Friday, February 26, 2010

Mental Modeling, Mirror Neurons & ReQuest Comprehension Improvement

Comprehension Instruction, ReQuest Procedure & Mirror Neurons

The Reciprocal Questioning or ReQuest Procedure (Manzo, 1969b) is a well-proven and robust method that introduced the idea of “mental modeling “ to educational intervention. This theory preceded by 30 years the now identified enormous power of mirror neurons in the brain as being the center for learning from modeling. Philosophically ReQuest is a constructivist method designed to permit the teacher to model good questioning and question answering (Ciardiello, 1998). It encourages students to focus on the teacher and competent peers as effective models of question asking and answering. However, while the teacher is the initial focus, ReQuest emphasizes strategy more than mere skill learning by teaching students how to set their own purposes for reading. As importantly, the reciprocal step creates procedural rotation that gives students a good deal of control, and makes a learner of the teacher as he or she grows in understanding of students’ different constructions of what they have read.

ReQuest can be used to introduce an in-class reading activity, or at the end of a class period for a home reading assignment. It has been used from the primary grades to the graduate school levels.

Steps in the ReQuest Procedure

Preparation: Teacher and students should have copies of the reading selection.

ReQuest is best used by directing students to look only at one sentence at a time, without reading ahead. When possible, it is useful to have the first portion of the selection on a PowerPoint or an overhead transparency, so that it can be shown one sentence at a time (title and first sentence together first, then the second sentence, the third, etc., to about the fifth sentence). Ideally, the teacher should prepare at least four questions for each, over: the title and first sentence, and the second through about the fourth sentence. These should be questions that students would probably not ask, since students are given the chance to ask questions first.

Step 1. The first time the method is used the teacher should explain its the purpose; for example, "Before you read this selection, we will look at the first few sentences together and ask each other some questions. The purpose of this activity is to improve your ability to set a sound purpose for reading."

Step 2. The teacher guides the students through as many sentences of the selection as necessary to formulate a logical purpose to guide silent reading. This is done in the following way:

a. Students and teacher read the title and first sentence. Students are told that they may ask the teacher as many questions as they wish about the title and first sentence only (see Figure 4.5). Students are told that they should try to ask the kinds of questions a teacher might ask, in the way a teacher might ask them (this is one way to subtly urge students to mentally note the teacher’s mental processes).

b. The teacher answers each question fully, but without excessive elaboration, and without asking questions back. How much to "tell" in answering a question will be a judgment call in any lesson. The objectives at this stage of the lesson are: to encourage and reinforce questions that activate relevant schema; to fill in needed background information (but only in answer to questions); to stay focused on setting a sound purpose for reading; and to model good question-answering behaviors.

c. Once students have asked all their questions about the title and first sentence, the teacher follows up with a few additional questions. Some question types to consider include: basic information, translation, inference, personal experience, and evaluation. The purpose in this followup questioning is to model the kinds of prereading questions that activate schema and help to set good purposes for reading.

d. The pattern used to review the first sentence--silent reading, followed by student questions, followed by teacher questions--is continued through the second, third, and fourth sentence, and/or continuing until enough information has been generated to form a sound purpose for reading.

Step 3. After about the fourth sentence, the teacher should conclude his or her questions on the sentence by asking students what they think the rest of the selection will mostly be about (few things are written with only one focus and one solitary purpose). Briefly note student responses on the chalkboard, and then ask students to form one or more of these ideas into a question. Write the “purpose” question(s) on the board. If students are to read the remainder of the selection outside class, have then copy the purpose question(s).

Step 4. Following silent reading, the teacher's first question should be "Did we set a good purpose for reading this selection?" If so, discussion can begin with what was learned in answer to this question; if not, a better purpose question should be stated, and then answered (Manzo, 1985).

Notes On ReQuest: Tips on Implementation

· The first time you use ReQuest with a group, it is quite likely that when you direct them to ask questions over the title and first sentence, they will respond with blank stares. Be calm. Count to 10. Take confidence from the fact that you know why you are making this seemingly strange request, and you know where the lesson is going. You know that the purpose of spending time at the beginning of a difficult reading selection is like initializing a computer disk: it helps the brain to recognize and process the information that is coming. You also know that while there are only a handful of fact questions that can be asked about a single sentence, there are many more inference and beyond-the-lines questions that would be helpful in recalling prior knowledge and experience in order to set a good purpose for reading. Most importantly, you know that pupils have been conditioned not to ask questions in the classroom, and that you are willing to try to counter this conditioning. Much of this counter-conditioning is accomplished simply by setting up the game-line ReQuest situation, in which students are procedurally rotated to the position of asking as many questions as they can over a single sentence at a time. So, don't despair in waiting for that first question. If wait time isn't enough, you can say something like, "This is a different kind of lesson, I know. Any question you can come up with is fine. It will help to try to think of the type of questions teachers might ask. You’ve heard a few questions asked, I take it." When the first question or two come, answer them respectfully: another important element in counter-conditioning students' reluctance to ask questions is the way the teacher responds to the questions that are raised--discussed next.

