Elizabeth Foster and Becky Rotoloni
The University of Georgia
Click Here to Play an Narrated PowerPoint Summary of this Chapter, by Brenda Cheshire, Beth Friese, and Melissa Howell (2005).
Mrs. Clark’s third grade class has several students who are reading well below grade level. They can decode, or break words into sounds and blend them enough to say the words, but they just do not seem to be able to comprehend what they are reading. They are becoming very frustrated and reluctant to try because they see themselves as “poor readers”. They do not understand what it is that other students are doing when they read that allows them to be able to get the “right” answers on reading tests. These students are unable to comprehend, or understand, how the questions are related to what they are reading.
Mrs. Clark attends a professional learning seminar on reciprocal teaching and hears testimonials about the progress that students have made when teachers employ this instructional strategy.
What is Reciprocal Teaching?
Reciprocal teaching is a cooperative learning instructional method in which natural dialogue models and reveals learners' thinking processes about a shared learning experience. Teachers foster reciprocal teaching through their belief that collaborative construction of meaning between themselves and students leads to a higher quality of learning (Allen, 2003). Students take ownership of their roles in reciprocal teaching when they feel comfortable expressing their ideas and opinions in open dialogue. They take turns articulating and ?thinking out loud? – talking through their thoughts - with each learning strategy employed. The learning community is able to reinforce understanding and to see, hear, and correct misconceptions that otherwise might not have been apparent. All members of the community have shared responsibility for leading and taking part in dialogue during learning experiences (Hashey and Connors, 2003).
Reciprocal teaching is based on Vygotsky's theory of the fundamental role of social interaction (dialogue) in the development of cognition. Thinking aloud and discussion of thoughts aid in clarification and revision of thinking and learning, therefore developing cognition. Vygotsky's theory of ZPD (Zone of Proximal Development) is critical to identifying appropriate text and scaffolding activities to support student success (Vygotsky, 1978, as cited in Galloway, 2001). Text must be at a level that can be effectively shared, not too easy and not too difficult. Appropriate support and feedback must be given to facilitate learning during reciprocal teaching activities (Oczkus, 2003).
Effective reciprocal teaching lessons include scaffolding, thinking aloud, using cooperative learning, and facilitating metacognition with each step. Each strategy is taught by the teacher and is clearly understood by students before they go on to the next strategy (Hashey et al, 2003). Procedures are first modeled by the teacher. Then they are practiced and coached with peer and teacher feedback. Finally, the leadership of the group work strategy is handed over to the students (Allen, 2003). Continual teacher and student modeling of cognitive processes for each of the four strategies - predicting, questioning, clarifying, summarizing - is an integral part of the process. The teacher monitors and evaluates to determine where scaffolding is needed to help students to be successful in using strategies. Students become aware of their own learning processes and think critically about them.
Whole class introduction or reinforcement of reciprocal teaching is appropriate, but this should serve as opening and closing activity. Students who are inattentive, shy, or have other individual needs may not benefit if reciprocal teaching is only used in whole class activities that do not demand their participation. These students will benefit if the same method is also a part of teacher-led small groups, cooperative learning groups, or literature circles where it is easier to keep their attention through frequent involvement and where they can be more comfortable speaking (Oczkus, 2003). Groups should include no less than four and no more than six so that all students have equal opportunity to practice strategies. The teacher can collaborate with the students to create rubrics that make expectations clear and make the class environment comfortable for both the students and the teacher.
Palincsar, Brown, and Campione (1989) define reciprocal teaching as a dialogue between teacher and student. This dialogue is described as reciprocal because each learner acts in response to another. This interaction may occur between teacher and student or between students. The dialogue is structured by the use of four strategies, sometimes known as the ?Fabulous Four? (Oczkus, 2003), which are predicting, questioning, clarifying and summarizing. These four strategies are described in individual vignettes as we follow Mrs. Clark and her students through implementation of reciprocal teaching as an instructional method. The goal of reciprocal teaching is to use discussion to enhance students' reading comprehension, develop self-regulatory and monitoring skills, and achieve overall improvement in motivation (Borkowski, 1992 as cited in Allen, 2003).
