Term Paper: Literacy in Secondary Education

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Literacy in Secondary Education

Adolescent literacy has started to be reconsidered by teachers and researchers. The focus on adolescent literacy may be explained in two ways:

First, both teachers and researchers in adolescent literacy have acknowledged the impact of culturally and linguistically diverse students on literacy. An example of this current trend is given by Alvermannn and her colleagues, in Reconceptualizing the Literacies in Adolescents' Lives, in which they point to a broader view of adolescent literacies that encompasses gender, race, ethnicity, and social class (Alvermannn, Hinchman, Moore, Phelps, & Waff, 1998).

Second, as we entered the 21st century, media and technology have begun to impact greatly on literacy and on the academic curriculum for Arts and Language disciplines.

Reinking (1998) stated that as "we are heading into a post-typographic world" printed text become less dominant. Therefore, media sources focus on visual content, but also text is present. In order to properly deal with this new ways of communication, students need to acquire various skills (for instance to critically interpret visual content). These visual skills they are required to integrate by high school into both oral and written reports. The particular meaning of media texts for instance can be reached only be identifying and making use of the particular techniques used in the first place in these texts as Dana Grisham observes in her article "Technology and Media Literacy: What Do Teachers Need to Know?" The author also observes that learning to use these techniques in other texts' creation implies learning also to recognize and analyze them in reading and interpreting. The notion of literacy itself begins to change under such circumstances. Dana Grisham cited Alvermann and Hagood (2000) in the beginning of her own account on the topic with their stating about literacy that it is "on the verge of reinventing itself" as many other types of literacies begin to appear: visual literacy, technological literacy, critical literacy, media literacy, and other literacies that make us think what means to be literate in the end.

In this context - of becoming aware of the sociocultural impact on literacy and of technological development and influence on literacy -, it becomes clear that students have different needs, and opportunities, and teachers should facilitate the learning of new skills. For example, the works of Gina Cervetti, Michael Pardales, and James Damico examine the difference between critical reading, or reading analytically, and critical literacy, which involves the stances (or "subjectivities") taken when readers examine a text within particular sociocultural frameworks. (Grisham, D.). Reading critically, involves not only answering the question "What does this text mean?" But also asking "How does it come to have a particular meaning (and not some other)?" Similarly, literacy is more than school literacy, Donna Alvermann asserts (2001). One form of literacy (academic literacy) should not prevail over multiple other forms (e.g., computer, visual, graphic, and scientific literacies) and the idea has been criticized for ignoring the fact that different texts and social contexts (reading for whom, with what purpose) require different reading skills (Barton, Hamilton, & Ivanic, 2000; Gee, 1996; Street, 1995).

In what concerns the skills needed in the new literacy context, an example will be taken from media literacy. As contemporary literacy has lost its conceptual unity it is being referred to as multiple literacies. Media literacy for instance can include media production, information technology, critical media literacy, Web-based literacies, aesthetic literacies (such as dance, music, and theater), communications, and scientific literacy. (Grisham, D.) The variety of literacies implies a need and opportunity to the diversification of skills: interdisciplinary knowledge, technical abilities, critical thinking, problem solving, ability to interpret both printed and digital texts, understanding different ways of organizing information etc.

However, the practical issue that led to an increased interest in adolescent literacy in contemporary research and practice refers to the demands for higher levels of literacy for middle and high school students. Both policy makers and educators realize that literacy is a critical issue also due to students' transition into the middle and high school settings. The complexity of adolescent literacy as learners was also stressed by such authors as Jetton and Alexander (2004) who identified the area of complexity around such matters as students' confrontation in high school with subject areas or domains such as history, algebra, biology, and English. Engaging in these academic fields requires that students possess the requisite knowledge, the strategies, and the motivation to learn the subject matter. From the point-of-view of the increasingly complex academic demands of the subject areas adolescents are confronted with in secondary education, students must have the appropriate background knowledge and strategies for reading a variety of texts. In Alvermannn's opinion (2002) several of these strategies include:

Comprehension monitoring -- identifying improper comprehension and knowing the strategies for improving it, such as rereading, applying reasoning, or using the organizational signals within the text.

