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Adolescent Literacy: Archived Research

Summary archives

Summaries of research in adolescent literacy, provided by

William G. Brozo
Courtney Gaskins
George Mason University

Summaries of research in adolescent literacy, provided by

William G. Brozo
Kristy Calo
George Mason University

Summaries of research in adolescent literacy, provided by

William G. Brozo
George Mason University
Kathleen A. Hinchman
Syracuse University

O’Brien, D., Beach, R., & Scharber, C. (2007). “Struggling” middle schoolers: Engagement and literate competence in a reading writing intervention class. Reading Psychology, 28 51–73.

The authors reported on their ongoing mixed method study, which was in its second year of data collection. The purpose of the study is to examine the literacy practices of “struggling” seventh and eighth graders “as they engage in both traditional and new literacies practices in the same class” (p. 51). The authors defined “new literacies” practices as those activities involving media–rich projects and digital media. They identified two threads of research within the study: (a) how engagement of adolescents in media–rich projects can improve student performance in literacy; and (b) how engagement of adolescents in digital media can change their perceptions about their competence.

The research is based on the primacy of motivation in reading. Middle school students who are struggling with reading and have experienced years of failure lack engagement, which results in a lack of practice, low fluency, poor decoding skills, and the unlikely use of comprehension strategies. The authors also assert that motivation is largely neglected in interventions for struggling readers, who are far more likely to receive skills–emphasis instructional approaches. The authors further claim that perceptions about ability can have a more important role in future achievement than past performance.

The research has been guided by the following questions: (1) How do students’ perceptions of the value and purpose of different media–rich projects, in comparison to more traditional pedagogy, relate to their levels of engagement in those projects? and (2) How do the media–rich activities help learners connect their various lived worlds and how do these activities transform their sense of competence and agency, particularly as competence has been defined in relation to traditional print–based activities?

For two years the authors have been working with a group of 15 students enrolled in an intervention class for struggling readers and writers in the Twin Cities. The class is team taught by an English teach and a reading teacher. The class meets once a day for 93 minutes. The authors are now engaged in a study of the third year of the class. In addition to the existing classroom interventions, which focus on providing students as much individual instruction and activ ities to perform well on Minnesota’s high–stakes reading and writing test, the authors identified those activities within the classroom defined as “new literacies” practices. These practices consist of PowerPoint presentations and other media–rich and digitally related activities.

The authors interviewed students extensively as individuals and in focus groups, as well as conducted observations and think–aloud/talk–aloud sessions with students to learn about their motivation and engagement in reading, their reading preferences across the curriculum, and their perceptions about specific class activities and task as well as their perceptions of their performance on those activities.

Analysis of extensive interview narratives has yielded one major finding thus far: adolescents find new literacy practices (particularly the multimediating, collaborative activities, using digital tools, and producing digital products or performances) are more engaging than traditional activities (such as reading school text, writing journals, etc.). The authors conclude by asserting that in using both traditional literacies along with new literacies, there continues to be the risk of amplifying incompetence and cau ing teachers to focus on the deficit model of achievement.

Reflecting on Practice:

  • How do you provide “new literacies” practices (media–rich and digitial) in the classroom? Have your students responded similarly to those in this study?
  • What is your opinion of or experience with using traditional print literacy and new literacies in combination? Have you found as the authors have that the two may be incompatible for struggling readers?
  • What professional development or university-based opportunities have you had to prepare you for using new literacies practices in the classroom? What other kinds of experiences would you need to develop expertise in new literacies practices?

Summary posted July 2007

Monroe, B. W., & Troia, G. A. (2006). Teaching writing skills to middle school students with disabilities. Journal of Educational Research, 100(1), 21–33.

The purpose of this study was to teach planning, self-regulation, and revising strategies to students with learning disabilities (LD) in order to improve their writing. The authors used a case study design with interventions supported by empirical research.

The study took place in an urban middle school in the Pacific Northwest with over 400 students. The ethnic make up of the student body was 49% African American, 20% Asian, 19% Caucasian, 11% Hispanic, and 1% Native American. Approximately 16% of the students received special education services, and 64% of the students received free or reduced-price lunches. About 12% of the student body was in transitional bilingual education program.