Mrs. Clark decides to try reciprocal teaching to see if she can make a difference for her struggling readers. She does some research, develops lesson plans, and begins to incorporate this method of learning during her reading instruction. Her plans include teaching the four strategies that are associated with reciprocal teaching. These skills do not have to be taught in any particular order, but they should be taught and mastered one at a time. After all four are mastered individually, they are combined and used consistently in all reading experiences in order to magnify understanding of text. The following are vignettes of Mrs. Clark's use of each of the parts of this instructional model. Explanations of her use of the teaching strategies are interspersed.
Mrs. Clark asks the students what the weather forecast is for today. Several students tell her that the weatherman says that it is supposed to be sunny and warm today. She asks, “What is a meteorologist doing when she sayswhat she thinks the weather will do but cannot know for sure because it has not happened yet?” The students quickly answer, “She is predicting the weather.” The class discusses things that are used to make predictions – what you know already, what you have seen happen before, etc. One student raises her hand and says, “But how do you know if you are making a good prediction?” Mrs. Clark says, “That is a good question. We are going to practice thinking out loud while we make predictions so that it is easier to see how that works. I am going to model for you.”
Mrs. Clark reads a short book to the class. She starts out by looking at the title and the illustrations on the front page and making predictions based on them. Then she thumbs through the pages and uses short phrases and illustrations to make more predictions. She begins to read. Several times in the story, she stops and makes changes in her predictions or points out that her predictions were correct based on what she has read so far. When the story is finished, the students discuss which predictions were correct, which changed as the story progressed, and which proved to be incorrect. They talk about things they saw that could have helped Mrs. Clark make better predictions.
Mrs. Clark tells the students that they are going to watch the video ?The Magic School Bus Inside Ralphie?. Before she starts the video, she asks the students what they think will happen in the video. Mrs. Clark encourages them to use all the clues in the title of the video to make ?I think??., I'll bet??., I wonder if??., I imagine??I suppose??? statements. Because the students are familiar with the series, they can make some predictions.
We think that:
- Ms. Frizzle will take the students on a field trip.
- the video will be about something scientific.
- the video must have something to do with Ralphie's heart or stomach.
- there will be a problem with the bus getting back out of Ralphie because that is usually a problem on these videos.
- Ralphie might sneeze the bus out to solve the problem.
Mrs. Clark writes down their predictions on a graphic organizer that includes the headings of characters, setting, problem, and resolution. When the video is half finished, Mrs. Clark pauses it. She asks the students if their predictions have proven to be correct or incorrect. She then asks if they can make any more predictions based on what has happened so far. The students revise their prediction of how the Magic School Bus will get out of Ralphie's body. The changed prediction is recorded on the graphic organizer.
After the movie has finished, the students discuss their predictions. Mrs. Clark explains that the students were able to make the initial, more general predictions based on their prior knowledge of the Magic School Bus series. She compares that to the predictions they made that were more specific to the story. These predictions could only be made after they had seen some of the content of the video and were more specific to the storyline. She explains that predicting while reading a book helps to set a purpose for reading, allows interaction with the text, and improves understanding of the reading by increasing interest.
Caption: This image illustrates the cartoon figure of a weather wolf standing in front of a weather map. In the text, the teacher, Mrs. Clark, used the example of forecasting the weather to teach the students how to make predictions when reading a story. The weather wolf is modeling some of the statements that students can use: ?I think?; ?I wonder if?; ?I imagine?. Predicting helps to increase the students' involvement in the story. Image by Donna Ahlrich, Charmaine Broe-MacKenzie and Jim Brown (2005).
Explanation of Predicting
The students in Mrs. Clark's class are learning the skill of predicting. Predicting helps a student to be more involved in a story. Graphic organizers serve as visual clues for making predictions and help with confirming and/or revising initial predictions. Most children make casual predictions in the course of their lives: ?Will I like this movie?? ?If I ask my friend to go skating, will she say yes?? When students use the skill of predicting in reading, it helps them to realize the value of picture and word clues. It also helps them to develop higher level thinking about what is going on in the story. Thinking about what has happened and what will happen next makes it easier for the student to foreshadow and understand upcoming events and allows them to focus on the main ideas in the story (Hashey, et al, 2003).
