ERIC Identifier: ED469930
Publication Date: 2002-12-00
Author: Grady, Karen
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading
English and Communication Bloomington IN., Family Learning Association
Adolescent Literacy and Content Area Reading. ERIC Digest.
In 1999 the International Reading Association issued a position statement on
adolescent literacy which called for a renewed interest in and dedication to the
rights and needs of adolescent readers:
entering the adult world in the 21st century will read and write more than at
any other time in human history. They will need advanced levels of literacy to
perform their jobs, run their households, act as citizens, and conduct their
personal lives. They will need literacy to cope with the flood of information
they will find everywhere they turn. They will need literacy to feed their
imaginations so they can create the world of the future. In a complex and
sometimes even dangerous world, their ability to read will be crucial. Continual
instruction beyond the early grades is needed" (Moore, Bean, Birdyshaw, &
Rycik, 1999, p. 99).
This Digest provides a brief summary of the development of content area
reading; it discusses a reconceptualization of adolescent literacy and content
learning; and it offers an example of a new model for both secondary classroom
practice and teacher education.
For several decades educators have been
concerned about literacy development beyond the early grades. As early as the
1930's there was an emphasis on the different reading demands of various
subjects and on improving the reading abilities of high school students (Moore,
Readence, & Rickelman, 1986). The term "content reading" became prominent in
the 1970's with the publication of Herber's (1970) book, Teaching Reading in the
Content Areas where Herber distinguished between literacy development as reading
instruction and literacy development to support subject matter learning
(Alvermann & Phelps, 1994; Ruddell, 2001).
Much of the work in this area was based on developments in cognitive
psychology in the 1970's and 1980's, which provided insight into the
relationship between a reader's background knowledge (schema) of a topic and the
reader's ability to make sense of a text addressing that topic. The term
"schema" refers to a set of cognitive structures of interrelated ideas and
concepts built from a person's experience (see the 1989 ERIC Digest "Schema
Activation, Construction, and Application"). According to some views of schema
theory, a reader's existing knowledge of the subject matter is the single most
influential factor in what he or she will learn from reading a text about that
subject matter (Anderson, 1984; Steffensen, Joag-Dev, & Anderson, 1979).
Thus, theorizing and research in cognitive psychology led to the development of
many instructional strategies that secondary teachers could use to increase
students' comprehension of course materials. For example, the use of a
pre-reading strategy such as an anticipation guide can serve to activate
students' prior knowledge to improve comprehension. It can also enable students
to confront misconceptions about the topic at hand, or to arrive at new
understandings by revising or constructing new schema (Dufflemeyer, 1994).
Numerous content area vocabulary development strategies focus on activating
students' existing word/concept knowledge so that they may build on the schemata
they have, or develop new schemata for new concepts (Alvermann & Phelps,
1994; Lenski, Wham, M. A. & Johns, 1999; Ruddell, 2001).
While the focus on the cognitive dimension of reading has helped some
students become more proficient readers of content area texts (Ruddell, 2001),
some assessment data indicates the need to reconsider adolescent literacy and
content area learning. Greenleaf, Schoenbach, Cziko, and Mueller (2001) note
that there are still persistent gaps in student achievement between students who
are members of the dominant culture and those who are not. They also draw on
data from the 1998 National Assessment of Educational Progress Reading Report
Card. It indicates that although the percentages of eighth and twelfth graders
scoring above the proficient level have increased (33% and 40% respectively),
these percentages still suggest that high levels of literacy are not being
attained by most secondary students. Some research indicates that an emphasis on
reading solely as a cognitive process has not adequately addressed the needs of
adolescent readers as they face learning from texts in the various subject areas
at the secondary level.
RECONCEPTUALIZING ADOLESCENT LITERACY AND CONTENT READING
number of reading researchers and theorists believe the reading process to be
much more complex, including not only the cognitive dimension addressed by
schema theory and many existing reading strategies, but including a social
dimension as well (e.g., Bloome, 1986; Goodman, 1996; Greenleaf, et al., 2001;
Harste, 1994). The extent to which readers are able to construct meaning with
texts is also based on the personal, interpersonal, and institutional contexts
in which reading events occur. The work of sociolinguists, cultural
anthropologists, and critical theorists has shown that it is not possible to
separate classroom practices such as strategies for activating background
knowledge from the larger social and cultural contexts in which the practices
are enacted (e.g., Heath, 1983; Gee, 1996).
