For years, many of the nation's secondary school students have failed to get the kind of intensive, ongoing literacy instruction they need, either to catch up in the basics or to move beyond them.

As a result, said Professor Sheila Valencia of the University of Washington College of Education, educators and students alike have found ways to work around texts.

“It was easier not to require kids to read and, in turn, kids took that up and didn’t read,” Valencia said. “In terms of equity, however, we know it’s really important for students to be able to learn from texts.” 

For the past six years, Valencia and a team of educators and researchers have been working to change that reality as part of an ongoing UW project to redesign AP courses and increase student interest, engagement and learning. Valencia shared insights from her work during the American Educational Research Association’s 2016 meeting.

One strategy that has proven quite successful is having teacher set a purpose for every reading and framing it for their students.

“When you think about novices going into a dense text like the Constitution or an article in Science magazine they’re coming without a strong background knowledge, they’re coming in to learn,” Valencia said. “So when teachers set purposes it’s almost like a magnifying glass for students. It’s telling them this is the most important thing to learn and when you’re done we want you to use that knowledge to solve a problem.”

As a result of implementing these strategies in the redesigned AP courses, Valencia said texts are more present in classrooms, teachers are using texts more strategically, and kids are using knowledge from what they’ve read to carry out projects in class.

Another critical aspect of the work has been the marriage of subject matter and literacy.

“We’re not teaching a separate set of literacy skills and we’re not trying to make content area teachers into reading teachers,” Valencia said. “We’re learning how to help teachers become aware of the challenges that texts will present so they can help their students navigate through texts.”


Sheila Valencia, Professor of Education

Dustin Wunderlich, Director for Marketing and Communications