Sunday, March 11, 2007

Increased Literacy in Content Areas-Grades 4-12

In Washington I work on behalf of NCTE with other subject area associations to discover what we can learn from one another about helping teachers to help students learn. Last week when Dr. Joseph Torgesen from the Florida Center of Reading Research and the Center on Instruction at Florida State University reported here on a major study on academic literacy instruction for adolescents, my antennae were up especially for what he had to say about improving literacy-related instruction in all content areas.

The five major recommendations about this topic in the 180-page report are

1. More explicit instruction and guided practice in the use of reading comprehension strategies

2. Increasing the amount of open, sustained discussion of content and ideas from text

3. Maintaining high standards for the level of conversation, questions, and vocabulary that are used in discussions and in assignments

4. Adopting instructional methods that increase student engagement with text and motivation for reading

5. More powerful teaching of content and use of methods that allow all to learn critical content

Do you notice that these recommendations focus a good deal on the use of language in a social context, pedagogical strategies to promote engagement and learning critical content, and high levels of expectation about the quality of discussion? Rather than finding the elements of reading emphasized by the National Reading Panel, this report gleaned through studying other major studies about adolescent literacy that these five strategies contribute in the most effective way to increased literacy among adolescents.

If you can share this report with colleagues in other subject areas, you will have much to talk about together. The report will soon be available in downloadable form at In the meantime, you might think about how the recommendations fit your own work. In answer to a question about English teachers' being responsible for teaching reading, Torgeson replied that ALL teachers are responsible, including English teachers. Using these recommendations in our English classes can make us more credible in talking with teachers in other subject areas--and increase students' desire and ability to read.

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