Developing Literacy Through Content Enhancement

Developing Literacy Through Content Enhancement

The overall success of instruction in the content areas (e.g., secondary social studies, science, language arts, mathematics) has always been compromised by the underlying belief of many content area teachers that skills associated with learning how to learn that content are not their responsibility. As a result, a host of work-around instructional arrangements have been created by schools to help students to learn these skills through remedial courses, special education support structures, or beyond-the-school day instruction.

Alternately, schools have abandoned efforts to develop these literacy skills and the hope of independent self-sufficient learners by the provision of supports that accommodate skill deficiencies to allow students to access the curriculum, provision of modified or adapted curriculum, and tutoring to ensure sufficient levels of content mastery. However, both of these routes approach the problem of students having insufficient levels of literacy to independently learn content by separating the development of required skills and the acquisition of content. Students are expected to make this connection for themselves and are often do not meet this expectation. As a result, the time and effort spent and on the independent development of both content and skill acquisition does not pay off.

The Content Literacy Continuum (CLC) was developed to address the problem of this separation of content and skill instruction. The development of the levels of instruction in the continuum are designed to provide a road map for school staff to address the problem of separate attention of content and skill instruction that has marginalized some students and has led to inadequate progress on state assessments for many more students. There have been features that have been built into CLC to address this problem across. As a starting point, Level 1 of CLC, was designed to focus on content mastery through the use of graphic teaching devices that a teacher uses to lead students to mastery of critical elements of the content with the eventual goal of beginning to reveal and unpack literacy skills and strategies that students need to learn. The following sections describe this process.

Basic Principles for Promoting Literacy Through Content Enhancement

Level 1 of CLC Ensure mastery of critical content focuses on school staff developing the planning and teaching competencies required for ensuring access to the critical elements of the curriculum for all learners. School personnel should set a goal of achieving high quality implementation of Content Enhancement to set the stage for helping students begin to see and use important literacy strategies to learn the content. High quality implementation of Content Enhancement is depicted in Figure 1 and includes:

1. Each implementation of a routine is consistent with the implementation described in the original research using the Cue-Do-Review process and altered to scaffold learning as students learn the routine and become more self-directed in turning the teaching device into a learning device.

2. Content selected for the device and taught through the routine is tied to state standards and has been screened for instruction through the SMARTER planning process.

3. Planning has created courses organized into related units that have been translated into appropriate organizers and other teaching devices and resources are logically selected, developed, to these organizers for effective and efficient teaching.

4. Devices selected are studied to determine the literacy competencies required to learn the content through instruction in explict, emerging, and embedded strategies.

5. Implementation is characterized by the use of devices used conspicuously to explore unit content deeply within and across courses so that students experience the use of devices to enhance learning across different disciplines.

6. Implementation involves the students through informed instruction that enlists students in the selection and co-construction of devices.

7. Teachers personalize the use of the devices and the routines without compromising on the instructional elements hat make the devices effective.

8. Teachers monitor their use of the routines by collecting and evaluating data on their implementation and the learning outcomes of students to ensure that student learning does in fact increase and instruction is modified to ensure higher rates of learning for all students.

9. Implementation of Content Enhancement is characterized by goal setting and collaboration in the attainment of goals associated with the research and realistic system change by school staff rather than the goals defined by external. consultants.

10. There is an observable shift if the behavior of staff that indicates a mindset shift reflecting the belief across staff that Content Enhancement is a key tool to improve student achievement and that all teachers and students can benefit from its use.


(Learning goal): In this unit we are learning about mammals. For the past 2 days we have been learning the characteristics of different mammals in our area such as .... (or elicit from students from CE). We have been using a Concept Diagram to do this, and we have used the Concept Diagram several times already this year.

(Why important) However, it seems as if we could all benefit from a little focused work on one part of the Concept Diagram, the development of he definition in Step 7. Definitions are important, and if we learn a good pattern to write definitions, we can use that pattern in many different areas.

(What they will KNOW) When we have finished, all of you will know how to write a good definition.

(What they will DO) You will be able to write good definitions when we have used the Concept Diagram, but also when you need to as you read or take tests.

(How to Think) To do this, you will need to remember that a good definition consists of the name of a concept, the name of the overall concept class, and all of the always characteristics that must be in all examples of that concept class.

(Select Content Enhancer) We have a Content Enhancer in the form of a Definition sheet that will help us reach this learning goal.

(Why is will help). The Definition sheet will help us because the three parts of a good definition are cued by the graphic.

(How recorded) I am passing out a Content Enhancer Definition Sheet for all of you to keep and add to throughout this unit.

(Expectations) Please contribute to the discussion about how to construct a good definition. You need to pay attention, listen carefully to each other, participate when we are presenting our definitions, and take notes on your Definitions Content Enhancer.


(Explore Background Knowledge): Now, let us use a Content Enhancer, the Definition Sheet, that will allow us to focus more specifically on definitions. What do you remember from using the Concept Diagram about a good definition? Each of us needs to know the information about mammals and also about what makes up a good definition.

(Sources of Information Needed): In order to practice developing a good definition, take out your Concept Diagram of a mammal, and we will work together to see if we can all recall the steps in creating a definition of a “mammal.” You have read the text, discussed mammals, and used the Concept Diagram. We will look at all of these as we construct a definition.

(Steps): Let’s review the steps to creating a good definition. (the concept name, the overall concept name, and all of the always characteristics)

(Student involvement): Who can recall the parts of a good definition?

(Shape student responses): These are all good suggestions. Can someone tell me how we should focus on “characteristics?”

(Summarize completed and remaining steps): What have we accomplished so far, and what do you thing we also need?

(Summarize learning goal): What were we trying to accomplish in terms of a good definition, and how well do you think we have done?
(Type of thinking): What do you notice as cues on the Definition Content Enhancer sheet that lets you know what type of thinking you need to do here? Elicit from the students that the three types of thinking involve naming the concept, identifying the larger superordinate concept class, and naming all of the always characteristics.
(Expectations): Each group needs to construct what they think is a good definition and then prepare an explanation about why it is a good definition.


(Evaluate whether learning has been achieved): Ask the students how the Definitions Content Enhancer was used to reach the goal.

(Generate evidence that students that students KNOW how to write a good definition): Plan activities by individuals or small groups to check on knowledge of components of a definition.

(Generate evidence that students that students can write a good definition): Prepare a simple task for students to write a definition that will provide success for all students.

(Discuss value of using the Content Enhancer Definition Sheet): Ask and discuss how the Definition Sheet helps write a good definition.

(Generate evidence that students know the process of developing a good definition): Create individual or small group activities to review and practice the process of developing a good definition.

(Develop an extension assignment to help students improve their knowledge of the goal): Assign students pages of their text to read and a word in that text for which they can develop a good definition.

(Develop an extension assignment to help students improve their use of the process): Ask students to explain to someone how to develop a good definition.

(Develop an extension assignment to help students extend their use of the process): Ask the students where they could use the Definition Content Enhancers or to show how they used it in other areas.