Academic journal article Research in the Teaching of English

The Intersection of Reading and Identity in High School Literacy Intervention Classes

Academic journal article Research in the Teaching of English

The Intersection of Reading and Identity in High School Literacy Intervention Classes

Article excerpt

Many students struggle with reading in secondary school. The reasons for students' difficulties, however, are as diverse as the students themselves. Some students continue to have trouble recognizing or decoding words. Others find it difficult to comprehend what they read due to a lack of fluency or, more commonly, a lack of familiarity and flexibility with the use of reading strategies to tackle complex texts (Biancarosa & Snow, 2004). The ability to use reading strategies to access texts is essential in secondary school, where students must engage in a variety of advanced reading tasks across disciplines (Heller & Greenleaf, 2007).

In response to the reading difficulties many older students face, experts in adolescent literacy have identified effective literacy practices to guide instruction in middle and secondary schools. These principles highlight the importance of instruction that explicitly teaches comprehension (Moore, Bean, Birdyshaw, & Rycik, 1999) and vocabulary (Kamil et al., 2008), ideally in the context of specific disciplines (Biancarosa & Snow, 2004; Heller & Greenleaf, 2007); attends to students' motivation, engagement, and self-efficacy (Alvermann, 2002; Biancarosa & Snow, 2004; Kamil et al., 2008; National Council of Teachers of English, 2006); introduces students to diverse texts (Biancarosa & Snow, 2004; Moore et al., 1999); and fosters collaborative learning (Biancarosa & Snow, 2004) and critical thinking (Alvermann, 2002; National Council of Teachers of English, 2006). Although the specifics of these principles vary, their proponents share the goal of supporting reading instruction that ensures students' academic literacy skills are sufficient to handle reading tasks across disciplines in middle and secondary school and beyond.

One way secondary schools have sought to address the literacy needs of students who struggle with reading is through ninth-grade literacy intervention classes. While often taught by English teachers, these classes are distinct from regular English classes, and many attempt to embed the aforementioned principles of reading instruction into their approach. Two examples are WestEd's Reading Apprenticeship Academic Literacy course (Greenleaf, Schoenbach, Cziko, & Mueller, 2001) and the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning's (KU-CRL's) Xtreme Reading course (Schumaker et al., 2006). The Enhanced Reading Opportunities Study (Corrin, Somers, Kemple, Nelson, & Sepanik, 2008; Somers et al., 2010) measured the effects of the Academic Literacy and Xtreme Reading courses on students' reading skills and behaviors at the end of ninth grade and academic performance and behavioral outcomes in tenth grade. Both intervention models improved students' reading comprehension, academic performance, and credit completion in ninth grade (Corrin et al., 2008). However, the positive effects did not continue into the students' tenth-grade year, when they were no longer enrolled in the courses (Somers et al., 2010).1

With few exceptions (e.g., Greenleaf et al., 2001; Skerrett, 2012), attention to students' socially situated reading identities (Alvermann, 2001) is often omitted from the research on ninth-grade literacy intervention classes. This omission is striking in light of the emerging consensus that identity matters to literacy (McCarthey & Moje, 2002; Moje & Luke, 2009) and recent efforts to include discussions about identity as part of intervention curricula. The Academic Literacy course, for example, includes "reader identity" as one component of the personal dimension of its instructional framework, and identity is a key focus of the first unit of the course, Reading Self and Society (Greenleaf et al., 2001). Likewise, Xtreme Reading includes a component called "Possible Selves," which addresses students' academic and personal motivation (Hock, Schumaker, & Deshler, 2003).

Beyond intervention settings, an important body of research has begun to consider the role identity plays in adolescents' literacy development. …

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