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Connecting Readers’ Understandings Through

Meaningful Themes and Writing Engagement

 

Authors:  Richard C. Sinatra

                Robert Eschenauer

 

         A descriptive study with outcomes-based results is described in this paper.  The study presented a summer guided reading/guided writing approach called the “6Rs” to thousands of inner-city children residing in New York City housing projects and Department of Homeless Services transitional facilities over a three-year period.  The approach, offered half a school day in an annual CampUs Program, connected readings, writings, and computer projects to three meaningful themes which the funding agencies and program designers believed would be relevant to the children’s lives.

 

Background of the Problem

            The phenomenon of “summer loss” was a key factor in the CampUs Program design.  Research has documented that during the summer months of June through August, disadvantaged and poverty-situated children loose academic and learning gains when compared to their more economically advantaged peers (Alexander, Entwisle, & Olson, 2001; Allington & McGill-Franzen, 2003; Borman & Boulay, 2004; Bracey, 2002b).  In a research syntheses of 39 studies, Cooper, Nye, Charlton, Lindsay, & Greathouse (1996) found that during the summer months a loss of about three months occurred in reading and language achievement between low-and middle-class students.  Comprehension and reading recognition scores declined more for low-income students while reading recognition scores showed a significant gain for advantaged students.  The researchers theorized that the gain in the learning of new words for middle-class students was due to the home and community environments which provided the opportunities to learn new words.  In a second line of research Kim (2004) found that the reading of four or five books during the summer had a potentially large enough effect to prevent reading achievement loss from Spring to Fall.  Many have noted that active participation in summer academic and enrichment programs would reap strong benefits for those who are economically disadvantaged and educationally undernourished (Bracy, 2002a; Franklin, 2004; Gerber, 1996; Zaff, Moore, Papillo, & Williams, 2003).

 

Theoretical Framework

            In the structure of the academic half day, we strived to accomplish two major objectives.  First, we wished to provide children with knowledge and strategies that could potentially assist them in the larger school arena when they returned in the Fall.  Here we fused three major literacy components regarding how and what children read, how they translated what they read into organized plans in preparation for writing, and how children wrote to meet acceptable standards.

 

            Secondly, in efforts to influence children in a positive way and to provide guidance in helping them overcome the influences of inner-city risk factors, we focused the readings in both the classroom and computer lab settings on three socially relevant themes.  These themes asked children to be aware of the dangers of substance abuse (say “NO” to drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes), to be a good person (be of good character at home, at school, and on the athletic fields), and to show respect for the environment and the community (don’t litter and pollute).  In the literary readings offered to children, we followed what Rudman (1995) described as an “issues approach” in which problems found in literature mirror what actually occurs for people in society.  Also known as the practice of “bibliotherapy”, an issues approach offers a thematic way to provide guidance and protection through story reading.  Such a thematic focus helps both teachers and students think about meaning while promoting positive attitudes towards the very acts of reading and writing (Burns, Roe & Ross, 1999). 

 

Inherent in the approach was the belief that what one reads can influence what one thinks and how one writes.  Borrowing cues from Rosenblatt (2004) was the notion that readers and writers add onto their understandings and extensions of language as they engage in and transact with new readings, new types of writing formats, and new learning environments.   Researchers and literacy educators have also noted that when students write while engaged in reading, they are better able to understand unfamiliar content, learn new information, and reveal more complex thoughts (Newell, 1984; Newell & Winograd, 1989; Spivey, 1990). Graham and Perin (2007) emphasized that writing well is not an option for our students with writing skills along with reading comprehension being necessities, predicators of academic success, and basically needed to compete in the global economy.

 

Literature Review

Our emphasis on helping children write coherent papers assisted them with meeting the New York State assessment requirements and the English language arts and technology standards.  State standards were supported in the “6Rs” approach by: (1) the engagement of children in wide and varied readings; (2) the production of discussion, written papers, and computer projects about issues or topics in which they had to produce evidence of understandings; and by (3) creation of a multi-media computer project in which they had to write, format, gather, and organize information (Board of Education of the City of New York, 1997, 2001).  Students at fourth and eighth grade levels also had to attain benchmark standards by writing acceptable papers based on responses made to textual readings.  This integrated reading/writing act was evaluated by the use of rubrics or scoring scales ranging from a level “1” as being inadequate writing to a level “4”, defined as being “advanced writing proficiency.”  A level “3” indicated acceptable standards for writing.  For differing writing tasks, students needed to address the writing criteria of meaning, organization, development, language use, and mechanics.  New York City students performed quite poorly over a four year period with 67%, 58%, 56% and 53.5% of its fourth graders achieving below acceptable writing standards (a level “2” or below), and 65%, 67%, 67%, and 70% of its eighth graders performing in a similar way.

