California Department of Education
Taking Center Stage – Act II
One of the numerous avenues of support that helps students achieve success is to teach students to read, interpret, and use academic language. Academic literacy refers to the advanced skills students must have to be able to achieve grade-level standards in each academic area in middle and high schools.
Development of academic literacy is a deliberate strategy employed by all teachers and library-media center coordinators. In most cases, the English-language arts teacher will help other teachers implement literacy strategies across the curriculum. For example, mathematics or science teachers can learn how to reinforce vocabulary used in the lesson and check that all students understand the terms used in both the explanations and in the problems.
The Right to Literacy in Secondary Schools (Outside Source) is a new study based on the work of the Public Education & Business Coalition (PEBC), a non-profit that is nationally known for its expertise in literacy and professional development. The book challenges educators to view adolescent literacy as a civil right that enables students to understand essential content and to develop as independent learners. Nationally, concern is growing that middle and high school students do not know how to read, write, listen, speak, and think at the levels needed to succeed as college students, members of the workforce, and fully participating members of our democracy. Secondary teachers in all content areas must be able to help students develop the tools to analyze, evaluate, critique, and question texts of all sorts.
In Part II of The Right to Literacy in Secondary Schools, the authors examine how literacy serves the specific goals that math, science, social studies, and language arts teachers have for students to deeply understand particular content/concepts and to develop independence in how to think, learn, read, and write about a given academic discipline. In Chapter 5, Mathematics Teaching for Understanding: Reasoning, Reading, and Formative Assessment (PDF; 166KB; 16pp), authors Paula Miller and Dagmar Koesling describe the role that
literacy plays in mathematics instruction.
The topic of adolescent literacy is receiving increased attention—especially at the secondary level, where teachers are responsible for teaching content regardless of each student's literacy level in English. A new study titled, Meeting the Literacy Development Needs of Adolescent English Language Learners Through Content Area Learning, Part One: Focus on Motivation and Engagement (PDF; Outside Source) identified several principles that appear in both the adolescent literacy and English learner research on the topics of motivation and engagement:
The researchers authored a subsequent report based on the same educational research, but with a Focus on Classroom Teaching and Learning Strategies (PDF; Outside Source).
Academic literacy is particularly important for English learners (ELs) who may be fluent in the language of everyday activities but not in academic English. Students who have not achieved grade-level standards may need to learn skills usually associated with elementary instruction (Recommendation 2—Interventions).
When teaching academic subjects, teachers may use several strategies to help both English learners and other students who struggle to get more out of lessons:
Students also need the skills to be able to express themselves both orally and in written academic language. Literacy improves with study skills, connecting current knowledge to prior knowledge, and scaffolding.
New practice guide offers recommendations to improve literacy levels of young adolescents [posted October 8, 2008].
A new resource on developing adolescent literacy skills is now available from the U.S. Department of Education: Improving Adolescent Literacy: Effective Classroom and Intervention Practices (PDF; Outside Source). Institute for Education Sciences, 2008.
Numerous avenues of support
1Marge Scherer, "Increasing Reading Comprehension of English Language Learners,"Education Update, Vol. 48, No. 6 (June 2006).
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California Department of Education
1430 N Street
Sacramento, CA 95814