There were three identified groups who participated in the case study: three students made up the learning disabled experimental treatment group, three students made up the special education control group; and six students made up the general educational control group. The learning disabled experimental treatment students met with the first author twice a week in fourteen 45 minute sessions. They were provided the basic instructional framework that included three phases and included instruction and practice for using (1) two strategy prompts for writing opinion essays; (2) two strategy prompts for revising their papers; (3) a simple scoring rubric for monitoring and assessing their own writing performance and that of their peers; and (4) procedures for establishing personal writing goals and generating self-talk to support self-regulation of the writing process. The special education control students were only asked to reflect on current approaches to writing instruction and introduced to the writing strategy prompts. The general education control group was only asked to produce one opinion essay during the final phase of the study in an individual session.

The researchers found mixed though promising results:

  • The 3 treatment students showed they improved in five areas: (1) organization rose nearly 1.5 points, or 86%; (2) content rose 1.2 points, or almost 67%; (3) sentence fluency rose 1.02 points, or nearly 55%; (4) word choice rose 0.89 points, or about 45%; and conventions rose 0.58 points, or about 26%. The student who wrote the poorest quality opinion essays prior to intervention, showed the best response to strategy instruction, gaining 1.43 points, or about 87%, across the five traits.
  • The posttest showed that the treatment group outperformed the control group of students with disabilities and two of the experimental students approximated the average score of students without disabilities who did not receive strategy instruction.
  • With respect functional elements included in their opinion essays, one experimental student made the most improvement, gaining an average of 2.67 functional elements, nearly a 45% increase. Another student gained on average one functional element, or about a 17% increase. The third student achieved only an average gain of one third of one element, or about a 6% improvement. The effects of the strategy instruction, however, did not help the students with disabilities approximate the performance of their peers without disabilities.
  • With respect to the transfer effects of the strategy instruction to creative narrative writing, two of the students in the treatment group exhibited either no change or a precipitous drop (up to 1.4 points) in their combined trait scores from pretest to posttest. The special education control group averaged a decrease of nearly 0.5 in their narrative writing quality.

The authors discussed that the strategy instruction could benefit the writing abilities of LD students. Even though the findings could not be generalizable, the authors believed the gains in writing can be associated with the instruction which was supported by prior research.

The authors mentioned the following limitations to their study. They did not follow up on the maintenance of the treatment effects. They were also concerned with the role of practice in their findings, and could not completely exclude the impact it may have had on their findings. They also did not look at the critical role of individual strategies on the findings, but only on the impact of the strategies together.

Reflecting on practice:

  • Have you used the same or similar writing prompts within the classroom? If so, what results have you had?
  • When using cooperative strategies in writing instruction, how useful a role do peers play in evaluation and assessment?
  • How important to your writing instruction is the inclusion of self-regulatory strategies?
  • What other self-regulatory strategies have you used in motivating students in writing instruction and practice?

Summary posted January 2007

Ariail, M. & Albright, L. K. (2006). A survey of teachers’ read-aloud practices in middle school. Reading Research and Instruction, 45(2), 69–99.

Read-aloud practices have become a popular instructional tool in addressing language development and reading achievement of young children. However, there have been very few studies addressing the benefits of read-alouds with older children. To add to our knowledge about read-alouds for older students, the authors of this study explored middle school teachers’ read-aloud practices.

Participants were teachers who attended an annual meeting of the Texas Middle School Association. The participants completing the survey were limited to teachers who where currently teaching grades 5–8 in the state of Texas. 476 surveys were completed. The authors used a 17-item survey to answer the following research questions: To what extent do middle school teachers read aloud to their students, and what are the characteristics of teachers who do? What reasons do teacher give for reading aloud or not reading aloud? What types of texts do teachers read aloud? What opportunities for response are teachers providing students? The questions were open-ended. The first half of the survey solicited demographic and characteristic data of the teachers. The second half of the survey identified read-aloud practices. A Chi-square analysis was used to determine the characteristics of the middle school teachers, whereas descriptive statistics and qualitative methods were used to explore responses to read-aloud practices and identify and reinforce existing themes.

Teachers who taught English/language arts were more likely to read aloud than those who taught other subjects. Teachers who had taken a course or attended a workshop on read-alouds as well as teachers of at-risk students were more likely to practice read-alouds. In addition, the most frequent reason given for using a read-aloud was to promote a love for literature and to enhance understanding and comprehension. Other reasons included: modeling fluency reading and pronunciation; building interest in or introducing a new topic; exposing students to texts they may not read otherwise; and reinforcing or emphasizing content. The reasons given for not using read-alouds were that they are not appropriate for the subject; teachers never thought about using them; or not enough time in the day. Lastly, most teachers used novels, picture books, or chapters within books as text for read-alouds. Magazines and newspaper were not used often. Opportunities to extend read-alouds instruction included whole-class discussion, journal writing, and small-group discussion.