 

The planning for writing accomplished in the literacy classroom settings and computer lab was done through the use of story and concept maps.  Researchers have reported that students with and without learning problems have improved in reading comprehension and planning for writing when they have been shown how text ideas are organized in narrative and expository readings and when they have been provided with visual models of text organization (Davis, 1994; Swanson & DeLaPaz, 1998; Vallecorsa & deBettencourt, 1997; Wong, 1997).  Many of the studies in the literature also reported positive effects of concept map use for vocabulary and reading comprehension development when small groups of children and youth were taught in controlled settings (Bos & Anders, 1990; Boyle 1996; Englert & Mariage, 1991).  Providing writers with visual frameworks of text organization gives them a framework for producing, organizing, and editing compositions and has a positive influence on report writing (Englert, Raphael, Anderson, Anthony, & Stevens, 1991; Guastello, Beasley, & Sinatra, 2000; Wong, 1997).  Moreover, research has shown that instruction in writing improves reading comprehension, especially when writing occurs in unison with reading (Biancorosa & Snow, 2006).

 

While disadvantaged children involved in summer programs need to engage in literacy work, they also need to experience other activities that they ordinarily would not experience in their home and community environments, such as activities that require physical exertion, learning of rules, changing of roles, and development by coaches and mentors (Entwisle, Alexander, & Olson, 2001).  Others note that the best programs should include a wide range of options, provide hands-on activities related to a thematic interest, and have an academic focus aligned with work connected to the classroom (Pardini, 2001).  In an analysis of seven studies of out-of-school time programs Chaput (2004) found that participation in a variety of offerings was associated with more beneficial outcomes in academic achievement, literacy gains, and decreased drug involvement.  Criteria for high quality implementation was established in a review of 34 academically focused summer programs (Harvard Family Research Project, 2006).  These criteria were: (1) developing a program with intentionality, (2) attempting to build positive and individual connections with youth, (3) developing highly skilled staff, (4) engaging institutions and community groups in programming, and (5) using engaging and pleasurable program activities.

 

Other practitioners and providers may wish to use the structure of this outcomes-based summer approach to achieve an integrated and coordinated way of increasing children’s overall literacy development while connecting to State English Language Arts standards in a meaningful way.  Focusing on very unique and needy populations, the CampUs Program likewise offered activities to children, who may have experienced a disruptive school schedule, may not have participated in organized sports activities with team interaction, and may not have had opportunity to work on computers.

 

Research Questions

 

During three years of the CampUs Program, the following research question was investigated.  Will participating in the summer CampUs Program significantly improve the essay writing scores of New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) and Department of Homeless Services (DHS) children between the ages of  7 to 14?  During the third year of the Program, an additional research question was introduced.  What effect did engagement in reading every day have on the DHS children?  In addition, a questionnaire was given to all the children at the end of each year’s program to assess their satisfaction for participating in the program. 

 

 

Methods

 

Participants

 

            The CampUs participants were of two types:  the children who attended in summer cohorts and the staff who served the children.

 

Children.  The CampUs program served children and youth between the ages of 7 to 14 from two government agencies, the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) and the Department of Homeless Services (DHS).  The Authority supplied affordable and safe housing for over 174,000 low-income families living in its 346 housing development sites (projects) located throughout the city’s five boroughs.  DHS children and youth resided in transitional families, also known as “family centers”, and generally remained in their temporary housing facility for no more than a year before being relocated to a NYCHA housing site.  From 400-500 NYCHA children and youth from the five boroughs were bused to the St. John’s University, Queens, NY, campus to participate in two-week cohorts, and from 150 to 200 children and youth from DHS facilities in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and the Bronx participated in a two to three week CampUs program at a partner college. 

 

The housing project children, for the most part, had experienced stability of residence and an uninterrupted school schedule during the regular school year.  It should be noted, however, that a good number of these children were speakers of other languages (478 in a three-year period), and many had received special education services (287 over a three-year period).  The homeless children, on the other hand, had traditionally experienced high mobility, relocation of housing, and interrupted schooling.  In New York City from 50 to 55% of homeless children transfer to a new school each year, with 21% of that percentage, transferring twice and 16% transferring three times or more (Nunez, 2004; Saulny, 2004).  Furthermore, homeless children perform well below reading and math, about 25 percent repeat a grade, and many are unnecessarily placed in special education classes (Institute for Children and Poverty, 2003).  Over the three-year cohort period, from 10 to 23 percent of CampUs participants reported that they had repeated a grade; 21 to 34 percent reported that they had been placed in a special education setting, and from 7 to 41 percent reported that they spoke another language.

