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Susan Lenski
Susan Lenski

Reading Up

Boosting teen literacy

The idea behind adolescent literacy is both simpler and more complex than it sounds. Think back to when you learned to read. Now think about the difference between Goodnight Moon and a 50-page journal article outlining the historical, political and economic factors at play in Iraq.

Just as there is higher-level math, there is higher-level reading, Education Professor Susan Lenski says. Developing advanced comprehension skills starts with a basic belief that reading is a thinking process. Knowing how to read sentences isn’t the same as reading with a critical eye, questioning the basis and perspective of the writer, says Lenski.

“The biggest thing we need to do with adolescent literacy is to have students determine the credibility of the text,” Lenski says. “We want students to use information in the text to transform their thinking, to develop a logical argument and use evidence from a variety of texts to support their point of view.”

Adolescents’ minds may be as messy as their rooms, but they are explorers at heart. And what they learn about critical analysis in these formative years can impact their lives and opportunities down the road.

Lenski and the teachers she trains at Portland State want to give teens more than a how-to guide to reading. They want to teach them the tools to understanding the world around them.