Teaching adolescent literacy is a multi-pronged challenge. Middle and high school literacy teachers not only have to help their students master specific curriculum goals, they also have to deal with the sometimes difficult task of engaging young adults in reading. In addition, adolescent literacy teachers may also have to help some of their students gain grade-level reading skills. The following tips include some effective teaching strategies that can help adolescent literacy teachers meet all of these diverse goals.
Understanding how to teach is essential to success, of course, but understanding what young adults are most interested in reading is important as well. Ask students what they are reading and what topics interest them. Educate yourself about the emerging voices of diverse literature to provide your students with a range of options that serve as mirrors and doors to different perspectives and experiences. Engaging, well-written texts for every level will increase student engagement and the likelihood that they will maintain or develop a love of literature.
Young adults are facing a time of great change. They are just starting to realize that many of their life choices are now in their own hands. This can be both thrilling and scary. Some students react to this new knowledge by balking at all adult instruction. Teachers can sidestep some of this natural contrariness by allowing students a reasonable amount of freedom. Let them choose their own books from a wide choice of reading material rather than assigning everyone a single title. Allow students to choose how to present what they have learned as well. Let them write a play based on the book they have read, for example, or make a movie trailer outlining the story’s highlights.
Students will continue learning long after they leave the classroom; teachers want them to have the tools to do just that. AdLit.org’s Cognitive Strategies Toolkit lists the tools young adults need to become lifelong readers and learners. These skills include the ability to plan and set goals, ask questions and make predictions about the material they are reading, and relate that material to their own real-life situations. If students have these skills, they can continue learning long after they leave the classroom.
The students in a class represent many different learning styles, interest levels, and reading skills. Dividing these diverse groups into smaller groups with similar interests and reading levels gives all students a chance to excel. Students with similar interests are more likely to be productively engaged, while those with lower reading skills will be more likely to shine when they are not being constantly overshadowed by stronger readers.
No one can enjoy literature if they are constantly struggling to understand the words on the page. Identify students who are having trouble reading so that they can get the extra help they need. A recent article at the Child Development Institute also reminds teachers that many times problems with reading stem from hearing and vision problems.
Teaching adolescent literacy can be a challenging career, but if a teacher loves literature and longs to share it with young people, it can also be a truly rewarding one.