Adolescent Literacy, Part 1: School-Wide Literacy Planning

By Joan Sedita


In recent years there has been a growing interest in adolescent literacy, especially as Americans become more concerned about the economic and civic health of the nation. Literacy skills are necessary more than ever to succeed in college and work, as well as to manage the everyday life demands of an increasingly more complex society and world economy. The best example of this focus is the tagline “college and career ready” from the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

More middle and high school leaders are beginning to acknowledge that they must develop a school-wide approach to teaching literacy skills­ that includes two tiers of instruction. The first tier is content literacy instruction for all students that is delivered in regular classes, including history, science, math, and English/language arts. The second tier is literacy instruction for struggling readers that is delivered partly in regular content classes and partly in intervention settings (including extended English/language arts blocks and individual/small-group settings).

A school-wide approach to literacy instruction must involve all teachers in the delivery of reading and writing instruction, including content-area teachers and staff who work with special populations. This is a major tenet of the literacy CCSS. A successful school-wide plan must also have strong, committed leadership that provides ongoing support for literacy instruction.

A Literacy Planning Model

I have worked with numerous schools and districts to help develop literacy plans using a planning model that addresses six components:

1. Establishment of a literacy planning team

2. Assessment planning for screening, guiding instruction, and progress monitoring

3. Literacy instruction in the content classroom

4. Interventions for struggling readers that address phonics, word study, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension skills

5. Flexible scheduling to allow for grouping based on instructional needs

6. Professional development planning

A key first step is to assemble a literacy planning team that is representative of the major stakeholders who will have to implement the plan. Members of the team should include teachers of all subject areas, interventionists, parents, reading specialists, and administrators. It is important to recognize that literacy planning is a process, not an event. Like most school-wide initiatives, developing and executing a literacy plan will take time and sustained effort; literacy planning teams should be prepared for the process to take 1–3 years.

Once a planning team is assembled, the first step is to take stock of what is already in place in relation to the six components. This includes gathering information that answers questions such as:

  • What assessments are currently used to identify good and struggling readers?
  • What assessments are used to identify specific needs of individual struggling readers? What reading instruction is already taking place in content classrooms, and what professional development do content teachers and others need in order to effectively address all reading components?
  • What reading interventions and supplemental reading programs are currently offered for struggling readers?
  • What information and professional development do the teachers of struggling readers need?
  • Is the scheduling process flexible enough to accommodate different grouping patterns for struggling readers?

After information has been collected to answer these questions, the planning team can set and prioritize goals and action steps for each of the six components. Some action steps are like low-hanging fruit—easy to accomplish quickly and with minimal expense. Other action steps will take longer to address. A concrete plan for addressing the action steps throughout the coming year or two is essential to keep the process moving forward.

A literacy assessment plan is key to successfully implementing a school-wide literacy plan. Screening literacy assessments provide the data to determine which students are struggling, while diagnostic assessments help determine why they struggle, and progress monitoring assessments determine if instruction is working in both content classrooms (Tier I) and with supplemental instruction (Tier II)

The six planning components are interrelated. Action steps for one component need to be related to action steps for the other components. For example, decisions about both tiers of instruction should be based on assessment data, along with how to group students and schedule supplemental instruction. Plans for professional development should be made based on the needs of teachers and other members of the team.

Middle and high school administrators must make the acquisition of literacy skills a priority and provide adequate time in the school schedule for reading and writing instruction. They must also be willing to use flexible grouping patterns when scheduling students in order to implement a two-tiered model for delivering reading instruction in both content classes and intervention settings. Professional development for content teachers and specialists is also essential.

The time, effort, and expertise necessary to develop a school-wide plan for providing effective literacy instruction to all students present a challenge for most middle and high schools. The challenge is worth taking, as there is an urgent need to improve the reading, writing, and comprehension skills of these students.

Learn more about adolescent literacy, literacy planning, and literacy assessment models here.

Joan Sedita is a founding partner of Keys to Literacy, a literacy professional development organization that focuses on adolescent literacy. She is also author of The Key Comprehension Routine and The Key Vocabulary Routine.


Sedita, J. (2011). Adolescent literacy: Addressing the needs of students in grades 4-12. In J.R. Birsh (Ed). Multisensory teaching of basic language skills. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.

About Joan Sedita

Books by Joan Sedita: Keys to Literacy

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