a non-profit organization

Return to 2003 Program Agenda
Return to Program Menu

Programs - 2003

Create a Schoolwide Literacy Program Using Research-based Strategies with a Prosocial Twist

By Beth Breneman, Consultant
California Department of Education

Handbook of Strategies and Schoolwide Literacy Model

The absence of proficient reading and writing skills is a strong predictor of academic failure, which often leads to dropping out of school, unemployment, and involvement with the judicial system (Cornwall & Bawden, 1992). Reading failure in the early grades does virtually guarantee failure in later schooling (Slavin, 1991).

We know that students entering the fourth grade with a weak foundation in reading skills are likely to encounter difficulty as they are expected to do increasing amounts of reading across the curriculum. And, we know that there is what has been termed a “Matthew Effect” as students progress from grade to grade: the rich get richer and the poor get poorer in respect to both literacy proficiency and content knowledge (Stanovich, 1986).

To provide assistance to teachers supporting the needs of struggling readers in all content areas, the California Department of Education published the document, Strategic Teaching and Learning: Standards-Based Instruction to Promote Content Literacy in Grades Four Through Twelve (2000). This document consists of a theoretical discussion and 55 research-based strategies for fostering reading comprehension, vocabulary development, and print skills.

Strategic Teaching and Learning sets forth a schoolwide literacy model, containing the following components:

• Content literacy
• A well-stocked and staffed library-media center
• Standards-based English language arts core
• Appropriate interventions for struggling readers
• Schoolwide literacy initiatives (such as Silent Sustained Reading)
• Real-world uses of literacy in school, service-learning, environmental education, civic settings, community service, and the workplace
• Home/school/community partnerships
• Professional development, coaching, and collegial study groups
• Evaluation of progress in light of data on student performance

A description of ten secondary literacy demonstration sites in
California with schoolwide literacy models including most or all of these dimensions can be found at www.cde.ca.gov/16909. Many of these schools provided a literacy showcase for interested educators in their region. In all schools that were showcased there was evidence of leadership in literacy—via a literacy coach and supportive principal. In most cases a group of teachers or the entire faculty at the school agreed on a common set of research-based practices to infuse across the curriculum.

Connection to Social Responsibility
Many of the techniques in Strategic Teaching and Learning are socially interactive strategies. These include shared and collaborative instructional techniques such as: Read Alouds, Literature Circles, Think-Pair-Share, Write-Draw-Discuss, Fishbowl, Jigsaw, Socratic Seminar, Four-Corner Debate, Scored Discussions, and Peer Vocabulary Teaching. These and other strategies were identified for inclusion in the document because they had received high evaluations on a number of criteria including “helpfulness to students in achieving high standards in reading” by a panel of California educators.

This linkage in the minds of educators between socially engaged instruction and high academic achievement is consistent with the focus of the Literacy and Social Responsibility Special Interest Group. Rasinski suggested that there are two basic mandates in American education:

  1. the academic, involving education of the young in academics, with literacy central to achievement across the curriculum; and
  2. the social, implying the development of prosocial skills and reflecting the ideal of developing a caring citizenry, concerned not only for the well-being of self, but also for the welfare of others.

He went on to argue that literacy and literacy education, being social phenomena, present fertile soil for the fulfillment of both mandates in schools (Rasinski, 1990).

In a study published in 2000, two samples of teachers were surveyed in California and Ohio as to whether prosocial skills should be integrated into language arts instruction. A total of 52 teachers completed the surveys; 46 “Strongly Agreed” and 6 “Agreed” that pro-social behaviors and attitudes can be taught within the school reading/language arts program; 32 “Strongly Agreed” and 15 “Agreed” that pro-social behaviors and attitudes should be taught within the school reading/language arts program.

In a study of reading motivation among elementary children, Gambrell presented a model of the engaged reader, in which the following characteristics were identified:

• Motivated
• Strategic
• Knowledgeable
• Socially interactive

Classroom cultures fostering students’ motivation to read included, among other characteristics, the presence of people who talk about good books and opportunities to interact socially with others on the basis of their reading. Social collaboration promoted achievement, higher level cognition, and an intrinsic desire to read (Gambrell, 1996).

The Northeast Foundation for Children has developed and promoted the Responsive Classroom approach. Within this approach social skills are integrated with academic skills as part of everyday classroom life. In a preliminary study students in a Responsive Classroom school showed greater gains in:

• Improving social skills
• Reducing problem behaviors
• Academic achievement as measured on the ITBS

than in a non-Responsive classroom school. The researcher wrote: “Does an elementary classroom promoting social skill development enable higher academic functioning among its students over time? The magnitude of the question is clear. If yes, then a clear and defensible avenue for educational reform was open. No longer would programs promoting social and emotional learning work on fuzzy feelings and appeals of right and righteousness; rather these programs could point to the hard evidence that social skills enable higher academic functioning and achievement, giving all teachers another way to help all our children become principled, caring, knowledgeable, and productive members of our society”(Elliott, 1998).

It may be possible to employ sets of best literacy practices, enhanced with appropriate prosocial dimensions, in the service of both the social and academic mandates identified by Rasinski. Through such integration it may be possible to get “the ice cream,” social responsibility, and “the cake,” academic learning, and (perhaps even “a richer cake” due to increased student engagement). Future work of the Literacy and Social Responsibility Special Interest Group might be to promote research in which validated instructional literacy strategies are enhanced in ways to optimize social responsiveness and a sense of community among students.

Cornwall, A., and H. Bawden. 1992. “Reading Disabilities and Agression: A Critical Review,” Journal of Learning Disabilities, Vol. 25, 281-88.

Slavin, Robert E. 1991. “Chapter 1: A Vision for the Next Quarter Century,” Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 72, 586-592.

Stanovich, K.E. 1986. “Matthew Effects in Reading Some Consequences of Individual Differences in the Acquisition of Literacy,” Reading Research Quarterly, Vol. 21, 360-407.

Strategic Teaching and Learning: Standards-Based Instruction to Promote Content Literacy in Grades Four Through Twelve. 2000. Sacramento: California Department of Education.

Rasinski, Timothy V. 1990. “Aspects of a Caring Reading Curriculum,” Reading Horizons, Vol. 31, #2, 127-137.

Breneman, Beth; Tim Rasinski; and Eleanor Black. 2000. “Social Responsibility: An Integral Part of the Literacy Curriculum,” The California Reader, Vol. 33, 15-18.

Gambrell, Linda. 1996. “Creating Classroom Cultures That Foster Reading Motivation.” The Reading Teacher, Vol. 50, 14-23.

Elliott, Stephen. (1998) “Does a Classroom Promoting Social Skill Development Enable Higher Academic Functioning Among Its Students Over Time?” “The complete study, Responsive Classroom Approach: Its Effectiveness and Acceptability in Promoting Social and Academic Competence, is available from Northeast Foundation for Children”, 71 Montague City Road, Greenfield, MA 01301.


© The Literacy and Social Responsibility SIG of the International Reading Association (IRA L-SR SIG)
Kaye West, Ph.D., Webmanager
Date Modified: November 28, 2006 - Fee

Members of IRA L-SR SIG are grateful to California State University Long Beach for hosting our website.
IRA L-SR SIG, and not CSULB, is responsible for content.