The Complex Processes Of Literacy

The Complex Processes Of Literacy

Exemplary literacy programs, which emphasize learning across the curriculum, are organized around teacher and student teams designed to meet the needs of struggling readers. Evidence that literacy is valued can be found in interesting and accessible materials, instructional methods, beliefs about literacy learning, school organization, and school culture. First, the amount of reading and writing required for successful academic progress in the middle grades increases substantially from that required of elementary school students. Second, content area courses such as social studies, science, language arts, math, music, art, and technology are likely to require that students read and understand texts in each academic area. These texts are primarily expository and often complex, detailed, and filled with difficult vocabulary.


The complex processes of literacy do not occur in a vacuum; they are negotiated within and influenced by a social and cultural context. Interactions with peers, teachers, and parents form the framework within which students in the middle grades practice and develop as literacy learners. During the course of early adolescence, middle grades students are deeply involved in the process of forming an identity. This identity formation affected by the developmental tasks of early adolescence, is constructed and constrained by literacy.


Literacy learning is a complex and fluid act; it is determined by the demands of the task and influenced by the communicative style and language experiences the learner receives in the home. Furthermore, as the young adolescent progresses through the rapid and profound stages of physical, moral, emotional, social, and cognitive development, literacy learning can facilitate the young adolescent’s progress through these essential stages.


Effective literacy learning programs in middle grades schools are informed by the developmental tasks of early adolescence; they are student-centered, flexible, and responsive to students’ needs. The responsibility for teaching and encouraging literacy learning is shared by all teachers and administrators; it is not the sole domain of those who teach language arts classes. Student writing is encouraged across the curriculum, and school staff members have been trained in writing strategies and assessment. Students are provided with school environments in which literacy learning thrives: A variety of appropriate and interesting text is available to them, and they are given regular opportunities to read and interact with other readers. Students in effective literacy programs are provided with knowledge about and practice with reading and comprehension strategies. In these programs, the needs of struggling readers are not ignored. They are provided with appropriate instruction by trained reading teachers who believe that struggling readers can become successful readers.


Too often school structure is determined by tradition and routine; it is important for school staff and administrators to examine the way students are scheduled, taught, and treated within the school program and adopt a willingness to change according to the individual needs of the students. Students should be allowed credible and autonomous voices at school.


School staff and administrators in schools that demonstrate academic success believe that all students can learn and that it is the responsibility of all those in the school program to facilitate that success. Time at school and staff expertise are used to the fullest: Students in homeroom or advisory group might be involved in remediation work, academic games, or school-wide silent reading. Teachers and administrators share knowledge and skills with each other, engage in ongoing assessment of student needs and ways to address them, and work together to design and redesign an effective school program.


Students in the middle grades progress through rapid and profound changes in development that define early adolescence. These changes affect every aspect of their lives and most certainly their school experiences. Young adolescents work through the developmental tasks of adolescence within a primarily social framework so there is a tremendous need to belong to a group, to feel accepted, to communicate, to compare, and to share with each other and members of the school staff.


Language arts teachers whose responsibilities include the teaching of reading, writing, spelling, grammar, vocabulary instruction, and oral language skills cannot possibly design opportunities for in-depth study in one 50-minute class period per day. Students in effective programs are afforded more time throughout the school day for literacy learning; some possibilities are flexible scheduling to afford students larger blocks of time for more in-depth study, a reading class in addition to a language arts class so that more instructional time can be spent on reading and writing, incorporating reading into a content area course like social studies, or using an integrated curriculum that incorporates reading and writing activities throughout the school day. Literacy learning is encouraged throughout the curriculum by regularly including reading and writing activities in other content areas.


To address the reading needs of middle grades students, effective literacy programs include multiple opportunities to engage in literacy learning: Students are asked to read different types of text regularly, and they are involved in reading-related activities such as written or creative responses to literature, research projects, or discussion groups. Time is scheduled for silent reading, and students have choices in what they read.


Class reading selection reflects knowledge of the interests and concerns of young adolescents. In effective middle grades literacy programs, reading strategies are taught to facilitate student comprehension of demanding text.


Students need to be engaged in literacy events, but they also must be enabled. Much of the academic success in schools is based on students’ ability to read and comprehend text, so when students struggle with reading demands, they experience frustration and failure in most classes. Struggling readers need attention, and they benefit from a reading expert who can assess their reading needs and offer appropriate instruction and practice. Small classes taught by a trained reading professional and which offer students daily opportunities to read and be involved with text allow these less confident readers to see themselves as readers and writers. Effective teachers of struggling readers also help their students manage the reading demands from other classes as they grow as readers and literacy learners.


What do literacy programs in academically effective middle grades schools look like? They are organized around teacher and student teams that facilitate collaboration and communication between teachers who share the same students, which, in turn, are supported by a leader within the school community. Effective literacy programs in the middle grades emphasize literacy learning across the curriculum; reading and writing are not relegated to one language arts class, but are taught and encouraged in other content areas and/or a reading class scheduled in addition to language arts classes. Classes are scheduled and designed to meet the needs of struggling readers. Faculties include trained reading professionals. Evidence that literacy is valued in these schools can be found in interesting and accessible materials, instructional methods, beliefs about literacy learning, school organization, and school culture.


Jeff C. Palmer is a teacher, success coach, trainer, Certified Master of Web Copywriting and founder of Jeff is a prolific writer, Senior Research Associate and Infopreneur having written many eBooks, articles and special reports.



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