October 2002 • Volume 6 • Number 2 • Pages 10-14
Tutors in Print Form
Using Study Guides to Develop Multiple Literacies
Karen D. Wood
Promoting content area literacy used to mean helping students understand their social studies, literature, science, and mathematics textbooks. While this focus is still important, content area literacy is being redefined today to include several other kinds of literacy that help students determine which of the many sources of information available to them is relevant to their studies, how they can interpret the content, and how they can work with others to better understand and utilize the content.
Students in today's classrooms must know how to locate, interpret, and synthesize information from a number of sources such as the Internet, e-mail interviews, public television broadcasts, trade books, Web sites, journals, and encyclopedias. This ability has come to be known as "information" or "multiple source" literacy.
Another dimension of content area literacy is "critical literacy," which helps students discern and critically analyze the voices and agendas behind the text.
And, we continue to see increased interest in the concept of "social or collaborative literacy" that emphasizes the many benefits of allowing students to "put their heads together" and talk about what they have learned.
Tutors in Print
Despite this focus on the many different kinds of literacies, the textbook is still the predominant source of information across the disciplines. The dilemma for classroom teachers is how to help students gain what they need to know from the textbook while simultaneously referring them to other sources of information to enhance that knowledge.
Teacher-developed study guides can be the answer. They help students develop multiple literacies while using and expanding on the course textbook. Study or reading guides are, in essence, questions or activities teachers develop to guide students as they read the textbook and other printed material related to the course.
Using a study guide is different from having students read a text selection and then answer the "end-of-chapter" questions. In the latter case, students do not know what information the teacher considers significant in the text until they get to the end and see what questions he or she asks.
That is why I like to refer to study guides as "tutors in print form": they guide students to the most significant information, helping them develop the strategies necessary to become independent readers and thinkers in much the same way a tutor or teacher would do.
Interactive Reading Guide
The Interactive Reading Guide is one of the many guides teachers can use to direct students' reading. Students work collaboratively in pre-assigned, heterogeneous groups and pairs to discuss, predict, develop associations, analyze, and help one another expand their understanding of the content.
Figure 1 offers sample activities and statements from a guide developed for a middle school social studies chapter on People and Lands in Central Europe. Figure 2 is an excerpt designed for a science unit on Energy.
Excerpt from an Interactive Reading Guide for Social Studies
"The Region of Eastern Europe"
1. Look at the map on page 347.
a. Take turns locating each country (see chart at bottom of page) on the map. What are these nations called?
b. Name and locate three mountain ranges.
c. Locate the Danube River. Trace it with your finger.
2. a. Mumble read the introduction on p. 348 and talk to your partner about when and why the ancestors of the Hungarians moved south.
b. With your partner, locate the word "diversity." Write down the three different ways it is used on p. 348. Talk over the ways societies can benefit from diversity.
3. Whisper read the first two paragraphs (page 350) with your partner to find out why ethnic differences remain for: (a) the Jewish people and (b) the Gypsies.
4. Use the Internet to find a map and information about Kosovo and describe a) its location and b) its leader.
5. What is the cause of the conflict in this area? How is it similar to or different from other conflicts in this area about which you have read? What is missing from the textbook's discussion of this topic?
6. Read the online newspaper article about "ethnic cleansing" and discuss with your group members the implications of this practice for the region and the world. What is the author trying to get you to believe?
A special thanks to Sally Cameron, former teacher at Corriher Lipe Middle School in Salisbury-Rowan (NC) Schools, for implementing this guide.
Excerpt from an Interactive Reading Guide for Science
1. With group members, discuss the questions below:
a. What do a flashlight battery, snow on a mountainside, and a match have in common?
b. What do a beam of light, an avalanche, and a fire have in common?
2. Read pages F58-9 and then share with your partner any interesting facts or questions you may have about stored energy or energy in action.
3. Whisper read with your partner the first section under Kinetic and Potential Energy on pages F62-3.
a. Retell the information in your own words with your partner.
b. Compare the pictures of the pole vaulter with the pictures of the avalanche. Discuss the similarities and differences between the two in terms of potential and kinetic energy.
c. Consult the Internet for more information on these two energy types and be ready to contribute your findings to the class.
4. Take turns reading the second section "Forms of Energy" on pages F64-5. Choose one person to be the recorder. This person is to begin a "Tree Map" which your group can use to categorize and list examples of each energy form.
a. Each person in the group is to demonstrate a form of energy by using one of the items at your table (spinning top, bouncing ball, radio, rubber band, cracker, and lamp).
b. The rest of the group is to discuss which form of energy is being illustrated and why you feel as you do.
5. Whisper read the section on Lenses and Light waves on pages F77-8.
a. Retell the information in your own words with your partner.
b. Look through the concave and convex lens. Then, choose an object and draw a picture of that object as you see it when viewed through each type of lens. Discuss the findings with your partner and with the class.
6. In your groups, write down everything you can think of on the topics listed below on our unit on Energy. Share with the class.
