Reading Next: A Vision for Action and Research in Middle and High School Literacy (Second edition)

American youth need strong literacy skills to succeed in school and in life.
Resource URL:
Author(s): 
G. Biancarosa
C. Snow
Author(s) Organizational Affiliation: 
Alliance for Excellent Education and Carnegie Corporation of New York
Published: 
2004
Number of Pages: 
49
Product Type: 
Skill Level: 
NRS EFL 4--ABE Intermediate High
NRS EFL 5--ASE Low
NRS EFL 6--ASE High
Required Training: 

None.

Abstract: 

Reading Next is a report that provides recommendations for meeting the needs of the eight million struggling adolescent readers and provides a vision for capturing the effects of what elements work, when, and for whom. Reading Next comprises the work of five nationally known and respected educational researchers. Their paper was reviewed by the Adolescent Literacy Funders Forum in 2004. The report was targeted to funders, but has implications for researchers, policymakers, administrators, and teachers.

The 15 recommendations to improve adolescent reading skills are divided into Instructional Improvements and Infrastructure Improvements.

Instructional Improvements:

  1. Direct, explicit comprehension instruction
  2. Effective instructional principles embedded in content
  3. Motivation and self-directed learning
  4. Text-based collaborative learning
  5. Strategic tutoring
  6. Diverse texts
  7. Intensive writing
  8. A technology component
  9. Ongoing formative assessment of students

Infrastructure Improvements

  1. Extended time for literacy
  2. Professional development
  3. Ongoing summative assessment of students and programs
  4. Teacher teams
  5. Leadership
  6. Comprehensive and coordinated literacy program

Ideally, programs would implement all 15 elements, but the list can also be used to construct a blend of elements tailored to the population. The researchers provide descriptions of each of the elements and recommend the use of at the very least, three elements (professional development, ongoing formative assessment, and ongoing summative assessment) to create a non-negotiable foundation on which others elements can be layered.-They suggest that implementing multiple elements will produce not only an additive effect, but that the elements will interact to create a new synergy. The optimal mix has not been determined. The researchers ask that programs  implement and document the results of different mixes with different populations and demographics to ‘simultaneously improve achievement and develop the research base,’ (p. 23)  The authors, however, do not provide a direct plan for how the field can achieve this ambitious research and evaluation endeavor.

What the Experts Say: 

This report is invaluable in that it brings all of the relevant research on adolescent reading, previously a neglected field, into one document.  Catherine Snow is one of the outstanding researchers and experts in the field.  Why is this useful to adult educators?   Adolescents are in some ways young adults.  Many school dropouts do so in the 10th grade. There has also been a trend for higher graduation standards to have the effect of pushing more children out of high school before graduation.  These dropouts end up in adult education programs to get a GED.  These young adults bring many of the same learning problems they had in high school to the GED classroom.

The examples of the instructional elements that are provided in the blue boxes next to the text are very useful and helpful in understanding how to implement specific reading comprehension strategies.  Appendix A is particularly helpful in providing the references that support the inclusion of each element.  The professional developer could gain further information on the instructional strategies from these lists.

The increased need for higher literacy standards is accepted fact in the adult field and the case is made compellingly in this report.  What is of more interest to practitioner are the fifteen key elements identified as being effective in adolescent literacy programs.  Are these useful to practitioners?  Following is a short review of the usefulness of each.

