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Defining Reading Instruction for Adolescents

Designing an effective program that will support literacy instruction for adolescents involves defining what one means by the word literacy and developing a conceptual framework and an instructional model based on that definition. The conceptual framework is derived from the practices and underlying research that inform decisions on curriculum, instruction, and assessment. A well-developed conceptual framework enables schools and district to provide a guaranteed and viable curriculum. The curriculum is delivered through a research-based instructional model. This instructional model identifies the reading strategies that readers use to understand the text as well as the instructional strategies used to negotiate texts.

Literacy, in relation to adolescent learners, is defined by Jetton and Dole (2004) as constructive, fluent, strategic, motivated, and a lifelong pursuit. Readers construct an understanding of the text by using their background knowledge. They develop fluency by mastering the basic processes to the point of automaticity. Readers also employ strategies that enable them to solve problems while reading or writing—before, during, and after they read. Motivated readers believe they are capable of reading, set goals for learning, and are interested and informed by what they read. Finally, they continually practice, develop, and refine their reading.

Schoenbach, Greenleaf, Cziko, and Hurwitz (1999) define reading as a complex process that is situationally bounded. They explain that fluent reading is not the same as accurate decoding. Fluent reading occurs as the reader interactively relates to the text in order to gain meaning, increase knowledge, and achieve reading proficiency. The experiences readers bring to the text impact their level of proficiency. For example, a student who has no problem reading a short story may be much less proficient at reading a political essay. This is due to the fact that reading proficiency does not extend to all texts for all readers. Reading involves problem solving, and some readers are more proficient within a specific genre or type of text while others have proficiency across various types of texts. However, these readers do share a common set of characteristics. As proficient readers, they are mentally engaged, motivated, and strategic.

Wilhelm, Baker, and Dube (2001) present literacy as strategic reading that is teaching- and learning-centered. Based on a sociocultural model, learning is dependent upon a student's interactions with the teachers and others. The teacher's role involves scaffolding learning within both small-group and whole-class learning. Literacy instruction includes modeling and guided practice that makes the use of reading strategies visible to students. Teachers are explicit as they make these strategies available to students. Students then have opportunities to practice as teachers take the role of participant observers. While literacy learning is a collaborative effort between students and teachers, it is the teacher's responsibility to monitor and adjust instruction to insure student progress.

Jetton, T. L., & Dole, J. A. (Eds.). (2004). Adolescent literacy research and practice. New York: Guilford Press.

Schoenbach, R., Greenleaf, C., Cziko, C., & Hurwitz, L. (1999). Reading for understanding: A guide to improving reading in middle and high school classrooms. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Wilhelm, J. D., Baker, T. N., & Dube, J. (2001). Strategic reading: Guiding students to lifelong literacy 6–12. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

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