Lecture Addresses Adolescent Illiteracy

Abby Koff

literacy event 2 rbg

Adolescent illiteracy is a lingering crisis in America, according to Donald Deshler, director of the Center for Research on Learning at the University of Kansas School of Education.

To address this issue, Deshler proposed integrated teaching solutions to improve literacy in this population at the sixth annual Jeanne S. Chall Lecture at the Graduate School of Education yesterday.

Deshler began by showing a video of a teenager named Marcus struggling to read aloud an excerpt from a novel, pausing to sound out words, trying different pronunciations, and hesitating at words like “dinner” and “dining” in which the spelling of the stem has changed.

To improve the reading skills of students like Marcus, Deshler and his team conducted the extended reading opportunities studies, which assessed the effectiveness of a supplementary reading class in secondary schools.

The study results were disappointing, Deshler said.


The supplemental reading class had no effect on students’ vocabulary level, the number of credits they earned in high school, or their GPAs.

“To bring our methods up to where they need to be, we need a better mousetrap,” Deshler said.

“One teacher cannot be solely responsible for literacy. The entire school must be invested in the problem.”

Deshler proposed that history, science, and English teachers should all integrate reading strategies into their classes so that literacy skills are constantly reinforced.

“These teachers are working in horrid conditions, but belief in the students motivates them. They are heroes,” he said.

Lori L. DiGisi, president of the Massachusetts Reading Association and a member of the audience, said that while new initiatives must always be based on data, they may be born of anecdotes from students.

Expanding upon Deshler’s integrated solutions, DiGisi suggested that foreign language books be made available in public libraries to encourage literary discussion between students and parents from international backgrounds.