Reading Instruction for Diverse Classrooms: Research-Based Culturally Responsive Practice
by McIntyre, Hulan, and Layne
Recently, a classroom teacher told me about a class she had looped up with from second to third grade. She described seeing the gap in literacy achievement between her students of color and other students. She knew what instruction they had received. She understood and applied effective strategies. She didn’t know why she couldn’t bridge the gap or even stop it from widening. She felt that she had exhausted her sources of instructional support. She just didn’t know what else to do.
That conversation left me thinking about Reading Instruction for Diverse Classrooms. I read it years ago because a colleague, Vicky Layne, is one of the co-authors and I have always admired and respected her work. One of my favorite aspects of this book is that it includes all diverse learners, including culturally and linguistically diverse students. I believe that we can’t address the learning gap until we start to see the common themes represented by the students represented there. And this book does that.
Chapter 4 focuses on classroom community and relationships. This is the foundation that culturally responsive instruction, including read and writing, is built on. Specifically, the authors discuss the role of discourse and dialogic instruction. That’s a fancy label for talking to kids using school talk and teaching them to empower themselves to state their ideas and to respond effectively to their peers, teachers, and others. So many of our kids don’t know how to navigate a simple disagreement with a classmate without it spiraling into tears, hurt feelings, or worse. Our kids aren’t given the time or the tools to develop dialogic skills, and sadly, there are few opportunities for them to learn from our modern culture. Addressing this need allows us to build community, relationships, and academic language that feeds reading and writing, yet it is still largely absent from most classrooms. And if you happen to work with English learners, you become acutely aware of the need for oral language models in the classroom and the lack of time set aside for students to interact.
One strategy recommended by the authors is Numbered Heads Together (Kagan, 1994). I witnessed the power of this strategy in a fifth-grade classroom this year. Students who were disengaged suddenly cared a lot about their response to a question posed by the teacher when the element of chance was introduced to the selection of the group speaker. Students who felt they were misrepresented by their speaker had to reconvene to decide how they could improve their listening skills. Others clapped spontaneously when a shy or low language student, given the benefit of oral rehearsal and group cooperation wowed the class with a thoughtful response. That one strategy changed the whole dynamic in the classroom. And Reading Instruction for Diverse Classrooms includes additional strategies for building dialogic skills and classroom discourse, grounding research, and an index where more can be learned.
I highly recommend this book to any instructor teaching students how to read, write, listen, and speak in today's classroom. I say today's classroom because today's classroom is diverse. I hope we all remember that, “Reading and writing float on a sea of talk” (Britton, 1970) and that we are empowered to lift the literacy lives of kids by using dialogic instruction.
More to come soon with a special surprise in our next podcast!