This topic explores approaches to improving the literacy skills
of adolescents so that they can succeed in content-area classes
and enjoy reading.
Adolescents entering the adult world in the 21st century will read
and write more than at any other time in human history. They will need advanced
levels of literacy to perform their jobs, run their households, act as citizens,
and conduct their personal lives. They will need literacy to cope with the flood
of information they will find everywhere they turn. They will need literacy
to feed their imaginations so they can create the world of the future. In a
complex and sometimes even dangerous world, their ability to read will be crucial.
Continual instruction beyond the early grades is needed. (Moore, Bean, Birdyshaw,
& Rycik, 1999, p. 3)
Many students reach middle school and high school without
adequate literacy skills. Reasons for this may include learning disabilities, mental retardation,
frequent school changes, limited literacy of parents, or inadequate instruction.
Once a student falls behind his or her peers, development of literacy skills
may be hampered by lack of access to appropriate materials and instruction and
by motivational issues stemming from repeated experiences with failure. Students
who are reading two or more years below grade level tend to have difficulty
in content-area classes in secondary school (Report on Learning Disabilities
Research, 1997). Often, they avoid reading and fall even further
behind over time as a result. This presents a major challenge for educators and parents
trying to help students succeed in the general curriculum and avoid the emotional
and social consequences of repeated failure in school.
While most people associate literacy with the ability to read, there are other
kinds of literacy as well. In the more general sense, literacy refers to the
ability to understand and use symbolic information (text, formulas, codes, statistics,
etc.) in order to function successfully in the world. So, in addition to reading, literacy
encompasses numerical and mathematical skills (sometimes called numeracy), writing
skills, computer skills, and other technology-related skills. Other new literacies
include areas such as economic literacy, critical literacy, and media literacy.
Literacy includes those skills needed to access, understand, and make use of
school texts, but it also includes many skills that have important applications
outside the classroom, such as understanding a wilderness trail guide or interpreting
a weather map on the Web (Alvermann, 2001).
Starting in the upper elementary grades, students are expected to be able to
use reading as a tool to access texts for many purposes. Students are expected
to read longer works of fiction and be able to discuss plots and themes. In
order to read content-area materials in history, science, and mathematics, students
need to understand and be able to use specialized vocabulary and symbols. They
also need to be able to find, comprehend, interpret, and assess the validity
of information found in the media, on the Web, and in print sources. These
and other literacy skills grow in importance as students move from elementary
school into middle and high school.
The following sources were cited in this Introduction. For additional
research and resources, see our links to other pages on this topic
Alvermann, D. E. (2001). Effective
literacy instruction for adolescents. Chicago, IL: National
Reading Conference. Retrieved from http://www.readingonline.org/editorial/edit_index.asp?HREF=/editorial/november2002/
Moore, D. W., Bean, T. W., Birdyshaw, D., & Rycik, J. A. (1999).
Adolescent literacy: A position statement. Journal of Adolescent
& Adult Literacy, 43, 97-112.
on learning disabilities research: Hearing before the Committee
on Education and the Workforce, House of Representatives. 105th
Cong. (1997). (Adapted from testimony of G. R. Lyon, National
Institute of Child Health and Human Development). Retrieved from http://www.ldonline.org/article/6339/
Other pages on this topic:
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This document was published by the National Center on Secondary Education and Transition (NCSET). NCSET is supported through a cooperative agreement #H326J000005 with the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs. Opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the U.S. Department of Education Programs, and no official endorsement should be inferred.