The Reading Matrix
Vol4, No.3, November 2004

Catherine E. Stoicovy and Lynn Quezada



This article is the collaborative effort of a university instructor, Dr. Catherine Stoicovy, and a language arts middle school teacher on Guam, Lynn Quezada, to describe the teaching and learning that occurred when Generation 1.5 adolescents engaged in an interdisciplinary curriculum based on the trade book, Under the Blood Red Sun (1994) by Graham Salisbury. The authors have chosen to write in separate voices to provide a richer context for the readers.

Dr. Catherine Stoicovy

In one of the literacy courses that I teach, ED641 Middle/Secondary Reading and Writing in the Content Areas, in-service teachers learn how to scaffold literacy learning for culturally and linguistically diverse adolescents and young adults, helping them develop into confident and independent readers and writers. The focus is on the improvement of literacy skills through meaningful, constructive engagements in reading and writing. Students become knowledgeable about factors that scaffold adolescents' literacy learning, then drawing from this knowledge base, they develop and teach an Interdisciplinary Unit of Study to improve literacy learning for a diverse student population. The purpose of this article will be to describe the literacy teaching and learning that occurred when Generation 1.5 adolescents engaged in an interdisciplinary curriculum based on the trade book, Under the Blood Red Sun by Graham Salisbury. I begin the article with a discussion of the significance of adolescent literacy and the changing demographics in the U.S. and on Guam . An explanation of Generation 1.5 students and the factors that scaffold their literacy learning will follow. Finally, readers will take a journey via Power Point to explore how Lynn Quezada, a graduate student in the Language and Literacy program at the University of Guam successfully applied these factors in a middle school language arts classroom.

Adolescent Literacy

An advanced level of literacy is essential for adolescents as they transition into adulthood. Consider the following excerpt from the IRA (1999) position statement on Adolescent Literacy:

Adolescents entering the adult world in the 21st century will read and write more than at any other time in human history. They will need advanced levels of literacy to perform their jobs, run their households, act as citizens, and conduct their personal lives. They will need literacy to cope with the flood of information they will find everywhere they turn. They will need literacy to feed their imaginations so they can create the world of the future. In a complex and sometimes even dangerous world, their ability to read will be crucial. Continual instruction beyond the early grades is needed. (p. 3)

Yet, despite the importance of advanced literacy skills to lead a productive adult life, adolescents are not reading and writing at high levels of proficiency. Data (Elley, 1992; NAEP, 1999) show that U.S. readers get off to a fast start in the early grades, but the level of student performance drops off in the middle and high school years . The 2003 reading report card produced by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) showed that while a majority of U.S. eighth graders can comprehend specific factual information, few have gone beyond the basics to advanced reading. Fewer than 5% of the eighth graders assessed can extend or elaborate the meanings of the materials they read. Only 5% of the twelfth grade students assessed in 2002 read at the Advanced Level.

Results of the NAEP assessments also reveal that adolescents are simply not reading enough. In 1999, NAEP found that about one quarter of the tested adolescents reported daily reading of five or fewer pages in school and for homework. Only 28% of 13 year olds and 25% of 17 year olds read for fun daily. When adolescents choose not to read, it is difficult to develop advanced reading skills. “ The ability to comprehend a variety of texts, to use sophisticated comprehension and study strategies, to read critically, and to develop a lifelong desire to read are not acquired entirely during the early years. A good start is critical, but not sufficient”
( Supporting Young Adolescents' Literacy Learning , 2001 p. 1).

Adolescents' writing skills are also below expectations. The NAEP 2002 writing results show that less than 5% of adolescents tested could write at the Advanced Level of proficiency.

On Guam , results of the NAEP assessments show that adolescents in the public schools are also performing poorly in reading and writing. Only 11 percent of adolescents assessed ( The Nation's Report Card. Report for Guam Reading 2002, p. 10 ) performed at or above the NAEP Proficient Level for reading in year 2002 with no percentage indicated at the Advanced Level. Writing performance fared only slightly better, with 13% of students assessed scoring at or above the Proficient Level and no percentage determined at the Advanced Level ( The Nation's Report Card, Writing 2002 ).

Changing Demographics

Improving adolescents' literacy skills becomes even more challenging with the changing demographics in the U.S. Approximately 40 million people in the U.S. speak a maternal language that is not English (King & Goodwin, 2002). In some schools, students speak a dozen or more different languages and dialects. With regard to Guam public schools, the school population is a multicultural mix of Chamorros (56%), Filipinos (24%), Pacific Islanders (13%), Asians (2%), White (1%) and Others (4%). The Chamorro category consists of indigenous people from Guam and the CNMI (Rota, Saipan, Tinian). Pacific Islanders include Chuukese, Palauan, Yapese, Marshallese, Kosraean, Pohpeian, a sprinkling of Hawaiian and Samoan, and other islanders. Asians consist of Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Indonesian and Vietnamese students. Other is made up of Black, Hispanic, American Indian-Native Alaskan, and mixed ethnic categories ( DOE Annual School Progress Report SY 2002-2003) . In SY 2002-2003, 44% of the approximately 31,000 K-12 students in Guam public schools were enrolled in the LOTE (Languages Other than English) program. Although numbers are not available, a significant portion of the total school population includes Generation 1.5 students as well as those, not within this category, who exhibit characteristics generally associated with Generation 1.5 students.