  1. Direct, explicit comprehension instruction 
    All of the instructional elements described are extremely useful to teachers.  Direct instruction is especially needed since ABE/GED learners have often failed in the past to gain learning strategies to help them overcome difficulties.  Teaching comprehension strategies, including giving students a metacognitive understanding of how they read, is key to effective teaching.  Also modeling and scaffolding are proven strategies for teaching reading to both young and older adults.
  2. Effective instructional principles embedded in content 
    The stress on embedding these instructional strategies in content relevant to the learner is crucial.  Adult educators traditionally emphasize the use of authentic content in instruction.  Community colleges have found that pairing remedial instruction with required credit-bearing courses is more effective in helping lower level readers succeed than providing them with more generic remedial instruction.  Generic remedial instruction may not transfer to success in regular required courses such as economics or math.  However, such paring of courses does increase instructional costs.
  3. Motivation and self-directed learning
    These elements are the stated goal of so much adult learning.  We are dedicated to the idea that adults are indeed self-directed learners who return voluntarily to programs to meet explicit goals they have set for themselves.  Adolescents however may or may not have reached the goal of self-directedness.  Teachers in alternative high schools for high-risk adolescents and adult teachers face very different challenges in the classroom.  Adults are not under a mandate to attend school as adolescents are and teachers are not under the same curricular constraints.   Consequently, I think the adult field has more to teach than to learn here in giving the learner more control over instructional content.
  4. Text-based collaborative learning
    Collaborative learning is used extensively in the adult field.  Texts are rarely used as curriculum is so varied.  Again adult teachers already use this technique.
  5. Strategic tutoring 
    Tutoring is mainly accomplished in the adult field with the use of volunteers who help either in classes or on a one-to-one basis with adult learners. This practice is to be encouraged as an effective technique.  However, the volunteers need to receive some training and must be well prepared.
  6. Diverse texts
    With the exception of GED classes, where curriculum is designed to get students through a test, diversity is the rule in adult classrooms.  Adult classrooms are mostly free of the constraints that mandated curriculums put of high-school classrooms.
  7. Intensive writing
    Reading and writing instruction should not be separated.  Writing is a key skill for adults aiming to transfer to post-secondary institutions.  Indeed there has been considerable Federal interest in increasing the number of students engaging in post-secondary work.  However, writing has tended to be neglected in high schools and the renewed emphasis on intensive writing is very needed.
  8. Use of Technology
    I was disappointed given the importance of technology at all levels that this area was not given more attention.  However, this could simply indicate a lack to good research on the effective use of technology in increasing adolescent reading skill.  Technology is certainly an increasing presence in adult classes and facility with it is a needed workplace skill.
  9. Ongoing formative assessment of students
    This is a real problem for the adult field.  Typically adults only stay around on average 3 months in programs.  There is a lack of valid assessment tools.  Because the adult population is so heterogeneous, getting a valid pre-test then a post-test score is almost impossible since many adults do not stay long enough in the program.  (In both Minneapolis and St Paul we continue to battle with this issue).  Teachers also find they have little class time to engage in a formative assessment of individuals whose attendance is not guaranteed.  Many teachers are part time and this makes assessment more onerous since teachers feel it takes away from precious instructional time.

Infrastructure Improvements (10 – 15)

These suggestions are beyond the scope of teacher practitioners and deal more with administrative and programmatic issues.

The intensive time (10) recommended for adolescent literacy instruction is almost beyond reach in many adult settings where class time is limited and working adults do not have the luxury of extended school time.

Some adult programs are experimenting with managed enrollment setting dates for enrolling in class and asking students to make a commitment to regular attendance or they are dropped from the program.  This type of arrangement is not viable in small or rural programs that may be limited in their offerings because of budget. However in larger urban programs this approach is still in the experimental stage.

Professional development (11) has been shown by the research to be an important element in improving program effectiveness.  However, the hiring requirements for the teaching profession in adult basic education are very diverse.  Some states have an adult licensure available provided through a higher education program where teachers do not have a K – 12 teaching license.  Other states require only a K-12 license.  In states where community colleges run the adult basic education programs requirements may vary again.  Some states have no requirements at all.  Volunteers and part-time teachers are the rule rather than the exception.  This patchwork and lack of a full time teacher base makes the use of teacher teams (13) an expensive if impossible option for many small adult programs.  Likewise professional development is not uniformly available for adult teachers and there is no financial incentive or requirement for continuing education to maintain licensure in the field as there is in may K-12 systems.

Program assessment (12) continues to be difficult.  However, programs that receive Federal Adult Education money now have to file progress reports and test score gains.

Items 14 and 15 deal with leadership and comprehensive and coordinated programs which although desirable and outside the scope of practitioners’ influence in the field.

The resource may be considered a bit idealistic in a high school setting.  Content teachers are told to use different textbooks for students of different reading levels and cultures.  (For example, students should be able to see characters or events that reflect their unique culture in their textbooks.)  Although no one would argue with that goal, implementation might be difficult except under a well-funded research study.  That goal might actually be more easily attained in an adult education setting.

 
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