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Study Cites 32 Programs as Effective in Boosting Literacy

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A new national study has identified 32 local programs as especially effective in boosting literacy skills for 10- to 15-year-olds.

The three-year "Project on Adolescent Literacy,'' conducted by the center for early adolescence at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, examined efforts by school districts and community agencies to combat illiteracy in that age group. Its purpose was to learn what programs were successful and why, according to Judith Davidson, the center's project director.

Despite the pervasiveness of the problem, Ms. Davidson said, fewer than 350 programs nationwide were recommended to project researchers as "successful.''

Of that number, she said, researchers determined on the basis of telephone interviews and questionnaire responses that 50 programs met the center's criteria of being "academically effective and developmentally responsive.''

The researchers further narrowed the list to 17 school programs, 9 after-school programs, and 6 summer literacy programs--all of which were studied in site visits.

In-depth case studies of 8 of those 32 successful programs will appear in a book, Adolescent Literacy: What Works and Why, scheduled for release this summer by Garland Publishing Inc.

By publicizing outstanding programs, said Ms. Davidson, the researchers hope to provide a chance for teachers to "look at what colleagues who have tried new ideas are doing.''

Program Ingredients

Although the scarcity of good adolescent-literacy programs is a matter of concern, the study concluded, evidence from the school- and community-based programs visited suggests that most students with poor skills can improve them through properly designed activities.

Successful literacy efforts share several essential ingredients, according to the researchers.

The most important of these, they found, is requiring students to engage intensively in reading and writing.

In addition, they found, students must have access to materials and to experienced readers and writers, and teachers must infuse nonreaders with the confidence and motivation to read.

"Successful programs engage students who have been alienated from reading and build self-esteem by showing them that they can become successful learners,'' said Ms. Davidson.

The researchers noted that public libraries could play a vital role in promoting adolescent literacy. They found, however, that as of 1985, no public libraries were sponsoring adolescent-literacy programs.

Although the situation has improved slightly since then, Ms. Davidson said, there is "clearly a need for improved library services to the [adolescent] age group as a whole and to young adolescents with literacy problems in particular.''

A natural route for libraries, Ms. Davidson suggested, would be for "young-adult librarians to work out collaborations with community organizations that know how to work with and reach young people.''

8 Model Programs

Following are brief descriptions, along with names and telephone numbers of contact persons, for the eight programs that will be featured in the center's forthcoming book:

Chapter 1 Program, The Kenosha Model: Academic Improvement Through Language Experience, Kenosha (Wis.) Unified School District; Tom Zuhlke, director, (414) 656-6378. The program is founded on the belief that children will develop literacy in English if the instruction they receive is based on their own interests and experiences. It seeks to build students' confidence by focusing on their achievements and downplaying their weaknesses.

High Intensity Language Training, El Paso (Tex.) Independent School District; Luis Nieto, coordinator, (915) 779-3781. The program takes a "whole language'' approach, integrating reading, writing, speaking, and listening. It emphasizes the cognitive and academic language skills needed in the classroom, as well as the conversational and functional skills needed in society.

Chapter 1 Program, STAR: Structured Teaching in the Areas of Reading and Writing, Community School District 4, New York City; Camille Aromondo, director, (212) 860-5905. The program is based on research that divides reading instruction into three categories: pre-reading, reading, and post-reading. Writing is viewed as an extension of reading, and teachers work to develop students' understanding of the connection between the two skills.

The Friendly Place, sponsored by the American Reading Council, New York City; Julia Palmer, director, (212) 619-6044. The Friendly Place is a community literacy center serving all ages through a combined library-bookstore and special programming. After-school activities designed to appeal to adolescents include a "rap'' group and clubs that use students' literacy skills in exploring areas of special interest. The center offers a wide selection of books for early adolescents.

Montgomery Ward-Cabrini Green Tutoring Program, Chicago; Daniel Bassill, director, (312) 467-4980. A partnership between business and the community in which volunteers provide individualized tutoring one night a week to children from the Cabrini Green Housing Project. The program works with many students who are at risk of academic failure, and aims to give them the encouragementthey need to continue and succeed in school. Tutors provide homework help and academic support.

Highline Indian Tutoring Center, Seattle; Cathy Ross, director, (206) 433-2266. The center provides after-school academic help to young descendants of the 66 American Indian tribes in the Seattle area. It uses high-school and college students as tutors, and focuses specifically on aiding students who are in danger of academic failure because of low reading achievement.

Cross-Age Tutoring Program of the Literacy Council of Alaska, Fairbanks; Riki Sipe, executive director, (907) 456-6212. This six-week summer reading program trains 14- to 21-year-old students with reading problems to tutor 5- to 19-year-olds with reading problems. Tutors, who come from low-income families and have juvenile-court records or are under foster care, are assigned to students who are at least three years below their own reading level. The tutors receive training in effective instructional approaches and basic job and living skills.

"Adventures in Excellence,'' New Orleans; Rose Drill-Peterson, director of information and community services, (504) 286-2847. The New Orleans Public Schools and community organizations sponsor this five-week summer program, which students attend voluntarily. Participants spend the morning on language-arts activities, and can select from an array of electives in the afternoon. Students engage in imaginative reading activities, journal writing, and reciprocal teaching.

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