Who are Generation 1.5 Students?

Thompson Heinle's ESL-TESOL Glossary defines Generation 1.5 students as: Students, often children of immigrants, who have strong, often native-like English speaking skills but whose writing and academic skills are weaker and reflect those of an ESL student (p. 4). Harklau (2003) describes the diversity among Generation 1.5 students in terms of their educational experience, native and English language proficiency and academic literacy:

Some of these students immigrated to the United States while they were in elementary school; others arrived during high school. Still others were born in this country but grew up speaking a language other than English at home. . . . Equipped with social skills in English, generation 1.5 students often appear in conversation to be native English speakers. However, they are usually less skilled in the academic language associated with school achievement, especially in the area of writing. (p. 1)

Valdés (as cited in Harklau, 2003, p. 2) argues that it is “crucial . . . to distinguish between students who are not fluent in English and therefore need ESL instruction and students who may have problems with academic English but do not need ESL classes.” Educators should recognize that Generation 1.5 students have different learning needs from other English language learners such as immigrants with Limited English Proficiency (LEP) and international students who need ESL instruction. Given this distinction, how then do classroom teachers scaffold literacy learning for Generation 1.5 students and others who do not require ESL instruction yet whose writing and academic skills reflect those of an ESL student? In order to answer this question it is important to first discuss factors that scaffold literacy learning for these adolescents.

Factors That Scaffold Literacy Learning for Adolescents

Of the many factors that scaffold adolescents' literacy learning, the following five factors will be discussed because of their significance for Generation 1.5 adolescents and those, who although not categorized as Generation 1.5, exhibit similar characteristics: (1) culturally responsive instruction (2) literature circles (3) interdisciplinary learning (4) integration of instructional technology in the curriculum, and (5) aesthetic stance to reading.

Culturally Responsive Instruction

A knowledgeable teacher understands that to improve students' reading and writing skills, students must be motivated to read and write. Reading and writing achievement are powerfully influenced by motivation and attitudes (Good & Brophy, 1987). Students who habitually read in the present tend to seek out new materials in the future, especially when the materials are culturally relevant and build on prior knowledge and interests. Not only does high interest in reading material result in greater desire to read, it also increases comprehension (Asher, 1980). Similarly, writing skills improve and interest builds when students spend ample time writing on meaningful topics that relate to their lives (Atwell, 1998). It is essential, therefore, that teachers use their understandings about students' cultures, interests and prior knowledge in their curriculum planning and teaching. The more a teacher understands the cultures and other aspects of diversity in a classroom, the more likely the teacher can provide classroom instruction that is culturally responsive and that will result in successful, high-quality education for a diverse student population (Au, 1993; Gay, 1988; Gilbert & Gay, 1985; Ladson-Billings, 1992, 1995; Smith, 1991; Stoicovy, 1997 , 2002 , 2004; Vogt, Jordan, & Tharp, 1987).

Literature Circles

Literature Circles are small groups of students reading and discussing the same book and collaboratively exploring their interpretations to reach new understandings (Short, Harste, Burke 1996). When readers talk about a book with others, they can take pleasure in the book so that it becomes a significant part of their life experiences. As Short, Harste and Burke explain, it is through conversation and dialogue that readers have the opportunity to explore their own ideas, to expand their understandings through hearing others' interpretations, and to become critical and inquiring thinkers. The reader brings his or her understandings and experiences to a book and engages in a lived-through experience (Rosenblatt, 1978, 1995) that results in a reader constructing an interpretation of that book.

Interdisciplinary Learning

An effective way to culturally contextualize (Smith, 1991) the teaching-learning process is through an interdisciplinary curriculum. Integrating the various disciplines of a curriculum facilitates the acquisition of new knowledge in that strengths in one subject area will support new learning in another (Hollins, 1996). Interdisciplinary learning includes issues and topics related to the students' background and culture that challenge the students to develop higher-order knowledge and skills (Villegas, 1991). By using the students' personal experiences to develop new skills and knowledge, teachers make meaningful connections between school and real-life situations (Padron, Waxman, & Rivera, 2002) increasing both motivation to read and comprehension.

