Showing posts with label Content area reading. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Content area reading. Show all posts

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Disciplinary Vocabulary

            When I was 8, there were two boys, Chris and Paul. They were both tow-heads, gentle and quiet, with loping walks; and both could draw beautifully… if a teacher struggled to draw a straight line or a round circle on the chalkboard, she’d ask Chris or Paul, who could do it, seemingly without effort.
            Oh, and by the way, they were identical twins.
            I couldn’t tell Chris and Paul apart. Few students or teachers could.
            At the time, I was jealous—not of their sweetness or facility—but of the idea of being a twin. It looked cool.
            Now that I’m older that kind of constant confusion doesn’t look so fun.
            Think of disciplinary literacy and content area literacy. They are not the same, but many teachers can’t tell them apart. I don’t think anyone will make a Parent Trap movie about them, but you get the idea.
            Basically, disciplinary literacy refers to specialized texts and ways of using literacy in the disciplines. Historians, mathematicians, literary critics, and scientists read and write differently because they create different kinds of knowledge and rely on different kinds of evidence.
            Content literacy, on the other hand, is about teaching reading using subject matter texts, and the emphasis is on the use of general reading or study skills in different classes or in different kinds of books.
            But what about vocabulary?
            Learning vocabulary will be pretty much the same, no matter what field of study we are talking about. Memorizing a word is no different in a third-grade social studies class or in medical school.
            Helping kids to learn words means focusing on deep or extensive definitions, intensive and varied repetition of the words, examining relationships among words, making personal connections to words, and lots of review.
            But remember, a disciplinary literacy approach tries to make students aware of the special properties and purposes of the disciplines. What it takes to learn new words may stay the same, but the nature of vocabulary does differ across fields. For example, a large portion of science words are built from Latin and Greek combining forms.
            By contrast, vocabulary in history tends to be ideological in nature. Words don’t just have meanings, they have points of view (something mathematicians and scientists try to avoid when coining terms). Do your students study the U.S. Civil War, the War Between the States, or the War of Northern Aggression?  
            A very different take, but an interesting one, on disciplinary vocabulary is promoted by the book, Word ID: Assessment across the Content Areas by Linda Gutlohn & Frances Bessellieu (2014). It is based upon an analysis of 4,500 content area words. They have identified the most common morphemes in the different subject areas (Grades 6-12); providing lists of prefixes, suffixes, and combining forms by subject area. These specialized lists are interesting, with both overlap and separateness.
            Teaching students the nature of vocabulary differences across the disciplines makes sense, but it also makes sense to focus vocabulary work on the special properties of the words that come up often in the different subject areas. Sort of like recognizing all the “twinness” between Chris and Paul—but not neglecting what made each of them so uniquely special.

             

Monday, February 16, 2015

Content-Focused Reading Interventions or How to Fit Into a Size 4 Dress

I would like your thoughts on some instructional practices that I am seeing an increase in amongst the schools that I work with What do you have to say about decreasing or eliminating science/social studies instruction for those students who have not met proficiency in reading (as determined by a screener or other assessment tool) to allow for RTI time?

Ah, the "how do I fit into a size 4 dress for my sister's wedding?" question. I say that because we all deal with problems of trying to fit too much into a small space, whether we're still in the condo with the second baby or sneaking our SUV into the compact car spaces at Whole Foods.

In this case, we want to give kids 8 hours of teaching in a 6 hour day. Of course, that rarely works (I can almost hear the stitches stretching). How can we provide students with the reading instruction that they need while ensuring that they learn lots of content, too? Kind of makes you want to drown your sorrows in a pint of Haagen Dazs--which could help with the reading problem, but I wouldn't advise it if you're still working on size 4. 

Generally, I’m not a big fan of the practice. Many years ago, Harry Singer and his colleagues found a close relationship between what students knew about social studies and science and how well they were learning to read. These were secondary school students, but you get the idea. If we reduce kids’ opportunity to develop content knowledge, then we undermine their futures as readers.

Of course, this question is not asking about older students. Research also shows that if students don’t master basic reading skills early on, then their later content learning will be seriously undermined. It is a disaster if kids leave the primary grades without strong reading skills, and undermining content knowledge to get there carries its own problems.

Damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. What is a school supposed to do? If a child is struggling to develop phonological awareness, phonics, and fluency skills, then providing additional tuition in those subjects is a proven way to advance early literacy.

