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The literacy skills of the typical American teenager have not improved since the 1970’s but the demand for literacy skills have increased dramatically according to Allington (2003). Struggling in reading during the adolescent age not only affects reading but other classes throughout education. Literacy challenges of adolescents’ demand strategies to increase success across the curriculum.
Why do adolescents struggle with reading?
Before educators can successfully intervene, one must know what causes adolescents to struggle in reading. Adolescent readers struggle because of diverse backgrounds, poverty, ineffective past teachers, text complexity, special learning needs and having little motivation.
Diverse backgrounds are typical around the United States. Diverse backgrounds are defined as students with an ELL (English Language Learner) ruling and students from less fortunate homes. Igoa (1995) stated, “Many families wait to emigrate until their youngest children are in school and their oldest children are out of elementary school”. The older children are then struggling to comprehend and read at grade level because of learning English so late in life. Poverty is another factor in struggling with reading. Nichols and Good (2004) stated that these and other social factors that go with living in poverty influence students’ academic progress
Another reason adolescent struggle to read accurately is that they have not had reading and writing strategies demonstrated effectively. Cambourne (2001) claimed, “Some teachers are simply better than others at teaching reading.”
Guthrie and Davis (2003) suggest that some struggling adolescent readers can read grade-level material in elementary school, but this is not surprising. Snow and Biancarosa (2003) point out, “As content demands increase, literacy demands also increase: students are expected to read and write across a wide variety of disciplines, genres, and materials with increasing skill, flexibility, and insight”.
Although the students have been given extra reading instruction, remedial reading classes have typically not been successful. Some researchers, like Allington (2003), theorize that students who have spent years in remedial classes have spent a great deal of time learning reading skills, yet have not spent enough time reading connected texts, possibly because students in special education classes have not spent much time reading.
According to Pitcher and her colleagues (2007), “Motivation to read is a complex construct that influences readers’ choices of reading material, their willingness to engage in reading, and thus their ultimate competence in reading, especially related to academic reading tasks”. Motivation is often linked to students’ self-efficacy or their belief in their own ability.
Adolescents Struggle in Multiple Reading Areas
Students who struggle with reading do not merely struggle with reading texts. Adolescents struggle in multiple areas that are all encompassed in the reading curriculum. Struggling adolescents need intervention in word recognition, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.
Boardman (et al. 2008) mentioned the ability to effectively and efficiently decode words with word recognition is necessary for reading comprehension. Struggling adolescent readers may be able to read single-syllable words but must be taught strategies to decode multi-syllable words common in complex texts. To do this, students must be taught explicit strategies. Archer, Gleason and Vachon (2003) found that teachers who use explicit instruction explain the strategy, model the process, provide guided practice with scaffolding and finally, require an independent application of decoding words. Ehri (2014) found there are three strategies when reading unfamiliar words: decoding, analogizing and predicting. Moats (2006) also found those word study interventions that address concepts that relate to semantic connections are positive effects on reading achievements.
Fluency is defined by Hasbrouck and Glaser (2012) as reading with reasonable accuracy at an appropriate rate with suitable prosody that leads to accurate and deep comprehension and motivation to read. It has been confirmed that the human brain can perform tasks such as reading once enough learning has occurred. Therefore, it is important for students to become fluent according to Tindall (2006). Tindall also found that students who read fluently with appropriate prosody tend to have adequate comprehension skills.
Vocabulary refers to knowledge of word meanings. Biancarosa and Snow (2004) find that students’ knowledge of vocabulary is highly related to their ability to comprehend text. Baumann (2003) concluded explicit vocabulary instruction integrated into content with ample opportunities to read, say and write words enhances abilities to learn new words.
The absolute goal of reading is to comprehend or understand the text. The direct and explicit teaching of comprehension strategies is recommended for all students and is essential for those who struggle according to Kamil and Pessley (2002).
Strategies for Struggling Readers
According to Fisher and Ivey (2006), more than eight million students in grades four through twelve are identified struggling readers. It is essential that teachers build relationships with students and asses their individual needs to differentiate instruction. Struggling readers need the use of successful strategies. Some of these strategies include word study, using fluency, vocabulary and comprehension, and increasing motivation.