Instructional Technology

The infusion of technology as a tool to enhance the learning in a content area or multidisciplinary setting enables students to learn in ways not previously possible (ISTE, 2000). Electronic technology and the Internet are transforming the way we organize and seek knowledge, replacing linear models with hypertext links that disregard disciplinary boundaries. An added bonus is that technology can be beneficial and successfully used, regardless of whether the classroom setting is mainly bilingual or contains an ESL component ( Svedkauskaite & Reza-Hernandez, 2003 ). Through technology, Limited English Proficient (LEP) students can learn in a rich linguistic environment and find opportunities to interact with the multicultural world and extend their language skills (Padrón & Waxman, 1996). Moreover, integrating technology into the curriculum supports the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 which states that every student should be technologically literate by the eighth grade, regardless of student background or family socioeconomic status.

Aesthetic Stance to Reading

In her discussion of the reading process, Rosenblatt (1978, 1995) poses the question, “What draws the reader to the poem, the novel, the drama, the biography, the essay?” As Rosenblatt so aptly explains, it is the lived-through experience - the emotions, associations, and images that are called to mind while reading - that draw the reader. During this type of reading the reader adopts what Rosenblatt refers to as an aesthetic stance with the text. She describes two stances that readers may take when reading: efferent and aesthetic. Efferent comes from the Latin word effere, meaning to carry away. When the reader takes an efferent stance toward a text, the general purpose is to carry away information, and this is what readers commonly do with expository text. Aesthetic reading is different from efferent reading because the goal is not the acquiring of information but participation in the experience. The literary work, or meaning, comes into being during the aesthetic transaction between reader and text (Rosenblatt, 1985). In transacting aesthetically with the text, and through shaping their own meanings, students enhance their comprehension and come to value the literary experiences reading affords.

Lynn Quezada

Although I teach in a private school on Guam, I struggle with some of the same issues as my counterparts in the public schools whose classrooms, like mine, include students who do not require ESL classes, yet whose writing and academic skills are weak and reflect those of an ESL student . Like my counterparts, I also face the challenge of motivating reluctant adolescents to read and write. Over the years I have grown weary of complaints such as, “Teacher, do we have to read this book? It's too thick.” “How many pages do we have to write?” “Can we skip lines?” So, when Dr. Stoicovy asked our ED641 graduate class to list three burning questions about literacy curriculum, teaching and learning, I wasn't surprised that the question at the top of the class list was, “How do we motivate culturally and linguistically diverse students to read and write?” Dr. Stoicovy calmly replied, “The answer to your question will emerge as the course unfolds.” I wasn't sure what she meant until we were required to set theory and technique into practice in our own classrooms by developing and teaching an Interdisciplinary Unit of Study based on the trade book Under the Blood Red Sun by Graham Salisbury. I was excited to implement the unit with my students, the majority of whom are Generation 1.5 Filipinos.

Culturally Responsive Instruction

Under the Blood Red Sun is an ideal selection upon which to base the unit of instruction because it connects with the students on a personal and cultural level and lends itself to issues and topics across the content areas. The story takes place in Hawaii during the Japanese invasion of Pearl Harbor. Due to Guam's proximity to Hawaii a number of Guam residents have visited Pearl Harbor and the Arizona Memorial. Closer to home, the people of Guam Rota, Tinian, Saipan , Chuuk , Palau and the Philippines are no strangers to the horrors of World War II in the Pacific. Children hear real-life stories, passed down through the years, by elders fortunate enough to have survived the Japanese occupation and the battles for liberation.

Literature Circles

After introducing Under the Blood Red Sun , I asked students to break into groups of four to begin reading the book in a literature circle format. While there are various ways to conduct literature circles, I followed the recommendations of Short, Harste, & Burke (1996). I initiated the Literature Circles by encouraging the groups to share their impressions and personal responses to the book. They talked about their favorite parts, retold sections, discussed parts they found confusing, made connections to their own lives or to other literature, and engaged in social chatter. This time for "mucking around" (Short, Harste, Burke, 1996) allows them to share, converse, and wander around as they explore a wide range of ideas without focusing on any particular one. Students need time to talk to one another and share their enjoyment of the book.

Interdisciplinary Learning

Traditionally, curriculum has been divided into separate disciplines such as language arts, math, science, social studies, and the arts, with each subject taught in isolation from the others. Outside the classroom walls, however, the disciplines are not separate from one another. Life is interdisciplinary. To ensure that students understood the meaningful connections that exist among the disciplines and how they relate to each other and to real life, I developed an interdisciplinary unit that integrated language arts, history, social studies, science and technology. Students extended their knowledge beyond the book's content as they learned within and across the content areas. For example, in addition to the attack on Pearl Harbor, they learned about the bombing of Hiroshima, radiation's effect on humans, origami, poems in two voices and much more.

