Content Area Literacy vs Disciplinary Literacy Minilecture



"Content Area Literacy and Disciplinary Literacy: What's the difference and which one should I teach?" Both content area literacy and disciplinary literacy are approaches to teaching secondary literacy or literacy in secondary settings. While there is some overlap between them, they are definitely not the same and so this presentation hopes to at least spell out and explain a little bit how they differ. So some of the key concepts that will be addressing our "content area literacy" often abbreviated as CAL and "disciplinary literacy" as DL, and then "general comprehension thinking processes" and "discipline-specific literacy practices" A lot of these concepts are also explored in your reading for this week Coming straight out of one of our readings this week is this quote here from Heather Lattimer, "We are no longer teaching students the core ideas of our disciplines. Instead we are inviting students to engage in the processes and practices of disciplines, allowing them to see behind the curtain and to participate in the fascinating challenging and often messy process by which experts continue to generate knowledge in their fields." So I highlight these areas "the core ideas" from our discipline and the core "processes and practices." So disciplinary literacy is really looking at how within a discipline there are different mindsets and those different mindsets have different processes and practices for making meanings. And so disciplinary literacy is not just about how you read differently in your secondary years but also about how you read and make meaning in one discipline such as math is very different than how you read and make meaning in another disciplines such as social studies history or art. So the processes and ways of making meaning very much impact the literacy of that discipline. So you can't just teach one way to read. Reading varies quite a bit depending on the discipline. So let's try this out a bit. Using the mindset of your discipline, what are some of the first questions that come to your mind when you look at this image? Now of course you don't have to say these out loud, but just think what are some of the questions that you have? Now, if you are an art education student or a student coming from an art background some of your questions might be, What are they made of? It looks like a type of ceramic? Right away you might be interested in the material that it's made of, the medium. You might be interested right away too in whether this was community project of some sort or some type of community art. As where if you are a historian coming from history mindset, some of your questions might be, when was this built? For what occasion? Is this a type of monument? What is the social context surrounding this wall? Do each of these represent different actors or players in an event? So all of these questions are very much coming out of a specific mindset of a discipline. So although we can have a singular text, different disciplines will come out that text and read it and interpret it very differently, because they have different prior knowledge and ways of thinking and mindsets from that discipline. So thinking about literacy specifically disciplinary literacy as a set of processes and mindsets. One way to help us think about that is to look at literacy as occurring in various levels. So here basic literacy this will be the literacy that you learn with in your primary years of school. It has to do oftentimes with decoding words, phonics, sentence fluency, what you are often learning in your first grades, in primary school, 1st, 2nd 3rd grade, Then you get into intermediate literacy. This is the literacy often that's referred to as content area literacy. We'll talk more about that in a bit. And then you have what's considered the advanced literacy, the disciplinary literacy. So as I said this intermediate literacy is often referred to as content area literacy. So as you can see by this diagram, the two are not the same. While there's definitely going to be some overlap between them, they are not the same, and we shouldn't use the terms interchangeably. So how are they different then? Here are a couple of brief definitions explaining how they are different. So first of all content area literacy is "the ability to use reading and writing for the acquisition of new content in a given this discipline" and so this tends to focus on "general strategies" as where disciplinary literacy is focusing on the mindset and processes of making meaning and interpreting and producing texts within a certain discipline. So it emphasizes more a unique, specific set of practices that only are used within a certain discipline. For example, how a math major looks at this image would be very different than again how an art major might look at this, or someone coming from engineering. So these are different. These have different literacy practices associated with them, but they can very much inform each other. Now when thinking about content area literacy, oftentimes they talk about general comprehension strategies. These are some of the general comprehension strategies that are often associated with content area literacy, and many of these may look familiar. In fact one of our readings for this week, the Buehl reading, actually talks about each of these general comprehension strategies. So these would be very much associated with content area reading. However, they can also be used as stepping stones for more discipline- specific ways of thinking. Now when talking about disciplinary literacy, or the discipline-specific practices of making meaning, it's not so easy to just list them out, because they differ depending on the discipline and within the discipline what your specialty might be. So one of the ways to start to uncover what the disciplinary specific literacy practices of the field, of your practice, might be is to ask yourself some of these questions: What type of texts do you read and create in your discipline? Scientists might say that it is very common that they create scientific reports that followed the scientific method. They have very specific genres and types or ways in which they are produced. As where someone from the arts might say, oh we create texts that are like this, that are visual texts, or that are sculpture texts. Musicians create other types of texts. So the types of text you create really inform the specific ways of thinking. What do you pay attention to when you read text? what you pay attention to as a historian when reading a novel is very different than what an English major or literary analyst pays attention to. What types of questions do you ask yourself when reading an insider text, a text that's inside your discipline? How are the texts organized in your discipline? How are sentences constructed? What counts as evidence for an argument? What is evidence in one discipline, for example science, is not necessarily the same evidence that would count in English for example. What levels of competence do you place in the knowledge that has produced within your field. Within history each text can be given different levels of confidence, but yet all are seen as valuable in presenting a context and a social perspective of that situation. So all these questions will have different answers depending on the discipline. And all of these questions and answers then make up the mindset of that discipline. When thinking about all of these very unique and specific ways of making meaning, or disciplinary literacies, some may think, "Wait a minute. that's a very advanced form of literacy. Why should I bother even teaching that literacy if I don't have students that can even read at this literacy level?" And that is one way to look at the situation, and many people argue that we shouldn't be thinking about disciplinary literacy so much because we need to just focus on intermediate literacy. However, the two work very much together. Not only do they work together, but there are many arguments that talk about how disciplinary literacy, being able to learn the discipline specific aspects of literacy is actually a social justice issue, and that it is necessary for providing equitable education, that we can't just teach some students some types of literacy while other students are getting taught more advanced types of literacy. So this can be very much a critical issue to explore and an equity issue. We can't just easily say don't teach one because some don't know this, but really it's about thinking about how do the two inform each other? So when thinking about content area literacy, disciplinary literacy and which to teach, the answer is to use both, to teach both. So that doesn't mean that your students have to be an expert at both, but considering how using the general comprehension strategies of content area literacy how can those be used as touch points and stepping stones for supporting discipline-specific literacies? Now your goal may not be to produce a engineer leaving your ninth grade science classroom; however that student can hopefully leave your classroom having some of the mindsets of a scientific thinker and using some of these general comprehension strategies strategies of content area reading, content area literacy can definitely help your students get to that point. So when choosing these general comprehension strategies, and you will be reading about those this week, some of the questions to ask yourself are does this strategy help my students understand the subject matter discussed in the text? Does this strategy perhaps inform specifically some of the ways of thinking in your discipline? Is this strategy one that a disciplinary expert would find reasonable? Is this strategy something that a historian would actually use? Is it similar to some of their mindsets? And third, how does this strategy help students meet the aims of a particular discipline? So once you get to know the strategies, start thinking about which are more relevant to your discipline. If we had some historians here they might talk about inferring and determining importance as being key parts of all the way that historians think. As where those from the creative arts might have discussed creating visualizations as a key part of making meaning meaning in their discipline. All disciplines might argue that activating prior knowledge and making connections across texts is a practice that they make in their disciplines but some perhaps more than others. So as you go forward it's not necessarily about which one should I do, but really how can you do both? How can use them to inform each other? Hopefully the readings for this week and this mini lecture help to give you just a beginning look into how the two are different and how you might approach them differently going forward in your own teaching.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *