In this study, teachers of story content instruction provided, prior to reading, the information students needed to understand the text. Instruction focused on the events in reading that the teacher determined were important. This strategy has been shown effective when the teacher is able to support students, but not on independently read texts. Basal instruction, in which the basal reader determines the teacher’s instruction, was chosen as the control group. Dole and colleagues (1996) study did not include any further details about activities in content and basal instruction. Strategy instruction focused on teaching students a strategy for activating their own prior knowledge. During strategy instruction the teacher concentrated on teaching students why and when to use a strategy to build their own prior knowledge. This prior knowledge strategy included making predictions, identifying main characters, identifying the central problem, and identifying a problem’s resolution. Students were to learn to use this strategy independently so that they could apply it to independently read texts.

Participants were 67 fifth- and sixth-grade students from an elementary school in a large city. All students met the federal criteria for designation of “at-risk” based on their academic and social backgrounds. In addition, participants were chosen based on teacher judgment and the previous year’s Stanford Achievement Test reading scores and were randomly assigned to one of three groups: one received strategy instruction, one received story content instruction, and one received traditional basal instruction.

Instructors for the groups consisted of three teachers. They followed prepared scripts for the instructional conditions, and the teachers rotated through the instructional treatments, each spending about 8 days in each one of the three groups. Fifty-minute instructional sessions were conducted Monday through Thursday for five weeks.

All students in the three groups followed the same schedule. In all three groups, students first received their instructional treatment for about 10 to 15 minutes, and then silently read a narrative selection. All groups read the same selection on the same day. They then answered six written, open-ended comprehension questions. Teachers then led students in a brief discussion of the reading selection.
In the strategy instruction group, teachers practiced gradual release of responsibility (Pearson & Gallagher, 1983) and scaffolded instruction so that students increasingly took responsibility for using the strategy independently. During the first week, the teacher modeled the strategy and how to use it through a modified version of a story map. Students made a story map for each selection read and used three cue questions- who (characters), what (problem), and how did the problem turn out – for which they wrote down key words or phrases (Dole et al., 1996). During the following two weeks students modeled the strategy. The third week students worked in small groups. The fourth week students worked in pairs, and the fifth week they worked independently.

In order to assess learning, students in all groups were given three sets of investigator-made tests. Two were administered in the first two days of the study, two in the last two days, and two seven weeks later. The results of the last two sets of test indicated that the strategy group outperformed their peers. Dole and colleagues found that in this study involving children facing challenges, “the strategy instruction group scored significantly higher overall than the story content group or the basal group” (1996, p. 72).

Dole and colleagues conducted a second phase of this study to investigate the qualitative aspects of strategy instruction. Their purpose was to investigate how instruction and motivation influence responses to strategy instruction and how those responses affect comprehension (Dole et al., 1996).
Early in the five-week program teachers noticed a marked difference in the way certain students responded to strategy instruction. As time progressed some students seemed more motivated and eager to participate in daily activities, they also showed increased reading comprehension on daily written questions. Other students, however, were increasingly unmotivated, avoided daily strategy activities, and voiced their distaste for strategy instruction altogether. Because of these marked differences in student reactions, researchers developed student profiles of a lower ability reader, who did well with the strategy, and a higher ability reader, who did not do well, from within the group of children facing challenges that received strategy instruction.

The first student, Phoung, was a Vietnamese immigrant and spoke English as a second language. She scored in the fourth stanine on the Stanford Achievement Test. She rated herself as an “ok” reader, whispered answers to questions in a questioning tone, and struggled to keep up in class. During the first week of instruction she wrote the word guess next to her answers on the written comprehension questions to indicate her method of finding answers. When asked about her strategy for understanding a story she indicated that she just asked someone else the answer (Dole et al., 1996).

Researchers and teachers noticed some changes in Phoung in the second week of instruction, after she received strategy instruction. She began to identify the main character’s problem and making a story map to better understand the reading. She also started to eagerly participate in and lead group work. Her mannerisms and voice became more confident and the word guess no longer appeared next to her answers. In addition, her story map and comprehension performance rose approximately one point on a 0 to 6 scale. She reported liking the strategy and that she would use it in other classes. Because Phoung saw the value of using the strategy, she was motivated to implement it and therefore showed increases in scholastic achievement.

