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ERIC Number: ED517935
Record Type: Non-Journal
Publication Date: 2011-Apr
Pages: 4
Abstractor: ERIC
Reference Count: 29
ISSN: ISSN-1526-2049
Facilitating Student Learning through Contextualization. CCRC Brief. Number 53
Perin, Dolores
Community College Research Center, Columbia University
Skills in reading, writing, and mathematics are key to academic learning but are conventionally taught separately from the discipline areas to which they must be applied. For example, students may be taught writing skills in the morning in an English course and then be expected to apply them to writing an essay in a history class in the afternoon. Several problems arise with this structure. First, students do not necessarily transfer their morning writing skills to the afternoon history assignment. Second, students may not be motivated to learn writing skills in the English class because they do not consider such skills to be relevant to their personal goals (Cavazos, Johnson, & Sparrow, 2010). Third, weaknesses in essay- writing skills may not be addressed by the afternoon content-area teacher, who aims to teach subject knowledge rather than basic skills (Fisher & Ivy, 2005). These problems have serious implications for the academic trajectory of the many underprepared students who enter postsecondary education. Despite the allocation of considerable resources to developmental education, many students in college-credit courses display continuing difficulties in applying these foundational skills to the learning of subject matter (Perin & Charron, 2006). One way to address this issue is through "contextualization", or the teaching of basic skills in the context of disciplinary topic areas. The contextualization of basic skills is defined in this brief as an instructional approach that creates explicit connections between the teaching of reading, writing, or math on the one hand and instruction in a discipline area on the other, as, for example, when writing skills are taught with direct reference to topics covered in a history class. Based on a longer review that considers the hypothesis that low-skilled students can learn more effectively and advance to college-level programs more readily through contextualization of basic skills instruction, this Brief presents two major forms of contextualization and explores possible mechanisms by which they may benefit students. Evidence for the effectiveness of contextualization is then summarized in order to determine what is known about possible advantages for low-skilled students. The Brief ends by discussing practical implications and future directions for research on the relation between contextualization and academic outcomes for low-skilled college students. [For related report, "Facilitating Student Learning through Contextualization. CCRC Working Paper No. 29", see ED516783.]
Community College Research Center. Available from: CCRC Publications. Teachers College, Columbia University, 525 West 120th Street Box 174, New York, NY 10027. Tel: 212-678-3091; Fax: 212-678-3699; e-mail:; Web site:
Publication Type: Reports - Evaluative
Education Level: Higher Education; Postsecondary Education; Two Year Colleges
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
Authoring Institution: Columbia University, Community College Research Center