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Facilitating Participation and Relevancy in a Content Literacy Course—Donita Massengill Shaw (2006)

Overview

The instructor of a content literacy course restructures it to increase student participation and to help students buy into the importance of promoting literacy in their own classrooms as health/physical and music educators.

Background

Two issues, class participation and content relevancy, concerned me regarding Teaching and Leadership (T&L) 598, a one-credit course that met 50 minutes a week. The 35 students in T&L 598 were junior who were pursuing a teaching license in health/physical education or music education.

I saw little student involvement, and I also did not see evidence that the students bought into the relevancy of this course to their future teaching. The class was predominately lecture based with little interaction from students. They would come to class and leave without much discussion or involvement. Some students never took notes, and some did not respond to teacher-generated questions. Despite my attempts to stress the importance of this class for their future career, students commented that the material presented was not relevant and they felt the class was not worth their time.

I also wanted to address application of learning in order to assess class learning. In prior semesters, the course had two assignments. The students read an article that connected to their field and wrote a short paper about it by mid-March. The final team project, due at the end of the semester, was intended to help them bring information together and see the connection between their subject matter and literacy. Although the course was structured with attendance points, I thought the students had less than desirable class participation and infrequent feedback. Thus, I wanted to strengthen the accountability created through these assignments.

Implementation

I decided to evaluate the course content for relevancy and merge content, and when I looked at this, I specifically developed literacy materials for three class periods instead of five class periods. Next, I rearranged the course content. For example, students had to find and summarize their content literacy article early in the semester--by week three. The goal was to promote greater buy-in and relevancy for the students when they saw articles about physical education or music teachers who integrate literacy.

I presented the course information through lecture and then allowed processing and application time in small groups during each class period. The student involvement, I hypothesized, would do three things:

  1. Provide me with information about their understanding and application of information.
  2. Promote higher order thinking skills.
  3. Allow the students to become active participants rather than passive recipients of information.

Finally, I added a course exam to the requirements. I believed this would help the students take the information presented in class more seriously and serve as a measure of student knowledge.

Student Work

I had two intellectual goals for this course: first, to help students store new information in their schemas and second, to help them use higher-level thinking skills when interpreting that information. While our class specifically talked about application, I attempted to encourage the students to think critically about different activities. I collected evidence for these goals through informal responses. It appeared that students left class every day having learned something new. It also appeared that students thought critically when asked an essential question that required a verbal response.

I kept a weekly monitor on the small-group assignments that students worked on. At mid semester, the students seemed to understand the relevance of the class, the state of illiteracy in America, and their responsibility to understanding the development of literacy as it related to course material we had covered. One assignment, the article response paper, indicated to me that 90% or more of students were able to see how a fellow content area teacher incorporated literacy into his or her physical education or music classroom.

Reflections

I changed the course a fair bit this year. Previously, students responded once a month to course content of their choice. I was disappointed in that method of accountability, so i added a question for each class period. This end-of-class activity was better than the once-a-month responses, and I believe the student work was improved over previous semesters.

The response article assignment was actually better this year because I made the requirements more specific and required multiple skills, such as summarization and application. Also, I created examples to use as models.

Throughout the semester I worked to make the class fit student needs, and I created a short, mid semester response from the students regarding the efficacy of the class. I asked four short questions: the things they liked about the class, the things that they would like to see changed, a general rating of their learning, and additional comments. Their reflections were helpful, even though they sometimes wrote about aspects of the course I had no control over: the building we held our classes in or the amount of time for each class period. At the end of the semester, I combined those comments with a final reflection paper to get an idea of the overall impact of the course.


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Background

Course background
The class consisted of junior students who were pursuing a teaching license in health/physical education or music education. They had expertise in their content area but minimal exposure to the development of literacy and literacy activities and teaching strategies. T&L 598 (pdf) parallels a content literacy three-credit course for all other secondary education majors.

I wanted students to buy into this class. I wanted to see that they were engaged and active learners not only in class but that they also had a vested interest in the value of the course—that is, they didn’t see it as just a waste of time. Last year I struggled with several points: students were not engaged, for they sat in class without taking notes or participating; they were not active in their pursuit of knowledge; and they did not seem to think the class had value for their long-term careers. All these behaviors suggested to me a lack of engagement, or buy-in.

Project goals

  • Help the preservice teachers learn about the state of literacy in America and their responsibility as educators.
  • Understand how students develop in their literacy knowledge. The preservice teachers would be certified K–12, and it was important for them to understand stages of development and key characteristics of each stage.
  • Provide preservice teachers with literacy activities and teaching strategies that promote literacy that they can use in their future classrooms.

