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Explicit Explanation of Genre Within Authentic Literacy Activities in Science: Does It Facilitate Development and Achievement?

Victoria Purcell-Gates

Nell K. Duke

Reading, Science

Background: Do children learn written language forms best through immersion within contexts of language use only or through explicit instruction in language forms within contexts of authentic language practices? Conflicting theory and research posit different answers to this question--one that is key to the design of educational curriculum.

Purpose: The purpose of this study was to address this question within the context of 2nd and 3rd grade science instruction that utilized science informational written text and science procedural written texts. The study began in January 2000 and was completed in January 2004.

Intervention: The intervention that was assessed was to add explicit instruction of the linguistic features of science informational text and of science procedural text to 2nd and 3rd grade science instruction that also utilized the authentic reading and writing of such texts. Teachers in both control and experimental groups were taught how to involve their students in authentic reading and writing of informational and procedural texts. Authentic was defined as real-life informational/procedural texts read and written for real-life purposes. The teachers in the experimental group were also taught the linguistic features of these two genres and how to incorporate explicit instruction of them into their use of authentic reading and writing of authentic informational and procedural texts.

Setting: The study took place in 16 randomly selected elementary schools from randomly selected school districts in the U.S. Midwest. Schools were selected that contained a span of SES levels, between the 25th and 75th quartiles, within the same classrooms. The intervention spanned two years and followed the children throughout their 2nd and 3rd grade years.

Research Design: This study was experimental at the teacher/school level and quasi-experimental at the student level.

Teachers in both conditions were observed weekly during their science instruction for (a) coaching in the condition; and (b) coding to document the degree of authenticity in the reading and writing of the two science genres and the degree of explicitness in instruction of the linguistic features of the two genres. Students were assessed for their reading comprehension and their compositional abilities of the two genres across 6 assessment time points across the two years. Reading comprehension assessments and writing assessments were developed by the project because no such instruments existed for science informational and procedural written genres.

Hierarchical Linear Modeling (HLM) was employed to assess growth in reading and writing abilities of the genres across the two years of the longitudinal study between the control and experimental classes. Correlational analysis was also used to explore the relationship between growth and the degree of authenticity and explicit instruction in the classes across the two groups.

Findings: Findings revealed no effect of the intervention on children's growth in reading comprehension and written composition of science informational and procedural texts in 2nd and 3rd grade. Correlational analysis, however, revealed a significant positive relationship between the degree of authentic reading and writing of the two genres in the classes and children's growth in reading comprehension and written composition of them.

Purcell-Gates, V., Duke, N.K., & Martineau, J. (in press). Learning to Read and Write Genre-Specific Text: Roles of Authentic Experience and Explicit Teaching. Reading Research Quarterly.

Duke, N.K., Purcell-Gates, V., Hall, L., & Tower, C. (in press). Authentic literacy activities for developing reading and writing. Reading Teacher.

Palincsar, A. S., & Duke, N. K. (2004). The role of text and text-reader interactions in young children s reading development and achievement. Elementary School Journal, 105(2), 184-197.