Adapted from a guide implemented by Melissa Kepley, a teacher in the Union County (NC) Public Schools.
Guides like these can direct students to maps, charts, graphs, and textbook aids typically overlooked by students when they are left to read on their own. They can help students understand which information the teacher believes is significant and help them adjust their reading rate in accordance with the importance of the content, skipping over or skimming when appropriate.
While reading guides are not new to the classroom, more contemporary versions can address and expand the
various literacies discussed earlier. Notice how the samples shown in Figures 1 and 2 ask students to refer to the Internet and other sources for additional information not covered in the textbook to develop students' informational literacy.
Similarly, questions or activities such as Numbers 5 and 6 on Figure 1 and Numbers 1 and 4 on Figure 2 require that students engage in higher order thinking processes to read and respond "between and beyond" the lines as a means of developing their critical reading abilities and critical literacy.
Throughout the textbook-based activity, students work in pairs or small groups to combine their individual knowledge and talk about the newly learned content. This not only increases their content knowledge, but develops their social or collaborative literacy.
A Supplemental Source
As with any reading guide, the Interactive Reading Guide is not designed to be the sole means of communicating information in a course. In a 50-minute class, students might spend 20 to 30 minutes over several days working on the activities from the interactive guide. The remaining time may be allotted to other activities related to the topic such as class-wide experiments, outside speakers, teacher lecture/demonstration, hands-on projects, individual research, video or Web site viewing, or field trips.
The teacher may direct the class in a discussion of the content after each segment, activity, or question is completed, varying the time spent on each activity as needed and giving some segments more time than others. The more advanced groups may be allowed to move ahead on certain portions.
It isn't appropriate to develop a study guide for every reading assignment or chapter. The novelty would soon wear off. Study guides should be used when text content may be difficult for students to understand or when the text is most likely to be enhanced by a study guide.
Teachers who use study guides in their classrooms consider them to be invaluable aids to help students attend to significant information in a variety of sources. While study guides take some time to develop, their payoff in terms of student learning is well worth the effort.
Teachers have shared that the guide helps the class understand chapters that are overwhelming to read without some kind of guidance and that students emerge with a much broader knowledge of the subject matter.
The following suggestions for classroom implementation, based on Strategies for Integrating Reading and Writing in the Middle and Secondary Classrooms, published by NMSA, can apply to any type of study guide. Teachers can easily adapt the study guide strategy to take into account students' abilities, the required level of student response, and the objectives of the lesson.
Explain and model. Teachers should thoroughly explain the purpose of the study guide as a means of helping students focus on the most important information. This can be accomplished by walking the students through one or more examples in the beginning of the process and throughout their assignment.
Attention to the "why" helps students gain a better understanding of why guides can help them learn and how they can use these strategies on their own.
Have students skim before beginning. Skimming the guide and the text before beginning to study the content should be an automatic next step. This helps students understand why they are reading the text and enables them to see where they are going before they get there.
Skimming a chapter or segment of text and focusing on the structural elements (headings, subheadings, summary, boldface print, pictures, etc.) is a valuable study skill and one that students can use in all their reading and learning.
Be creative in designing the guide. Students are far more willing to become engaged in the reading activity if the guide is creative and interesting in appearance and content. The accessibility of computer graphics on the Internet makes designing a visually appealing guide easy. Guide questions and activities also should be designed to stimulate students' creative thinking. Teachers should use a variety of kinds of questions and activities, such as those included in the sample activities here.
Incorporate multiple texts and sources. Guides need not be used exclusively with the textbook. They can direct students to many different sources of information to broaden their knowledge and deepen their perspective. They can be developed with directives to visit certain Web sites related to the content, monitor the daily newspaper, or go to the library and research the topic.
Circulate and monitor. By reviewing and monitoring student work, teachers can easily determine whether individual students or groups need additional help.
Include class-wide and group discussion. To be effective, study guides require teacher direction and student involvement. Frequent discussions of students' guide responses are essential to increasing student interest and motivation in learning and to helping them better recall ideas and content.
Encourage strategic reading. Study guides are ultimately designed to make students aware of the range of strategies they need to understand what they read and to help them sort through the abundance of information.
It is essential to explain how these strategies can be used in other contexts, inside and outside the classroom, and how they can be applied when no guide is available.
Avoid assigning grades. Since the purpose of study guides is to help students read and understand subject area material, they should not be graded in the competitive sense, particularly since the finished work is often the result of a group effort. Instead, successful completion of the guide could be included as a part of a test grade.
Using the Interactive Reading Guide and the many other guides available, teachers can help students seek out information beyond what is provided in the textbook and expand their knowledge base. In this way, the textbook serves as a starting point, a base, not as the sole curriculum, and helps students develop their multiple source literacy.
Karen D. Wood is professor of reading and elementary education at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. She is also co-author of Strategies for Integrating Reading and Writing in Middle and Secondary Classrooms, published by NMSA.
Copyright © 2002 by National Middle School Association