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* “Literacy is a human right, a tool of personal empowerment and a means for social and human development. Educational opportunities depend on literacy. “Literacy is at the heart of basic education for all, and essential for eradicating poverty, reducing child mortality, curbing population growth, achieving gender equality and ensuring sustainable development, peace and democracy. ” (“Why Is Literacy Important? ” UNESCO, 2010) * “The notion of basic literacy is used for the initial learning of reading and writing which adults who have never been to school need to go through.

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The term functional literacy is kept for the level of reading and writing which adults are thought to need in modern complex society. Use of the term underlines the idea that although people may have basic levels of literacy, they need a different level to operate in their day-to-day lives. ” (David Barton, Literacy: An Introduction to the Ecology of Written Language, 2nd ed. WileyBlackwell, 2006) * “To acquire literacy is more than to psychologically and mechanically dominate reading and writing techniques.

It is to dominate those techniques in terms of consciousness; to understand what one reads and to write what one understands: it is to communicate graphically. Acquiring literacy does not involve memorizing sentences, words or syllables–lifeless objects unconnected to an existential universe–but rather an attitude of creation and re-creation, a self-transformation producing a stance of intervention in one’s context. ” (Paulo Freire, Education for Critical Consciousness. Sheed & Ward, 1974) *

“There is hardly an oral culture or a predominantly oral culture left in the world today that is not somehow aware of the vast complex of powers forever inaccessible without literacy. ” (Walter J. Ong, Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word. Methuen, 1982) * “We expect the contradictory and the impossible. . . . We expect to be inspired by mediocre appeals for ‘excellence,’ to be made literate by illiterate appeals for literacy. ” (Daniel J. Boorstin, The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America, 1961) * Women and Literacy “In the history of women, there is probably no matter, apart from contraception, more important than literacy.

With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, access to power required knowledge of the world. This could not be gained without reading and writing, skills that were granted to men long before they were to women. Deprived of them, women were condemned to stay home with the livestock, or, if they were lucky, with the servants. (Alternatively, they may have been the servants. ) Compared with men, they led mediocre lives. In thinking about wisdom, it helps to read about wisdom–about Solomon or Socrates or whomever. Likewise, goodness and happiness and love.

To decide whether you have them, or want to make the sacrifices necessary to get them, it is useful to read about them. Without such introspection, women seemed stupid; therefore, they were considered unfit for education; therefore, they weren’t given an education; therefore they seemed stupid. ” (Joan Acocella, “Turning the Page. ” Review of The Woman Reader by Belinda Jack [Yale University Press, 2012]. The New Yorker, October 15, 2012) * From the website of California Literacy, Inc. “The literacy rate in the US has many educators in search of answers about this problem that has plagued our country for decades.

Instead of decreasing, the numbers of literacy has steadily increased over the years. This raises a lot of questions about our education system, how it is ran, and why there is such a problem with illiterate people in our country. ” (quoted by The New Yorker, Nov. 22, 2010) Pronunciation: LIT-er-eh-see Language * Six Common Myths About Language * Key Dates in the History of the English Language * Introduction to Etymology: Word Histories Elsewhere on the Web * The National Institute for Literacy (US) * The Literacy Project

* National Literacy Trust (UK) Resources for Writers * Reference Works for Writers and Editors * Grammar and Usage Advice Sites * Sites for Correcting Common Sentence Errors Related Articles * orality – definition and examples of orality * illiteracy – definition and examples of illiteracy * aliteracy – definition and examples of aliteracy * Adult Education – What Is Adult Education * Writing Degree – Do I Need a Writing Degree Richard Nordquist Grammar & Composition Guide * Sign up for My Newsletter * Headlines * Forum Advertisement.

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The Greatest Literacy Challenges Facing Contemporary High School Teachers: Implications for Secondary Teacher Preparation Mary B. Campbell Saint Xavier University Margaret M. Kmiecik Saint Xavier University Secondary teachers face significant challenges in their efforts to increase the literacy levels of adolescents. Encouraging teachers to speak out about these challenges and to recommend initiatives that may improve literacy practices for adolescents is vital for future reform efforts. This study examines the questions: “What are the greatest literacy challenges facing high school content area teachers?

