Supporting Young Adolescents' Literacy Learning:
A Position Paper jointly adopted by International Reading Association and National Middle School Association
In recent years early reading has received increased attention from policy makers, funding agencies, and educational planners. Young children must get off to a good start in reading; however, it is a serious mistake to assume that a good start is sufficient for producing confident readers. The ability to comprehend a variety of texts, to use sophisticated comprehension and study strategies, to read critically, and to develop a lifelong desire to read are not acquired entirely during the early years. A good start is critical, but not sufficient. Middle school students deserve continued and systematic instruction in reading.
It is during the middle school years that most students refine their reading preferences, become sophisticated readers of informational text and lay the groundwork for the lifelong reading habits they will use in their personal, professional, and civic lives. The middle school years are a time when middle level students can use reading to help answer the profound questions about themselves and the world. With good instruction, ample time, and opportunity to read across a variety of types of text, young adolescents can become successful readers both in and out of the school setting.
International comparisons back this up. They consistently show that American readers get off to a fast start, but that they begin to falter during early adolescence. A study released by International Educational Achievement (Elley, 1992) involved 200,000 students in thirty-one nations. United States nine-year-olds were second only to Finland in reading achievement. Our fourteen-year-olds, while still scoring above average, ranked ninth, Similarly, while the fourth- and eighth-grade average scores on the 1998 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP, 1999) were stable, the reading scores for eleventh- grade students dropped. United States elementary educators seem to do an excellent job of teaching young children to read as measured by international comparisons. However, the data indicate that the level of student performance drops off in the middle and high school years. This drop in scores must be addressed immediately with all the resources at our disposal. Young adolescents deserve quality reading instruction so that they can achieve a level of reading proficiency that will serve them well for the rest of their school careers and beyond.
Therefore, schools serving young adolescents should provide:
- Continuous reading instruction for all young adolescents.
This instruction requires that all middle school teachers understand reading/learning processes, the complexity and diverse needs of young adolescents, and know how to help students develop both the competence and desire to read increasingly complex materials across the curriculum. Reading strategies and skills are central to the success of the integrated, multidisciplinary middle school curriculum and every teacher must possess the knowledge and skills to integrate reading instruction across the curriculum.
- Reading Instruction that is individually appropriate.
Young adolescents arrive at middle school with a wide range of individual, cultural, ethnic, and linguistic differences that have a significant impact on their reading performance. Providing instruction that is appropriate for each student, therefore, requires well-prepared classroom teachers who integrate individualized reading instruction within their content area. This also requires reading specialists who can help their colleagues acquire skills and techniques for delivering developmentally appropriate reading instruction in their content areas. Reading specialists are also necessary for providing intervention programs for struggling readers.
- Assessment that informs instruction.
Assessment plans and measures must show learners their strengths as well as their needs. The measures should help guide their teachers in designing instruction that will best help them grow in reading proficiency. Large scale assessment programs that focus on comparisons of student groups across districts, states and provinces, and nations are not sufficient. Adequate assessment measures must be supported by strong informal reading assessments that take place in classrooms and involve both teachers and students in the process. These plans must be used to shape and reshape instruction so that it meets the needs of all students.
- Ample opportunities to read and discuss reading with others.
To achieve this end, schools for young adolescents must have ready access to a wide variety of print and non-print resources that will foster in students independence, confidence, and a lifelong desire to read. Because middle school students are a diverse group care must be taken to include material that will appeal to linguistically and culturally diverse students. Librarians and media specialists are important partners who can insure access for all adolescents. All school-based professionals must have sufficient knowledge of reading materials to provide guidance for adolescents in selecting reading materials. Students must have many opportunities to choose reading materials that are interesting and engaging. School-based professionals should model reading in various forms, have a love of reading, and possess the skills needed to help student progress toward mastery in all aspects of reading.
Call to Action: IRA and NMSA, because of the importance of reading and literacy, urge classroom teachers, school-based educators, educational policy makers, family and community members take the following actions to improve the literacy performance of all middle level students.
Specifically, classroom teachers should:
- Engage in whole school planning to implement components of a successful school- or district-wide literacy learning plan that is integrative and interdisciplinary.
- Collaborate with administrators, librarians, guidance counselors, intervention specialists and other school-based educators to improve reading instruction and achievement.
- Interpret assessment data and make information available to other teachers and school-based educators.
- Provide opportunities for students to read material they choose and for students to be read to each school day.
State/District Leaders and Policymakers should:
- Provide needed funding for schools to implement high-quality literacy programs in their school.
- Provide needed funding to insure that all young adolescents are surrounded in their classroom and school libraries by a plethora of new, interesting, and diverse reading materials.
- Provide funding for staff development of all school personnel so that they understand how to integrate reading instruction across content areas and school setting.
- Work to enact legislation that will further school and district-wide efforts to improve student reading achievement.
- Provide mentoring opportunities for new teachers so that they can learn ways of supporting young adolescent literacy learning.
School-Based Educators should:
- Become knowledgeable about literacy learning.
- Provide professional development opportunities so that all teachers are able to facilitate literacy learning in all curricular areas.
- Provide modeling and coaching to introduce new instructional strategies for integrating reading instruction across all subjects.
- Provide opportunities for teachers to read to students during the school day.
- Guide students in selecting books to read and provide for multiple opportunities to respond to texts in writing.
- Know what to look for in good literacy learning classrooms.
- Coordinate efforts in school and district for improved literacy learning.
- Integrate literacy throughout the curricula recognizing the multidisciplinary nature of reading instruction.
Teacher educators should:
- Provide both pre-service and in-service teachers with an understanding of the literacy learning process, a repertoire of strategies for enhancing learning in the content areas, and methods for improving vocabulary development.
- In partnership with schools, provide professional development opportunities for all teachers to become expert reading instructors in their content area.
- Model good reading instructional practices in their college and university classrooms.
Families and community members should:
- Be positive role models for reading and writing.
- Provide an abundance of reading materials and exhibit a positive attitude about reading and writing.
- Encourage young adolescents to read.
- Be engaged as partners with the school in the academic lives of adolescents.
Elley, W.B. (1992). How in the world do students read? Hamburg: International Association for the Evaluation of Education Achievement.
National Assessment of Educational Progress. (1999). The Nation's Report Card. Washington DC: National Center for Educational Statistics.
(Adopted Fall 2001)