The authors concluded that this study supports the need for future research, documentation, and understanding of the benefits of read-aloud practices in middle school.

Reflecting on practice:

  • How do you think read-alouds can be used to enhance instruction for older students?
  • If you have tried read-alouds with older students, what benefits have you seen?
  • How would you suggest read-alouds be used in mathematics, science, and social studies instruction?
  • How do you go about selecting a read-aloud text?

Summary posted November 2006

De La Paz, S., & Graham, S. (2002). Explicitly teaching strategies, skills, and knowledge: Writing instruction in middle school classrooms. Journal of Educational Psychology, 94(4), 687–698.

Using a quasi-experimental design, this study examined the effects of a writing strategy instruction program on middle school students’ expository essay writing. The authors found that students had to acquire and apply a range of skills and strategies to produce text, use the writing process effectively, and draw on knowledge about various genres and conventions.

The study focused on the self-regulated strategy development model and emphasized students’ use of planning and revision. The study also incorporated opportunities for peer feedback. Along with explicit instruction for self-regulating the use of strategies during the writing process, students were taught goal-setting for writing, as well as the underpinning knowledge and skills needed to use strategies successfully and to write effectively.

Participants in the study included 58 seventh- and eighth-grade students who were assigned to either a strategy instruction classroom or a control classroom. The authors used expository essays, with a focus on explanation and persuasion, as the mode of composition for the writing task. The instruction in all classrooms was similar in that the teachers introduced the genre, focused on a five-paragraph model, and gave students opportunities to write. However, students in the experimental condition were given explicit strategy instruction in planning, drafting, and revising their work and were taught the knowledge and skills needed to apply these strategies and write effectively. Students also gave peer feedback in the experimental groups. Pre-, post-, and maintenance tests were administered to all participants. Essays were analyzed based on evidence of planning, length, use of vocabulary, and written quality.

Results from the study indicate that the intervention had a positive effect on writing performance. Students in the experimental condition demonstrated planning that was more substantive and developed, wrote papers that were significantly longer, chose vocabulary words that were more challenging, and had their writing judged as being of better quality than that of their control-group peers. This study supports the need to explicitly teach students writing strategies and the skills and knowledge necessary to apply these strategies independently.

Reflecting on practice

  • How do you use the writing process in your classroom? How do you assess student writing?
  • What are some ways that you encourage students to give feedback to one another? How can you have students assess their own work and set goals for themselves as writers?
  • What writing strategies do you explicitly teach your students? Why? If you don’t directly teach writing strategies, is there one planning or revision strategy that you would be willing to try?

Summary posted April 2006

Alfassi, M. (2004). Reading to learn: Effects of combined strategy instruction on high school students. Journal of Educational Research, 97, 171–184.

The underlining premise of the author’s research is that students in the upper grades must know how to learn from reading by developing critical thinking and study reading skills. The author goes on to assert that although there is a sizable body of research documenting the effectiveness of strategy instruction in fostering comprehension of complex prose, teachers do not pay enough attention to these strategies in secondary schools.

The author reports on two studies she conducted in a middle-class, suburban, midwestern U.S. high school. Students in both studies had relatively low performance on reading achievement test questions requiring higher level thinking.

Participants in the first study were 49 ninth-graders in two intact heterogeneous English classes. One class of 29 received combined strategy instruction that included questioning, summarizing, clarifying, and predicting. The instructional sequence was

  • Teacher modeling and verbalizing
  • Guided practice
  • Reciprocal teaching-group sharing
  • Maintenance post-intervention

The other class of 20 did not receive the combined strategy approach. Based on analysis of pre- and postreading comprehension measures (Gates–McGinitie Reading Test and a researcher-constructed test comprising passages from various content area texts), there was a significant difference in achievement in favor of the experimental class.

