“All educators are teachers of literacy”
– a common phrase I echo when speaking or writing. Notice, I did not say “All educators are teachers of reading,” which would demand a skill set many educators do not have, although that is often what most people think when they hear the first statement. There are no expectations for educators at the middle and high school grades to understand reading instruction (phonological awareness, decoding, fluency, etc.), instead, expectations reside in supporting student understanding in literacy acquisition in discipline-specific consumption and creation.
The Question Becomes How?
With this lens, fears often subside and educators realize that they are the EXPERT in that content area. The question then turns to – How? Zooming out to a wider view of discipline literacy, one understands that much content learning by students is done through reading or viewing and their demonstration of understanding is exhibited through writing or communicating in some form. From the larger view, teachers can then zoom back into specific disciplines and ask themselves what are the skills a student must possess to tackle discipline-specific texts (which includes multiple modes) and what components of communication do I need to teach in order for students write and create in a discipline-specific way.
3 Instructional Strategies
The How is one area that I am often asked to address with staff. I offer 3 Instructional Strategies that are applicable to any discipline and support literacy in any classroom:
Examples – A History Teacher demonstrating how historians read and make sense of primary sources. Read/think aloud text – Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech. A reading strategy historians often use is to consider the time period it was written in and what was happening in the world during that time to help them understand meaning and context. This would be modeled aloud to students. Math – Rafranz Davis shared with me a movement among math educators, shifting the focus from test made questions to real-world problems. During a read/think aloud in math class, Davis suggests utilizing Polya’s 4 Step Method as a model to demonstrate to students – 1. Understand the problem. 2. Devise a plan. 3. Carry out the plan. 4. Look Back. Students can call upon this strategy anytime they approach an unfamiliar example.
Example – Alice Keeler provided the perfect example foridentifying Concept and Label vocabulary in a math classroom. Students are given a problem to solve and explain their thinking around parabolic, cubic, and porabolas within the context of 2 illustrations, one is a visual of a climbing path for El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, the other a water fountain. Parabolic would be an example of a Concept vocabulary term, as opposed to Yosemite, bagging the peak, or bushwhacking. The last 3 terms are ones the teacher would define for students and move on, on the other hand, concept vocabulary would demand more attention in both the instruction via the teacher and the acquisition and demonstration by the student. Providing a non-example, such as the climbing path, also pushes kids to think differently and solidify their demonstration of understanding of a concept.
Example – A science teacher uses multiple lab reports published in a scientific journal as a mentor example. Students examine how the data sets were organized, recurring vocabulary, and structure. The content of the lab report may not be an area that is covered in the course, but as a mentor example, students to grasp the essential components of a lab report – how labels work to inform to support the format, the proper way to insert lists and data into the report, and when longer explanations are needed in paragraph form on lab reports.
Once educators understand the Why of discipline-specific literacy, the How is the next step in learning. Applying these 3 instructional strategies will help students consume and create discipline-specific literacies.
Polya – Berkely
What is Disciplinary Literacy and Why it Matters – Shanahan & Shanahan