ERIC Identifier: ED334571
Publication Date: 1991-00-00
Author: Stahl, Norman A. - And Others
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading and Communication Skills
How College Learning Specialists Can Help College Students.
The learning specialist should view his/her mission as one of assisting
students to become successful, independent learners. One key to moving
beyond the "basic skills" approach to college reading instruction lies
in adopting an academic orientation of the instructor as "learning specialist"
rather than as a "remedial/developmental" reading specialist. With the
former, the instructor operates from a philosophical perspective stressing
strategic approaches to reading-to-learn as driven by the cognitive sciences
and recent research in reading pedagogy. The more traditional skills approach
reflects a deficit model (and hence stigma) drawn from the diagnostic-compensatory
movement. In this case, the instructor looks upon his/her mission as teaching
students specific skills that have not been mastered. This digest discusses
some of the ways instructors can help students become learners.
IMPLEMENT A COURSE SIMULATION MODEL
In a developmental studies program where students are not enrolled concurrently
in a credit-bearing, content-area course, consider teaching strategies
through a simulation model (Nist & Kirby, 1986). The goal of such a
model is to replicate the tasks and texts of a typical lower-division course
that most students are required to take after completion of the developmental
education requirement. Then throughout the simulation experience, students
read and study as the learning specialist teaches the domain-specific study
strategies. Students can also receive practice in taking notes with appropriate
videotaped lectures or guest lectures from professors who regularly teach
the target course. During the lecture presentations the learning specialists
should model good notetaking strategies on an overhead projector. The end
point of the simulation experience is the passing of an exam like that
encountered in the regular course. When students exit the simulation course,
they take with them a physical product (marked text and class notes), a
cognitive product (greater prior knowledge and experience), and domain
specific and general study strategies.
UTILIZE UNDERGRADUATE TEACHING ASSISTANTS
These assistants should be successful students who possess an academic
worldliness, a repertoire of efficient and effective learning strategies,
and a desire to pass this "insider knowledge" to another student. These
T.A.'s (or even peer tutors) can work with triads, small groups, or with
individual students needing intensive assistance or other forms of mentoring.
Variations of the mentorship plan can be adapted from the Language Study
model (Sartain et al, 1982), the Learning Counseling model (Garfield &
McHugh, 1978) or the Supplemental Instruction model (Martin, 1980).
USE HIGH UTILITY STRATEGIES FOR IMMEDIATE ACCEPTANCE
Experienced college learning specialists realize that many students
enter required reading courses with a negative attitude about having been
assigned to a "remedial" class. Consequently, rather than starting the
semester with processes that may take several weeks or all term for students
to reap the benefits, begin by teaching a high utility strategy that promotes
immediate transfer to other course work. Instruction on how to take notes
(Stahl et al, 1991) from lectures or to use a structured study strategy
(Stahl & Henk, 1985) from assigned readings provides such an avenue
to immediate use.
Most developmental studies students must learn to (a) establish goals,
allocate resources (i.e., select strategies, allot time), and make a plan
of action that incorporates the appropriate strategies over time; (b) have
a repertoire of strategies for the numerous tasks and texts encountered
in postsecondary learning, since there is no best method to study; (c)
select the most appropriate strategies based on the characteristics of
text, and personal learning preferences; (d) activate and monitor a plan
of action and make appropriate changes, when necessary; and (e) evaluate
their plan's success or failure to be prepared for future situations.
RECONCEPTUALIZE VOCABULARY DEVELOPMENT
Students entering the milieu of postsecondary education need to understand
from the onset that the fundamental avenue for academic success is the
ability to expand their vocabulary quickly (Stahl et al, 1987). Hence,
college learning specialists must provide experiences that immerse students
in (1) the "language of the academy" (e.g., terms such as bursar, financial
aid); (2) the "language of the educated" or the advanced general vocabulary
used by scholars as they communicate; and (3) the specialized "languages
of the disciplines" or those unique technical terms which permit scholars
within a field to communicate effectively and efficiently.