In the second study, the researcher investigated the effects of the combined strategy approach on the ability of students to answer different types of questions, such as explicit and implicit. The researcher reasoned that strategy instruction would better prepare students for answering higher level knowledge questions. Partipants, 275 tenth-graders in general education classes, received from teachers trained in the combined strategies approach the same four strategies as in the first study. Strategy instruction was incorporated into the different subject lessons. This instruction lasted 20 days, beginning in the third week of school. Pre- and postintervention assessment results revealed a significant improvement in students’ ability to answer implicit questions. The assessment was a researcher-constructed comprehension test using tenth-grade–level passages extracted from various textbooks, with questions tapping explicit and implicit understanding as well as students’ prior knowledge.

The author concludes that the combined strategy approach designed to enhance the ability of students to read at deep and meaningful levels proved viable as an instructional tool for teachers in all disciplines. The author stresses that this approach is feasible in actual classroom settings because it consumes relatively little class time and uses content area materials.

Reflecting on practice

  • The author’s study was conducted in a suburban midwestern high school with youth who were from middle-class backgrounds. Do you think she would have obtained similar results with urban, less-advantaged youth from diverse backgrounds? What modifications to the approach might be necessary to meet the needs of diverse youth?
  • The author argues that the combined strategy approach can be easily integrated into content lessons. Have you tried teaching your students reading strategies within the context of your daily lessons? Does it take more time than the author suggests? Is the approach as feasible as the author suggests?
  • The author was able to gain the support of several tenth-grade teachers in implementing the combined strategy approach. What could your school do to ensure you and your colleagues make a total commitment to a similar strategic reading approach? What role could you play in achieving this goal?

Summary posted January 2006

Walker, N.T., & Bean, T.W. (2005). Sociocultural influences in content area teachers’ selection and use of multiple texts. Reading Research and Instruction, 44, 61–77.

Using a sociocultural lens, the authors conducted a multiple–case study of three secondary content area teachers to explore how multiple texts were used and viewed in each of their classrooms. This study, one of a series aimed at understanding teachers’ beliefs and practices surrounding the use of multiple texts in content area classrooms, challenges the long-held notion that content area teachers rely solely on single texts (textbooks) as their chief source of information.

Purposeful sampling was used to select “information-rich cases” whose classroom instruction would contribute to the authors’ understanding. The three teachers were selected from a teacher education content reading course after completion of a survey that indicated they used a wide variety of texts in their classrooms. The participants, one middle school teacher and two high school teachers, taught different subject areas (physics, history, and English) at different school sites. Data sources included surveys, e-mail exchanges, observations (five), field notes, classroom artifacts, and semistructured interviews (five with each participant over a three-month period). The authors used constant comparative analysis to analyze and interpret their data sets as well as various techniques to triangulate data, including member checks.

The authors concluded that the use of multiple texts could be considered along a continuum from independent student use to heavily teacher-directed use. They found that one teacher’s use of multiple texts was in response to a need to provide all students access to information, despite inadequate classroom resources. Another teacher focused on intertextual connections and engaging student interests. The third teacher integrated technology as a tool and used various texts as writing models.

Further, the authors found that concepts of cultural capital were included in all of the teachers’ stories. Because the teachers valued students’ cultural capital, they worked with students to provide access to multiple texts and located outside sources beyond the state-mandated textbooks. However, while teachers’ incorporatation of a range of texts enhanced students’ interests and met needs, it also attended to standards and assessments.

By focusing on the in-depth stories of teachers who offer their students multiple paths to literacy, the authors provide a greater understanding of the social processes within content area classrooms and the complexity of incorporating multiple texts in classrooms. The authors note that their future work will highlight student voices and include students’ views about multiple texts and their interest in using them.

Reflecting on practice

  • What sources of information do you use in your classroom? How do you engage student interests and provide all students access to information?
  • What obstacles might you face as you incorporate multiple texts in your classroom? How might you overcome these barriers?
  • What are your students’ beliefs about multiple texts? If you don’t know, how can you find out? If you do know, what can you do with this information?

Summary posted November 2005

Behrman, E. (2003). Reconciling content literacy with adolescent literacy: Expanding literacy opportunities in a community-focused biology class. Reading Research and Instruction, 43, 1–30.

Arguing that traditional content literacy focuses on print-based information, the author conducted observational case study research to explore the learning potential of multiple texts, including electronic, spoken, nonlinguistic, and other representations of meaning. Eighteen students enrolled in a six-week, summer biology course that did not use a textbook participated in community-focused, project-learning activities. The majority of students were Hispanic American and African American.

