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Reading Next- A Call for Improving Literacy in Middle School and High School

By LeaderTalk Contributor — October 12, 2009 2 min read

Recently I attended a Professional Development day for principals where we had the opportunity to discuss the Carnegie Report, Reading Next. During the meeting we did a jigsaw read and so in the interest of full disclosure I have to state that I have not read the report cover to cover although I have reviewed it since the meeting. The primary focus of our meeting was on the “Fifteen Key Elements of Effective Adolescent Literacy Programs” The list includes both instructional elements and infrastructure elements which work in concert with one another. As an administrator I certainly have a responsibility to oversee the infrastructure piece however the instructional elements while not revolutionary truly caught my attention and my imagination.

The report addresses the literacy needs of the middle and high school population with some fairly stark language. The report notes that literacy skills are becoming increasingly complex, that in 2005 “40% of high school graduates lack the literacy skills employers seek”, and that there has been and will continue to be a steep incline in the literacy skills needed in the job place. The report also indicates that at the post-secondary level one of the real needs is to provide writing remediation for incoming students.

Looking at all 15 elements a few key things caught my attention. Including the need to have explicit instruction in literacy across all disciplines, the need to provide diverse texts, the need to ensure literacy skills taught are relevant to real world needs, a call for text based collaborative learning , and an emphasis on reading and literacy that prepares students to deal with a “fast paced, networked world.”

One other thing that caught my attention was tied in with the discussion of writing instruction. The report makes the point that writing across the curriculum is a key component to literacy but it also states that “traditional explicit grammar instruction is not effective and may actually be harmful to writing development, whereas instruction in sentence combining, summarization, and writing strategies significantly improve students’ writing.” I think this is a very important distinction and it is not to say that elementary students should not learn the parts of speech but it is a challenge to move beyond rote knowledge into more emphasis on real world application and practice.

In the beginning I said this report caught my imagination and this is why. Those educators who advocate for integration of digital technologies and global connections in the classrooms do so in part because these technologies inherently include essential literacy skills the students need to master. As an advocate for ubiquitous access to technology and having just gone 1:1 in grades 6 to 8 I see an incredible opportunity unfolding to address all 15 of the key elements and it seems that herein may also lie the opportunity to see the efficacy of this kind of technology integration. A 1:1 environment is ready made to explore diverse texts, to delve into text based collaborative learning and to encourage and support writing and publishing.The Carnegie report provides, for this principal, an interesting framework to move forward on the road to improve student learning. Anybody else coming along for the ride?
Barbara Barreda

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