From Reading to Understanding

There’s an alarming gap between middle school students’ ability to read words and their ability to comprehend texts across various disciplines, according to “Adolescent Readers in Middle School,” a white paper from Generation Ready.

Consequently, according to author Sheena Hervey, “an enormous number of current middle school students will graduate unprepared to comprehend complex texts necessary to succeed in college or in today’s competitive workplace.”

Hervey, Generation Ready’s chief academic officer, says middle school students need:

  • Explicit teaching of comprehension strategies within an all-inclusive literacy program.
  • Instruction in the discipline-specific reading strategies necessary to read in the content areas.
  • Teachers who work in teams and collaborate across disciplines.
  • Opportunities to collaborate around complex texts.
  • Introduction to academic and domain-specific vocabulary.

Teachers often lack the training needed to address those needs, so professional development and support for middle level teachers are critical. “There needs to be a deepening of teachers’ understanding about the reading process and effective literacy practices across content. The typical one- or two-day workshop will not be enough,” Hervey says.

Effective professional development activities to support literacy instruction include:

  • Grade-level and interdisciplinary team meetings where teachers can share challenges and best practices.
  • Whole-school professional development experiences focused on meeting the unique needs of both educators and students.
  • In-class coaching and mentoring by peers, administrators, or outside literacy instruction experts so teachers can benefit from timely, meaningful feedback.
  • Focused activities such as book studies, which promote deeper understanding of concepts and connections between theory and practice. (Visit for books and other resources to help promote young adolescent literacy.)

Bring targeted professional development to your school—contact AMLE Strategic Partnerships & Professional Learning Manager Bobby Moore for information:


  1. This is very interesting… the white paper from Generation Ready is from 2013; I wonder how much these numbers have been impacted since COVID? The idea of interdisciplinary team meetings is a great suggestion as literacy strategies are important in all areas, not just ELA.

  2. The white paper from Generation Ready is from 2013; I wonder how COVID has impacted those numbers? Interdisciplinary team meetings are a great suggestion! Students need assistance with literacy across all subjects, not just ELA.