” and “What will help to diminish these challenges? ” The data collection questionnaire was distributed to teachers in eight high schools throughout the greater Chicago area. A discussion of the findings suggests compelling directions for secondary teachers and teacher educators. 2 Reading Horizons, 2004, 4, (1) WHILE SEVERAL REFORMS in higher education teacher preparation have made a difference in more teachers being highly prepared and qualified (Smylie, Bay, & Tozer, 1999), preparing teachers to meet the literacy demands of secondary students still remains inadequate.

Improving literacy learning in our nation’s high schools needs serious elevation as an educational priority at all levels. The 2002 NAEP (National Association for Educational Progress) Report indicates that 36 percent of students in grade 12 performed at a proficient level, indicating that only a little over one-third of our nation’s high school seniors can understand challenging material (Feller, 2003). This was a decline in performance from 1998 when the NAEP reported the percentage of seniors who performed at the proficient level as 40 percent (U. S. Department of Education, 1999).

Additionally the 1998 report states that no more than 6 percent of the adolescents performed at the advanced level which demonstrates students’ ability to analyze and extend the meaning of the materials they read. The NAEP data further show more than one-third of the students did not demonstrate competence at a basic level of literacy. The International Reading Association has taken a substantial leadership role in elevating attention to middle school and secondary literacy issues by establishing the Commission on Adolescent Literacy in 1997 (Rycik & Irvin, 2001).

The work of this Commission resulted in the published document, Adolescent Literacy: A Position Statement (Moore, Bean, Birdyshaw, & Rycik, 1999), which recommends principles for teachers to consider when supporting the literacy growth of secondary students. Still much more comprehensive work needs to be done as challenges still persist and “teachers, administrators, and staff developers have asked for more examples of practices that might renew and revitalize their efforts for middle and high school students” (Rycik & Irvin, 2001, p.4).

Teaching has greatly increased in range and complexity over the last decade. Teachers now find themselves in highly pressured environments (Pincas, 2002). Faced with the reality of overcrowded classrooms, high stakes testing, and standards-based environments, using instructional practices that move students to higher levels of thinking through more “authentic” forms of learning are lost.

Additional factors Secondary Teaclher Literacy Clhallenges 3 that compound the situation are high student mobility, absenteeism, minimal student engagement, misbehavior, missing homework, cultural and linguistic diversity, special needs, and increasing numbers of students from poverty and single parent households (Alvermann, Hinchman, Moore, Phelps, & Waff, 1998).

Regardless of the number or degree of challenges, teachers still remain accountable for fostering literacy growth among all students. Efforts to improve literacy learning for secondary students must take seriously the realities and challenges persistent in today’s high schools.

Reform theorists who suggest “improvement can be made through a series of workshops, enhanced technology, sanctions and the like,” (Smylie, Bay, & Tozer, 1999, p. 59) are naive at best. A new paradigm requires comprehensive and systemic change. It also requires a serious re-orientation towards broad organizational, political, and economic presuppositions on which definition and acquisition of change must be based. Moreover, it involves a commitment to putting teachers at the forefront of the reform process. Valencia and Wixson (2000) argue that it is time for the voices of teachers to be heard.

Without empowered professional voices, we lose the potential for constructing serious reform. Emerging Directions If students are to achieve high literacy standards, evidence strongly suggests that what teachers know and can do is one of the more important factors influencing student achievement. (Darling-Hammond, 1999, p. 228). Research also makes it clear that “if teachers are to negotiate the demands of new standards and new students, they must have access to a deeper base of knowledge and expertise than most teacher preparation programs now provide” (Darling-Hammond, 1999, p.229).

While several studies have looked at reform in teacher preparation programs, Schwartz (1996) concluded that reform changes in teacher preparation have resulted in “little more than adjusting on the margins” (p. 3). Particularly troubling, in secondary teacher preparation, is the limited attention given to the challenges existing in schools in which future teachers must help students to achieve literacy, and the problems 4 Reading Horizons, 2004, 4, (1) of schooling in a broader social context.