That’s where the conundrum is. If you don’t intervene well and early with sound reading instruction, then kids are likely to be dogged by low literacy in all their later subject matter courses. But if you do use science, social studies, art & music (etc.) time to fix the reading skills, then you reduce the knowledge that should play a big role in later reading.

I’ve always sided with the reading intervention idea, but mainly because the content coverage in so many primary grade classrooms is so thin. The negative impact of missing those subjects is likely to be less detrimental than continuing to be a laggard in reading, so reading it is.

Now I think we should be less accepting of that position, or at least we should try to make it a harder choice. Here are some practices and policies that can ensure  students gain both the reading skills and the subject matter content:

Preschool literacy
            One way to ensure that most kids can read well in the elementary school grades is to advance their language and literacy skills early on. Preschools should include literacy play (e.g., post office, library, restaurant, newspaper office, writing center), story time, lots of books, and explicit instruction in phonological awareness and letter names and sounds. Whatever they learn before kindergarten and first grade, they don’t need to learn in kindergarten and first grade.

Universal full day kindergarten
           This content/reading rivalry is a competition for time. You can split the difference or prioritize, but the best thing for kids would be to expand the resource. More instructional hours means more opportunities for reading AND content instruction.

Rigorous instruction in social studies, science, and the arts
           Many schools follow the tests. If there is a reading and math test, teachers and principals focus heavily on instruction in those subjects and everything else can go jump. Sadly, this means that kids get short changed. Let’s preserve dedicated time for teaching these things—increasing reading instruction without doing that is cheating.

Reading social studies and science texts
           Teach reading using social studies and science texts. This can mean both including informational texts in the “reading books” and teaching reading using the regular textbooks from the subjects. If kids are going to practice prediction or summarizing or any other reading skill, why can’t they do that within Chapter 4 of the classroom science text?

Longer academic days
            Again, we keep trying to squeeze an awful lot into too small a space. I’m a big fan of afterschool and summer programs for kids. Often these are offered by zoos, parks, museums, libraries, scouts, and other non-school institutions. If we want our kids to be really good readers and to know a lot about their world, we need to make sure that the opportunities to learn go well beyond the school day (that way, when a student needs to miss a class because of reading or math, he/she isn’t missing everything).

Commitment to success
            When a student enters any kind of remediation, there should be a clear and meaningful goal for such teaching. And, then we ought to be aggressive about making sure they reach these goals. I’d say the same thing about content instruction; we need to make sure this teaching has powerful and clear objectives that we make a serious effort to accomplish. Too often we are rigorous in determining schedules and which teachers are to work with a remedial student, but we aren’t as dedicated to accomplishing real outcomes.

Parent help
           Another way to expand learning time is to engage parent involvement. Not all parents can or are willing to help, but many are and we should take advantage of the resource. Parents can help with various aspects of reading instruction and activity, and the same is true for involving them in exposing their kids to rich content.

      Make sure there is a content plan
            Often IEPs and the like emphasize the reading skills that have to be learned, but they are silent about what content needs to be mastered. In that sense, they can operate like tests... steering teachers to overemphasize some things and to ignore others. Don’t just figure out how to deliver high quality reading instruction to such students, but also figure out how this will be done while preserving the content learning everyone else will get.


            All of these approaches can help to get more into a small space. They can increase learning opportunity, which could prevent or reduce the need to pull kids out of their content classes. I doubt we’ll ever be able to do away with pullout instruction (any more than we can get by without size 6 dresses). But I suspect we could reduce the ill effects of this approach while ensuring some real benefits. 

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Disciplinary Literacy is NOT the New Name for Content Area Reading

Recently, Cyndie and I published a study on disciplinary literacy in the Journal of Literacy Research (Shanahan, C. Shanahan, T., & Misichia, 2011). In the study we report on our efforts to identify the special nature of literacy in three disciplines. We looked specifically at history, science (chemistry), and mathematics.

The study was based on the theory that it would be useful to account for such information when teaching students to read. The idea is that if students were taught to read history in a way that corresponds to how historians read they'd be better equipped to handle such materials. Obviously the first step in that journey is to identify those disciplinary differences, and our work was in that vein.

Which raises an important point: Disciplinary literacy is distinct from "content area" reading. Disciplinary literacy is more aimed at what we teach (which would include how to read and use information like a scientist), than how we teach (such as how can students read the history book well enough to pass the test). The idea of disciplinary literacy is that students not only have to learn the essential content of a field, but how reading and writing are used in that field. On the other hand, content area reading focuses on imparting reading and study skills that may help students to better understand and remember whatever they read.