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Professor shaw lecturing in classImplementation

To reach my goals for the course, I developed one main method and one supplementary method. I felt like I went out on a limb by not using a textbook, a decision that concerned me. Since there was no reading material and class met once a week for 50 minutes, I spent a majority of the class time presenting the course content, mixed with questions and answers and some minimal discussion. I also attempted to leave the last ten minutes of class time for small group work to write a relevant question related to the day’s content that applied the information to their future classrooms. It was important to include lecture, because I believe it facilitates learning new information such as the state of literacy in America, stages of development, and relevant teaching activities. I attempted to draw on the students’ prior knowledge and bridge information to their future careers.

Students had two outside class assignments. The reading connection assignment required them to find an article related to their content area (health and physical education or music) and literacy. They summarized the article and spoke to its application. The integrated unit activity was a final group project in which they took the course information and planned a future teaching unit incorporating those ideas.

I chose these two activities for several reasons. First, I knew that the previous instructor used them, and I thought they were meaningful activities. The article response was required early in the semester and the final project was the culminating activity. In both assignments, I sought to have students understand the importance of literacy and how to apply the teaching of literacy in their classrooms. In addition, both assignments were assessed by specific rubrics: reading connection rubric (pdf) and integrated unit rubric (pdf).

Prompts for daily work in class
One way that I tried to engage students with the course materials was by making them write a daily response. I did this through a one-page group report. These were graded, but the amount of points for each class was small, at two points per class. However, it added up to 30 points out of 100 total overall points for the semester, so it was important that they worked carefully on these short reports. I did not give them a written response on these papers.

The daily reports asked the students to describe or list something that we had done orally in class that day. In their responses, I looked for evidence that they were tuned in to the information we were studying: were they making it relevant to their teaching area and were they grasping the ideas? I found evidence of this in specific details and in links that envisioned how they would apply the material to their teaching. Students lost points when they demonstrated less internalization of the information or were vague. Students also could get participation points for group work at the end of the semester, another way I hoped to make them attentive to the class proceedings.

Listed below are the prompts used for the course:

Day 1: In small groups (at least one PE, one music) write down what you know about literacy and what you would like to learn about literacy.

Day 2: In small groups discuss and answer in writing the following question: “What responsibility do you have as an educator?”

Day 3: Share your articles, then collectively list three concepts you can remember (they should go across content area).

  • You are given an elementary classroom–what ideas can you use?
  • You are given a junior/senior high classroom– what ideas can you use?
  • Find national/state/district standards that address the concepts in your reading connection and list these.

Day 4: Guest teacher to complete individual reflection sheet.

Day 5: You are working with a group of kindergarten and first grade students. In your subject area, identify a literacy concept that the K/1 students should learn. After writing down the concept, specifically list 3 ways you can incorporate this concept with literacy.

Day 6: If you are PE major, answer the following: You are teaching a game. Rather than orally telling the students how to play the game, the students are required to read the directions. Some students are having a difficult time with the physical education words (e.g. apparatus). What can you do?

If you are music major, answer the following: You are teaching a song to grades 3–6. Some students are transitional readers. Your goal is to help them with fluency. What can you do?

Day 7: In review, design a poster showing characteristics of each stage of development (some graphic/drawing should be included) and then a brief summary of or key words for each stage (emergent, beginning, transitional, intermediate, advanced). (See sample).

Day 8: Complete a readability test on a picture book of your choice. Turn this independent assignment in for participation points. (See sample).

Day 9: In small groups in which you are matched with people who have similar career aspirations (e.g. middle school band, secondary health, etc.) write down your intended grade and content focus. Then list two ways you can teach fluency in this classroom. (See sample).

Day 10: In small groups in which you are matched with people who have similar career aspirations (e.g. middle school band, secondary health, etc.) write down your intended grade and content focus. Then list two ways you can teach vocabulary in this classroom. (See sample).

Day 11: In small groups in which you are matched with people who have similar career aspirations (e.g. middle school band, secondary health, etc.) write down your intended grade and content focus. Then list two ways you can teach comprehension in this classroom. (See sample).

Day 12: In small groups share your completed list-group-label and discuss learning collectively. (Points collected during in-class work and sharing time. Nothing will be turned in today).

Day 13-15: Students prepared for final project (turned in one slip per group listing members and instructional focus) and then took their exam. Also, presentations counted for participation points for the last two days of class.

