Why Non-Proficient Adolescent Readers Require Intensive Literacy Instruction
Teaching adolescent non-proficient readers is an extremely complex matter, as the range of foundational issues that have followed students to advanced grades—in conjunction with the fact that each student requires attention during higher-level courses—make it challenging to identify and meet specific needs. However, helping students develop basic literacy skills and learn to use those skills in a variety of situations is vital to each student’s ability to not only fully comprehend content-area courses, but to succeed in postsecondary schools and careers.
Non-proficient adolescent reading and the impact on life after high school
The Institute of Education Sciences' Summary of 20 years of research on the effectiveness of adolescent literacy programs and practices provided a comprehensive overview of the issues non-proficient readers face, as well as the level of effectiveness of recommended practices.
According to the report, the 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress showed that 23 percent of eighth-graders did not meet the requirements to be considered proficient in comprehension of the meaning of grade-level text, and 26 percent read below even the basic level. Further, even high-school students who did read at a proficient level were often found to be unprepared for the demands and specific literacy skills of the modern workforce and the global economy.
The research studies included in the report noted the importance of students being able to use literacy skills beyond those required for standardized testing. For adolescents, it is especially important that students are able to transfer skills from literacy-specific classrooms to content-area courses, as these skills are necessary to be able to read and understand varying types of texts, unique vocabulary, and differing means of communicating content comprehension.
Moreover, the report indicated that students often require additional support and instruction related to literacy development in content-area classes, but noted that many teachers are either not prepared to provide such instruction or, in some cases, may not accept or understand the importance of their role in student reading instruction in content-specific classes.
Report recommendations: Practical and intensive instruction
The IES report aimed to provide practical recommendations that teachers across content areas would find valuable and be able to incorporate into their curriculum delivery. These recommendations include:
Provide explicit vocabulary instruction.
Provide direct and explicit comprehension strategy instruction.
Provide opportunities for extended discussion of text meaning and interpretation.
Increase student motivation and engagement in literacy learning.
Make available intensive and individualized interventions for struggling readers that can be provided by trained specialists.
The need for intensive instruction
As the IES asserted, “Students that are unable to meet grade-level standards in literacy often require supplemental, intensive and individualized reading intervention to improve their skills.”
It is also important to note that the IES panel determined not all students will be able to improve their literacy skills as a result of teachers using the recommendations detailed above, and some student will require intensive interventions to support development of grade-level reading skills. Without such interventions, these students will likely be unable to master the course content in other areas or transfer the skills to college and career. Note that the fifth recommendation is based on the need to determine specific skills that are lacking and to create personalized learning interventions to meet those needs.
Similarly, the report indicated the importance of matching the intervention's level of intensity to the level of need, which may include increasing the amount of instructional time for literacy, working individually or in small groups, and providing intensive scaffolding instruction. By simply working to meet the needs of the students during the course of regular classroom experiences, teachers may facilitate some skill development and progress, but the gap between non-proficient readers and their peers will continue to widen without the opportunity for even more intensive instruction designed with practical strategies that address students' unique needs.
Although it may be difficult for some districts to identify the personnel who can provide the time and skills needed to complete these interventions effectively for a large group of students, using computer-based intensive interventions yields consistency in assessment and identification of strengths and weaknesses, as well as providing individualized instruction based on the needs of each student.
Featured White Paper:
Strategies to Support Non-Proficient Adolescent Readers: How to Identify and Address Why They Struggle
Proficiency in reading impacts all subjects across the secondary curriculum. Read the white paper by Dr. Suzanne Carreker, Lexia's Principal Educational Content Lead, to learn about the causes of non-proficient reading as well as possible solutions for helping adolescent students in grades 6 and above learn to read well and find reward in reading.