Monday, February 16, 2015
Thursday, January 12, 2012
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
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
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:
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.
Thursday, August 12, 2010
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:
Sunday, July 11, 2010
Monday, November 24, 2008
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.