Read together. Stop. Encourage. These are the three rules of Unison Reading, the foundation of the Learning Cultures Curriculum developed by Cynthia McCallister, a professor of teaching and learning in NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. A comprehensive school reform model, McCallister’s instructional method is currently being implemented in 10 schools in Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Queens, and is based on the idea that student-directed and student-engaged activities are the primary context for classroom learning.
In Unison Reading, students read in sync until one student breaches or stops the group.
“Maybe it’s a word that he or she doesn’t know or a concept that’s difficult to understand,” says McCallister. “The student can knock on the desk or just say, ‘stop,’ and the conversation then turns to addressing the breach. The reading can’t continue until the breach is resolved.”
Learning Cultures seeks to ensure that school enhances and improves a child’s emotional well-being. When students are made aware of high learning expectations and given responsibility and autonomy in pursuing goals, they are more likely to succeed. And they do succeed.
The curriculum was piloted at the Jacob Riis School—a high poverty public school in Lower Manhattan—from 2007-11, and showed dramatic gains in achievement. Based on the Degrees of Reading Power, a measure of reading comprehension, students in sixth and seventh grade more than doubled the national average rate of growth in 2009-10, and students in the eighth grade outpaced the national average by five times.
For the 2011-12 academic school year, the curriculum was piloted at the Urban Assembly Institute of Math and Science for Young Women (UAI), a public school in Brooklyn. UAI students’ mid-year results are outpacing those established at Jacob Riis.
“What’s significant about the Urban Assembly pilot is that it was done solely on the specifications of the model,” says McCallister. “I was not at all involved in its implementation. That means that Learning Cultures is scalable and successes like this can be replicated in other schools and classrooms.
The Urban Assembly Unison School, slated to open in the Clinton Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn in the fall of 2012, will use the Learning Cultures model as a basis for the entire school curriculum.