Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Effective Instruction for Adolescent Struggling Readers

The Center on Instruction has published a document outlining the components of effective literacy instruction at the secondary level in a document entitled Effective Instruction for Adolescent Struggling Readers authored by Alison Gould Boardman, Greg Roberts, Sharon Vaughn, Jade Wexler and Christy S. Murray. This is the companion to their publication, Interventions for Adolescent Struggling Readers which I discussed in a previous blog.

The first thing the authors point out is that especially at the adolescent level it is important to pinpoint the needs of the learner when designing instruction. Most upper level students do not need instruction in phonics or phonemic awareness so spending time on these aspects of reading may be wasted effort, unless there are specific weaknesses delineated in the individual profile.

The authors discuss five primary areas of adolescent intervention: word study, fluency, vocabulary, comprehension and motivation. For each area, they highlight how they define the area and then advance to comparing how successful and struggling readers perform in the area. Then they list components of effective instruction. They do not promote any particular program, just elements that should be included in instruction.

Under word study, the authors conclude that syllabification, identification of irregular words, and root study are the primary components to be included in the program. For fluency, they comment on the lack of evidence supporting repeated reading or wide reading as the superior approach. Under both models however, the reading material needs to at least be within the student's instructional reading level and progress should be charted, preferably by the student himself.

Vocabulary was the largest section of the guide. The authors discuss additive, generative and academic instruction. While wide reading is a primary way successful readers improve their vocabulary, struggling readers a) read less, are exposed to fewer words and consequently learn less by reading and/or b) learn less vocabulary from what they do read. Some of the components are important across all instructional types- a variety of exposures is essential and students need to be actively engaged. As a point of interest, they cite that "it takes about 12 rich and varied exposures to a word to develop deep understanding" (p.16). Years ago I heard the fact that it took the average learner 36 exposures to an isolated fact to learn it. For many students, if we do not draw the connections, much of what we present is seen as isolated. This means no matter what the vocabulary, if we do not have enough reading, discussion, and opportunities to play with the word through activities like semantic feature analysis, non-linguistic representations, metaphor development and games, students will not learn the word. We do need to remember that our best students need far fewer exposures to learn a new word and our students with executive function and/or cognitive challenges are going to need more.

Under comprehension the authors point out that we need to activate prior knowledge, utilize graphic organizers, and teach comprehension monitoring and fix-up strategies, summarization, asking and answering questions and how to pull them all together. The reciprocal teaching reading strategy is one approach to many of these techniques that I have blogged about.

Lastly, they highlight motivational factors. By the time struggling readers get to the secondary level, they often do not read without being under direct instruction and supervision. Encouraging them to participate in reading is essential to improving their skills. The authors suggest providing content goals for reading, using interesting texts and increasing opportunities to collaborate over reading. Since these all represent some element of choice and personal connections, this is where we need to intensely personalize instruction. This the element where we can be most powerful because if we can get them to read, they will improve their skill levels.

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