Melinda, the second student, scored in the sixth stanine on the Stanford Achievement Test. She rated herself as a “super” reader, and reported that if she was having difficulty with a text she reread the story until she understood it. When introduced to strategy instruction she appeared eager to learn it to help make her an even better reader. During the beginning of the instructional treatment she reported using prediction and previewing to understand the text.

About two and a half weeks into the instructional treatment, however, she began to demonstrate a steady deterioration in behavior. When asked about her strategy use she reported that she didn’t ask herself any questions because they didn’t help her understand the story. When subsequently asked about using questions during reading she refused to answer. This indicated to researchers that she did not value this aspect of the strategy and therefore became unwilling to use it. In addition, Melinda did not like group work, reporting that she could do it better by herself. She indicated that making a story map was too time consuming when she could just figure it out in her head quicker, and that she would not use it in other classes. Although data indicated that she knew how to use the strategy, as the instructional treatment progressed her comprehension scores declined. Melinda still thought of herself as a “super” reader, but she did not view the strategy as useful, was not motivated to use it, and when attempting to use it saw a decrease in comprehension.

Transactional strategy instruction focuses on group work, teachable moments, strategy combining, and reading as problem solving. These aspects of instruction combine to increase comprehension and get students actively involved in their learning through constructing their own knowledge. As always, some strategies work better for some students than others. This study “indicated that higher achieving readers [among this group of children facing challenges] comprehended more when they used their own preferred strategies than when other strategies were imposed on them through instruction” (Dole et al., 1996, p. 82). This may be because lower achieving readers who have fewer strategies to use may benefit more than students who have already identified strategies that work well for them. Not only do the better readers use more strategies, but they also know when to use them so that the introduction of new strategies are not as meaningful. Thus, strategy instruction may work best with students who have knowledge of very few strategies they can rely on when they have challenges with reading.
Literature Study Groups

Literature study groups are a third strategy supported by research to be effective in improving the reading skills of children facing challenges. Although often called by different names, literature study groups are founded on the same basic principles. Through interaction and collaboration teachers and students work to make sense of the story. Teachers do not direct, they facilitate student directed discussion in which all responses and interpretations are considered valid.

Dugan and Bean
Transactional Literature Discussions has been shown to improve reading skills of children facing challenges. Dugan and Bean (1996) explored the nature of dialogue and interaction during teacher scaffolded literature discussions with children facing challenges. They investigated the impact of Transactional Literature Discussions on the reading and writing performance of individual students. This study was performed, to a certain extent, to investigate instruction that assists students in progressing from basic word level reading to taking a more active role in reading in order to develop a relationship between reader and text.

Participants were six, fifth-grade students, two females and four males. All students attended a Title 1 class or got some sort of instructional support for reading problems. Students were selected based on poor comprehension on an informal reading inventory and teacher opinion of poor classroom conduct.

Transactional Literature Discussion involves a six-step cycle. In the first step, getting ready, students preview text and make predictions prior to reading. Second, in reading and thinking aloud, students respond orally as they read. Third, wondering on paper, involves students writing their reaction to the text on sticky notes to mark the part of the story to which they are referring. These are used to remind students what they were thinking about in preparation for the discussion in talking about it. In this fourth step, with the teacher as facilitator, students discuss their ideas in order to develop deeper understanding. This step usually last from 15 to 30 minutes (Dugan, 1997). Here, the researchers used the RQL2 (Dugan & Bean, 1996) strategy to assist students in their discussions. RQL2 is an acronym for respond, question, link, link, and listen. Students respond to the text and to each other’s comments, question ideas, link story events, link personal experiences, and listen to each other (Dugan & Bean, 1996). The fifth step is thinking on paper. In addition to reflecting and expanding their thoughts, the purpose of this step is for students to develop writing and communication skills. Students may do this individually or in collaboration. The final step, looking back, is a time for students to consider their responses and get ready to read the next section of the text (Dugan & Bean, 1996). Using this method encourages students to become active learners because they are identifying what is important to them in the story, and it gives them a sense of control over their learning.

