Literacy Across Content Areas: The How is as Important as the What

Here’s Rebecca Alber offering a strong argument for literacy as a critical skill across the content areas:

Here’s one way to look at it: Content is what we teach, but there is also the how, and this is where literacy instruction comes in. There are an endless number of engaging, effective strategies to get students to think about, write about, read about, and talk about the content you teach. The ultimate goal of literacy instruction is to build a student’s comprehension, writing skills, and overall skills in communication.

Ask yourself, how do I mostly convey the information and knowledge to my students? Do I turn primarily to straight lecture, or teacher talk? Or, do I allow multiple opportunities for students to discover information on their own?

Alber’s right.  Much recent attention has been given to STEM education and the importance of retaining our edge in areas like mathematics, engineering, and technology.  And the Common Core State Standards has recommended that students engage in increasingly sophisticated texts each year in order to prepare for the rigors of the post-secondary world.  Engaging students in a wide variety of text is, as Alber argues, an important way to improve a student’s comprehension skills. 

She goes on to remind us of the importance of matching texts to readers:

The days of believing that we could hand informational text or a novel to a student and assume he or she makes full meaning of it on their own is a teaching mode of the past. Whether we like it or not, regardless of the content we teach, we are all reading instructors.

Scaffolding the reading by using effective strategies for pre-, during, and after reading, such as: previewing text, reading for a purpose, making predictions and connections, think alouds, and using graphic organizers will support all our students, and not just struggling readers and English learners.

Another onus not only on English teachers, but all teachers as reading instructors? We need to inspire both a love for reading, and build reading stamina in our students (this means eyes and mind on the page for more than a minute!)

Because students must wrestle with higher levels of reading material and a greater proportion of informational text, the Lexile Framework provides an additional way to target students at their own reading level.  By matching students to text at their level, educators can help facilitate reading growth.  Additionally, using student Lexile measures can be an important part of determining which classroom strategies to employ and how much scaffolding may be required, whether in literacy or other content areas.

Be sure to read the whole thing for Alber’s specific recommendations on incorporating literacy across content silos.

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