Accordingly, a disciplinary literacy teacher may try to get students to engage in author-centered readings or sourcing (in which students try to identify an author's argument, perspective, evidence)--since that is what historians do when they read; while a content area literacy teacher would push for students to use Cornell notes or KWL, since such techniques can help readers to remember more information from a history text. Disciplinary literacy strives to get students to participate--albeit at a low level--in the reading and discourse of a particular discipline, while content area literacy strives to get students to read and study like good students.

I know some reading experts who think disciplinary literacy is nuts. Their argument is that kids are not scientists, mathematicians, or historians; they are students. Thus, the agenda of content area reading (to teach students explicitly how to study and learn information well) is an appropriate one and that teachers and students should focus on content area reading.

Our counter argument is that the development of general reading skills is not an good goal for content area classes at a high school, and that not many teachers are willing to aim for such goals and procedures given that these do not come from their discipline. Identity is very important to human beings. A teacher striving to be a math teacher is dedicated to math goals and is interested in hanging with math teachers. Using instructional methods that bind them closely to the math community (as opposed to the reading community) would be attractive.

We also recognize that content area reading instruction tends to help the bottom kids only. We think this discourages teachers from adopting content area reading. We suspect that reading procedures more in line with the mores of a discipline may be helpful to even better students.

I think the argument between those who are proponents of disciplinary literacy and content literacy are valuable. But the confusion between the two concepts is unfortunate (too many educators think that disciplinary literacy is just a new name for content area reading) It can prevent teachers from understanding what the choices really are.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

What the Experimental Research Tells Us About English Learners and New Info on Secondary Literacy

Recently, Diane August and I wrote a chapter for a book published by the California Department of Education, "Improving Education for English Learners: Research-Based Approaches." Here is a link to information about that publication

http://www.cde.ca.gov/nr/ne/yr10/yr10rel79.asp/


So, this week they had us speak with a group of administrators at their Accountability Conference in San Francisco. Although we didn't exactly follow What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) standards in our determinations, I think the claims are sound. For instance, we say that professional development for teachers was an important ingredient in children's success. WWC would say that's a no-no because none of the studies directly tested this claim (that is none of them compared the success of versions of their treatments that provided professional development with those that did not). However, none of these studies of successful interventions omitted training for the teachers either. Given that the researchers all saw fit across so many studies to make professional training a part of their successful treatments, it would be hard for us to claim that any of these interventions could be made to work successfully in your school districts without such training being part of the package. Similar conclusions were drawn about differentiation as well.

Here is that presentation:

https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&pid=sites&srcid=ZGVmYXVsdGRvbWFpbnxzaGFuYWhhbnN0dWZmfGd4OjFmZjhjNDBiNWJhMTY1N2E&pli=1/



This summer I gave a talk on disciplinary literacy at Teachers College, Columbia University. This was part of a summer conference that they did. They had speakers like Andres Henriquez, Carol Lee, and Elizabeth Moje. They just issued a neat online document that includes copies of everyone's powerpoints along with summaries of their remarks. This should be useful to many readers of this blog.

http://www.tc.columbia.edu/news/7740/

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Free Video of Disciplinary Literacy Speech

I spoke this summer at University of Kansas about Disciplinary Literacy. Earlier I posted the powerpoint slides from that talk, but they have posted a video of the presentation. The link to that speech is included below. If you are curious what all the kerfluffle about disciplinary literacy has been all about, you might enjoy watching this:

http://http://smedia.kucrl.org/archives/577/

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Content Area Reading Versus Disciplinary Literacy

This week I've been giving talks at Teachers College (Columbia University), Ole Miss, and the University of Kansas. All of the talks are comparisons of content area reading and disciplinary literacy. These days, too often, I hear those terms used as synonyms. They are not. Disciplinary literacy is not just a new fangled term for an old fangled idea; it is a new idea altogether. Here is the presentation for those who want it.





http://http://sites.google.com/site/shanahanstuff/content-reading-disciplinary-literacy/

Monday, November 24, 2008

Content Area Reading

Last week, Cyndie Shanahan (my wife) and I gave speeches at the Arkansas Reading Association. Despite the challenging economy, we had the opportunity to meet with a lot of teachers. It was great. Cyndie talked about teaching middle school and high school students the reading that they need to know in a history or science class and I talked about reading comprehension and covered some of the same kind of ground she did in literature towards the end of my talk.

As promised our two powerpoints are here if you want them. They both have some useful classroom tools in them and Cyndie's has some terrific weblinks that sure make her points.

http://timothyshanahan8.googlepages.com/arkansas