ERIC Identifier: ED436983
Publication Date: 1999-12-00
Author: Calderon, Margarita Espino
Clearinghouse on Languages and Linguistics Washington DC.
Promoting Language Proficiency and Academic Achievement through
Cooperation. ERIC Digest.
Cooperative learning is an instructional strategy that provides the social
structure for learners to work cooperatively in groups. Although it was
developed for use with native English speakers, cooperative learning has been
found to be effective for promoting the academic achievement, language
acquisition, and social development of English language learners (Calderon &
Slavin, 1999; Ovando & Collier, 1998).
This digest discusses a project conducted in the Ysleta Independent School
District in El Paso, Texas, that sought to integrate effective practices in
literacy education, an empirically based cooperative learning model, and a
classroom management model to help teachers develop the English and Spanish
language proficiency of their students. The cooperative learning model selected
was Cooperative Integrated Reading and Composition (CIRC) (Stevens, Madden,
Slavin, & Farnish, 1987). CIRC consists of instructional practices that
develop social, academic, and communication skills. It was selected for the
following reasons: (1) It integrates oral language development, reading, and
writing through all phases of instruction; (2) it enables bilingual teachers to
manage their English, primary language, and transitional literacy activities
effectively; (3) it develops critical thinking and social skills; (4) it
develops self-esteem and self-confidence; (5) it uses children's literature in
two languages and a variety of text genres, including student publications and
reading texts; (6) it helps students appreciate and become proficient in their
primary language while developing proficiency in English; and (7) it provides an
English teaching and learning environment in which the subject matter is not
watered down, and higher order discourse and thinking are the norm (Calderon,
Hertz-Lazarowitz, & Slavin, 1998). This digest describes the features of the
bilingual version of the CIRC model, now called BCIRC, and highlights initial
findings from the Ysleta Independent School District.
At the time of the study, 74% of the students in the Ysleta Independent
School District were nonnative English speakers; 70% were Hispanic and 24% were
limited English speaking. Students were provided with intensive instruction in
their native language from kindergarten through Grade 2. Reading and writing in
English were given more emphasis in Grade 3, with continued instruction in
Spanish. By Grade 4, students were reading and writing in both English and
Spanish. However, the transitional phase continued through Grade 4. To study how
students make the transition from their first language to English, Grade 2, 3,
and 4 classes were selected for the project.
Twelve bilingual experimental BCIRC classes and 12 bilingual control classes
were involved. Control and experimental teachers spent 60 to 90 minutes daily on
reading and language arts instruction. During this time block, experimental
teachers used only BCIRC and heterogeneous grouping. Control teachers grouped
students by ability and used more traditional reading instruction approaches
such as round robin, oral reading, simple cooperative activities, and workbook
practice. They conducted English as a second language (ESL) instruction as a
separate 30-minute block using a packaged curriculum. Control teachers
alternated instruction in English and Spanish daily. Experimental teachers
integrated second language acquisition principles and methods into BCIRC. They
taught 2 weeks of Spanish literature followed by 2 weeks of English literature
throughout the year. BCIRC students used Spanish for first language reading and
English for ESL and transitional reading.
FEATURES AND STRATEGIES OF BILINGUAL CIRC
Activities Before Reading
Building background, the vocabulary of cooperation, and team building.
Interactive structures: Whole class or teams of four with teacher.
This feature is based on the premise that the more familiar readers are with
the content and language of a reading selection, the easier it is for them to
understand it. To build familiarity with content, it is necessary not only to
fill information gaps but also to minimize cultural and vocabulary gaps. For
example, without proper background knowledge, a Hispanic child may have
difficulty understanding a story about a trip to New York City.
Team building is often incorporated into background-building activities.
Before reading a story about a hummingbird, for example, students work in teams
to develop posters on birds. This activity generates discussion around the topic
of birds and builds a cognitive and factual knowledge base around the upcoming
reading selection. At the same time, learning becomes a cooperative, highly
interactive venture. This creates a positive learning environment in which
students value each others' contributions and work in teams. It also builds
unity and appreciation, contextualizes the selection, and identifies content and
language that may be new to the students. The secure and supportive environment
also motivates students to take risks.
All of the selections in a teaching unit are related to the same theme. The
vocabulary and concepts developed for one selection become background knowledge
for the next selection. This thematic approach also facilitates the learning of
key concepts and vocabulary. Themes allow students to associate words with a
topic and make connections between words.
Making predictions. Interactive structures: Whole class or teams of four with
The teacher shows the reading selection to the students, who then work in
groups of four to formulate their predictions about it. One child acts as a
recorder in each group, and with the help of the other group members, writes a
prediction. If consensus is not reached on one prediction, several predictions
may be generated by the group. Later in the process, students are asked to read
a story up to a certain point, then stop and make predictions before reading the
rest of the story. Asking students to make predictions entices them to read the
story more carefully and to use context clues more effectively as they work
through the process of confirming or rejecting their predictions. Students
appear to remember events in the story better when the events discussed
contribute to their prediction making.