· When students take you up on your offer to answer any questions on a sentence, in ReQuest, you can expect a few "unexpected" questions: ones for which you do not know or cannot quickly formulate answers. Be ready for this. It's your chance to show students that you aren't threatened or frightened by questions you can't answer, and that you won't respond with sarcasm or by asking a question back. Instead, you will give the question a thoughtful, measured response. If it is a relevant, schema-activating question, you will say so, and give an honest explanation as to why you can't answer it, if only to say you just can't remember: "That's exactly the kind of question we're trying to bring up here. It is information the author assumes the reader knows. And, do you know, I can't remember that fact myself." At this point, another student may know the answer. Since it's not your turn to ask questions, turn to the person who asked the question, and tell him or her that another student is willing to help you out...a wonderful and practical way to build toward the ideal of a community of learners. If on the other hand, the question that "stumped" you is clearly off the subject, the teacher might say something like, "Because of the way the title was worded, I didn't think the author was going in that direction, so I haven't tried to remember what I might know about that. It's an interesting point, but I don't think I'll get myself off the subject with it right now." This too can demonstrate the concept of a community of learners.

· When calling on students to ask you questions, keep an eye on students who typically do not participate in discussion. With the ReQuest structure, you've given all students, even the most shy and reticent a much more possible situation for involvement. They don't have to answer a question -- they only have to ask one. Call on them, and be supportive in your answers.

· When it is your turn to ask questions, you will need to have several questions prepared for each sentence that students probably won't ask. Prepare four or five such questions for each sentence, even though you may not use them all. How many questions you ask on each sentence will depend on how many and what kind of questions the students ask. In general, you should ask at least two questions when it is your turn, trying to ask questions of different types than the students have asked. Basic facts will probably be covered by student questions. In fact, the reason ReQuest uses single sentences for questioning is that this places a natural limit on the number of fact questions that can reasonably be asked. Once these are covered, both teacher and students are challenged to ask schema-connecting beyond-the-lines questions.

· While it is somewhat "gamelike" in the back-and-forth rotation of questioning, ReQuest shouldn't take on a "stump-the-teacher"/"stump-the class" tone which tends to get off the track of a clear focus on setting a sound and sensible purpose for reading a specific selection. This can happen if the teacher asks questions that the class clearly cannot answer -- students will begin to ask the same types of questions back. Be careful to ask questions that can be answered by prediction, inference, judgment, evaluation, and experience.

· ReQuest should move along briskly, taking no more than about 15 minutes. If it is extended too long, it can become tedious and to lose focus. This can be difficult to keep in mind. While student questions can be intimidating at times, it also can feel satisfying to finally be asked the questions by students to which we are obliged to teach them the answers. Careful, though it is easy to go into too much detail in answering; or in technical terms to extend beyond their zone of proximal development (ZPD).

· The questions generated from the first three or four sentences usually yield enough context for students to form a sound purpose question or two. When preparing your own questions, you usually can predict a good stopping point. You should have a possible purpose question in mind, in order to help guide students' suggestions.

Converting Skill Practice to Stratgey Acquisition

Tips for The Professional Teacher:

Converting an Incremental Skill Practice Activity

to a Generative Strategy Acquisition Lesson

Presume that a small group of seventh grade students are doing comprehension practice work in SRA's Reading for Understanding Kit (Thelma Thurstone, 1969). The instructional task is to select the best word or phrase to complete a sentence or brief paragraph.

Sample (card 08, #5)

Fixed stars actually move about in space but the ancients who first saw and named them were unable to discern their:

a. arrangement b. size c. motion d. light

(Correct answer is c. motion, the key words in the sentence are "move about")

The teacher, usually supervises by walking about and monitoring their work while students do such exercises, and self-correct them, This, typically, involves pausing when a student is making errors and helping the student to puzzle out the correct answer.

As described, this is a solid incremental learning activity involving close-knit analytical reading, self-pacing, self-scoring, and teacher monitoring. It is not generative, however, since feedback is shallow, there is no incentive to think deeply, and whenever the teacher stops at a desk there is the implicit suggestion that the student has erred. This causes most students to become distracted and to terminate thinking in order to solve the new social problem created by the impression that the teacher only stops to talk to those who are weak and wrong. To overcome this, students typically will quickly (and mindlessly) select another answer so that, if correct, the teacher will keep moving.

This incremental lesson can become somewhat more generative by a little fine-tuning. In this case, the teacher need only be sure that when stopping at a desk, that she should ask a student to explain some answers that are correct as well as incorrect.

