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Introduction to Adolescent Literacy

Adolescent literacy is one of the major problems facing the modern American school system. Reading is one of the most important skills that students must learn to succeed in school and to become productive members of society. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) has conducted research concerning the current climate of literacy in America and has discovered that two-thirds of the secondary education students in American school systems lack the essential reading skills required to finish their education (Faggella-Luby, Ware, & Capozzoli, 2009). This is an alarming issue and needs to be remedied as soon as possible, and the research the NAEP provides can help the literacy rate begin to rise. The NAEP’s research also discovered, “70% of eighth graders perform at or below the Basic level in reading comprehension” (Faggella-Luby, Ware, & Capozzoli, 2009). The areas of comprehension that adolescents struggle with include recognizing literal information from the text, finding a main idea, and describing the central problem faced by a main character (Faggella-Luby, Ware, & Capozzoli, 2009). Research has shown that only with direct instruction of strategies to assist struggling readers can students gain the ability to understand text and language (M.D. Coyne, et al, 2009). Without these comprehension skills and strategies students will not be able to succeed in school or after school life because these skills are foundational and can be applied to almost every career.

There are many options available for anyone looking to find support for someone who struggles with reading and general literacy skills. One of the best resources available for finding support is the on the internet because of the amount of materials and websites available to anyone (Leu, Zawilinski, Castek, Banerjee, Housand, Liu, & O’Neil, 2011). The modern world provides many avenues for teachers, parents, and students to find supports that can be applied to their specific need. The supports can range from general literacy websites to scholarly reviewed articles presenting research on what strategies and skills are necessary for specific disabilities
to instructional planning and guidance for teachers and administrators. However, there is very little research available discussing the effects of how the definition of literacy is changing and becoming a wider more complex entity that students must learn in the classroom (Leu, Zawilinski, Castek, Banerjee, Housand, Liu, & O’Neil, 2011). There are many websites out there devoted to bloging or social media outlets for specific disabilities that people can discuss problems, solutions, or general problems or issues they may be having with people from all over America and the world. As time progresses literacy is constantly expanding to new territories and the schools across the country are struggling to keep up with the changing state of literacy.

Adolescent Literacy Fact Sheet
This site provides a fact sheet on literacy in America dated September 2010. The Alliance for Excellence of Children fact sheet provides statistics and percentages of the abilities of American high school students.

All About Adolescent Literacy
This site provides teachers, parents and students with strategies and skills that can provide advice and help. This website provides a variety of different strategies that use different skills in different ways that can be applied to a wide range of struggling readers.

50 Best Learning Disability Blogs
This site provides links to numerous different blogs that can be useful for all people who have disabilities and need extra support or help to improve their academic abilities in and out of school.

Adolescent Literacy: A Position Statement
This site discusses how we need to do more for adolescents as educators and specific things that teachers can do to help students improve their own literacy ability. They also discuss the Columbine High School tragedy and how if those young boys had a better understanding of literacy they may not have been a Columbine High School tragedy.

History of Adolescent Literacy

In the recent past of Adolescent literacy research, most of the findings were written and presented for scholarly audiences, not administrators and teachers to use in practical everyday school use (Faggella-Luby, Ware, & Capozzoli, 2009). There is a great amount of new research being done that is presenting their findings in a manner that is much more accessible than ever before (Faggella-Luby, Ware, & Capozzoli, 2009). This research is widely available, frequently free and can provide any school an important vehicle for change (Faggella-Luby, Ware, & Capozzoli, 2009). The data that the research presents can help numerous schools around the country with very little cost. This access is extremely important because it allows the information to be presented to numerous schools across America with very little effort and cost. The more access teachers have to new research and strategies the better instruction and support they can provide to their students. Providing more professional development for teachers concerning improving adolescent literacy than what schools provide now and in the past, can greatly help improve the reading rates of adolescents.