Previewing a selection and building content vocabulary. Interactive structure:
Whole class with teacher.
Previewing is particularly important when students are reading in a second
language. In the preview, the teacher leads the students sequentially through a
selection, establishing elements of the plot and characters. Vocabulary
development familiarizes students with the words, idioms, and grammatical
constructions of the selection before they read it. This includes posting and
reviewing ESL definitions of new vocabulary. The new words are also written in
sentences and posted for the students to see throughout the week.
Phase II: Activities During Reading.
Shared reading. Interactive structures: Whole class or small groups with
During shared reading, the teacher reads a story aloud as students follow the
text in a big book or in their own copies. As the teacher reads aloud, students
hear the flow, rhyme, and rhythm of the language and make connections between
the written and oral forms. This step includes modeling, paraphrasing,
restating, gesturing, acting out, and questioning, as well as strategies for
decoding and comprehension, such as think alouds, self-correction, and
rereading. Later, students mimic and practice, in small groups, the
pronunciation of the words and the rhythm and structure of the text.
Partner reading. Interactive structures: Dyads and groups of four.
Students sit in pairs and take turns reading stories aloud. At first,
partners read alternating sentences. Weeks later, they are ready to alternate
between paragraphs or pages. Often, partners track the text for one another
using their index finger. Through partner reading, ESL students learn to assist
each other with the pronunciation and decoding of words. As students work
through the text, a helping bond develops between them. Reading aloud becomes an
enjoyable and interactive experience that helps students develop fluency and
confidence in their ability to read. An important consideration in partner
reading is the pairing of students. In this project, teachers were asked to rank
students as high, medium, or low in reading ability in both English and Spanish.
Partners were then grouped as follows: high with medium and medium with low.
These four later become a heterogeneous team.
Another important aspect of partner reading is modeling. Teachers first
role-play partner reading with several students. Next, students role-play
reading in pairs, while the teacher provides guidance and feedback on the
helping strategies. The emphasis is on developing strategies for helping one's
partner read fluently.
Treasure hunt: Story comprehension. Interactive structures: Dyads, groups of
During this step, students first discuss with their reading partners
responses to a list of questions about the story listed on several sheets
referred to as a treasure hunt. Next, students come together in teams of four in
a Numbered Heads Together activity. In this activity, students number off from 1
to 4, the teacher asks a question, then each team consults to ensure everyone
knows the answer. Next, the teacher picks a number, and the students with that
number answer the question for their team. The partner reading activity
described above ensures oral fluency for all students, and the Numbered Heads
Together activity ensures comprehension of the story elements by all students.
After the oral processing of information, students write their own answers to
the questions on the treasure hunt sheets.
Story mapping. Interactive structure: Teams of four.
Using a story map, the students work in small groups to map out the names or
attributes of the characters, the setting, the main events, and the ending of a
selection. Story mapping engages students in a variety of mental processes as
they discuss and organize the story. It helps students better understand and
remember the events in the story and learn to use story maps for other reading
and for writing.
Story retell. Interactive structures: Dyads or teams of four, storyteller to
After the story mapping activity, students sit with a partner and take turns
retelling the story without looking at the text or the maps. Before students do
this activity on their own, teachers role-play with several students, paying
special attention to probing and cuing strategies so the retelling is as
accurate and complete as possible. Next, pairs of students role-play, retelling
the story while the teacher provides guidance and feedback on the interaction.
The teacher then moves around the room and helps students practice with their
partners. Afterwards, partners discuss what they liked about the story.
Story-related writing. Interactive structures: Dyads, teams of four,
Working with a partner or in small groups, students discuss, edit, and
publish books that adapt the selection just read or retell the story with a
different ending. They help each other develop story lines and characters,
sequence events, plan the mechanics of putting the book together, give each
other feedback, and build on each other's ideas.
Words out loud and spelling. Interactive structures: Dyads, individuals.
Words from the story are compiled into word banks to be learned and mastered.
Through an array of interactive activities, students learn to read fluently,
spell, and use the words in their word banks correctly in meaningful sentences.
Phase III: Activities After Reading
Word meaning practice. Interactive structures: Individuals, teams of four,
In discussions with the teacher, students write meaningful sentences that
include key words from the reading selection that give the writer and reader a
clear picture of what the words mean. Students write sentences in teams first,
then individually. Partners check each other's sentences.
Partner checking. Interactive structures: Dyads; teams of four.
