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Elements of Effective Adolescent Literacy Programs

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

In this lesson, we will examine the components of a comprehensive adolescent literacy program, including techniques to make it relevant and motivating to students, instructional implications for teachers in all content areas, and program evaluation.

Elements of Comprehensive Literacy Programs

What does it take to build a successful adolescent literacy program? A literacy program is a comprehensive, school-wide commitment to helping students become successful readers. Successful literacy programs for middle and high schools address student motivation, metacognition, vocabulary instruction, reading and writing across all content areas, and program evaluation. Let's look at some specific components of a successful adolescent literacy program.

Relevance and Engagement

We know that reading is valuable not only across disciplines, but throughout social contexts, but do students? A fundamental aspect of building a quality literacy program is engaging the students. Motivation comes from positive or negative reinforcement. Positive reinforcement refers to rewards that encourage students to repeat behavior. Positive reinforcement is a more effective motivator over time, compared to negative reinforcement, or punishment. Additionally, intrinsic motivators, which are produced within adolescents when they themselves want to learn, are more effective than extrinsic rewards, such as praise, recognition, and trinkets. Students find learning intrinsically rewarding when they are involved in the instructional decision-making process, the material is relevant, and the students are progressing. Let's take a closer look at how to use each of these motivators when developing your literacy program.

  • Students need to feel as if they are active participants in the learning experience. When adolescents bear some responsibility in creating their learning goals and choosing the path towards achieving those goals, they are much more motivated to engage. Teachers can encourage students to become involved in the process by developing learning contracts with students and by giving students the opportunity to select reading material when possible. Learning contracts are agreements between the teacher and student that outline each of their roles in helping the student successfully complete a learning activity. For example, a student may agree to attend class 85% of the time, complete all assigned readings, and meet with the teacher weekly to discuss progress.
  • Students need to understand the purpose and relevancy of learning materials. Teachers can help by incorporating the types of materials that students read outside of school or outside of reading class into the literacy program. Finding the right materials for reluctant readers is crucial. Incorporating the use of technology, newspapers, magazines, graphic novels, and self-selected outside reading materials will make students more willing to practice reading. Other considerations to make when selecting reading material is the importance of supplying texts that feature characters that students can relate to. Having a wide array of multicultural texts available is important.
  • We've already mentioned learning contracts as a way to get students actively involved in the learning process, but they can also provide a means for students to monitor their progress. When students see themselves making progress, they begin to view themselves as capable readers and realize the degree of control they have over their own success.

Comprehension and Vocabulary Support

Once you have their attention, explicit instruction in both comprehension skills and vocabulary will help students get to the next level. Effective readers use metacognitive strategies to become more self-aware when it comes to comprehension skills, such as predicting, summarizing, visualizing, and questioning; all of which play a role in understanding what we read. These skills do not come naturally to struggling readers and must be explicitly taught.

Vocabulary instruction needs to take place across the curriculum both through direct and indirect instruction. Indirect instruction occurs when students are exposed to a variety of words through discussions or by reading an assortment of texts. Direct vocabulary instruction uses structural analysis and non-linguistic representations, such as drawing pictures, using graphic organizers, and role-playing to teach specific words.

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