This slight adjustment can result in several positive and generative outcomes. First, it resets the impression that the teacher stops only when errors are being made. Second, it gives a student an opportunity to occasionally demonstrated competent thinking. Thirdly, it gives the teacher a chance to reinforce and refine solid thinking. Fourth, it develops a stronger sense of self-examination of ones own thinking and responding, the sine qua non of all educational processes.*

§ * Excerpt From: Manzo & Manzo: Literacy ­Disorders: Holistic Diagnosis and Remediation (with U. Manzo). Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich (1993). (Now Wadsworth) (2nd edition in progress; publication, 2003)

Teaching Problems: Alphabet to Math & Science

A Common Language Learning Problem Teaching Most Anything from the Alphabet to Cellular Biology: ‘bdp’ Syndrome

Anthony V. Manzo & Ula Manzo California State University – Fullerton and

The Common Language Learning Problem

When a child pronounces b as p or d the learning problem that is exposed really is no different than when a medical school student confuses meiosis (the process of limited cell division) and mitosis (the process of complete cell division, including nucleus and cytoplasm). In point of fact, much of teaching, learning and especially academic achievement testing is related to grasping and remembering subtle differences among similar units of school learning, such as between an adjective and an adverb. Oddly, in this Internet age in which most anything can be found in a jiffy, we have lost touch with identifying the source of a persistent teaching-learning problem with a sound scientifically supported and sensible solution. The elementary school teacher who teaches both skills and subjects could improve both by greater knowledge of this problem and its solution.

The reminder offered here is not an end-to-end teaching procedure, like the Directed Reading Activity, but more like an Amplifying Instructional Ingredient (Manzo & Manzo, 2004). These are smaller devices or techniques that can be strategically blended and used within many different larger instructional methods wherever certain perplexing teaching-learning problems may arise, or an extra humph is needed to insure sound learning of one element before taking up the next.

Academic Language: Getting a Handle on the Problem

The problem addressed here is centered on Academic Language. This is more than vocabulary it is the sum of the words, phrases and references to knowledge that are frequently made in teaching on the assumption that they are knowns that will foster learning of unknowns. They are suppose to serve to assist in further learning, but can serve to further confuse it. The challenge to teachers at every level is relatively clear: We must identify ways to enable students to acquire this academic language that is woven through literature and content area teaching and learning (Unrau, 2004). This problem of being unable to establish a base of common references, or prior knowledge to advance subsequent knowledge is especially true with students from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds. Second Language Learners who have become proficient with basic decoding, and with oral, largely schoolyard, language can still be one to three years away from mastery of academic language (or book words, allusions and phrasing), and therefore from full capability to independently read to learn from conventional textbooks (Manzo, Manzo & Thomas, 2005; Brisk, 1998).

There are two realms of research in theories of learning, dating back prior to Internet accessibility that can assist in meeting this challenge. Frankly, these are pretty heady academic concepts and terms themselves, but teachers will recognize* the fact of them immediately. They are the concepts-terms Proactive and Retroactive Inhibition, and that of Frequent and Distributed Practice. Here now is a brief update on the nature of the teaching-learning problems that originally stirred this area of forgotten research, and some guidance for teachers and Secondary and College Literacy and Learning Specialists in rediscovering and applying these principles in the area of improving academic vocabulary, and the ability to independently read to learn.

Culprit: Weak Initial Learning – an Elementary Example

The problem is so large that we can begin with the letter A – for Alphabet. There have been many studies stretching back over a long period addressing the whether, what, when, how and best sequence for teaching the alphabet. Dunn-Rankin (1968) for example identified five clusters of letters that create confusions (e.g., b, d, p and o, g, h). Nonetheless, most studies tend to pass lightly over the confounding issue of how to translate their findings into instructional practice. Complicating the matter is the fact that a few specialists and many laymen, despite considerable evidence to the contrary, continue to believe that any “reversals” of certain letters and smaller words (b-p-d for one another, or was for saw) is indicative of mild to severe dyslexia. In point of fact, most textbooks dating back to the 1930’s say that “reversals”- or more accurately, “inversions”- probably are more an indication of weak, or incomplete and therefore confused learning, not neurological dysfunction (although such dysfunction may be at the heart of the weak learning).This difference has become quite weighty since if the need is viewed as “neurological” the law requires that it be addressed by LD specialists, whereas if it is weak learning, it can be addressed by the reading teacher. In either case, grasping the fact that most such problems reflect weak or early stage learning is important to appreciating the solution offered ahead.

bdp (pronounce: bidip) Syndrome is an Associative Learning Not a Conceptual Problem