After students complete the activities above, their partners initial the
student assignment form. Students are given daily expectations about the number
of activities to be completed, but they can go at their own rate and complete
the activities earlier than planned, creating additional time for independent
Sentence writing. Interactive structures: Dyads, teams of four, individuals.
Writing meaningful sentences often requires a great deal of discussion
between students and the teacher as they explore various possibilities for
generating good sentences. Student dyads learn how to integrate word definitions
with their own ideas and how to evaluate and refine their sentences using
criteria for meaningful sentences. Usually, teachers spend several months
modeling this phase through whole-class presentations. Students then practice
writing meaningful sentences in teams, then with partners, then individually.
Test. Interactive structure: Individuals.
Students are given a comprehension test on the story, asked to write
meaningful sentences for each vocabulary word, and asked to read the word list
aloud to the teacher. Students are not permitted to help one another on these
Direct instruction in reading comprehension. Interactive structures: Whole
class; small groups.
Throughout the lesson cycle, the teacher provides direct instruction in
reading comprehension skills such as identifying main ideas, drawing
conclusions, cause and effect, and comparing and contrasting. The story line and
events in the selection determine the point at which these comprehension skills
are taught in context.
Writing workshops. Interactive structures: Whole class, small groups, dyads,
The teacher provides step-by-step explanations and ideas for completing a
writing assignment. Students work closely with the teacher and in teams through
writing, rewriting, revising, and editing activities until they are comfortable
enough to use the writing process on their own.
Family literacy. Interactive structures: Individual with parents, family, or
During independent reading activities, students are asked to read a book of
their choice every evening for at least 20 minutes. Parents are encouraged to
discuss the readings with their children and to initial forms indicating that
the students have read for the required time. Parents are shown how to conduct
these literacy events at home. Students earn points for their team if they
submit a complete form each week. Independent reading and book reports replace
all other homework in reading and language arts.
Qualitative and quantitative data from this study
suggest that CIRC is an effective classroom management tool for bilingual and
ESL content instruction. The strategy of spending 2 weeks studying a piece of
literature and doing related writing in the native language followed by 2 weeks
studying the literature and doing related writing in English provided a solid
base for developing proficiency in two languages.
Quantitative data showed that BCIRC students outperformed control students on
the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills test. In writing, the English language
learners in the 12 experimental CIRC classes outperformed regular English
students in the control classes. Nine of the 12 BCIRC teachers had students who
placed first, second, or third in the school's writing contests. Analysis of
student products from BCIRC and control classes showed that the quantity and
quality of writing samples from the students in BCIRC classes were superior. For
example, students wrote longer and more comprehensive narratives with much more
detail and accuracy of events.
Analysis of videotapes revealed that students in BCIRC classes had better
peer helping strategies and cooperation skills than did those in control
classes. Students were also much more comfortable speaking in their groups and
in front of the class.
Perhaps one of the most important outcomes of the project was the creation of
a better learning environment for the students learning English. The development
of interactive skills also fostered the development of social skills and helping
skills. Students learned to value each other and to concentrate on positive
relationships. Throughout the year, as new students came into the classes, they
were immediately integrated into the teams. Guided interaction around meaningful
and interesting tasks and interesting reading selections helped even the most
reluctant learners become actively engaged in learning.
The exposure to different abilities in Spanish and English helped students
value their own bilingual abilities and see their achievements as positive.
According to teachers' reports, student self-esteem had never been higher. Being
accepted, appreciated, supported, and praised by their peers seemed to have a
profound impact on students' self esteem.
For students learning English, BCIRC offers
language experiences that integrate speaking, listening, reading, and writing.
The activities are meaningful, relevant, and interesting, and tap into students'
linguistic and cultural backgrounds. The extensive interaction involved in BCIRC
activities helps students develop fluency in and comfort with English and
Spanish. The teaching strategies used allow students to tackle increasingly
complex material, build their vocabulary, and gain confidence and independence
in reading. Students also learn that they are active participants in helping
others learn, and that their ideas are valued and encouraged.
Calderon, M., Hertz-Lazarowitz, R., &
Slavin, R.E. (1998). Effects of bilingual cooperative integrated reading and
composition on students making the transition from Spanish to English reading.
"Elementary School Journal, 99,"153-165.
Calderon, M., & Slavin, R.E. (Eds.). (1999, Spring). Building community
through cooperative learning. "Theory into Practice, 38."
Ovando, C.J., & Collier, V.P. (1998). "Bilingual and ESL classrooms:
Teaching in multicultural contexts." New York: McGraw Hill.
Stevens, R.J., Madden, N.A., Slavin, R.E., & Farnish, A.M. (1987).
"Cooperative integrated reading and composition." Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins
University, Center for Research on Elementary and Middle Schools.
This digest is drawn from an article that appeared in "Texas Researcher"
(Volume 2, Winter 1991), a journal of the Texas Center for Educational Research.