 

Staff:  Children were directly taught, coached, and mentored by veteran and pre-service teachers from The St. John’s University School of Education and by student athletes enrolled in other university programs.  Many of the undergraduates were eligible for federally provided work-study funds.  This additional funding source allowed the program developers to recruit more adults to serve as teachers and coaches so that small group configurations could be achieved in the classrooms and on the playing fields.  Additionally, the undergraduates served as important role models since many come from the same communities and neighborhoods as the children, and they exemplified how college life could become a reality for those who are economically disadvantaged but strive to do well in school.

 

Measures.

Even with the short program duration, we used three types of outcome-based evaluations to determine if our reading/mapping/writing emphasis was effective and if the program was achieving its intended goals.  We measured each participant’s writing ability at the beginning and end of each summer cycle and used a questionnaire at the end of each cycle to ask students what they felt they learned, what they liked best, and if they thought their reading and writing improved.  During one cycle of DHS children, we measured participants’ pre-and post- perceptions about their reading behavior.

 

            Writing.  On the first and last days of each cohort cycle, we collected a paper on the same topic, to tell about a favorite experience, with the second requesting children to tell about a favorite CampUs experience.  In this instance, we wanted children to be able to visualize something memorable in their lives so that they could write about it without turning to reference sources or teacher assistance.

 

            Both sets of papers were evaluated by a teacher rater using the State holistic scoring rubric.  With such a rubric procedure, evaluators don’t focus on one aspect of writing, such as mechanics or conventions, but assess on the overall quality of the written work.  Usually expressed in a numerical rating system of 1 to 4 or 1 to 6 or a verbal rating system of good (high), average (middle, or poor (low), the evaluator of the written work judges each quality of writing – such as organization – in relation to a rating system.  All rubrics have two main features in common, in that they show and describe the criteria or “What counts” in a written piece and secondly, they have a graduation of the quality of writing expressed in the rating scale or rating system (Andrade, 2000).  Rubrics assist teachers and project evaluators (1) by making the rating process of sets of papers more consistent and objective; (2) by making the analysis of sets of individual student papers and projects easier to evaluate; and (3) by making an impact on instructional quality since they show the key features that should appear in a top-quality paper (Popham, 2000; Reutzel & Cooter, 2003).

 

            Reader Self-Perception Sale.  With the last cohort of DHS children, we used an adaptation of the Reader Self-Perception Scale (RSPS) (Henk & Melnick, 1995) to see what effect engagement in reading every day would have for these children.  Henk and Melnick developed a 33-item scale categorized into the five areas of: (1) General Perception, (2) Progress, (3) Observational Comparison, (4) Social Feedback, and (5) Physiological States. Based on a sample of 1525 students an alpha reliability coefficient of .84 was established for the Progress Scale and .81 for the Social Feedback Scale.  No alpha coefficient could be generated for the General Perception item “I think I am a good reader,” but because of our program intent, we felt that this was a key item to evaluate.

 

            For our purposes, we selected the category areas of (1) General Perception, having the one item; (2) Progress, having 9 items, and (3) Social feedback, having 9 items.  Children completed 19 items at the beginning and end of the program, and they responded how much they agreed or disagreed with each statement based on a five-point scale ranging from strongly agree (5) to strongly disagree (1).  The category area of Progress was related to how students felt about themselves as they improved or became stronger in their reading and overall literacy abilities. It contained nine items and was measured by such statements as, “I am getting better at reading, “I understand what I read better than I could before,” “When I read, I recognize more words than I used to.”  Social Feedback, measured by nine items, was concerned with how the student perceives what others think about the improvement in one’s ability.  It contained such statements as, “My teacher thinks I am a good reader,” “People in my family think I am a good reader,” “Other kids think I am a good reader.” 

 

Questionnaire.  An exit questionnaire administered on the last day of each program cycle asked children to write short narratives in response to four questions.  They were asked to “tell about some of the things they learned, to tell how their reading and writing may have gotten better, to tell if the mapping experience helped them write a better paper,” and “to tell what CampUs activities they liked the best.”

