School & District Management

Reading Researchers Outline Elements Needed to Achieve Adolescent Literacy

By Kathleen Kennedy Manzo — October 20, 2004 2 min read
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Now that policies and resources to improve basic reading instruction in the early grades are in place, educators need to turn a sharper focus to a more challenging task: building more complex literacy skills for older students, particularly struggling readers in middle and high school, a panel of prominent reading researchers contends.

Reading Essentials

The report recommends 15 essential components for adolescent reading instruction:

Direct, explicit comprehensive instruction
Effective instructional principles embedded in content
Motivation and self-directed learning
Text-based collaborative learning
Strategic tutoring
Diverse Texts
Intensive writing
A technology component
Ongoing formative assessment of students
Extended time for literacy
Professional development
Ongoing summative assessment of students and programs
Teacher teams
A comprehensive and coordinated literacy program

In a report out last week, the panel outlines 15 elements it deems essential for building adolescents’ reading-comprehension skills—including such instructional components as in tensive writing and ongoing assessment, as well as “infrastructure” improvements, such as extended time for literacy instruction and teacher professional development.

“Somewhat neglected in those various efforts [to improve early-reading achievement] was attention to the core of reading: comprehension, learning while reading, reading in the content areas, and reading in the service of secondary or higher education, of employability, of citizenship,” Catherine Snow, an author of the report, writes in the foreword. “Educators must thus figure out how to ensure that every student gets beyond the basic literacy skills of the early-elementary grades, to the more challenging and more rewarding literacy of the middle and secondary school years.”

The report, “Reading Next: A Vision for Action and Research in Middle and High School Literacy,” was written by Ms. Snow, a prominent reading researcher at Harvard University, and Gina Biancaros, an advanced doctoral student there. It was sponsored by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Alliance for Excellent Education, in Washington.

‘It’s That Serious’

“Reading Next: A Vision for Action and Research in Middle and High School Literacy,” is available from the Alliance for Excellent Education. (Requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)

While research exists indicating that the elements recommended by the panel are ef fective in improving reading proficiency among adolescents, there is little evidence to suggest in which combinations or sequences they are most effective. More study is needed to determine what works, the report says. But the panel also recommends that teachers and researchers try to document their own conclusions about what works in classrooms.

Despite the lack of definitive research in the area, one panelist said time is running out to address the needs of struggling adolescent readers.

“This is more than a crisis for high school kids,” said Michael Kamil, a professor of psychological studies in education and learning at Stanford University and one of the panelists. “We almost need a trauma center to take care of this problem, it’s that serious for kids that can’t read. … It’s the number-one factor standing in the way of their graduating.”

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