Cooperative Unison Reading: Socially-Inclusive Group Instruction for Equity and Achievement


by cynthia mcccallister

Cooperative Unison Reading is a pedagogical format that involves a small group of no more than five children in an oral, synchronized reading of a common text within an explicit set of rules and procedures (see McCallister, 2011). Cooperative Unison Reading entails a few simple rules: Read aloud in sync, loudly enough that others can hear you (but not too loudly that your voice overpowers the voices of peers); stop the group and speak up when you are confused or have an idea that others would benefit from hearing; and act in ways that promote the learning of others.

Each week a few group leaders are responsible for selecting a text that the rest of their classmates will then sign up to read. Groups meet several times over the course of the week—twice with a teacher and twice independently. And the whole process begins again the following week. Over the course of the year, every child will have the opportunity to read at least 40 different texts of their choosing, all of which involved some level of teacher-facilitated instruction.

I came up with the rudiments of the method when I was at a school in Brooklyn in a neighborhood called Remsen Village. The school served a population of mostly Afro-Caribbean students. I was working with a 2nd grade teacher who had impossible classroom management skills. The kids had absolutely no sense of what they were supposed to do during reading time. And their skill levels were really low. As a strategy to help the teacher organize her room, to get books into the hands of kids, and to get them reading on a routine basis, I showed her how to organize kids into regular groups. I asked her to distribute copies of the same book to each child in each group, to sit briefly with each group and read the book once through with them, and to leave them with instructions to read the book together aloud again. I instructed her to rotate from group to group, repeating this process. This established the basic structure of the Unison system. 

Description: Cooperative Unison Reading involves all members of a small group in a joint oral reading of the same text (McCallister, 2011). A basic Unison Reading ground-rule—that all group members read aloud, audibly, the same words at the same time—provides the opportunity for all group members to practice their reading skills as well as utilize their oral language to resolve confusions that arise whenever mistakes or anomalies occur in the reading. Oral discussions that attempt to resolve these breaches necessarily turn to aspects of written language such as letter, word and syntactic properties as well as to issues of meaning and understanding.

Cooperative Unison Reading provides an oral language experience that brings to communal consciousness any aspect of the text that causes confusion for any one of a group’s members, allowing for collective critical analysis and the development of mutual understanding. Students’ individual understanding of reading content develops through opportunities to think about things like letters, sounds, symbols, ideas and even personal behaviors in reference to the way that others within the social group think about these things.

Beyond the opportunities that this method provides for oral and literate language development, it overturns the traditional teacher-centered pedagogy by providing for learners to take on and manage their responsibilities for learning. The method delegates responsibility to the learners themselves who take turns in initiating and managing the activities of the group through choosing materials, setting goals, and with the teacher’s help, monitoring achievements.

The method is designed to be democratic in that the formats are socially inclusive as the groups are formed on the basis of interest and fairness—everyone taking a turn—rather than on the basis of the more traditional segregating grounds of ability, disability, and language background. Students in Unison Reading groups are not assigned by ability, but rather sign up for groups based on text and social interests.Cooperative Unison Reading is cost effective by minimizing the funding directed outside the normal classroom towards remedial instruction and specially packaged curriculum materials and programs. The Unison Reading program can be implemented in the classroom by the classroom teachers using materials in the library and in the public domain.

The Cooperative Unison Reading format draws its inspiration from a variety of sources including John Dewey’s emphasis on the importance of agency and responsibility for education in a democracy, Lev Vgotsky’s emphasis on the importance of learning from one’s peers as well as from teachers, Jerome Bruner’s theory of formats for scaffolding social interactions, and David Olson’s analysis of the relation between social accountability and self-control.

Each week a few group leaders are responsible for selecting a text that the rest of their classmates then sign up to read. Groups meet several times over the course of the week—twice with a teacher and twice independently. And the whole process begins again the following week. Over the course of the year, every child will have the opportunity to read at least 40 different texts of their choosing in Unison Reading groups, half of which are facilitated by a teacher. Children use the format of Unison Reading to deliberate over a range of different genres. Unison Reading carves out social space across grade levels and content areas for children to exercise in public speech ways of reading that will later become internalized into inner speech, or working memory, the medium of reading comprehension.

Evolution

Cooperative Unison Reading has now evolved with my evolving understanding of how higher-order thinking is buffeted by cooperative reasoning and perspective shifting, how right-hemispheric communication (non-verbal, context-dependent, receptive understanding) and emotion-reading abilities in human beings play and important role in understanding and are potentially powerful resources in helping groups access and understand texts, and how principles of human cooperation play a role in the way people understand one another and the texts they produce. These insights are woven into the resources of Learning Cultures, especially the courses on Cooperative Unison Reading, Mindful Reading, and Genre Practice.




cynthia mcccallister
cynthia mcccallister

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The book is packed with practical applications of the method to real classroom situations, and comes alive with media assets such as audio and slideshows. 

Even if you don't buy the book, you can access a free chapter that provides a training guide to the Cooperative Unison Reading method, led by an expert teacher in the method, Tara Silva. 

The book is a companion to the online course, Cooperative Unison Reading/Mindful Reading, found on www.LearningCultures.net. 

Visit the book's url and get yourself a copy today! 

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