CCDD catalyzing comprehension
through discussion and debate

Improving Reading and Comprehension in Grades 4 - 8

SERP has been awarded a grant by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) under their Reading for Understanding Initiative to develop and evaluate programs intended to boost the reading comprehension of students across subject areas in grades 4-8. Boston Public Schools have worked in partnership with SERP since 2004, and the proposal was built directly on the foundational work done with BPS schools and district leaders. Several BPS schools and schools in the Dennis-Yarmouth Regional School District (Cape Cod, MA) are already involved in the project. School districts in Everett, Leominster and Worcester, Massachusetts are joining the study beginning in the 2012-13 school year. SERP is also pleased to continue work with the Baltimore City Public Schools with the enhanced Word Generation program.


Our project, called Catalyzing Comprehension through Discussion and Debate (CCDD), has two components:

WG The first, called Word Generation-Enhanced, is a Tier 1 program designed for use across content areas in grades 4-8. It places heavy emphasis on the skill set targeted by the Common Core State Standards, including academic language, argumentation, analytic reasoning, and expository writing. In grades 6-8, the program takes a deeper dive into those skills in social studies and science for six weeks of each year. Except for those weeks, the program requires limited time from math, science, and social studies teachers (15-20 minutes/week), and from English Language Arts teachers (30 minutes/week).
STARI The Strategic Adolescent Reading Intervention (STARI) is a Tier 2 program designed for students in grades 6-8 who are reading at about a 3rd or 4th grade reading level. Depending on the school's or the district's approach to reading instruction for students at this level, the course can be delivered either as the primary English-language arts course, or as an additional period course. It includes full length novels and poetry, but also includes highly scaffolded reading activities at differentiated levels of difficulty. Like Word Generation, STARI incorporates frequent opportunity for class or partner discussion.

It is a widely shared goal to have all students prepared for success in college. But when many students from major urban areas confront the college entrance exams that will open or close doors to university studies, they are grossly underprepared for the reading comprehension tasks they face.

SATConsider the released item from the SAT to the left.

How can we prepare students to successfully answer questions like this? Even if students know the meaning of the words period, authoritative, flexible, and theory, they may well still struggle to choose the correct answer. What is typically taught as strategy instruction will be of limited value, and even background knowledge will not help (there was refusal to accept the new discovery by many in the public, and researchers did greet the new theory with a great deal of skepticism, if not stubbornness).

Students may have a far better shot at success, however, if they have been in classrooms where claims and arguments are publicly dissected, reasoned through, and debated. Classroom discourse in which a teacher or classmate asks "how do you know…" or "aren't you ignoring…" would support careful and critical attention to precisely what a text says, what the author intends, and what evidence is offered. If the text that is discussed incorporates content-laden academic language (such as flexible theory, authoritative finding), then a student may be well prepared to tackle the SAT question and others of its type. This is what we hope to achieve with students in participating schools!

vidVideo: The Big Picture - Overview of CCDD

In this video:

Catherine Snow shares:

Catalyzing Comprehension through Discussion and Debate is part of the Reading for Understanding effort in grades Pre-K through 12 | the hypothesis is that engaged classroom discussion will have an impact on reading comprehension | components of reading comprehension that are crucial but under-attended-to include perspective taking, academic language, and following lines of argument | this work will chart the developmental trajectories of these components that are crucial life skills

Lowry Hemphill discusses:

students get excited about intellectual work if ideas come alive for them | in time, students will learn to have debates and discussion in their own heads in order to deeply comprehend texts | discussion and debate with classmates will prepare students for the internal debate that is necessary for deep comprehension

Cathy O’Connor adds:

when students reach 4th grade, texts become more complex and students will need to do more than decode in order to comprehend | discussion with classmates will show students that others may have had a different understanding of the text | debate and discussion with classmates will lead to students embodying this process of understanding texts | students will discover that understanding is a process, and that when reading, we often won’t know what the author meant until we engage in discussion and debate