Vaccinations – Not a good idea for Literacy

May 23, 2010 at 12:29 pm | Posted in uncategorized | 2 Comments

Posted by JoAnn Bertolino

There is a theory held by some that only early enhanced literacy teaching practices are needed  for a student to do well in literacy throughout their school career.  The idea was coined the phrase “Vaccination Concept of teaching” by Timothy and Cynthia Shanahan in their article ‘Teaching Disciplinary Literacy to Adolescents: Rethinking Content-Area Literacy’  They point out that the problem with this theory is that strong reading skills early on do not automatically develop into the complex skills needed for the specialized reading in each content area of school.  The high level skills that are required for reading science and math texts should be addressed  by the secondary teachers and incorporated into the curriculum.

I myself believed teaching students how to read was solely the responsibility of elementary teachers.   If any supplementation was needed it would take place in secondary English classes.  Until I read this article I had not giving much thought to the possibility that reading needed to be addressed continually by all teachers throughout one’s school experience.  Timothy and Cynthia’s  research (Carnegie Project) showed fault with the concept that there is only one way to read and that method can be applied to all the content areas.  Children in the elementary grades learn to read words.  As the student moves along however, their learning instruction needs to focus on words and what they represent in more constrained and specific text.

To give some background on how their project was conducted: During the first year of their research they worked with specialists in Mathematics, chemistry and history to identify the reading skills that would enable students’ learning in these subjects.  Then they studied how to help the students learn these essential  reading skills.  The second year they spent attempting to implement the new strategies that the group (themselves and the specialists) developed.

From the article:  (This is in regards to reading text with  symbols used in writings about Math and Chemistry.)

‘Further complicating the use of symbols, the chemists noted that the symbols needed to be understood at both macro and micro levels.  For example, each symbol on the atomic chart must be thought of not only in terms of the substance it describes, but also in terms of its atomic makeup.  That is, H2O is not just the symbol for water in the same way that n is the symbol for number; H2O also specifies that there are two atoms of hydrogen for every atom of oxygen.’

I point out this section of the article because I realized  that even in subjects that I considered similar or complimentary to each other (Chemistry and Math) the reading that is needed for each content area is different. It was found that the math specialists required a precision of meaning and each word had to be understood specifically in service to that particular meaning.  The chemist specialists were more interested in the transformation of information that they were obtaining in their reading.  They would visualize, write down formulas or go back and forth between the graph and charts while they read.   The history specialists would pay close attention to the author or source when reading keeping in mind what the author’s biases might be.

While I read the different ways that each specialist read their readings, I started to think about each of their content areas.  It seems that each area has its own language.  Not to mention that everyday words can have a different meaning in content course (i.e. Dissolution).  Think about all the terms that are in biology, chemistry, physics and math.  Go look at the glossaries at the end of some of those text books.  Just the amount of new content alone can be intimidating.  Now image that you have trouble reading “normal” text (everyday words) and go back and look at that glossary.  What do you think?  Are you frustrated?

To sum up what I have learned from this article.  I no longer believe in the vaccination concept.  I now realize obtaining reading skills are part of the learning process and like learning,  ongoing.  As a teacher, I must incorporate teaching my students how to read and understand science text into my curriculum.

I would like to hear people’s ideas for incorporating teaching reading in their classroom.  What obstacles do you feel you will encounter?  Do you think that the other teachers will understand what you are attempting to do?  Do you think they will see the importance of teaching our students essential reading skills.  Do you think that most teachers are of the mindset that I was before I read this article?



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  1. Although I had never heard the actual theory before, the jist of elementary teachers being the ones responsible for reading and the upper levels handle only the understanding of content is one I am familiar with. I believe that this is something you will find in your teaching career, with out a doubt. If you incorporate teaching reading in your class, I think other teachers may understand what your trying to do but it won’t be without criticism. In my experience, helping high school students with their homework, some still struggle to read or understand what is being asked of them. It isn’t always because they are not putting in any effort (which can sometimes be the case) it is sometimes because the structure of the questions or the format of the reading is too complicated and the student doesn’t know where to begin to break it down. Therefore, I believe that we should definetly continue reading strategies throughout the grade levels.

  2. What’s Happening i am new to this, I stumbled upon this I have discovered It absolutely useful and it has aided me out loads. I am hoping to contribute & help different users like its helped me. Great job.

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