GARY RANN

Beating the Odds: Teaching Middle and High School Students to Read and Write Well

Judith Langer
American Educational Research Journal
Winter 2001

This study over a 5 year period, investigated the characteristics of instruction that accompany student achievement in  reading, writing, and English. It focused on English language arts programs in schools that have been trying to increase student performance, comparing those whose students perform higher than demographically comparable schools with schools whose scores are more typical.

The study involved:

4 States (FL,NY,CA,TX)

25 Schools

44 Teachers

88 Classes

Included urban and suburban schools

Predominated by poor and diverse student bodies

The research team wanted to understand and identify features of instruction that make a difference in student learning; and, to contrast those schools where test scores are higher with demographically comparable schools in which they are not.

Research question asked: How are the following enacted in school English programs where, when the schools are otherwise comparable, students score higher on high stakes reading and writing tests than where they do not?

Method

       - each teacher and school was studied for 2 years, permitting extensive study of how patterns in curriculum and instruction played themselves out in schools and classes across time.

- researchers worked closely with 1 or 2 teachers at each school (one class each, each year) as well as other teachers and administrators with whom they were engaged in the planning  and implementation of instruction.

- 5 students from each class represented the range of class performance, acted as key informants, collecting all of their work and met with researchers to discuss that work, their class activities and what they wee learning.

            - focused as a whole on both prfessional and classroom activities that contribute to the English instruction the students experienced.

            - the professional lives of teachers were reported in 2000 by Langer.

                 - this report focuses on analyses of instructional activities.



Types of Schools

Florida- MiamiDade County area representing a very diverse student population, has long been involved in cutting-edge efforts to improve education in English.

New York- a large geographic area, populations ranging from rural to suburban and middle class to poor, districts in NYC and the Hudson Valley region that have earned reputations for student-centered and response-based English education.

California- included Los Angeles area schools, a very diverse population which has long been an influencing factor for educational innovation in English and language arts designed to benefit all students.

Texas- schools in a large urban city district, both state and district have been involved in major efforts to improve student performance in literacy achievement including an end to social promotion and a stringent school accountability program to monitor achievement.

Teachers within Schools

-study examined English teachers  within the context of their teams, departments, and districts.

-researchers recognized 3 distinct, yet broad patterns within the sample of teachers: Beating the Odds Teacher in beating the odds schools, Beating the Odds Teacher in typically performing schools, and Typical Teacher in typically performing school

1-Beating the odds teachers within beating the odds schools were NOT unusual within the contexts in which they worked. There school or district encouraged all teachers not just these in the study, to achieve comparable professional goals.

2-Beating the odds teachers in more typical schools did not work in contexts that provided students and teachers with consistent and strong curriculum and instructional approaches and development. There was no consistent support that sustained student achievement beyond their individual classrooms.

3-Typical teachers in typical schools were found in departments and schools that did not support their individual growth and lacked collective consensus about the most effective approaches to educating their particular student body.

NONE OF THE SCHOOLS WERE DYSFUNCTIONAL. NONE OF THE TEACHERS WERE CONSIDERED TO BE OTHER THAN GOOD. 14 OF THE 25 SCHOOLS WERE PERFORMING BETTER THAN SCHOOLS SERVING DEMOGRAPHICALLY SIMILAR POPULATION, BASED ON HIGH STAKES TESTS.

                                                                     Results

*All higher performing schools were marked by active and engaged students and teachers in academically rich classrooms.

*Higher performing schools were marked by the professionalism, knowledge, and dedication of the teachers and by collaborative participation of the students in quality, "minds-on" activities.

*Students were well behaved and remarkably on-task almost all of the time.

*Each school managed to create an effective learning environment in which students had opportunities to think with, about and through English, both as a vehicle for getting things done and as an object of study.

*Students in these schools were learning a great deal about high literacy, including the functions and uses of language.

*Students were learning how language works in context and how to use it to advantage for specific purposes.

*Students were learning grammar, spelling, vocabulary, and organizational structure- sometimes in context but also with carefully planned activities that focused directly on the structure and use of language.

*A great deal of writing, reading, and oral language was observed as students explored their understanding, prepared presentations, and polished final products.

STUDENTS WERE BEATING THE ODDS AS EVIDENCED BY HIGHER TEST SCORES THAN IN COMPARABLE SCHOOLS.

Six Noteworthy Features that permeated the environments and provided marked distinctions between higher and more typically performing schools:

1-Approaches to skill instruction

2-Approaches to test preparation

3-Approaches to connecting learnings

4-Approaches to enabling strategies

5-Conceptions of learning

6-Classroom organization

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