Another issue in the past of adolescent literacy is the issue of the actual definition of an adolescent determining who is and is not included. Initially it was defined as grades four through twelve and was then considered grades six through twelve; this is a major problem because it does not allow continuity in all school systems (Faggella-Luby, Ware, & Capozzoli, 2009). If the adolescent literacy problem is going to be addressed across America, the systems need to follow the same format and plan to ensure that all students are receiving correct instruction and strategies. There is also an issue concerning the definition of literacy not only being connected to reading but includes speaking, thinking, and listening ((Faggella-Luby, Ware, & Capozzoli, 2009). The understanding of these two terms and the important role they play in providing correct instruction, strategies, and supports for adolescents that can help improve literacy across America.

History of Adolescent Literacy Expert
This site provides a brief history of one teacher's career and how she developed reading programs for students that has been used in thousands of schools. Joan Sedita developed numerous cognitive strategies designed to help struggling readers as well as all students learning how to read. This is an example of how reading instruction has developed and has been implemented in schools. It also demonstrates how the future of reading instruction needs to continue to change and develop to have a better chance of helping more students learn to read.

Different Perspectives of Adolescent Literacy

One popular approach to teaching literacy is Academic Literacy. Academic Literacy is “the ability to read for initial understanding and to think about the text meaning in order to answer questions that may require students to make inferences or draw conclusions (Torgesen, et al, 2007).” By teaching students academic vocabulary, the student will have the skills and strategies necessary for reading comprehension across the curriculum. A focus on Academic Literacy will increase levels of reading proficiency and prepare students for college education. Academic Literacy will also help students who are meeting grade level expectations to continue to stay at goal as well as help students who are reading below level to achieve the skills and knowledge necessary to work at grade level. Teaching Academic Language can also provide struggling readers with the skills necessary to improve reading ability (Torgensen, et al, 2007).

In order to continue growing as a reader between 6th and 12th grade, readers need to focus on several key areas (Torgensen, et al, 2007). Reading fluency, vocabulary knowledge, domain-specific and domain-general content knowledge, higher-level reasoning and thinking skills, cognitive strategies, and motivation. Equal focus needs to be placed on each area in order to stay on grade level and increase understanding.
  • Students must continue to increase the range of words they can recognize at a single glance (sight words) in order to continue to meet grade-level expectations for reading fluency (Torgenson, et al, 2007). If a student is focusing on decoding each word, comprehension will be secondary. On the other hand, if a student is able to decode words fluently, the brain can focus on the comprehension of words and combinations of words.
  • Vocabulary knowledge is crucial to comprehension of reading material, especially in the content areas.
  • Teaching cognitive strategies to students, which can be applied to enhance reading comprehension, help to develop more effective readers both during and beyond the initial stages of learning (Torgenson, et al, 2007). For example, paraphrasing to enhance memory, making connections from prior knowledge to parts of the text, underlining and note taking, and visualizing events in the text are all strategies for active reading and self-monitoring.
  • It is also necessary that students are taught higher level thinking and reasoning skills. As the students move up through school, texts become increasingly complex. Students must continue to use their ability to make inferences, draw conclusions, and engage in critical thinking (Pressley, 2000).
When referring to higher level thinking skills, Bloom's Taxonomy of Learning gives explicit levels of understanding. Bloom's chart demonstrates the lower levels of understanding at the bottom with increasingly difficult application of learning at the top.

  • Lastly, students need to have some interest or motivation in order to want to read. Typically, struggling readers have very low motivation to continue reading, which affects the amount of reading material those students actually pick up and finish. Teachers should try to increase the motivation with reading by using different instructional strategies (building off background knowledge, extrinsic motivation, etc.) in order to increase knowledge and comprehension (Torgenson, et al, 2007).

Another approach to Adolescent Literacy is teaching Content-based Literacy. Content Literacy is “the listening, speaking, reading, writing, and thinking skills and strategies required to learn in each of the academic disciplines.” In Academic Literacy, a student is taught reading and comprehension skills, which can be used in general. Content literacy, however, is specific to each of the core classes.

In Content Literacy vocabulary words need explicit instruction, not only for the students to understand what the word means in everyday use but also in context to the academic use of the word. When teaching vocabulary the student also needs to know how the word can be found in a sentence while also offering a technique or method to help the students remember the word.