The students and teacher met for 15 group sessions of 45 minutes over 8 weeks. Like strategy instruction (Dole, et. al., 1996), researchers in this study also drew on the concept of the gradual release of responsibility (Pearson & Gallagher, 1983) and divided the instructional sessions into three parts consisting of five lessons apiece. In the first part (lessons 1-5), reading, writing, and discussion were teacher-directed. For the second part (lessons 6-10), students and teacher shared responsibility for discussions and literacy activities. In the third part (lessons 11-15), the teacher served as a facilitator while students led discussions and literacy activities. “The results of this study suggest that Transactional Literature Discussions is a promising approach to literacy instruction with [children facing challenges]” (Dugan & Bean, 1996, p. 24). Students demonstrated more aspects of higher order thinking during discussions in which teacher and students shared responsibility (lessons 6-10). Posttests revealed increased comprehension by at least one grade level for four of the six students. A discourse analysis also determined that students demonstrated considerable growth in their ability to collaboratively construct meaning through oral transactions within the group (Dugan & Bean, 1996).
McCutchen, Laird, and Graves

A second type of literature study group, Extended Classic Books, was implemented by one school district in an attempt to provide children facing challenges with opportunities to participate in higher level thinking book discussions. McCutchen, Laird, and Graves (1993) investigated this instructional program to evaluate its effect on participating students.

Participants were 40 fourth-grade students from six elementary schools. Subjects were chosen based on teacher judgment and poor performance on the Metropolitan Achievement Test reading subtest, with scores in the third stanine or below. Groups were made up of four to ten students and met at their respective schools, over a six week period, for about 40 minutes per session. Individual schools determined how often each group met.

Volunteers from the community led the groups. Before meeting with students volunteers trained for five weeks. They read and discussed classic children’s books and took turns being the group leader. Their focus was on asking open-ended questions in a way that would encourage participation. Group members also assessed how leaders asked questions. It was stressed that students need the room to express their ideas and that children facing challenges need opportunities for vocabulary growth, development of reading skills, and positive experiences with books.

Researchers evaluated two years of the program and found positive results. In the first year, students’ reading abilities were assessed using an informal reading inventory as a pre- and post-test. The largest gains were found in comprehension, with lesser gains also found in reading speed and word-reading accuracy. In addition, researchers noted a change in the affect of students. They seemed more confident in their ability to read and actually argued over what books to read next (McCutchen et al., 1993). This is important because many times children facing challenges do not do enough actual reading to develop the ability to read well (Richek et al., 1996).

During the second year, researchers explored the interactions within the literature study groups. In order to acquaint students with the format of the group, leaders discussed short poems and modeled how to lead a discussion in the first sessions of the program. They also familiarized students with Raphael’s (1984) “in your head” questions and “in the book” questions. Although students could ask any kind of question, they were encouraged to focus on “in your head” questions. Students were given a copy of a book to read before the next session. When the groups next met, and every time thereafter, the volunteer initiated discussion through open-ended questions. Instead of viewing these queries as a script, leaders were to follow the students’ conversational direction whenever possible. In addition, students were to address comments and questions to one another instead of the group leader.

McCutchen and colleagues (1993) noted that in some groups students were more engaged in the books and discussion than in others. They described the characteristics of a successful group as being one in which students were engaged and the leader did not view the questions as script. Instead, the leader went along with the student directed topic and posed open-ended questions that adhered to the student chosen subject matter. Using a more responsive style of leadership helped to maintain student interest and therefore extend learning. Thus, McCutchen and colleagues (1993) found that children facing challenges have the ability to meaningfully contribute to higher-level conversations about literature if correctly engaged.

