Harvard Educational Review Spring 2008: Adolescent Literacy (#3)

“Thus, while more-recent textbooks on the teaching of reading still focus on specific reading skills, they do so in the context of the reading process or of ‘strategic reading’; that is, the intentional and deliberate use of strategies that support comprehension, such as metacognition…. Textbooks have also addressed the teaching of middle and high school students who struggle with reading and the role technology can play in reading, including how technology-based discourse can be construed as a form of literacy”
— Jacobs, 2008, p. 21

Just recently I found myself reading an article regarding the teaching of skills and strategies in the classroom, and where grading of those fits in. The article was in response to standard-based grading, and whether teaching learners skills and strategies is the best thing for them. The author expressed how the literature and content should be of great importance because it teaches us about life and understandings of the world. My thoughts to this article, as well as Jacobs’ Putting the Crisis in Context (2008), was to question whether we can have both in grading practices. As a Language Arts teacher who devotes her time to the belief of equipping her learners with the skills and strategies to take on any piece of text, as well as abides by Wiggins and McTighe’s Understanding by Design (2005) to make every day inspirational and motivational for her learners, there must be a grading system that can be quantitatively and qualitatively sound.

I believe one of the issues in education are grading practices. We must use grades as an opportunity to reflect and to motivate, not merely as a currency for adolescent worth.

“Scholars can ask not only whether adolescents are motivated to engage in particular activities, but also whether the types of texts and contexts available to them influence their abilities to engage in basic, proficient, and advanced levels of literacy skill….reading (and all literacy acts) is the result of an intricate intersection of learner knowledge and interest, textual factors, and social, cultural, and disciplinary contexts.
Given the importance of motivated readers and motivating texts and contexts to literate proficiency, it seems that arguments for the developments of proficient, strategic, metadiscursive adolescent readers and writers must be informed by studies of adolescent motivation and engagement”
— Moje, Morris, Overby, & Tysvaer, 2008, p. 113

This year I began by asking my colleagues why they think our kids dislike reading. This started an enriched dialogue about our school culture, looking at K-12 practices, and how we can better reach our low readers. My one simple question brought to light a few insights for me. First, I never knew how much my colleagues from all content areas supported literacy and believed in nurturing it in our school. Second, I learned of my school’s and district’s history with a literacy culture and how through the years we have lost some aspects of it. Last, I found that though we had support and knew we were losing a literacy nurturing culture, my colleagues cared.  They cared and had great ideas. I proposed that we utilize our “study block” as a “skills session” block of time instead for literacy opportunities and to find out what our learners were interested in and passionate about. I also proposed that we begin everyday with a short 15 minute block of reading in the entire school. This would help give learners the opportunity to have some time in school to read what they were interested in, give us educators the opportunity to see what our learners were reading, and show learners that literacy takes place in every classroom of any content area. Will this help? I am not sure. But as with anything, I am willing to try.

I am lucky to work in a school that is full of passionate go-getters and always focuses on our learners.

I was talking in a meeting this past Friday regarding how we can bring diverse texts into our school that our learners can see their own reflection in and begin instilling an empathetic culture into our school. Learners want to read about themselves and about their world. If we can cross-curricularly make connections with skills, strategies, and diverse concepts for our learners, I believe empathy and deep understandings will help motivate them.

Harvard Educational Review Spring 2008. Adolescent Literacy ISSN #0017-8055