 

Procedure

            Training.  The undergraduates were trained a full two weeks prior to program implementation in management techniques, conflict resolution, behavior management, and lesson preparation.  The pre-service teachers spent two days learning the children’s software programs and four days with veteran reading/literacy teachers.  They previewed the books to be used by children, saw demonstrations of and practiced model lessons, planned concept and story map usage with particular readings, and learned how to assist children with written development by focusing on the qualities of writing indicated on the state writing rubric.

 

            Each pre-service teacher, in turn, was assigned two groups of children with six to eight children in each group.  During the morning block, they worked with a group in the 10 to 14-year-old range and in the afternoon time block they had a group in the 7 to 9-year-old range.  The pre-service teachers were also assigned to one veteran, literacy teacher who acted as a coach and mentor during each project day.  The veteran teachers circulated among their groups of pre-service teachers and observed the steps of lesson development, assisted with feedback, conducted model lessons for particular pre-service teachers needing assistance, and, at times, actually worked with a smaller set of children or a single child during the writing process.  Here we attempted to implement the intervention guidelines offered by Allington (2006) for needy and struggling students.  He noted that small group size and limited number of groups coupled with good intensive instruction increases the likelihood of program success.  In a meta-analysis of 93 summer school program, Cooper and his colleagues (2000) also noted that impacts were greater when programs featured small-group or individualized instruction.

 

            The literacy teachers, all graduates of the St. John’s University Master’s Literacy Program, were also calibrated in their roles as evaluators of the children’s writing using the New York State rubric procedure.  The evaluators had rated papers of children from second to eighth grade levels prior to program implementation.  An overall inter-scores phi-coefficient of .860 was established.  This rather high correlation of inter-rater reliability meant that raters who scored project children’s papers were of a close mindset.  By judging each of the state writing qualities of meaning, development, organization, language use, and mechanics on the one to four point system, we were able to arrive at a focused holistic score for each paper.  For instance, one fifth grade student Aaron telling about his favorite experiences of playing sports, received scores of 3 for meaning, 3 for development, 3 for mechanics, 2 for language use, 2 for organization, achieving an overall holistic score of 2.6.

 

Program and literacy component features.  The program featured academic and athletics with full day participation in rotating time blocks.  Two periods (90 minutes) were devoted to small group reading and writing instruction; one period (45 minutes) involved working on a reading, writing, and graphic design project in a college computer lab; and two periods (2 hours and 15 minutes) were spent learning how to swim and at other athletic activities of choice.

 

            The literacy component was research informed and theoretically based, highly supportive of State standards, and cohesive in its daily approach.  We called it the 6Rs – Read, Reason, Retell/Reconstruct, Rubric, w(Rite), and Revise.  Featuring a series of six guided cumulative steps, the approach promoted development in the four domains of the language arts and visual representation. We structured the two half-day components of literacy work and athletics so that a predicable pattern of stability and consistency would occur every day for these children.  The 6Rs steps integrated many of the components of a balanced literacy framework in that viewing, listening, speaking, reading, and writing were featured as children and teachers engaged in shared reading/shared writing and guided reading/guided writing as they worked through differing text styles (Fountas & Pinnell, 1996, 2001).  Furthermore, vocabulary developed out of the textual readings, and students applied their new word knowledge in active ways through writing activities (Rupley, Logan, & Nichols, 1999).

 

Read.  Reading – the first “R” in the approach – was managed by the use of small collections of trade books, often known as text sets, and these were strategically used by teachers as they reinforced the three major themes of the program.  We used fiction and non-fiction trade books on a daily basis as the “magnifying glass” vehicle to enlarge and enhance the children’s interactions with the messages of the three themes (Vacca & Vacca, 2002).  Of the 37 books previewed and selected to be used as small group text sets, 23 related to the character development theme, 6 to the substance abuse theme, and 8 to the respecting the environment theme.  Because we believed that many children were still struggling readers, were English language learners, or had been or were in special education settings, a read aloud was generally accomplished first, followed by a second, shared oral reading before they were lead through the text reasoning and reconstruction processes.

 

The readings provided a way to increase the children’s meaning and reading vocabularies.  New words were printed on five by eight cards and mounted on a “word wall” under the appropriate theme heading.  Both the thematic book readings and vocabulary reinforcements were aimed at organizing the children’s knowledge of concepts and helping them see the relevance of information (Gunning, 2003).

