Contexts for Adolescent Literacy
Judith A. Langer
“Thus, in more effective schools, there is room for students to be part of the community at the very time they may also be trying to move beyond.”
I think this is a critical and often overlooked aspect of being an adolescent. We can’t just treat adolescents like children until they’re 18 and graduate and then shove them out into the world. I can see how a transitional phase with processes like these would be amazingly beneficial, especially to adolescents struggling with identity or other power issues. It seems like such a piece of common sense to let adolescents be a part of the management of their school, after all they’ll have to manage their homes, jobs, and relationships without the school’s support network eventually. Coping with what “adult” problems look like before they happen is invaluable.
Groan. I hate the word semiotic.
This idea: that “students enjoy becoming engaged with ideas they can question, challenge, discuss, and use to form their own interpretations” is one that is less prevalent than it should be, I think. People don’t want to be spoon-fed or told what to think, and sometimes I think our current system is set up to produce little containers of information, often forgetting to supply the tools with which to utilize the information.
The theme of coherence and connectedness is interesting. I never thought about what she said, how students treat each school year as though it is an entirely new body of information when in reality it is layers building upon each other. I always felt like they taught me the same thing every year, as though I was too stupid to understand it the first time around. This is most likely from moving around a lot and the curricula changing, of course, though that never occurred to my young self, obviously.
“it is assumed that ideas change and grow over time as one reads, writes, hears, and thinks. Therefore, teachers try to help students engage in “meaning in motion,” questioning ideas, leaving them open to new refinements and connections as they are in the act of gaining fuller understandings.”
This is somewhat…surprising to me. It would help if teachers were more in the habit of letting you know that when they are prompting you to think critically and make connections and gain understanding, they are not just waiting for you to give them the right answer. I am thinking of silence, and how it is an effective tool for allowing time to think, but is easily misinterpreted as a waiting for a demonstration. In the same vein, is this: “in less effective classes, students do not ask questions; they keep them to themselves, shutting off a critical part of the learning process.” That’s just sad.
Later, I found this: “They wandered into class, worked separately or in pairs, figuring out the answers they thought their teacher wanted.”
“The focus is forward, to what the students are working toward, rather than behind, on what they didn’t get.” <–This! We all respond better to positive. Telling anyone what they can do is immensely more helpful/useful than telling them what they can’t.
“point of reference thinking – the type of thinking you do when you know the topic or point of the quest, but need to gain more information to understand it more fully or to reach the destination.” (critical thinking strategies)
“exploring horizons of possibilities – when neither the topic nor the point is wholly understood; thus students need to ask questions about understandings they have at the moment because these lead them to also consider possibilities about the whole.” (creative thinking strategies)
“The two are a function of how the mind works as it is creating meaning, based on the student’s purpose and available knowledge…Each is used when it is more facilitative to the thinker’s purpose.” Well, aren’t we just bastions of convenience.
Words I don’t know or their misuse bothers me:
envisionment – the process or result of seeing something in one’s mind.
semiotic – the study of signs and symbols and their use or interpretation (I can’t get this word to stick).
vector – a course to be taken directly to a desired point.
Adolescents Who Struggle with Literacy
Larry R. Johannessen & Thomas M. McCann
“Literacy refers to the lifelong continuum of experiences with the processing, interpretation, and production of texts of all sorts.”
“an obvious source of the struggle for many adolescents is that their primary discourse does not match readily with the literacy activities sponsored by schools and inherent in many academic assessments.”
The three domains affecting struggling adolescent literacy learners:
1) the establishment of supportive and trusting relationships between teachers and learners
2) the cultivation of partnerships among families, their communities, and the schools
3) the refinement of teaching practices that connect with the lives of learners in a culturally responsive
Compensatory education has failed, approaches based on cognitive views of learning work better; instead of focusing on basic skills, the focus turns to problem-solving tasks.
The standard approach to at-risk students tends to: underestimate what students are capable of, postpone more challenging and interesting work for too long, and deprive students of a meaningful or motivating context for learning or for employing the skills that are taught, focus on the mechanics of language and low-level recall at the expense of the reading and discussion of literature (Applebee).
The Importance of Classroom Discourse
“what counts as knowledge and understanding in the classroom is largely shaped by the questions teachers ask, how they respond to their students, and how they structure small-groups and other instructional activities.”