Common Characteristics
Both Transactional Literature Discussions and the Extended Classic Books program have some common characteristics. The premise behind both types of literature study groups is that meaningful reading discussions center on questions of interpretation rather than questions of fact. Both guide students to use critical thinking skills. The use of these higher-level thinking skills is a key to reading comprehension (Richek et al., 1996). In addition, when students have the opportunity to exchange ideas with others they develop and extend the knowledge of all participants (Vygotsky, 1978). By using these instructional features, teachers successfully addressed the reading process components of fluency, comprehension, active learning, and reading enjoyment.

Cross-age tutoring, strategy instruction, and literature study groups all address one or more components of the reading process. Cross-age tutoring (Giesecke & Cartledge, 1993, Taylor & Hanson, 1997) used activities focusing on word recognition, vocabulary, and active learning to result in academic gains in children facing challenges when they served as tutors. Strategy instruction (Dole et al., 1996), by focusing on teaching students strategies to get them actively involved in the construction of their own knowledge, showed improvements in students’ reading comprehension. Literature study groups (Dugan & Bean, 1996, McCutchen et al., 1993) actively involved participants in student-centered discussions with resulting increases in reading enjoyment, fluency, and comprehension. In each study, the teacher or student acting as the teacher was responsible for guiding the student to take responsibility for his or her own learning. This involved the teacher releasing control over to the students and allowing them to orally transact within certain boundaries. The outcome of this collaborative environment was the intellectual growth and development of children facing challenges.

The purpose of this documentary review was to identify instructional strategies shown effective by research to improve reading skills of children facing challenges in grades 4-6 in a general education classroom. Research conducted with this population of students identified cross-age tutoring, strategy instruction, and literature study groups as effective in developing reading skills.

Research literature was organized according to instructional methods. All methods included time for oral transactions and each addressed some components of the reading process, such as word recognition, vocabulary, fluency, comprehension, active learning, and enjoyment of reading. The use of cross-age tutoring, strategy instruction, or literature study groups resulted in reading skill improvements.


The three strategies contained in this paper all include a focus on involving students in active learning tasks. Cross-age tutoring, strategy instruction, and literature study groups also used explanation, scaffolding, and time for oral discusion to various degrees.


Explanation is simply defined as the teacher directed section of instruction. In this paper, explanation includes tutor training and modeling. In the case of Giesecke and Cartledge’s (1993) cross-age tutoring program, most of the explanation took place during the week of tutor training. Tutors learned the session routine, coaching techniques, review games, and testing methods. Only a small amount of time was spent on explanation during tutoring sessions, as the focus was on tutee active participation. Teachers in the second cross-age tutoring program (Taylor and Hanson, 1997), trained tutors in word recognition strategy and used modeling to teach them how to coach tutees. Teachers of strategy instruction (Dole, et. al., 1996) provided direct explanation about how and why to use the prior knowledge strategy and modeled its use. Teachers of Transactional Literature Discussions instructed and modeled for students how to perform the literacy activities involved in TLD and how to use meaning-making strategies. Like both cross-age tutoring programs, the Extended Classic Books program (McCutchen, et. al, 1993) also involved tutor training. Prior to meeting with students, group leaders were instructed in the needs of the students and trained in strategies for completing reading and discussing literature. In addition, trainers modeled how to lead a group discussion. When the student discussion groups began, group leaders provided the students with a condensed version of this training. Explanation is a basic requirement for teaching and all strategies implemented it.

Scaffolding, in which the teacher supports students to become independent in the use of a strategy, was used in three of the studies. Instead of relying on direct instruction, the teacher act as a coach, giving prompts and clues, to assist the students in internalizing strategy use.

