Review of Reciprocal Teaching
Indiana University in Bloomington
Overview of the Chapter
According to Foster and Rotoloni (2005), reciprocal teaching is a cooperative learning instructional approach designed to increase reading comprehension through scaffolded instruction of comprehension-fostering and comprehension-monitoring strategies. These strategies include predicting, clarifying, questioning, and summarizing. Reciprocal teaching involves the use of the four strategies in ongoing dialogues between teacher and students or students and students in whole-class instruction or small group activities. After the four strategies are taught, the teacher gradually fades her support and guidance, and students take turns as discussion leaders. Its theoretical foundation is based on Vygotsky’s cognitive development. The authors not only give a scenario of how a teacher, Mrs. Clark, implements reciprocal teaching in her class but also explain particular aspects related to the use of each strategy. Mrs. Clark is very satisfied with the reciprocal teaching because her students make progress in their reading comprehension. At the end of the chapter, the authors point out the benefits and challenges of reciprocal teaching as well
From the chapter, reciprocal teaching seems to be an excellent method in enhancing students’ reading comprehension. However, some questions are not addressed in this chapter causing me to doubt about some points made in the chapter. I point out some of my concerns in the paragraphs below.
For instance, the authors mention “thinking aloud” several times in the chapter, but they do not explain what it is. They should explain this term. Otherwise, readers will get confused while they are reading the chapter.
In addition to these concerns, the authors say that students who are shy, inattentive, or having individual needs will benefit from small group activities rather than whole-class instruction in reciprocal teaching. However, where is the evidence showing that students in small reciprocal teaching groups in which there is no teacher’s scaffolding or direction would do better than in whole-class instruction? Moreover, don’t these students need more scaffolding or teachers’ direction? More empirical evidence from the research should be cited to convince the reader.
Furthermore, dialogue plays a crucial role in reciprocal teaching (Palincsar, 1986). Through social, interactive, and holistic dialogues, students acquire the use and generalization of the four reading strategies (Palincsar & Klenk, 1992). However, how could teachers know that whether students engage in high-quality group dialogue? How would teachers ensure that students maintain meaningful dialogues? Superficial or unfocused discussion of content does little to help students internalize the four reading strategies.
Moreover, the four strategies are essential elements of reciprocal teaching. Predicting is the first strategy used in reciprocal teaching. It assists enhancing students’ involvement in the text. However, how would teachers know that students follow up to check if their predictions are correct? Questioning is the second strategy helping students increase their understanding of the text. Nonetheless, how to make sure that students ask the right or probing questions instead of superficial or literal ones? Clarifying is the third strategy. Through clarifying, students shed light on their understanding of what they are reading. At the same time, how could teachers know that students do not pass over difficult words or sections of the text which they do not fully understand? Summarizing is the fourth strategy utilized in reciprocal teaching. Students capitalize on the main idea and the important details of the text to make a summary. However, how can an instructor ensure that students do not make superficial summaries, or summaries without major themes or concepts (Hacker & Tenent, 2002); especially if the teacher has ceded control of the activity to the students and perhaps left the room?
Then, there is a debate over how reciprocal teaching should be taught in the field of learning strategy. One way is reciprocal teaching only and the other is explicit teaching before reciprocal teaching. The authors ought to elaborate more on what the debate is about and what these two forms of reciprocal teaching are.
In addition, the difference between English as first language and foreign language should be taken into consideration. In the scenario, Mrs. Clark’s students’ L1 is English. However, what if English is not her students’ L1? From my experience as an EFL teacher in Taiwan, it is sometimes difficult for students to use English to discuss the text. Sometimes students lack the knowledge of content, or they do not have sufficient language proficiency to engage in English discussions. Thus, either content knowledge or language proficiency can hinder the effectiveness of reciprocal teaching.
Finally, culture is an issue to reciprocal teaching. Since reciprocal teaching requires students’ active engagement in the activity, students who come from a relatively inactive learning culture might not be accustomed to this learning style. For example, in traditional Chinese culture which is influenced by Confucianism, the relationship between teachers and students in the classroom is like knowledge giver and receivers. If teachers do not display their knowledge in classes, or if they ask students to play games or play roles, then they may be criticized as unqualified teachers. On the other hand, students hope that they could learn from teachers by taking notes and remembering knowledge. Furthermore, students are not expected to talk, ask questions, or give opinions during the instruction. Under this kind of context, teachers may not expect students to join the group discussion actively and assume the responsibility of discussion leaders.
In general, the authors mention important aspects of reciprocal teaching, the theory behind it, and the application of it. I not only understood reciprocal teaching but learned Vygotsky’s constructivism, scaffolding, and Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). Hence, the content of this chapter exceeded my expectations. Since reciprocal teaching is to improve reading comprehension, it can be used in other subject matters which need reading comprehension skills, such as science, social study or math. In addition, teachers can combine reciprocal teaching and assessment by observing each student’s participation as students take their turns and make anecdotal notes either during or after reciprocal teaching session. Teachers may also use checklist to evaluate if students use various strategies and higher-order questions (O’Malley, 1996). Accordingly, I believe that as long as some questions can be further investigated such as the term “thinking aloud”, the evidence of students’ better performance in small reciprocal teaching groups, the way to maintain meaningful dialogues, the four strategies use, explanations of the debate over reciprocal teaching, consideration of English as L1 and L2, and culture issue, the effectiveness of reciprocal teaching can be greatly increased and the structure of this chapter will be more completed.
Foster, E., Rotoloni, R.. (2005). Reciprocal Teaching: General overview of theories.. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved September, 13, 2007, from http://projects.coe.uga.edu/epltt/.
Hacker, D. J., & Tenent, A. (2002). Implementing reciprocal teaching in the classroom: Overcoming Obstacles and making modifications. Journal of Education Psychology, 94, 699-718.
O’Malley, J. M. (1996). Authentic assessment for English language learners: Practical approaches for teachers. MA: Addison-Wesley.
Palincsar, A. S. (1986). The role of dialogue in providing scaffolded instruction. Educational Psychologist, 21, 73-98.
Palincsar, A. S., & Klenk, L. (1992). Fostering literacy learning in supportive contexts. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 25, 211-225.