Students’ field-based learning included a trip to a water treatment facility to study microbiology; a tour of a forensic laboratory to learn more about cellular biology; off-shore water testing and specimen collecting with marine biologists from a local laboratory to learn about the surrounding ecology; a visit to an arboretum and plant biology lab in conjunction with lessons on botany; and, for the study of human biology, a trip to diagnostic facilities and a medical library.

For each of these modules, students were required to respond to an authentic biology problem presented as a scenario. The problems were related to a strong local community interest and demanded analytic and critical thinking. Students were free to select their own texts to complete reports based on the problems.

The author’s data sets included observation notes of classroom events and instructional experiences at sites, interview protocols of four of the students (twice each), an interview protocol of the teacher, an end-of-course student survey, and reviews of student project reports. Data were analyzed qualitatively from a macro-perspective, with the class as a unit of analysis, and a micro-perspective, with the four students as units of analysis.

The author found that, without a textbook, the class supported student engagement in an unusually rich assortment of literacy activities. Students sought out digital and oral forms of text to construct responses to the authentic problems posed. Workplace mentors and guest speakers were called upon to provide opinions and data. And the Internet was used far more often than traditional print sources, in spite of the availability in the class library of relevant print texts. The author documented increased conceptual understanding of biology content among the students and higher learner satisfaction with the community-based approach.

The author concludes by asking readers to rethink the primacy of print text in the acquisition of content knowledge among adolescents. He further asserts that as content literacy becomes more closely connected to adolescent literacy, the efficacy of advancing understanding with multiple text sources will become more obvious.

Reflecting on practice

  • In what ways are multiple texts a part of your regular instructional practices? What have you found to be the most successful ways to use multiple sources?
  • If you rely mostly on the course textbook as the primary information source in class, what challenges do you envision to a revised curriculum that utilizes multiple texts?
  • How might disciplinary teachers find out more about other texts to use in their classrooms?

Summary posted September 2005

Hindin, A., Morocco, C.C., & Aguilar, C.M. (2001). “This book lives in our school”: Teaching middle school students to understand literature. Remedial and Special Education, 22, 204–214.

The researchers used quantitative and qualitative measures to analyze the findings from the third year of a five-year study of literacy development among students with disabilities. The research, funded by the U.S. federal government, was conducted in two middle schools serving the lowest income population in a central Massachusetts school district.

Students with disabilities, who had formerly been instructed in low-tracked classes in these schools, participated in an approach called “Supported Literacy,” which engaged them in thematic units involving shared reading of age-appropriate texts. Using trade books with compelling dilemmas for young adolescents, the teachers guided students through cycles of reading, writing, peer discussion, and whole-class discussion. Each cycle began with a whole-class activity to establish a context for reading. During this phase, teachers provided relevant background knowledge and stimulated conversation about a question or issue to activate students’ related knowledge and experience. In the next phase, students read the text individually, with peers, or orally as a whole class, with some combination of teacher and student oral reading. Students responded to the reading with an individual written or oral response (or a combination of the two) in a small group of peers.

Grounding their work in sociocognitive theory, the authors assert that comprehension and writing are social processes, since a full interpretation of written text draws on the responses of many readers, with multiple perspectives. The Supported Literacy approach engaged students in working together across several classrooms to understand the culturally diverse texts by culturally diverse authors. Culturally relevant learning activities legitimized the students’ diverse, real-life experiences and brought those experiences into the interpretive process through writing and discussion. These activities provided teachers opportunities to learn about individual students’ ways of understanding and their learning strengths. Further, all students had opportunities to become intellectual leaders in these activities.

One of the most important findings of the study was that students with disabilities can craft written texts in a culminating essay activity that match the quality produced by non–learning-disabled peers. The authors suggest this result is due to the benefits students with disabilities gained from participating in a heterogeneous classroom, where peer and whole-class discussions exposed them to an array of other ideas. They go on to say that the learning-disabled students made reading and writing progress because the thematic units were taught in a variety of settings, by teachers working as a community of practice, continually sharing knowledge about instruction and a sense of responsibility for all students’ learning.

Summary posted December 2004

Lee, P.W. (1999). In their own voices: An ethnographic study of low-achieving students within the context of school reform. Urban Education, 34, 214–244.

Lee asserts that students’ voices are routinely ignored and their input is not sought amid school reform activity. He expresses concern over typical attitudes of teachers and administrators that curricular reforms can be implemented successfully regardless of student participation in planning reform initiatives. He points out that research literature stresses that the best ways of fostering positive school culture and empowering students entail determining their interests in curricular topics and themes, involving them in schoolwide teams and councils, and creating support services to meet social and cultural needs as well as academic, particularly for low-achieving students.

