I am Not a Reading Teacher

“Gatekeepers of Information” a term often associated with overzealous technology directors who overblock websites denying students and teachers access to information.

I want to offer a different lens on the “Gatekeeper” label to include educators who claim no responsibility in the teaching of literacy strategies because they are not the “reading teacher.” When one takes this stance, students are denied skills, strategies, and opportunities to understand content specific rhetoric. The teacher, once again, becomes the “gatekeeper” of information; the lone expert in the class able to decode foreign concepts or understand information as if by magic. This logic only strengthens the dependency of the student on the teacher, contradicting the goal of education; to move all students towards independence.

Take, for instance, the following example of a typical 8th grade science test question:



The annotations I provide highlight areas that a science teacher could model as literacy skills. The goal of literacy across discipline areas is not to have all teachers require students read Huck Finn, but to teach students the necessary skills needed to read, write, and think like a “scientist” or “mathematician”, etc.

Most educators enter the profession with an open heart and a passion for teaching. They often find teaching students how to read and write a daunting task. They do not know where to start, how to assess, or lack confidence in their own skills. With this in mind, I offer the following advice.

5 Simple Starts to Tackle Content-Specific Literacy

1. Vocabulary – Identify common words that are specific to content areas, terms that are needed to build a foundation.

2. Structure/Format – Recognize the format a text uses is important to understand the type of reading required. Headings, Bold Faced Words, Glossary, Pictures or Diagrams; all of these things provide information for the savvy reader.

3. Organization – Content specific rhetoric often has repetition in organization. Cause/Effect, Chronological, General to Specific; identifying how the author organizes a text will help students locate needed information.

4. Mentor Texts – This term often confuses many educators because of the formal tone, but simply stated, a mentor text is any piece that provides a solid example that students try to mimic in their own writing. All teachers should have a collection of mentor texts (including their own writing) that students can dissect, study, and keep as a reference.

5. Model your thinking – Finally, as the expert in the room, modeling your thinking aloud makes clear strategies used to uncover the meaning of the text or question. This consistent modeling, paired with gradual release, will increase a student’s own learning strategies and provide needed practice which eventually leads to independence


Best of luck! Literacy Rocks!