Mrs. Clark's third grade class gathers in a circle for reading time. This is an enjoyable time for the students as they get to relax and listen to a story read by their teacher. Mrs. Clark reads the story “The Three Little Pigs”. Mrs. Clark wants to make the internal process of self-questioning visible for the students, so before she starts the story, she models asking herself questions about the story she is about to read. She asks, “Is this version of this story like the one I remember or is it different.” While she is reading the story, she continues modeling self-questioning about what she is reading. “Why did that pig do that?”, “Were there any other things he could have used to build his house?” “I wonder why the wolf didn't try to catch him before he built a house.”
When she has finished the story, she models asking herself some fact questions such as:
- What material did the first little pig use to build his house??
- What did the second little pig do when his house was blown down??
She then continues to ask some more reflective questions:
- Why did the first and second pig choose the materials they used??
- Why did the third little pig allow the others to be safe in his house even though they didn't listen to him when he warned them about the materials they chose??
She adds some more evaluative or opinion questions:
- Which type of little pig would I be? Which building material would I choose? Why??
- If I were the third little pig, would I help my brothers or would I leave them to fend for themselves?"
Students discuss these questions and add some that they would ask, and Mrs. Clark draws a chart with three columns on it. She writes one of the three kinds of questions at the top of each column and describes the types of questions:
Something clearly stated in the book
Think about the information in the book
What do I think about the choices the characters in the story made?
Remember the answer
What was the motivation of the characters? Did the character?s actions make sense in the story?
Look back through the reading to find the answer.
Why did the characters do what they did? According to my value system, did the character make a good or bad choice in their actions?
Important for recalling actual happenings, times and places.
What is the justification for the characters? actions? What will the character do next?
The next day in class, the students divide into small groups to read short stories thinking their questions out loud as they read. Mrs. Clark works with each group and scaffolds as needed by modeling questions she has about their story. Some of the students have very few questions that go beyond basic fact questions or ?yes? and ?no? answer questions. Mrs. Clark encourages them to make their questions ?fatter?. She wants them to get to the real ?thinking about what you are reading? which are reflective, elaborative and opinion questions. Mrs. Clark reviews the three types of questions and groups discuss how these questions help them understand what they are reading.
Mrs. Clark then reads Cinderella, another simple book that the students know and models self-questioning before, during, and after reading. The class divides into small groups and each person in the group reads a page of the story modeling the think out loud questioning as they read. Each group works to come up with three questions in each of the questioning categories. Mrs. Clark listens in on each group's discussions and scaffolds whenever necessary. Once the questions are completed, the groups swap questions and answer them to model question formation and to check their understanding of the reading passage.
The next day, the students continue to work in small groups reading, sharing and discussing their questions and answers. The teacher guides these discussions by encouraging deep questions to help students toward a deeper understanding of what they are reading.
The class is now ready to try this skill with a more complex chapter book. They read a chapter in class each day. The students write questions they think of during independent reading in their journals and then bring these questions to their group. A different student in each group serves as the group leader each day and guides the discussion to answer the questions.
Explanation of Questioning
Mrs. Clark's students have now added the skill of self-questioning to their ?toolbox? of reading strategies. The teacher has introduced, explained and modeled this skill (Hashey, et al, 2003). The students have had practice in creating and answering each of the three types of questions. The internal process of being a ?good? reader has been demonstrated to the struggling students through the ?out loud? thinking of the teacher and their peers. The students are becoming more confident and eager to take part in class discussions because they are gaining a better understanding of how the reading process works.
Mrs. Clark announces to the class that they are going on a nature walk. They go outside and walk across the street to a county nature park. They walk about a half-mile and stop. They sit down and Mrs. Clark asks the class to imagine that they are lost. She asks the students to help her come up with some ideas about how they can figure out where they are, and how they will get back to school. One student suggests backtracking until they recognize where they are. Another student suggests walking until someone recognizes a familiar tree or flower as a landmark. Another student suggests that Mrs. Clark use her cell phone to call the park supervisor to come and find them.
Mrs. Clark relates each of the answers the students give to clarifying what you are reading.