Lee elicited responses about school reform from a diverse group of students with severe academic difficulties who were enrolled at an urban high school in San Francisco, California, USA. To do so, he enlisted the assistance of five 11th and 12th graders, whom he trained in interviewing techniques so that they could explore academic conditions for and perspectives of 40 of their low-achieving peers. This approach was pursued because students themselves are perhaps in the best position to obtain valid information about their peers’ ideas and attitudes.

As a group, the five student researchers decided to focus their inquiry on describing academic difficulties, the causes of these difficulties, and ideas for school reform that could improve performance. The student researchers were given tape recorders, audiocassettes, and notebooks. They were taught to gather oral permissions for interviews and to assure interviewees that their identities would remain confidential. For each completed and analyzed interview, student researchers were paid US$10.

A total of 40 interviews were conducted during the spring semester of 1997. Interview subjects were 9th through 12th graders who met these criteria: a GPA of less than 2.0, two or more suspensions or expulsions for delinquent behavior, and excessive absenteeism. Student researchers were asked to read through the transcribed interviews and highlight comments that best represented the experience, attitudes, and suggestions of their peers.

Among the more interesting findings in this study were the creative suggestions low-achieving students made for modifying instructional practices. Some of the most frequent of these included

  • More group work
  • More enthusiasm from teachers in teaching class material
  • More interesting, upbeat lectures and discussions
  • More communication, discussion, and freedom of expression
  • More culturally relevant material
  • Greater student voice in deciding class topics
  • Classroom materials that directly relate to real life
  • Student evaluations of teachers

With respect to improving adult-student relationships, the low-achieving students made the following recommendations to teachers and school administrators:

  • Get to know students on an individual level, both inside the classroom and out
  • Be more encouraging of all students, irrespective of past experience with them
  • Communicate belief in students and in their ability to learn
  • Provide more individualized attention and tutoring to students

Student recommendations for reform at the school level included

  • Get more parents involved at school
  • Provide more bilingual counselors and teachers to work with immigrant students and their families
  • Provide more counselors, including counselors to focus on personal, health, and academic issues

Summary posted April 2004

Applebee, A.N., Langer, J.A., Nystrand, M., & Gamoran, A. (2003). Discussion-based approaches to developing understanding: Classroom instruction and student performance in middle and high school English. American Educational Research Journal, 40, 685–730.

After presenting a brief history of the fit between English language arts instruction and the rest of the secondary school curriculum, Applebee and his colleagues link discussion approaches with the field’s growing insights into how comprehension of difficult text can be enhanced by “replacing traditional I-R-E patterns of instruction with discussion-based activities in which students are invited to make predictions, summarize, link texts with one another and with background knowledge, generate and answer text-related questions, clarify understanding, muster relevant evidence to support interpretation, and interrelate reading, writing, and discussion” (p. 693).

Applebee et al.’s research studied relationships among various aspects of classroom discussion and improvements in literacy performance among 974 students in 64 classes in 19 urban and suburban middle schools and high schools in five U.S. states. Measures included a teacher questionnaire that asked about background, educational experience, and instructional emphases; a student questionnaire that asked about background, school achievement, and amount of work in various classes; and measures of student literacy performance. Each class was observed twice in fall and twice in spring, with data gathered across observations.

Results included a description of the range and relative effectiveness of instructional emphases across grades and classes, writing activities, and reading materials; relationships among instructional variables; and relationship between instruction and performance. Overall, results consistently indicated that discussion-based approaches and high academic demands were significantly related to students’ literacy performance in spring, across a range of settings. However, instructional variation was great, especially for lower track classes where students were considerably less engaged, making effectiveness of discussion in such classes difficult to gauge.

Summary posted March 2004

Fisher, D. (2001). Cross age tutoring: Alternatives to the reading resource room for struggling adolescent readers. Journal of Instructional Psychology, 28, 234–240.

The question of which educational interventions are most appropriate for struggling adolescent readers led the researcher to consider an alternative to remedial or segregated placements. Peer tutoring has been shown to be helpful in increasing the amount of time struggling readers spend with instructional reading materials, discussing those materials, and generating written responses to them. Benefits of cross-age peer tutoring reported in the literature include older tutors’ building fluency with easier texts they use with younger readers, and improvement in older tutors’ retention and comprehension as a result of planning for instruction with younger readers.

