Adolescent literacy

What has caused the literacy problem in middle schools?

False causes
Race is correlated to reading scores, but not a cause of low achievement. When income and parental education is included, then race is a very poor predictor of achievement..
Technology while heavy television viewing is correlated with poor reading achievement it is not clear if the plug were pulled they would reach for a book. The testing results for the NAEP have been constant for 40 years long before technology could effect the literacy of adolescents.

True causes
Education and culture - literacy is not universally valued. Teachers need to model and value this if parents and peers don’t.
Poverty - limits education by limiting opportunities. There are literate people with modest means, but extreme poverty makes it doubtful.
Text demands increase at fourth grade and seventh with increases of complexity and abstractness.
Lack of instruction in vocabulary and comprehension.

Chall’s Reading Levels or Stages







Oral language develops; children learn how print functions; they acquire phonological awareness and knowledge of the alphabet




Children grasp the alphabetic principle and learn to decode most unfamiliar words quickly; many words now recognized automatically




Oral reading of grade-level text becomes relatively rapid, marked by natural phrasing and intonation



Reading to Learn

Children can purposefully extract and interpret information from grade-level nonfiction text



Multiple Viewpoints

Students recognize that authors embrace different views; they learn to discern differences in perspective



A world View

Students interpret text in terms of their own perspectives, noting differences among authors and between authors and themselves


Chall 1983/1996

Examples of Readers

  1. Jamal is a fluent reader, who can read textbook passages aloud at reasonable speeds and with natural phrasing. However, he has little understanding of what he reads even when he reads silently and is not concerned about his public performance as a reader.
  2. Rick has passed through the fluency stage successfully but has not acquired the vocabulary and comprehension strategies he needs to gain meaning from text.
  3. Joanne reads aloud haltingly. She can decode nearly every word, given enough time, but lacks a large sight vocabulary. She has passed through the decoding stage but has not attained fluency. As a result, her attention is on word identification at the expense of comprehension.
  4. Jack finds reading extremely difficult. He often stops at unfamiliar words and lacks the decoding skills to pronounce them. His instructional reading level is several years below his grade placement. He has never successfully passed through the decoding stage.

How to address the Problem of Adolescent Literacy

    1. Direct, explicit comprehension. Instruction makes reading comprehension strategies explicit to students through modeling and explanation and gives students ample opportunities for practice.
    2. Effective instructional principles embedded in content. Instruction is embedded and reinforced across content areas, with attention paid to content-specific texts and tasks.
    3. Motivation and self-directed learning. Instruction promotes engagement and self-regulated learning for thedevelopment of motivated and flexible literacy skills.
    4. Text-based collaborative learning. Instruction enables students to engage in guided interactions with texts in groups in order to foster learning of new
    5. Strategic tutoring. Individualized instruction is more intense for struggling
      readers and focuses on instilling independence.
    6. Diverse texts. Students have access to, and experience with, texts at a variety of difficulty levels that vary in the styles, genres, topics, and content areas they cover.
    7. Intensive writing. Instruction should integrate writing as a vehicle for learning and as a measure of comprehension and learning across content areas.
    8. A technology component. Technology is used to leverage instruction time to provide additional support and practice for students as well as prepare students for the ways different technology alters the reading and writing experience.
    9. Ongoing formative assessment of students. Instruction should be determined by the use of ongoing assessment of students that helps teachers target instruction.
    10. Extended time for literacy. Reading and writing instruction takes place for longer than a single language arts period and is extended through integration and emphasis across curricula. Extended time may also include additional time devoted to literacy instruction, especially for learners more than two grade levels behind.
    11. Professional development. Teachers participate in professional development experiences that are systematic, frequent, long-term, and ongoing to improve their ability to teach reading and writing across the curriculum.
    12. On going summative assessment of students and programs. Students' progress is monitored and tracked over the long term.
    13. Teacher teams. Infrastructure supports teachers working in small interdisciplinary teams to allow for coloration and more consistent and coordinated instruction and professional development.
    14. Leadership. Principals and administrators participate in professional development and foster teachers taking leadership roles.
    15. A comprehensive and coordinated literacy program. Instruction encompasses all aspects of literacy in ways that allow all facets of the program to complement one another and is consistent with professional development as well as the chosen materials and approaches for learning.

A Report to the Carnegie Corporation, Reading Next: A Vision for Action and Research in Middle and High School Literacy (Biancarosa & Snow 2004).

IRA Recommendations for Schools

Carnegie Corporation Suggestions

    1. Develop a school wide literacy focus, including targeted professional development and strong instructional leadership.
    2. Adopt a set of research-based instructional strategies, including such techniques as reciprocal teaching, graphic organizers, prompted outlines, and questioning the author, to foster reading growth across all content areas.
    3. Offer focused intervention classes taught by a trained reading specialist for students with severe reading deficits.
    4. Increase opportunities for students to choose books for pleasure reading during the school day.
    5. Use complementary trade books that present content textbooks' key facts and concepts in a more engaging style.
    6. Conduct assessments, both formal and informal, to help teachers understand the literacy needs of their students.
    7. Emphasize prereading activities, during-reading strategies, and graphic organizers to guide students in building background knowledge and creating meaning during the reading process.

A Report to the Carnegie Corporation, Reading Next: A Vision for Action and Research in Middle and High School Literacy (Biancarosa & Snow 2004).