Diane Oren, San Joaquin Delta College, after becoming motivated by a dissertation proposal concerning multiple intelligences and transference of skills to the academic environment, developed the following specific strategies for integrating reading and writing in the classroom with student-athletes.
In working with student-athletes, Diane Oren became fascinated by specific details that might enhance the learning process for these students. So she did research and reading regarding ergonomic issues and how the physical environment impacts students. Since many student-athletes have larger body frames or muscle mass than average students (tall, large build, large hands, etc.), Diane discovered that the desks used in most college classrooms actually cause student-athletes to sit in ways that hamper lung capacity, thus decreasing oxygen flow to the body. When student-athletes get sleepy in class or do not seem to learn information readily, perhaps it is because they are simply not receiving enough oxygen! Diane compensates by building into her classes lots of two-minute active learning activities. Students stand, work in small groups, go outside, come back inside, etc.
Diane also noticed a similar ergonomic issue with standard-size pencils and pens. It is often difficult for student-athletes to grasp these writing tools, so Diane solves this problem by providing large-size pencils and pens that make the physical process of writing much easier for students.
Another technique that Diane uses to enhance student learning is working with students in small groups. She found this method to be highly effective, so Diane now provides two additional hours of office time so that student-athletes can work together. These small learning communities, like the more structured ones at Cabrillo, also promote success by allowing students the opportunity to create a sense of community. They get to know each other better and thus form a support network. Diane assesses the types of strategies that would be best to use with each student, and then she puts students into groups based upon individual learning needs and what will work best for them and help them to be most successful.
Another strategy that is addressed is the oral-aural connection. Students often try to write in the same way they talk, so to help students learn what is appropriate in writing and what is not, Diane has students come to her office where she asks them to tell her out loud what they want to put into their papers. Then she asks them to type their statements on the keyboard and read what they have written on the computer screen. When students do this, they see that what they have written is not correct, or that it does not read smoothly. It is this process of saying, writing, and seeing that helps to reinforce the learning process. In fact, Diane reiterates that it takes ten exposures to material in order for it to be converted into long-term memory. The activity described here provides at least three of those exposures.
In Appendix 2 of this chapter, we have provided a lotus that Diane uses with students for planning purposes. The lotus actually functions in a dual role. Students use it as a mapping exercise where they write the topic in the center and then branch off the center square with sub-topics in the circles. Diane also uses the lotus as a reading study skills tool. Students write the title of the chapter in the middle and then write chapter subtitles in other areas branching off the center. The lotus actually functions as a mind-map that helps students to visually map out what is happening in a textbook chapter. This way, students can more easily comprehend what the chapter is about and understand how details plug into that chapter. This, too, provides the exposure that was mentioned previously so that it helps students convert information to long-term memory.
Other techniques Diane uses come from Reading Apprenticeship and Shared Inquiry. Reading Apprenticeship provides a system of questioning that Diane teaches students to use. She also teaches them how to make annotations in the text. Students often fear writing in their textbooks because it was taboo early on in their school years, and students also want to sell back their texts at the end of the semester. However, Diane reiterates the importance of gaining meaning from the text through annotation.
The second method of questioning that Diane uses is a technique she learned from “Great Books,” which deals with the concept of Shared Inquiry. With Shared Inquiry, students are taught to wonder about the text without being criticized. They question what they have read and bring out insights to one another in a completely safe environment. This “safe” sharing builds confidence in students and allows them to feel comfortable exploring the text through questioning. It also builds their critical thinking skills and gives them the confidence to share their ideas with one another, which in turn allows ideas to be built upon through the comments of other students in the classroom. Shared Inquiry is a fantastic opportunity for building a variety of important academic skills in students and definitely helps to promote student achievement and success.
Shared Inquiry also leads to student metacognition—students learning about their own learning. Diane builds in lots of writing activities where students learn to write for different audiences and in different settings. They begin to question how they are better writers after completing these activities. This, too, builds their confidence and allows them to expand as learners and to effectively connect their own personal learning with their classmates and with the world around them.
