I don’t really understand why there has always been this push back from teachers who think that teaching and reinforcing literacy skills are the responsibilities of the English teacher. I never took at science, social studies, art, or technical course that did not include reading, writing, speaking, listening, presenting, and communicating with others.
Occasionally, teachers in these courses did as well or better at teaching literacy skills than did my English and Language Arts teachers. I think one of the biggest barriers is that not all teachers have a true understanding by what is meant by “literacy instruction.”
When I worked as a Curriculum Specialist, one of my greatest joys was mentoring young teachers, observing them, and providing clear, specific feedback on their instruction. I worked with some outstanding teachers who were just starting their careers. One thing the strongest and most effective teachers had in common, regardless of their content-area or grade level, was that they intuitively and purposefully created learning opportunities for students in which literacy strategies were embedded throughout each class period, each lesson, and each unit.
So, what does this mean to non-ELA teachers?
I challenge you to take a look at the bullets below no matter the subject you teach and decide which bullets are important for students in your class.
The Common Core State Standards define students who are College and Career Ready in Reading, Writing, Speaking, Listening, and Language as those who have the following attributes:
1. They demonstrate independence.
- Comprehend and evaluate complex texts across a range of types and disciplines without significant scaffolding
- Construct effective arguments
- Convey intricate or multifaceted information
- Independently discern a speaker’s key points
- Build on others’ ideas
- Request clarification, articulate their own ideas, ask relevant questions, and become self-directed learners
- Seek out and use resources to assist them
- Demonstrate command of the English language
- Acquire and use a wide range of vocabulary
2. They build strong content knowledge.
- Establish a base of knowledge across a wide range of subject matter by engaging with works of quality and substance
- Become proficient in new areas through research and study
- Read purposefully and listen attentively to gain general knowledge and discipline-specific expertise
- Refine and share their knowledge through writing and speaking
3. They respond to the varying demands of audience, task, purpose, and discipline.
- Adapt their communication in relation to audience, task, purpose, and discipline
- Set and adjust purpose for reading, writing, speaking, listening and language use as warranted by the task
- Appreciate nuances – such as how the composition of an audience should affect tone when speaking and how connotations of words affect meaning
- Understand that different disciplines call for different types of evidence — i.e. documentary evidence in history and experimental evidence in science.
4. They comprehend as well as critique.
- Engaged and open-minded
- Discerning readers and listeners
- Work diligently to understand precisely what an author or speaker is saying
- Question an author’s or speaker’s assumptions and premises
- Assess the veracity of claims and soundness of reasoning
5. They value evidence.
- Cite evidence when offering an oral or written interpretation
- Use relevant evidence when supporting their own points in writing and speaking
- Make their reasoning clear to the reader or listener
- Evaluate others’ use of evidence constructively
6. They use technology and digital media strategically and capably.
- Employ technology thoughtfully to enhance reading, writing, speaking, listening, and language use
- Tailor their searches online to acquire useful information efficiently
- Integrate what they learn using technology with what they learn offline
- Are familiar with the strengths and limitations of various technological tools and mediums and can select and use those best suited to their communications goals
7. They come to understand other perspectives and cultures.
- Appreciate that the 21st century classroom and workplace are settings in which people from often widely divergent cultures with diverse experiences and perspectives must learn and work together
- Actively seek to understand other perspectives and cultures through reading and listening
- Able to communicate effectively with people of varied backgrounds
- Evaluate other points of view critically and constructively
The Common Core State Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects were built on the premises that reading in the content area is critical to building knowledge and writing is a key means of asserting and defending claims, showing what students know about a subject, and conveying what they have experienced, thought, imagined, or felt.
When I read through the standards, I found that they provide a great reference to guide the classroom teacher in terms of what students should be doing with the content. The standards provide an opportunity for the teacher to ensure that students are engaging with the content in meaningful ways that will help ensure that they are indeed college or career ready. We know that most college and workforce training programs require informational readings, and to ensure our students are well-prepared for college and the workforce, we ALL owe it to them to teach and support our students’ literacy development.
If you are looking for support as you begin to think about the role literacy plays in your planning, curriculum design, and daily instruction, check out these great resources.
Bringing Literacy Strategies into Content Instruction: Developed by the Center on Instruction, “this document provides research-based guidance on academic literacy instruction in the content areas, specifically focusing on the effective use of text in content areas.”
Common Core for Social Studies Teachers!: (Look for Episode 15) ASCD’s Michael Fisher interviews Bruce Leader, a 10th grade Global Studies teacher at Starpoint High School in Lockport, NY. In this interview Bruce Leader discusses integrating the literacy standards for writing and reading from the Common Core into his professional practice.