Reading to learn: Instructional Strategy of the Month
Supporting Literacy Across the Content Areas
-adapted from Perspectives of Policy and Practice, Brown University 2001
“Reading is a different task when we read literature, science texts, historical analyses, newspapers, tax forms. This is why teaching students how to read the texts of academic disciplines is a key part of teaching them these disciplines.” (Key Ideas of the Strategic Literacy Initiative, 2001)
Literacy - the ability to read, write, speak, listen, and think effectively - enables adolescents to learn and to communicate clearly in and out of school. Being literate enables people to access power through the ability to become informed, to inform others, and to make informed decisions. Adolescents need to have strong literacy skills so that they can understand academic content, communicate in a credible way, participate in cultural communities, and negotiate the world. In addition to a cultural component, therefore, building literacy addresses empowerment and equity issues.
What happens, as is often the case, when literacy skills are too weak to support learning in content areas? At the middle school and high school levels, literacy skills must become increasingly sophisticated to meet more challenging academic expectations. The ability to transact meaning from the academic text of different disciplines is often not directly taught, with the consequence of failure to comprehend those academic topics. For example, if students can’t understand a scientific argument, then they can’t understand the science that they’re trying to learn. If students can’t understand how history is presented, they can’t understand the points being made or connect those to what is happening in the present. If these literacy skills are not fluent due to lack of practice and inappropriate instruction, all but the most advanced readers and writers are placed at a disadvantage.
Research suggests there are four elements that are necessary for true improvement in literacy for secondary students and Cross Creek is on the right track. Elements include (1) Motivation, (2) Strategies, (3) Organizational support, and (4) Commitment to literacy across the curriculum. Cross Creek’s program uses SEL education (R-time) to help with intangibles such as motivation and mindset. The Powerful Teaching and Learning component employs strategies and protocols to assist in increasing literacy instruction. Fidelity to the model is key in this endeavor. Finally, commitment from all content teachers to insert literacy skill-builders in class is key. Instinctively we know that, but how can we get there?
Even though literacy strategies are part of the curriculum and instruction of English, the teaching of literacy strategies is everyone’s job. Regardless of the content standards for any content area, national and state standards include gaining new knowledge in a particular content and being able to communicate that knowledge. Thus, all content areas have the job of teaching literacy, not just English language arts.
Supporting Literacy Development in the FOREIGN LANGUAGE Classroom
According to ACTFL, “Literacy development in one language supports literacy development in the second or subsequent languages learned. Knowledge and skills from a learner’s first language are used and reinforced, deepened, and expanded upon when a learner is engaged in second language literacy tasks… Through working with and strengthening those strategies, learners are able to develop stronger literacy in both languages. Second language learners use all means possible to make meaning; gaining awareness of the strategies used to make and express meaning in a second language strengthens learners’ first language strategies. The key question around literacy is to analyze what the author, speaker, or producer of the media wants the reader, listener, or viewer to understand or do. By interpreting and actively comparing linguistic and cultural systems and the interconnections among them, students develop valuable literacy skills.”
Click on the comprehensive review of literacy in the Foreign Language classroom above or below. The website (Calico Spanish) blends research-based pedagogy with "real" teachers of Spanish and the results are wonderful!