 

Reason.  During reasoning, teachers engaged children in thinking and feeling about the text and its message.  Questioning and verbal discussion occurring during and after the reading made this step very lively.  Children interacted freely with the text, the teacher, and one another as they talked about book ideas, new vocabulary, the relationship to the theme, and their personal reactions to meaning.  Here we applied the three levels of thinking about a reading-experiencing, connecting, and extending – as noted by Finders and Hynds (2003).  They experienced the reading through the pictures, words, and images aroused by the text; they connected the reading to impressions in their lives regarding substance abuse, what makes a good person, and the local environment issues of littering and pollution; and they began to think about how they would extent the text reading into a graphic map format, a writing, an artistic project, or in a computer project.

 

Retell/Reconstruct.  The thinking and reasoning processes involved in the “retelling” and “reconstructing” aspects of the plan made use of the visual literacy representation of ideas through “maps.”  Concept and story maps, also known as semantic maps, webs, clusters, and graphic organizers, served as a major program strategy to help children formulate and organize their ideas after reading and before and during writing.  Teachers moved students smoothly into retellings and reconstructions of stories and informational readings by verbally engaging students in map construction.  Information based on the reading was written within graphic figures either by the teacher who elicited this information during verbal discussion or by the children themselves as they puzzled out the sequence of events or the concepts and ideas of the text and wrote them into the figures on a map.

 

Teachers used differing map structures that represented how various reading and writings were organized.  The maps used with literature or story readings reflected the common story grammar features of character(s),  plot, setting, problems faced by the main character, outcomes or consequences, resolution, and theme.  These maps generated a retelling of a story’s events as sequencing and causal interactions were the notations that children wrote down.  The maps used with expository, informational readings reflected cause and effect, sequential, compare and contrast, and topic development text patterns.  These maps helped children reconstruct information from a textual reading by allowing them to see the connections among ideas and concepts and by relating details and new vocabulary appropriately.

 

            Rubric.  The mapping step was followed by a discussion about writing and how reading can provide a number of ideas to develop in writing.  Children were presented with the qualities of writing and the four-point weighting scale of the state rubric scoring system.  The components of the rubric were written in a more “user friendly” way for children, and large copies of the children’s rubric were made and hung in each of the project’s classrooms.  Teachers and students discussed what features of writing would made a good paper as they viewed the rubric, and children would return to look at the rubric as they engaged in the on-going writing or revision processes.

 

            (w)Rite.  Writing and planning for writing after reading and mapping became a central feature of the 6Rs stepwise approach.  Children wrote their own individual papers while viewing either a group-constructed map or their own filled-in map.  Project teachers interacted freely with the children as they wrote often answering questions posed by the children about their writing, such as “Does it sound good?” or “Is this correct?”  After teacher interaction and revision suggestions, a rewriting was accomplished.  Ten-year-old Queen wrote; “It got better by me writing a lot.  The reason why I’ve writing a lot is because for the whole time that I’ve been here I have been writing.”

 

Revise.  The rewriting was, more often than not, accomplished by a highly motivating, visual and artistic literacy activity that connected to the meaning of the book.  For instance, with the book Playing Right Field (Welch, 2000) aligned to our character development theme, young children constructed a “pop-up book.”  On the accordion panels of a folded strip of paper to which a paper ball was attached on one end and a paper baseball glove on the other, children wrote their episodes of the right fielder’s story.  For older children, the culminating writing activity with the fiction book, The Other Side (Woodson, 2001), was rewriting the story on panels on a cut-out picket fence.  The fence represented the divide between a black and white neighborhood, and the setting where two young girls of different races overcome the barriers set by the segregation climate of the times.  For The Great Kapok Tree (Cherry, 2000), children wrote their version of what the animals told the young man about the dangers of deforesting on large tree leaves and then hung their “leaves” on a drawing of a giant tree constructed on chart paper.        Once revision and editing were completed, children would share their reading with a buddy or the whole group with the paper finally becoming displayed on the classroom wall under the appropriate theme title.

 

            Computer Project.   This expectation and routine continued in the computer lab, where children worked on a multi-media project connected to one of the three project themes.  Use of popular children’s software programs allowed children to author, to use visuals and illustrations, to link to Internet informational resources, and to accomplish appealing page/screen lay-outs.  A four-point scoring rubric was generated to evaluate each child’s computer project with a focus on the five qualities of project completeness in exemplifying a theme, organization and structure, originality, graphical presentation, and written presentation.

