Adolescent Literacy: An Action Summary

I was on a campus recently and I was asked for some ideas on strengthening their literacy instruction across the content areas. That conversation reminded me that I had created a crib sheet concerning adolescent literacy when I was working for the State of Texas. It’s a summary crafted from 3 or 4 source documents. I don’t recall the documents, so any plagiarism is completely inadvertent. Let me know if you find this useful.

Adolescent Literacy: Action Summary

Why do adolescent readers struggle? The problem is generally not illiteracy, but comprehension. The student can read but he does not understand what he has read. As such, adolescent literacy remediation does not involve re-teaching elementary school level materials. Instead it must be grounded in teaching problem solving processes.

Elementary Literacy = Recall
Adolescent Literacy = Comprehension

Secondary education must continue to focus on literacy, because the skill set needed to succeed academically continues to get more advanced as the student progresses through the grades.

Effective Practices
These practices work best in combinations. Do not rely on just one strategy. Keep data so you can make effective and productive changes. Remember, effective adolescent literacy interventions must address comprehension.

· With instruction: Be overt. Explicitly explain to students how and when to use certain strategies. Have the students employ these strategies in multiple contexts with multiple texts.
· Provide appropriate and on-going professional development.
· Assess reading instruction on a regular, on-going basis. Make literacy a cornerstone of every course.

1. Direct, Explicit Comprehension Instruction
a. Includes teaching strategies to help students understand what they read, how they understood it, summarizing, activating prior knowledge, looking for information, self-monitoring, etc.
b. Includes teacher modeling, where the teacher reads the text aloud, making her own use of strategies and practices apparent to the student.
c. Includes scaffolding, where the teacher gives high support for students practicing new skills and then decreases support as the student becomes more confident.
d. Includes apprentice models, where students support other students in content centered learning relationships.
e. Includes comprehension monitoring, where the reader decides if she is understanding the text. If not, she uses “fix-up” strategies like re-stating, looking back and looking ahead in the text for context clues.
f. Teaching story structure to aid in comprehension: Setting, initiating events, internal reactions, goals, attempts and outcomes.
g. Teaching question answering: Where the student are taught that questions can be answered using both the text and prior knowledge.
h. Teaching question generating: Where student are taught to create their own questions about a text.

2. Effective Instructional Principles Embedded In Content
a. Includes instruction and practice in reading and writing skills specific to the subject area.
b. The content teacher must emphasize the reading and writing practices specific to the subject. Teach students to read and write like historians, scientists, mathematicians, etc.
c. Use tools to help struggling readers with comprehension. Examples include: graphic organizers, prompted outlines, structured reviews, guided instruction, etc.

3. Motivation And Self-Directed Learning
a. Includes support for independent learning.
b. Help promote relevancy in what the student reads and learns. Relevancy can be as easy as letting the student see how current learning will impact learning latter in the course (connectedness) or letting a student re-teach the material to another student.
c. Provide motivation and incentives for independent reading.

4. Text-Based Collaborative Learning
a. Small groups of students discussing and using information from a variety of texts. One example is to have students read different texts on the same topic, and then let them teach the group what they learned.

5. Strategic Tutoring
a. Teach the specific skills of decoding, comprehension, fluency and writing.
b. Teach learning strategies that will allow the student to complete independent tasks in the future.

6. Diverse Texts
a. High interest material that will help transition students to more rigorous material.
b. Have a variety of levels across a variety of topics.

7. Intensive Writing
a. Writing is thinking. All courses must have an intensive writing component.
b. Direct instruction should be connected to the kinds of writing tasks students will have to perform in specific subject areas.
c. As students progress through the grades, the quantity and quality of writing assignments must be increased.
d. Writing skills that directly support literacy: Grammar and spelling.

8. A Technology Component
a. Provides opportunities for reinforcement and guided practice.

9. On-Going Formative Assessment Of Students
a. Often informal, daily assessments on how students are progressing under current instructional practices.

10. Extended Time For Literacy
a. Double-dose English/Language Arts.
b. Provide a course in reading strategies and comprehension.
c. Students behind in skills need 2 to 4 hours a day in reading related activities to catch up. This does not have to be in one specific class. In fact, there must be reading and writing activities in every course.

11. Professional Development
a. Have training with an emphasis on reading techniques appropriate to content based courses.
b. Have reading coaches who are able to model support strategies for content based teachers and provide some in-class support.
c. Training must be long-term and on-going.
d. Include information on adult learning and classroom conditions needed to effect sustained change.

12. On-Going Summative Assessment Of Students And Programs
a. Formal data for evaluation and accountability.

13. Teacher Teams
a. Interdisciplinary teams that meet regularly to discuss students and align instruction
b. Create reading instruction teams. Have them read and research on effective practices, share them with the campus and model for teachers.

14. Leadership
a. Must make literacy a foundation of the school. Inspect and enforce expectations.
b. Must attend the same professional development as the instructional staff.

15. A Comprehensive And Coordinated Literacy Program
a. Includes cross-curricular and in and out of school activities.

Specific Problems
For students who are struggling with word identification, use:
· Systematic, explicit and direct instruction.
· High-frequency sound-spelling relationships and words should be the focus of instruction.
· Opportunities to practice identification of words in context should be frequent.
· Connections among word analysis, word recognition and semantic access should be emphasized.

For student who are struggling with fluency (the ability to read quickly, accurately and with appropriate expression), use:
· Repeated reading
· Guided reading practice
· Guided oral reading instruction
There is a close relationship between fluency and comprehension.

Vocabulary: Vocabulary is strongly related to general reading achievement. Why, is still unanswered. However, to teach vocabulary:
· Repetition and support are essential. Teach vocabulary from context and in an organized fashion. Do not teach vocabulary in isolation. Learning vocabulary should be an active process.
· Teach the words that fall between the words they already know and the words no one ever uses. Teaching vocabulary in context in content courses is appropriate and useful.

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