Reading to learn often involves teaching, learning and having to read similar words, labels and complementary concepts, such as their, they’re and there, World War I and II, latitude and longitude. However there is a tendency for things taught in about the same period of time to overly collapse into one another and become confused so that what was learned first distorts learning what is taught next. Worse, what is taught next causes a degree of unlearning or further confusion with that which may once have been relatively well understood. The mind encountering such confusing terms tends to react as if it is hearing static on a radio that makes it difficult to distinguish what it otherwise could understand. Further, meaning and sense become lost in the static as a term may be “seen” or “heard” even when it was not written nor spoken. Technically such learning/remembering problems are known as proactive and retroactive inhibition (Han, Gallagher, and Holland. 1998; Müller & Schumann 1894) or forward and backward confusions resulting from the collapse of a conceptual distinction with each increasing lapse of time. Proactive Inhibition is a lessened ability to recall new material because of material learned previously. Retroactive Inhibition is the decreased ability to recall previously learned information, caused by the learning of new information. As one tries to recall the earlier items, they forget the latter; as the latter are tediously recalled, the earlier are forgotten. From an instructional point of view, the problem becomes unnecessarily complicated by mislabeling such confusions as “conceptual errors.” Typically when two or more new concepts are not learned well, they are re-taught alongside one another with careful attention given to the conceptual or perceptual distinctions between them. This solution can be off-the-mark and can create a further time-lapse problem that reveal why a simpler solution may work best. In good science as well as case-based diagnosis the simplest or leanest explanation for a problem must be eliminated before a more complex one is given serious consideration – this is known as the rule of parsimony­ – or, if you hear hove beats think horses not zebras.

Proper Diagnosis – i.e., Scientific and Case-based Thinking – Can Correct the Scrambling Effects of the Mind’s Yesterdays

A leaner view of this learning problem yields a quite different impression of the root problem and perhaps a better solution. The time-lapse dimension of this learning problem can begin to set in within moments of instruction. It occurs due to the tendency of the mind to combine and confuse things taught at the same time in our personal life stories. In such cases both are remembered, but the proper label for each may be hopelessly confused. More, with each effort to un-confuse the competing ideas, a student’s unfolding time-line tends to further lump and scramble them together in the bubbles of the mind’s yesterdays.

The simpler and more probable explanation for this literacy learning problem is that the initial letter, or target word, was not learned fully at a mental-perceptual, and most importantly (quick) associative learning level before the next was introduced. This idea may be more familiar as what teachers of reading do when they work toward a conditioned response that has weak readers attain automaticity; or a rapid, non-sorting out, or “non-thinking” response to a letter or word. The Amplifying Instructional Ingredient is to teach one letter or term at a time until it is learned to 100% accuracy and then to introduce the next competing letter or term in much the same way. It is best in this circumstance to make relatively little reference to the previously learned letters (or words), or to those yet to be targeted. Nonetheless, it is at this point that it becomes useful to briefly and explicitly ask students how, say b – now solidly known – is different from d­- the relatively unknown.

But, how can a teacher avoid such confusing encounters with say d, p and q or other competing terms in early reading, writing and learning? The simple answer is that we cannot, and need not. Instead of trying to avoid the competing letters, or equivalent terms, during this fragile early learning stage, simply continue to stress and provide practice in the rapid recognition of the initial letter, again, until it is learned to a 100% criterion level. As such, it now is reduced as an inhibitor – or slower down and point of confusion- in accurately and quickly saying b when seeing b. It also becomes a benchmark for learning to identify the non b’s as something else. This sets up the condition for using other word recognition and analysis strategies to learn d p and q. These typically would include: context and analogic teaching-learning, or using what is well known (b) to decipher what it not yet well known (d p q). Again, these are best taught one at a time on a strong foundation of very high accuracy with each of the previous. This is especially the case, or need for children being taught in other than their heritage language. The ideal is reached when a child can confidently look at a possibly confusing letter and say to his or her self “This is not a b (therefore) it must be something else.” Ideally, this should conjure d since it is the next most logical letter to teach. (One of the basic principles of concept learning, especially of new vocabulary words, is to recognize which items should be included and not included in a given concept.)

Other Examples of bdp -Proactive/Retroactive Inhibition- Syndrome

Other examples of bdp Syndrome in our world include the confusions in a course in reading that often occur around such terms as: syntax and semantics; heterogeneous and homogeneous; critical thinking and critical literacy; and, reconstructive and constructive thinking. The best solution at this level of learning is nearly identical to that of primary school: deeply teach/ learn one term, usually by a combination of conceptual-associational-subjective approaches until that term is over-learned to 100% clarity before taking on the second term. This will occur quite naturally, however, merely by limiting one’s focus to only one of the terms since it is inescapable that the two terms often will be used in the same passage. Focusing on something implicitly means leaving other things at least slightly out of focus.

There also are many other terms in adult life that become confused despite the fact that they are learned at different times and are conceptually and semantically quite different. These include terms such as: prostate and prostrate. Most adults know well the prostate gland by name nonetheless learning prostrate leads to proactive confusion (unlearning) of the first word due to learning a new word. The solution here is to rely on context when reading, but also – and this requires some effort – use both words with sufficient frequency yourself so that the difference between them becomes both conceptualized and conditioned in your own psyche. Confusions of this type tend to require some self-teaching, the fundamental reason for most all teaching. It also helps to have a mnemonic of sorts to help with just one of the two terms. For example, teach yourself, and/or your students something like a rhythmic phrase that can trigger the correct sound/spelling…in this case it might be a piece of biblical scripture (otherwise not a great choice in a non-religious setting) – “Here I lie, prostrate before thee, Oh Lord.” Or, “He has a swollen prostate” – although this is a bit too adult for younger children. Nonetheless, there are other better examples that you will encounter once you start to think about the static created by similarities.

