For ENGL515 this coming week, one of my classmates and I agreed to blog the shared policy brief we were given to read. We were asked to consider the following:
1. How does the report characterize adolescents (in other words, who are the adolescents they refer to?)
2. How does the report characterize literacy (through what lenses is literacy viewed?)
3. What suggestions does the report make about teaching adolescent literacy?
Jared and I are reading NCTE’s Principles of Adolescent Literacy Reform from April 2006. The report immediately begins with the alarming statistic that today’s students are reading at rates that are significantly below grade level. Reading rates, as far as I know, refer to the ability to decode words as well as content comprehension, and are measured by scores on standardized tests. This particular report mentions that 4th-12th graders are reading below grade level, and references a report by the ACT which claims that only half of today’s high school students can read complex texts. With the great emphasis placed on early literacy development in politics and public policy, this report recommends that further attention be given to middle and high school students, as the challenges that under-literate students face bear significant weight toward their future successes. What NCTE’s report offers is an outline of the specific problems with adolescent literacy as well as recommendations for reform.
This report, which addresses concerns specific to middle and high school students in an academic setting, finds that literacy encompasses a broad range of domains. Here are a few that they list: analyzing arguments, assembling furniture, taking doses of medicine correctly, determining when, where, and how to vote, and finding information online.
For adolescents, literacy is more than reading and writing. It involves purposeful social and cognitive processes. It helps individuals discover ideas and make meaning. It enables functions such as analysis, synthesis, organization, and evaluation. It fosters the expression of ideas and opinions and extends to understanding how texts are created and how meanings are conveyed by various media, brought together in productive ways.
The report establishes literacy as broad, media-rich, non-universal, and as an ongoing process of development. Challenges that adolescents face can be largely attributed to conflicts between their everyday literacy practices and the narrow affordances of academic literacies presented. This is not to say that all academic literacies are limiting, but that students need support in navigating the different literacies required for engaging in different disciplines or reading/writing situations.
I’d like to put this out there: it’s been a long time since I’ve taken the ACT (12 years?), but I’m not sure that I’ve ever heard a student say that they actually liked or felt interested in the content they were asked to read on a standardized test. NCTE’s report acknowledges that personal relevance matters in terms of engagement and motivation: students experience difficulty when the work they are tasked with does not explicitly connect with practical application. Part of this, I think, is due to perceived curricular requirements; however, this is a problem with an attainable solution. Explicit teaching, reflection and metacognitive awareness, diverse texts, and student choice in selecting those texts are a few that the report offers. In terms of critical thinking, the report also acknowledges the need to interpret and analyze, as well as the incorporation of technology as a vehicle for motivation and engagement.
The report quickly and thoroughly establishes a holistic approach to literacy that includes both in and out of school practices. In all cases, reading and writing are either explicitly or implicitly connected with social interaction – students will practice activities together as well as independently, and those activities will connect to relevant life work. Moreover, the report suggests that strategies for reading comprehension as well as writing are essential – these strategies can be used to navigate both familiar and unfamiliar literacy events, including those that may be less engaging. The report also suggests that more literacy training needs to be made available for teachers in content areas – that the term “highly qualified” teacher doesn’t necessarily refer to literacy instruction, but rather content area expertise. Professional development should also, in line with the report’s stance on literacy, take into consideration that teacher learning happens over time as well, and should provide opportunities for teachers to engage in “deep learning,” or learning that occurs through experience and hands-on application rather than a single exposure, with fostering professional community as a core value. This will result in higher student achievement, as teachers will be collaborating across disciplines and working at the local level. The report also advises the use of literacy coaches to support teachers.
Adolescent literacy is necessarily interdisciplinary.
The report concludes with two major points: the first of these, which is more subtly included throughout, is that adolescent literacy is interdisciplinary – it is not a packet of skills to be applied in the same way no matter the situation. Secondly, professional development and support for teachers is essential in promoting literacy across the curriculum, thus resulting in higher achievements for students.
I think I’ve responded to those questions sufficiently. Here’s what I’m wondering: this report was published in 2006. I’d like to create a worknet, or a conceptual map of how this report has been cited and/or revised in later editions, especially given that 7 years have passed since its publication. What has changed? What report, if any, replaces this one? The public narrative has not changed much – just this past week, a report was released that claimed Michigan students have not made progress in reading ability over the last decade.