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Responding to the Need of Adolescent Learners
Sharon Longert

The Institute for Academic Access (IAA), a collaborative project between the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning (KU-CRL) and the University of Oregon, has developed a framework for improving adolescent literacy skills.  The goal is that students learn critical content regardless of literacy levels.  They are guided through the coursework by teacher/mediators who build on prior knowledge, select important content information, and transform the information so that it is available to all students.  “This approach uses collaboratively developed graphic devices to help students understand and generalize information,” (Bulgren, 2006). Many teachers prefer to teach students how to learn at the same time that they teach content.  For this reason, adaptations and accommodations are made prior to the lesson to make the content accessible to all students, especially those with disabilities.

The graphic devices are part of a program for helping middle and high school students of varying abilities obtain more access to content-laden coursework. The graphic devices are used with instructional routines to support learning in all content areas. They are especially useful in the areas of English/ Language Arts, Science and History/Social Studies.  The routines/devices include prompts for summarizing information, generating questions, stating definitions, and extending learning for new challenges. The Content Enhancement Routines help students across content areas by enabling them to have a visual device to:

  • master foundation knowledge: facts, vocabulary, concepts, principles and procedures
  • facilitate the use of information by comparing & contrasting, developing analogies, categorizing, analyzing, explaining causes and effects, or weighing options
  • extend learning to reasoning skills associated with application of inference, prediction and the questioning to make evaluations and problem solve
  • build on prior knowledge to select the most important information and transform it into a usable format
  • maintain the integrity of the content by interactive learning between the learner and the teacher
  • include Cue-Do- Review:  cueing students to engage attention, convey rationales and clarify expectations; completion of graphic devices with strategic thinking steps that guide learning for specific goals; incorporation of a review of the content and the process to confirm understanding

Two examples of graphic devices are the Unit Organizer (Lenz, alley, Schumaker, 1987) and the Comparison Table (Bulgren, Lenz, Schumaker, Deshler & Marquis , 2002)  Both of these present students with a one page study guide for a specific concept or topic. The Unit Organizer organizes and highlights the critical questions and the patterns and relationships between Big Ideas in a unit; it also introduces terms and concepts that are repeated throughout the unit and comprise the core of understanding and inquiry.  There is also a connection between the previous and the next unit of study, especially for the students who need to visualize such connections. The Comparison Table allows for a comparison of characteristics through descriptions and specific analysis of the characteristics of a concept. The process uses strategic thinking steps by using the acronym COMPARING.

  • Communicate targeted concept
  • Obtain the overall concept
  • Make the list of known characteristics
  • Pin down the Like Characteristics
  • Assemble the Like Categories
  • Record the Unlike characteristics
  • Identify unlike characteristics
  • Nail down a summary
  • Go beyond the basics

Many graphic devices have been created by the KU-CRL; the devices are successful because they assist teachers in planning strategically and assist students of varying abilities and literacy levels to have consistent instruction that supports curricular material in the content areas.

Bulgren, J. A., (2006. “Integrated Content Enhancement Routines:  Responding to the Needs of Adolescents with Disabilities in Rigorous Inclusive Secondary Content Classes.” Teaching Exceptional Children.  38(6), 54-58.
Bulgren, J. A., Lenz, B. K., Schumaker, J. B., Deshler, D. D., & Marquis, J. (2002).  The use and effectiveness of a comparison routine in diverse secondary content classrooms. Journal of Educational Psychology, 94(2), 356-371.
Lenz, K. B., Alley, G. R., & Schumaker, J. B., (1987).  Activating the inactive learner:  Advance organizers in the secondary classroom.  Learning Disability Quarterly, 10(1), 53-67.
Lenz, K. B., Ehren, B. J., & Deshler, D. D., (2005).The content Literacy continuum:  A school reform framework for improving adolescent literacy for all students. Teaching Exceptional Children, 37(6), 60-63.

I hope you’ve found this article helpful. If you have a question or suggestion, don’t hesitate to e-mail me.

See also Sharon's article Adolescents and Learning.

 

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