Examples of other frequently confused words that are frequently, and sometimes by necessity, taught together include:

centrifugal (outward force) and centripetal (inward gravitational force) – most every non-physicist has these two confused

Sine/ cosine

Crystallized and Fluid Intelligence

Field dependent/ field independent styles of learning

Digraphs and diphthongs

The attributes of the right and left hemispheres of the brain

The dynamics and battles and names associated with the Revolutionary and the Civil Wars

Complementary and complimentary

Discreet and Discrete

Affect and Effect.

Than and then.

Proactive and Retroactive Inhibition or bdp Syndrome is Self- Evident

To the above list we could add the confusions that will occur from learning about Proactive Inhibition and Retroactive Inhibition at about the same time. One way to remember these is that the b- facing right or forward stands for Proactive inhibition, the d- facing left or backward stands for Retroactive inhibition, and the p­ – spun around stands for Persistent and Generalized Confusion of most everything with a similar look. Or, what Müller and Schumann’s (1894) called “associative inhibition” as an umbrella term for both proactive and retroactive inhibition.

So, to restate, proactive inhibition occurs when something learned to a relatively meager level in the past creates static in getting a clear grip on what is being taught. Retroactive Inhibition occurs when something being newly learned, like the clarinet, confuses or causes you to unlearn what you previously knew (though not very well), like playing the flute. Or, is it the other way around? Well it makes little difference because the simple solution to either, and or related and persistent confusions are essentially the same: over-learn one to automaticity before going on to the other. There is, as mentioned above, one other theory of learning that we can now apply to the professional challenge of teaching academic language and reading to learn.

The Principle of Frequent & Distributed Practice

The other principle of learning that applies to this teaching-learning challenge is that of frequent & distributed practice­-or frequent spaced practice sessions on each new learning/factual/skill objective. The effects of the timing of practice on learning and retention have a long history. The positive effects of “spaced” rather than “massed” practice were recognized as early as 1885 when the German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus published his seminal work on memory. Ebbinghaus’s findings have been repeatedly confirmed and extended. Strong positive effects of spaced practice have been found in a wide variety of contexts (Caple, 1996). Frequent and Distributed practice is another way of saying: 3 times a day for say 10 minutes each time versus Mass practice of once a day for 40 minutes. Notice that the efficiency and effectiveness in doing this actually saves about 10 minutes, while increasing learning outcomes to a very significant degree.

Diagnostic-Prescriptive Teaching & the Strategic Use of Associative Learning

In general there is a tendency in American education to emphasize higher mental functions, or conceptual distinctions, in order to teach youngsters to be more reflective thinkers. This is a real strength in our educational system, and one that a democratic society must strongly support. However, a strength used inflexibly is a weakness. When things taught together are confused, or when taught apart but are similar in structure or meaning, there should be a more strategic approach that involves a degree of what has been called “rote” learning, though when used strategically is more appropriately known as associative learning. Importantly, we all seem to have about the same capacity for learning in this way, as opposed to higher cognitive functions that appear to be less evenly divided. This may be the reason that much of the rest of the world (think China, India, Japan) relies on associative or rote practice learning. There is considerable irony in this fact. Much of the rest of the world is divided into haves and have nots. In this environment the haves expect, more require that their children be schooled to competence irrespective of their measured “intelligence.” Despite our admonitions to the contrary Americans tend to be much more obsessed with IQ tests and what they are supposed to tell us about who can learn and who cannot. Nonetheless, we clearly are making a significant step forward in modern instruction as we progress in developing the science of diagnostic-prescriptive teaching (cf. Collins and Cheek, 1993; Manzo, Manzo & Albee 2004),or deciding which teaching method is best for whom and under what circumstances, rather than merely is method A better on average than method B.

The field of Literacy and Learning, and most especially Content Area Literacy is better equipped than most all others for making such distinctions: our diagnostic systems are well developed, and our leadership in methodology, especially in the last 35 years, is unparalleled. The bdp Syndrome, while by no means a simple concept, seems to be offer a sound and simple example of a diagnostic-prescriptive hook-up. Most anyone who teaches would benefit by knowing of this fundamental problem and solution, particularly elementary school teachers, and especially teachers in developing nations who are responsible for knowing how to teach most everything from the alphabet to math and science.


Brisk, M.E. (1998) Bilingual Education: From Compensatory to Quality Schooling Mawaah, NJ: Lawrence ErlBaum Associates, Publishers.

