July 28, 2008
The Effectiveness of Content Literacy Instruction
In “Literacy Strategies Improve Content Area Learning” (2000), Dr. Linda McCorkel Clinard shares, “Middle and high school teachers today still ask questions similar to those I asked as a 7th grade student teacher in science during the mid-1960s, i.e., ‘Why can’t these students read and write by now? Why am I hearing that I still need to teach reading? How can I fit teaching reading into an already full curriculum?’” (n.p.) Eight years have passed since Clinard published those words, but those questions are still being asked today, in spite of an increased emphasis on content area literacy. Even so, many teachers are embracing the reality that content literacy instruction in all content areas is necessary and will have positive results. “Why the Crisis in Adolescent Literacy Demands National Response” (2006), a policy brief from the Alliance for Excellent Education, notes that “over the past four decades, Congress has directed substantial resources toward improving young children’s literacy skills, and that investment has grown significantly in recent years” (page 1). This brief also notes, however, that childhood literacy cannot be “the only priority.” The “literacy crisis” is just as real and possibly more pervasive among adolescents. “Millions of middle and high school students lack the reading and writing skills they need to succeed in college, compete in the workforce, or even understand their daily newspaper” (“Why the Crisis…National Response,” 2006, page 1). Unfortunately, though Congress has shown a concerted effort to better reading instruction in grades K-3, it has done very little to invest in the literacy skills of students in grades 4-12 (“Why the Crisis…National Response,” 2006, page 1). The good news is that “educators are now beginning to recognize that the teaching of reading and writing cannot end at third grade; they must provide intensive, high-quality literacy instruction throughout the K-12 curriculum (“Why the Crisis…National Response,” 2006, page 2). Teachers must provide instruction in decoding skills for middle and high school students who are still having struggles with the basics of reading. Educators must also “teach students reading comprehension strategies, vocabulary, writing, and other forms of communication, or millions of adolescents will lose whatever momentum they may have gained as a result of improvements in early reading instruction” (“Why the Crisis…National response,” 2006, page 2). “Research-Based Content Area Reading Instruction” (2002), published by the Texas Education Agency, mentions that there are many factors that can make content area reading a challenge for some students. Some students have not had many opportunities to read much expository writing, which is the kind of text structure found in most textbooks and other content area resources. Also, students may become discouraged and puzzled by the content-specific vocabulary and contents found in these resources. To make matters worse, students may have underdeveloped basic reading skills, and, therefore, may not be able to read with fluency. Lastly, many students do not have or do not know how to use comprehension strategies needed for understanding content area materials (“Research-Based Content Area Reading Instruction,” 2002). While reading instruction alone may give students many of the skills and strategies they need for reading content area materials with success, the students also need to have plenty of opportunities to use these skills and strategies in authentic reading situations as they read in the content areas. Therefore, all teachers in all content areas and grade levels can be a part of teaching students to use content reading skills and strategies (“Research-Based Content Area Reading Instruction,” 2002). Effective,...