Based on research in motivation, cognition, and instruction in reading, as well as our experience in teaching, we expected that an instructional framework that enhanced students’ long-term literacy activity would have to address student needs for the following:
- Observing and personalizing “real-world” problems as a basis for intrinsic motivations for reading
- Learning a variety of cognitive strategies for exploring these problems
- Interacting socially to construct conceptual knowledge
- Communicating their understanding to genuine audiences
Consequently, our framework, which we termed Concept-Oriented Reading Instruction (CORI), consisted of five instructional dimensions, descriptions of which follow.
Observing and personalizing
To create a context for the motivations of curiosity, aesthetic involvement, challenge, and self-efficacy in reading, we attempted to enable students to observe and think about the concrete objects and events in the “real world” around them. Student choice in selecting the subtopics, goals, and materials for learning was emphasized. We expected that sustained work on a conceptual issue of personal interest would enable students to augment their conceptual knowledge as they learned increasingly complex reading strategies (Pintrich & Schrauben, 1992).
The main point of the observing and personalizing phase of instruction was to support students in developing and expressing their personal interests in the world around them. This phase also included bringing background experience and knowledge into the learning and exploration processes. We encouraged students to select a subject important to them and to identify topics (such as moon craters) to which they wanted to devote time and energy in their learning.
Searching and retrieving
Students were taught how to search for subtopics related to their general interests, how to search for informative resources, such as books, and how to find opportunities for further real-world observation, all of which could extend their knowledge and satisfy their curiosities. Students chose their own science trade books to use in learning about the subtopics they selected. We expected that as students acquired concepts according to their choices, they would be motivated to form increasingly higher order abstractions and generalizations about the themes they were studying.
This instructional dimension emphasized the cognitive strategies students needed to pursue and satisfy their explicitly stated topical interests. We began by teaching students to search and select resources. Forming an overview of resources such as books, globes, or sites for field observations was important, as was understanding the organization of a classroom library, an expository trade book, and the pages of an illustrated reference work, and being able to skim and scrutinize texts, graphs, charts, maps, tables, and schedules.
Comprehending and integrating
The comprehending and integrating portion of the instructional framework encompassed the following comprehension strategies: (a) determining the topic of a text selection; (b) detecting critical details; (c) summarizing the text; (d) making comparisons between texts; (e) developing criteria for evaluating a book; and (f) critically reflecting on the author’s point of view and presentation of information.
To create an inclusive base for students’ literacy development, we incorporated the objective of connecting literary experience to conceptual understanding. We wanted students to be able to identify plot, character, setting, and theme in narrative and literary works such as novels and folktales. We also wanted to enable students to respond aesthetically to literature through considering other points of view.
Communicating to others
Many exciting educational programs contain high expectations for communication. Some programs emphasize writing (Hiebert & Fisher, 1990); whereas others emphasize construction of a tangible artifact such as a map or a diorama (Blumenfeld et al., 1991). High expectations for purposeful communication are likely to lead students to enjoy the processes of observation, inquiry, reading, writing, and problem solving with peers.
In our framework, presenting a coherent message in the form of a written report, a class-authored book, or a diorama were considered appropriate syntheses. Students were expected to identify important information, to organize that information into a coherent form, and to express their ideas precisely and convincingly. They were expected to develop critical stances toward texts by applying evaluation criteria to a variety of materials. The major aim of the communicating to others instructional dimension was to enable students to express their understandings about topics of personal interest in a variety of coherent, persuasive, and accurate communications to classmates or other audiences of their choosing.
We created a cycle of opportunities for social interaction. Evidence is accumulating that participating in a learning community sustains interest in learning, permits higher order integration of ideas, and fosters the internalization of social processes of constructing meaning (Almasi, 1993). However, some social communication structures are more likely than others to foster efficient, coherent, and complete thinking and learning (Johnson, Johnson, Stanne, & Garibaldi, 1990). We emphasized peer-led discussion in which the group had the common goal of understanding the concepts and the reading strategies that were the focal points of the lessons.