Teaching Disciplinary Literacy Today, Improving Student Success Tomorrow

Teaching Disciplinary Literacy Today, Improving Student Success TomorrowHave you ever tried to read directions for your new iPod, child’s toy, or new appliance, only to come away with your head shaking and maybe even a few tears (this is me)? To survive in the real world and in the workforce, we must possess the ability to deeply comprehend any text we encounter. This is why disciplinary literacy is becoming more clearly important; by teaching literacy across all disciplines, we prepare students for the literary demands they will meet day-to-day.

Last month we started a conversation on disciplinary literacy: What Exactly is Disciplinary Literacy Anyway? Now that we know the answer— “disciplinary literacy is defined as the confluence of content knowledge, experiences, and skills merged with the ability to read, write, listen, speak, think critically and perform in a way that is meaningful within the context of a given field (Wisconsin Department of Education 2013)”—it is time to start thinking about how we can include instructional and learning activities in our classroom to support and teach disciplinary literacy.

Be sure to check out Heather Bickley’s companion blog post, What Exactly is Disciplinary Literacy Anyway?

Elizabeth Birr Moje, keynote speaker at the 2010 National Reading Initiatives Conference, makes a case for teaching the literacy skills required of practitioners in a content field. In Art Peterson’s January 2010 article for the National Writing Project, he lists some of Moje’s more practical strategies and ideas. He repeats Moje’s advice first; it is necessary for teachers to let go of their reliance on textbooks. She makes the case that textbooks provide vast amounts of content knowledge in a short amount of time but that it comes at the cost of engagement, understanding and disciplinary skills. She suggests that teachers include primary sources, both fiction and nonfiction. “Teachers can employ many different forms of representation to construct knowledge of one concept—different genres (e.g. narrative, expository, poetics, music), different symbol systems (e.g. print, graphs, tables), and different semiotic tools (image, sound, and performance),” she writes in Foregrounding the Disciplines in Secondary Teaching and Learning. “Each of these forms—now readily available through digital venues—can support the construction of knowledge necessary to access the abstract print text of the disciplines.”

In his book, Developing Readers in the Academic Disciplines, Doug Buehl not only answers the questions of why we need to teach disciplinary literacy, but he also continues to provide specific strategies that teachers can implement in their classrooms. He suggests striping away the idea of one-size-fits-all approach to literacy instruction. He suggests that we differentiate for literacy the same way that we differentiate for other skills and content areas, not just by reading ability but also by reading level, format, and even content area.

Buehl suggests that students read actively. He suggests that they read with pen in hand to take notes, ask questions, define terms, and ensure comprehension. Michigan’s Mission Literacy has made some of Buelh’s reproducibles available online. Click here to find great graphic organizers to support active reading and disciplinary literacy.

Readwritethink.org is a great website for finding disciplinary literacy strategies. They offer lesson plans, articles and strategy ideas. Here is a link to their summary of Doug Buehl’s book. At the bottom of the page are links to awesome lesson plan ideas such as, “Using Science Texts to Teach the Organizations Features of Nonfiction.

Catapult Learning also offers several disciplinary literacy resources and professional development sessions. Follow this link to sample  Disciplinary Literacy Resource Guides. The guides include background knowledge about the Common Core and content area literacy as well as internet resources, standards based classroom activities and discussion topics, and text based writing prompts with instructional guidelines and scoring rubrics.

Whether you start slowly with active reading and graphic organizers or rewrite your lessons to include authentic readings, primary sources and differentiation for disciplinary literacy, it is the obligation of today’s teacher to prepare his/her students for tomorrow’s workforce. Disciplinary literacy has been identified as a key skill necessary for student success tomorrow—and today.

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