ERIC Identifier: ED413765
Publication Date: 1997-10-00
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Languages and
Linguistics Washington DC.
From At-Risk to Excellence: Principles for Practice. ERIC
Innovative programs of school reform and research for diverse students have
tended to concentrate on specific cultural, linguistic, or ethnic populations
and on specific local communities. Research has been conducted on a variety of
at-risk populations, including Native Americans; Korean, Chinese, and Southeast
Asian Americans; Haitian Americans; Native Hawaiians; economically disadvantaged
and geographically isolated European Americans; rural and inner city African
Americans; and Latinos of many national origins. Continued energy has also been
devoted to the study and development of model school programs for a variety of
mixed racial, linguistic, and cultural groups.
For many years, researchers have attempted to integrate studies of these
groups into literature reviews encompassing thousands of studies conducted
worldwide. These reviews have uncovered a core list of "generic" findings that
transcend specific groups, localities, and risk factors (see, e.g., Collier,
There is broad enough consensus to make these findings, or principles, an
organizing structure, both for continuing research and for immediate
implementation into programs for at-risk children. These principles provide the
basis for research being conducted by the Center for Research on Education,
Diversity & Excellence (CREDE). CREDE studies focus on the principles by
studying their enactment in a variety of settings. CREDE's mission is to help
the nation's population of diverse students, including those at risk of
educational failure, to achieve high standards. CREDE's research operates under
six strands: (1) language learning; (2) professional development; (3) family,
peers, school, and community; (4) instruction in context; (5) integrated school
reform; and (6) assessment. THE FIVE GENERIC PRINCIPLES
"Principle 1: Facilitate learning through joint productive activity among
teachers and students.
Learning takes place best through joint productive activity--when experts and
novices work together for a common product or goal, and during the activity have
opportunities to converse about it (Rogoff, 1991; Tharp & Gallimore, 1988).
In the natural (nonformal) settings of family, community, and workplace, shared
ways of understanding the world are created through the development of language
systems and word meanings during joint activity. Young children and mature
adults alike develop their competencies in the context of such activity. In many
schools, however, opportunities for this kind of shared experience are rare,
which in turn limits students' opportunities to develop common systems of
understanding with their teachers and with their peers.
Work that is carried out collaboratively for a common objective and the
discourse that accompanies the process contribute to the highest level of
academic achievement; "schooled" or "scientific" ideas are used to solve
practical problems presented by the real world. The constant connection of
schooled concepts and everyday concepts is basic to the process by which mature
schooled thinkers understand the world. Discourse that builds basic schooled
competencies can take place only if the teacher shares in these experiences.
Joint productive activity between teacher and students helps to create a common
context of experience within the school itself, which is especially important
when the teacher and the students are not of the same background.
"Principle 2: Develop students' competence in the language and literacy of
instruction throughout all instructional activities. "Language proficiency in
speaking, reading, and writing" is the road to high academic achievement.
Whether in bilingual or monolingual programs, whether instruction is in English,
Spanish, Navajo, or Chinese, language development in the language or languages
of instruction is the first goal of teaching and learning.
The current literacy movement in cognitive and educational research is
revealing how deeply language, cognition, values, and culture are linked.
Studies of English as a second language indicate the strong ties between
language development and both academic achievement and cognitive growth
(Collier, 1995). Because of this relationship, language development should be a
metagoal for the entire school day. Language and literacy development should be
fostered through meaningful use and purposive conversation between teacher and
students, not through drills and decontextualized rules (Berman et al., 1995;
Speidel, 1987). Reading and writing must be taught both as specific curricula
and within subject matters. The teaching of language expression and
comprehension should also be integrated into each content area.
The development of language and literacy as a metagoal also applies to the
specialized language genres required for the study of science, mathematics,
history, art, and literature. Effective mathematics learning is based on the
ability to "speak mathematics," just as the overall ability to achieve across
the curriculum is dependent on mastery of the language of instruction.
The ways of using language that prevail in school discourse "such as ways of
asking and answering questions, challenging claims, and using representations"
are frequently unfamiliar to English language learners and other at-risk
students. However, their own culturally based ways of talking can be effectively
linked to the language used for academic disciplines by building learning
contexts that will evoke children's language strengths.
"Principle 3: Contextualize teaching and curriculum in the experiences and
skills of home and community."
Research consistently recommends an increase in contextualized instruction.
Schools typically teach rules, abstractions, and verbal descriptions, and they
teach by means of rules, abstractions, and verbal descriptions. Schools need to
assist at-risk students by providing experiences that show how rules,
abstractions, and verbal descriptions are drawn from and applied to the everyday
Three levels of contextualization must be addressed:
At the level of instruction, teachers should try to establish patterns of
classroom participation and speech that are drawn from conversational styles of
family and community life, yet help students develop the academic style of talk
suited for schools.
At the curriculum level, cultural materials and skills are the media by which
the goals of literacy, numeracy, and science are contextualized. The use of
personal, community-based experiences as the foundation for developing school
skills (e. g., Wyatt, 1978-79) affords students opportunities to apply skills
acquired in both home and school contexts.
At the policy level, the school itself is contextualized. Effective school-based
learning is a social process that affects and is affected by the entire
community. Longer-lasting progress has been achieved with children whose
learning has been explored, modified, and shaped in collaboration with their
parents and communities (John-Steiner & Osterreich, 1975).
