Part 2: Review of “A Cognitive Strategies Approach…” by Olson & Land (2007)

Like in the previous article, Fitzgerald (1995) “states that there is ‘virtually no evidence that ESL learners need notably divergent forms of instruction to guide or develop their cognitive reading process’ (p. 184)”. So another words, good teaching for one is good teaching for the other.

Re: The Pathway Project: Land begins this section explaining that this Project taught teachers how to use the cognitive strategies approach to “reinforce the reading/writing connection”. “The vision underlying the project was that if ELLs are treated from the early grades as if they are college-bound, if they receive exemplary curriculum and explicit strategies instruction, and if there are consistent, coherent, and progressively rigorous expectations among the teachers from grades 6 through 12, students will attain the necessary literacy skills to succeed in college, and their college-acceptance rates will be substantially improved.”

Re: Curricular Approaches: Oh, yes, this is where things get real. I love the illustration teachers used to get students to understand the three types of knowledge or thinking tools. As I’m reading what and how a teacher might begin a reading, I realize that this is definitely what I already do, or at least did, in that DRE course. It had been a while since I taught reading at the college, but these “decoding every single word, using prior knowledge, predicting, revising, clarifying, exploring, etc., are all strategies I taught in the DRE course. In looking at Figure 3, I really appreciate these sentence starters! These guide students through a variety of CSs. They only have 3 starters per CS, but I think that is plenty. It is not so much about language, but application. As long as the starter gets the student started, you’re covered! The next step is introducing metacognitive reflections, which are so critical to getting at the heart of CS. “As Paris et al. (1983) note, ‘Thinking about one’s thinking is the core of strategic behavior’ (p. 295).” An example of this involved the teacher thinking out loud as she did something and the students writing down what she said.

The next part, “Scaffolding Strategy Instruction”, sounds more complicated than it actually is (as most things are), and seems to simply be the novice, encountering difficult texts, learning new skills with the help of an expert. The example activity here is brilliant, though. Because students had trouble finding the symbolism and interpreting the meaning of objects, the teacher brought items from home that represent very specific aspects of her, and then asked the Ss to speculate what aspects she thought these things represented about her. She had the kids do the same. After this activity succeeded, they went back to a text, but even then, she continued to scaffold by moving from very concrete texts to abstract texts.

Re: Color-coding in Analytical Essays: I’m an auditory-visual learner, so I love using color-coding to teach. I actually did this recently for a class I asked my supervisor to observe. My lesson was on the coherence within a paragraph. I color-coded various themes or ideas in the paragraph, to first demonstrate how many there were, and to hopefully show how disorganized and unfocused it was. Then I rearranged those ideas in the paragraph so that they were more, well, coherent. Then I did it again, omitting some things, and made it even more thematically manageable. Anyway, let’s see how these teachers used color-coding… Okay, so they color-coded “three different types of assertions that make up an analytical essay” in the hopes of encouraging students to see that Commentary with Supporting Details is more effective than Summary. Students annotated a strong and weak paper so that this difference was clear. “They could visually see how the writer skillfully builds to an insightful and powerful conclusion.” This is a great idea, and one I may implement in this current composition course. Actually, I will attempt to do this during their group writing essays. Perhaps I’ll teach this technique, and then after groups write their essays, have other groups color-code the various parts of the essay.

Re: Results: The results are impressive. Quantitatively… The “Pathway students averaged over 32% greater success in gain scores on writing assessments over seven years. In the best year, Pathway students had an 86% greater success rate than control group students….the control group students’ average post-test score was 5.51, as compared with the treatment students’ average post-test score of 6.7…Regarding the variables of GPA, absences, SAT-9 Reading and Total Language scores, and fluency (word gain), in 2000-2001, the most recent year for which we have a complete data set, Pathway students out-performed control group students on all variables. The difference favoring Pathway was statistically significant…” Qualitatively… Students “recognized and appreciated that they were being exposed to a rigorous curriculum by trained teachers and were being held to high expectations…recognized their growing command of the specific strategies they were introduced to” and this growth “buil[t] their confidence, spark[ing] their ambition to succeed”. Overall, it was the students’ own growth mindset, their beliefs that they could do it, that enabled them to actually grow and do it.

As for the teachers, although many were skeptical at first, after they began to see the improvements, they fully backed the program, and now see the value in a CS approach to teaching. As a teacher, and a semi-decent human being, I would probably also feel like I’ve been short-changing the control group. Just think… Those untested students COULD HAVE had their confidence increased, competence increased, scores increased, prospects increased! I wonder if I could willfully withhold preventative or curative medicine from vulnerable kids like that. Of course, I understand the scientific method and how it had to be done this way to know, without a doubt, that the CS approach is as good as we need it to be.

To conclude this review, I would suggest that good teachers — teachers who are invested, curious, observant, visionary, reflective — probably already use effective CS approaches, whether or not they call it CS or remember or recognize it from their studies to become teachers. I echo Olson and Land in their appreciation of “the teachers-teaching-teachers model” that fosters teachers’ growth and success. Even though I am an adjunct, I think CPCC could invest more in this type of inter-departmental PD. This will likely never happen, but I hope my department at CPCC does more inter-departmental PD and sharing of responsibilities (burdens). With funding, of course. 😀