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Project 5: Literacy Skills & Reciprocal Teaching

Reciprocal teaching (RT) is an instructional procedure designed to teach students the use of cognitive strategies that might lead to improved reading comprehension.

Some cognitive strategies include:

  • summarization (stating the important ideas in a sentence or two)
  • question generation (focusing on the important details)
  • clarification (taking steps to restore meaning)
  • prediction (finding clues about what will happen next)

Cognitive Strategy

The teaching and learning of these strategies happen in the classroom via dialogue between teacher (or "learned other" in the words of Vygotsky) and students as they try to gain meaning from text (see Wakefield, pp. 426-430).


The Problem

The Project

Modeling the Process: Searching | Solving | Creating | Sharing


The Problem

Select a passage from a text that you do not feel completely comfortable with in terms of understanding its content. Do not be concerned with reading level as much as the content of the passage. Preferably, pick a topic in which 3-4 members of your reciprocal teaching group each have a partial understanding but none exhibit mastery.

Cooperative Learning

An example that works particularly well is a passage concerned with the reasons for seasonal change. You may pick a passage from any textbook and try this problem first using a diagram that may depict the relationship of the sun to the earth for the previous example of seasonal change and later without a diagram (as a mini-experiment). In this way, you may begin to evaluate the added value of diagrams to support text comprehension. Other examples may include the reading of a research report by a professor within your department or on a topic specifically about teaching reading skills to the target age of your students.

However, for this problem to really work in class, you need to find a passage that is authentic to you and your group. The more authentic the reading material is, the better you will be able to appreciate the strength of RT and come to understand the initial frustrations your own students may have as they begin this instructional intervention.


The Project

Use a camcorder to videotape the first three sessions of RT with your peer group. Good audio is especially important for this project, so consult the technology resource specialist at your own institution. Keep each session between 20 to 25 minutes. Review the previous session with your group before moving on to the next session (this is an example of incorporating reflection into your own learning process).

At some later point in the semester, review the three sessions and prepare a report on any developmental differences you observed in the way the group developed expertise in being able to RT an article.


The Theory in Practice

According to research [Palincsar & Brown, 1984; Wakefield, pp. 427-429) there are at least five excellent instructional ideas imbedded in reciprocal teaching. These are:

  1. focusing on helping students foster comprehension strategies instead of simply asking them comprehension questions
  2. attempting to narrow down to four specific strategies (mentioned above) rather than a multitude of reading skills that have appeared in workbooks
  3. learning while doing: practicing the procedures while actually reading new text
  4. bringing to the attention of educators the need to scaffold or support students as they develop reading strategies
  5. bringing to the attention of educators the idea of students providing support for each other within reading groups (distributed expertise)

These ideas have all been in existence before, but reciprocal teaching packages present them in a way that has gained educational acceptance. In a recent article on RT, researchers concluded that reciprocal teaching is an excellent example of cognitive strategy instruction and, based on favorable results from classroom-based research sites, recommend that such instruction become part of ongoing practice.


Modeling the Process: Searching | Solving | Creating | Sharing



During this project, searching will consist of accumulating data that you and your group will analyze and reflect upon at a later time. Also keep in mind that the "searching" process during this project will include the reading material, the set up of the groups (no more than four members), and any review of the existing literature that either you or your professor may think appropriate for inclusion into this activity.


As your research develops with this project, you will be solving the actual problems that will arise in your own classroom as you attempt to implement this new type of reading strategy. This is a very ill-structured task and will require a great deal of flexibility on your part as you begin the process of problem solving on the fly. Preparation is vital but you will also find that the process of negotiation in RT needs to be "fine-tuned" to accommodate each unique group. Having a set of guiding principles, however, is essential.



Your analysis of the three sessions will be an extremely interesting activity as you investigate the evolving group dynamics and see how RT developed. The creation of a Teacher Manual to help new teachers will be of extreme benefit. You may wish to add personal reflections, funny moments, and some theoretical underpinnings. Here is an opportunity for you to create a manual for your own peers or for experienced teachers who may wish to try RT in their own classrooms.

You may even want to create an instructional video if you have the time and technical resources at your institution.


A wonderful activity to share your efforts is to attempt to do RT with age-appropriate students in a real middle school classroom. The sharing of your research and practical understanding of RT should help you make a great transition from the theory you learn at your college to the "real-world" application of this reading intervention.


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