Thursday, April 26, 2012

RtI and the Adolescent Reader

I'd like to thank my guest blogger, Barb Novak, Literacy Coach at Maplewood Middle School, in Menasha, Wisconsin for today's blog entry. 

Anyone else have a giant stack of unread professional books? Anyone? Anyone? (Blog Owner's Note: Um, yes. Have you met me?)

I can’t possibly be the only person who buys them faster than I read them. (Blog Owner's Note: Seriously, have you met me?)

I usually pull books from the pile on an as-needed basis. I consult my favorite authors for advice about challenging situations or to push my thinking. I read a particular section because it was referenced at a conference or by a colleague. It’s not incredibly often that I carefully read something (highlighter, Post-Its, and Sharpie pen in hand) cover to cover.

William G. Brozo hooked me, though. My copy of RtI and the Adolescent Reader: Responsive Literacy Instruction in Secondary Schools (Teachers College Press & International Reading Association, 2011) has gotten plenty of love lately.

Brozo makes some important points about the implementation of Response to Intervention at the secondary level.

  1. RtI isn’t a quick fix. To be successful, RtI must be part of a “comprehensive adolescent literacy program that seek[s] to respond to each student’s literacy and learning needs with responsive instruction” (p. 55). Such a program builds on the strengths of adolescents, utilizes comprehensive literacy, provides supports in inclusive environments, values more than basic skills, and hinges upon the effectiveness of teachers.

  1. Middle and high school are unique. Research about best practices for RtI at the secondary level are limited. Brozo writes, “. . . there is little evidence that elementary-level RtI-like approaches can work in middle and high schools” (p. 62).

  1. You don’t buy RtI. RtI is not about products. The law requires universal screening, progress monitoring, and tiered interventions. Schools need to create or select products and systems that meet their needs. Available products should not dictate how RtI is implemented.

Brozo is openly skeptical about commonly used universal screeners and interventions, writing, “Wilson and READ 180 can never deliver truly responsive literacy instruction to each individual student. Only a caring and knowledgeable teacher can” (p. 115).

Doesn’t that just make you want to stand up and shout an “Amen!” or at least give a round of applause!?

4.    Do this with – not to students. The clientele at the secondary level – adolescent learners – need to be involved in the design process for any literacy program, including RtI. The design needs to mindful of adolescent identities, interests, and challenges. Feedback from students needs to be an integral part of each step in design, implementation, and continual review.
5.    RtI is part of something larger. Brozo leaves his reader with recommendations. These recommendations are not for the implementation of RtI. These are “recommendations for the literacy development of youth at the secondary level” (p. 138).

  • Don’t allow RtI to define the secondary school reading program.
  • Don’t fixate on foundational reading skills for adolescents.
  • Don’t become paralyzed by evidence-based practice if it isn’t working.
  • Honor youth literacies.
  • Channel resources into professional development for general education disciplinary teachers so that prevention gets the lion’s share of attention.

All educators need to be knowledgeable about RtI. We each need to have a voice – a loud voice – in advocating for universal instruction, intervention, and progress monitoring that meets the needs of adolescent learners. Our students cannot afford to be victims of our ignorance or disengagement, and Brozo’s RtI and the Adoelscent Reader is a great place to begin developing our understanding.

(Blog Owner's Note:  I would just like to add that Mr. Brozo had me hooked as well.  We have had A LOT of interesting conversations about this book! I highly recommend it for those who are discussing RtI at the secondary level.)


  1. Thanks for the chance to guest blog, Andrea!

    I am very fortunate to work with you!!

    1. I would whole-heartedly argue that I am the fortunate one!