Backtracking is similar to rereading material when you realize that you have lost your way in the story and do not know what is happening. Looking for familiar landmarks is similar to readers activating prior knowledge of vocabulary, grammar, and syntax (Hackey, et al, 2003). Calling the park supervisor on a cell phone relates to referring to outside resources, such as dictionaries or atlases. The students begin to understand that pretending they are not lost is not going to get them out of the woods, and pretending to understand what they are reading when they really did not will not enable them to fully understand the reading assignment.
When the class arrives safely to their classroom, Mrs. Clark gives the students a reading assignment and a pad of sticky notes. She models reading a short passage and marking words or concepts she is not quite sure of with the sticky notes. Students then practice reading independently and highlight any words or concepts that they do not understand in the text.
The next day, they write the words they marked on the board. Mrs. Clark models ways to determine the meaning of the words, such as using a dictionary, using keywords surrounding the unfamiliar word, using picture clues, and rereading. The students are comforted to realize that many students wrote the same words on the board. This helps them to build a community of learners and helps Mrs. Clark to identify vocabulary words that need further explanation.
Explanation of Clarifying
Mrs. Clark's class has now added the skill of clarifying to their toolbox of reading skills. These skills have been modeled and practiced externally. This is done so that students might understand the internal cognitive processes that good readers use and gradually internalize them for themselves. The students have become more comfortable identifying things that they do not understand and seeking clarification to deepen their understanding. Because their learning community is thinking out loud about this process the entire class is gaining ability and knowledge that individuals could not gain on their own (Hashey, et al, 2003). They are also becoming more and more comfortable sharing things that they do not know as well as things that they do know.
Through the collaborative process of sharing questions students find that they all have information to share that sheds light on their understanding of what they are reading. Much of this knowledge comes from their individual backgrounds and prior reading experience, so individuals find value in themselves (Allen, 2003). Identifying words and concepts that are not fully understood has become a valued skill rather than a perceived weakness.
The students have worked with summarizing as an independent skill before. They understand that a good summary must include the main idea and the most important details to tell what happened in their own words. Some of the class already does an excellent job with this, but others are still struggling because they have a hard time identifying the main idea. They still feel that they must tell all the details or go back and read the text. They are unable to put the summary into their own words.
Mrs. Clark begins this class by telling her students that she is very proud of the things they are doing in their reading groups. She says, ?Your reading is improving because you have learned to use things you know to predict what will happen, to self-question while you are reading, and to clarify muddy points.? She says, ?I have just told you in my own words what has been happening in our reading class over the past few days. Now I would like you to tell me what you have learned during this study that helps you with your own reading.? The students are excited about their success and eager to talk about it. Mrs. Clark says, ?Fantastic, you have just done a great job of summarizing! Now we will try that with our reading. Just tell the main idea and the most important details in your own words, and that is it.?
Students work in small groups taking turns reading a paragraph and then summarizing. Each member of the group takes a turn being the discussion leader. Mrs. Clark listens to group discussions and scaffolds as needed. Her goal is to fade her interventions so the students can interpret the text according to their perceptions (Hacker and Tenent, 2002). Group members also assist each other with summarizing skills.
Explanation of Summarizing
Through this process, the internal skill of summarizing while reading that good readers automatically do is modeled externally and practiced. Readers who did not understand how to do this before watch the teacher model the strategy, practice with scaffolding, and gradually begin to internalize the process for themselves. As with the other strategies, the teacher models the skill, then hands over the leadership responsibility to the students (Allen, 2003).
Putting it All Together
The students now have experience using each of the ?Fabulous Four? strategies that are used together as part of a comprehensive reading program to increase comprehension. From this point, Mrs. Clark will encourage her students to use all four of the strategies before, during, and after reading to deepen comprehension. She and the students will continue to take turns ?being the teacher? and thinking out loud while they read. Mrs. Clark will use this strategy during reading instruction, but will also employ it to teach science, social studies, and math concepts. The ?think out loud? and ?taking turns being the teacher? has proven to be very effective in helping students to focus on their learning, share their thinking about what they are learning, and bonding students into a learning community (Hashey, et al. 2003).
