Adolescent Educators' Frequently Asked Questions at the EdWeek Summit
Supporting Struggling [Adolescent] Readers: Challenges and Strategies for Educators
Educators who attended EdWeek’s Online Summit brought plenty of questions about the challenges of supporting struggling readers, and they were eager to brainstorm solutions with peers in the education community. Audience questions reflected the deep concern teachers have about giving every student an equal shot at becoming a successful and confident reader. Questions also reflected the new reality educators are facing as we try to boost learning recovery for all students.
In this two-part blog series, we’ll be highlighting the most-frequent and urgent questions from our session and the insight literacy experts Kimberly Stockton and Alexis Treat shared about the topics.
In Part 1, we’ll tackle questions about literacy instruction for adolescent students.
PART 1: Encouraging Adolescent Readers
Summary of Concerns
Literacy plays a crucial role in ensuring educational equity, closing opportunity gaps, and giving students the necessary skills to be college and career ready. When students in secondary grades are reading below grade level, this concern is top of mind.
Many middle and high school teachers aren’t prepared with the specific knowledge and training they need to teach literacy or help students struggling with reading. Identifying and addressing reading skill gaps is a heavy lift, so educators want literacy solutions that are proven to work and that empower teachers to provide the instruction students need.
A Reading Interventionist and a 6-8 Grade Reading and Math Remediation Teacher asked about effective reading interventions to help middle school students still struggling with reading below grade level.
Students reading below grade level in grades 6–12 benefit from research-proven instruction. Our literacy experts recommended adopting the principles and elements of Structured Literacy, which is the only approach that fully brings the science of reading into the classroom.
The science of reading provides evidence of what works best in reading instruction, clarifies instruction for students who have difficulty learning to read, and the exact skills that need to be taught. Structured Literacy converts that evidence into practical classroom application for instruction that is explicit, systematic, and cumulative with frequent diagnostics of student progress.
Structured Literacy is proven to be beneficial for all students and is especially essential for students reading below grade level, at risk for reading difficulties due to dyslexia or other factors. It helps students develop deep levels of comprehension and expression and lifelong reading and writing habits.
Teachers benefit from the support of interventions with a Structured Literacy approach. Programs like Lexia®'s PowerUp Literacy® offer high-interest, age-appropriate texts, game-based motivational elements, self-monitoring tools that keep teens engaged, and embedded assessment technology that provides educators with the right data to assess students’ current skill levels and to deliver differentiated instruction.
An educator in Massachusetts asked how to assess which students are struggling with reading and how to support students who are struggling readers in a mixed group with non-struggling readers.
One of the challenges of addressing the needs of adolescents reading below grade level is the diversity of adolescents’ learning needs in one classroom. Struggling adolescent readers may demonstrate inadequate reading comprehension and below-grade-level performance in academic subjects. However, despite apparent similarities in their level of academic achievement, students’ overall reading proficiency, strengths, and weaknesses often differ from student to student.
To provide the most appropriate instruction, Stockton and Treat stressed that it is important to identify students’ areas of need, as well as their degree of proficiency in each area to better understand what is contributing to students reading below grade level.
To effectively assess student needs, teachers need real-time progress monitoring. PowerUp, for example, tracks student usage of the program, student progress through the content, skills students have acquired, and where students could use more targeted instruction.
Students who are several grade levels behind or who show some risk of not meeting college- and career-ready standards must accelerate their literacy proficiency to gain the benefit of their entire middle and high school curriculum. Literacy programs like PowerUp are designed to be used alongside core curriculum, such as during a study hour, before-/after-school program, intervention block, at home, or anywhere that works with existing schedules.
As teachers are well aware, students in grades 6–12 have diverse instructional needs and benefit from differentiated instruction that is personalized. To support every student, adaptive instructional tools are a great resource. Adaptive instruction differentiates learning as students progress and the combination of personal learning pathways, scaffolded instruction, and data-driven action plans for teachers provided by a program like PowerUp give teachers the support they need to help struggling readers.
A Middle Grades Science Teacher from North Carolina and a Campus Director from Arkansas asked about supporting literacy instruction given limited time.
Because time is always a constraint for teachers, our experts recommended adopting a flexible program that leverages:
1) The strengths of educational technology to provide individualized support to students.
2) Teacher-led instruction that can be delivered at scale.
For example, in PowerUp, students follow a data-driven and personalized learning path where the technology adapts to allow students to work at their own pace, focus additional time on areas of need, and develop automaticity in key skill areas. That frees up time so teacher-led instruction can be more targeted, time-efficient, and flexibly fit into a teacher’s existing schedule.
One of our experts also pointed out the importance of investing time in diagnosing/assessing all students, so educators have a baseline of relative strengths and weaknesses. With that knowledge, they can better provide differentiated instruction that efficiently targets exactly what students need.
Next: Current Challenges in Elementary Reading Classrooms
In Part 2 of this series, we’ll address audience questions focused on challenges teachers face supporting early-elementary readers.
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