Caple, C. (1996). The effects of spaced practice and spaced review on recall and retention using computer assisted instruction. Ann Arbor, MI: UMI

Collins, M. D., & Cheek, E. H. (1993). Diagnostic-prescriptive reading instruction: A guide for classroom teachers (4th ed.) Madison, WI: WCB Brown and Benchmark Publishers.

Dunn-Rankin, P. (1968). The similarity of lower-case letters in the English alphabet. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 7, 990-995.

Ebbinghaus, H. (1885/1964). Memory: A contribution to experimental psychology. New York: Dover.

Han, J.S., M. Gallagher, and P. Holland. 1998. Hippocampal lesions enhance configural learning by reducing proactive interference. Hippocampus 8: 138-146

Manzo, A.V., & Manzo, U. (2004) Amplifying Instructional Ingredients: Educational Chefs Share Tricks of the Trade, (Učitelští “šéfkuchaři” vyzrazují své triky) Thinking Classrooms, 5, 3, 2004, pp 34-40.

Manzo, A., Manzo, U., & Albee, J. J. (2004) Reading Assessment for Diagnostic-Prescriptive Teaching of Reading. Thomson/Wadsworth. Belmont: California

Manzo, A., Manzo, U. & Thomas, M. (2005) Content Area Literacy: Strategic Teaching for Strategic Learning. Wiley/Jossey-Bass. New York: New York

Müller, G. E., & Schumann, F. (1894). Experimentelle Beiträge zur Untersuchungen des Gedächtnisses [Experimental contributions on the investigation of memory]. Zeitschrift fur Psychologie und Physiologie der Sinnesorgane, 6(2), 81-190, 257-339.

Unrau, N. (2004) Content Area Reading and Writing. Pearson/Merrill. Upper saddle River: New Jersey

Power of Role Play in Teaching/Learning & Second Language Learning

Facilitative Role Play (FRP)– An Amplifying Instructional Ingredient for Literacy and Learning in Classroom, Clinic and Pullout Situations

Anthony V. Manzo & Ula Manzo

California State University- Fullerton

Julie Jackson Albee

Hannibal-LaGrange College

Hannibal, Missouri

Often times “discovery” is seeing something that many have seen, but viewing it differently. This seems to be the case with Facilitative Role Play (FRP), a clearly Amplifying Instructional Ingredient (Manzo and Manzo, in press), as compared with an end-to end instructional method. FRP can be included in many aspects of literacy and learning, from the level of academic therapy to more robust classroom–based means of improving comprehension, inquiry and most particularly the tedium of rapid word recognition training (more on this ahead). The first author re-discovered and used this principle in a reading clinic some years ago. He called it Antithetical Role Play, since circumstances at that time suggested that he should have a student try to enact and try to learn in a more empowered role that was the near inverse of the one he had lapsed into.

The theory was based on two suppositions: We tend to be more aware of our opposite state than of slighter variations; and that instructional progress (especially in this particular case)was and is not likely until the student has a more positive disposition and buys into the educational objectives set out. At a motivational level, pretendingseemed a self-directing way to induce and sustain such a sense in a personally challenging situation. The elements and potential of such pretending were clinically supported in the pullout case called “David” (See Figure I). Case reporting is enjoying a considerable revival since it can challenge burrs and anomalies in larger group generated numbers, as well as reveal strategic values at the level of the individual learner (Manzo, Manzo and Albee, 2004). Recently we have come to fully realize that the idea of using pretending as a mind set during an educational experience or lesson has existed and draws inferred validation from a variety of other literacy-based teaching methods. Nonetheless, it has gone relatively unnoticed since it lacked a distinctive name, and therefore has been far less likely to win parts in our instructional planning, scripts and plays. In a sense, much of what we will do here is little more than what Albert Einstein recommended when he noted in effect that the “best way to advance any phenomenon was to give it a name.”


Figure I

“David” – Initial Rediscovery of Facilitative Role Play

Case Report : A twelve year old boy, "David" was said to be brain damaged, developmentally disabled and unable to read a lick. After several frustrating weeks of remedial/corrective reading instruction, it was decided that the least of David’s problems was the fact that he could not read. Manifesting a full array of odd behaviors, including strange, worm-like movements said to be involuntary and related to his neurological impairment, David was a picture of distress. The role play treatment devised had David assume the role of a West Point cadet, his tutor that of a lieutenant-instructor, and other clinicians who were willing to play along enacted roles of military personnel. David became immersed in a military atmosphere. He marched to his tutoring room accompanied by cadence calls from the instructor. He stood inspection and suffered the type of “tough-love” verbal banter that is typical of military shaping. All communication was directed to David in the form of commands, and all commands had to be carried out in accordance with military precision and form. Within one hour David brought many of his apparently involuntary motor movements came under a rather remarkable level of intentional control, and more tellingly, he began to learn and to think according to a disciplined military regimen during instruction.. David was prepared to accept this role by a combination of open discussion of his disheveled appearance along with expression of the fact that he looked mightily like a then recruitment poster for the armed services in his basic physical features: crew cut hair, square jaw, sharp blue eyes. Before initiating the role play, David and the first author studied and discussed cadet behavior.