By using scaffolding and coaching the teacher facilitates a student-directed approach to learning. The cross-age tutoring program at Webster magnet (Taylor & Hanson, 1997) emphasized the importance of coaching tutees to use word recognition strategies independently to aid in text comprehension. Tutors used prompts, such as covering up part of a word or telling the beginning sound, to assist tutees in word decoding. Students of strategy instruction (Dole, et. al., 1996) were expected to gradually assume responsibility for using the strategy and transfer it to independently read text. When students were having difficulty the teacher provided students with hints, cues, and reminders. Transactional Literature Discussions (Dugan & Bean, 1996) were based on scaffolded literacy events in which the reader took on increasing responsibility for completing literacy activities independently and using strategies to comprehend texts. In the first five sessions, learning was mostly teacher-directed but by the last five sessions the tacher acted only as a facilitator while students were self-directed. During student led discussions the teacher’s role was to give prompts, ask questions of clarification, and provide positive reinforcement. Through the use of scaffolding and coaching in literacy strategies, teachers increase the probability that students will transfer those skills to other content areas and independently read texts.
Oral Discussion

Constructing meaning through interactions with peers is crucial to engaging students in active learning. It allows them to hear different perspectives, work coopertively, communicate, receive immediate feedback, and explain their strategies (Jaramillo, 1996). The complex social context created by oral discussion among students is essential for higher order thinking (Vygotsky, 1986).

In fact, it is so indispensable that four of the five studies reviewed in this paper incorporated it. Tutors of cross-age tutoring were given time to discuss and reflect on problems, concerns, and successful experiences from the tutoring sessions. Some were were alloted time prior to each tutoring session (Giesecke & Cartledge, 1993), while others engaged in group oral reflections two days a week (Taylor & Hanson, 1997). In order to allow students maximum benefits from jointly constructing meaning, Transactional Literature Discussions (Dugan & Bean, 1996) apportioned the greatest part of instructional time to discussion. Students prepared for the discussions by making notes as they read, then used those to guide their talk. In addition, two written reflection activities followed the discourse so that students could expand and evaluate their thinking. Students in Extended Classic Books (McCutchen, et. al., 1993) were encouraged to share personal stories, ask questions, and evaluate their thinking during group literature discussions. The oral transactions among the students in these studies permitted the active negotiation of meaning.
It is likely that explanation, scaffolding, and oral discusions were partly responsible for gains in reading achievement found by researchers of cross-age tutoring, strategy instruction, and literature study goups. By incorporating these threads with instruction of children facing challenges, students were engaged in routines involving active learning tasks that allowed for cognitive growth.

Implications for teachers
Simply being able to list these strategies is not enough to be of benefit to children whose everyday lives are filled with challenges. Teachers must understand the theory behind these strategies and also understand how to effectively implement them within a typical classroom setting. Teachers must realize that this will not happen in one day; it is a process of teacher modeling and student opportunities to practice that allows change to occur. There are several ways teachers can implement these strategies in the classroom.

There are two fundamental things needed to implement cross-age tutoring within the typical classroom. First is a willingness to work cooperatively with teachers from other grade levels. Teachers must form partnerships so that students from different grades can serve as tutors or tutees. Second is a willingness to give up some direct control and create a classroom community in which students share responsibility. This willingness must be supported by a genuine belief that students can be valuable teachers of their peers. Through these fundamentals, teachers will see improvements in the self-concept and reading skills of their students.

Literature study groups can be easily applied within a heterogeneous classroom. Students can be introduced to Transactional Literature Discussions as a whole class; moved into small groups for reading, wondering on paper, and talk sessions, then regrouped to discuss the stories as a whole (Dugan, 1997). Teachers can also introduce the concept to their class by working with small groups or assigning students to guide the discussions. By implementing this strategy teachers increase the likelihood that their students will not only enjoy reading more but will also make improvements in fluency and comprehension.
Strategy instruction is also suitable for use in a classroom comprised of students with differing abilities and needs. As Dole and others (1996) determined, some students do not benefit from the strategy instruction used in their study, but may be better helped by instruction that focuses on their own metacognitive strategy processes. For this reason, teachers need be strike a balance in their instruction by using both prior knowledge strategy instruction and metacognitive strategy instruction. Although students should be encouraged to try the Dole and colleagues’ strategy, a student should not be cajoled into using the strategies presented by the teacher if the student finds that it does not work for him/her. This method of instruction requires teacher reflection and an awareness of individual student instructional needs.

