Teaching Adolescents to Read

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In teaching, there is a shift of focus that takes place at around 4th grade where literacy instruction changes from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” It is a known phenomenon that a number of students who did quite well in the primary years struggle with this new type of reading.

Donna Alvermann’s White Paper on Effective Literacy Instruction for Adolescents found that students’ needs and interests must be at the forefront when designing any type of literacy instruction for this age group. Effective instruction builds on elements of both formal and informal literacies. Alvermann challenges teachers to critically examine the traditional classroom setting and look to a broad definition of literacy.

If you are interested in reading more deeply about the topics discussed, the entire paper can be found here.

Main points worth emphasizing from Alvermann’s findings include:

  • Never underestimate the importance of building the student’s sense of self as a competent reader/learner.
  • Teachers must focus on building self efficacy and student engagement in all areas of learning across the curriculum.
  • Engagement and motivation are necessary conditions for learning to occur.

The following is directly quoted from her research:

Adolescents’ perceptions of how competent they are as readers and writers, generally speaking, will affect how motivated they are to learn in their subject area classes (e.g., the sciences, social studies, mathematics, and literature). Thus, if academic literacy instruction is to be effective, it must address issues of self-efficacy and engagement.

The potency of one’s beliefs about the self is phenomenal. In adolescence as in earlier and later life, it is the belief in the self (or lack of such belief) that makes a difference in how competent a person feels.

From Professional Learning Board’s online continuing education course for teachers: Tackling Tough Text

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