Skip to main content
High school hallway motion blur of students

AdLit 101: Intro

Over the first few years of school, it is crucial for children to master the basics of reading, from sounding out letters and words to making sense of whole books. If they don’t learn those skills — ideally by the time they finish the 3rd grade — they’ll stand little chance for success in later years. But while students may need the basics of literacy, the basics aren’t all they need.

A Guide to Teaching and Supporting Adolescents’ Literacy Skills and Will

For decades now, researchers have known that many children succeed in reading over the first few years of school only to experience a “4th grade slump,” setting them on course for years of academic frustration. In grades K-3, when teachers emphasize phonics and the reading of storybooks and other simple texts, most children make progress.

But when  teachers start giving them longer, more academic reading assignments — that is, when the emphasis shifts from “learning to read” to “reading to learn” — many students lose steam. 

Even if they’ve mastered the basics in the first few years of school, students still need to be taught how to make sense of the varied and increasingly difficult materials they encounter in the science, history, math, English, and other subject area classes that comprise the middle and high school curriculum.

Students need to learn how to write clear, compelling texts of their own. And they need to learn how to communicate effectively for many different audiences, both in and outside of school, using all sorts of tools, from pen and paper to the spoken word to the latest electronic media.

In short, literacy instruction remains every bit as important in middle school and high school as it is in grades K-3.

What’s being done to improve the teaching of reading and writing in the nation’s secondary schools? And what can you do to teach reading and writing more effectively in your classroom?

AdLit 101 is designed to help you get up to speed on recent research and policy developments, to give you some practical advice on teaching reading and writing, and to point you toward a wide range of additional resources.


High school hallway motion blur of students

The Scope of the Adolescent Literacy Crisis

In the U.S., about 500,000 students drop out every year, frustrated and discouraged with school. And many of the kids who stay in school lack basic literacy skills — federal data tells us that only 34 percent of 8th graders read and write at a proficient level. The statistics for low-income students, students of color, and students with disabilities are even more alarming.

Middle school student at home reading school text

Why Some Students Have Difficulty Reading

Students may be struggling with word study, fluency, vocabulary, comprehension — or even motivation. It’s key to figure out where students are with their literacy skills, what kinds of support they need, and to see them as individuals.


Male Latino teacher discussing assessment results with male Latino student

Literacy Assessment

Every school should do an initial screening to check on student reading skills at the beginning of each semester or school year. And every teacher should continue to check on students’ progress throughout the year, in order to see whether those kids need more ongoing support.

Black male high school teacher helping Black male student in class

Essentials of Literacy Instruction

Get the basics on effective practices in teaching word study, fluency, vocabulary, comprehension, motivation, writing, and content area literacy.

stack of open journals in a library

Research, Reports, and Guides

The adolescent literacy research reports gathered here are among the most important and frequently referenced. We hope this material is especially useful for policymakers, researchers, graduate students, curriculum developers, and school administrators.