Six Strategies for Adolescent Academic Literacy Development

This presentation by Deborah Short, Nancy Cloud and two teachers from Rhode Island talked about the Double the Work study which looked at academic language development for English Learners. (They were part of this study) It was particularly interesting to me because this is the topic of my Masters project, in which I have been immersed for the past few months (okay, years). They told about the project, which seemed quite connected with Fisher and Frey’s academic literacy project at Hoover High in San Diego, only rather than choosing seven stategies, they chose only six. The six strategies are Listening Comprehension and Note taking, Discussion Skills, Vocabulary Development, Reading Comprehension Strategies, Wide Reading (apart from classroom requirements), and Systematic Writing Development (using something based on the 6+ traits). Now, these don’t sound like strategies, do they? More like areas of focus. Certainly valid areas, and necessary, just not specific strategies. For deeper discussion of Fisher and Frey’s work, the book Improving Adolecent Literacy: strategies At Work by Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey is excellent and an interesting read.

Here is an interesting part of this for me. I will be as diplomatic as I can muster here. When Deborah Short spoke I absolutely agreed with her, as well as with Nancy Cloud. I was just nodding away – wanting to meet for coffee to talk it all over. It all tied with my research and my outcomes and recommendations. The kicker for me is that Deborah Short is one of the authors of High Point, an ELD intervention series adopted by the State of California (and probably many others) for ELD (and in our district, Special Ed) intervention programs. I have been quite outspoken in my disparagement of that series since it first came out several years ago. I feel it is designed for building basic skills, and although it does that well, it doesn’t go nearly far enough. I fear that people think it is all an English Learner needs to become competent, fluent users of English, and I believe it falls short of that potential. There is little text to read and the text it does contain is insignificant and irrelevant for high school age students.  (Although it was adopted by the stte of California for grades 4 – 8, it has been adopted by many districts for 4 – 12.)  It lacks rigor and doesn’t come close to preparing students for strong academic literacy.

I had to really think about my position on the topic after this session. While I still agree with myself, I also have to look at how many states are completely unprepared for the huge growth in their English Learner population in recent years. In many areas there is a paucity of teachers who actually have any idea about what to do to help their non-English speaking students progress in their acquisition of this new language. For these areas and these students, High Point is certainly better than the alternative, which in many cases would be sitting in the back of the classroom coloring worksheets or placement in a Special Education class because it is the lowest level of reading the school offers. So I can take a somewhat more generous viewpoint of the series, I suppose. I still think that in places where greater expertise is available it should be utilized. And I will stand behind that.

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