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Bridging the Literacy Achievement Gap Grades 4-12


reviewed by Betsy MacLeod - 2005

coverTitle: Bridging the Literacy Achievement Gap Grades 4-12
Author(s): Dorothy S. Strickland and Donna E. Alvermann (Editors)
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 0807744867, Pages: 294, Year: 2004
Search for book at Amazon.com


“We like to think of adolescents as knowing things that have to do with their particular life experiences and the particular places they occupy both in and out of school in a quickly changing world.”

(Strickland & Alvermann, 2004, p.2)

This definition of adolescence provides a key foundational concept for the edited book, Bridging the literacy achievement gap grades 4-12. Editors Dorothy S. Strickland and Donna E. Alvermann believe that thinking of adolescents as merely “pre-adults” in the 10-18 year old age range does not adequately represent their multi-faceted identities. And, while school literacy remains an important part of their lives, youth culture and its multiple literacies has a tremendous impact on the literacy learning of these young people. They argue that the push to raise achievement has resulted in the alienation of aliterate and struggling readers when the traditional school curriculum reflects only academic literacy and does not use the everyday literacies of students as a bridge to academic tasks. They also highlight the stubbornness of the achievement gap that persists, particularly between White and Black students and between students of different racial and ethnic backgrounds, and the complex interaction of contributing factors. These factors include socioeconomic status, home background, linguistic background, and quality of instruction. In the Foreword, Ronald Ferguson of Harvard University highlights the need for this book. He stresses that failing to address and raise achievement of all students may negatively impact the economic, political, and social stability of the entire nation, and he provides some sobering examples. In other words, bridging the achievement gap is everyone’s business.


The book is divided into two parts, Part I - Understanding the Literacy Achievement Gap: Learners and Context and Part II - Addressing the Literacy Achievement Gap: Promising Practices. Each part begins with a summary overview of the upcoming chapters, effectively previewing the content and authors contributing to this section. In addition, each chapter begins by highlighting three key points that help guide the reader and ends with a conclusion or summary section that provides important closure. This structural layout provides valuable support and greatly enhances the overall reading experience of this book.


The six chapters in Part I help the reader to understand the current research and analysis in important areas related to the literacy achievement of the adolescent learner, particularly those who are viewed to be achieving below their potential. Four of the chapters look closely at specific groups of learners: Robert Jimenez writes about English language learners, with a focus on Latinos but with implications for all; Deborah Hicks addresses issues related to poverty, exploring how this affects youth in Appalachia; Carol Lee writes about the persistence of the achievement gap between White and Black students, offering important information on the environments that support the literacy development of African American adolescents as well as those that breed failure; and Don Deshler, Jean Schumaker, and Susan Woodruff discuss instructional practices that support students with special needs in inclusive secondary settings. In remaining chapters in Part I, Timothy Shanahan highlights the key elements necessary for successful secondary school reform, and Allan Wigfield tackles the elusive yet critical topic of reader motivation and offers classroom practices that can help or hinder the development of motivation in adolescent readers.


Part II presents promising programs and practices that address the literacy achievement gap, specifically targeting the adolescent learner. Many of the programs reflect collaborative partnerships between university researchers and district level teams and practitioners, pooling all available resources to coordinate research and practice in order to successfully address achievement gap issues. In addition, the programs presented represent actual examples implemented in a wide range of school district settings.


Christy Falba and Ralph Edwards chronicle an in-class, systematic reading comprehension program entitled Strategies to Accelerate Reading Success (STARS) that has demonstrated positive effects on the quality of instruction in the middle grades. Carol Santa walks the reader through Project CRISS (Creating Independence Through Student-owned Strategies) that utilizes explanation and modeling to help learners apply a variety of comprehension strategies in content areas. Originating in a small community in Montana , Project CRISS has been replicated in schools throughout the country. James McPartland, Robert Balfanz, and Alta Shaw report on the Talent Development Literacy Program for Poorly Prepared High School Students, a high school initiative developed through Johns Hopkins University that features extra instructional time for students, prescribed learning activities, teacher support systems, and evaluation evidence.


Fred Carrigg and Margaret Honey describe the journey of Union City Public Schools in New Jersey from the brink of state takeover to one of the top-performing urban districts in the state, providing the guiding principles and organizational structures for the reform that situated literacy as the foundation. Similarly, Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey, and Douglas Williams write about Hoover High School in San Diego , CA , the positive outcomes of their schoolwide approach to literacy learning, and key lessons learned in the implementation.


Cynthia Greenleaf, Cindy Litman, and Willard Brown elucidate the Reading Apprenticeship concept that not only has demonstrated increased student achievement but also increased student self-efficacy in integrated, rigorous and inquiry-based science and literacy endeavors. Elizabeth Birr Moje, Lee Ann Sutherland, Ronald Marx, Phyllis Blumenfeld, Joseph Krajcik, and Deborah Peek-Brown feature a reform effort in the Detroit Public Schools, also with an emphasis on science, which utilizes project-based science units, interactive reading materials, and a sharp focus on developing and constructing scientific concepts and explanations.


Tamara Jetton and Janice Dole highlight the importance of a comprehensive professional development plan as they describe a successful program, the Literacy Education Advocacy Project (LEAP), implemented in an urban middle school in Ogden , Utah , that utilized a reading coach model. It should be noted that each of the promising programs highlighted in Part II includes a comprehensive professional development plan that is characterized by ongoing support and training and driven by specific and identified learner outcomes.


Nora Hyland concludes this book with a chapter that provides sample classroom, school, and community activities for educators. The critical thinking and reflection required of educators using these activities make the final chapter a useful guide for pre-service teachers as well as in-service teachers in study groups. The activities, coupled with the supportive text structure of this book, make this publication both practical and profound as a resource as well as widely accessible to the broader education community.


Strickland and Alvermann routinely turn the phrase learning and teaching rather than the more familiar teaching and learning. Perhaps this is an intentional message that educators must see learning as the absolute primary focus that is critically supported by quality teaching in order to bridge the achievement gap that stubbornly persists in education. And, if learning is the focus, that means that understanding the learner is key. In the case of adolescent literacy learners, that means understanding them fully, in all their fascinating complexity, and providing meaningful and relevant literacy instruction. As Ronald Ferguson acknowledges, “Changing instruction in ways that produce genuine, widespread improvements in literacy and comprehension is no simple task for a society (p. viii).” The contributions in this book provide the background, direction, and hope that accomplishing this important task is, indeed, possible.





Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 107 Number 2, 2005, p. 292-295
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 11388, Date Accessed: 10/23/2021 1:55:10 PM

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