 

            After a teacher-lead discussion of the meaning of each of the themes and how they might be addressed, children followed these planning steps: (1) they selected an aspect of a theme to investigate; (2) they generated an idea web or concept map of the components of the theme idea that were known at the present time; (3) they constructed an outline of how screens might be planned based on the number of concept ideas shown on the map; (4) they linked to Internet sites related to the themes provided by the teacher and began to gain information and take notes; and (5) they wrote their initial scripts for each screen or card, incorporating their notes and possible ideas of visuals that would complement the text.

 

Results

 

To answer the first research question the pretest and posttest writing rubric scores of both the NYCHA and DHS children were analyzed using the t-test for dependent samples.  In each instance, a significant difference was found with the posttests being significantly higher than the pretests.  The results of this analysis are presented in Table 1 below.

 

Table 1.

Summary of Writing Gain Scores of CAMPUS Participants

 

 

Assessment

N

Average Rubric Score

Writing Gain

Significance

 

Year One

 

 

NYCHA

Pretest

668

2.46

+.30

.000

 

Posttest

668

2.76

DHS

Pretest

42

2.31

+.32

.004

 

Posttest

42

2.63

Year Two

NYCHA

Pretest

615

2.43

+.26

.000

 

Posttest

615

2.69

DHS

Pretest

63

1.96

+.69

.000

 

Posttest

63

2.65

Year Three

NYCHA

Pretest

674

2.47

+.30

.000

 

Posttest

674

2.77

DHS

Pretest

90

2.01

+.40

.000

 

Posttest

90

2.41

 

            When the above data is disaggregated first by ethnicity and then by class placement, the significance of these findings becomes even more revealing.  The U. S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics identified African American and Hispanic students as performing much lower than both their White and Asian American counterparts on the 2007 Writing Assessment (2007).  In the CAMPUS Program, the writing gain scores achieved by both the African American and Hispanic students were significant at the .000 level compared to their White and Asian counterparts but it should be noted that the significance of the latter’s gain scores, with the exception of the gain scores of Caucasians in the second year, were probably due to the small number of participants. These results are summarized in Table 2.  The analysis of class placement data revealed that both the special education and general education students made significant gains at the p = .000 levels.  The gain scores for the special education students ranged from +.23 to +.35, and the gain scores for the general education students ranged from +.25 to +.34. 

 

 

 

Table 2

 

Summary of Three Year Writing Gain Scores of African American, Hispanic Students,

 

Caucasian, and Asian Students.

 

 

Ethnicity

 

Year One

Year Two

Year Three

 

 

N

Gain Score

N

Gain Score

N

Gain Score

 

African

American

 

426

+.31***

381

+.24***

401

+.26***

 

Hispanic

 

160

+.40***

153

+.35***

165

+.33***

 

Caucasian

 

9

+.09

4

+.75**

11

+.29

Asian

 

2

+.60

2

+.20

2

+1.0

 

Note.  ** p = .01.  *** p = .000

 

            The second research question was answered by the results of the adaptation of the Reader Self-Perception Scale (RSPS).  A dependent t-test was used to analyze the pretest – posttest differences in the three category areas: General Perception, Progress, and Social Feedback.  For General Perception a nonsignificant difference was found (+.19, t = 1.82, ns).  A similar nonsignificant difference was found for Social Feedback (+.96, t = 1.68, ns).  However, in the area of Progress, a significant difference was found (+.99, t = 2.14, p <.04) suggesting that the students felt that they  improved or became stronger in their reading and overall literacy abilities.

 

            When asked to “tell about some of the things they learned” in a questionnaire given at the end of the program, the children indicated that they had internalized many of the  major themes of the program and were able to express these in writing.  The most prevalent responses included knowledge about the dangers of drugs, alcohol, and smoking (55); computer use (45); the protection of and respect for the environment (25); good character and respectfulness (47); how to read better (31); how to write better (54); and how to swim (37).   

 

Discussion

            Offering a structured and intense literacy program supplemented with athletic, recreational, and academically focused motivational activities would appear to be quite beneficial for low-income children when offered during the out-of-school-time of summer.  This type of program may succeed because it offers consistency and routine each and every day in small group and large group configurations in a controlled environmental setting.  Here there was not sense of “catching up” with the skill work and assignments of one’s classmates.  Instead, children read, wrote, and did computer work each day and added to their skills as they acquired new vocabulary, new writing techniques, and new learnings to add to their knowledge base.  Athletic participation, as noted by others (Entwisle, Alexander, & Olson, 2001; Zaff, Moore, Papillo, & Williams, 2003), may have provided both a motivational and learning complement to the academic offerings.

