By Jacob Steiss and Jiali Wang
Students use varied and complex literacy skills to solve problems and communicate their thinking in science, history, and English Language Arts. To support students’ continued development in these areas, teachers need to build students’ literacy skills toward discipline-specific ways of reading and writing. In this blog, we respond to the following questions:
What is disciplinary literacy?
Folks in different disciplines have distinct ways of speaking, writing, engaging in inquiry, and solving problems. While surface-level similarities exist between reading in science and reading in history (e.g. processing information at the word, sentence, and text levels), Project READi asserts the products and goals of reading in the disciplines require tailored disciplinary literacies.
Dr. Susan Goldman, Project READi team member, notes that literary analysis is guided by the purpose of better understanding the human condition and universal themes. This purpose then drives certain disciplinary reading and thinking practices like identifying and analyzing the development of a theme in literary texts.
Meanwhile in the discipline of history, reading for the purpose of historical interpretation requires skills like contextualizing primary sources and corroborating accounts of events by different actors in order to better ascertain a reasonable and reliable historical interpretation. In the digital word, corroborating takes place through lateral reading. The differences that exist in literary spaces, history, and science are not limited to each discipline’s goals, lexicon, and standards for evidence and therefore require distinct literacy skills.
Why do differences in disciplinary literacies matter?
At the secondary level, teachers often attend to foundational literacy skills like summarizing information, generating claims, and using evidence and experiences to support claims. However, carefully considering the specific disciplinary literacy skills students need to engage in complex, literate acts within that discipline is also important.
Below, we showcase discipline-specific literacy practices in ELA, science, and history. Notice the commonalities and differences between them.
Literacy Practices in English Language Arts
Literacy Practices in Science
Literacy Practices in History
Given the different purposes for reading and writing in the disciplines, it is likely that teachers’ instructional approaches for reading and writing will be different. Calling out these discipline-specific differences for students can help them build greater awareness of how language is used according to different (discipline-specific) rhetorical situations. Each rhetorical situation shares five elements with other rhetorical situations:
What are some ways teachers are advancing disciplinary literacy in the classroom?
A group of educators and researchers at Project READi have developed lessons and assessments for teaching contemporary literacies and reading skills.
In this six-minute video, Dr. Susan Goldman of Project READi, describes the rationale behind the disciplinary approach to researching and improving student’s literacy skills. She suggests that these practices should be developed through responsive instruction and alongside the learning of the content. Disciplinary literacy skills may support students when tackling the complex problems in their worlds, perhaps while working withing interdisciplinary teams.
How might you better support students' disciplinary literacy?