In content literacy, the use of graphic organizers is a strategy which can help the students organize the information they are gathering while reading to help them better connect the details to main ideas, determine cause and effect, compare and contrast two ideas, as well as put main events into a sequence. Graphic organizers can also help develop background knowledge and make the connection between different concepts (Ehren, 2005). In addition, all students should be self-monitoring while reading. Self-monitoring allows the readers to ask questions and remain motivated throughout each reading material. Using graphic organizers will allow the reader to be actively reading and reflecting at all times by making the student responsible for what they are reading.
Below are examples of graphic organizers that may be used to help students organize information and become better acclimated with the structure of a text.
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Understanding the text structure of nonfiction, expository writing can affect reading comprehension in students. Understanding the organizational pattern of the material, the clarity of the presentation, having he students be aware of the way the piece is set up and organized can bea big aid to comprehension. When students understand that every informational text is set up in a specific format that allows the reader to pull apart important information more easily, the reader is able to strategically use that information to maximize their understanding of the text (Ehren, 2005). Teaching reading comprehension across the content areas is beneficial to each reader for better understanding of the information being presented to him or her. Teaching readers in Science to read like scientists or to read like a historian in Social Studies is a very valuable skill, which will assist the reader greatly in each of the core classes.

This article offers reasons why Literacy should be offered within each of the content area classrooms.

The Future of Adolescent Literacy

The future of adolescent literacy supports will be wide spread literacy instruction within school systems across America and there will be even more access online for different information and support. The real assistance to adolescent literacy will be the more widespread attention and focus on the importantance of strong literacy skills especially within federal and state standards. This would involve rewriting curriculum to allow for literacy instruction to take place across content areas and grades. Elementary schools will have literacy embedded in the curriculum ensuring understanding of narrative and expository texts. Having this skill is essential for students to be able to read successfully in secondary education where they graduate to informational and more complex texts (Bulgren, J., Deshler, D., & Lenz, 2007). As students go through the educational system they are expected to build upon skills that they are taught in elementary school and expand them so they can use them properly in middle and high school. Since the current state of adolescent literacy is dangerously low, new strategies and concepts are being developed to help bridge the gap between elementary and secondary literacy skills (Klingner, J., Vaughn, S., & Boardman, A., 2007). These strategies demonstrate how to read correctly by breaking reading down into specific skills and how to develop those skills and use them to understand text (Klingner, J., Vaughn, S., & Boardman, A., 2007). By providing students with new skills and strategies to assist with their literacy abilities, it allows students to build upon old literacy skills and expand them into new literacy skills.

In order for all people to develop foundational literacy skills, literacy instruction is required not only for reading but all aspects of being literate in a modern world. Schools will have literacy instruction within the curriculum so that reading skills and strategies will not be taught only for reading, but for listening, talking, and thinking (Faggella-Luby, Ware, & Capozzoli, 2009). This will ensure that all students are taught how to read for all aspects of their life including within school and outside of school activities. Adolescents are expected to establish higher order thinking skills in all content areas including vast amounts of information and across subjects areas (Bulgren, J., Deshler, D., & Lenz, 2007). Students in today’s schools are expected to be able to read correctly and accurately in all content areas with very little modern literacy instruction. All teachers will have to have their students be able to read each subject like a person within that discipline would read that text (Deshler, D., Palincsar, A. S., Biancarosa, G., & Nair, M., 2007). This incorporates the idea of reading each area like an expert of that field and having the proper background knowledge and understanding of the topic to engage the text fully and correctly. For example, a student taking a history class would have to be able to digest the complex ideas and engage the text like a historian would (Bulgren, J., Deshler, D., & Lenz, 2007). This would ensure that students would be able to jump from subject to subject with little confusion and have a solid understanding of that subject’s literacy skills.