 

            During the literacy-block period, children completed from four to five papers based on the readings of differing trade books and the use of the differing map organizational plans.  Young children and less proficient writers would generally produce a paragraph-length paper but teachers worked on elaborating content details, on how to expand sentences and transform phrases and clauses to achieve sentence variety, and on the construction of good “topic sentences” that would introduce paragraphs.

 

            The reading, mapping, and writing process of the 6Rs steps supported and built upon one another.  The literacy engagement was cumulative and recursive in that written products were visible outcomes of each trade book reading and the cycle began again with the new offering of a trade book related to another theme.  With this approach, children’s expectations were that reading, reconstructing, writing, and revision, were connected as one unifying event.  A “routine” was established that writers became accustomed to in their expectations and requirements (Piazza, 2003).

 

            The engagement processes of talk, questioning, analyzing text, and writing based on reading was in line with the findings of literacy instruction involving 88 teachers in nine high poverty schools across the United States (Taylor, Pearson, Peterson, & Rodriguez, 2003).  These researchers noted that successful teachers challenged students to think reflectively and taught students how to apply reading strategies to their reading and writing.

 

            We believed that the benchmark standard of writing an acceptable paper and thinking deeply about a topic was a task of worth and value.  The National Commission on Writing (2003) noted that while many effective models of how to teach writing exist, the practice of applying it in the classroom is becoming increasingly “short changed”, even though writing is the means by which “students connect dots in their knowledge.”  The Commission recommended that the time students devote to writing should be at least doubled, that writing should occur across the curriculum, and that writing should occur during out-of-school time.  When reading and writing occur in unison, they create a powerful bond which influences learning in ways that are not possible when students read without writing and write without reading (Vacca & Vacca, 2002).  Also when students write about what they read, the engagement of the writing process enhances their ability to learn to write (Cohen & Spenciner, 2005).  The writing activities accomplished in our approach with pens, pencils, and keyboard asked children to reflect upon socially relevant issues and consider the meanings found in the trade book readings.  By focusing on how to write and how writing coordinates with what was read, we wished to lessen the gap of summer loss and to provide the children with skills that would help them in the formal arena of schooling when they returned in the fall. 

 

            The many low-income students in our program were quite aware in their written comments and evaluations that they participated in reading and writing on a daily basis and were learning new words.  Some of their written comments reveal understanding of the program’s intentionality:

10-year-old Queen; “It got better by me writing a lot.  The reason why I’ve writing a lot is because for the whole time that I’ve been here I have been writing.”                      

11-year-old Syherra; “In reading we read a story and mapped it out…I think my reading and writing just got stronger because I got back into the school mode.  I haven’t done work in a long time but now I have so I feel like I’m in school.”

11-year-old Mike; “I think my reading and writing got better because I got to experience more things I didn’t know.  I also got better because I learned new words and I got to hear new stories.”

(1) 11-year-old Tiffany, “I read and write a lot more than in school”; (2) 12-year-old Aneesa, “My reading and writing got better because we did it a lot; and (3) 13-year-old Bhekvante, “My favorite activity I likes best was reading the books and doing work after it and the hanging it up…it makes me feel that I have accomplished everything in one day…My reading and writing got better because I can read and write big words that I thought I could not read…also the reading has encourage me to do more reading at home and in school.”

 

Furthermore, DHS students in the last year’s cohort revealed through the RSPS that their perceptions of themselves improved, especially in the area of reading progress.  Because the 6Rs guided reading/guided writing approach was the only formal one offered to these children during the summer period, they responded to the 19 items based on what they believed happened to themselves in our classrooms.  The structured reading of the trade books, the reading during the mapping and the writing components, the re-readings of daily engagement which the children felt to be a positive influence contributing to their progress as competent readers.  Children from all cohorts reported via the questionnaire that they learned to read better and that they read more than they would have otherwise.

 

Recommendations and Implications for Practice and Research

 

            If groups of low-income children could be served in controlled environmental settings as was done in the CampUs Program, other program options noted in the literature may be considered as well.  Researchers could randomly assign groups of children to intervention conditions investigating the use of differing reading or writing methodologies and compare the results with those of the 6Rs approach described in this paper.  For instance, as noted earlier, with children classified as learning disabled, studies in which maps and map-type structures were used, have yielded positive results (Bos & Anders, 1990; Boyle, 1996; Englert & Mariage, 1991).  In a study with 11 intermediate-grade children, Englert & Mariage (1991) used a map structure which helped students predict ideas based on their background knowledge, organize the predicted text ideas based on the text’s written structure, search for the text structure pattern in the informational passage, summarize the main ideas of the search, and evaluate their comprehension.  When compared with 17 controlled peers, the map structure students made significant gains in text ideas. 