All three levels of contextualization have this common premise: The high
literacy goals of schools are best achieved in everyday, culturally meaningful
contexts. This contextualization utilizes students" funds of knowledge and
skills as a sound foundation for new knowledge. This approach fosters pride and
confidence as well as greater school achievement.
"Principle 4: Challenge students toward cognitive complexity."
At-risk students, particularly those of limited Standard English proficiency,
are often forgiven any academic challenges on the assumption that they are of
limited ability; or they are forgiven any genuine assessment of progress,
because the assessment tools do not fit. As a result, both standards and
feedback are weakened, with the predictable end that achievement is handicapped.
While such policies may have originated with benign motives, the effect is to
deny many diverse students the basic requirements of progress: high academic
standards and meaningful assessment that allows feedback and responsive
There is a clear consensus among researchers in this field that at-risk
students require instruction that is cognitively challenging, that is,
instruction that requires thinking and analysis, not only rote, repetitive,
detail-level drills. This does not mean ignoring phonics rules or not memorizing
the multiplication tables, but it does mean going beyond that level of
curriculum into the deep exploration of interesting and meaningful materials.
There are many ways in which cognitive complexity has been introduced into the
teaching of at-risk students. There is good reason to believe, for instance,
that a bilingual curriculum itself provides cognitive challenges that makes it
superior to a monolingual approach (Collier, 1995).
Working with a cognitively challenging curriculum requires careful leveling
of tasks, so students are stretched to reach within their zones of proximal
development, where they can perform with teacher guidance. It does not mean
drill-and-kill exercises, and it does not mean overwhelming challenges that
discourage effort. Getting the correct balance and providing appropriate
assistance is, for the teacher, a truly cognitively challenging task.
"Principle 5: Engage students through dialogue, especially the instructional
Basic thinking skills "the ability to form, express, and exchange ideas in
speech and writing" are most effectively developed through dialogue, that is,
through the process of questioning and sharing ideas and knowledge. The
instructional conversation (IC) is the means by which teachers and students
relate formal, schooled knowledge to the student's individual, community, and
family knowledge. This concept may appear to be a paradox; instruction implies
authority and planning, while conversation implies equality and responsiveness.
But the IC is based on assumptions that are fundamentally different from
traditional lessons. Teachers who use it, like parents in natural teaching,
assume the student has something to say beyond the known answers in the head of
the adult. The adult listens carefully, makes guesses about the student's
intended meaning as needed, and adjusts responses to assist the student's
efforts--in other words, engages in conversation (Ochs, 1982). Such conversation
reveals the knowledge, skills, and values--the culture--of the learner, and
enables the teacher to contextualize teaching to fit the learner's experience
In U.S. schools the instructional conversation is rare. More often teaching
is through the recitation script, in which the teacher repeatedly assigns and
assesses. True dialogic teaching transforms classrooms and schools into "the
community of learners' they can become when teachers reduce the distance between
themselves and their students by constructing lessons from common understandings
of each others' experience and ideas" and make teaching a "warm, interpersonal
and collaborative activity" (Dalton, 1989).
Once these principles have been enacted and
tested, it will be possible to see how they work internally, to refine their
statements, and to determine their limitations. The principles are intentionally
generic; in all likelihood there are situations and individuals for whom they
must be modified. The principles are now like "black boxes," and the next stage
of research will be to open those boxes to adjust and deepen our understanding
and our prescriptions for development.
Berman, P., McLaughlin, B., McLeod, B.,
Minicucci, C., Nelson, B., & Woodworth, K. (1995). School reform and student
diversity, . Santa Cruz, CA: National Center for Research on Cultural Diversity
and Second Language Learning.
Collier, V. P. (1995). "Promoting academic success for ESL students:
Understanding second language acquisition for school. Elizabeth, NJ: New Jersey
Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages-Bilingual Educators.
Dalton, S. (1989). "Teachers as assessors and assistors: Institutional
constraints on interpersonal relationships. Paper presented at the meeting of
the American Educational Research Association, San Francisco, CA.
John-Steiner, V. P., & Osterreich, H. (1975). "Learning styles among
Pueblo children: Final report to National Institute of Education." Albuquerque:
University of New Mexico, College of Education.
Ochs, E. (1982). Talking to children in Western Samoa. Language in Society,
Rogoff, B. (1991). Social interaction as apprenticeship in thinking: Guidance
and participation in spatial planning. In L. B. Resnick, J. M. Levine, & S.
Teasley (Eds.), "Perspectives on socially shared cognition. Washington: APA
Speidel, G. E. (1987). Language differences in the classroom: Two approaches
for developing language skills in dialect-speaking children. In E. Oksaar (Ed.),
"Sociocultural perspectives of language acquisition and multilingualism."
Tubingen, Germany: Gunter Narr.
Tharp, R. G., & Gallimore, R. (1988). "Rousing minds to life: Teaching,
learning, and schooling in social context. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Wyatt, J. D. (1978-79). Native involvement in curriculum development: The
native teacher as cultural broker. Interchange, 9, 17-28.
This digest is based on a report published by the Center for Research on
Education, Diversity & Excellence (CREDE), by Roland G. Tharp, "From At-Risk
to Excellence: Research, Theory, and Principles for Practice."