All About Adolescent Literacy

All about adolescent literacy. Resources for parents and educators of kids in grades 4-12.
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What Are the Key Elements of Student Engagement?

As part of their series to help schools understand the federal No Child Left Behind Law, Learning Point Associates describes the four key elements of student engagement — student confidence, teacher involvement, relevant texts, and choice among texts and assigments.

The words "student engagement" might conjure up images of teachers using popular culture to deliver lessons on Shakespeare. The reality is less colorful and more difficult. Following are four key elements of student engagement:

  • Student Confidence: Students with high self-efficacy — the belief that they can influence their own behavior — are more likely to engage in school-related reading than those with low self-efficacy (Alvermann, 2003). While this is true of many kinds of learners, it is especially important at the adolescent developmental stage, characterized as it is with a strong desire to be seen as competent and to avoid public failures.
  • Teacher involvement: High school teachers contribute to adolescent self-confidence when they care about them as individuals and encourage them to learn (Dillon, 1989; Dillon & Moje, 1998; Lee, 2001). The caring teacher who believes that students can succeed can have a positive Pygmalion Effect — whereby believing in potential creates potential — on adolescents.
  • Relevant and Interesting Texts: Relevance of curricular materials and topics is essential to student success, requiring teachers to know about their students' interests. While adolescents are developing the adult capacity to be motivated by extrinsic interests such as keeping a job, most require significant intrinsic interest in materials in order to persist in difficult tasks. In addition, developing literacy strategies and skills that are typically not of themselves interesting is made easier when students have a meaningful goal that requires those skills (Greenleaf, Jimenez, & Roller, 2002). For example, students may be highly motivated to learn about the characteristics of persuasive writing when engaged in an attempt to persuade school officials to relax a dress code. This type of connecting information is often not provided in classroom instruction but can make a tremendous difference in student engagement.
  • Choices of Literacy Activities: Adolescent learners sometimes experience a world of rules and regulations imposed on them by adults who seem not to understand their world. The physical and emotional changes they experience are a further source of feelings that they have no control over in their lives. Teachers who create opportunities for students to choose among assignments and texts will find students less resistant to completing their work (Wigfield, 2004). Students who also understand the goal of their chosen assignments and feel a sense of control over how they achieve that goal are more likely to work hard even in the face of difficulties. Teachers need to be skilled at developing a choice of assignments that balance interests with effective research-based strategies for developing reading and writing skills.

The relationship among the key elements of student engagement

Keys of Student Engagement Pyramid

What can schools, districts, and states do to improve student engagement?

For adolescent learners, the continuous development of literacy skills depends on factors that go beyond school texts and the traditional model of teachers as the sole disseminators of knowledge. Teachers need to be able to create an engaging learning environment, implement research-based teaching strategies, augment students' motivation to learn, and offer opportunities to use literacy skills across the curriculum (Meltzer, Smith, & Clark, 2001). Administrators and policymakers from schools, districts, and states need to deliver the resources and support teachers in the following areas:

  • Curriculum
  • Instruction
  • Assessments
  • Professional Development

Each of these areas is covered in more detail within the Quick Key Action Guide.

Learning Point Associates. (2005). What are the Key Elements of Student Engagement?. NCREL Quick Key Action Guide, No. 10 7-8. Retrieved September 24, 2007, from

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