Career and School Counseling: an Essential Component for Adolescent Literacy Development

By Janet F. McCarra and Teresa Jayroe

Although the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) 2011 scores show a slight improvement in literacy scores (NCES, 2011), only 34% of adolescents taking the test have mastered the skills necessary to be successful in high school or the workplace. Hines (2010) suggests that more than eight million middle school and high school students are struggling readers. According to Archer, Gleason, and Vachon (as cited in Hines, 2010), students with reading difficulties are more likely to drop out of school and face unemployment.


The 21st Century Skills Movement promotes a framework composed of four components: (a) core subjects and 21st century themes; (b) learning and innovative skills; (c) information, media, and technology skills; and (d) life and career skills (Johnson, 2009). Cookson (2009) states that a child born today must be able to see the world from multiple points of view and be able to offer alternative outcomes. Gay Ivey (2011) extends the thinking about what is necessary for adolescents today by suggesting “literacy instruction, then, must not be fundamentally grounded in improving skills, but instead elevated as a tool to enhance students’ intellectual and relational development.” (p. 98).


Career and school counselors are essential to this new idea of literacy development. Although counselors already have a variety of strategies for helping students improve social and emotional skills, the following evidence-based strategies will add to that knowledge as well as provide ideas for building literacy skills. The strategies are divided into five categories: Plays, Authors, Games, Explorations, and Students (PAGES).


The first category is Plays and includes strategies such as role-playing to develop empathy and presenting Readers’ Theatre based on texts from books such as the popular Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. As Anthony (2012) explains, role-playing allows students to convey the emotions of their characters vocally and through facial expressions. Lloyd (2003) discovered that using song lyrics helped her adolescent science students develop critical literacy. Since music is an important part of an adolescent’s life, using song lyrics is another activity that can be used in the Play category (Hines, 2010). All three of these activities could be used to assist in building empathy in adolescents by helping them realize that other people deal with the same issues that they encounter each day. The ability to work with others as the strategies in Plays require and the ability to have empathy for others will enable students to better understand how to more successfully interact with others in school, the workplace, and social settings.


The second category is Authors. It would benefit counselors to be familiar with a variety of materials published for adolescents. Authors write about many subjects that address issues important to adolescents. There are many lists of award-winning books available on the Internet at www.ala.org. When counselors choose books, they need to be sure the books (a) contain characters to whom adolescent can relate, (b) use language adolescents can understand, (c) emphasize the plot, and (d) are written for an adolescent audience (Blasingame, 2007). One example of an author who writes for adolescents is Laurie Anderson, who wrote about anorexia in Wintergirls.


The third category is Games. There are commercial games that help students develop a sense of their own values, such as Zobmondo!! or Would You Rather…? Andrew Miller (2012) recommends teachers develop their own games. Many authors’ web pages offer a variety of games to compliment a piece of literature. Social and interpersonal skills learned through the Games category can assist in the development of stronger relationships with peers, development of values, and in the development of the skills necessary for public speaking, interviewing, and in other situations where other interpersonal interactions are necessary.


The fourth category is Explorations. According to Schmar-Dobler (2003), 47.9% of adolescents have Internet access at home and 98% have access at schools. The Internet offers adolescents many possibilities for social interaction (Richardson, 2010). Counselors and teachers can use the Internet to promote literacy as adolescents participate in blogs, chat rooms, online instruction, and social networks. Vygotsky (as cited in Conrad and Donaldson, 2011) believes that students need social interaction to learn the viewpoints of others to build a more complex worldview. Under supervision, Explorations utilizing the Internet can facilitate and enhance the academic and personal growth of adolescents as they move from the classroom to college and on to the workplace.


The final category is Students. There are a variety of strategies available that enable counselors to learn about students. The Student category includes interest inventories, All About Me writings, and observations to discover students’ interests, strengths, and weaknesses. When counselors know students’ interests, they are more likely to have ideas that support individual growth and learning. Fielding and Pearson (1994) state that student choice is linked to interest and motivation, both of which are directly related to learning. Gambrell’s (2011) #1 Rule for Engagement states that students are more motivated when texts and activities relate to their lives. Guthrie and Davis (2003) recommend the use of an abundance of interesting texts and support student choice.


Gary Ladd (as cited in Anthony, 2012), states that students with poor social skills have a higher incidence of involvement in the criminal justice system as adults. Studies indicate that many of the people in prison have poor literacy skills. PAGES offers a few strategies for assisting adolescents as they strive to succeed in school and move into the workplace. Using the PAGES strategies, career and school counselors can play a huge part in developing adolescent literacy so students in the 21st century will be successful both in high school and in their careers.




Anderson, L. H. (2009). Wintergirls. New York, NY: Penguin Group.

Anthony, M. (2012). When friendship hurts. Instructor, 121(4), 53-57.

Collins, S. (2008). Hunger Games. New York, NY: Scholastic, Inc.

Conrad, R. M., & Donaldson, J. A. (2011). Engaging the online learner. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Cookson, P. W., Jr. (2009). What would Socrates say? Educational Leadership, 67(1), 8-14.

Fielding, L., & Pearson, P. D. (1994). Reading comprehension: What works. Educational Leadership, 51(5), 62-68.

Gambrell, L. B. (2011). Seven rules of engagement: What’s most important to know about motivation to read. The Reading Teacher, 65(3), 172-178. doi: 10.1002/TRTR01024

Guthrie, J. T., & Davis, M. H. (2003). Motivating struggling readers in middle school through an engagement model of classroom practice. Reading & Writing Quarterly, 19, 59-85.

Hines, S. J. (2010). Name that word: Using song lyrics to improve the decoding skills of adolescents with learning disabilities. Teaching Exceptional Children, 43(1), 16-21.

Ivey, G. (2011). Opening up the conversation on literacy, college, and career. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 55(2), 96-99. doi: 10.1002/JAAL.00012

Johnson, P. (2009). The 21st century skills movement. Educational Leadership, 67(1), 11.

Lloyd, C. V. (2003). Song lyrics as texts to develop critical literacy. Retrieved from


Miller, A. (2012, January 27). Use game-based learning to teach civics [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/game-based-learning-civics-andrew-miller

National Center for Education Statistics. (2011). The nation’s report card: Reading 2011

(NCES 2012-457). Retrieved from


Richardson, W. (2010). Blogs, wikis, podcasts, and other powerful web tools for classrooms. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Schmar-Dobler, E. (2003). Reading on the internet: The link between literacy and technology. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 47, 80-85.



Janet McCarraDr. Janet F. McCarra is an Assistant Professor at Mississippi State University—Meridian Campus. She teaches graduate students in elementary education (literacy courses), and sometimes educational leadership students. Dr. McCarra worked as a classroom teacher, assistant principal, and principal in Mississippi public schools for 22 years. She can be reached at JMcCarra@meridian.msstate.edu



Terry JayroeDr. Teresa Jayroe is Associate Dean of the Mississippi State University College of Education (COE) in Starkville, Mississippi. Dr. Jayroe spent 13 years teaching kindergarten through second grade, and obtained her Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction at Mississippi State University in 1999. Dr. Jayroe has received a number of recognitions for her work, including being named one of the 2008 Dynamic Women of Mississippi, as well as being awarded the College of Education Faculty Research Award in 2010. She can be reached at TJayroe@colled.msstate.edu.


Printer-Friendly Version