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Rigorous Content Learning: Making Text-Based Learning Real

Mon, April 11, 11:45am to 1:15pm, Convention Center, Floor: Level Two, Room 207 A


Purpose & Theoretical Perspective
For the past six years, our interdisciplinary team of educators and researchers has engaged Design-Based Implementation Research (Penuel et al., 2011) to bring deep and adaptive learning to two advanced high school courses—AP Government and Politics and AP Environmental Science. Students who have not traditionally enrolled in these courses are being encouraged, even required, to take them under the “excellence for all” banner. In addition to learning challenging content, these students are expected to engage in the rigorous disciplinary literacy advanced by CCSS-ELA.

The purpose of this study is to examine how teachers think about and use collaboratively-developed instructional strategies to enhance deep content learning from texts in these two redesigned courses. Situated in the context of “everyday” urban classrooms, we focus on practices that are both feasible and desirable, in an effort to gain traction on the problem of learning from text.

Findings from the first two years of implementation of these courses in poverty-impacted urban schools across three states revealed that very few students or teachers were actually using text-based sources for learning (Authors, 2014b). Most telling was that teachers lectured or used other work-arounds to cover the same content contained in the readings, and students received little support for how to learn from text. In response to this situation, we collaborated with teachers to design and implement instructional strategies for learning with and from text. Unlike some others’ efforts (e.g. De La Paz, 2010; Reisman, 2011; Vaughn, 2013), we did not use specially created or revised text resources. We used existing classroom resources, mostly textbooks and online sources, and we worked with teachers help them “deliver” their assigned curriculum. These instructional strategies focused on clear alignment among assigned texts, purposes for reading, and tasks that required students to apply text-based learning.

Data Sources
Here we report data from four teachers in four schools located in two states who enacted these instructional strategies. Using a combination of videotaped classes, teacher interviews, and student interviews, we analyzed the data using constant comparative methods to identify themes and hypotheses (Glaser, 1965).

Preliminary findings suggest that teachers developed a commitment to having students use text for learning. Classroom practices shifted from assigning texts to providing students with clear purposes for reading; more students completed reading assignments and demonstrated deeper understanding. Furthermore, both teachers and students reported productive content learning when they had in-class teacher and peer support to read and discuss texts. Teacher implementation was variable, however, and most needed ongoing support to sustain attention to text-based learning.

As history suggests, shifting the typical “grammar” (Tyack & Cuban, 1995) of instruction in high school content classes is difficult, especially with respect to learning with and from text. Our results suggest that collaboratively creating strategies that teachers’ can rely on to cover required content with texts they have available may address some of the challenges of the past. We discuss limitations and next steps for research.


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