Moats (2006) introduces the idea of using a word study. Moats states, “Word study interventions that address concepts that relate semantic connections to morphology have significant positive effects on student reading achievement”. Word study involves decoding multisyllabic words and understanding the importance of words. Once students know and understand different types of words, their understanding grows. With the growth of understanding words, comes growth with reading.
Hasbrouck (1999) states, “Fluency is reading. The most effective ways to improve fluency include whole reading and repeated reading”. Fluency is a factor that can assist struggling readers gain confidence. According to Smith (2008), fluency can improve with a great deal of well-monitored wide reading. Fluency also involves encouraging students to try and read different types of texts. Other strategies used for fluency include round-robin reading, SSR (sustained silent reading) and drop-everything-and-read (DEAR).
SSR and DEAR give the students random opportunities to plainly read a book. Repeated reading and having more opportunities to just read assist struggling readers in the regular classroom.
Strategies in vocabulary learning assist struggling readers. Boardman (2008) explains that vocabulary is more than teaching new words. Students must be able to identify, describe and use the words correctly. Baunmann (2002) found that vocabulary strategies are beneficial to all readers. These strategies suggest teaching multipart strategies. Baunmann explains that multipart vocabulary includes contextual analysis to infer a word’s meaning, morphemic analysis to derive a word’s meaning and the dictionary to confirm. Using the multipart vocabulary strategy with other strategies like interactive word walls and teaching multiple meanings of words will assist all learners.
Teaching comprehension strategies are more than just asking questions about the text, it is fully understanding the text. According to Duke and Pearson (2002), comprehension strategy instruction helps students become purposeful, active readers who are in control of their own comprehension. Graphic organizers and semantic organizers are helpful for all learners, not just struggling readers. Graphic organizers help students focus on text structure, provide students with tools to examine texts and help students write well-organized summaries.
Comprehension also involves teaching struggling students how to ask and answer questions while reading. Pressley (2002) explains asking questions and answering questions while reading not only gives students a purpose for reading, but assists the struggling reader to focus their attention on the text. Giving students questions to answer while reading focuses their minds on the text and encourages students to monitor their own comprehension.
Carbo (2009) found that struggling readers often need more than concrete strategies. Struggling readers need motivation. Many educators often forget that motivation is a factor in comprehension and understanding. Carbo stated, “Students must be deeply interested in what they are reading to do their best”. In order to increase motivation, teachers can use different techniques. Worthy, Moorman and Turner (1999) found that older at-risk readers require the chance to choose what they read. Interest in what is being read leads to a better and more complete understanding. Giving students choices about the content they read, and giving them those opportunities boosts confidence and motivation to read.
Struggling in Reading during the adolescent age not only affects reading but other classes throughout their education. Literacy challenges of adolescents’ demand strategies to increase success across the curriculum. All students have the potential to be successful readers. With the correct strategies and the determination of both student and teacher, even the struggling readers can succeed.
- Adler, C.R. (2001). Seven Strategies for Teaching Students Text Comprehension. Reading Rockets. Pg. 1-5. National Institute for Literacy.
- Carbo, M. (2009). Match the Style of Instruction to the Style of Reading. Phi Delta Kappan. 90(5). 373-378.
- Carbo, M. (2010). What Helps At-Risk Adolescent Readers? Educational Leadership. Pg. 1-6. 67(6).
- Deshler, Donald., Hock, Michael F., & Catts, Hugh W. (2006). Reading Skills of Adolescents. Enhancing Outcomes for Struggling Adolescent Readers. Pg. 1-10.
- Fischer, D. and Ivey, G. (2006). Evaluating the Interventions for Struggling Adolescent Readers. Journal of Adult and Adolescent Literacy. 50(3). 180-189.
- National Reading Panel Report. (2000). Teaching Children to Read. National Institute of Child Health and Development. Pg. 10-27.
- Stover, Katie., O’Rear, Allison., & Morris, Carolyn. (2006). Meeting the Needs of Struggling Adolescent Readers. Texas Journal of Literacy Education. 3(2). 1-16.
- Worthy, J., Moorman, M. & Turner, M. (1999). What Johnny Likes to Read is Hard to Find in School. Reading Research Quarterly. 3491). 12-27.
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