Recommendations for future research
The greatest need in the area of instructional strategies for children facing challenges is that studies be conducted using larger populations of children. Most studies to date have focused on small groups of children. In fact, for this documentary review, I was only able to locate one study that involved a fairly large population of students (Dole et al., 1996). Of the studies that are conducted, most are not conducted in the students’ regular classroom. Although the results appear to be applicable to the regular classroom, only Dole and colleagues’ (1996) study was conducted in a setting similar to a typical classroom. The others were conducted in a pull out type setting using small groups of students who met in the library or reading coordinator’s office. Studies done within the context of a regular classroom setting would extend our understanding of the benefits of the strategies. If the research included details about all the minor interruptions, behavior disturbances, and other everyday obstacles that make up a school day, teachers could judge whether they would be able to implement a particular strategy in their classrooms, and researchers could better evaluate the real-life effectiveness of these strategies.

Reading is a multifaceted process (Pearson & Stephens, 1994). There is great emphasis on providing support for young readers. Reading problems of older students, those in grades 4 and above, may go unseen because these students do not usually receive the same intensity of support. Because their reading difficulties have gone unnoticed, children in upper elementary grades get labels instead of the instruction they need (Swadener & Lubeck, 1995). However, this research provides insight into three strategies that have been effective with children who have challenges in reading and other areas of their lives. By using the strategies presented in this paper, educators can begin to find assist students in grades 4-6 who are having difficulties with reading.

All students are different; therefore teachers must be ware of each student’s needs and be cautious as they implement new strategies. Although these three strategies have been shown effective with children facing challenges, even these strategies will not work for every child. Cross-age tutoring, strategy instruction, and literature study groups are not prescriptions to be handed out as a cure all for the difficulties students face in school. Teachers must decipher which instructional methods will work for particular students in a classroom. In order to transform students’ challenges to strengths, teachers must reflect on their teaching methods and their students. By doing this, educators can find teaching methods that work for children facing challenges.

Citation Information Purpose/
Rationale Participants Design Findings Implications/
Future Research
Dole, J. A., Brown, K. J. (1996). The effects of strategy instruction on the comprehension performance of at-risk students. Reading Research Quarterly 31(1), 62-88.

*To test whether a student centered strategy for activating their own prior knowledge would be useful in comprehending independently read texts Grades: 5 & 6 #: 67
Selection: academic & social backgrounds of students met federal criteria for designation of at-risk Compared story content instruction, strategy instruction, & traditional basal instruction over 5 weeks * Strategy instruction group scored significantly higher than the other two groups on posttests for comprehension *At-risk students benefit from direct teacher explanation, scaffolding, coaching, & tasks that make them active learners
Role of motivation in strategy use & instruction
Dugan, J., & Bean, R. (1996, April). Can I say what I think? A case study of at-risk readers making meaning during Transactional Literature Discussions. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, New York, NY.(ERIC D.R.S. No. ED 395300). *Investigate nature of interaction & dialogue of at-risk readers scaffolded lit. discussions *Determine effects of an instructional approach on their reading, writing, & understanding of literature Grade: 5 #: 6
Selection: based on poor classroom & IRI comprehension performance
# of Sessions: 15 group sessions of 45 mnts. over 8 wks. *4 students made gains of one or more grade levels in comprehension Could be used in small groups in a classroom
*Impact of TLD on readers of differing levels w/a variety of text
*Use of scaffolding w/writing responses
Giesecke, D., Cartledge, G. (1993) Low-achieving students as successful cross-age tutors. Preventing School Failure 37 (3), 34-44. * Further validate beneficial effects of peer tutoring
* Extend knowledge of cross-age peer tutoring when low-achieving students tutor
Grade: 4 #: 4
Selection: based on poor reading performance & low peer social status
Avg. # of Sessions: 16 sessions over 5 weeks
*All tutors showed increases in sight-word recognition * All showed improved self-concept Academic performance can be enhanced through tutoring activities
*Low-achieving students as tutors *Effect of tutoring on teachers’ attitudes

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