I just finished a short book titled, “When Adolescents Can’t Read: Methods and Materials That Work.” In my search for PRACTICAL advice on the most effective strategies for working with high school students who struggle with reading, this book has really made me reflect on the practices I used while in the classroom as well as the practices I observe from our classroom teachers, especially our reading teachers.The copyright date is 1999, so I’m not sure if the research would still be considered current. I would love to hear from you if you have evidence that what I’m sharing with you is out-of-date or if there is a proven, better method.
The book is based on the Boys Town Reading Center that was established in 1990. It serves a laboratory for adolescents with reading problems. From the website, students in the reading program gain an average of two years of reading skills for each year of instruction. And these are students who are at-risk and whose reading achievement is usually two to three years behind a student’s placement in school.
The framework that guides the instruction design of Boys Town reading program is Jeanne Chall’s six stages of reading development.
According to Chall, the students must master one stage before they can move on to the next. At Boys Town, they have been able to accelerate their readers’ growth by focusing on the skills that are most critical for moving them from one stage to the next.
I highlighted and underlined a lot of things in the book, and I’m happy to share them with you. If you are a reading teacher or specialist, I would love for you to contact me directly with any feedback.
“For the majority, poor vocabularies are most likely the consequence of not having done much reading. By late adolescence, however, the situation has turned into a “Catch-22”; because their vocabularies are weak, their comprehension suffers. But because their comprehension suffers, little new information can be gained when they read. Consequently, for many older teens with reading difficulties, direct vocabulary instruction may be the optimal program.” (Page 14)
“Incoming youth at Boys Town have a great difficulty with spelling, and since they must fill out forms as part of their admission process, spelling is often the first indication that they have a reading problem.” (Page 15)
“When we begin a training session with teachers, their first reaction often is that our methods and materials are too difficult, and that we are expecting too much in too little time. This certainly would be true if our goal was to have students perform every task we give them with 100% accuracy. But that’s not our goal. Learning is! Teachers and students need to keep this in mind. WHen we define success, we define it by how much someone learns, not by how well a task is performed. When we measure students’ success in terms of how much is learned, they are willing to be continually challenged. And, as challenge results in growth, their motivation to learn more increases.” (Page 22)
“Our experience tells us that when you work with students who a have a history of academic failure, you set them up to fail again unless you start with the first step: direct instruction.” (Page 23)
“In using spelling to teach word analysis, we’re encouraging students to go from sounds to letters. Spelling seems to work well with adolescents for several reason. First, we find that kids this age are more likely to admit that they are poor spellers than to admit that they are poor readers.” (Page 26)
“So often during vocabulary instruction, particularly at the secondary level, teachers introduce words at the beginning of the week and tell students that they are responsible for learning their meanings (usually by using a dictionary or glossary.) As anyone who has used this method will tell you, it doesn’t work. For vocabulary instruction to be effective, students need to have numerous opportunities to use words and to receive feedback about how well they are doing their word usage.” (Page 33, my emphasis on “receive feedback”)
“Asking students to keep track of how frequently they participate in each class period (e.g., by making a check mark each time they raise their hand to ask or answer a question) also helps to motivate them. As one public high school student told us about our reading program: ‘You can’t hide out, and you learn.’” (Page 51)