 

            Use of a cognitive mapping strategy with inner city and low-income students has also revealed positive results.  When two groups of 62 low-achieving seventh-grade students in an urban school were assigned to two reading treatments, the group following a model of concept mapping to connect ideas in a science text performed significantly better in comprehension than matched controls who were taught by a read-and-discuss, teacher-directed method (Guastello, Beasley, & Sinatra, 2000).  Twenty nine, Title I, at-risk fifth-grade students assigned to two writing treatment approaches were evaluated by their State’s holistic scoring rubric for expressive, narrative writing and a scale assessing for writing apprehension (Schweiker-Marra & Marra, 2000).  Over a six-month period, students in the experimental group who were provided with a number of prewriting strategies, including gathering and organizing ideas through story mapping, significantly improved in their written expression scores in comparison to the control group.  Writing anxiety lessened for the experimental students although not significantly so when compared to controls.

 

            In a number of studies with students classified as having learning or writing problems, Graham and his associates have investigated the use of a Self-Regulated Strategy Development (SRSD) model which also examines aspects of pre-writing behaviors (Harris & Graham, 1999; Page-Voth & Graham, 1999; Sawyer, Graham, & Harris, 1992; Troia, Graham, & Harris, 1999). With the SRSD procedure experimental students were shown how to use self-regulation strategies such as goal setting, self­ monitoring, brainstorming and sequencing ideas and generally produced stronger written papers and compositions than matched controls. The SRSD model or the pre-writing activity approach described by Schweiker-Marra & Marra (2000) could be compared with the 6Rs approach described in this present paper to determine which approach would yield the most beneficial results for low-income children when writing was based on information and reflections from what was read.

 

            Finally, we evaluated our pre-and-post papers based on the holistic scale criteria used in the state assessment plan. While we formed a holistic score based on five qualities of writing, future researchers and program developers using such an outcome evaluation procedure may wish to focus on just use of the organization and development components of a rubric scale if mapping were used as the organizational strategy. 

 

Limitations

 

            This program had three major limitations. First of all, regular and sustained attendance during each cohort summer was a recurring problem. Like others, even with the best program intentions and support from staff and facility directors, student absenteeism creates gaps in program effectiveness and measurement of goals (Gibbs, 2004; Harvard Family Research Project, 2006; Mawhinney-Rhoads & Stahler, 2006). Possibly by forging stronger relationships with students' parents, the retention and attendance of youth would strengthen (Lauver, Little, & Weiss, 2004). 

 

            The second limitation primarily due to funding and staff and facility availability was length of project time. Even though the academic component was intense and equivalent to half a regular school day, the project duration was only 10 days over a two to three week period. A longer time period may yield even stronger writing improvement with means in writing reaching the 3.0 State acceptable benchmark score and perception about reading proficiency revealing positive results on major scales of the Reader Self ­Perception Scale (Henk & Melnick, 1995). 

The Self-Regulated Strategy Development procedure discussed previously was used with some participants over a two-week period, suggesting that both the SRSD and the 6R model could be compared in short time periods in controlled settings with low-income students to determine effects on writing behavior.

 

            Another limitation was regarding the transfer value of the mapping strategy as a way to organize what was read and as a way to prepare a written piece. While we taught the mapping procedure in a direct way and had children model and practice its use with writing assignments, we didn't determine if they thought the strategy had transfer value to help organize other writings nor did we determine if they were taught how to generalize the mapping strategy to use with other academic areas and content readings. Likewise we did not determine if participation in the second half of the day's program had any relevance to how they behaved or reacted to the academic component. Possibly more effective use of the exit questionnaire and personal interviews with students would yield information regarding how they perceived the use of mapping in future school assignments and if they perceived sports participation to be a positive complement to academic participation.

 

            In conclusion, described in this paper are a program and a literacy approach offered with consistency and design over three consecutive summers. This paper does reveal that the coordinated program ingredients of the 6Rs literacy approach presented in both the small-group classroom and computer lab settings by trained and caring teachers can influence this low-income and needy population to succeed in writing achievement and in their perceptions of themselves as readers.


 




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