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Literacy across content areas (LDC)I've been a part of the growing Literacy Design...

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dhollweg | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

Posted November 26, 2012 at 6:27 AM via web

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Literacy across content areas (LDC)

I've been a part of the growing Literacy Design Collaborative in the country and it got me thinking about our group here. As an English teacher literacy is obviously embedded in my instruction. I will hadle fiction and metaphors and poetry. But my post here is concerned with non-ELA (English Language Arts) teachers especially.

Do you see your content area as having a very specific set of literacy skills and products? Let me put it another way: isn't scientific reading and writing specific, requiring direct expert instruction by a science teacher? social studies teacher? art review by an art teacher? Business teacher or music teacher? etc?

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K.P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted November 26, 2012 at 2:05 PM (Answer #2)

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Now this is very interesting. My early background was in finance but my most recent background is in Literature and English Linguistics, yet, for fun, I still periodically write articles about finance and have taken up writing science articles, most in cosmology and various fields of quantum physics. In writing these articles, I often encounter precisely what you are referring to: field specific language (if I understand you correctly). This is especially so in science writing. I often find myself asking, "Now how would they say this?" Upon looking back at a source press release or study, I find phrasing for expressing a relationship or a consequence or a result that I wouldn't use in literary analysis, like, "Oh, 'show'; the results show." Similarly, the language of linguistics would make a movie review sound wooden and worse than dull (not to mention slightly incomprehensible): "See this movie because the actors embed the discourse with duality at the deep fabula level." My experience, though, is that the various vernaculars are not actively taught but are indirectly acquired from reading papers, studies, books, analyses, articles in publications within or aimed at the field. For those of us who aren't so good at indirect acquisition, this makes accumulating various vernaculars a little difficult: for those with "one-track" minds, it takes added work to sound field-appropriate. It would be good, it seems to me, if there were taught introductions to field-specific writing skills and products.   

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litteacher8 | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted November 26, 2012 at 4:27 PM (Answer #3)

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Although I currently teach English, I have been a multiple subject teacher and a math teacher.  At one point when I was teaching elementary school we were not supposed to teach history or science, even though we still had the textbooks.  We got around it by writing “reading across the curriculum” in the schedule and saying we were still teaching reading, but through the content areas.

While kids need to read and write in content areas, the purpose is different.

From the standpoint of how readers approach the task, there are substantial differences between fiction and non-fiction. Often, kids aren't aware of this; they go about reading a textbook or an article on the Internet the same way they read a novel. (http://www.ttms.org/content_area_reading/content_area_reading.htm)

Many content area teachers bemoan the grammar, reading, and writing skills of their students while still insisting that they are not “reading” teachers.  I think a fundamental shift is needed here.  All teachers should accept responsibility for teaching the reading, writing, and communication skills needed in their particular content area.

Sources:

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted November 26, 2012 at 5:10 PM (Answer #4)

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I think that this is true to some degree, but perhaps it is much more true in more technical subjects like science.  I teach history and social sciences (the most technical of which is economics) and the things I teach my students about writing are not that different from what a language arts teacher teaches.  Really, it is just the difference between creative writing and expository writing.

In the link below, we see a discussion of how to write a compare and contrast essay.  The discussion centers around a comparison of characters in two novels.  But the same rules apply to an essay on (for example) the similarities and differences between Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson’s foreign policies.

I tend to think that expository writing is pretty much the same regardless of the subject area.  Teachers should be teaching writing skills in all areas, but I do not think that the skills taught will be significantly different.

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dhollweg | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

Posted November 26, 2012 at 7:08 PM (Answer #5)

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I think that this is true to some degree, but perhaps it is much more true in more technical subjects like science.  I teach history and social sciences (the most technical of which is economics) and the things I teach my students about writing are not that different from what a language arts teacher teaches.  Really, it is just the difference between creative writing and expository writing.

In the link below, we see a discussion of how to write a compare and contrast essay.  The discussion centers around a comparison of characters in two novels.  But the same rules apply to an essay on (for example) the similarities and differences between Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson’s foreign policies.

I tend to think that expository writing is pretty much the same regardless of the subject area.  Teachers should be teaching writing skills in all areas, but I do not think that the skills taught will be significantly different.

I'm interested in this, because I am also thinking about reading as far as that literacy skill goes. The texts, the articles, the sifting through and deciphering essential information is specific to that content area. Are social studies teachers, science teachers, business teachers, etc.. teaching the reading skills that are required in their very specific and very valuable classrooms? I definitely see somecrossover in writing; although, I would say purpose is where that would differentiate. But what of the reading?