Moreover, in many states, secondary teacher preparation programs include a requirement of a content area reading course, whereas in other states there is no equivalent requirement. This has remained literally unchanged for years, even as secondary students continue to struggle with reading and writing throughout the high school curriculum. The wide-spread standards movement has made some impact in requiring newly certified teachers to demonstrate competency on specific literacy knowledge and performance indicators.

However, the depth of what is needed to teach content area literacy in secondary schools requires more than one course, and/or a few standards. Connecting Two Distinct Communities Education can no longer be seen as an exclusive function, and the traditional structures cannot remain isolated from social change. Faculties in colleges and universities and the practicing teachers in secondary schools have no choice but to adjust to new paradigms. While it is now more common to find partnerships and institutional collaborations between university faculty and secondary teachers, many of these need redefinition.

In many partnerships, “practicing teachers have related there has not been a high level of reciprocity, as the universities are too dominant” (Campbell, 2002, p. 22). Each entity must put into the equation improvement strategies that are meaningful to their respective organizations; that is, they need to identify areas where they truly need help from one another. Then institutionally and programmatically, they need to find ways to work together to make those intended improvements a reality (Howey & Zimpher, 1999, p. 299).

High school teachers and teacher educators alike are looking to move beyond yet another “good idea” to realize reconceptualization and transformation for secondary literacy education. This means engaging high school teachers in the process of secondary teacher preparation, determining what factors pose the greatest challenges to literacy development and using this knowledge as a cornerstone for improving Secondary Teaclher Literacy Clhallenges literacy practices in schools. Failure to confront these challenges effectively will undoubtedly compromise the ability of teachers to serve as effective agents of change.


The purpose of this study was to identify the problems secondary teachers face that impede literacy learning in the classrooms and to yield information that may inform the preparation of future secondary teachers. Two broad questions emerged to guide this study: o What are the greatest literacy challenges facing high school content area teachers? e What will help to diminish these challenges for current and/or future high school teachers? The Study ParticipatingS chools and Teachers The schools that participated in this study included eight high schools, seven public and one private.

The researchers purposely selected the schools to ensure ethnic diversity as well as urban and suburban representation. Six of the high schools represented grades 10-12 and two included grades 9-12. The school principals granted permission to graduate students enrolled in a Masters Degree Program in Reading to place the High School Literacy Survey in the school mailboxes of the teachers. A total of 450 questionnaires, including a cover letter and a stamped return envelope, were distributed to 9-12 teachers.

Two hunared and two questionnaires were returned, realizing a return rate of 45 percent. There were no follow-up attempts to obtain a higher return rate. Most respondents (71 percent) had advanced degrees beyond the B. A. or B. S. : among these were 68 percent with a M. A. and 3 percent with a Ph. D. Teachers from 18 different subject area fields responded to the survey. English (18 percent), mathematics (16 percent), and science (15 percent) teachers comprised the majority of participants. The remaining teachers represented the following subjects; art (3 percent), 5.

6 ReadingHorizons, 2004, 45, (1) business (4 percent), technology (4 percent), driver’s education (1 percent), foreign language (6 percent), history (7 percent), library (1 percent), music (1 percent), physical education (3 percent), reading (1 percent), radio/television (1 percent), social studies (8 percent), special education (3 percent), theology (3 percent), and vocational education (4 percent). Teachers with more than 10 years of experience accounted for 63 percent of the sample, while 37 percent had 10 years or less.

Teachers working in suburban areas surrounding the greater Chicago area comprised the majority (67 percent) of the sample population, with the remaining 33 percent coming from urban schools. Forty-four percent described their schools as predominately diverse (> 50 percent), 32 percent considerably diverse (30-50 percent minority), 17 percent somewhat diverse (10-30 percent minority) and 7 percent primarily white (less than 10 percent minority). The Questionnaire We collected the data from a survey instrument, High School.

Literacy Survey, designed and constructed by us. The questionnaire requested two types of information: * objective, relating to educational degrees, content field of study, years of teaching experience, diversity of school population * subjective, relating to opinions and values in teaching and learning The subjective portion of the survey was comprised of two broad questions. The first question asked teachers to identify 5 of the 20 factors that posed the greatest challenges in helping their students to attain literacy in their subject field.

