Sunday, April 27, 2008

Disciplinary Literacy


There is growing interest and concern in the reading of older students (grades 4-12). There are many reasons for this, but ultimately it comes down to the fact that most thoughtful observers are convinced that most students leave high school with insufficient reading and writing skills--insufficient for college success or economic participation.

Over the past few years, we have seen growth in the numbers of reading programs aimed at student in the upper grades (including my own AMP program: http://www.pearsonschool.com/index.cfm?locator=PSZ15e&PMDbSiteID=2781&PMDbSolutionID=6724&PMDbSubSolutionId=6732&PMDbCategoryId=3289&PMDbProgramId=27098&level=4&prognav=po). I believe that, once we get through the presidential election, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act will be reauthorized, for the first time including literacy help for older school age students. This week we saw the Department of Education put out requirements that will make it more difficult for states and local districts to continue to hide or disguise horrendous high school drop out levels.

My wife, Cyndie (http://education.uic.edu/directory.cfm?page=faculty_info&netid=chynd), and I have been involved in some important work with support of the Carnegie Corporation. We have been studying what is increasingly referred to as disciplinary literacy. By disciplinary literacy we mean the specialized skills and codes that someone must master to be able to read and write in the various disciplines (science, math, literature, history) and technical fields. Basic reading skills tend to be highly generalizable, but various scholars have shown that increasingly, with development, literacy involves language skills and cognitive processes (and even values) that are specialized. That means that our students, by the time they reach high school, need to start learning those more unique aspects of literacy.

We have an article about this in the Harvard Education Review (www.hepq.org/main/her/Index.html) that is getting a lot of play. Recently, the editors of that issue invited me to Harvard University to speak to their community about this topic, and also to speak at the American Educational Research Association meeting in New York. Here is the powerpoint summarizing some of that work:

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