Revisiting Silent Reading: New Directions for Teachers and Researchers (International Reading Association Institute #6, Chicago 2010): Part Six

photo of a high school commencement program

Nearly 7,000 U.S. Students Drop Out of High School Daily & Do Not Achieve this Accomplishment




This is the final part of my reflections on the International Reading Association’s Institute called, “Revisiting Silent Reading: New Directions for Teachers and Researchers” that was held in Chicago on April 25, 2010. You can find part one here. In that part, I discussed the presentations from P. David Pearson and Susie Goodin; D. Ray Reutzel; and Kathleen Wilson. You can find part two here. In that part, I discussed the presentation from S. Jay Samuels titled, “Movements and Reading: Without them you cannot read.” You can find part three here. In that part, I discussed Devon Brenner’s presentation, “Increasing eyes on text in high-impact schools.” You can find part four here. In that part, I discussed Richard Allington and Anne McGill-Franzen’s presentation, “Why so much oral reading in reading lessons & elsewhere?” You can find part five here. In that part, I discussed a breakout session presentation based on handouts I received and from some Internet research. Michelle J. Kelley and Nicki Clausen-Grace were the presenters and their presentation was titled, “R5: A sustained silent reading makeover.”

The final breakout session I actually attended was presented by Katherine Bach and Elfrieda H. Hiebert. It was titled, “Supporting Struggling Adolescent Readers in Digital Contexts.”

I don’t know that I noticed the word “adolescent” in the title when selecting this session. Most of my experience teaching reading is with elementary school students and that is where I have the most knowledge. However, I am trying to expand what I know because of this blog and because of the website I hope to create some day. I bring this up because I am thankful I attended this session. It was very good to be reminded of the issues adolescent readers face. As you will soon see, some of the statistics shared were alarming to say the least!

Bach gave most of this presentation. She began by discussing the questions that got them started researching this area. The two questions were:

How can you measure “readability” in a media based online learning environment?

How can the enormous potential of online technologies be used to increase the literacy participation of adolescents?

Then came the statistic that alarmed me the most from the entire institute….Nearly 7,000 adolescents drop out of school every day! Why? The most commonly cited reason for the high dropout numbers is inadequate literacy skills.

Hiebert and Bach shared their source with us (The Alliance for Excellent Education), but because of copyright issues, I do not think I can quote anything from the report or provide a direct link to it without first asking for permission. However, you can find it yourself by going to the report section of The Alliance for Excellent Education’s website and looking for, “Reading Next – A Vision for Action and Research in Middle and High School Literacy: A Report to Carnegie Corporation of New York.” There is a lot of information in this report that should be of interest to reading teachers and other educators.

7,000 students dropping out every day is alarming, isn’t it? Being the TWRCr that I am, I did a little Internet research to see what other people were saying about this finding. Here is a May 12, 2009 article from www.edlabor.house.gov titled, “High School Dropout Crisis Threatens U.S. Economic Growth and Competitiveness, Witnesses Tell House Panel.” It states,

Nationwide, 7,000 students drop out every day and only about 70 percent of students graduate from high school with a regular high school diploma. Two thousand high schools in the U.S. produce more than half of all dropouts…

I learned that the 2,000 high schools producing the most dropouts are referred to as “dropout factories.” I am sure I have heard this term in the past, but since I mainly work with elementary school students, it must have slipped my mind. Again, being the TWRCr that I am, I needed to do a little more Internet research about these dropout factories. Here are two articles I found interesting:


  • “1 in 10 U.S. high schools is a ‘dropout factory’: U.S. putting new emphasis on boosting graduation rates for high schools.” (Associated Press, Oct. 29, 2007)

  • “Locating the Dropout Crisis: Which High Schools Produce the Nation’s Dropouts? Where Are They Located? Who Attends Them?” (Balfanz & Legters, Center for Research on the Education of Students Placed At Risk (CRESPAR)/The Johns Hopkins University, September 2004)


    In this article, the following statements saddened me greatly because I grew up in Michigan and reside in California,

    More than two thirds of the high schools with the lowest promoting power (50% or less) are located in just 11 states (Georgia, Florida, Texas, South Carolina, North Carolina, New York, Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and California). If four more southern and southwestern states are included (Mississippi, Louisiana, New Mexico, and Arizona) nearly 80% of the nation’s high schools that produce the highest number of dropouts can be found.


