Academic journal article Literacy Learning: The Middle Years

Slipping through the Cracks: Why Too Many Adolescents Still Struggle to Read

Academic journal article Literacy Learning: The Middle Years

Slipping through the Cracks: Why Too Many Adolescents Still Struggle to Read

Article excerpt


While there is evidence to suggest that literacy standards in Australia are high, there are still too many adolescents who cannot read proficiently. The implication for these struggling readers is significant in today's modern global dynamic. Developing effective interventions for older low-progress readers is perhaps one of the most challenging tasks for researchers and practitioners. There is converging evidence that supports effective reading interventions for older learners and can enable them to achieve significant academic gains.

This review synthesises the current instructional practices available to educators. It provides a framework to assist in the development of an effective reading program that can be tailored to the specific needs of this heterogeneous group of learners. Some adolescents need assistance with basic decoding, whereas many others lack adequate comprehension skills. The rigorous requirements of such a framework therefore need to span the spectrum from basic decoding skills to the more sophisticated comprehension of texts required in the secondary sector.

Research data has shown that the most effective reading programs will include a word-level component, vocabulary instruction, fluency and strategies to enhance and generalise comprehension, particularly when encountering difficult texts (RAND Reading Study Group, 2002; National Reading Panel, 2000; Deshler & Hock, 2006). We must also consider how the predominance of academic literacy over other forms of literacy continues to distance adolescent learners from the curriculum. There have been encouraging preliminary findings of some widely implemented reading programs. However, additional research in this area is necessary.

Defining adolescent literacy

de Lemos (2002) reflects that a 'broad' definition of literacy is entrenched in a socio-cultural model in which literacy development is seen as a social process, encompassing other language skills and other forms of print. A more 'narrow' definition of literacy might be that literacy is the ability to read and write. The 'narrow' definition of literacy recognises the special responsibility of the school in teaching children how to read. Gough and Tunmer (1986) devised a reading model called the Simple view of reading. This view puts forward the notion that proficient reading has two key components that are equally important and interdependent. That is, reading = decoding x comprehension. Effective reading instruction must address both decoding and comprehension skills. Essentially this model posits that as long as neither component is equal to nil then reading will occur.

Adolescent readers, though, can have more complex needs than their younger counterparts. They are expected to demonstrate more developed skills in their reading and writing than beginning readers. Kintsch's (1994) theory of reading complements many of the instructional practices deemed most effective for older learners. His work underpins the conceptual framework for this review as it considers the differences between proficient readers and those who struggle. He adds depth to the Simple view of reading (Gough & Tunmer, 1986) with the inclusion of deeper language comprehension. To achieve deeper language comprehension, struggling readers need to be taught how to use cognitive and metacognitive strategies when encountering a difficult text. Consider the contrasts between struggling and proficient readers when literacy for adolescent learners can be characterised as constructive, fluent, strategic, motivated and a lifelong pursuit (Jetton & Dole, 2004). Proficient readers are able to construct meaning from text and employ problem-solving strategies as they read. They are able to bring prior knowledge to the task and believe that they are capable of reading and learning from the text. Poor readers need these strategies to be explicitly taught.

Poor literacy rates: National and international reports

Adolescents with reading difficulties are in every school, in every classroom. …

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