Instructional Technology

An interdisciplinary curriculum is an excellent way to integrate instructional technology with other materials such as textbooks, trade books, magazines, and library books that expand and strengthen students understanding of the world and at the same time develop their English language and literacy skills. Students had opportunities, with peers and individually, to engage in Internet readings and activities and to create projects with electronic technology. By integrating technology into the curriculum I was also adhering to the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 that requires every student to be technologically literate by the eighth grade.

Aesthetic Stance to Reading

I encouraged students to develop a predominately aesthetic stance to text through reading, living through, responding to, discussing, and writing about literature (Rosenblatt, 1995). For it is through the personal, lived through experience that comprehension takes place, deeper connections to text are made, and students come to enjoy reading. To enhance aesthetic connections to text, students engaged in reader response activities such as literature and character journals , letters to the author, and graffiti boards (Short, Harste & Burke, 1996).

The following reflections from two Generation 1.5 Filipino students show the predominately aesthetic stance that lead to higher levels of understanding and deeper connections to the trade book Under the Blood Red Sun.

This book has inspired me to read more and to know more about how wars affect people. To me this book shows how the innocent Japanese have suffered during WWII and how they were accused of the crime they did not do. This book told me that we should never judge a particular group of people.

Carlos (pseudonym) arrived on Guam from the Philippines when he was nine years old. Bilingual, Tagalog and English.

The book was really interesting because it talks more about families and especially about life. And how the people live before. The book has lots of things that can be also related to some families that lost their love ones because of the war of the Japanese.

What make me want to read more is when the Japanese war had started. And also about the father of Tomi. The Father was a very caring person and also brave in everything he do. I want to read about what happened to Tomis Father and the others taken away by the Americans.

My teacher read to us the story of Sadako and the thousand paper cranes. It was very touching because it talks more about a little girl who was very responsible and loving, friendly to other kids. Sadako likes to make paper cranes so she could get better. It made me want to make some paper cranes also. Sadako had a very bad sickness called Leukemia. Her parents was so worried about her and then few years later she died. And her friends won't forget to make paper cranes as their own remembrance of her and the other children who died because of the war.

Nenita (pseudonym) arrived on Guam from the Philippines when she was seven years old. Bilingual, Tagalog and English. Speaks and writes both Tagalog and English.

Power Point Presentations

The integration of technology was such a major component of the Interdisciplinary Unit of Study that I titled it, Where Text Meets Technology: Under the Blood Red Sun . As you journey through the unit via a Power Point Presentation , you will see how I applied my knowledge of culturally responsive instruction, literature circles, interdisciplinary curriculum, technology, and aesthetic reader stance to scaffold literacy learning for middle school students, a number of whom speak both English and Tagalog and whose “life and schooling experiences straddle two or more languages, cultures and school systems,” (Roberge, 2003, ¶ 1). In a separate Power Point Presentation, please join several of my students in their culminating activity, Poems for Two Voices , inspired by the novels Under the Blood Red Sun (1994) and Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes (1999).

Final Thoughts: Lynn

I am pleased at the transformation in myself and in my students as a result of the teaching and learning that occurred during the Interdisciplinary Unit of Study. No longer reluctant to read and write, my students can't wait to start the next book selection for their Literature Circles. No more complaints about books too thick to read and too many pages to write! As you can see in student samples of literature and character journal entries, reflections of Under the Blood Red Sun, letters to the author , and comments about my teaching, students have come to enjoy the literary experiences that meaningful, interdisciplinary engagements in reading and writing afford. As Dr. Stoicovy promised at the start of the course, “You will know that you have found the answer to your burning question when your students hunger for more books and more writing.” I have answered my burning question and in the process have come to value the wealth of prior knowledge and strengths that culturally and linguistically diverse students bring to the classroom.

Final Thoughts: Dr. Stoicovy

At the start of each course, some students are disappointed that I do not provide answers to their questions, that I expect them to find their own answers as the course unfolds. I give no magic formulas, no suggestions for a quick fix or a one-size-fits-all literacy curriculum. Students receive instead a healthy dose of the knowledge, beliefs, and theoretical underpinnings of language and literacy development, and their applications in the classroom. With this foundation, they will be able to find answers for their questions about literacy curriculum, teaching and learning for a culturally and linguistically diverse student population. Most important, they will be empowered to make the professional decisions necessary to improve literacy learning for all students. I am pleased that Lynn has found an answer to her burning question and has undoubtedly generated new questions along the way.

Catherine E. Stoicovy is an Assistant Professor of Language and Literacy at the University of Guam in the School of Education.  She earned her Ph.D. in Administration, Curriculum and Instruction, emphasis Language and Literacy, from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.  Her current academic interests include culturally responsive literacy instruction, second language acquisition, literacy learning for Generation 1.5 students, and instructional technology to support literacy learning.

Lynn Quezada is a graduate student in the Language and Literacy Program at the University of Guam in the School of Education.  She currently teaches eighth grade language arts in a school on Guam. Email: