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Teaching reading in secondary schools: Some theoretical and practical issues.

Dr Kerry Hempenstall, Senior Industry Fellow, School of Education, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia.


All my blogs can be viewed on-line or downloaded as a Word file or PDF at


What is known about the reading difficulties experienced by a proportion of students entering secondary school (20-30% according to the National Reading Panel, 2000)?

What does it take to make a difference to their literacy at this relatively late stage in their schooling?

Though there is less known about effective reading intervention for older students, the research does provide us with some pointers. For a fuller description of this research, see Older students’ literacy problems (updated 2017)


How far behind might these student be?

The best way to find out is by screening all intake Year 7 students – either in their feeder schools late in their Year 6 or early in Year 7. It is a little more work to catch them late in Year 6, but it allows more time for intervention planning. Ideally, choose a test that has either a decoding or a word reading subtest. There are many such tests available, and obviously choosing an assessment that allows for group testing is more time-efficient.


Can research provide answers? Is there much research on secondary students' reading?

“Although research specific to adolescent literacy is not as extensive as research on beginning reading (Boulay, Goodson, Frye, Blocklin, & Price, 2015; Herrera, Truckenmiller, & Foorman, 2016; National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 2000; Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998), there is a strong and growing consensus that if what we currently know about literacy instruction for adolescents were more broadly applied in practice, there is “little doubt that levels of adolescent literacy would improve” (p. 1, Torgesen et al., 2007). A recent quantitative synthesis of reading programs for adolescents found 33 studies published between 1970 and 2007 involving 39,000 students (Slavin, Cheung, Groff, & Lake, 2008).” (p. 38-39)  

Fien, H., Anderson, D., Nelson, N.J., Kennedy, P., Baker, S.K., & Stoolmiller, M. (2018). Examining the impact and school-level predictors of impact variability of an 8th grade reading intervention on at-risk students’ reading achievement. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 33(1), 37–50.


Read more ...

More Articles ...

  1. What does systematic instruction mean?
  2. Is there an educational role for phonological processes other than phonemic awareness?
  3. Illusory Phonics
  4. Three students with differing characteristics commence school. How do they fare?
  5. How might protocols and program fidelity of implementation improve instruction?
  6. Phonics instruction: Grapheme to phoneme or phoneme to grapheme?
  7. Direct Instruction: Explicit, systematic, detailed, and complex
  8. Hundreds of quotes from the literacy research
  9. Read About It: Scientific Evidence for Effective Teaching of Reading
  10. Vocabulary/Oral Language/Comprehension: Some research findings (updated July 2017)
  11. Corrective Reading Decoding: An evaluation
  12. Phonemic Awareness: Yea, nay?
  13. Part 1: Whole Language! What was that all about?
  14. Part 2: What whole language writers have had to say about literacy.
  15. KEEPING AN EYE ON READING: Is difficulty with reading a visual problem?
  16. Older students’ literacy problems (updated 2017)
  17. Evidence-based practice in the classroom.
  18. Literacy and Behaviour (updated 2016)
  19. Literacy and mental health (updated 2016)
  20. Reviews supporting Direct Instruction program effectiveness Updated 2018
  21. The three-cueing system in reading: Will it ever go away?
  22. Content modality or learner modality? Various quotes on learning styles (updated 2017)
  23. Can people with an intellectual disability learn to read?
  24. What are these Matthew Effects?
  25. Fluency: Its significance and promotion
  26. Failure to learn: Causes and consequences
  27. A history of disputes about reading instruction
  28. Using the 100 Lessons program to effect change in phonological processing.
  29. Miscue mischief
  30. Literacy assessment based upon the National Reading Panel’s Big Five components
  31. Pages and pages on stages (reading stages, that is).
  32. Seriously good online educational resources
  33. Feel like a spell? Effective spelling instruction (Updated 2017)
  34. Why does Direct Instruction evoke such rancour?
  35. Evidence-based practice: What is it? (updated Aug 2017)

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