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Adolescents and Learning
Sharon Longert

"The need for effective intervention strategies for older individuals is as great as the need for intervention for younger children” (Deshler & Hock, 2006).  There is a belief that if we concentrate on the younger child less attention will be required later on, yet many of the same learning difficulties persist as students get older.  Large numbers of students enter secondary schools unprepared to handle the increased demands of the content laden coursework.  They need skills and strategies to make that information intrinsic.  The proliferation of information in the 21st Century, especially on the Internet, needs to become available to our adolescents.   In the next 10 – 20 years literacy and the ability to engage in an informational world will be necessary to be a successful individual.  It is essential for teachers to use the strategies that enhance literacy skills as well as develop higher order cognitive and thinking skills.  These strategies are suggested by Ivey & Fisher, 2006.

Use Accessible Text - students need to be stimulated by texts that require them to accept humor, empathize with characters and situations, and question previously held beliefs.  Our adolescent learners have knowledge that surpasses their reading ability and we need to honor their abilities and maturity by selecting texts that will match these abilities.  A variety of print materials is helpful: Web sites, picture books, newspaper and magazine articles make the content more accessible than textbooks. These sources engage learners with content and thinking that is expected of their age group.

Use Alternative Texts to Spur Critical Reading – In  high school classrooms there is a vast range of reading abilities. Often students are so entangled in the “reading” and decoding that they do not get to the authors’ purpose, the greater meaning or the inferences in the text.  Texts supported by graphics and photos, graphic novels and comics give struggling readers access to engaging ideas.  With specific and direct instruction students can be led to think critically about the content and improve their confidence levels with their own knowledge.

Read Alouds and Think Alouds – Most struggling adolescent readers have developed excellent listening comprehension skills and these can become a vital instructional tool. Students can be taught to listen as the teacher pauses and asks important question, summarizes, and predicts out loud as the text is read.  This skill then transfers when the student is reading silently and independently. Teachers’ reflections on a reading passage helps students access vocabulary and concept knowledge that may not be attained through their own reading.

Use Writing to Tap Critical Knowledge – Connecting reading and writing to the knowledge that students bring to the classroom increases writing fluency.  Writing is thinking that clarifies understanding.  Writing serves as an assessment of what is understood and guides further instruction. Short writing spurts that are related to the themes discussed in reading or read alouds connect students’ life experiences to the texts that they studying. Writing is about thesis statements, topic sentences, outlines, and paragraphing, but it is also about collecting and generating information and ideas (Kirby, Kirby, & Liner, 2004).

All children experience excitement as they work on their competencies.  They want to utilize what they know as they become more literate.  We need to build on what they already know as we respect what they have learned from life lessons.  “Like adults, teens read because it satisfies their minds.” (Ivey & Fisher , 2006).

Deshler, D. D., & Hock, M. F., (in press) Adolescent Literacy:  Where we are – Where we need to go, 2006.
Ivey, G., & Fisher, D., When Thinking Skills Trump Reading Skills, Educational Leadership, October, 2006, p. 16 – 21.
Kirby, D., Kirby, D.I., & Liner, T. (2004).Inside out:  Strategies for teaching writing (3rd.ed.).  Portsmouth, NH.  Heinemann.  

I hope you’ve found this article helpful. If you have a question or suggestion, don’t hesitate to e-mail me.


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