Palincsar (1986) describes the concept of reciprocal teaching:
"Definition: Reciprocal teaching refers to an instructional activity that takes place in the form of a dialogue between teachers and students regarding segments of text. The dialogue is structured by the use of four strategies: summarizing, question generating, clarifying, and predicting. The teacher and students take turns assuming the role of teacher in leading this dialogue.
Purpose: The purpose of reciprocal teaching is to facilitate a group effort between teacher and students as well as among students in the task of bringing meaning to the text. Each strategy was selected for the following purpose:
- Summarizing provides the opportunity to identify and integrate the most important information in the text. Text can be summarized across sentences, across paragraphs, and across the passage as a whole. When the students first begin the reciprocal teaching procedure, their efforts are generally focused at the sentence and paragraph levels. As they become more proficient, they are able to integrate at the paragraph and passage levels.
- Question generating reinforces the summarizing strategy and carries the learner one more step along in the comprehension activity. When students generate questions, they first identify the kind of information that is significant enough to provide the substance for a question. They then pose this information in question form and self-test to ascertain that they can indeed answer their own question. Question generating is a flexible strategy to the extent that students can be taught and encouraged to generate questions at many levels. For example, some school situations require that students master supporting detail information; others require that the students be able to infer or apply new information from text.
- Clarifying is an activity that is particularly important when working with students who have a history of comprehension difficulty. These students may believe that the purpose of reading is saying the words correctly; they may not be particularly uncomfortable that the words, and in fact the passage, are not making sense. When the students are asked to clarify, their attention is called to the fact that there may be many reasons why text is difficult to understand (e.g., new vocabulary, unclear reference words, and unfamiliar and perhaps difficult concepts). They are taught to be alert to the effects of such impediments to comprehension and to take the necessary measures to restore meaning (e.g., reread, ask for help).
- Predicting occurs when students hypothesize what the author will discuss next in the text. In order to do this successfully, students must activate the relevant background knowledge that they already possess regarding the topic. The students have a purpose for reading: to confirm or disprove their hypotheses. Furthermore, the opportunity has been created for the students to link the new knowledge they will encounter in the text with the knowledge they already possess. The predicting strategy also facilitates use of text structure as students learn that headings, subheadings, and questions imbedded in the text are useful means of anticipating what might occur next.
In summary, each of these strategies was selected as a means of aiding students to construct meaning from text as well as a means of monitoring their reading to ensure that they are in fact understanding what they read.
Research Base: For the past five years, Palincsar and Brown (1985) have conducted a series of studies to determine the effectiveness of reciprocal teaching. The initial studies were conducted by adult tutors working with middle school students in pairs and by Chapter 1 teachers working with their small reading groups averaging five in number. The students were identified to be fairly adequate decoders but very poor comprehenders, typically performing at least two years below grade level on standardized measures of comprehension. Instruction took place over a period of 20 consecutive school days. The effectiveness was evaluated by having the students read passages about 450 to 500 words in length and answer 10 comprehension questions from recall. The students completed five of these passages before reciprocal teaching instruction began and one during each day of instruction. Performance on these assessment passages indicated that all but one of the experimental students achieved criterion performance, which we identified as 70 percent accuracy for four out of five consecutive days.
These results were in contrast to the group of control students, none of whom achieved criterion performance. In addition, qualitative changes were observed in the dialogue that occurred daily. For example, the experimental students functioned more independently of the teachers and improved the quality of their summaries over time. In addition, students' ability to write summaries, predict the kinds of questions teachers and tests ask, and detect incongruities in text improved. Finally, these improvements were reflected in the regular classroom as the experimental students' percentile rankings went from 20 to 50 and above on texts administered in social studies and science classes.
When the same instructional procedure was implemented in larger classes with groups ranging in size from 8 to 18, 71 percent of the students achieved criterion performance as opposed to 19 percent of the control students who were involved in individualized skill instruction. Furthermore, teachers observed fewer behavior problems in their reciprocal teaching groups than in their control groups." (pp. 19-20)