Building Content Literacy: Strategies for the Adolescent Learner


Roberta L. Sejnost & Sharon M. Thiese

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    Research tells us the most effective teachers of content area literacy are the content area teachers themselves because, as content area specialists, they know what knowledge and skills are needed to effectively read and write in their disciplines. In effect, they think like scientists, artists, social scientists, mathematicians, or practitioners of whatever subject they teach. Yet, most middle school and high school teachers will readily admit that the majority of their training in college was in their content area discipline rather than in how to teach literacy in that discipline.

    This book presents a snapshot of adolescent learners and how they learn, and it offers research-based best practices and content area strategies for teaching grounded in the theory of multiple intelligences and brain-based research. These enable teachers to increase student learning in all content area disciplines by more effectively integrating reading, writing, and critical thinking into their daily classroom instruction. Examples and reproducible masters for implementing the strategies are included in this book to assure immediate transfer to all content area classrooms.

    Chapter 1 (The Challenge of Adolescent Literacy) highlights the challenge that teaching adolescents often presents; then it details ways in which teachers in today's classrooms can meet this challenge by presenting students with effective approaches to reading both narrative and expository texts.

    Chapter 2 (Teaching Specialized and Technical Vocabulary) stresses the critical importance of helping students acquire, learn, and retain vocabulary by noting that the end product of both recreational and informational reading is comprehension and that vocabulary knowledge makes up as much as 70% to 80% of comprehension. To help facilitate the learning of vocabulary, this chapter provides a myriad of strategies to foster vocabulary acquisition and knowledge in all content areas.

    Chapter 3 (Reading to Learn in Content Area Disciplines) discusses specific processes and skills that students must be able to complete in order to successfully comprehend both the narrative and expository texts they are required to read in the various content area disciplines they study. This chapter provides four types of learning strategies that can be used in all content area disciplines: (1) questioning strategies, (2) note-taking and summary strategies, (3) study guide strategies, and (4) critical response strategies.

    Chapter 4 (Writing to Learn in Content Area Disciplines) examines the connection between reading and writing, noting that one must have access to written material for reading to occur. Furthermore, the act of writing enables students to process the ideas and concepts they have read about. In order to help students use writing to effectively learn what has been read, this chapter provides a variety of writing-to-learn strategies for use in all content area disciplines.

    Chapter 5 (Speaking to Learn in Content Area Disciplines) examines the connection between reading and speaking, noting that during speaking, students not only process the ideas and concepts of their learning but also give concrete shape to their thoughts. In order to help students use speaking to effectively learn what has been read, this chapter provides a variety of speaking-to-learn strategies for use in all content area disciplines.

    Chapter 6 (Fostering Real World Literacy) considers the challenges that face students in the age of technology and discusses the new literacies that engage students, such as the Internet, informational literacy, media literacy, and visual literacy. In order to help students learn using these new technological opportunities, this chapter provides learning strategies that can be used in all content areas for information-gathering and analysis activities, such as the following: (1) collaborative projects; (2) problem-based project learning; (3) media literacy, with activities for learning from newspapers, magazines, and news broadcasts; and finally (4) visual literacy, with activities that use storyboards, photographs, television, and videos.


    We wish to thank Sheryl Sejnost and Sheila Ruh for their help and advice on digital literacy.


    Corwin gratefully acknowledges the contributions of the following reviewers:

    Wendy Caszatt-Allen, Eighth Grade Language Arts Teacher

    Mid-Prairie Middle School

    Kalona, IA

    Susan Chase-Foster, Seventh Grade Language Arts Teacher

    Fairhaven Middle School

    Bellingham, WA

    Johneen Griffin

    Director of Secondary Pupil Services

    Olentangy Local Schools

    Lewis Center, OH

    Janice Hall, Associate Professor of Secondary Education—Retired

    Utah State University

    Logan, UT

    Timothy U. Kaufman

    Associate Professor

    University of Wisconsin, Green Bay

    Green Bay, WI

    Roxanne Farwick Owens

    Chair, Teacher Education, DePaul University

    Chicago, IL

    Rusti Russow

    Director of Teaching and Learning

    Kankakee School District

    Kankakee, IL

    Nancy W. Sindelar

    Educational Consultant

    Chicago, IL

    Nancy V. Workman

    Professor of English

    Lewis University

    Romeoville, IL

    About the Authors

    Roberta L. Sejnost received her bachelor of arts from Elmhurst College, her master of education from the University of Illinois at Chicago, and her doctorate of education in curriculum and instruction from Loyola University, Chicago. She is currently a university professor at Loyola University, Chicago, and a literacy and assessment consultant to the Regional Office of Education, Kane County, Illinois. Sejnost has taught social studies, reading, and English at the secondary school level and courses in literacy, authentic assessment, brain-based learning, multiple intelligences, and cooperative learning at the college level. She is currently the International Reading Association's state coordinator for Illinois, and she has been a member of the board of directors for the International Reading Association's Secondary Reading Special Interest Group as well as a member of the executive board of the Illinois Reading Council and officer in several of the Illinois Reading Council's special interest groups.

    A nationally recognized staff developer, Sejnost is a certified trainer in authentic assessment, brain-based learning, portfolio assessment, multiple intelligences, and reading and writing across content areas. She has presented at more than 200 educational conferences across the country. In addition to coauthoring this text, Sejnost was featured in the videotapes to accompany Drake University's online course EDDL 219—Reading Across the Curriculum. In 1986, she was named teacher of the year in her district; in 1993, she was awarded the International Reading Association's Contribution to Literacy Award for the State of Illinois; in 1996, she was recognized in Who's Who of American Educators; in 2003, she was given the Reading Educator of the Year award by the Illinois Reading Council; and in 2007 she was awarded a Certificate of Recognition by the Illinois Reading Council for her contributions to literacy in Illinois.

    Sharon M. Thiese received a master of arts in English from Northeastern University and a master of arts in writing from National-Louis University, Chicago. She is also certified in gifted education and a member of Illinois Association for Gifted Children. In addition, Sharon is a certified trainer in gifted education, authentic assessment, multiple intelligences, portfolios, differentiation, and reading and writing across content areas, and she has presented at numerous local and statewide workshops and conferences. Thiese currently teaches writing at Lewis University, Romeoville, Illinois, and graduate classes for Aurora University, Aurora, Illinois. She taught English and writing at Geneva High School in Geneva, Illinois, and has been Geneva Community Unit 304's high school educator of the year. She is also recognized in Who's Who of American Educators.

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