Benefits of Reciprocal Teaching
A significant body of research (Carter, 1997; Palincsar & Brown 1984, 1986; Palincsar, Brown & Campione, 1989; Palincsar & Klenk, 1991, 1992) has shown that students who have been struggling with reading and are taught how to think about text in this way are able to feel comfortable taking part in discussions and engaging with both fiction and non-fiction grade level texts. They begin to understand how to make sense of what they are reading whether it is in the context of pleasure reading, classroom reading, social studies text, science text, or even in math word problems. Their reading comprehension levels improve dramatically.
Palincsar and Brown (1986, as cited in Oczkus 2003), observed that reciprocal teaching used with a group of students for 15-20 days improved reading comprehension on assessments by 30 to 80 percent. Palincsar and Klenk (1991) concluded that students improved reading skills immediately and also exhibited that they had maintained these skills on tests performed a year later.
Rosenshine and Meister (1994, as cited in Oczkus 2003) mined data collected through 16 different research studies. They concluded that reading comprehension was improved through the use of this instructional model.
According to a study by Lederer, (2000, as cited in Allen, 2003), students were given reciprocal teaching instruction for 15 to 17 days. The instructor described and demonstrated each strategy that was going to be used in the process to the students prior to teaching it. Feedback was given to the students on a daily basis. The study showed positive changes in the students' abilities to generate questions, answer questions, and summarize information (Allen, 2003).
In a study by Hashey, et al. (2003), the teachers saw increases in students' confidence and success, in their understanding and use of strategies, and in their enjoyment of literature. At the conclusion of the study, one seventh grade student commented that ?[reciprocal teaching] helps me understand the book more, understand meaningful questions, understand other people's opinions? (Hashey, et al, 2003).
Additionally, a modified version of reciprocal teaching can benefit students who struggle to comprehend mathematical word problems. The four major components of this modified approach are: clarifying, questioning, summarizing and planning (van Garderen, 2004). In a reciprocal teaching math lesson, one student is assigned to be the group leader. That student leads the other students through each of the four steps. The group first clarifies any words or phrases that are not understood. Then the leader uses questions to guide the group into identifying the key parts of the problem. Next, the leader summarizes the purpose of the word problem and finally guides the group in creating a plan to solve the problem. Each person in the group takes a turn being the leader.
Challenges of Reciprocal Teaching
One challenge of using reciprocal teaching is that constructivists in the field of learning strategies do not agree on how it should be taught (Allen, 2003). One way of teaching it is called ?reciprocal teaching only?, where the strategy is not introduced to the students prior to the group discussions (Allen, 2003). The other way is called ?explicit teaching before reciprocal teaching?; where students were introduced to the strategies before dialogue began (Allen, 2003). The later is the theory on which the examples of Mrs. Clark's classroom are based.
Another drawback to reciprocal teaching is that although students make impressive gains in their reading comprehension abilities, the process is not as effective for students with decoding difficulties (Hashey, et al, 2003). Students who are not able to decode or break words down into phonemes and then blend them enough to recognize and say most of the words in the reading passages correctly, could feel uncomfortable or embarrassed when working in the peer group time involved in this instructional method. One strategy to help alleviate this situation is tape-assisted reciprocal teaching (Le Fevre, Moore, and Wilkinson, 2003). Tape-assisted reading involves listening to the reading of a text while following along with the printed text. This strategy has helped students with poor decoding skills participate in reciprocal teaching activities, which allows them to make gains in their metacognitive and comprehension skills (Le Fevre, et al, 2003).
An often overlooked but significant challenge to reciprocal teaching is that this method of instruction relies heavily on the teacher's belief in constructive learning and his/her proficiency with the reciprocal teaching process (Hacker, et al, 2002). Reciprocal teaching is a constructivist method of teaching. The basis of this method is that the students will draw their own meanings from what they read based on their understanding of the text combined with their prior experiences. A teacher who does not support constructivist theory may not be open to teaching using this method. Additionally, teachers who do support the process and want to use the reciprocal teaching strategies need to be trained and have support when they encounter situations that require modifications. The teacher must be able to demonstrate the strategies, gradually give over leadership of the lessons to the students, and then become a facilitator for the student groups. Not all teachers are comfortable in this role (Hacker, et al, 2002).
