Literacy Strategies for Career and Technical Education

In Narleski Young’s class, students work at computers to reframe the headings in a document as questions. The students are learning the SQ3R literacy strategy—not unusual for language arts, but a first for Automotive Service Technology. The course is one of many offered at the Leflore County Career and Technical Education (CTE) Center in Mississippi. CTE provides a valuable career path for students, but the highly technical content can prove a challenge. In Mississippi, SEDL is helping to ensure that CTE students gain the literacy skills required for a 21st century career.

Computer class in progressCTE classes prepare adolescent students for careers ranging from auto repair and nursing to graphic design and polymer science. But many students are not prepared for the highly demanding technical content in CTE texts. What’s more, CTE instructors often have no formal training in building students’ literacy and comprehension skills.

To address this issue, our Southeast Comprehensive Center partnered with the Mississippi Office of Career and Technical Education in 2010 to develop a coaching initiative to strengthen literacy support in CTE classes. Through summer institutes, webinars, videos, and on-site visits, teams from CTE centers learn how to integrate research-based literacy strategies aligned with the Common Core State Standards into their content areas. To promote sustainability, teams share the strategies at their centers, and select participants are recruited as mentor trainers in the program. Of the state’s 89 CTE centers, 12 have participated in the pilot so far, with 30 planned for 2012–2013. 

The literacy strategies equip students to access and engage a variety of complex texts they may encounter later on the job. “That’s the purpose,” says Ramona Chauvin, a SEDL program associate and the lead trainer for the pilot. “We are helping students become independent users of strategies for accessing information.”

Narleski Young and other participating CTE teachers are enthusiastic. Early trends show improved score averages for content-area pre- and post-assessments. Teachers also note that students are far more engaged, talking about the strategies in class and even with other teachers. As one eager student queried, “Are you gonna teach all of this stuff to my other teachers?”