TRAIN STUDENTS TO UTILIZE STRATEGIES
One of the primary goals of the college learning specialist is to lead
students to become self-motivated and self-directed users and later designers
of efficient and effective strategies and tactics of learning. In meeting
these goals, consider using a four-step training procedure (Stahl et al,
in-press) that incudes components of modeling, practicing, evaluating and
reinforcing. In the initial modeling the instructor demonstrates the use
of a strategy such as a notetaking system during an academic event in a
content field class or during the simulation of an academic event in a
developmental studies class. During the session/s, the instructor employs
think-alouds and self-report strategies to explain his/her rationale for
undertaking various tactics as part of implementing an overall notetaking
After each session is completed, the instructor shares with the students
retrospective reports of the perceived successes or failures as well as
the rationale for any fix-up tactics employed. As the modeling procedure
continues across the training period, under the observation and guidance
of the instructor, the students employ the strategy. Opportunities are
provided for peer-modeling and group reflection activities as the students
master the strategy.
Long-term, monitored practice is undertaken throughout the remainder
of the term as students use (or adapt) the learned strategy in a selected
course. In order to build confidence with the technique and to promote
transfer to new situations, care must be taken to have students practice
in a course that specifically lends itself to the strategy. Later the students
may branch out to other courses as the strategy becomes second nature to
them. As in a simulation model, the instructor must provide appropriate
practice materials representative of the content from a range of lower
Throughout the practice period, each of the students undergoes regular
evaluation of her/his strategy usage. For instance, with the Notetaking
Observation Training and Evaluation Scales (Stahl, et al, 1991) the learner
uses an ordered set of objective, scaled criterion behaviors associated
with effective notetaking for evaluation and monitoring progress towards
becoming an efficient notetaker. Then based on the aforementioned criteria,
the instructor or another class member reviews the student's notes and
provides feedback on a weekly basis. Like procedures have been described
by Simpson (1986). Reinforcement of positive behaviors is received through
the ongoing cooperative review sessions and the charting of points across
USE WRITING TO DEVELOP READING COMPREHENSION AND CRITICAL THINKING
A number of tested strategies have been used as an integral step in
processes designed to elicit students' prior knowledge, improve reading
comprehension, and to teach independent study strategies. Many learning
specialists, however, overlook the value of writing to help teach reading
(Hayes, et al, 1991)--either as a step in a strategy or by itself.
Either way, writing aids help students in becoming co-creators of the
texts they read, in creating their own articulated understanding of content
material, and in providing a means of monitoring and revising that understanding.
For instance, to elicit background knowledge before a new reading assignment,
the learning specialist can ask students to freewrite on the general subject
of the assignment, to write down all the questions the reading passage's
title brings to mind, or to skim first and last paragraphs and main headings
in the passage and then freewrite on what they predict the passage will
say or even on questions about or objections to what they think will appear
in the passage.
The learning specialist can also ask that as students read, they pause
for three minutes before going on to the next section to summarize what
they have just read. In addition, it's always a good idea to have students
reflect on the entire passage during a 10-to 15-minute freewriting response.
Such writing not only engages students in the reading material, it also
gives them an opportunity to monitor their understanding and to contribute
more knowledgeably to class discussions. In a sense, writing about reading
material turns the reading process inside out, exposing readers to the
inescapable constructivist activity of creating meaning in and from words.
Garfield, Learita and E. A. McHugh (1978). "Learning Counseling: A Higher
Education Student Support Service." Journal of Higher Education, 49 (4).
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Hayes, Christopher G. et al. (1991). "Language Meaning and Knowledge:
Empowering Developmental Students to Participate in the Academy," Reading
Research and Instruction, 30(3), 89-100.
Martin, D. C. (1980). "Learning Centers in Professional Schools." In
K. V. Lauridsen (Ed.), New Directions for College Learning Assistance:
Examining the Scope of Learning Centers. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Nist, Sherrie L. and Kate Kirby (1986). "Teaching Comprehension and
Study Strategies through Modeling and Thinking Aloud." Reading Research
and Instruction, 25(4), 254-64. [EJ 341 076]
Sartain, Harry W. et al. (1982). Teaching Techniques for the Language
of the Disciplines. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh and the Fund
for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education.
Simpson, Michele L. (1986). "PORPE: A Writing Strategy for Studying
and Learning in the Content Areas." Journal of Reading, 29(5), 407-14.
[EJ 329 407]
Stahl, Norman A. et al. (1987). "Developing College Vocabulary: A Content
Analysis of Instructional Materials." Reading Research and Instruction,
26(3), 203-21. [EJ 353 737]
Stahl, Norman A. and W. A. Henk (1985). "Teaching Students to Use Textbook-Study
Systems." Reading Horizons, 25(3), 153-61. [EJ 315 181]
Stahl, Norman A. et al. (1991). "Enhancing Students Notetaking through
Training and Evaluation." Journal of Reading, 34(8), 614-22.