Literacy, Learning & Thinking Skills
'Adolescents often need more sophisticated and specific kinds of literacy support for reading the content-areas, or academic disciplines.' (Lee & Spratley, 2010)
The NBSS takes a pro-active and practical role in addressing the variety of requirements associated with Adolescent Literacy, including the encouragement of critical thinking skills and metacognition that are essential in ensuring that young people are equipped with the skills they will need to pursue further education, obtain meaningful employment and engage in the benefits of lifelong learning. Hargreaves (2004) points out that ‘learning how to learn is a gateway to enhanced achievement and to the independence in learning that is a crucial developmental skill for students during the secondary years'. Research on metacognition, particularly in Literacy and Maths (Paris, Wasik &Turner, 1991; Schoenfeld, 1992; Marzano 2000), makes the case that instruction and support in the control and regulation of thinking processes can have a strong impact on achievement and Adolescent Literacy research (Kamil et al 2008) on reading ability points out that it is a key predictor of achievement in Maths and Science.
'Disciplinary literacy is built on the premise that each subject area or discipline has a discourse community with its own language, texts, and ways of knowing, doing, and communicating within a discipline.' (O’Brien, Moje, & Stewart, 2001)
Literacy researchers are increasingly addressing the specific demands of academic disciplines within the post primary curriculum, as adolescents often need more sophisticated and specific kinds of literacy support for reading in subject areas, or academic disciplines. They argue that each subject area presupposes specific kinds of background knowledge about how to read texts in that area and often requires a particular type of reading (Gutherie et al., 2004; Schoenbach, et al., 1999; Shanahan & Shanahan, 2008; Yore, et al., 2003; Moje, et al., 2008; Lee & Spratley, 2010). For example, the demands of comprehending scientific text include not only an understanding of cause and effect and sequencing but also additional skills based on scientific reasoning and the ability to evaluate scientific arguments. The driving idea behind disciplinary literacy is that knowledge and thinking must go hand in hand and for students to develop literacy in a particular discipline, they must grow in these two dimensions simultaneously. Therefore reading and learning in each subject area requires a variety of thinking tools that direct students to engage in discipline specific reading strategies.
As students advance through school they encounter increasing amounts of text, technical vocabulary, disciplinary discourses and demands for sophisticated text processing. These high level reading skills require knowledge of how disciplinary ideas are communicated and how texts in each discipline are constructed. NBSS academic literacy and learning support aims to provide schools with research-validated practices in reading, vocabulary, writing and oral communication skills, as well as thinking, learning and study skills development. Embedding practices to acquire these skills into all subject areas not only facilitates deep learning and understanding of subject content but also enables students to become effective learners, learning how to learn and developing those skills and competencies necessary to achieve and succeed at second level and beyond.
Disciplinary literacy 'involves the use of reading, reasoning, investigating, speaking, and writing required to learn and form complex content knowledge appropriate to a particular discipline.' (McConachie & Petrosky, 2010)
Each subject has specific literacy and language demands linked to:
- the types of texts that students need to be able to read and write
- the specialist vocabulary associated with that subject
- the specific language that students need in order to understand and explain the different knowledge, ideas, and perspectives of the subject.
Students develop subject area literacy skills and knowledge more successfully when they are explicitly supported with a range of strategies to learn with and apply across subject areas. By integrating effective research-based strategies into routine classroom practice, teachers can enable students to read and write a wide range of texts, help them to become strategic thinkers and problem solvers and provide them with opportunities to apply reading and learning strategies in many different contexts.
By integrating effective research-based strategies into routine classroom practice, teachers can enable students to read and write a wide range of texts, help them to become strategic thinkers and problem solvers and provide them with opportunities to apply reading and learning strategies in many different contexts.
Discipline Specific Reading Strategies
- Build prior knowledge
- Build specialised vocabulary
- Learn to deconstruct complex sentences
- Use knowledge of text structures and genres to predict main and subordinate text
- Map graphic (and mathematical) representations against explanations in the text
- Pose discipline relevant questions
- Compare claims and propositions across texts
- Use norms for reasoning within the discipline (i.e. what counts as evidence) to evaluate claims
General Reading Strategies
- Monitor comprehension
- Set goals
- Think about what one already knows
- Ask questions
- Make predictions
- Test predictions against the text
(from Reading in the Disciplines; The Challenge of Adolescent Literacy p.16)
At Level 2 the NBSS works with schools developing targeted interventions at Senior and Junior Cycle, that can support the development of specific literacy and learning skills with small groups of students or with class groups. This could involve explicitly teaching key reading and learning skills that enable students to become more purposeful, active readers and engaged, independent thinkers and learners.
