Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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How Does Discipline Literacy Differ from Content-area Literacy?

Written by WGBH Education for Annenberg Learner, Part 1 of 3 (Go to Part 2)

LIT 15

Reading and Writing in the Disciplines

When students enter middle and high school, their teachers expect them to have mastered the basic skills and strategies necessary for reading and comprehending texts across disciplines and genres. Is this always the reality? Do the skills and strategies they’ve developed serve them equally well when they read a scientific journal article, mathematical proof, historical primary source document, Shakespearean sonnet, and technical paper?

The answer is, no. While basic strategies such as making connections, asking questions, inferring, summarizing, and monitoring understanding are important when reading across subjects, they are not sufficient unless they can be adapted to each discipline. Even if students have mastered these basic skills, they may still struggle to understand, analyze, interpret, and evaluate important ideas in discipline-specific texts because they do not have the topical language and specialized reading practices that are used by scientists, mathematicians, historians, literary analysts, and technical specialists. To understand how each discipline produces and communicates key ideas, students need to know what is specifically involved when reading across these disciplines. So how exactly is this discipline literacy different from content-area literacy?

Content-area Literacy

Content-area literacy strategies are traditionally defined as the basic set of strategies students use when reading and responding to texts, with little differentiation being made across the content-area subjects. For example, students may learn techniques for determining important information, making inferences, asking questions, and summarizing. They would then apply these strategies when reading science, history, and math.

Discipline Literacy

Discipline literacy skills support students in moving beyond the general reading strategies as they develop specialized practices for making sense of discipline-based texts through reading, writing, and oral language. These practices include understanding how information is presented in each discipline: organization of important information; specialized vocabulary and syntactic nuances; use of text features; and interpretation and evaluation of evidence. The focus is on teaching students different ways of thinking as they encounter texts by developing reader identities within each discipline—to become expert readers and communicators in a discipline by reading, writing, and talking like a historian, a scientist, a mathematician, etc.

Essentially, “[t]he difference is that content literacy emphasizes techniques that a novice might use to make sense of a discipline text (such as how to study a history book for an examination) while discipline literacy emphasizes the unique tools that the experts in a discipline use to engage in the work of that discipline” (Shanahan and Shanahan, 2012, p. 8).

What Does This Mean for Instruction?

It has been an unspoken expectation that elementary teachers would help students have content-area literacy skills in place by middle school. In contrast, the expectation around discipline literacy is that it’s the job of discipline teachers to build these skills. But in reality, these are not isolated tasks.

The Common Core State Standards have placed an emphasis on the need for ELA and discipline teachers to share the responsibility for teaching and assessing mastery of the ELA Standards. While this call for shared responsibility is certainly a change from what has occurred in schools for decades, it’s important because it has now been documented that discipline experts approach the reading of texts differently (Shanahan and Shanahan, 2008).

This does not mean that discipline teachers must also add “reading teacher” to the many hats they already wear. Rather, it means that they should model and share their own strategies for how to approach a text, how to determine and synthesize key ideas, how to critically evaluate the content, and how to engineer new possibilities. After all, who else is better able to support the reading of texts within a discipline than a discipline expert who knows the language and understands how students acquire text-based information?

They are, after all, the experts.

Shanahan, T., & Shanahan, C. (2008). Teaching disciplinary literacy to adolescents: Rethinking content-area literacy. Harvard Educational Review, 78(1), 40–59.

Are you ready to incorporate discipline literacy strategies into your curriculum? Learn how with Reading and Writing in the Disciplines.