As the internet becomes more involved in everyday life with facebook and twitter, there is more need for people to be literate and competent in new fields and mediums. The idea of being internet literate is now necessary for all people to possess since in 2005 the Internet World Stats: Usage and Population published that the one-billionth person began reading on the internet (Leu. D., et al., 2011). This statistic demonstrates the vast amount of people using the internet and the need for everyone to understand how to utilize the internet correctly. The best way to achieve this goal is to introduce new types of literacy instruction in schools to help build solid literacy skills that are beneficial for life long use. With the current instruction in schools, students are developing skills and strategies for using the internet incorrectly (Leu, D., et al., 2011). To use the internet correctly and to gain an understanding of each website requires a vast amount of literacy skills that vary from website to website (Leu, D., et al., 2011). Each person needs to be able to jump from website to website as well as from literacy skill to literacy skill with each new page. This puts a lot of stress of the user to comprehend each page correctly and to be able to take that information and apply it in an appropriate way (Leu, D., et al., 2011). This new idea of literacy is essential for students to have successful futures after school so they can compete in a world that requires students and employees to be literacy savvy in all aspects of being contemporary literate.

This image is a visualization of how literacy is expanding and incorporating more dynamics and aspects of what students need to understand and be able to do.

This document provides a list of 5 Big Ideas of Adolescent Literacy developed in Professor M. Faggella-Luby's Adolescent Literacy class at the University of Connecticut. It breaks down the abilities required for skilled reading to take place into 5 large categories and provides specific skills and strategies that are necessary for correctly understanding and applying that larger idea to text. These Big Ideas could be incorporated into curriculum that place reading skills and literacy instruction as a foundation for their instruction to students across grades and content areas.

Adolescent Literacy Wiki
This site is another adolescent literacy wiki that provides a different look at adolescent literacy. Wikis can play a vital role in getting information to more teachers by having support and links that supply more information.

In the modern world the internet has become used more than ever before and students must know how to read internet form text. These literacy skills are very different than conventional ideas of literacy skills, it requires the student to be able to read informational text from the internet and gain the important information from that website. It also will include how to research on the internet correctly and how to be able to read a wide variety of different page layouts with varying levels of difficulty (Leu, D.J., O'Byrne, W.I., Zawilinski, L., McVerry, J.G., & Everett-Cacopardo, H., 2009).

What a possible classroom can be...

Educational Outlook for Teachers and Schools

How does it all fit together? How can we make time to fit teaching reading into middle schools and high schools? About 30% of students are struggling in reading on their grade level by the time they reach middle school and high school (Faggella-Luby, 2011). This information is impossible to ignore when thinking about student success.

When Literacy is being taught across the content areas, the students are getting another dose of literacy instruction as well as learning different text structures to enable a deeper comprehension of the material actually being read. Middle and high school students spend most of their time in content-area classes and must learn to read expository, informational, and content related texts with greater proficiency in order to have a successful educational career (Lenz, 2006). For students struggling way below grade level, they are in need of supplemental support in tier 2 or tier 3; teaching reading strategies to provide skills for students to help generalize and support use of the specific strategies being used across the curriculum. Most importantly, strategies need to be used with fidelity, assessed often and given immediate feedback to make sure all students are staying on grade level when reading both in content-area classes as well as their core reading class. If assessments are showing that students are consistently below level, intervention needs to occur and frequent progress monitoring needs to take place to guide and support the students back to grade level.
The triangle of literacy instruction uses a three tier model.

This video discusses what research says about good practice and how building-level leaders and classroom teachers can support struggling readers and writers.
Featuring Dr. Don Deshler, Dr. Mel Riddile, and Christina Gutierrez in a discussion on school-level literacy reform.

Additional Resources for Adolescent Literacy


The following websites are fun and educational sites which encourage students to practice their reading skills (decoding, comprehension, and phonics).

  1. The Mash Up Blog
  2. StarFall
  3. PBS
  4. KidsSpell
  5. Spelling and Vocabulary

English as a Second Language
The following websites are fun and educational sites which encourage students learning the English Language to practice their reading skills.
  1. Supermarket Spree (Español)
  2. Alphabet Soup (Ingles y Español)
  3. Picture Pairs (Ingles y Español)
  4. Grammar Games(Practica en Ingles)
  5. Speak and Place (Ingles y Español)
  6. ESL Game


Cognitive Strategies Toolkit
This site provides specific cognitive strategies for teachers that give specific situations and problems that a struggling reader can experience and it provides specific solutions and strategies to help students improve their reading skills.