Several factors combine as a possible explanation for the potency of this therapy. First, antithetical role play forces the breaking up of inappropriate behaviors in brain habituated and sub-cortical (nerve and muscular) areas in which they also reside, and apparently much more quickly than by traditional behavior modification,; to which pretendingseems to offer a considerable boost. Second, since the instructor and all other clinic personnel also assumed similar roles, a conducive and supportive environment reinforced David’s new way of presenting himself. Third, teaching and learning were conducted when David was in his “empowered” and hence more enabled role. Finally, David could try new behaviors as the “Empowered David,” that would have been too far a stretch for “Disabled David” (Manzo, 1977).________________________________________________________________________

Children’s Play

Children’s play has been a focus of study for generations. There is a rich history of play therapy outlined by Virginia Axeline in 1946, and psychodrama therapy discussed by J.L. Moreno in 1947. It seems to be coming again into consideration as a means of promoting literacy and academic learning (Korat, Bahar, Snapir, 2002; Saraho and Spodek, 1998). However easy and inviting play is as a means of teaching without appearing to teach, it is not easily done. It requires considerable thought and planning on the part of the teacher. It is not merely a form of incidental learning, but Intentional Incidental Learning, another ingredient/character that would make for more interesting instructional scripts by wider name recognition.

Pretending – Acting so, Can make it so!

Facilitative Role Play (FRP) is based on a simple idea. It parallels many of the critical features of powerful teaching and learning: observing; careful reading and listening; emulating; openness to critiquing; and internal reflecting and rehearsing. The goal of FRP is to get pupils of all ages acting-out competent, socially poised, expert readers, writers and thinkers, so that they will more carefully note language and think about what skillful others do, and both openly accept coaching, and ideally continue to coach themselves when the formal lesson is over. Drawing focused attention to a particular set of learning objectives and to the persons that best exemplify these is one of the frequently missing ingredients in activating the robust power of mental modeling, orcognitive apprenticeship learning (Manzo and Manzo, 2002). There really is not much point in providing exemplary models of anything if the students are not engaged in active attention to the values, concerns and “performance” of a potential model. Facilitative Pretending of most any strategically selected type seems to pique and fovus student attention and raise levels of personal performance in language and learning rather immediately. This technique is implicit in several reading/language arts methods and practices. These include several familiar and recent uses of this amplifying ingredient.

  1. Peer teaching, as when a relatively poor 5th grader is asked to teach a Kindergartner or first grader to read, and in the process the “teacher” considerably improves his own reading.
  2. In the ReQuest procedure (Manzo, 1969), a pioneering means of implementing mental modeling, where a student is urged to ask questions the way a teacher might, and does so with great skill as a result of paying closer attention to how teachers ask questions, and therefore too, to the material from which the questions are drawn, and even to the skillful ways in which they are answered.
  3. In Radio or Commentator Reading where children are asked to pretend that they are fluid and accomplished readers by repeatedly reading a section of text with a partner and at home with parental assistance until they feel comfortable enough to stand behind the class and read it as if they were a radio announcer.
  4. Pretend Reading, where children in emergent literacy situations hold books and make up stories while acting as if they are reading.
  5. Invented Spelling, when children who have not yet mastered the rules and patterns of phonetics act as if they can write whatever they can think and speak.
  6. With InQuest (Schmitt, 1988) where students play the role of reporters and must question their way to successful understanding of a story or non-fiction piece.
  7. With Talk-Through (Brozo and Simpson, 1999), where students are asked to read and re-read something and to practice talking it through until they feel prepared to do so before a class or group.
  8. In Readers’ Theatre (Worthy & Prater, 2002; Tyler & Chard, 2000), where students repeatedly read play scripts in preparation to perform the script in front of an audience (class members, younger classes, parents, etc.) without fear of forgetting lines and the time and hassle involved in costumes and scenery.
  9. And, again, more recently with Sociodramatic play (Korat, Bahar, Snapir, 2002) where teachers and adult voices step into the middle of child created plays to direct attention to literacy artifacts.

The essential power of such “role playing” methods seems to be in converting what students do most naturally – namely, emulating, playing, daydreaming and pretending - into thoughtful enactments of more competent models than they otherwise feel themselves capable of being outside of the creative dramatization. This, Vygotsky (1976), has noted, seems to be instrumental in having children internalize the external coaching of teachers and models of more competent peers. Facilitative Role Play tends to add a practice effect to tasks that students tend to attempt and master without requisite rehearsal. This type of crafted pretending can be especially valuable with weak readers who characteristically underestimate the need for re-reading, practice and reflection. It also increases student attention and focus where the teacher needs to have the class concentrate on basic quick response skills, but is challenged to come up with increasingly fresh ways to provide the extensive repetitions that such associative learning tends to require. While such drill-like teaching often is anathema to lovers of language, it has empirical validation that is difficult to shrug off: Michael Kirby (1989) showed rather convincingly that isolated word instruction resulted in word learning at twice the rate per minute of instruction than did one utilizing context, meaning and usage.