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speamerfam | College Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

Posted November 26, 2012 at 10:45 PM (Answer #6)

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I have taught social studies, business courses, and math at various times, in addition to English, which is my primary love.  I do think that literacy in any content area flows from the vocabulary of the discipline, the terms of art.  There have been times my teaching of that has been implicit and times it has been explicit, but students cannot express themselves or understand what they are reading without that vocabulary.  I also think that we should, as teachers, take it upon ourselves to be English teachers, no matter what our content area is.  No matter what I am teaching, I manage to get in the principles of language arts. 

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Kristen Lentz | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted November 27, 2012 at 3:43 AM (Answer #7)

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When I taught high school history, literacy and reading comprehension as well as vocabulary acquistion were all deeply embedded in the curriculum.  I taught at a school with a very high percentage of English Language Learners (ELLs) or ESL students, so building on reading skills and language comprehension was an integral part of every history lesson.  With that being said, the students were routinely expected to build background on topics through reading various texts, secondary or primary, and were encouraged to use multiple reading analysis strategies like SOAPstone or annotation on a regular basis.  For example, I might have the students read a primary source account of Paul Revere's midnight ride and then have them read the famous Paul Revere's Ride poem by Longfellow with a partner and then discuss similarities and differences in small groups.  

History really does involve many of the language arts and reading skills that students are expected to have, especially in higher level high school courses.  In fact, one of my first steps when a student was struggling in my class was to look at his or her reading comprehension scores from our standardized tests or to talk to the student's English teacher.  

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jovip18 | Middle School Teacher | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

Posted November 27, 2012 at 1:28 PM (Answer #8)

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Like many of the previous posters my primary love and field of expertise is Language Arts, though I currently teach Science. 

 

The best way to address the issue of content literacy is to think of things from the perspective of an adult, or rather, an academically minded adult.  If I asked anyone posting in this thread to read an article or book about a content specific topic that they were unfamiliar with, they are obviously going to have difficulties with vocabulary and complex concepts.

 

However, one thing that they would have is a generalized literacy skill set that would help them overcome their knowledge deficiencies.  Specifically, they would be able to identify their knowledge gaps and be able to figure out which words or concepts were causing them the most confusion.  They would then take steps to educate themselves using outside materials or resources so that the original article or book “made sense”.

 

We should be teaching students a set of generic literacy skills that they can apply across all disciplines.  The complaint against many LA programs, at all levels, is that they are only teaching students how to read a specific form of writing, usually fiction.  I am not saying that this is entirely true, but there is a definite focus on reading fiction, and a lack of nonfiction based literacy skills.

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mwalter822 | Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

Posted November 27, 2012 at 4:19 PM (Answer #9)

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It would certainly help to have content area teachers teaching their "style" of writing in their courses, as you suggest. But a lot of what affects student reading comprehension in those content areas needs to dealt with by teaching specific reading strategies (skimming, scanning, outlining, etc.). I doubt if content are teachers do much of this kind of instruction. In fact, I know a lot of English don't even do it. Maybe it's something we should all focus on a little more.

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literaturenerd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted November 28, 2012 at 4:18 PM (Answer #10)

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I do see content areas as having a very specific set of literacy skills. The way one reads in English class (literature) is very different from how one reads in math or science.

For example, when reading literature, many students read to determine the plot, the characterizations of the characters, and the theme. On the other hand, when reading history or science, many students are trying to focus on the specifics (outside of the other material). One is looking why something is as it is, or they are looking to define a specific term. Literacy skills are far more concrete in scientific ares than literature.

Therefore, teachers do need to teach how to read for each content area (as mwalter points out).

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lschertz | Elementary School Teacher | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

Posted December 7, 2012 at 1:00 AM (Answer #11)

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I teach elementary school, and I definitely see science, social studies and math as having specific literacies of their own.  They require certain sets of 'academic language' and 'content-specific vocabulary' and literacy understanding that reading/language arts do not necessarily cover. 

However, it should also be pointed out that that is what makes these subject areas even more difficult when it comes to reading comprehension within them.  In ELA, a nonfiction piece is typically one kind: a biography, an informational article, etc.  In science or math or social studies, a nonfiction piece or textbook chapter may be made up of several types of informational text.  Therefore, students often have a hard time deciphering which sort of comprehension skills will be suit their needs, and as a result, comprehension is more difficult.

Writing is certainly different when it comes to these content areas.  In math, students are expected - with common core, now more than ever - to be able to use writing to explain how they are reaching answers.  In science students are asked to draw conclusions, write using higher order thinking and content-specific vocabulary, etc.  In social studies, students are often asked to combine multiple pieces of information into one document.  Each content area requires a different knowledge of the writing processes.

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