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Saving youth at risk

Published:Saturday | March 13, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Philip Hamilton, Gleaner Writer

The University of the West Indies' School of Education on the Mona campus recently staged a two-day conference titled 'Improving Literacy for Adolescents and Youth At Risk'.

The conference, which was held March 11-12, featured presentations from Jamaica, Barbados, the United States and the British Virgin Islands.

The use of technology to teach literacy interventions for at-risk youth, as well as measures to assist struggling readers was a big part of the presentations.

Constance Weaver, professor of reading and writing at Miami University in Ohio, whose presentation looked at the need to reassess struggling readers, said the types of teaching methods used in the classroom could put very young children at risk.

She said many children experienced difficulty learning because abstract ideas, such as emphasising letters and sounds, which were often out of context, was the method being used.

Limiting instruction

"When they've had that kind of limiting instruction where they don't read real text and only do phonics and read words, we're seeing a behavioural view of learning. That's what's taken over our schools," Weaver said.

Professor Weaver said there were several methods that could be used to improve the reading skills of teenagers who were very basic readers.

She said this included using radio programmes and writing and performing radio scripts which utilised teenagers' music, as well as using their Internet skills.

The conference was also used to launch 'Setting Literacy Free' - a literacy-intervention programme for at-risk youth in correctional centres across the island.

The programme, a joint project of the School of Education in conjunction with the Department of Correctional Services, seeks to empower juveniles incarcerated at several correctional centres across the island.

It also includes training juveniles in writing scripts for radio programmes aired on FREE FM, the radio station at the Tower Street correctional facility, which is being expanded to include the Fort Augusta and South Camp Road correctional centres.