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Focus On Effectiveness

Current Education Challenges

Related Classroom Examples

Owning Goals

Creating personal learning goals supports literacy.

Imagining Change

Images help set the stage for understanding abstract concepts.

Firsthand History

Fifth-graders revist the world of Lewis and Clark using global positioning systems.

Engaging Readers

Improving reading skills in middle school using a popular Web site prompts effective feedback.

Literacy Development

Literacy develops over time as students progress from emerging to skilled readers who can comprehend and analyze complex text. Reading for understanding requires an active thinking process that is influenced by the reader's prior knowledge and experiences (National Reading Panel, 2000). Current national efforts aim at helping every child read independently by third grade.

Strategies for increasing literacy development focus not only on improving reading skills, but also on developing the higher-order thinking skills that enable students to comprehend, analyze, and communicate about ideas. Well-designed literacy programs provide students with frequent opportunities to use language--reading, writing, listening, and speaking--for varied and authentic purposes.

Proficient readers monitor their understanding as they read. When the text doesn't make sense they use strategies that include:

  • Activating background knowledge
  • Making connections between new and old knowledge
  • Self-questioning to clarify and deepen understanding
  • Drawing inferences by using background knowledge along with textual clues
  • Separating main ideas from details
  • Monitoring understanding of text
  • Employing fix up strategies to repair confusion
  • Using sensory images to understand and visualize ideas
  • Synthesizing and extending thinking, going beyond the information given (Tovani, 2004)

Technology offers new tools for effective literacy instruction, and also expands the definition of 21st century literacy. As the International Reading Association's position statement on literacy and technology explains, "To become fully literate in today's world, students must become proficient in the new literacies of information and communication technologies. Therefore, literacy educators have a responsibility to effectively integrate these technologies into the literacy curriculum" (IRA, 2001).

Key Research Findings

  • Students may need to encounter an unfamiliar word six times in context before they have enough experience to understand and recall its meaning (Jenkins, Stein, & Wysocki, 1984).
  • Three potential stumbling blocks can throw children off course on the journey to skilled reading:
    • Difficulty understanding and using the alphabetic principle (the idea that written spellings systematically represent spoken words)
    • Failure to transfer the comprehension skills of spoken language to reading and to acquire new strategies that may be specifically needed for reading
    • Absence of motivation to read or failure to develop a mature appreciation of the rewards of reading (Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998)
  • Struggling older readers--the 8 million students in grades 4-12 who do not read at grade level-- need a comprehensive approach to instruction, including technology, to improve achievement. Three essential elements of an effective program are professional development, formative assessment, and summative assessment (Biancarosa & Snow, 2004).


  1. Create a print-rich and language-rich classroom. In the primary grades, immerse students in a print-rich environment that reinforces their awareness of text. Design learning centers that encourage young children to engage in active exploration, and then to talk and write about their learning experiences. Integrate technology as a tool for enabling students to tell and write stories.
  2. Scaffold learners. Use a variety of tools, including technology, to support students as they develop literacy skills and move from dependence to independence over time. Talking books and other multimedia resources help readers connect sounds and images with print.
  3. Encourage reflection and revision. Reading and writing skills develop at the same time. Encourage students to re-read and revise written work by providing them with specific feedback. Word processing and other technologies make the revision process easier; for example, "talking" books read text back to students so they can hear it. Technology facilitates peer review, enabling students to read and respond to one another's work, and also connect with an audience.
  4. Connect learners. Increase student motivation to read and write by connecting learners with audiences beyond the classroom, and even outside their own country. Social learning enhances children's literacy skills.
  5. Emphasize vocabulary. Words are the building blocks of literacy. Use developmentally appropriate methods and varied experiences to help students expand their knowledge of vocabulary. For example, word walls are effective for younger students; older students can build their own glossaries of new terms, using a class Web site, blog, wiki, or other online collaborative tool. Introduce terms that will help student understand subject matter, and provide multiple exposures to new words.

Additional Resources

The International Reading Association (IRA) has published a position paper on integrating technology into literacy instruction.

The IRA's online resources include suggested reading on literacy and technology.

The Lab at Brown provides information and resources on selected education topics, including elementary literacy and adolescent literacy in the content areas, on the Knowledge Loom Web site.

The North Central Regional Educational Laboratory has published Using Technology to Enhance Literacy Instruction

Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory's Literacy and Language Development Team provides a variety of resources. Many Paths to Literacy and Learning to read and write: a place to start focus on early literacy development. Inquiring Minds addresses literacy in early adolescence. Learners, Language, and Technology suggests how to incorporate technology to promote literacy skills.

The Partnership for Reading published Put Reading First, designed to help teachers apply findings and conclusions from the 2000 report of the National Reading Panel, including analysis and discussion of five areas of reading instruction.

Reading Next: A Vision for Action and Research in Middle and High School Literacy is a comprehensive 2004 report to the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

The Southwest Educational Development Laboratory's Reading Assessment Database provides information to those seeking reliable reading assessment tools for children in grades Pre-K to 3. Many of the assessments are suitable for higher grades as well.