Course activities

  1. Engagement and thinking application. After each lecture, the remainder of the class was devoted to students processing the information and applying it to their future careers. I provided small groups with a question or vignette they needed to discuss and answer. Students were evaluated on their participation and their group answer, which was worth two points each week. This activity addressed relevancy, participation, and application.
  2. Article. Students were graded on their ability to summarize and apply the information. Then they presented the information in class, a project worth 20 points. The rubric clearly displayed expectations. This activity addressed relevancy, participation through presentation and application.
  3. Team project. Students were graded on their ability to apply the course content to a unit of study that integrated literacy instruction with their content area. This was delineated on the rubric and was worth 35 points. This activity addressed relevancy, participation through presentation and applied learning.
  4. Final exam. Students were given a 15-point, multiple-choice cumulative exam that covered important concepts presented during the lecture. This addressed relevancy.

Course materials
I provided the course materials.  I summarized a wealth of information into a one-credit introductory course, and I presented this through overheads created on PowerPoint. I encouraged students to take notes on the material presented. Also, I incorporated some of the literacy activities into my lectures, such as anticipation guides, knowledge rating scales and other possible teaching activities that they may someday use. On one day I also brought in 50-70 picture books related to their content area, and we reviewed the books, looked at them from stages of development, discussed the appropriateness and use of them in the classroom, and learned about readability levels. All of these materials worked together to support students’ learning.

Ideally, we would have had a textbook, and I could have promoted more small-group discussion and fewer lectures. However, without such a text for these two special content areas, I brought in appropriate materials that I adapted for them. I was cognizant of various learners (kinesthetic, auditory and visual) so I included visual and auditory materials for every class period. I also attempted to include more small group work and individual kinesthetic activities (anticipation guide, vocabulary knowledge scale) to assist students who learn best by being involved. With the lectures (basic information) aligned with in-class activities and assignments, I expected students’ knowledge to increase and their ability to understand how to apply literacy teaching to their future classrooms. Further, I expected these methods to be effective because they have been used with many student populations before and tend to be applicable methods for college-level learners.

There appeared to be some prior student knowledge, either through their learning experiences or through other university classes. For example, before speaking about phonemic awareness, I asked students to rate their knowledge of the term “know well/have heard/don’t know,” and many students had heard the term and had a vague understanding of its meaning. In this way, I attempted to draw upon their schemas and prior schooling experiences (elementary/high school). At other times, I asked questions so that I could understand the connection between their other education courses and this literacy course.

I asked the students to bring in materials they would use in their future classrooms. Then we determined appropriate activities for grade and ability level based on music content or health and physical education content. Even though the course’s emphasis was literacy, literacy is everywhere and in turn promotes the students’ learning in their academic departments. Further, this method and student materials go beyond graduation into the real world of teaching elementary and high school students.


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Student Work

In-class work
For the small group end-of-class-questions, we were sometimes short of time. A few students (especially physical education students) did not always understand the day’s material and needed an additional way to study it. I provided feedback on these daily assignments, so the students realized I valued their input and that they could learn from their peers.

Article analysis
In order to help students stay attuned to our course work, I talked about assignments for at least two weeks ahead of time, plus I went over related rubrics in detail. Further, I provided the students with examples that matched each rubric so they had a solid understanding of the assignment. On the first assignment, most students (28 out of 35) scored 18 to 20 points out of a possible 20. Some students (seven out of 35) did not score this high, and it was because they did not find an appropriate article or follow the rubric.

Final exam
On the final exam, 14 questions were multiple choice. Here is the breakdown of the total scores:

  • 15/15 = 3
  • 14/15 = 2
  • 13/15 = 8
  • 12/15 = 10
  • 11/15 = 6
  • 10/15 = 2
  • 7/15 = 1

These scores indicate to me that the test was fair, although the top two levels (15 and 14) contained fewer students than I anticipated. But it was my first time giving the test, and some students did not take notes in class. At this point in time, I do not think I have sufficient reason to change much.

Examples of student work on reading connection

Reading connection #1 (pdf)
A thorough presentation by a physical education student.

Reading connection #2 (pdf)

A good presentation by a music education student; one required element was missing.

Reading connection #3 (pdf)
Very good paper by a music education student.

Background information on final projects
On the first day of class, I gave the students a packet that contained everything we would do throughout the semester. I think that it can be helpful to look at all the different class requirements in order to get an idea of what will need to be done when. Included in that packet were the rubrics for grading, so students also knew what I would be looking for when it was time to assess their work.

I think this early information was helpful when the students began working on their final projects. They didn’t have many questions for me, and I interpreted this to mean that the information had been helpful. In fact, only one group contacted me with questions. Also, I thought the work that they did on the projects was very good overall, another indication that they had a solid idea of the work that they needed to do. When a group received a lower score, it was almost always because they left something out. I wonder if those missing sections were because they hurried through the final draft, as we had discussed all the necessary sections in class.

