All About Adolescent Literacy

All about adolescent literacy. Resources for parents and educators of kids in grades 4-12.
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Content-Area Literacy

Students will need advanced literacy skills — the ability to understand and analyze a variety of texts and to write and communicate persuasively — to succeed in life after high school. The articles in this section will help teachers in the academic subject areas integrate literacy instruction into their practice.

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Academic Literacy Instruction for Adolescents

Torgesen, J. K., Houston, D. D., Rissman, L. M., Decker, S. M., Roberts, G., Vaughn, S., Wexler, J. Francis, D. J, Rivera, M. O., Lesaux, N. (2007). Academic literacy instruction for adolescents: A guidance document from the Center on Instruction. Portsmouth, NH: RMC Research Corporation, Center on Instruction.

Created by the Center on Instruction to assist literacy specialists in their work, this report makes research-based recommendations for improving academic literacy instruction in 1) content areas, 2) for English language learners, and 3) in classes with struggling readers. The report also includes advice and comments from eight literacy experts.

America's Perfect Storm: Three Forces Changing Our Nation's Future

Kirsch, I., Braun, H., Yamamoto, K., and Sum, A. Copyright ©2007 by Educational Testing Service.

According to America's Perfect Storm, current labor market trends, demographics, and student achievement data are combining to create a "perfect storm" that could inflict lasting damage upon the nation's economy and upon its social fabric, as well. Simply put, if the middle and high schools continue to churn out large numbers of students who lack the ability to read critically, write persuasively, and communicate effectively, then the labor market will soon be flooded with young people who have nothing to offer, and who cannot handle the jobs that are available. "[T]here will be tens of millions more adults," the ETS report concludes, "who lack the education and skills they will need to thrive in the new economy," raising the specter of joblessness and despair on a scale not seen since the Great Depression. If that future is to be avoided, the authors argue, the nation's secondary schools will have to begin immediately to help many more students to reach much higher levels of literacy than ever before.

Literacy Instruction in the Content Areas: Getting to the Core of Middle and High School Improvement

Heller, R. and Greenleaf, C.L. (2007, June). Literacy Instruction in the Content Areas: Getting to the Core of Middle and High School Improvement. Washington, DC: Alliance for Excellent Education.

Over the last several years, a strong coalition of educators, researchers, policymakers, professional associations, and advocacy groups has worked to focus the attention of policymakers and the public on the plight of millions of America's students in grades four through twelve who are unable to read and write well enough to achieve academic success. Already, the efforts of those organizations and individuals have resulted in a wide range of local, state, and federal initiatives designed to help struggling students develop the reading fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension skills they need to move beyond the basic mechanics of literacy and move ahead in the secondary school curriculum.

But if students are to be truly prepared for college, work, and citizenship, they cannot settle for a modest level of proficiency in reading and writing. Rather, they will need to develop the advanced literacy skills that are required in order to master the academic content areas—particularly the areas of math, science, English, and history.

Inasmuch as the academic content areas comprise the heart of the secondary school curriculum, content area literacy instruction must be a cornerstone of any movement to build the high-quality secondary schools that young people deserve and on which the nation's social and economic health will depend.

In order to integrate reading and writing instruction successfully into the academic disciplines, district, state, and federal policymakers must ensure that

  • They define the roles and responsibilities of content area teachers clearly and consistently, stating explicitly that it is not those teachers' job to provide basic reading instruction.
  • Members of every academic discipline define the literacy skills that are essential to their content area and which they should be responsible for teaching.
  • All secondary school teachers receive initial and ongoing professional development in teaching the reading and writing skills that are essential to their own content areas.
  • School and district rules and regulations, education funding mechanisms, and state standards and accountability systems combine to give content area teachers positive incentives and appropriate tools with which to provide reading and writing instruction.

For policymakers, the challenge is no longer just to call attention to the nation's adolescent literacy crisis. Nor is it just to secure new resources to help middle and high school students catch up in reading, although the need for those resources remains critical. The challenge is also to connect the teaching of reading and writing to the rest of the secondary school improvement agenda, treating literacy instruction as a key part of the broader effort to ensure that all students develop the knowledge and skill they need to succeed in life after high school.

What Content-Area Teachers Should Know About Adolescent Literacy

The National Institute for Literacy. (2007). What Content-Area Teachers Should Know About Adolescent Literacy. Washington, DC: The National Institute for Literacy, The National Institute for Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), The U.S. Department of Education's Office for Vocational and Adult Education.

The goal of this report is so help address middle and high school educators' need for basic information on how to build adolescents' reading and writing skills. The report is divided into two main sections: the first describes the components of reading proficiency, in order to help teachers better understand why poor readers struggle; the second section introduces four additional areas critical to the attainment of reading proficiency (assessment, writing, motivation, and the needs of diverse learners).

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