Introduction to the Adolescent Literacy Pathway

The purpose of the Adolescent Literacy Pathway within the Oregon K-12 Literacy Framework online professional development materials is to highlight special considerations when working with adolescent readers, which is loosely defined as readers in grade 4 and up. Throughout the professional development framework, you will find a special icon Adolescent Literacy Icon beside selected Key Concepts. This clickable icon indicates more information specifically related to concepts around adolescent literacy is available. This information may include informational text, resources, or links for further information.

A few general notes on struggling adolescent readers:

Adolescent struggling readers are incredibly diverse in their strengths and weaknesses.

What is an adolescent struggling reader? Is it an adolescent reader with a learning disability? One who is still learning English? One who is neither of these, but who has a history of poor, but not abysmal reading performance? Or one who simply does not apply himself or herself due to low motivation or engagement?

The truth is that all of the above descriptions and more fit adolescent struggling readers! No one definition will do, because the one thing that most middle and high school teachers will agree on is that there is tremendous variety in who their struggling readers are and why they struggle.

Before the needs of adolescent struggling readers can be met, those needs must be understood.

A common and unhelpful misconception that is widespread is that adolescent struggling readers cannot read. This misconception is very closely tied to another one: that once a reader can decode words, comprehension will naturally arise. If only this were true teaching would be so much easier! The truth is that comprehension only seems to occur naturally for some students, but even those students are making use of strategies in order to understand what they read.

A relatively small proportion of adolescents still struggle to read words.

Adolescent readers who struggle with word reading may be new to the country (and language), they may have a reading disability (possibly diagnosed late), or they may have experienced very poor instruction that did not meet their needs, or all of the above. Whatever the reason, these readers will need intensive intervention that helps them break the alphabetic code. However, it is important to acknowledge that overall only a small proportion of adolescents still struggle to read words. Although this proportion might be smaller or larger in some places than in others, overall word reading is not often the core or sole struggle of an adolescent struggling reader.

Beyond the small proportion that struggle with word reading, the majority of adolescents who struggle with reading will struggle for a whole host of reasons. These include:

  • Difficulty decoding multisyllabic words
  • Insufficient fluency
  • Limited vocabulary
  • Fundamental language comprehension difficulties
  • Limited background knowledge
  • Limited comprehension strategies
  • Insufficient preparation and support for content area reading demands
  • Lack of motivation
  • Lack of engagement
  • Poor instructional experiences
  • History of frustration and failure in connection to reading

Any one or combination of these reasons could be at the root of an adolescent’s struggles with reading. Thus, a first step to meeting adolescent struggling readers’ needs will be to pinpoint the underlying reasons for their struggles.