Contextual Teaching

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Science  23 Apr 2010:
Vol. 328, Issue 5977, pp. 406
DOI: 10.1126/science.328.5977.406-a

Can integrated approaches to literacy instruction alleviate the disadvantages and poor performance of students in urban schools, and are there differential effects on students not native to the language of the school system? Lesaux et al. have developed a program to improve a foundational element of reading comprehension—vocabulary. The 18-week intervention involved sixth-grade teachers and 500 of their students, roughly three-quarters of whom were not native English speakers, from urban schools. The program differed from traditional instruction in several ways: (i) Rather than memorizing lists of words and definitions, students read passages from texts describing real-world events; (ii) rather than literature-based texts, students read expository, nonfiction text from a news magazine; (iii) academic words (such as evidence and method) that appear across a range of disciplines were emphasized; and (iv) students didn't just read, but also discussed and wrote passages. Multilevel modeling indicated that this regimen improved students' abilities to understand words in multiple forms (for instance, complex versus complexity) and in multiple contexts. Results on a measure of reading comprehension were promising, and this program was comparably effective for native and non-native English speakers. Two challenges must be met if such research is to contribute at scale: Interventions must be efficacious yet also easily implemented and maintained in mainstream classroom settings. Observation, surveys, and interviews revealed that program materials and training empowered teachers to implement the program with good fidelity.

Reading Res. Quart. 45, 196 (2010).

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