Orchestrating the Thought and Learning
of Struggling Writers

CIERA Report #1-002

Mark Gover and Carol Sue Englert
Michigan State University

CIERA Inquiry 1: Readers and Texts
How do a teacher's questions and comments support the literacy development of children who have been classified as learning disabled? How can children's existing knowledge and classroom environments enhance the factors that make for success?

It is viable to argue that literacy can be construed as a set of culturally-based discursive practices rather than as merely a set of cognitive skills. This idea has special relevance for students with learning disabilities, who often struggle with more traditional, individually-based curricular approaches. This study explored the ways in which an experienced teacher engaged students formally assessed as "learning disabled" in the collaborative editing of a written text. Analyses suggest that one group of teacher utterances served to orchestrate students' participation in the repair of the text while a second group of utterances seemed to guide the level at which students were considering the text. Regarding the latter, the teacher's comments seemed intended to push students toward either one of two ways of thinking. Some comments encouraged them to clarify the conceptual meaning of the text (e.g., "What does that mean?"), while others asked them to consider the grammatical/syntactic structure of the text itself (e.g., "So, how should we say it?"). As a group, collaborative editing appears to have allowed these students to perform at levels well beyond those at which they typically perform individually. These data demonstrate one way that teachers can socialize students, especially those who are academically challenged, into the collaborative creation and revision of texts.


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