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Research on Teaching and Learning with the Literacies of Young Adolescents


reviewed by Ioney James - February 09, 2016

coverTitle: Research on Teaching and Learning with the Literacies of Young Adolescents
Author(s): Kathleen F. Malu and Mary Beth Schaefer
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 1623968542, Pages: 312, Year: 2015
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Research on Teaching and Learning with the Literacies of Young Adolescents highlights a variety of research studies on young adolescents’ teaching and learning experiences. The coverage includes a foreword, introduction, and twelve chapters divided into three sections. Section One focuses on literacy instruction for English Language Learners, Section Two covers research on digital literacies, and Section Three examines literacy outside of school-day classrooms.


James Gee discusses how literacy, language, and the social contexts in which discourses occur affect what it means to be a literate human being in the foreword. Gee draws attention to the expanded definition of the term literacy and explains its relationship to language—he posits that to be literate entails understanding written languages in many contexts. His argument that we can understand and participate in many languages and discourses runs throughout subsequent discussions of teaching with young adolescents’ literacies.


Young adolescents are described as children in the middle-grades, and considered to be at the transition stage of development from childhood to adulthood—they experience various physical, emotional, social, and intellectual changes. Early adolescents differ widely in their learning styles and diversity of development, therefore, it is of paramount importance to pay attention to the needs of these students.


The first chapter includes a case study exploring teaching and learning practices in a classroom of English Language Learners (ELLs). The study supports the notion that teacher beliefs, interpretation of the curriculum, instructional approaches, and perception of ELLs can significantly impact learning. This case study finds that novice teachers express difficulty meeting the literacy needs of students who enter the classroom from diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Observations also indicate that literacy instructional practices tend to focus on memorization and rote learning rather than critical thinking. This study concludes that it is crucial for teachers to understand their students, pay close attention to the cultural capitals they bring to class, and embrace the packaging of multiliteracies to support learning.


Chapter Two’s research study highlights issues relating to the role of standardized high-stakes testing and academic growth for marginalized students like ELLs. It references No Child Left Behind (NCLB), which mandates accountability for teachers and students. The data was gathered from narrative inquiries of stakeholders like teachers, administrators, students, and community advocates. A key finding is the important role assessment plays in literacy instruction. Evidence also indicates that standardized high-stakes tests are especially problematic for ELLs. The findings also uncover the challenges teachers encounter interpreting curriculum and using high-stakes testing to monitor student performance. It is important to understand how literacies might have multiple meanings in settings that reflect culturally pluralistic student populations to enhance literacy learning. The study recommends that “teachers...design and implement curricula in ways that draw upon the cultural experiences their students bring to their classroom” (p. 41).


Chapter Three focuses on the empowerment of literacy learners for academic success. It offers a 4 x 4 toolkit framework to inform planning, implementing, and monitoring of pedagogical practices in relevant content areas. The study provides important information regarding how this toolkit supports teachers in selecting relevant instructional resources.


Section Two highlights the infusion of technology in teaching and learning within middle grade classrooms, and considers its pervasiveness in the information age. The vast amount of time students engage with digital games and spaces supports the need for discussions on the multiple ways teachers can incorporate digital literacy in the classroom. The research studies in the second section also explore the impact of digital tools on teaching and learning in the middle grades.


A key research finding highlights the potential of gameplay to enhance education in schools. It also underscores the use of interaction simulations and games that can result in higher cognitive gains as compared to traditional instruction (p. 77). The research further pinpoints student control of learning as one of the key factors in their gains. The findings conclude that well-designed educational games potentially provide a motivating and effective environment. The studies additionally called for collaboration with researchers, game designers, and teachers to provide robust models of game-based learning models for instruction in the classroom.


Digital storytelling is explored as a tool to promote reflection for self-learning and gaining knowledge, and is based on a sociocultural framework of literacy (p. 98). Storytelling’s essential purpose is to support pre-service teachers and middle grade students in exploring their experiences and who they are as literate beings. Student study participants were asked to use memories from either childhood or young adolescence to create personal stories. Study findings demonstrate that digital storytelling is a useful and accessible platform for student voices. Storytelling also provides a forum for students to negotiate various conflicting discourses on literacy. The findings also have implications for curriculum instruction and collaboration in the middle school classroom.


Section Three focuses on the teaching and learning of literacies in different spaces. It highlights the significant influence of people outside of school, and how boys and girls view literacy away from formal learning environments. It accentuates the need to inquire about the out-of-school literacy experiences of early adolescents. It cites research studies showing differences between boys’ purposes for reading and writing in and out of school. The research also shows findings debunking the claim that gender should be used as an argument to explain differences between how boys and girls view themselves as literate beings.


The studies employ participatory design and mixed method design to evaluate student appreciation and use of games. The strength of the participatory design is that participants were afforded the opportunity to ask questions for input and feedback based on their observation. This helped them detect weaknesses in gaming features and improve their learning experiences. The research studies indicate that participatory design many not always result in generalizable findings. The research also may have limited relevance and generalizability due to limited sample size.


The final chapters capture arguments pertaining to the teaching and learning of young adolescents’ literacies in a highly comprehensive manner, and bring to the fore the need to acknowledge the many pathways to literacy. As a result, programs designed to meet the needs of students, especially those who are in the middle grades, are required to improve their literacy.




Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: February 09, 2016
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 19410, Date Accessed: 12/3/2021 7:36:28 AM

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