Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Adolescent Learners and Reading: Exploring a Collaborative, Community Approach

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Adolescent Learners and Reading: Exploring a Collaborative, Community Approach

Article excerpt


A consistent issue identified in contemporary educational theory and practice concerns itself with adolescents who struggle with literacy learning (Alvermann, 2001; Barton & Freebody, 2014; Moje, 2002; Ryan & Barton, 2014). Of particular concern is the need for educators to develop effective and appropriate strategies that respond to an increasing number of adolescents struggling to develop adequate literacy skills necessary for life beyond school.

Teaching reading in the secondary school context has largely been the responsibility of English and/or learning support teachers, yet much research points to the need for all teachers to be literacy teachers; with a particular focus on curriculum area reading and writing (Freebody, Chan & Barton, 2013; Unsworth, 2001). Additionally, there is evidence to suggest that more and more young adolescents are entering high school needing support in reading generally (Cashen, 2012; Clary, Feez, Garvey & Partridge, 2015; Murphy, 2015).

Research shows a 'rush to teaching' (McDermott, 2005) occurs rather than well-considered and thoughtful approaches in order to improve literacy standards for adolescent learners. Reactive, quick-fix approaches tend to be impacted on by institutional mandates to raise achievement levels on standardised tests, such as the National Assessment Program--Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) in Australia, rather than taking a holistic view of the factors that may be contributing to the difficulties being experienced. Manuel and Carter (2015) for example, note that the challenges associated with student diversity are magnified due to high stakes testing, often impacting negatively on students' enjoyment of reading. Comber's (2012) research in Australia argues a distinct pedagogical shift in teaching has occurred; what she terms an 'audit culture'. This reductionist approach to teaching often impacts more on socio-disadvantaged schools and students (Comber, 2012; Comber & Cormack, 2011).

This paper presents data from two secondary schools from low socio-economic areas that reported an increasing numbers of adolescents entering high school who needed support in reading. It provides evidence to validate a student-centred, collaborative approach to improve reading strategies via a model of shared practice.

Adolescents and literacy learning

Adolescence is a time of great change and uncertainty as 11 to 15 year olds experience extreme physical, emotional and intellectual growth; all at differing rates of change. Consequently, students present with specific, individual needs. Moll, Amanti, Neff and Gonzalez (1992) and Moje et al. (2004) note each student comes to school with their own funds of knowledge and highlight the importance of including students' prior learning and life experiences in programs designed to support adolescent literacy learning, and in particular reading.

Strong evidence suggests if teachers have not taken the time to become familiar with students' funds of knowledge and the ways in which they take to text (Hill, 2012), there is potential for literacy teaching to be narrowed in response to student shortcomings (Westwood, 2008). Adolescent students who have difficulty in certain areas of reading often have experienced ongoing lack of school success and therefore focusing on students' strengths and interests is even more important with regard to student engagement. Further, Merga (2014) notes that adolescents are often not identified as keen readers and that multiple dimensions need to be examined; not just students' attitude towards reading. A deficit lens may overlook pedagogical, social, technological and cultural factors influencing literacy learning (Gutierrez & Rogoff, 2003; Rennie & Patterson, 2008; Rennie & Ortlieb, 2013). Therefore, it is important a holistic view informs literacy programs for adolescents as their past experiences are likely to be more diverse than those of younger students and the demands of reading in the secondary years becomes more complex. …

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