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A Meta-Synthesis of Qualitative Research on Reading Intervention Classes in Secondary Schools

by Katherine K. Frankel, Maneka Deanna Brooks & Julie E. Learned - 2021

Background/Context: In the past two decades there have been at least 10 quantitative reviews, syntheses, or meta-analyses focused on literacy interventions in secondary schools. To date, much of this research has focused on quantifiable outcomes such as reading test scores, and few efforts have been made to synthesize studies of adolescent literacy interventions that attend to how students themselves experience those interventions and what mediates their experiences, which previous adolescent literacy research suggests should be considered alongside other outcomes.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: This meta-synthesis of qualitative research highlights additional factors that are overlooked when evidence of effectiveness is defined predominantly through assessment outcomes. It contributes insights from two decades of research on reading intervention classes (RICs), which are a long-standing approach to adolescent literacy intervention. We define RICs as compulsory, yearlong courses that supplement content-area classes with the goal of improving adolescents’ reading. Grounded in sociocultural theories of literacy and learning, our research question was: How do students experience and perceive RICs?

Research Design: We conducted a qualitative meta-synthesis of 21 studies published between 2000 and 2020 that (1) focused on secondary (grades 6–12) RICs in the United States and (2) included data related to students’ experiences and perspectives.

Data Collection and Analysis: We followed best practices in qualitative meta-synthesis, including assembling an author team composed of researchers with expertise in RICs, identifying a research meta-question, conducting a comprehensive search, selecting and appraising relevant studies, and coding and presenting findings using qualitative techniques.

Findings/Results: We found that youth’s own diverse understandings of themselves as readers and writers, combined with the extent to which they viewed their RICs as relevant, agentive, and facilitative of relationships, mediated students’ experiences and perceptions of their RICs. In addition, students across studies described placement policies and practices as confusing, frustrating, and embarrassing.

Conclusions/Recommendations: By providing a perspective that extends beyond test scores, the findings highlight some of the consequences of intervention placement policies and practices for adolescents. They also address the need for educational stakeholders to expand definitions of what counts as evidence of effectiveness to inform the future development of re-mediated literacy learning opportunities for adolescents that (1) rethink curriculum and instruction to affirm students’ literacy identities, histories, and capacities, and (2) reposition youth as literacy knowers and doers.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 123 Number 8, 2021, p. -
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 23773, Date Accessed: 9/21/2021 10:27:40 AM

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About the Author
  • Katherine K. Frankel
    Boston University
    E-mail Author
    KATHERINE K. FRANKEL, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of literacy education at Boston University's Wheelock College of Education and Human Development. In her research, Dr. Frankel employs critical sociocultural perspectives to examine literacy teaching and learning in secondary classrooms, one-on-one tutoring spaces, and other literacy instruction and intervention contexts. She focuses on understanding adolescents’ multiple literacies and identities as they are enacted across space and time, and how literacy learning opportunities in and beyond schools might be expanded and transformed in collaboration with youth, their teachers, and other educational stakeholders. Her research has been published in Journal of Literacy Research, Research in the Teaching of English, and other journals.
  • Maneka Deanna Brooks
    Texas State University
    E-mail Author
    MANEKA DEANNA BROOKS, Ph.D., is an associate professor of reading education at Texas State University. Dr. Brooks’s publications span the topics of bilingualism, adolescent literacy instruction, language proficiency and assessment, and course placement. Across these topics, her research agenda centers on everyday educational practices that impact the educational trajectories of bilingual adolescents. Her research with adolescents who are considered to be long-term English learners (LTELs) is emblematic of this focus. It underscores how their English literacy abilities demonstrate both a multifaceted knowledge of English and their histories of literacy instruction. Moreover, it illustrates how ideologies about language proficiency and race work in concert with students’ experiences of literacy instruction and English language proficiency assessments to mask these adolescents’ English language expertise. She recently published a book titled: Transforming literacy education for long-term English learners: Recognizing brilliance in the undervalued (Routledge/Taylor & Francis)..
  • Julie E. Learned
    University at Albany, State University of New York
    E-mail Author
    JULIE E. LEARNED, Ph.D., is an associate professor in the department of educational theory and practice at the University at Albany, State University of New York. Dr. Learned researches adolescent literacy. By examining how secondary schools position readers and writers and how young people experience, resist, and help construct school contexts, she investigates issues of equity in literacy education. She has recent publications in Teachers College Record and Journal of Literacy Research.
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