The process of active, responsive understanding encouraged by discussion of texts and instructional conversation has a powerful effect on reading comprehension partly from the development of supportive and trusting relationships between teachers and learners.
Strategies that are effective:
Modeling scaffolds the strategy for students as they learn how to use it.
Reciprocal teaching helps students think deeply about what they read through small-group teaching of these strategies: summarizing, asking a question, clarifying, and predicting. “A key element of reciprocal teaching is dialogue.”
Stern says that instruction for struggling students must treat the students’ realities as a positive source for planning instruction rather than a liability to overcome. This goes farther in that the curriculum should reflect their experiences; larger goals and topics should fit academically and socially and be something they have a part in determining.
Alvermann believes effective instruction involves self-efficacy and engagement in reading, helping students perform their academic tasks; he calls for culturally responsive reading instruction for struggling adolescents, and also instruction that teaches students to read critically; lastly instruction should use participatory approaches to reading as opposed to teacher-led.
Students should be able to “question and problematize the authority of text”, this is facilitated with the use of culturally appropriate texts and class discussion.
Ultimately, the main things that need to happen are for students to become engaged, and build confidence by engaging in dialogue, exploring texts in different ways, and working within solid relationships. It is also critical to include culturally and personally relevant texts (out of school experiences).
Presentational instruction features teacher lecture and large-group discussion led by the teacher. (“frontal” style)
Environmental instruction engages students in problem-centered activities that allow for high levels of student interaction.
The other modes are individualized and natural.
Six foci of instruction:
Another theme I am noticing here is that the students engaging with one another to develop strategies, are doing an effective form of pre-writing that helps them work out more complex scenarios, which in turn makes the actual writing less intimidating. So, they do oral before written. Hmmm.
“For learners who struggle with literacy learning, inserting detailed elaboration within a boilerplate organizational model makes less sense than helping them to develop a repertoire of composing strategies to use with the substantive knowledge relevant to each task.”
Effective strategies for teaching language-minority learners have these features:
-rely on cooperative learning structures
-are culturally responsive
-engage students in extended instructional conversations
-are cognitively guided
-provide a technologically enriched environment
Kaplan: a “contrastive analysis of rhetoric” can offer teachers clues as to whether learners approach problems in a sequential, circular, zigzag, or other pattern.
“Cognitively guided instruction also means that there is a meta-cognitive component to teaching and learning, in that the learner can monitor understanding and make adjustments to self-correct.”
“The idea is to engage students in purposeful conversations or authentic discussions about issues and concepts that are essential to a discipline but connects with students’ lives.”
Another key theme is that of connecting the out-of-school experiences, significantly the parents and broader communities.
The Adult Literacy Process as Cultural Action for Freedom
So, wow. If ever there was a writer to emulate, Freire is it. I’m exaggerating a little, but he’s a fantastic writer.
Moving on to the material, this article does a fabulous job of outlining the socio-economic factors that contribute to illiteracy.
“In accepting the illiterate as a person who exists on the fringe of society, we are led to envision him as a sort of “sick man,” for whom literacy would be the “medicine” to cure him, enabling him to “return” to the “healthy” structure from which he has become separated.”
“They are not “beings outside of”; they are “beings for another.” “in reality, they are not marginal to the structure, but oppressed men within it”
“For this very reason, it is a courageous endeavor to demythologize reality, a process through which men who had previously been submerged in reality begin to emerge in order to re-insert themselves into it with critical awareness.”
Freire is discussing the relationship of the literate to the illiterate in terms of the power structures at work and the effects those have on the people involved. I think his analysis is spot on, but not limited to this situation alone. Those that have not acquired true “critical awareness” are as ignorant in many ways as those who can’t read or write. There’s no advantage to having more information than another if you haven’t a clue how to use it.
“Literacy [is] an attitude of creation and re-creation, a self-transformation producing a stance of intervention in one’s context.”
My favorite quote (political creature that I am–what year was this written, I wonder?):
“One subverts democracy…by making it irrational; by making it rigid in order “to defend it against totalitarian rigidity”; by making it hateful, when it can only develop in a context of love and respect for persons; by closing it, when it only lives in openness; by nourishing it with fear, when it must be courageous; by making it an instrument of the powerful in the oppression of the weak; by militarizing it against the people; by alienating a nation in the name of democracy.”