Cooperative learning -- problem solving or sharing ideas with peers through discussions, debates, and other peer-led activities.

Using text structure -- understanding that texts are organized by displaying a graphic structure.

Answering questions -- answering questions and receiving feedback to demonstrate an understanding of the text.

Generating questions -- asking questions about information in the text.

Summarizing -- being able to make generalizations that sum up the most important information in the text.

The strategies mentioned above also suggest the skills students need in order to acquire high levels of literacy. However data collected on trends in reading achievement for 13-year-olds and 17-year-olds show that achievement levels have not declined between 1971 and 1999, the percentages of students in grades 8 and 12 who are performing at or above the basic level (e.g., comprehending primarily factual information) are 74 and 77%, respectively. It seems that the percentage of reading achievement decreases as we approach grade 12: in grade 8, fewer than 3% of the students can analyze and extend information, which is required for reading at an advanced level, while in grade 12, fewer than 6% of the students can read at an advanced level (U.S. Department of Education, 1999a). The conclusion is that the level literacy is insufficient in today's world where both reading and writing tasks required of adolescents are continuing to increase in complexity and difficulty. The International Reading Association's position statement on adolescent literacy, suggests that "adolescents deserve instruction that builds both the skill and desire to read increasingly complex materials" (Moore, Bean, Birdyshaw, & Rycik, 1999, p. 5) (Alvermann, D., 2001)

The data mentioned above support the fact that there is a lack of a concerted focus on 9-12 literacy equivalent to that placed on early literacy reflected in an insufficient level of literacy. Furthermore, if we refer to the practices teachers use to develop adolescent literacy we may say that they are not connected and supported by research as the research base on 9-12 school literacy practices itself is insufficient to guide teacher preparation and school-based practice.

Research have made significant advances in understanding the abilities young children must acquire to develop beginning reading skills and the conditions under which they are most effectively taught, but very little evidence is available on how these abilities are best acquired and taught during adolescence. It is well-known by now that in learning to read, kindergarten and elementary school-aged children must develop adequate alphabetic reading skills (phonemic awareness and phonics abilities included) and the ability to apply these word-reading skills fluently to both decoding and text-reading activities, and they must develop background knowledge, vocabulary, and reading-comprehension strategies to facilitate their understanding of what they read. However, research has not showed yet to what extent what is known about beginning reading instruction applies to older students who fail to acquire the building blocks of reading.

By now, adolescent literacy research has focused on several aspects: on the cognitive and neural processes in reading comprehension of normal and impaired subjects (Laurie Cutting), on the social and cultural influences on adolescent development (Elizabeth Birr Moje), in which the author studies expectancy values, motivation, engagement, and literacy achievement across different social and cultural groups. Another subject of research is focused on supporting teachers to close adolescent literacy gaps, referring to teacher implementation of recommended instructional approaches and to monitoring the learning growth of students who enter high school below grade level in reading. (James McPartland). Another longitudinal study about adolescent literacy is concerned with the classification, mechanism, and outcome of literacy. (Bennett Shaywitz). (see abstracts on (http://www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ovae/pi/hs/adollit_pg3.html)

An extensive review by Guthrie and Wigfield (2000) of how instruction influences students' reading engagement and academic performance, concluded that various instructional practices, though important, do not directly impact student outcomes (e.g., time spent reading independently, achievement on standardized tests, performance assessments, and beliefs about reading). The level of student engagement (motivation and its sustainability over time) is therefore the mediating factor through which classroom instruction influences student outcomes (Alvermannn, D, 2001). This study proves another necessity that teachers should take into account in their instruction practices the following factors: student motivation (including self-efficacy and goal… [END OF PREVIEW]

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