Respondents wrote the numeral 1 next to the statement representing their greatest challenge, the numeral 2 next to the statement representing their next greatest challenge, and so forth through the numeral 5. (See Appendix) The twenty statements, defined as challenges, were derived from the literature on content area reading. An extensive review of the literature Secondary Teaclher Literacy Clhallenges 7 resulted in identifying twenty challenges, however, these may not represent all possible factors and they may not represent factors that teachers would have included if they were to construct the questionnaire.

A space was provided for teachers entitled “other” for their convenience in identifying additional factors that pose as challenges. Since no specific theory was identified to serve as a foundation for the selection of factors, they represent an eclectic representation. Additionally, the factors were not defined on the questionnaire, indicating that a singular definition cannot be assumed and that the factors may represent multiple meanings in the field. The second question invited the teachers to respond openly to the question, “What do you believe will help to diminish these challenges for current and/or future high school teachers?

” Findings Percentages were used to report the data on the high school teachers’ perceptions about the factors that challenge them most in helping their students to achieve literacy in their subject area. Table 1. Percentage Responses of Factors that Represent the Greatest Literacy Challenges Factors Percent 1 2 3 4 5 Total Assessment of student learning 2 1 1 2 2 8 Classroom environment 1 2 – 1 2 6 Classsize 4 4 6 8 5 27 Cultural and language diversity – 1 – 1 – 2 among students Curriculum – 1 2_ 1A _3 7. 8 Reading Horizons, 2004, 45, (1) Factors Percent 1 2 3 4 5 Total Helping students to construct.

meaning from text Helping students interpret graphics in text Helping students to learn and use critical thinking skills Helping students to locate and organize information Helping students to understand concepts and vocabulary Homework issues Integrating technology for teaching and learning Selecting materials for teaching and learning Organizing and managing the classroom for learning State/district/school standards for students Struggling readers Student motivation/interest/attitudes 3 6 6 7 7 1 1 – 3 2 16 8 12 11 12 1 5 5 4 3 8 3 6 11 12 5 8 10 6 7 1 5 2 1 3 – – 1 – 4 1 2 – 2 3 1 1 1 1 2 9 9 8 8 8.

33 17 17 8 7 1 5 5 5 3 19 29 7 59 18 40 36 12 5 8 6 42 82 Students with special needs Secondary Teacher Literacy Chiallenges Factors Percent 1 2 3 4 5 Total Students who lack study skills 11 13 13 13 7 57 Writing skills of students 2 8 5 7 8 30 (A ranking scale, with 1 meaning “greatest challenge,” 2 “next greatest challenge,” and so forth) The top five challenges as reported in Table 1 were: * student motivation, interests, and attitudes (33 percent) o helping students to learn and use critical thinking skills (16 percent) o students who lack study skills (11 percent) o struggling readers (9 percent).

o helping students to understand concepts and vocabulary (8 percent). The least perceived challenges were cultural and language diversity among students (2 percent) and selecting materials for teaching and learning (5 percent). Examining the data of the largest responding groups of content area teachers, English, mathematics, and science, yielded similar findings. All three of these groups identified the same top two challenges as did the total group. The English, mathematics, and science teachers’ third, fourth and fifth rankings were: * English > (3) homework issues > (4) students who lack study skills.

> (5) writing skills of students o Mathematics > (3) students who lack study skills 9 iO Reading Horizons, 2004, 45, (1) > (4) homework issues > (5) helping students to locate and organize information e Science: > (3) students who lack study skills > (4) helping students to understand concepts and vocabulary > (5) helping students to construct meaning from text The teachers were also asked to respond to the following openended question, “What do you believe will help to diminish these challenges for current and/or future high school teachers? ” Seventyseven percent of the teachers wrote responses to this question.

The resppnses were grouped by similar topics from which themes emerged. Table 2 reports the percentages of the most frequently occurring responses to the open-ended question. Table 2. Themes and Percentages of Responses for Confronting the Greatest Challenges Most Frequent Responses by Theme Percent Better basic skills instruction in elementary schools 64 More parent responsibility and support 58 Mandatory inclusion of critical 39 thinking questions on all assessments Study skills classes for incoming students 33 I Iimprove teacher preparation/more methods for 28 secondary teachers.

