Disciplinary Literacy

Session presented by ReLeah Cossett Lent, September 29, 2017Written by Shain Chisholm, Instructional Coach, Foothills School Division
Armed with the knowledge that strong literacy skills are a predictor of future economic success, teachers are rightly being asked to enhance the literacy skills of their students. While educators push to improve literacy skills of all our students in all classes, ReLeah Cossett Lent weighs in to say that teaching literacy does not necessarily equate to being a “teacher of reading”. To clarify Lent states:

“Asking a science teacher to become a teacher of reading is not fair, nor is it an efficient use of her time. Instead, we must ask disciplinary teachers to share the secrets of literacy that work in their content areas.” (ReLeah Lent, September 2017)
This may be a relief as non-English language teachers may feel an extra burden of doing the “job” of the English teachers on top of teaching their curriculum. Rather than have teachers teach generic literacy strategies, Lent endorses a shift to disciplinary literacy skills that are inherent to specific content areas.
In the following table, Lent offers some suggestions for teaching within the disciplines:

Shifts for Teaching Reading Within the Disciplines· Show students how experts in your field read relevant texts, not just how to read a textbook. · Provide students with a wide variety of texts of varying lengths related to disciplinary topics instead of a single resource. · Model the language of the discipline by reading aloud and explaining why experts use the words or terms in certain ways rather than engaging in isolated vocabulary study. · Challenge students’ perception of literacy by talking about how disciplinary experts read, write, speak and think that might not conform to conventional rules in ELA classes. · Think in terms of how students will use new information to do work within the disciplines rather than only for test-taking purposes. · Give students time to read in class and encourage reading at home.

As a result of teaching through a disciplinary lens, strategies are adapted to better reflect the thinking required within the various disciplines. For example, Lent sees a “K-W-L“/“See-Think-Wonder” becoming:Observe-infer-conclude in scienceDeconstruct-solve-apply in mathAnalyze-compare/evaluate-infer in historySummarize-analyze-evaluate-write in EnglishListen-comprehend-speak in foreign languageObserve-analyze-express in art
The key to increased reading results: Lent points out that students will never become better readers by simply memorizing steps in steps. Students become better readers when they engage in the practice of reading.
“When students are provided with engaging texts, “reluctant” students often prove they can read pretty well” (Lent 2016.)
It may seem like common sense to effective educators, but Lent highlights the key to motivating students to become better readers and writers is to provide them with engaging texts to view, discuss, read and write about. Lent encourages us to be text scavengers, seeking resources that will ignite the curiosity of students and motivate them to want to read. Here are a few ways Lent suggests to “prime the pump” for student literacy learning. Here are some examples of photos that can be used to create intrigue and student interest

E.g. The use of intriguing photos can be used in any discipline.. You can remove the captions of intriguing photos and do a See/Think/Wonder with students. Once student interest is piqued, they will be motivated to want to know and learn more.

As educators, Lent challenges us to not limit ourselves to textbooks or novels, but draw on a plethora of engaging texts:
– Current event and historical articles – Photos with or without captions – Infographs – Charts and tables – Picture books – Recipes & supply lists- Cartoons- Quotes- Speeches- Primary documents- Intriguing/Fascinating photos

Award-winning fiction and nonfiction books for school-aged children- The Canadian Children’s Book Center Awards- Coretta Scott King Awards 2017- NCTE Orbnis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction – Caldecott Medal (Most outstanding American picture book for children)- John Newbery Medal (American Library Association award for best children’s book)- Michael L. Printz Aw. ard (Young Adult Book Awards)- National Book Award Young People’s Award (Young People’s Literature)- Scott O’Dell Award (Historical nonfiction)- Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award (Best nonfiction)
Lent advocates a similar shift in philosophy in writing as with reading with regards to writing in the different disciplines:

Shifts for Teaching Writing Within the DisciplinesShow students how to write in your discipline by providing students with (an):· Article a week · Read-alouds· Mentor texts
Have students write every day as it relates to your discipline. · Exit slips· Interactive exploratory notebooks· Reflection pieces· Informational/argumentative short tasks· Summaries· Analyses· Poetry· Blogs· Choice writing in ELA classes· Sketchnoting.

Lent is a passionate proponent of a disciplinary approach to literacy that provides exciting learning possibilities for students. Using multiple literacy resources as an intrinsic tool for work in their discipline, teachers are better able to ignite student curiosity, deepen content knowledge and engagement in all disciplines as well as help them acquire skills to make them college and career ready.

For more in-depth information along with a plethora of practical approaches to employing literacy in the various content areas, ReLeah Lent has authored “This is Disciplinary Literacy : Reading, writing, thinking, and doing…content area by content area.”

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