Comprehensive Systems for Adolescent Literacy Development

Written By Amy Awbrey Pallangyo

On November 10, 2009

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Federal legislation was just introduced in the Senate yesterday to provide funding for future pre-K through 12 Literacy funding efforts – the LEARN bill.  While the details of the bill are myriad, there are some critical overarching features of the adolescent literacy priorities that bear investigation for a number of reasons.

First, the legislation is designed to provide guidance for schools seeking funding for comprehensive adolescent literacy improvement initiatives. Second, schools must have a well-founded understanding of the research-based recommendations for program development – and a well-grounded plan for use of funds – if they are likely to submit successful grant proposals in the coming year.

So, the first question to explore is – What does it mean to have a comprehensive approach?  Comprehensive school reform models (focused on any discipline or conceptual approach) include some common areas of change as core components:  quality of instructional practice, support for ongoing teacher learning, meeting the needs of special populations, leadership for reform efforts, and improvement of the overall learning culture in schools.

These global components translate into very specific priorities in the context of adolescent literacy.  Experience with a variety of adolescent literacy change initiatives has led us to identify five specific criteria for systemic program implementation,  and an additional global, or “umbrella” criterion for broader examination of formative progress.   CTL’s criteria for a system approach to adolescent literacy program development follow:

  • Foundational Literacy – the presence of research-based core reading instructional programs,  in which real reading instruction is visible for all students.
  • Content Literacy Integration – the persistent inclusion of literacy strategies in core content classrooms to support student access to content, and to promote ongoing applied practice for development of basic literacy skills
  • Intervention for Struggling Learners – a system of identification and placement of students who have special literacy needs into interventions that are tested and designed specifically for adolescents
  • Literacy Coaching – an emphasis on job-embedded professional development that supports are three core approaches to literacy noted above – this can take many forms, but suggests that ongoing support for teacher growth is critical to maintain the core system of literacy integration
  • Literacy Leadership – intentional development of administrative and teacher leadership in the area of literacy, developing a distributed leadership structure that brings in, mentors, and holds all adult stakeholders accountable for ongoing fidelity to the mission, program, and standards for adolescent literacy improvement

Which parts of this systemic approach to adolescent literacy are in place in your school?  What’s working in that process?

In follow-up posts, I’ll be exploring each of these criteria in greater depth, as well as sharing some performance standards language to help build a vision for standards and expectations in each area.