October 12, 1999 Today, for young people to
succeed in school and beyond, it is imperative that they are literate. For
the majority of students literacy poses no great problem. Reading happens.
However, there are children who struggle with reading. We, at the high
school level, meet some of these children as young adults in our classrooms.
They arrive, with reading levels of fourth grade or below, unprepared to
meet the challenges of high school academics. Some of these students come
to our schools directly from neighborhood schools and others are immigrants
from places where schooling may have not been accessible to them. High schools have failed to
develop an educationally sound response and policy toward adolescent
illiteracy. It is a phenomenon most people in education choose to ignore.
The district for which I work
has taken steps to address the needs of the beginner reader adolescent.
Over the past six years literacy programs have been created throughout the
district. My participation in and examination of a few of these programs
has led to the following policy recommendations. Following each
recommendation is a "rationale" statement based on information
found in research studies on adolescent illiteracy. The "action
research data" which follows each "rationale" is based on
information from my action research study on this topic. Both led to and
support the policy recommendation they succeed.
|Policy Recommendation #1: At the school and
district level, efforts should be made to enhance communication and
collaboration among literacy teachers in the form of common prep periods,
discussion groups, peer visitations, teacher networks, and/or
Teachers work too often in isolation. In addition, literacy education is a
new and demanding arena for most high school teachers. The need for
communication among teachers who have taken on the challenge of helping
adolescents improve basic, literacy skills is essential. Successful
literacy programs provide time for teachers to communicate. Action Research
Surveys revealed that teachers cite the need for collaboration and the
means to exchange ideas as key factors in creating more effective literacy
programs. Peer visitations was also a popular request made by teachers.
Personal interviews with literacy teachers echoed a similar response.
"The first step," stated one colleague, "begins at the
school level with scheduling. Literacy teachers should have one period off
together so students and strategies can be discussed."
|Policy Recommendation #2: At the school and
district level, efforts should be made to support teachers’ professional
growth through workshops, training, and research work. Special emphasis
needs to be placed on working with teachers to develop tools to evaluate
and monitor student and program success.
An essential element to maintaining a successful adolescent literacy
program is to support teachers in their personal growth and development as
professionals. There is a strong, positive correlation between the quality
of a program and the quantity of the training and development. In addition,
teacher research enables and empowers teachers to make decisions about
change by allowing the practitioner to step back and examine what they do. Action Research Data:
Research revealed that initial training in literacy strategies had been
effective. An average of 22 out of 25 literacy strategies in which teachers
were trained through the auspices of the district are used currently by
literacy teachers in their classrooms. However, teachers strongly agreed in
the need for follow-up and discussion on these strategies. Teachers were
trained, but the necessary follow-up did not occur. Teacher surveys ranked
professional development as the third most popular request toward improving
Teachers placed emphasis on
the need to establish criteria and more accurate tools to monitor student
and program success. Presently, they are not satisfied with the current
tests. The Bader Test is used by 90% of the literacy teachers as one of the
major indicators of student achievement. The Bader measures a student’s
decoding and comprehension skills, but does not test writing skills.
Interestingly, "fluency in writing" was cited by teachers as the
number one factor in determining student achievement. The need lies in the
fact that the test does not measure what teachers view as an important
factor in literacy development.
Policy Recommendation #3: At the school, district and community level, support should be given to
initiatives that provide students with increased opportunities for reading.
Such initiatives include allowing teachers to use text book monies to
create classroom libraries, designating funding for school libraries and
computer centers to purchase material appropriate for adolescent literacy
students, assigning para-professionals to literacy classrooms, and
establishing ties with community libraries and youth organizations.
Action Research Data:
Access to a wide range of well-written, appealing, and diverse kinds of
reading materials is essential to the development of strong readers and
writers. The needs of the struggling adolescent reader are inadequately met
in their classrooms and school and community libraries. Usually, there is
little material to entice these students. In addition, students with
reading difficulties are given less opportunity to practice reading in
school compared to better readers.
Literacy students want to read and read more. Students mentioned the
benefits of reading throughout their interviews. Read more topped their
recommendation list for how best to improve their school’s literacy
program. Teacher surveys and classroom observations noted an emphasis on
reading in the classroom, however the reading passages were short and came
from a shared reader. Students specifically cited their interest in having
books available for them to read. Students responded almost unanimously
that "going to the library" was a key ingredient in helping them
become better readers. Literacy students know what is needed to become
better readers, it is up to the school and community to provide them with
the material they need to begin.