Palincsar, Brown (Palincsar & Brown, 1984; Palincsar & Brown 1986), and Klenk (Palincsar & Klenk, 1991) used the findings of their research studies to create a model of reciprocal teaching they used to teach procedures that ?good readers? use internally when they read. In the model, four reading strategies normally taught separately are combined in an instructional package. Students are taught to think about what they are preparing to read and make predictions, to develop self-questioning strategies, to recognize and clarify words and passages that they do not understand, and to summarize or retell passages after they read. These ?good reader? practices are normally taking place inside the reader's head so they are not visible and therefore are difficult to teach. The process must be made visible through modeling thinking out loud and participating in dialogue about those thoughts. Student learning is intensified by their own verbalization of that learning for others, and by observing the learning process of their peers. Repeated external use and understanding of the reading strategy package becomes an internal way of thinking about reading.
The teacher's role in this instructional procedure changes as the strategies are taught to the students. The teacher starts the instruction of each strategy as the ?sage on the stage?, and ends up as the ?guide on the side?. The teacher has to be proficient in modeling these strategies to the students and then gradually fade away and let the students take over the control of their learning. The ability of the teacher to fill this role greatly affects the learning process.
Although there are some drawbacks to reciprocal teaching such as the debate over how the strategies should be presented to the students and the need for support from the teachers, most studies have shown an increase in standardized test scores in the area of reading comprehension after use of this instructional model (Hacker et al, 2002, Hashey et al, 2003).
Allen, S. (2003). An analytic comparison of three models of reading strategy instruction. IRAL: International Review of Applied Linguistics in Language Teaching. 41(4), 319-339.
Galloway, C. A. (2001). Vygotsky's learning theory. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Available Website: http://www.coe.uga.edu/epltt/vygotskyconstructionism.htm
Hacker, D.J, & Tenent, A. (2002) Implementing Reciprocal Teaching in the Classroom: Overcoming Obstacles and Making Modifications. Journal of Educational Psychology. 94 (4), 699-718
Hashey, J. M, & Connors, D. J. (2003). Learn from our journey: Reciprocal teaching action research. Reading Teacher, 57(3), 224-233.
Le Fevre, D. M., Moore, D. W., & Wilkinson, I. A. G, (2003). Tape-assisted reciprocal teaching: Cognitive bootstrapping for poor decoders. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 73(1), 37-59.
Oczkus, L. (2003). Reciprocal teaching at work: strategies for improving reading comprehension. Newark, DE: International Reading Association
Palincsar, A. S., & Brown, A. L. (1984). Reciprocal teaching of comprehension-fostering and comprehension-monitoring activities. Cognition and Instruction, 2, 117-175.
Palincsar, A. S., & Brown, A. L. (1986). Interactive teaching to promote independent learning from text. The Reading Teacher, 39(8), 771-77.
Palincsar, A. S., & Brown, A. L., & Campione, J. (1989). Structured dialogues among communities of first-grade learners. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, San Francisco, California
Palincsar, A. S., & Klenk, L. (1991). Learning dialogues to promoting text comprehension. (PHS Grant 059). Bethesda, MD: National Institute of Health and Human Development
van Garderen, D. (2004). Reciprocal teaching as a comprehension strategy for understanding mathematical word problems. Reading & Writing Quarterly, 20.
Books on Reciprocal Teaching or with lessons that strengthen Reciprocal Teaching
Cooper, J.D., Boschken, I., McWilliams, J., & Pistochini, L. (1999). Soar to success: The intermediate intervention program. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin
Hoyt. L. (1999). Revisit, reflect, retell: Strategies for improving reading comprehension. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Hoyt, L. (2002). Make it real: Strategies for success with informational texts. Portsmouth, NH:
Lubliner, S. (2001). A practical guide to reciprocal teaching. Bothell, WA: Wright Group
McLaughlin, M., & Allen, M.B. (2002). Guided comprehension: A teaching model for grades 3-8. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.
McLaughlin, M., & Allen, M.B., (2002). Guided comprehension in action: Lessons for grades 3-8. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.
APA Citation: Foster, E., Rotoloni, R.. (2005). Reciprocal Teaching: General overview of theories.. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved <insert date>, from http://epltt.coe.uga.edu/