Read part 2 of this blog series on discipline literacy: “Literacy in the 21st Century

Are you ready to incorporate discipline literacy strategies into your curriculum? Learn how with Reading and Writing in the Disciplines. – See more at: http://learnerlog.org/socialstudies/how-does-discipline-literacy-differ-from-content-area-literacy/?preview=true&preview_id=3168&preview_nonce=8bf5a75fad#sthash.YEQZS0jD.dpuf
Read part 1 of this blog series on discipline literacy: “How Does Discipline Literacy Differ from Content-area Literacy?” – See more at: http://learnerlog.org/socialstudies/literacy-in-the-21st-century/#sthash.aM3Bw6Qw.dpuf
Read part 1 of this blog series on discipline literacy: “How Does Discipline Literacy Differ from Content-area Literacy?” – See more at: http://learnerlog.org/socialstudies/literacy-in-the-21st-century/#sthash.aM3Bw6Qw.dpuf

How to Use Twitter Chats for Professional Development

hashtag_wordswagIt used to be that teachers had to get together at conferences to share their expertise, their lesson plans, their ideas and opinions, their best practices, and their questions. Now teachers have a wealth of online options for sharing what they know and for discovering new professional development resources and opportunities to strengthen their practice.

Until now, sharing nuts-and-bolts resources has been the main focus of most online teaching sites. But if you want conversation between teachers, a live give-and-take that ranges far and wide and dives deeply into specific topics, where do you go?

The answer is, increasingly, Twitter. Teachers have been following each other on Twitter for a few years now, chatting here and there over the course of the day and checking in to see what the latest word is from their Twitter network. But in-depth conversations are beginning to take center stage now, too: regularly scheduled, hour-long, focused conversations that allow teachers to prepare their thoughts ahead of time, alert colleagues, and then deepen and detail their understanding of a certain topic through real-time discussion and debate.

Twitter chats are the solution to teachers’ familiar complaint that Twitter can’t sustain conversations, that Twitter networks too often provide disjointed streams of consciousness that can’t develop or sustain meaning. If you’ve ever tweeted a question only to hear back sporadically from your network over the course of a day or two, and then see the comments begin to track into unrelated areas, Twitter chats are for you.

Need examples?

  • Take a look at this Storify version of the discussion at the March 25, 2015 #CitSciChat about Spring-themed #CitizenScience. Nine panelists, including Journey North, and 10 participants took part in an hour-long discussion of what they are doing to document the arrival of Spring in the United States, beginning with their project goals and moving to the discoveries their teams have made, details on their volunteers’ experiences, teacher resources fueled by their findings, best practices in the field and on social media, and what’s on the horizon for future projects.
  • Another of our favorite forums for directed Twitter chats is #Edchat, which schedules two conversations every Tuesday, one at noon ET and one at 7 PM ET. You can read the archived transcripts of previous #Edchats, which range from “Will methods of Professional Development be better served by educators self-directing their PD?” to “Why is personal branding so important in the digital age? How can students and educators brand themselves?”

As with any social media, there are some outliers in any Twitter chat who don’t stay on-topic or, even worse, spam the discussion with ads. But these negative voices tend to fall away quickly after the first few minutes, and the discussion focuses intently on the topic at hand as teachers talk frankly about their experiences and opinions.

Take a look at the examples in this post and do some investigating on your own to find Twitter chats that speak to you, and get involved in a conversation that matters to you.

Also check out these two articles to learn more about useful twitter chats for teachers. (There is something for everyone!):

Twitter Chats: An Hour Well Worth Your Time by Pete DeWitt, Education Week

13 Great Twitter Chats Every Educator Should Check Out by Susan Bearden, The Journal

If you’re using a twitter chat for professional development that you love and recommend, please share below in the comments!

Examining Students’ Thoughts: An Important Part of Teaching Science (repost)

(Original post on Smithsonian Science Education Center’s STEMVisions blog. STEMVisions highlights ideas, best practices, research and successes in science education.)

By Jannette Alston Monday, August 26, 2013

In my freshman-year biology class in college, my professor asked the 120 students in the room to think about how a tree acquires mass as it grows. I was puzzled, having never been asked this question in previous biology classes, and other students felt the same way and didn’t know the answer. After allowing us to deliberate for a little while, the professor proceeded to show us a video of Harvard and MIT graduates coming up with the wrong answer to this fundamental question about photosynthesis. When the movie provided the correct answer to the question, I recorded it in my notes, kept on moving, and never gave it much thought. Unbeknownst to me at the time, the snippet shown in my class was part of two science programs, produced by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, that examine how and why students have and maintain scientific misconceptions. For example, the students interviewed thought that the cause of the seasons is the change in distance of the Earth from the Sun throughout the Earth’s orbit, when in fact seasons are primarily the result of the tilt of the Earth’s rotational axis.

