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Types of Adolescent Literacy Initiatives in Out-of School-Time (OST) Programs

Enhancing adolescents’ literacy abilities in structured out-of-school time (OST) programs is a growing area of interest among OST enrichment providers. Schools and community-based agencies have developed a host of after-school remedial tutoring programs that provide intensive instruction for struggling students, while project-based youth development programs incorporate text-rich activities to provide highly motivating opportunities for young people to practice their reading and writing skills.

We identify four types of literacy initiatives that serve adolescents in their out-of-school (OST) time:

  • Literacy and academic development programs,
  • Literacy enhancement programs,
  • Academic enhancement programs, and
  • Social development programs.

Literacy and academic development programs

OST literacy and academic development programs for adolescents work primarily with students who are performing academically below grade level. Students rarely choose on their own to participate in literacy development programs, but are often referred to these services by a teacher or parent.

The primary goal of a literacy and academic development program is to help students who test below basic in reading and writing achieve the skills necessary to become successful in school. The most common method of OST literacy instruction is one-on-one and small group tutoring. Sometimes this type of intervention is called remediation because it is assumed that the individual in need of intervention did not learn the skill when it was originally taught (or mediated) and thus needs a repeat of the teaching-or of the mediating-that should have occurred at a younger age or earlier stage of development.

Literacy enhancement

OST literacy enhancement programs are intended to engage adolescents in reading and writing activities in highly motivating environments. For the most part, students participate in activities voluntarily and come from a vast range of academic backgrounds. The primary purpose of the literacy enhancement program is to ignite student interest and excitement around text-rich experiences. Literacy enhancement providers hope that this enthusiasm will translate into improved academic performance or motivation to read and write, although these programs rarely offer explicit literacy instruction to those who are struggling with basic literacy skills. Instead, they immerse youth in literacy activities with the hope that young people will enhance literacy skills because they need those skills to successfully complete the activities of the program.

Academic enhancement

Several programs address literacy development within the larger context of boosting students’ academic achievement in their out-of-school time. We identify these as academic enhancement programs, recognizing that their missions are often two-fold-to provide a safe, structured after-school space for students to develop their social skills, and to offer educational enrichment that will enhance students’ academic abilities. Participants may reflect a wide range of achievement, but some programs particularly target the lowest performing students. Unlike literacy/academic development and literacy enhancement programs, the acquisition of reading and writing skills is not central to programmatic objectives, but still may be addressed through a variety of educational activities.

High quality academic enhancement programs present a comprehensive enrichment menu of activities, often offering youth choices of which activities they would like to participate in. The programs include a combination of homework help and intriguing project-based educational activities. These programs also provide recreation and leisure time for the students and stress the importance of building caring adult relationships among students, staff and volunteers.

Social development

Social development out-of-school time programs work to support the social and emotional development of students, such as conflict-resolution skills or character building, with less of an emphasis on the academics. However, social development programs may implicitly require a particular literacy competency through structured activities in the program. For example, students on a camping trip may be asked to reflect on their experiences each day by writing in a journal. However, unlike academic enhancement initiatives, social development programs for the most part do not imbed standards-based educational content within their activities with the specific aims of increasing grades or achievement scores, nor do social development programs typically provide literacy instruction, even when engaging youth in activities that require literate skill.

Moje, E. B., & Tysvaer, N. (2010). Adolescent literacy development in out-of-school time: A practitioner’s guide . New York, NY: Carnegie Corporation of New York.