The study reported in this article examined the effects of tutoring provided by young adolescents for students in first and second grade. Seventh-grade students from two middle schools in San Diego, California, USA, who were “significantly below average” according to scores on state achievement tests, participated in the study. Twenty-two from one middle school were provided the opportunity to tutor at a nearby elementary school. Twenty-three from another middle school remained in their traditional remedial reading class.

The reading teachers developed lessons for the seventh-grade tutors around children’s literature appropriate for second graders. For each story, the tutors

  • Activated tutees’ relevant prior knowledge
  • Taught new words
  • Read aloud
  • Engaged interactive comprehension strategies
  • Wrote with the tutees in response journals

Two quantitative measures, the Gates-MacGinitie Reading Test (a district-wide measure of vocabulary and comprehension skill progress) and the Stanford Achievement Test-9 (the statewide assessment), were used to compare gains made by the tutors and the students in a traditional remedial class. In addition, the researcher made weekly observations of the tutoring sessions and documented tutor-tutee interactions with field notes.

Results indicated that students who tutored made significant increases in reading achievement on both standardized measures as compared with students from the traditional remedial reading class. Tutors also increased their fluency and writing skills.

Four important implications for structuring middle school reading classes were derived from this study:

  • Provide students authentic reasons for literacy
  • Model strategic reading processes
  • Ensure students receive regular feedback on their developing skills and abilities
  • Integrate writing into the reading curriculum

Summary posted December 2003

Freeman, J.G., McPhail, J.C., & Berndt, J.A. (2002). Sixth graders’ views of activities that do and do not help them to learn. Elementary School Journal, 102(4), 335–347.

Freeman, McPhail, and Berndt’s research was grounded in John Dewey’s notions about the importance of situational interest to students’ learning. Their research asked, “What activities do middle school students view as facilitating or hindering their learning, and what are the dimensions of these activities?”

Forty-seven sixth graders from the midwestern United States participated in the study, including 24 boys and 23 girls. Most were middle class, with some the children of farmers and others the children of parents who commuted to a nearby city. Forty-four of the students were Caucasian, while three were from African American or Asian backgrounds. Students met in six focus groups, each with a research team member, to brainstorm their idea of an ideal weekend for a visiting international sixth-grade student that would capture the range of interests of U.S. sixth graders. The researchers used semantic and conceptual mapping to collapse the lists into smaller units to construct a list of 20 classroom activities. They also generated a separate list of 20 teacher-guided ways of learning. The students met again to choose ten best ways of learning from each list. These were used to form a third, consensus list. The researchers then asked students individually to select the three activities that helped them learn best and the three that helped them learn least, giving reasons for their responses.

Results suggested that students’ responses varied by three dimensions: distractibility, diverse representations, and skill. For instance, students did not like to watch movies in school because it was dark, and students could do too many things — too distractible. The researchers also found that students wanted diverse representations of material to be learned; for example, some students claimed to learn best in science class when they could both engage in construction and see a finished model. An example of how skill mattered could be found in students who said drawing did or did not help them; those it helped called themselves good artists. Students identified building models, doing experiments, and working with friends as activities that helped their learning. Watching movies, drawing, and snacking were those they felt were least helpful to their learning.

Summary posted October 2003

Cook-Sather, A. (2002). Authorizing students’ perspectives: Toward trust, dialogue, and change in education. Educational Researcher, 31(4), 3–14.

Using several interpretive frames, including those from critical, constructivist, postmodern, and feminist perspectives, Cook-Sather explores ways in which students’ interests, needs, and voices have been and can be authorized in educational practice and reform. She asserts that the individuals most directly affected by educational policy and practice—the students—are least often consulted about them. In the United States, this is because accounting for students’ perspectives runs counter to reform efforts, which are nearly always based on adults’ conceptions and implementations of policy and practice.

For Cook-Sather, the notion of authorizing students’ perspectives is connected with power. Students often feel marginalized where curriculum and reform are concerned, precisely because their voices are left out of the conversation. She describes a project of her design, “Teaching and Learning Together,” in which high school students are viewed as authorities on critical issues of teaching and learning, and inform the practices and beliefs of preservice teachers who converse with them regularly. This approach to collaborative understanding of schooling and learning processes positions students as co-authorities with adults, capable of sharing control of and responsibility for educational change. It is only by asking students directly what they want and need in school that teachers’ pedagogical theories and practices are complicated and challenged. And only when students are regarded as serious and knowledgeable members of a reform community are they “motivated to participate constructively in their education” (p. 4).

