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
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
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
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
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
entire faculty at the school
agreed on a common set of research-based practices to infuse across
Connection to Social Responsibility
Many of the techniques in Strategic Teaching and Learning are socially
interactive strategies. These include shared and collaborative instructional
such as: Read Alouds, Literature Circles, Think-Pair-Share, Write-Draw-Discuss,
Jigsaw, Socratic Seminar, Four-Corner Debate, Scored Discussions, and
Peer Vocabulary Teaching. These and other strategies were identified
in the document
because they had received high evaluations on a number of criteria
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
Responsibility Special Interest Group. Rasinski suggested that there
are two basic mandates in American education:
- the academic, involving education of the young in academics, with
literacy central to achievement across the curriculum; and
- the social,
implying the development of prosocial skills and reflecting the ideal
of developing a caring citizenry, concerned not only for
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,
In a study published in 2000, two samples of teachers were surveyed
in California and Ohio as to whether prosocial skills should be integrated
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
In a study of reading motivation among elementary children, Gambrell
presented a model of the engaged reader, in which the following characteristics
• 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
read (Gambrell, 1996).
The Northeast Foundation for Children has developed and promoted
the Responsive Classroom approach. Within this approach social
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,
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.