RM Winter 2016 FLIP

PRINCIPLE 3: Develop ways to learn about the role of literacy in disciplinary subjects. It is not feasible for literacy teacher educators to take courses to learn about the concepts and practices of all the content area subjects that they will encounter in their teaching. However, it is important that they have some familiarity with the various disciplines and the role that literacy plays in each discipline (Johnson et al., 2011). One of the ways that they can do this is by learning from their students. As literacy teacher educators, we oftentimes feel that we are the sole dispensers of information while our students are always the recipients of what we deliver. However, that does not always have to be the case. Oftentimes these preservice and inservice students come to us with several credit hours of discipline-specific courses that they have taken, and they are well-versed in the principles of their subject area. They know how to read and process the text in their disciplines, and they know the kinds of information that P-12 students need to think about and learn to be considered proficient in their disciplines (Hynd-Shanahan, 2013). And so, either through a formal class assignment, or a question posed for general class discussion, we could ask them to respond to the following: Based on your knowledge of and experience with your specific discipline, help me to understand what reading and writing looks like in your content area. That is, if I walked into your classroom and observed students’ using reading and writing to acquire knowledge, what should I expect to see? Asking this question each semester will help literacy teacher educators to develop a strong understanding of what it means to use literacy in each discipline. PRINCIPLE 4: Help students to see how literacy strategies can be authentically adapted to their individual disciplines. Gillis (2014) believes that “strategies adapted (rather than adopted) to fit the content (discipline specific strategies) are more effective than general literacy strategies” (p.616). The literacy teacher educator must think about ways that strategies can be adapted to fit learner needs. The literacy teacher educator can also encourage students to think about how they can adapt specific strategies to meet their individual needs. Maybe a weekly activity could be called, How Can I Adapt This Strategy? With this activity, students would get an opportunity to analyze strategies that are presented to determine how it would need to be modified to work for a specific topic within their discipline. Shanahan and Shanahan (2008) conducted a study on disciplinary literacy to discover “how content area experts and secondary content teachers read disciplinary tests, make use of comprehension strategies, and subsequently teach those strategies to adolescent readers” (p. 40). In this study they found that content-area experts and secondary teachers were somewhat reluctant to teach some of the generic strategies suggested by the researchers, saying that the strategies did not promote the disciplinary literacy skills needed for their specific discipline. For example, one chemistry teacher was reluctant to use a particular reading strategy on summarization until he suggested a modification of the strategy. With the modification, “the strategy was not just about understanding text; it was also about understanding the essence of chemistry” (p.54). The strategy was adapted to make it subject matter specific. Also, the history content-area experts and secondary history teachers

liked several of the strategies recommended by the literacy researchers; however, suggestions were made for improvement to more closely mirror a historian’s way of thinking. As a result of their two year study, Shanahan and Shanahan (2008) found that “the disciplinary teams advocated strategies that mirrored the kinds of thinking and analytic practices common to their discipline” (p. 56). However, they also contended that: instead of trying to convince disciplinary teachers of the value of general reading strategies…we set out to see if we could formulate new strategies or jury- rig existing ones so that they would more directly and explicitly address the specific and highly specialized disciplinary reading demands of chemistry, history, and mathematics. (p.57) This reflects the idea presented in principle four. As literacy teacher educators, we must not simply present a plethora of general reading strategies to our students in the various disciplines; instead we must understand the nuances of the various disciplines represented in our classes and teach our students to adapt those general strategies, not simply adopt them. PRINCIPLE 5: Examine the linguistic challenges of academic texts that may make them demanding to read for adolescents. As children move from elementary school to middle school to high school, the reading of academic texts becomes increasingly more complex. The language typically used in elementary texts is closer to the language used in everyday conversation and the topics typically focus on areas of interest to elementary-aged children. On the other hand, adolescents are faced with language demands in their academic texts that are more “advanced, abstract, and complex…the language used to construct and challenge this specialized knowledge thus becomes more technical, dense, abstract, and hierarchically structured” (Fang, 2012, p.35). Not only is the language more complex, but it also varies from discipline to discipline; academic texts in history are distinctly different from those in science or mathematics or music, making the comprehension of academic texts challenging for many readers. This linguistic variation across the disciplines does not just occur at the word level; it also takes place at the level of grammar…Recognizing disciplinary ways of using language is important because one cannot fully comprehend the text of a specific discipline … without having a sense of how the discipline organizes knowledge through language. (Fang, 2012, p.36) As literacy teacher educators we must prepare our students to recognize and examine these linguistic variations in the various disciplines. This requires literacy teacher educators to understand both the quantitative measures and qualitative measures of text complexity (McArthur, 2012). This presents a problem for literacy teacher educators. As mentioned earlier, just as it is not feasible for literacy teacher educators to take courses to learn about the concepts and practices of all the content area subjects that they will encounter in their

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| 26 | Reading Matters | Volume 16 • Winter 2016 | scira.org


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