Cook-Sather concludes with calls to teachers and educational policymakers to seek answers to some fundamental questions related to authorizing students’ perspectives:

  • How can students be more central to the process of changing curriculum in schools?
  • How can review and reward structures of schools and education systems be revised so that student perspectives are sought during reform initiatives and also legitimized in all phases of the reform process?

Summary posted May 2003

Greenleaf, C.L., Schoenbach, R., Cziko, C., & Mueller, F.L. (2001). Apprenticing adolescent readers to academic literacy. Harvard Educational Review, 71, 79–129.

“There should be a little voice in your head like the storyteller is saying it. And if it’s not, then you just lookin’ at the words.”

This quote, from a student Thurgood Marshall Academic High School in San Francisco, opens Greenleaf and her colleagues’ research report. This student’s ideas were developed from her participation in a ninth grade Academic Literacy course that used an instructional framework called “Reading Apprenticeship.” The authors report that both the course and the framework were developed to counter the simple view that children can learn everything they need to know about reading in the early grades, and that they can simply apply this learning to reading assignments in higher grades and in life after high school graduation. Instead, the authors argue from a sociocultural view that suggests that apprenticeship can help inexperienced readers to develop important metacognitive insight, shaping their behaviors so that they know what to do when they encounter specific, increasingly complex texts and situations.

Reading Apprenticeship involved students in the mentored reading of subject area texts, teaching how and why we read certain texts in particular ways. The Academic Literacy course that provided the context for this apprenticeship addressed goals to increase students’ engagement, fluency, and competence in reading. It included three units of study—“Reading, Self, and Society,” “Reading Media,” and “Reading History”—that addressed questions such as

  • What kind of reader am I?
  • What kinds of vocabulary can I expect from different texts?
  • What kinds of sentences are found in different texts?
  • What do I need to know to be able to understand these different kinds of texts?

Greenleaf and her colleagues describe the theoretical grounding for their approach and extensive procedures for each unit of study. They include a detailed case study about the development demonstrated by a single student as she learned to read history during the course. The authors illustrate, too, that the students who participated in the class showed significant gains on standardized reading comprehension assessment measures. In addition, students’ responses to reading surveys indicated that they felt that the class affected their reading ability in very positive ways.

The authors end their report by cautioning against a return to skills-based remedial programs that punish adolescents for inexperience, recommending instead adoption of alternative proactive approaches. Such approaches, like the Academic Literacy course and in subject area study, build on young people’s strengths and help to demystify what is required for school success.

Summary posted March 2003

Hull, G., & Schultz, K. (2001). Literacy and learning out of school: A review of theory and research. Review of Educational Research, 71, 575–611.

Hull and Schultz review a growing body of research that has documented the considerable intellectual accomplishments of youthin out-of-school settings. In spite of the kinds of fluent reading and writing adolescents use in their everyday lives—including keeping diaries, writing plays, reading comic books and graphic novels, Internet surfing and chat—many are unable to exhibit and extend these language competencies in school settings, where personal literacies are considered sub rosa, and where only school-based literacy performance is valued.

To describe the relationship between out-of-school and in-school literacies, the authors collected and systematically analyzed research on literacy in out-of-school settings published in a recent 10-year period in the following journals: Anthropology & Education Quarterly, College Composition and Communication, the Journal of Literacy Research, Mind, Culture, and Activity, Research in the Teaching of English, and Written Communication. Works in edited volumes and book-length studies published during the same 10-year period were also examined.

Hull and Schultz found that when researchers have looked at literacy out of school, their goals have been to

  • Separate the effects of literacy from the effects of schooling
  • Develop notions of literacy that are multidimensional
  • Account for school failure and out-of-school success
  • Identify literacy and learning support mechanisms outside of school for youth

Based on practices described in their research review, the authors call for an examination of the relationships between school and nonschool contexts. They challenge communities and schools to bridge students’ lifeworlds with classroom practice. They urge teachers to incorporate students’ out-of-school interests and predilections into the language curriculum while extending the range of literacies with which students are conversant. Finally, they ask educators to consider what forms of schooled literacy are mere conventions or historical artifacts that might be supplanted by useful intellectual tools, appropriate for adolescents in these new times.

Summary posted January 2003

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