All About Adolescent Literacy

All about adolescent literacy. Resources for parents and educators of kids in grades 4-12.
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Teaching Content Knowledge and Reading Strategies in Tandem

Many areas of instruction can have a rippling effect for the expansion of readers' repertoire of skills, including pre-reading, predicting, testing hypotheses against the text, asking questions, summarizing, etc. Literacy-rich, content-area classrooms include a variety of instructional routines that provide guidance to students before, during, and after reading.

The table below summarizes what should be taught to meet the needs of adolescent struggling readers in the content areas. By explicitly expanding the range of texts that students read in content-area courses, teachers can actually expand opportunities to learn content knowledge.

Building and activating prior knowledge in relation to academic disciplines is one area that content-area classrooms are uniquely positioned to accomplish. Instructors should design knowledge-building activities that do not require extensive reading initially, then introduce different kinds of texts that are within students' instructional reading levels where they can use the prior knowledge already developed to tackle discipline related problems in the texts. Such discipline-related problems include posing discipline-specific questions and extrapolating information from texts in order to solve authentic and complex problems. Increase the complexity of the texts (in terms of knowledge given, knowledge assumed, text structures, syntactic structures, vocabulary, less explicit coherence) over time.

Supporting struggling adolescent readers in the content areas

Apply both generic and discipline-focused strategies and knowledge to the comprehension and evaluation of:
  • Textbooks
  • Full length books
  • Book chapters
  • Journal and magazine articles
  • Newspaper articles
  • Historically situated primary documents
  • Multimedia and digital texts
Generic reading strategies
  • Monitor comprehension
  • Pre-read
  • Set goals
  • Think about what one already knows
  • Ask questions
  • Make predictions
  • Test predictions against the text
  • Re-read
  • Summarize
Discipline specific reading strategies
  • Build prior knowledge
  • Build specialized vocabulary
  • Learn to deconstruct complex sentences
  • Use knowledge of text structures and genres to predict main and subordinate ideas
  • Map graphic (and mathematical) representations against explanations in the text
  • Pose discipline relevant questions
  • Compare claims and propositions across texts
  • Use norms for reasoning within the discipline (i.e., what counts as evidence) to evaluate claims

In successful content-area classrooms, teachers organize instruction in routine ways that:

  • Reinforce conceptions of reading as a meaning-making process;
  • Provide guided support for making sense while students are engaged in acts of reading;
  • Shift responsibility for thinking and making sense of texts to students themselves through guided supports in both small and whole group work;
  • Sequence discipline-specific inquiry tasks and the reading of a range of discipline-focused texts in ways that build knowledge over time;
  • Focus classroom talk on how students make sense of texts and how they use what they learn from texts to carry out discipline-specific thinking tasks;
  • Provide consistent supports so that students experience success and develop or reinforce their sense of efficacy as readers.

The most important key to these core practices is creating a culture of high expectations through building routines. Routines help to establish students' expectations for what they do, how they do things, and why.

As opposed to asking students to read for homework or as a classroom assignment and then simply answer questions when they finish reading, literacy-rich, content-area classrooms include a variety of instructional routines that provide guidance to students before, during and after reading. These routines may include the teacher modeling how he or she makes sense of the text. Teachers also use a variety of thinking tools that direct students to engage in generic reading strategies. These include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Double-entry journals where students post questions, observations of patterns in the texts, summarize, make connections;
  • K-W-L — a graphic where students identify what they already know (K), what they want to know (W) and after reading what they have learned (L);
  • Graphic organizers that use text structures to guide what kinds of information students are reading for or that map out the kinds of semantic knowledge students need to understand vocabulary (synonyms, antonyms, examples, attributes, morphemic analysis);
  • Anticipation Guides that list key ideas (including ideas that are counter-intuitive or controversial) that the teacher wants students to interrogate in reading a given text and to re-visit after reading;
  • Annotation of texts to pose questions, mark main ideas, make predictions, mark reactions;
  • Analyzing question types;
  • Support for producing self-explanations.

Lee, C.D., Spratley, A. (2010). Reading in the disciplines: The challenges of adolescent literacy. New York, NY: Carnegie Corporation of New York.

I agree with the recommendations and find them useful in any classroom. --a teacher of thirty-five years in English/Language Arts.
Posted by: Joan Holcomb  |  February 08, 2010 09:48 PM
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