These methods can be assessed through looking closely at student writing and scoring it with a well-developed rubric. Since self-reflection is so crucial, a rubric that specifically addresses this would be a useful way to assess how well students are able to self-reflect. It may be very intriguing to compare self-reflective writing from the beginning of the semester to that produced at the end in order to see what has changed.
Integrated Reading and Writing in a Puente Class
In her Puente integrated reading and writing class that is one-level below freshman composition, Karen Wong, Skyline College, includes three units that particularly appeal to students because the material frequently challenges students’ thinking and/or it applies directly to their own lives.
The first unit deals with prejudice and discrimination. In this unit, Wong uses Vincent Parrillo’s "Causes of Prejudice," Studs Terkel’s "CP Ellis," and Charlie LeDuff’s "At a Slaughterhouse, Some Things Never Die." During the course of the unit, students first explain the key psychological and sociological causes of prejudice and discrimination about which Parillo writes. To do so, students apply reading strategies to foster their understanding, such as previewing the text and tapping into schema, annotating the text, and writing an outline that highlights each major cause.
Students then apply Parrillo’s theories to the two case studies, Terkel’s oral history about a former KKK member and LeDuff’s article about racial tension in a slaughterhouse. They seek to understand the contributing causes to the racism that are portrayed in both accounts. For instance, when students read "At a Slaughterhouse, Some Things Never Die," they come to understand the racial hierarchy that exists among slaughterhouse employees and how this hierarchy reflects the racial tension that exists in the larger world. Students analyze the cause of this tension, drawing from Parrillo’s theories. The entire unit, in fact, not only centers on raising students’ awareness of racial tension but also provides them the opportunity to write an essay in which they demonstrate their ability to analyze and synthesize the information found in all three texts.
Additional information regarding rationale for the unit, student learning outcomes, texts used, reading and writing strategies, as well as a specific writing assignment can be found in Appendix 3.
The second unit incorporates real-life activities for students because it is focused on career. It also offers instructors and counselors an opportunity to collaborate together. Students collaborate directly with counselors and gain experience in researching career opportunities. Working with counselors and staff from the Career Center, students take such assessments as Myers-Briggs and the Student Interest Inventory (SII) in order to determine personality traits best suited for specific careers as well as individual student interests. Because students work directly with counselors and become more familiar with the role of counselors, one potential approach to the writing assignment is for the teacher to pair up the students, with each student taking on the role of the counselor for his/her partner and writing a paper from this perspective.
Often counselors will come into the classroom, or students will meet with a counselor one-on-one. Counselors then help students to focus in on a career choice based on their assessments. Wong explains that the more clear students are about their educational goals, the better their chances for success. Students who do not know what they want to do with their education or who aimlessly take classes are more apt to drop out of school than those who have clear and specific career goals.
Students are also asked to identify one or two potential careers, and then they research those careers. Doing this research actually achieves a two-fold purpose. First, it gives students knowledge about how to research career information. And second, it helps them find a career goal to work toward. After students complete their research, they then write their findings as though they are counselors who are offering advice and information to a student. Working in pairs, they interview one another (see Intake Form) just as a counselor might do, and then their paper centers on how they might advise their partner, just as a counselor might advise a student in career choices.
For more specific information on rationale for the unit, student learning outcomes, research sources, reading and writing strategies, writing assignment, and Intake Form, please see Appendix 3.
The third unit reinforces reading strategies to comprehend a non-fiction text, and ways to prepare for short essay questions that are typical of humanities and social sciences courses. To learn more about the very diverse Latino experience, they read selected chapters from Himicle Novas’ Everything You Need to Know about Latino History. They apply previewing strategies, annotate the text, and come to recognize text patterns. They then use a writing strategy—a matrix—to accurately summarize the text. And they also generate potential test questions from the text, particularly cause-effect and compare-contrast, as a means to prepare for the open-note midterm on the book.
For more specific information on rationale for the unit, student learning outcomes, reading and writing strategies, and matrixes, please see Appendix 3.