Greater respect and support from society 20 Practical/useful staff development 11 Secondary TeachterLiteracy Challenges ‘ 11 Most Frequent Responses by Theme Percent Teacher task forces making policy decisions 9 instead of politicians and administrators Complete restructuring of the current traditional 7 education model A center at each high school for struggling readers The most common responses cited by the majority of teachers to confront the greatest challenges (Table 2) were better basic skills instruction in elementary schools (64 percent) and more parent responsibility and support (58 percent).

Sample responses given by less than 50 percent of the teachers were mandatory inclusion of critical thinking questions on all assessments (39 percent), study skills classes for incoming students (33 percent), and improvement of teacher preparation with more methods for secondary teachers (28 percent). Discussion The results of this study provide insight for the continuing efforts to improve the literacy levels of secondary students. They are, however, neither exclusive nor exhaustive.

They are offered with no claim for the universality or total generalizability, but they are offered as a common ground for thinking. Student Motivation andA ttitudes High school teachers identified student motivation to read, write, and do other literacy-related activities as their greatest challenge. The teachers’ written comments on questionnaires indicated that much of the class-assigned reading is often boring and not relevant to the student’s own interests and experiences. They also stated that the students who will not read are as much at a disadvantage as those who cannot.

Student 12 Reading Horizons, 2004, 45, (1) motivation was ranked the greatest challenge of all for the participating teachers. The dilemma of identifying and implementing strategies to motivate adolescents is not new to literacy practice. The data from this study confirm what the research (Alexander & Filler, 1976; Au & Asam, 1996; Benware & Deci, 1984; Collins-Block, 1992; Guthrie & Alao, 1997; Schraw, Brunning, & Svoboda, 1995) has documented over time: that student motivation, interests, and attitudes are indeed authentic challenges.

Teaching adolescents to become active, motivated, and selfregulated learners is a continuing issue in secondary schools. It is during the adolescent years when reading motivation and attitudes appear to worsen, especially for poor readers (McKenna, Kear, & Ellsworth, 1995). Serious attempts to advance literacy skills require interventions that address motivation and attitudes as much as interventions that assure cognitive changes in the learners (Verhoevan & Snow, 2001). This generally does not happen.

Motivational constructs are usually not given significant vigilance in relation to student cognition and thinking, and at best, are given only passing and superficial attention. A further problem is that standard reading texts and uniform curricula make life somewhat easier for teachers and administrators, but they make it very difficult for students to get involved with the material at the level that is right for them, and therefore to find intrinsic rewards in learning. In the classroom, the teacher is the key element in motivating students to learn.

The responsibility is great and the ramifications even greater, yet many responding high school teachers stated they were not adequately prepared in their teacher preparation programs with the knowledge, skills, and instructional strategies to ignite the spirit of their students. These teachers indicated they want more ideas, support, and freedom within the school curriculum to take the lead, and more ways to experience first-hand, in-field, motivational issues in their teacher preparation programs. Critical Thinking Skills.

Teaching critical thinking skills was the second greatest challenge for teachers. Large numbers of teachers indicated they feel underSecondary Teachter Literacy Clhallenges 13 prepared in pedagogical methods to help studenis conceptualize problems and solutions. Assisting adolescents to become proficient with these skills is a prodigious challenge for secondary teachers. The capacity for abstraction, for discovering patterns and meanings, generalizing, evaluating, and theorizing is the very essence of critical thinking and exploration.

For most students in the United States and throughout the world, formal education entails just the opposite kind of learning. Rather than construct meaning for themselves, meanings are imposed upon them. Frequently, students often accumulate a large number of facts along the way, yet these facts are not central to their education; they will live their adult lives in a world in which most facts learned years before (even including some historical ones) will have changed or have been reinterpreted.

Whatever data they need will be available to them at the touch of a computer key. If students are to learn critical thinking skills, teachers must teach them and engage their students in genuine problem solving discussion. Generally these skills are best, and likely only taught and assessed, through extended discourse. This is difficult to do in crowded classes where it is near to impossible to carry out extended discussions. The commitment to teaching these skills in all content areas means gaining support from the public.