Key Reading & Learning Skills:
- Making Connections
- Inferring & Predicating
- Determining Importance
- Summarising & Synthesising
- Monitoring & Clarifying Comprehension
Effective Practices to Support Adolescent Literacy
- The direct and comprehension strategies
- Explicitly teaching vocabulary
- Explicitly teaching writing strategies
- Providing opportunities for extended discussion of text meaning and interpretation
- Increasing student motivation and engagement in literacy learning
- Making available intensive and individualised interventions for struggling readers.
Examples of interventions, programmes and resources used in NBSS partner schools to support the development of key literacy, language and learning skills are outlined in the 'Literacy Interventions, Programmes and Resources' section below.
Literacy for the 21st Century
'Literacy is about more than reading and writing – it is about how we communicate in society. It is about social practices and relationships, about knowledge, language and culture...literacy itself takes many forms: on paper, on the computer screen, on TV, on posters and signs. Those who use literacy take it for granted – but those who cannot use it are excluded from much communication in today's world. Indeed, it is the excluded who can best appreciate the notion of "literacy as freedom"'. (UNESCO, 2003)
Traditionally, the notion of literacy was confined to the ability to read and write with a focus on the acquisition of a set of discrete skills to be learnt for the reading and writing of printed texts. However, literacy in the 21st century is constantly evolving and so a broader conception of literacy is necessary. To prepare students for living and learning in the 21st century it is no longer sufficient to teach students how to make meaning solely of print texts, they need to be equipped with skills that move beyond competence in reading and writing towards mastery of multimodal forms of communication.
The Four Resources Model (Luke & Freebody, 1999) proposes that effective literacy draws on four ‘practices’ and that students integrate these four practices simultaneously when they read, write, listen, view and speak. The Four Resources Model separates the repertoire of literacy practices students must master as follows:
Code breaker - decoding the codes and conventions of written, spoken and visual text and understanding:
- the relationship between spoken sounds and written symbols
- the grammar of texts
- the structural conventions of texts
Text participant - comprehending written, spoken and visual texts and making meaning by drawing on:
- own experiences and prior knowledge
- knowledge of similar texts
Text user - understanding the purposes of different written, spoken and visual texts for different cultural and social functions and knowing that:
- different types of texts have different purposes
- these purposes shape the way texts are structured and formed
- apply this knowledge in using (eg comprehending, creating, transforming) text
Text analyst - understanding how texts position readers, viewers and listenersand can identify how:
- texts are not ideologically natural or neutral but are crafted to represent the views and interests of the writer
- information, ideas and language in texts influence reader perceptions
- texts empower or disempower certain groups
Literacy is a complex interaction of skills and resources (eg the ability to read, write, listen, speak, view, represent and think critically about ideas) that a literate learner draws upon to make meaning from texts of many types, in rich and varied forms. The Four Resource Model is a way of seeing the different levels of literacy. It was developed as a teaching tool to assist in teacher’s pedagogical approach to literacy and help them ‘identify pedagogies that teach students to analyse tasks, problem-solve, identify resources and self-monitor’ (Bull & Anstey, 2005, p. 125). The model can be used to develop a range of skills and knowledge needed by all literacy learners and Freebody suggest that any programme of instruction in literacy ‘needs to confront these roles systematically, explicitly, and at all developmental points’ (1992, p. 58).
‘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 memorising 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, 1973)
Literacy Interventions, Programmes
Research points to the importance of recognising the links between behaviour and academic problems and coordinating systems for prevention and intervention in both areas.
NBSS research has also pointed to the association between failure with reading and behaviour difficulties. For example, an exploration of the reading ages of students (N=2187) receiving NBSS Level 3 behavioural support from the Spring Term 2009 to the Spring Term 2012 revealed that 66.3% (N=1450) of students were reading three or more years below their chronological age. Additionally, 4.3% (N=96) of the students receiving NBSS Level 3 support had reading ages of 7 years or less.
The negative effect of poor reading skills are well documented and wide ranging, for example poor academic achievement, low self-esteem, lower motivation to read, disengagement with learning and school, and behavioural problems.
From NBSS work in post-primary schools it is clear that the strong connections between academic achievement and behaviour can mean that addressing challenges in one area can reduce difficulties arising in another.
Essential Components of Reading
Research shows that there are five essential components of reading:
- PHONEMIC AWARENESS- The knowledge and manipulation of sounds in spoken words.
