Researchers Flag Six Elements Of Good Secondary English Instruction

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What's the difference between instruction in a typical middle or high school English classroom and one that produces better-than-average learning?

A group of experts at the National Research Center on English Learning and Achievement think they have the answer. Led by the center's director, Judith A. Langer, the researchers spent two years in 25 middle and high schools in California, Florida, New York, and Texas. The investigators shadowed teachers, pored over student work, and spent four weeks a year in classrooms.

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The schools they visited were chosen because independent educators in the same states had flagged them as places that were improving language arts instruction. The researchers also examined data from each state's testing program to narrow the sample and to verify that the selected schools were producing better English scores than schools with comparable demographics.

"We chose to use states with high-stakes tests," said Ms. Langer, who is also an education professor at the State University of New York at Albany, "because those are the realities of teachers in school now."

In the end, the 25 "beating the odds" schools represented a diverse mix, ranging from urban to suburban, from poor to affluent.

Effective Practices

What they all had in common, the researchers decided, were six important instructional features. In effective English classrooms, the study found:

  • Teachers used several different types of lessons to teach skills and content.
  • Test preparation was integrated into instruction. Rather than spend weeks prior to state tests teaching students to write a persuasive essay, for example, teachers might help students from the start to understand the purpose of writing and to tailor their work accordingly.
  • Teachers made connections across instruction, curriculum, grades, and students' lives outside the classroom.
  • Students learned strategies for thinking about their work as well as doing it. In typical classrooms, in contrast, teachers tend to focus on the right answer rather than the process for coming up with it.
  • Teachers required students to take what they had learned and probe deeper to generate new knowledge.
  • Pupils engaged in what the researchers called "cognitive collaboration." In other words, Ms. Langer said, they would "push each other's thinking, challenge one another, or bounce ideas off one another."

The study was part of a five-year, federally funded project by the center, which is based at SUNY-Albany, in which researchers also looked at the conditions that nurture teaching in these more effective ways. The next step, Ms. Langer said, is to try out the six features in new classrooms.

Interesting ideas? Send suggestions for possible Research section stories to
Debra Viadero, Education Week, 6935 Arlington Road, Suite 100, Bethesda, MD 20814;
e-mail: [email protected]

Coverage of research is underwritten in part by a grant from the Spencer Foundation.

Vol. 19, Issue 40, Page 8

Published in Print: June 14, 2000, as Researchers Flag Six Elements Of Good Secondary English Instruction
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