It also means that teachers must gain the knowledge and skills to do so through teacher preparation programs and inservice education, taking into account the real-life situations and parameters in today’s classrooms. Study Skills Students who lack study skills ranked as the third greatest challenge to teachers. The importance of study skills has been documented over time in the professional literature (Flood & Lapp, 1995). What is known is that many people of all ages have difficulty reading and learning, largely because they are not using appropriate techniques or good learning habits.

Often, the adolescents who are dropping out of schools are doing so because they believe they carnot learn. For the majority of these students, they lack suitable reading and study techniques, which 14 Reading Horizons, 2004, 45(1) impede their growth in learning and contribute to their negative beliefs about themselves and school. Although most secondary teachers have a thorough understanding qf their subject, many responding teachers in this study indicated they lack the knowledge of instructional/study strategies by which to help students internalize the concepts.

Research shows that with an organized system of study, students can increase their comprehension of subject matter up to 50 percent (Annis, 1983). As nations seek to assist adolescents in gaining higher levels of literacy, the knowledge and skills that teachers need to teach their students effective study habits and strategies may likely become central to the curriculum in secondary teacher preparation programs and in the curriculum of secondary schools. Struggling Readers Struggling readers ranked as the fourth greatest challenge to the high school teachers.

Teachers responded that these students can be found “hiding out” in content classrooms. They frequently are passive and disengaged. , Many have found coping strategies to help (them get by, but they do not significantly improve their literacy skills or their knowledge in the content areas. I Although comprehension of text material is difficult and sometimes impossible for struggling readers, there are research-based strategies that have proven to be successful when used with struggling readers.

One such strategy is instructional scaffolding, an effective strategy that gives students a better chance to be successful than if left on their own (Vacca, 2002). Pedagogy, which includes instructional techniques for diverse learners, is glossed over in many teacher preparation programs for secondary teachers. However, it is as important in the preparation of high school teachers as is cognitive knowledge (Darling-Hammond, 2000). If high school teachers are to make substantial contributions to all adolescents, it will require more knowledge of relevant instructional methodologies.

Darling-Hammond (2000) found that teacher subject-matter knowledge was related to student achievement only up to a certain point. Secondary Teacher Literacy Challenges 15 Marzano (2003) asserts that the importance of the relationship between pedagogical knowledge and student achievement has been consistently reported in the research literature. Furthermore, in a study conducted by Ferguson and Womack (1993), they found that the number of courses teachers took in instructional techniques accounted for four times the variance in teacher performance and student achievement than did subject-matter knowledge.

Teachers stated that more information about how to assist the struggling readers in their classrooms is sorely needed in preservice teacher education programs. Additionally they need to know that the strategies and support to assist these learners are realistic for today’s classrooms. Key Concepts and Vocabulary Helping students to understand concepts and vocabulary ranked as the fifth greatest challenge. Every subject area has its own vocabulary and modes of argument, and its language is the common denominator for learning subject matter knowledge.

Vacca and Vacca (2002) agree: they state, “Vocabulary must be taught well enough to remove potential barriers to students’ understanding of texts as well as to promote a longterm acquisition of the language of a content area” (p. 160-161). Teachers want more knowledge about ways to teach vocabulary and concepts to adolescents, strategies that will provide adolescents with a deeper and richer entry into the content area of study, and strategies that will work in the classrooms of today.

Intriguing Findings It is a noteworthy finding that the cultural and language diversity among students in the classrooms was not identified among the greatest challenges. The majority of teachers in this study were from diverse schools, and yet only two percent ranked this to be a challenge. Equally notable was the fact that state, district, and school standards, writing skills, and integrating technology were not identified among the greatest challenges. 16 Reading Horizons, 2004, 45, (1).

Of all the findings, the most revealing was that provided by the driver’s education teachers: whereas every other content-area group of teachers, albeit art, music, business, foreign language, etc. , ranked student motivation as the greatest challenge, they did not. This is not surprising as it supports the findings of this study as well as long standing research in the field, as cited in Marzano, 2003. The hypothesis being that when motivated, students strive to learn.

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