RM Winter 2016 FLIP

Five Principles to Consider When Teaching a Content Area Literacy Course Across Disciplines

Kavin Ming, Winthrop University Cheryl Mader,Winthrop University

Reading Matters Teaching Matters

Is Disciplinary Literacy the Same as Content Area Literacy? In order for adolescents to achieve the high levels of literacy required to compete in today’s global workforce, literacy teacher educators must rethink what it means to be literate in the academic disciplines. While the idea of content area literacy has been around for a century or more (Mraz, Rickelman, & Vacca, 2009), disciplinary literacy is a rather new concept in the field of literacy education (Moje, 2008). In order to understand the relationship between content area literacy and disciplinary literacy, especially in light of the Read to Succeed (R2S) initiative in South Carolina, we needed to explore the similarities and differences between the two. After much reading and discussion, we discovered that the terms content area literacy and disciplinary literacy are often used interchangeably; however, they are far from the same thing. Bean, Readence, and Baldwin (2011) define content area literacy as focusing on “developing students’ ability to effectively use reading and writing as generic tools for learning from content area texts” (as cited in Fang & Coatman, 2013, p. 627). The term“generic,” as it is used here, is the key to content area literacy. Snow and Moje (2010) claim that the “comprehension skills taught in English class are useful throughout the school day, but they aren’t sufficient to help students study math, science, history ... Texts in these content areas have different structures, language conventions, vocabularies, and criteria for comprehension” (p. 67). While the idea of generic strategies insinuates that adolescent readers should be taught to use similar strategies for comprehending various texts, it also espouses the need for more discipline specific techniques for reading and writing. “There are differences in how the disciplines create, disseminate, and evaluate knowledge, and these differences are instantiated in their use of language” (Shanahan & Shanahan, 2008, p. 48). This is the premise of disciplinary literacy. Unlike content area literacy that focuses on generic strategies that can be applied across all content areas, disciplinary literacy refers to the application of literacy strategies that are specifically tailored to the characteristics of each content area. According to Gillis (2014), “Often, content area reading seems to impose generic reading strategies on content-specific text whereas disciplinary literacy considers content first and asks, ‘how would a scientist (or historian, mathematician, or writer) approach this task?’” (p.615). After attending a reading workshop led by a reading supervisor, “I discovered the power in appropriate disciplinary literacy practices …Content area instruction integrated with discipline-appropriate literacy practices was powerful, effective, and more efficient than instruction in my classroom prior to my exposure to content area reading” (p. 614-

Abstract —Content area literacy and disciplinary literacy are terms that are used in the context of teaching content area literacy courses. While these concepts refer to the use of literacy strategies in the delivery of content area instruction, their purposes are very different. Teacher educators must apply each of these concepts appropriately as they prepare preservice and inservice teachers to effectively teach in their various disciplines. In this article, the authors distinguish between content area literacy and disciplinary literacy, discuss a commonly used approach in the teaching of content area literacy courses, and share five principles that teacher educators can consider to help them strengthen the design and delivery of content area instruction across a variety of disciplines. Taking a Second Look at Our Practice June 11, 2014 was a significant day in the lives of all educators across the state of South Carolina. It was the day that the Read to Succeed (R2S) Act was signed into law. For teacher educators, it represented the beginning of an introspective analysis of what we do to get preservice teachers ready for effectively teaching literacy in the classroom and a thoughtful consideration about how we work with inservice teachers to refine and improve their literacy instruction. For P-12 teachers, it signified the start of a careful examination of how their daily literacy practices are impacting students. In preparation for implementing R2S at the higher education level, institutions from across the state of South Carolina came together for several curricular development and syllabi preparation meetings. Numerous topics were discussed; however, one that received particular attention pertained to the significance of disciplinary literacy and how it is related to the teaching of content area subjects. Do we need a separate content area literacy course for each content area? If we offer courses where multiple content area subjects are blended, are students truly benefitting? Is disciplinary literacy and content area literacy interchangeable? Can we consider one termwithout the other? These were questions that we grappled with and for which we needed answers. The authors of this article teach the content area literacy course at our institution and needed to get to the bottom of some of these questions as this knowledge would help us in strengthening the design and delivery of our undergraduate and graduate content area literacy courses. Therefore, we set out to learn as much as we could about disciplinary literacy and content area literacy and how teacher educators can connect these two concepts as they teach across the disciplines.

| 24 | Reading Matters | Volume 16 • Winter 2016 | scira.org


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