All About Adolescent Literacy

All about adolescent literacy. Resources for parents and educators of kids in grades 4-12.
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About Teaching Reading

Teaching reading is a complex process. The best teachers develop an extensive knowledge base and draw on a repertoire of strategies for working with struggling students. To dig deeper, visit other sections of the website, including Vocabulary, Fluency, and Comprehension.

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Teaching Adolescents to Read: It's Not Too Late

Moats, Louisa C. (2015) Teaching Adolescents to Read: It's Not Too Late.Voyager Sopris Learning.

Older struggling readers may need instruction in skills they missed in the early grades, but in many other ways they present unique challenges that set them apart from their younger selves. Discover teaching strategies and tools to help middle school students become better readers.

The Enhanced Reading Opportunities Final Report: The Impact of Supplemental Literacy Courses for Struggling Ninth Graders

Somers, M.A., Corrin, W., Sepanik, S., Salinger T., Levin, J., and Zmach, C. (2010). The Enhanced Reading Opportunities Final Report: The Impact of Supplemental Literacy Courses for Struggling Ninth-Grade Readers Executive Summary (NCEE 2010-4022). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education.

The Enhanced Reading Opportunities (ERO) demonstration evaluated two supplemental literacy programs — Reading Apprenticeship Academic Literacy (RAAL) and Xtreme Reading (XR) — targeted to ninth grade students whose reading skills were at least two years below grade level. Over two years, about 6,000 eligible students in 34 high schools from 10 districts were randomly assigned to enroll in the year-long ERO class or remain in a regularly scheduled elective class (non-ERO group). At the end of 9th grade, both groups were assessed using a standardized, nationally normed reading test, and participated in surveys about their reading activities and behaviors. School records were used to examine the effect of the literacy programs on academic performance during the program year (9th grade) and a year afterwards.

The study found:

  • Taken together, the ERO supplemental literacy programs improved students' reading comprehension skills during the 9th grade, corresponding to an improvement from the 23rd to the 25th percentile. However, 77% of students assigned to the ERO class were still reading 2 or more years behind grade level at the end of the 9th grade.
  • During the 9th grade, the ERO program also had a positive impact on students' academic performance in core subject areas, including their grades and credit accumulation. Students in the ERO group scored higher on their states' English/Language Arts and mathematics assessment than did those in the non-ERO group.
  • The ERO program effects did not continue beyond the program year. While there were statistically significant and positive impacts on students' GPA, credit accumulation and state test scores in 9th grade, the impacts were not significant the following school year. When analyzed separately, the RAAL program significantly improved students' reading comprehension during the 9th grade year while the XR program did not have a statistically significant impact on reading comprehension. Impacts on other outcomes were similar for the two programs.

Informing Adolescent Literacy Policy and Practice

The Alliance for Excellent Education has released a policy brief, Informing Adolescent Literacy Policy and Practice: Lessons: Learned from the Striving Readers Program that highlights lessons learned from the experiences of previous Striving Readers grantees. In developing the brief, the Alliance convened representatives from seven of the eight Striving Readers grantees, as well as other experts in adolescent literacy research, to guide efforts to expand adolescent literacy instruction at the federal, state, and district levels.

Beyond the Basics: Effective Reading Programs for the Upper Elementary Grades

Slavin, R.E., Lake, C., Cheung, A., and Davis, S. (2008). Beyond the Basics: Effective Reading Programs for the Upper Elementary Grades. Washington, DC: Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education.

This digest reports on the effectiveness of 72 reading programs designed to help students in grades 2-5. Four programs showed moderate evidence of effectiveness; 10 showed limited evidence; and the remainder showed insufficient evidence of effectiveness.

Effective Reading Programs for Middle and High Schools: A Best-Evidence Synthesis

Slavin, R.E., Cheung, A., Groff, C., and Lake, C. (2008). Effective Reading Programs for Middle and High Schools: A Best-Evidence Synthesis.Washington, DC: International Reading Association.

This digest rates the effectiveness of 26 programs designed to improve the reading achievement of middle and high school students. No programs showed strong evidence of effectiveness, and only five showed moderate evidence.

Effective Instruction for Adolescent Struggling Readers: A Practice Brief

Boardman, A. G., Roberts, G., Vaughn, S., Wexler, J., Murray, C. S., & Kosanovich, M. (2008). Effective instruction for adolescent struggling readers: A practice brief. Portsmouth, NH: RMC Research Corporation, Center on Instruction.

The Center on Instruction created this practice brief to provide schools, districts, and states with background knowledge about best practices for older students who struggle to read. It focuses on the reading skills that adolescents need to more fully access content-area curricula and, in turn, secure a productive future.

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.

The Literacy Coach: A Key to Improving Teaching and Learning in Secondary Schools

Sturvent, E.G. (2003). The Literacy Coach: A Key to Improving Teaching and Learning in Secondary Schools. Washington, DC: Alliance for Excellent Education.

A literacy coach is a master teacher who provides essential leadership for a school’s overall literacy program. This report, from the Alliance for Excellent Education and the Carnegie Corporation of New York, examines the role of the literacy coach and demonstrates why more of these coaches are needed in secondary schools to provide leadership for school-wide reading efforts. Leadership areas for coaches include attending meetings and professional development sessions to bring information and ideas back to their school; providing guidance to content-area teachers in teaching literacy; provide expertise to reading teachers; developing and administrating quality assessment systems; and liaising with stakeholders (school administrators, teachers, policymakers, university experts, community members) to help them understand the school’s literacy program and brainstorm solutions to problems. The report provides program examples, and looks at some pathways for becoming a school-based literacy specialist.

Writing Next

Graham, S. and Perin, D. (2007). Writing Next. New York: Carnegie Corporation.

Writing well is not just an option for young people — it is a necessity. Along with reading comprehension, writing skill is a predictor of academic success and a basic requirement for participation in civic life and in the global economy. Yet every year in the United States large numbers of adolescents graduate from high school unable to write at the basic levels required by colleges or employers. In addition, every school day, 7,000 young people drop out of high school, many of them because they lack the basic literacy skills to meet the growing demands of the high school curriculum. Because the definition of literacy includes both reading and writing skills, poor writing proficiency should be recognized as an intrinsic part of this national literacy crisis. This report offers a number of specific teaching techniques that research suggests will help 4th- to 12th-grade students in our nation's schools.

A Cognitive Strategies Approach to Reading and Writing Instruction for English Language Learners in Secondary School

Copyright 2007 by the National Council of Teachers of English. Used with permission. Olson, C.B. and Land, R. (2007). A Cognitive Strategies Approach to Reading and Writing Instruction for English Language Learners in Secondary School. Research in the Teaching of English, 41(3),

Cognitive strategies, such as predicting, summarizing, and reflecting — strategies used by experienced readers and writers — are vital to the development of academic literacy, but these strategies are too rarely taught explicitly, especially to English Language Learners (ELLs). This study reports the results of a California Writing Project study in which 55 teachers implemented a cognitive-strategies approach to reading and writing instruction for their ELL secondary students over an eight-year period and includes a detailed description of a teacher's cognitive strategies "tool kit."

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