- PHONICS -The relationship between written and spoken letters and sounds.
- FLUENCY, INCLUDING ORAL READING SKILLS -The ability to read with accuracy and with appropriate rate and expression.
- VOCABULARY - The knowledge of words, their definitions and context.
- COMPREHENSION -The understanding of meaning in text.
'Reading is a complex process involving a network of cognitive actions that work together to construct meaning.' (Baker & Brown, 1984)
Common themes also emerge from the research literature on the essential components of effective reading instruction for adolescent learners. Among these is the need for:
- All subject teachers to integrate the explicit and direct teaching of vocabulary, comprehension and writing skills necessary for learning in their subject area.
- The need to develop and improve the fluency skills of some students.
- The need for systemic, intensive and explicit teaching related to phonics and phonemic awareness for a small number of students.
As part of its Model of Support, the NBSS works with schools in developing and implementing specific interventions, strategies and approaches that address the essential areas of reading for adolescent learners.
However , the diversity of student needs, learning style, teaching style and classroom conditions that exist in any school means that no one ‘right’ strategy or programme holds the answer to addressing literacy difficulties. But using evidence-based programmes as ONE element of targeted support can play an important role in a school’s repertoire of prevention and intervention supports for students. Among the many interventions, programmes and resources used in NBSS partner schools to support the development of key literacy, language and learning skills are:
- Catch Up Literacy,
- Catch Up Numeracy,
- Digital Games,
- Numeracy Workout,
- Rapid Plus,
- High Interest/Low Readability Books,
- Toe by Toe,
- SRA Corrective Reading,
- SRA Reading Laboratory,
- AcceleRead AcceleWrite,
- The Wordsworth Programme,
- The Vocabulary Enrichment Programme,
- Bridge to Vocabulary Programme,
- NBSS Vocabulary Resources,
- Flip for Comprehension,
- Comprehension Board Games,
- Reading Comprehension Cards,
- Spotlight on Reading & Listening Comprehension,
- Spell Write Right Programme,
- Storymaker's Chest,
- Story Cubes,
- SNIP Literacy Programme,
- NBSS comprehension strategy, study strategy and learning strategy resources.
As part of the 'Teacher as Researcher' Projects the NBSS also works with teachers on literacy, learning and study skills research projects across Senior and Junior Cycle. Teacher as Researcher Projects can be developed at all three NBSS levels of support and tailored to the needs of each school or student group.
Examples of 'Teacher as Researcher' projects focused on reading, learning, literacy and study skills development can be seen here.
and Communication Needs
Language is fundamental to participation in school life (academic and social). At post-primary level the language demands of the classroom increase significantly. The NBSS Speech and Language Therapist (SLT) works with targeted partner schools providing assessment, diagnosis, intervention and management of speech, language and communication needs, where appropriate.
Between 50-80% of young people with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties have undetected speech, language or communication needs (Bryan et al., 2007; Snow & Powell, 2008). Speech and Language Therapy assessment of 40 students in five NBSS partner schools found that 95% of the students assessed presented with a speech and language difficulty. Of the 95%, 70% presented with a severe difficulty in at least one area of language (receptive or expressive language) while 60% presented with a severe difficulty in both receptive and expressive language skills. 92% presented with difficulty in at least one area of literacy (reading comprehension, phonological literacy or spelling). Vocabulary understanding and use was an area of difficulty for 88% of the students. In school these students will have difficulty expressing themselves, understanding what the teacher says and interacting appropriately with peers and adults.Without appropriate intervention and support young people with SLCN may struggle significantly to develop adequate language skills in adolescence.
The NBSS Speech and Language Therapist works to develop and maximise students’ speech, language and communication needs as well as their learning and socialisation skills. The SLT works collaboratively with school staff in targeted schools to provide appropriate intervention and support to address these needs and develop these skills. For example, the focus of an intervention could be on developing a student’s vocabulary; reading and understanding of stories, instructions, questions and books; telling and writing stories and answering questions; or developing a young person’s social skills e.g. eye contact, conversation skills.
NBSS Literacy and Learning
to Learn Resources
The NBSS teacher and student resources support the development of academic literacy, learning and study skills at Senior and Junior Cycle. On the Publications & Resources section of this site there are over twenty five individual learning, reading comprehension, vocabulary, writing and study strategy resources available to download, as well as vocabulary notebooks, reading and learning bookmarks and posters.
Also check out our 'Links' page.