Our in-class preparation for the final project included going over the rubric in detail along with discussing examples from previous classes; I did this three weeks before the projects were due, at the same time that we discussed the project in class. As we went over each section of the rubric, I showed an example of that section on the overhead projector, but I did not give them copies to take home. I didn’t want them to think that there was only one way to address this part of the project, hence I didn’t go over one project in its entirety nor did I use only one particular format. By using different segments from different projects, the students had many ways of thinking about successful projects. After we looked at the rubric and samples, the students spent 20 minutes with their final project group, and they went over one project sample in its entirety that again was one that they could not take home.

The student chose to meet during finals week and do all the presentations on one day. I think this was because of many demands on time that come up at the end of a semester. I did not write many comments on the final projects, mainly because these were turned in over finals, meaning that the students wouldn’t do any additional revisions.

Final projects and comments

Final project #1 (pdf)
An example of a physical education project. This group turned in an excellent project and received full points for it.

Final project #2 (pdf)
This group left out one section that was part of the rubric. It was the only place where they lost points.

Final project #3 (pdf)
This was an excellent project that included all the required sections.

Final project #4 (pdf)
An example of a music project. Again, this was an excellent project; however, this group left out the section of different areas of literacy, something we had discussed in length during class.

Analysis of final exam
I tallied how many missed each question:

  • 1 = 17
  • 2 = 6
  • 3 = 8
  • 4 = 17
  • 5 = 1
  • 6 = 0
  • 7 = 8
  • 8 = 8
  • 9 = 11
  • 10 = 0
  • 11 = 4
  • 12 = 0
  • 13 = 7
  • 14 = 3

This tells me that questions 5, 6, 10 and 12 were quite easy. Question 6 was about genres of writing (our very last lesson before the test), question 10 asked them about comprehension strategies (which was a recent focus that we looked at multiple times), and question 12 was on intermediate/advanced readers. Question 5 was about the literacy framework, a key question also related to how I structured the class.

The hardest questions were 1 and 4. Question 1 was about alphabet knowledge, and many students confused this with letter-sound knowledge. I may need to discuss this more next year. Question 4 considered silent reading as a benchmark. I remember reviewing this topic multiple class periods until the students looked at me like they were tired of the repetition (and some mentioned it on their informal mid-term feedback). So, I was surprised that many missed it.


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Reflections

I believed that the goal of students buying into the class would show up through participation and student work. I planned to monitor the course effectiveness by the subjective means of looking at these two items, and added to that, the objective interpretation of their mid semester comments (pdf). To measure the larger picture, I put these comments together with their end of the semester comments. The final comments required students to write a short response on how they would apply the materials we covered to their teaching situations. For some students who were not clear on what they would teach, this provided a chance to clarify the direction they would take.

Having students’ comment on the class allowed them to see that I respected their opinions, plus it gave me general insights about the class progression. More specifically, I was looking to see if the learning had value for the students and if they were finding it applicable. I also checked for patterns in the responses, but because sometimes one student’s answer would contradict another’s answer, I had doubts about drawing general conclusions. For instance, two to three students said the pacing of the class was too slow, while a different student said the pacing was too fast, and yet another labeled the pacing “great.” What their comments on this area did do was lead me to consider the pacing over the latter weeks of the semester, and while thinking about it, I anticipated what they would say about it on the end of the semester comments.

Overall, I was pleased with the final test and don’t plan to change much at this point in time unless an outsider has some suggestions, which I am open to hearing! I did type up the student responses for the final question, number 15, which asked them to detail the most important thing they learned. I have not tallied these answers, but the dominant themes were the stages of development, instructional ideas they can use, and the idea that literacy is easy to incorporate into their classrooms. Their answers were at the heart of the class and thus reflect their learning and my attempts to teach these concepts.

Reflections about class

  • Day 1: In small groups (at least one PE, one music) write down what you know about literacy and what you would like to learn about literacy.

    I should have been jotting down reflections after each class period instead of May. This is hard work to think back to January 25. I remember getting a good feel from this class about their interest and attitude about a literacy course. They seemed to react positively to the course load/expectations. I remember making everything as clear as possible but I don’t recall much about the KWL unfortunately. My vague recollections are that they were quite limited, obviously, because of lack of prior knowledge and schema.

  • Day 2: In small groups discuss and answer in writing the following question: “What responsibility do you have as an educator?”

    I remember the students’ eyes were opened when we talked about illiteracy. This was a new concept to them. They took their responsibility seriously, although only a few groups mentioned teaching literacy. I may want to reword the question.

