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TNLI: Action Research: Professional Development: Adolescent Literacy: A Summary of Policy Recommendations to Address Illiteracy Among High School Students


by Carol Tureski

October 12, 1999 Today, for young people to succeed in school and beyond, it is imperative that they are literate. For the majority of students literacy poses no great problem. Reading happens. However, there are children who struggle with reading. We, at the high school level, meet some of these children as young adults in our classrooms. They arrive, with reading levels of fourth grade or below, unprepared to meet the challenges of high school academics. Some of these students come to our schools directly from neighborhood schools and others are immigrants from places where schooling may have not been accessible to them. High schools have failed to develop an educationally sound response and policy toward adolescent illiteracy. It is a phenomenon most people in education choose to ignore.  

The district for which I work has taken steps to address the needs of the beginner reader adolescent. Over the past six years literacy programs have been created throughout the district. My participation in and examination of a few of these programs has led to the following policy recommendations. Following each recommendation is a "rationale" statement based on information found in research studies on adolescent illiteracy. The "action research data" which follows each "rationale" is based on information from my action research study on this topic. Both led to and support the policy recommendation they succeed.

Policy Recommendation #1: At the school and district level, efforts should be made to enhance communication and collaboration among literacy teachers in the form of common prep periods, discussion groups, peer visitations, teacher networks, and/or newsletters.

Teachers work too often in isolation. In addition, literacy education is a new and demanding arena for most high school teachers. The need for communication among teachers who have taken on the challenge of helping adolescents improve basic, literacy skills is essential. Successful literacy programs provide time for teachers to communicate. Action Research 

Surveys revealed that teachers cite the need for collaboration and the means to exchange ideas as key factors in creating more effective literacy programs. Peer visitations was also a popular request made by teachers. Personal interviews with literacy teachers echoed a similar response. "The first step," stated one colleague, "begins at the school level with scheduling. Literacy teachers should have one period off together so students and strategies can be discussed."

Policy Recommendation #2: At the school and district level, efforts should be made to support teachers’ professional growth through workshops, training, and research work. Special emphasis needs to be placed on working with teachers to develop tools to evaluate and monitor student and program success.

An essential element to maintaining a successful adolescent literacy program is to support teachers in their personal growth and development as professionals. There is a strong, positive correlation between the quality of a program and the quantity of the training and development. In addition, teacher research enables and empowers teachers to make decisions about change by allowing the practitioner to step back and examine what they do. Action Research Data:

Research revealed that initial training in literacy strategies had been effective. An average of 22 out of 25 literacy strategies in which teachers were trained through the auspices of the district are used currently by literacy teachers in their classrooms. However, teachers strongly agreed in the need for follow-up and discussion on these strategies. Teachers were trained, but the necessary follow-up did not occur. Teacher surveys ranked professional development as the third most popular request toward improving literacy programs.

Teachers placed emphasis on the need to establish criteria and more accurate tools to monitor student and program success. Presently, they are not satisfied with the current tests. The Bader Test is used by 90% of the literacy teachers as one of the major indicators of student achievement. The Bader measures a student’s decoding and comprehension skills, but does not test writing skills. Interestingly, "fluency in writing" was cited by teachers as the number one factor in determining student achievement. The need lies in the fact that the test does not measure what teachers view as an important factor in literacy development.

Policy Recommendation #3: At the school, district and community level, support should be given to initiatives that provide students with increased opportunities for reading. Such initiatives include allowing teachers to use text book monies to create classroom libraries, designating funding for school libraries and computer centers to purchase material appropriate for adolescent literacy students, assigning para-professionals to literacy classrooms, and establishing ties with community libraries and youth organizations.

Access to a wide range of well-written, appealing, and diverse kinds of reading materials is essential to the development of strong readers and writers. The needs of the struggling adolescent reader are inadequately met in their classrooms and school and community libraries. Usually, there is little material to entice these students. In addition, students with reading difficulties are given less opportunity to practice reading in school compared to better readers.

Action Research Data:
Literacy students want to read and read more. Students mentioned the benefits of reading throughout their interviews. Read more topped their recommendation list for how best to improve their school’s literacy program. Teacher surveys and classroom observations noted an emphasis on reading in the classroom, however the reading passages were short and came from a shared reader. Students specifically cited their interest in having books available for them to read. Students responded almost unanimously that "going to the library" was a key ingredient in helping them become better readers. Literacy students know what is needed to become better readers, it is up to the school and community to provide them with the material they need to begin.


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