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Investigating Methods for Increasing the Literacy Rate in Middle School Students

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Introduction

Investigating Methods for Increasing the Literacy Rate in Middle School Students I. What is Literacy? So what exactly is literacy? The term conjures up multiple meanings and ideas in the minds of most educators and in some ways is dependent on what content area you teach. Some might argue that it is an ideology based on some sort of value judgment about a student's worthiness and their competence in reading and writing (Alvermann et al.). However, as unlikely as it may sound, some experts have raised concerns that in some families, cultures, and communities the ability to read and write proficiently is not valued to the same degree as it is in modern Western culture and that it is not "viewed as being the ticket to equality, a good job or social mobility" (Alvermann et al. 13). In an effort to better understand what it means to be literate this paper examines the component parts of what is an enigmatic problem in American schools today; the problem of reduced literacy rates in middle and high school students and the measures that need to be taken to reengage them in the educational process and help them become more literate members of society. A. What the Statistics Say. So back to the question of what literacy is. For the purpose of this paper let us expand the meaning to include the skills of reading, writing, speaking, and listening - after all, are these not the skills we expect most students to have mastered prior to graduation? Unfortunately this seems to be the crux of the matter, because recent reports have focused on the fact that many middle and high school students are not reading and writing at levels that allow them to compete in the 21st century. In fact as many as eight million students in grades four through twelve struggle to read at grade level, and as many as 70% of older students require some form of remediation (Biancarosa and Snow 3). ...read more.

Middle

One area that students feel helps them maintain engagement is using technology for project based learning to learn new information. Students provided the following ideas for integrating this type of learning into content areas: * language arts ~ writing and research * social studies ~ research projects * math ~ problem solving * science ~ science fair projects (Spires et al., "Having Our Say" 508). An interesting sidebar that was noted by researchers was that several students viewed the use of technology as an enhancement to the writing process because it eliminated sloppy writing that many teachers complain about. Additionally, students realize some of the problems associated with doing research in unstructured web-based environments, noting such problems as a slow system speed and restrictions relating to Internet security and safety (Spires et al.). > "Prepare Us for Jobs of the Future" * Along with engagement students cited relevance to their lives as being an important reason why they wanted classroom instruction to focus on the use of technology. Students realize that technology will be an integral part of the job market and desire to have classroom instruction practices prepare them for life beyond the classroom (Spires et al.). > "Let's Not Get Left Behind" * Students understand how technology enhances their lives and their productivity in all academic areas, but concede there seems to be a lag between technological advances and getting those advances into the classroom where they can be utilized. Of particular interest is the ability to utilize laptops throughout the school day and surprisingly the desire to utilize a manufacturing principle called Just in Time (JIT) to access information on an as needed basis (Spires et al.). Clearly those students who were engaged in this study are not only aware of who and what they are, but also where they want to go in terms of building the skills they feel are necessary to move forward utilizing 21st century skills and the technology they will be using in their future. ...read more.

Conclusion

When these students are supported by faculty that has made a commitment to building curricula that supports literacy through ongoing in-depth professional development, success is measured by students who are highly engaged in meaningful content and who have the ability to think critically. From an initial definition of literacy that involved the skills of reading, writing, speaking, and listening the definition has evolved into one that uses technology as a way to engage students in relevant and meaningful instruction that transfers to the world in which they will live and work. This ideal, based on student input from the North Carolina study, provides insight into what students feel are the most important goals they need to have a vested interest in their education. Research such as the Reading Next Initiative provides us with the structure to implement curricular changes that, with the help of students, can facilitate a more user friendly learning environment that meets state academic standards. Incorporating a shift from knowledge based instruction to one that embraces instruction utilizing critical thinking skills provides further engagement opportunities for students and challenges them to put into practice those skills learned in the classroom to real world scenarios. Literacy is so much more than the ability to read, write, speak, and listen because students know how to do those things by the time they get to middle school classrooms. Implementing the curricular changes noted in this paper is merely one possible solution to solving the problem that seems to develop throughout the secondary educational years resulting in students who are not prepared for college or the challenges of working in the 21st century. "Teaching students how to think is a journey, not an event" (Orlich et al. 286), therefore the process of becoming a more literate member of society becomes a journey, not something taught during early primary developmental stages. Students in the twelfth grade require the same amount of effort provided to those in the third grade to continually build their literacy skills and prepare them so that no child slips between the cracks. ...read more.

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