  • Day 3: Share your articles, then collectively list three concepts you can remember (they should go across content area).
    • You are given an elementary classroom–what ideas can you use?
    • You are given a junior/senior high classroom– what ideas can you use?
    • Find national/state/district standards that address the concepts in your reading connection and list these.

    I matched the students with two music majors and one pe so that no one had the same article. This definitely seemed to help this year with the depth of sharing, instead of just saying “I had that article.” I asked them to prepare for the presentation and this varied a bit so I will need to explain that better or provide more examples. I also remember the standards varied greatly. Some how the real thing as I anticipated and some had a one-page generic sheet with vague info. Next time I should show a sample ahead of time. However, we had enough copies to share so they did seem to start to see the connection between standards and their content area.

  • Day 4: Guest teacher to complete individual reflection sheet.

    The students really benefit from hearing Sandra Walker speak. She brings lots of ideas and makes literacy come alive, even for the PE students. The music students are able to make connections too. Their personal feedback was very solid and meaningful.

  • Day 5: You are working with a group of kindergarten and first grade students. In your subject area, identify a literacy concept that the K/1 students should learn. After writing down the concept, specifically list 3 ways you can incorporate this concept with literacy.

    This was fairly easy if I recall correctly. Most put things such as the alphabet and then alphabet song or run from letter-to-letter in the gym as a game. When I gave them the knowledge rating scale, I walked around and was surprised how many of them had heard some of the terms and knew some of them. There was some variety and we discussed all the terms during the lecture but I have to admit their knowledge was more advanced than I had expected. They really liked the video clip of concept of word because it makes the term so much more meaningful to see it in practice at a developmental stage.

  • Day 6: If you are PE major, answer the following: You are teaching a game. Rather than orally telling the students how to play the game, the students are required to read the directions. Some students are having a difficult time with the physical education words (e.g. apparatus). What can you do?

    If you are music major, answer the following: You are teaching a song to grades 3–6. Some students are transitional readers. Your goal is to help them with fluency. What can you do?

    I wish I remembered how this went. I had not shared with them many ways to “teach” literacy yet but I wanted them to start relying on their prior experiences and the info they learn in other classes. So I probably felt it was adequate (for where we were in the class) but not deep. Earlier in class I gave them an anticipation guide and they responded positively to it as a learning tool. This was a worthwhile investment of my preparation time.

  • Day 7: In review, design a poster showing characteristics of each stage of development (some graphic/drawing should be included) and then a brief summary of or key words for each stage (emergent, beginning, transitional, intermediate, advanced). (See sample).

    I showed them an example of how to make this poster but one group still had a hard time understanding. I had them write terms rather than draw so that may be an avenue for next year. Also, I will show them another sample or two. Most of them quickly wrote down the terms as they remembered them. It did not take too long or seem too difficult. Earlier in class I had them write down their view of themselves as an intermediate/advanced reader, writer and speller. I also had them quickwrite on their memories of literacy in music/PE in junior/senior high. I would definitely do these activities again. I also had them complete possible sentences. Again, this was easy for some and harder for others. Again, many had heard the terms before which was to their benefit.

  • Day 8: Complete a readability test on a picture book of your choice. Turn this independent assignment in for participation points. (See sample).

    This class period flew by. I brought 50-70 books for them to peruse. Then we read through the value of picture books even in secondary schools. Students participated in the reading and the point seemed to be taken well. I then taught them how to do readability tests and why they are used. Finally they had to score a book by one of the two readability assessments. Most only had time to get through one section of the book rather than the desired three. Some questioned the value of readability, which was good. I always like to teach this class and bring books to them that they may not consider before.

  • Day 9: In small groups in which you are matched with people who have similar career aspirations (e.g. middle school band, secondary health, etc.) write down your intended grade and content focus. Then list two ways you can teach fluency in this classroom. (See sample).
  • Day 10: In small groups in which you are matched with people who have similar career aspirations (e.g. middle school band, secondary health, etc.) write down your intended grade and content focus. Then list two ways you can teach vocabulary in this classroom. (See sample).
  • Day 11: In small groups in which you are matched with people who have similar career aspirations (e.g. middle school band, secondary health, etc.) write down your intended grade and content focus. Then list two ways you can teach comprehension in this classroom. (See sample).
  • Day 12: In small groups share your completed list-group-label and discuss learning collectively. (Points collected during in-class work and sharing time. Nothing will be turned in today).
  • Day 13-15: Students prepared for final project (turned in one slip per group listing members and instructional focus) and then took their exam. Also, presentations counted for participation points for the last two days of class.

Final exam reflections
Final exam answers to question #15: As you reflect on the semester, what is the most important thing you learned in this class?

Contact CTE with comments on this portfolio: cte@ku.edu.


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