  • Another alarming statistic shared by Hiebert and Bach is,

    70 & 65: As measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 70 percent of 8th graders and 65 percent of 12th graders read below proficient.

    If you are unfamiliar with NAEP, or more commonly referred to as the Nation’s Report Card, be sure to spend some time on the NAEP website–especially in the reading section.

    After hearing about these alarming statistics, I realized that our adolescent students really need our help. I have often read adolescent reading researchers complain about the lack of funds for research in their area, but I dismissed it because I honestly believe that the earlier we can intervene, the better. However…. these statistics are abysmal. Perhaps it is time to start allocating more money for adolescent reading research. I would also really like to see more funding for educating parents on the importance of their role in their children’s success. (See my post, “What Happens in the Home before Kids Start School Affects Their Vocabulary and Overall Academic Success” for more.) In fact, that is where I think our top priority should be–improving the education of the lives of children in the 0-5 years.

    Back to the session…. Bach shared two questions and answers from their review:


    1. How does adolescents’ comprehension in online and print contexts compare?

    2. Existing research indicates that middle- and high-school students comprehend texts in online contexts significantly better than they do in printed texts. (Moran et al., 2008; Murphy et al., 2002; Slavin et al., 2008)

    3. What features of online contexts can be used to increase adolescents’ involvement in literacy and comprehension?


    • Engagement (Ensuring proficiency, interest, involvement)

    • Access (Supporting comprehension in the moment and increasing comprehension in general by using adaptive scaffolds (ex. text to speech, rollover support – definition, example, illustration, varying text levels and summaries) and strategic scaffolds (ex. active reading strategies–asking questions, drawing inferences, summarizing, making mental images, drawing on prior knowledge, monitoring understanding, using text features and visual clues)

    • Connectedness (creating visible relationships within text)



    To demonstrate how the online world can help readers become engaged, Hiebert and Bach shared the “Find a Book” feature of www.lexile.com because it helps students find reading material based on their interests.

    Hiebert and Bach then shared some slides from an article in Weekly Reader Digital Edition. I attended a presentation on the Weekly Reader Digital Edition later in the week and will discuss it in more depth in the future. Until then, you can click here to see their scaffolding features. Hiebert and Bach pointed out that after reading the article online, students can take a maze assessment* to assess their reading comprehension. They note that this type of assessment (with immediate feedback) keeps students engaged because it validates their knowledge. Hiebert and Bach also pointed out that Weekly Reader Digital Edition supports access to text because it has adaptive scaffolds such as, audio and vocabulary supports.

    To demonstrate connectedness, Hiebert and Bach talked about some screen shots of Reading Plus. Eventually this PowerPoint presentation should be available in the library section of www.textproject.org. There is so much information on the tiny slides on my handout that it is difficult to see and to summarize so I am not going to try. What I can offer you is a link to an article that discusses the key points of this presentation in depth. Online Scaffolds That Support Adolescents’ Comprehension (Hiebert, Menon, Martin & Bach, 2009. Apex Learning).

    Overall, I marvel at how technology is able to help struggling readers understand what they read. Personally, I love when I find short video clips on unfamiliar topics and links to definitions of unfamiliar words. I also love that I can usually dig deeper into a topic online than I can in print.

    The idea of strategic scaffolding is something else that amazes me. Although they are not online, I really love the audio books in the Read 180 program for that reason. If you are unfamiliar with them, you should listen to one and pay attention to the strategic scaffolding. Each audiobook has a reading coach who interrupts the narration of the audio book every now and then to discuss reading strategies good readers use. Based on this breakout session, I think that is what Reading Plus does, too. Having reading strategies modeled for students in authentic situations should benefit struggling students greatly.

    Well, that’s it for this institute. I know it made me TWRC a lot. I hope by reading my posts, you found something to TWRC about, too. I look forward to learning about more research in this area and really want to see the goggles in action–they fascinate me! Let me leave you with this: If you were in charge of the world, where would you allocate most of the money to try to improve the reading abilities for all learners?

    *In cloze assessments, several words from the text are omitted and are represented with a blank line. Students fill in the the blanks using their background and language knowledge. Maze assessments are similar to cloze assessments, but instead of filling in the blanks on their own, students are offered multiple answer choices.

    **Updated 8/19/2010: Click here to find all presentation handouts from this institute at http://www.textproject.org.**

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