Vermont’s Response to the Adolescent Literacy Crisis
the mid-1990s, educators began to take pay increasing attention to the
field that has come to be known as “Adolescent Literacy.” Students
beyond grade three could not, in the words of the New Standards English
Language Arts Reference Exam, understand, analyze or interpret reading
material at satisfactory levels. What’s worse, the deficiencies
increased as students progressed through the grades—in 1998 fewer
than 5 percent of the adolescents assessed by the National Assessment
of Educational Progress could extend or elaborate meanings of the materials
the International Reading Association published “Adolescent Literacy:
A Position Statement for the Commission on Adolescent Literacy of the International
Reading Association.” The IRA’s premise is simple:
to guide adolescents to advanced stages of literacy is not the result
of any teaching or learning failure in the preschool or primary years;
it is a necessary part of normal reading development. Guidance is needed
so that reading and writing develop along with adolescents’ ever-increasing
oral language, thinking ability and knowledge of the world.
words, the assumption many educators had made that helping students learn
to read through third grade was sufficient to create readers who could
make meaning of increasingly sophisticated text through the years was incorrect.
had begun to pay attention to the issue in 1998. The Reflective Reading
Project of the Vermont Center for the Book brought hundreds of educators
together to engage in a process that would, in 2001, result in the creation
of the “Nine Strategies for Reading Comprehension,” and the
student-friendly “I’m a Reader” poster and bookmarks
illustrating the strategies.
year, the Vermont Department of Education teamed up with the Vermont Reads
Institute to create the Vermont Strategic Reading Initiative. Enrollment
in the VSRI began in 2002, when more than 40 schools participated in one
of the VSRI’s three strands.
is “Strand One,” which is designed to enable a school to bring
the teachers of all subjects at all grade levels together to help their
students understand, analyze and interpret the materials they are asked
to read. Inter-disciplinary teams receive extensive training in and opportunities
for guided practice and reflection about teaching reading strategies in
their content areas, and work with a consultant who visits their school
every week to support their efforts to help all teachers integrate reading-comprehension
instruction into content instruction. In 2002, six schools participated.
In 2003, those schools re-enrolled, and were joined by six new schools.
The second is “Strand
Two,” which is designed to help and “Strengthen Literacy Leadership” within
schools, districts and regions of the state. The participants in this strand
are individuals who are in professional teaching or supervisory roles,
and focus on literacy at the fourth-grade level or higher. They are provided
opportunities to discuss and reflect upon their roles as literacy leaders,
in improving the teaching of reading strategies in the content areas, and
significantly improving the pedagogy within their schools. Almost two dozen
schools have enrolled in this strand in 2003.
“Strand Three” provides
professional development opportunities to a variety of schools and organizations
on an as-needed basis. VSRI consultants have presented workshops, modeled
and observed classes, and created symposia for several dozen schools and
districts. Organizations such as the Vermont Association of Middle Level
Educators, Vermont Math Institute, and “Flow of History” have
contracted with the VSRI for services.
Funding to support the work of this project comes from the schools under
a fee-for-service agreement, Title VI and grants from the Henderson and