As an intern at SSEC, I watched both Minds of Our Own and A Private Universe, which investigate a major problem in education: despite being taught basic scientific principles in elementary and middle school, students, upon reaching higher levels of education, still have misconceptions that haven’t been corrected. The programs include in-depth interviews with middle school students that explore the ways in which we think about scientific phenomena and examine the most effective methods of teaching science to children.

A Private Universe

In A Private Universe, students grapple with concepts such as the cause of the seasons and lunar phases. The questions asked of middle school students are posed to Harvard and MIT graduates, many of whom answer incorrectly. A major concern is raised: What can we say about the quality of science education if students in the best colleges do not understand elementary science principles?

The researchers in the program suggest that the way learning happens contributes to this apparent lack of understanding. The interviews demonstrate students are not analogous to “blank slates” for teachers to write on, but the contrary; students’ brains are teeming with theories and notions, and teachers must help students reconstruct ideas rather than writing on these “blank slates” without acknowledging what was there initially. The interviews conducted suggest that many students cling to their personal theories even after being corrected in class, showing that teachers who are unaware of their students’ prior understanding have little ability to fix these misconceptions.

Minds of Our Own: Lessons from Thin Air and Can We Believe Our Eyes

These sentiments are echoed in the Minds of Our Own series, which examines why students miss important concepts even after teachers present these ideas to them in the classroom. Students are asked questions about subjects ranging from photosynthesis to electric currents, and they are perplexed even if the subject has already been covered in their classes. The researcher who narrates the video footage proposes that “even when a teacher explains something slowly, carefully, and clearly, if the student’s thinking isn’t taken into account, students often fail to learn.” This is seen during interviews in which the brightest students from honors courses still have trouble with many scientific concepts.

The programs highlight another dilemma: teachers are inclined to rush through material, meaning that many students get left behind. The pressure to cover a certain amount of curriculum exists, but evidence shows that the more information teachers cram, the less information students actually learn and retain. It’s an unfortunate trade-off that makes me wonder if getting A’s or doing well on standardized tests truly reflect knowledge gained. In Jay Chandler’s honors chemistry class, featured in the video, one can see how right-answer oriented his pupils are: when he asks them what answers they got, the students press him to simply read the answers aloud. He also voices his frustration in preparing students for the Chemistry Achievement Test and not being able to spend time explaining things in great detail. During grade school, cramming information into my head for a test and then forgetting it very soon after is a technique that I often practiced, and I had no problems as a result of doing so until recently. Like Mr. Chandler’s students perhaps, I grew up believing that a teacher would always provide me with the right answers. But my first year at college shocked me: my professors wouldn’t give me the answer; I had to design my own experiments in lab, and adults wanted to hear my opinion. Although this way of learning was frustrating and even daunting, I have enjoyed my courses more because my mind is more engaged and is being challenged.

I recommend that anyone interested in science education watch this thought-provoking series. As a student planning to major in Biology and Education, the fact that I was unable to answer the questions that my professor and these video programs posed startled me. As all effective educators know, understanding how children learn science is an important component of teaching. By allowing students to ask questions, make predictions, design and conduct experiments, interpret their results, discuss and present findings to others—the way scientists do in their careers everyday—students will be engaged and stimulated in a way that has proven to help students retain scientific concepts.

For me, one of the most important lessons that this video series stresses is that children’s ideas are important and shouldn’t be ignored. The classroom should be a safe space for a child to ruminate and think aloud. However, the reality is that science education traditionally emphasizes memorization and regurgitation more and inquiry and exploration less. As the videos show, shifting from the former to the latter is difficult and scary, especially if teachers have been teaching and students have been learning in a certain way for years. But I think it’s a worthwhile change to make if we want to permanently correct students’ misconceptions and allow future generations of students to be literate in science.