Dyan Branstetter | October 2016

Using the Reciprocal Teaching Strategy with Works of Art

Reciprocal teaching strategy is a fantastic strategy that compiles four components of reading comprehension. Developed by Annemarie Sullivan Palincsar and Ann L. Brown, it is research-based and can be used from early elementary through at least the middle school years. This strategy requires students to predict, question, clarify and summarize. After instruction and practice with these skills, students meet in self-directed small groups to discuss a selection of text. Each group member is responsible for the leading part of the discussion related to one of the reading skills. (Find resources and video clips for using this strategy here.)

Why Use This Reciprocal Teaching Strategy?

The purpose of the Reciprocal Teaching Strategy is for students to use these comprehension strategies to have formal conversations about text. In addition, it guides students to go deeper into that same text. It is similar to the See, Think, Wonder strategy, but instead of the teacher leading a group of students through the strategy, students are the ones developing and leading the conversation, allowing them an opportunity to build higher level thinking skills and practice conversation and collaboration.

When students are first beginning in these small groups, it is important to provide scaffolds to guide them through their conversation. Each student within the group takes on a role, either Predictor, Questioner, Clarifier, or Summarizer, and each student completes a work mat as they progress through their discussion. All of the students work through the strategies as they read, but the student in each role is in charge of leading students through that step of the process. As students become more comfortable with their roles within the group, they will outgrow the scaffolds and the discussions will become natural.

What if we look at works of art as text?

In an online professional development resource for art teachers on Common Core and the Arts, Brad Foust, a Fine Arts Instructional Advisor, explains how we can. (The entire video is filled with information on integration, but minutes 13 – 20 relate directly to this topic.) CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.1 states the following: Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.  The Common Core definition of “text’ can be expanded further to include many types of non-traditional text, including non-print text such as dance, visual art, music, and theater.

Shall we apply this strategy for small group discussion and comprehension to each art form? The directions for implementation are described using a visual arts example. For the other art forms, the only adjustments necessary would be the type of text that you provide, such as a piece of music, or a video of a dance.  (Note: In addition to scaffolding the procedure for each role, it is important to demonstrate how to use each of these strategies with each art form before directing students to discuss it at a high level.)

Reciprocal Teaching Strategy with Visual Art

Provide each group with a work of art. The art does not have to be the same for each group.

Predicting:

Students should make predictions based on what they see. These could be predictions about why the artist used certain techniques, colors, etc., as well as the content of the painting. (For music, these predictions might include topics related to dynamics, instrument choice, or historical context; with dance, predictions may refer to predictions about why the choreographer made certain choices in movement, music, number of dancers, etc.) After writing predictions independently, each group member shares their thinking.

Encourage students to agree or disagree with one another rather than just reading their personal prediction. This builds conversational skills and holds students accountable for actively listening to one another. After completing the clarifying step, students return to their predictions and confirm or reject/revise their initial thoughts.

After writing predictions independently, each group member shares their thinking. Encourage students to agree or disagree with one another rather than just reading their personal prediction. This builds conversational skills and holds students accountable for actively listening to one another. After completing the clarifying step, students return to their predictions and confirm or reject/revise their initial thoughts. After sharing predictions, students should look

After sharing predictions, students should examine the artwork closely again before moving on to the questioning step.

Questioning:

Students write questions that could be answered by examining the artwork. These should be text-based questions, meaning the question must require the student answering to examine the artwork to answer. The question itself should refer and relate to the piece being discussed, not a general question such as “What is the theme of the painting?” This is typically the most challenging step, but students improve after mini-lessons on question writing. Sharing examples/non-examples of text-based questions is particularly effective in helping students grow in this strategy.

After writing questions, each student should take a turn asking his or her question of the group. The group then discusses the answer, referring to the artwork as necessary to provide evidence for answers. This process repeats until each student has had a chance to present his question to the group.

Clarifying:

Students point out aspects of the artwork they don’t understand. It is a time to research and seek out answers to questions they have. (Note the difference from the questioning strategy, which was used to guide students in a close read of the text.) Students may find that group members can help answer their questions or they can consult reference sources.

Summarizing:

Students independently write a short synopsis describing the work of art. Then, each group member takes a turn to read his or her summary. As students listen to summaries of the other students, they may revise their own to include ideas from what they’ve heard.

The Teacher’s Role

While the students are meeting with their small groups, the teacher’s role changes over time. At first, the teacher should bounce from group to group to make sure students understand the procedures. Take notes on common problems, and start each new session with a troubleshooting mini-lesson.

Once the students are able to successfully follow the protocol, then the teacher should rotate through the class, observing one small group through their entire reciprocal teaching strategy and process at a time. While observing, jump in at teachable moments or to clear misconceptions, but refrain from leading the group unless the group is struggling. This will allow you to notice problems that may occur within students’ use of each individual step of the process. These observations can drive your instruction for future mini-lessons which will help take student conversations from literal and basic to deeper reflections about the overall theme of the text.

Reciprocal Teaching Strategy has proven its effectiveness as an instructional strategy for reading comprehension. Exploring works of art, music, dance, and theater using this strategy allows students to interact with the arts on a deeper level. Not only that, but it builds the 21st Century Skills of communication, collaboration, and critical thinking.

About the Author

Dyan is a fifth grade teacher in a public school district in Lancaster, PA and has over 16 years of classroom experience. With a Masters of Science Education and a passion for dance and music, she strives to integrate the arts into the curriculum whenever possible. Dyan has a background in teaching advanced learners, and is devoted to using project based learning to help her students achieve 21st century learning skills and master the PA Core Standards.