Teacher Thoughts: Making Literature Relevant to Underachieving Students

A hot topic in chapter three of Adolescent Literacy (Beers, et. al) is the definition of “reading.” Today’s adolescents are “Digital Natives,” meaning they have grown up in the age of technology and are accustomed to the language it requires. Yet, with the increase in digital resources, there have been more restrictions on what qualifies as “reading” in the classroom. Underachieving adolescents, however, do not typically show interest in these old-fashioned forms of reading. In my own schooling experience, for instance, we were not allowed to use more than one website (if any) as credible reading research for a paper. Students are required to use scholarly journals or real books, but, in reality, these resources are not primary for the lives of adolescents in the twenty-first century. Students will never grab a book or scholarly journal for their first source of information when looking up information at home or on their spare time, so why should they be required to do so in their academic lives? Why can’t students be taught how to sort out the credible from non-credible sources on the internet rather than how to search an encyclopedia they will never use?

Since the scientific reading instruction is in place now, educators need to be sure to teach reading correctly. There are many factors that can help adolescents overcome the hatred for textbook or academic reading. Thinking Maps have been created to assist students in pre-reading. These maps help students draw connections in the reading, brainstorm prior to the reading, interpret the reading, etc. By teaching students how to break down the reading, the assignments become easier for them to handle.
Academic reading, or any reading, however, will be unsuccessful if it has no meaning or relevance to the students. Chapter three of Adolescent literacy mentions that schools may be potentially “out of touch with the everyday literacies that many young people find relevant” (Beers, et. al, page 23). Language Arts classes provide easier opportunities to connect literature with relevance to the students. Making connections and focusing on problems or issues within the text can persuade students that what they are reading actually matters.
The best way to get underachieving adolescents involved with reading is to show engagement in their lives and to have high expectations for them. Recently, educators have been “dumbing down” the text material in effort to help failing students achieve. In reality, they are just letting the students fall further and further behind. In my high school Spanish class, for example, we were always being held to high expectations, higher than any school in our district. We also achieved more than any school in our district, and we knew we had high standards to fulfill. We knew our teacher thought we had potential. She even told us stories about previous graduates who didn’t think they were very good at Spanish and went on to get degrees or travel the world in college. These stories legitimately made me push myself harder as a student, and I also went on to get another major in Spanish education and spent a semester abroad in Ecuador, all the while thinking of my amazing Spanish teacher!
I will be sure that my students, whether classified as “achieving” or “underachieving,” know that I have high expectations of them because I know they are capable of so much more than they may believe. The definition of reading may be debatable in today’s education, and underachieving students may be reluctant to learn without applicable resources, but I will ensure that all strategies are taken to make reading easier, more meaningful, and relevant while upholding the necessary expectations.
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Do you teach reading? Comment with your thoughts below! What other strategies can we use to reach out to struggling readers?

Author: Rachel

Welcome to Learn-Grow-Teach-Go! I’m Rachel. Join me as I explore what it means to be a life-long learner and begin to live out a more full, balanced, and simplistic lifestyle. I am currently a high school English teacher, and I enjoy traveling the world and adventuring in my spare time. Whether you’re looking for advice on living minimally and simplistically, teaching ideas and lessons, or travel tips and trips, you’ve found the right place. Glad to have you here!

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