Do the Work- Content Area Literacy
Newsletter #1: The Inclusion Revolution LLC
March 20th, 2017
“Writing well has become a gatekeeping skill across the workforce” (Gallagher, 2011). I’m sure this isn’t new information to you. My assumption when I taught middle school special education and then science was that once students completed elementary school they had learned how to read and write and were prepared to read and write to learn in my content area. I found out that this was not the case. Much to my chagrin, students were not able to meet my expectations for communicating in writing, but I as a science teacher, I didn’t have an understanding of how to help students meet those expectations. I made my rubrics clearer, I gave more options for topics, I simplified the tasks, I eventually lowered my expectations. I did everything, but what I needed to do- TEACH them how to read and write like a scientist. And even more has changed on the national level. The national organizations (ACTE, CoSN, NCSS, NCTE, NCTM, and NSTA) that represent you worked collaboratively to craft the Principles for Learning (2010), lifting up the importance of ALL teachers teaching literacy as a foundation for transforming K-12 education.
But how does a science (or social studies, or art, or health, or fill in the blank) teacher teach students how to read and write like a scientist, historian, etc? There was a reason that I didn’t become an English teacher. (Hint: I didn’t think I was a good writer and I didn’t really enjoy the process when I did have to write professionally).
Maybe you feel a bit like I did, but you know that you really need to be helping your students become more literate in your content area and want to dip your toe in the water. The best place to start is with something that you know loads about- your own writing assignment. You know the content, probably created the writing task, you know what the final product should look like, you probably have even located resources for your students to use. But have you ever actually completed it? From beginning to end? Looking at the assignment through the lens of your learners who has WAY less background knowledge in your content?
If not, DO THE WORK and take notes (be a reflective practitioner) on your struggles, or the challenges you think your learners might face. Chances are if the struggle was real for you, it will be even more real for your students. There are numerous benefits to doing the work:
1. You are able to determine if the purpose of the task is clear.
2. You can identify supports that would help your learners complete the task- modeling how you: read and annotate a complex text, take notes, write an introduction or supporting paragraph, or revise your work.
3. You can assure that the resources you have provided are sufficient to complete the task OR have allotted sufficient time for them to do additional research to fill in the gaps.
4. You can use your own work as an exemplar for students to use as a model or to analyze.
5. You can check that your rubric is aligned to your intended purpose.
Although it takes time to DO THE WORK, you will find that you are better prepared to support all your learners throughout the task and that their experience will be much richer because you have opened yourself to be learner.