Adolescent Literacy Overview

This site provides an abundant amount of information concerning adolescent literacy and how to implement it in an entire school as well as individual classrooms. it also provides information about policies concerning literacy as well as resources for schools and teachers that will help their students' literacy increase.

The Lexile Framework for Reading
This site provides information to parents and teachers about how to help an adolescent with literacy and reading. It provides numerous links and information on techniques to help struggling readers.

Adolescent Literacy Resources: Linking Research and Practice

This site is a book written for secondary education adminstrators and teachers and discusses what research states concerning literacy and reading instruction and what is happening in schools today.

Appalachia Regional Comprehensive Center

This site provides scholarly based articles that can be used by teachers and administrators for planning school wide reform for reading instruction or creating curriculum including reading instruction within the core instruction base.

OSEP Ideas that Work
This site provides more parent and teacher information on how to help an adolescent who struggles with reading. This site also provides Universal Design for Learning based on improving reading in adolescents too.

This chapter from the document Reading/Teaching Adolescents: Literacies with a History discusses the present state of adolescent literacy looking through the future of what adolescent literacy instruction would be. it focuses on how the idea of literacy has changed and how literacy needs to be taught to adolescents in this modern age (Alvermann, 2009).


The Lexile Framework for Reading
This site provides information to parents and teachers about how to help an adolescent with literacy and reading. It provides numerous links and information on techniques to help struggling readers.

OSEP Ideas that Work
This site provides more parent and teacher information on how to help an adolescent who struggles with reading. This site also provides Universal Design for Learning based on improving reading in adolescents too.

Scholastic has excellent resources to help your child learn to read, write, and spell.

The Department of Education also has many links that may help develop your child's reading skills at home.


Alvermann, D. E. (2009). Reaching/teaching adolescents: Literacies with a history. In J. V. Hoffman & Y. M. Goodman (Eds.), Changing literacies for changing times: A historical perspective on the future of reading research, public policy & classroom practices (pp. 98-107). New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group.

Bulgren, J., Deshler, D., & Lenz, B. (2007). Engaging Adolescents With LD in Higher Order Thinking About History Concepts Using Integrated Content Enhancement Routines. Journal of Learning Disabilities, Volume 40(Number 2), pp 121-133.

Coyne, Michael D., Zipoli Jr., Richard P., Chard, David J., Faggella-Luby, Michael, Ruby, Maureen, Santoro, Lana E. and Baker, Scott (2009). 'Direct Instruction of Comprehension: Instructional Examples From Intervention Research on Listening and Reading Comprehension', Reading & Writing Quarterly, 25:2, 221 — 245.

Deshler, D., Palincsar, A.S., Biancarosa, G., & Nair, M. (2007). Informed Choices for Struggling Adolescent Readers: A Research-Based Guide to Instructional Programs and Practices. New York: Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Ehren, B. (2005). Looking for evidence-based practice in reading comprehension instruction. Top Lang Disorders, 25(4)

Klingner, J., Vaughn, S., & Boardman, A. (2007). Teaching Reading Comprehension to Students with Learning Difficulties. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

Lenz, K. (2006). Creating school-wide conditions for high-quality learning strategy classroom instruction. Communicative Disabilities and Deafness-CEC

Leu, D., Zawilinski, L., Caster J., Banerjee, M., Housand, B., Liu, Y., & O'Neil, M (2011). What Is New about the New Literacies of Online Reading. In L. Rush, A. Eakle, & L. Berger (Eds.), Secondary School Literacy: What Research Reveals for Classroom Practice. (pp. 37-68). Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.

Torgesen, J. K., Houston, D. D., Rissman, L. M., Decker, S. M., Roberts, G., Vaughn, S., Wexler, J. Francis, D. J, Rivera, M. O., Lesaux, N. (2007). Academic literacy instruction for adolescents: A guidance document from the Center on Instruction. Portsmouth, NH: RMC Research Corporation, Center on Instruction.