Characteristics of High School Learners
High school learners are qualitatively different than younger learners. You certainly can “teach an old dog new tricks” by understanding the cognitive and social characteristics of high school learners. Using the right instructional strategies to maximize the learning advantages and address the learning challenges of high school learners can make all the difference in their success.
High School Cognitive Development
Most high school students have achieved the formal operational stage, as described by Piaget. These students can think abstractly and need fewer concrete examples to understand complex thought patterns. Generally speaking, most students share the following characteristics:
- Need to understand the purpose and relevance of instructional activities
- Are both internally and externally motivated
- Have self-imposed cognitive barriers due to years of academic failure and lack self-confidence
- May have “shut down” in certain cognitive areas and will need to learn how to learn and overcome these barriers to learning
- Want to establish immediate and long-term personal goals
- Want to assume individual responsibility for learning and progress toward goals
High School Social Development
High school students are experimenting with adult-like relationships. Generally speaking, most students share the following characteristics:
- Interested in co-educational activities
- Desire adult leadership roles and autonomy in planning
- Want adults to assume a chiefly support role in their education
- Developing a community consciousness
- Need opportunities for self-expression
High School Instructional Strategies
High school students are still concerned about the labeling that takes place, when one is identified as a remedial reader. Labels and stereotypes are both externally imposed (by other students and, sometimes their parents), but are primarily internally imposed (by the students themselves). Years of academic failure, due to lack of reading proficiency, have damaged students’ self-esteem. Many students have lost confidence in their ability to learn. Students have developed coping mechanisms, such as reading survival skills e.g., audio books or peer/parent readers, or behavioral problems, or the “Whatever… I don’t care attitudes” to avoid the tough work of learning how to read well. High school teachers need to be extremely mindful of student self-perceptions. A few talking points with remedial high school students may prove helpful:
“Unfortunately, some of your past reading instruction was poor; it’s not your fault that you have some skills to work on.” a.k.a. “blame someone else”
“You can learn in this class. If you come to class willing to try everyday, you will significantly improve your reading, I promise.”
“I know you have tried before, but this time is different.”
“You will be able to chart your own progress and see what you are learning in this class.”
“Some of my past students were like some of you. For example, ___________ and he passed the high school exit exam after finishing this class. For example, ___________ got caught up to grade level reading and is college right now.” Personal anecdotes provide role models and hope for high school remedial readers. Any former students who have been successful will provide “street credibility” to the teacher and the class.
“You aren’t in this class forever. As soon as you master your missing skills, you are out.”
Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use—a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activities, phonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 390 flashcards, posters, activities, and games.
Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Each book is illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The cartoons, characters, and plots are designed to be appreciated by both older remedial readers and younger beginning readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Your students (and parents) will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.
Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, English-language learners, and Special Education students. Simple directions and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program, with or without paraprofessional assistance.