FRP Can Lighten The Tedium of Intensive Sight Word Instruction

Sight word training in most classrooms is rarely as extensive as it needs to be for most students. It is boring and tedious for teachers, and for quick learning students. Nonetheless, there is much that needs to be taught and learned is this way. While about 85 percent of the words in the English language are phonetically regular, these tend to have the lowest frequency of occurrence. The 80% with the highest frequency of occurrence become clipped and mangled by heavy oral usage and therefore rarely say precisely what they spell. There also is a little recognized form of severe reading disability, called dyseidetic-dyslexia that is characterized by very poor ability to easily recognize whole words. It occurs in this pure form in about 10% of severely disabled readers, and in combination with the more familiar decoding problem calleddysphonetic-dyslexia in about another 25% (Boder, 1977). This can challenge teachers’ imaginations for ways to keep an essentially a rote learning activity interesting and properly weighted as complemented with context, meaning and usage. Fortunately, where rapid word recognition, or automaticity training - the ultimate goal of mostlearning to read instruction – is concerned, little bits of distributed practice go a long way toward achieving this fluent level of responding . Importantly, Drill need not meanKill if it occurs with greater frequency for much smaller periods of time. A playful dose of facilitative pretending can meet the challenge of teaching and rehearsing rapid word recognition, and make it less tedious, and even lively, especially if provided in 5-7 minute increments three times a day, rather than massed for 15-20 minutes at one time. Here now is a legacy method assembled from over seventy-five years of research and field reports for teaching sight words (Manzo, Manzo and Albee, 2004) as infused with lively pretending . Test the difference in results yourself when you face the tedium of rapid word recognition training with and without Facilitative Pretending.

Say it like a Barbie* - A Facilitative Role Play Version of An Intensive Sight Word Paradigm

* Vici Cope, music teacher from Tustin, Ca, first suggested this pretend refrain from a campfire song.

The teacher holds up a flash card or writes a word on the chalkboard:

Teacher: See this word? The word is and. Everyone look at this word, and say it together.

Students: And

Teacher: That’s correct. Now say it five times while looking at it.

S’s: And, and, and, and, and

T: Good. Now say it louder.

S’s: And!

T: Come on, you can say it louder than that!

S’s: AND!

T: Okay, I have three other cards here ("again", "answer", "arrange"). When I show a card that is not “and,” say “No!” in a loud voice. But when you see “and,” say it in a whisper.

S’s: No!

S’s: No!

S’s: (whisper) "and"

T: Great. Look at it carefully, and when I remove it, close your eyes and try to picture the word under your eyelids. Do you see it? Good. Now say it in a whisper again.

S’s: and

T: Good. Now spell it.

S’s: A...N...D

T: Now pretend to write it in the air in front of you with your finger while saying each letter.

S’s: A...N...D

T: Good. Now describe the word. The way you would describe a new kid to a friend who hasn't seen him yet.

S1: It’s small.

S2: It has a witch’s hat in the beginning.

S3: It has a belly at the end.

T: What’s its name again?

S’s: AND!

T: Ok, now let’s PRETEND. Let’s say it like a Barbie...Good, now like a He-Man, now long and scary like a Ghost (This last pretend is most useful from the point of view of phonemic segmentation because it draws out the word and hence exposure to its letter sounds. The two prior pretends, however, seem to catch the imaginations of children who will continue in this playful manner in their private speech- self speech that is barely audible.)

The teacher ideally should encourage such post lesson learning by adding something like: Let’s search for “and’s” throughout the day and even after you go home tonight. We’ll ask you later if you found any in school and again tomorrow morning if you found any at home.

And in the morning, to reward such self-instruction – the real purpose of all teaching – the teacher should have on the board, Did you find any and’s last night?” You can expect to hear the answer to this question like a Barbie, or some other invented character. Over the next few lessons, ask if the student has seen an and. Up to three words a day usually can be taught in this general way. It is best to be sure that the target words do not look too much alike in this early learning phase. Words that are shown in context with the object word and that do look like the object word should not be stressed. These often will be learned incidentally, as the student sets about distinguishing these look-a-likes from a firm footing of words learned to 100% accuracy in flash recognition.

Facilitative Pretending Is a Legacy More than a Discovery

A little thought will reveal that Facilitative Role Play is validated by much of human experience, and has just been waiting to be named and made more accessible for a variety of instructional uses. If you will recall, Shakespeare, who seems to have captured much of human frailty as well as wisdom, had something to say about this in As You Like It:

All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely Players;
They have their Exits and their Entrances, And one man in his time playes many parts…

It will be interesting to see how many new parts are written for Facilitative Role Play, or Facilitative Pretending should this formerly bit player wins a marquee name.


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