Drawing from some recent studies, Moje, Young, Readence, & Moore (2000)
call for a conception of adolescent literacy that includes adolescents' literacy
practices beyond the secondary classroom, their expanded notion of text (i.e.,
the Internet, television, and magazines), and the relationship between literacy
and the development of identity. But they also caution that the issues of
teaching and learning in the context of secondary school content areas are still
critical areas for research. For example, what constitutes best practices
depends on many factors: how students perceive themselves as readers, what their
interests are at the time, the interactions of teacher and student, of student
and student, the classroom environment in which the strategy is being used, and
how institutional structures shape daily events that occur in classrooms and
schools. This fertile ground of literacy as a complex process and research about
adolescent literacy and learning in secondary classrooms is providing a means
for reinventing ways to develop students' academic literacies (Brynildssen,
A NEW MODEL FOR CLASSROOM PRACTICE AND TEACHER
One model developed from the reconceptualization of content
reading is Reading Apprenticeship (Schoenbach, Greenleaf, Cziko, & Hurwitz,
1999). This instructional framework is based on the dual notions of literacy as
a complex cognitive and social process and of teaching as cognitive
apprenticeship. In order for adolescents to move from being novices to experts
in specific content area practices, an expert practitioner (the subject matter
teacher) guides, models, makes explicit, and supports the novice in his or her
development. Indeed, because ways of thinking, speaking, reading, and writing
vary from discipline to discipline, some believe the most appropriate place for
students to learn these discipline-specific discourse practices is from teachers
who are already experts in these fields.
Briefly summarized, Reading Apprenticeship involves teachers and their
students as partners in a collaborative inquiry into reading and reading
processes as they engage in subject-area texts. This instructional framework
explicitly draws on students' strengths and abilities to provide crucial
resources for the inquiry partnership... how we read and why we read in the ways
we do become part of the curriculum, accompanying what we read in subject-matter
classes [emphasis in original] (Greenleaf, Schoenbach, Cziko, & Mueller,
2001, p. 89).
The framework consists of four integrated dimensions of classroom life that
teachers and students explore together: social, personal, cognitive, and
knowledge-building. The social dimension centers on building a community of
readers who use literacy to make connections between their interests, each
other, and the larger social world they are engaged in learning about. The
personal dimension of Reading Apprenticeship develops students' awareness of
themselves as readers, of their purposes in reading, and of their goals for
improvement. Adolescents' resources and the multiple literacies that are part of
their daily lives are part of the teaching and learning that occurs. The
cognitive dimension is the part of the framework that incorporates instruction
in and the use of comprehension strategies, providing tools for monitoring
comprehension, for problem-solving to assist comprehension, and for developing
flexibility in reading. The knowledge-building dimension focuses on such areas
as developing content knowledge (building schemata), knowledge of the
discipline-specific vocabulary, and text and language structures.
The four dimensions of classroom life are made visible to students through
the metacognitive conversations that students and teachers engage in about the
texts they are reading. Metacognitive conversations occur through class
discussion, small group work, writing, and individual reflection. The model
provides a framework and means for teachers to explicitly show students how to
reflect on their own and each other's ways of using language and how to connect
their knowledge and experiences to academic literacy practices. In Reading
Apprenticeship classrooms, students work toward advanced levels of literacy by
developing skills and strategies, as well as the necessary dispositions required
for the challenge of achieving academic literacy. Students are able to move from
novice to proficient performance in content area literacies by being engaged in
complex academic literacy tasks with support from the teacher and peers and with
the teacher making explicit the knowledge and problem-solving skills teachers
call upon as readers in their disciplines.
Greenleaf, Schoenbach, Cziko, and Mueller (2001) report on the implementation
of this framework in a course in academic literacy offered to ninth graders in
one of the poorest neighborhoods in San Francisco for the 1996-1997 school year.
Assessments of student reading development on multiple measures were not only
statistically significant, but impressive overall, as students made gains of two
years in reading proficiency in seven months of instruction. Follow-up studies
indicated that students maintained their reading development and continued their
growth as readers.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
National Research Center on English
Learning and Achievement
WestEd-The Strategic Literacy Initiative
National Institute for Literacy: Adolescent Literacy
Alvarez, Marino C. & Risko, Victoria J.
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