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Discussion-Based Approaches to Developing Understanding: Classroom Instruction and Student Performance in Middle and High School English

Arthur N. Applebee and Judith A. Langer, University at Albany
Martin Nystrand and Adam Gamoran, University of Wisconsin-Madison


This article reports on the relationships between student literacy performance and discussion-based approaches to the development of understanding. These relationships are examined in a study of 974 students in 64 middle and high school English classrooms in 19 schools in 5 states. A series of hierarchical linear models with school and student level controls found that both discussion-based approaches and high academic demands were significantly related to spring performance, controlling for fall performance and a variety of background variables. The analyses indicated that these instructional approaches were equally effective across a range of situations and for low- as well as high-achieving students. Instruction was unequally distributed across tracks, however, with lower- track students receiving less demanding instruction and less emphasis on discussion-based approaches. Overall, the results suggest that students whose classroom literacy experiences emphasize discussion-based approaches to the development of understanding in the context of high academic demands in turn internalize the knowledge and skills necessary to engage in challenging literacy tasks on their own.

* American Education Research Journal, 40(3), pp. 685-730, 2003

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