What is Literacy Today?

October 27, 2011 at 2:12 pm | Posted in Content Area Literacy | 6 Comments

(By Courtney Ariola)

The definition of literacy has expanded. It no longer includes just the privileged population who can read and write. Literacy now includes

the development of a set of interrelated skills that include reading, writing, speaking, viewing, listening and questioning; all leading to the ability to critically assess and use information (Debbie Shults)

A report from the National Assessment of Educational Progress found that “national and international tests incontrovertibly prove that far too many of American’s children are reading at levels that are unacceptably low.” Realizing that this issue needs to be addressed, policymakers set into law mandates for educators to improve the literacy skills of our students. These laws include the common core standards and content area literacy.

Many educators are apprehensive about instructing content area literacy. Some reasons are that they believe they lack knowledge of strategies to integrate literacy into their curriculum, feel that literacy instruction is the responsibility of the ELA teachers, feel that they do not have sufficient knowledge base to teach literacy, and feel that they do not have enough time to teach both literacy and their curriculum. As more data about low student literacy scores and information on literacy strategies that can be used by teachers in all content areas are published, more educators are joining the vision that student literacy scores must be raised and are including literacy into their lessons.

As more content area lessons include literacy practices such as vocabulary, research, readings, reports, investigations, current events, internet projects, class discussions, whether large, small or one-to-one, and finding evidence to support their answers, students will gain better literacy skills. The repetition of literacy practices will help to build student self-esteem, motivate, and encourage them to remain engaged in learning. It is important for educators to understand that their content area has specific vocabulary words that may be a challenge to students. They should spend quality time making sure that their students understand and can apply these words to the curriculum. Without a clear understanding of content area vocabulary, students will have a difficult time remaining engaged. The article, Reading in the Content Areas: Strategies for Success suggests one strategy that can be used in all content areas. This strategy has three comprehension-building steps: (1) Before Reading – activate a knowledge base which students can build and establish a purpose for reading (brainstorm-predict-skim-assess prior knowledge-preview headings-learn crucial vocabulary); (2) During Reading – allow students to measure comprehension, clarify, visualize and build connections (reread-infer-question-support predictions-summarize); (3) After Reading- expand prior knowledge, build connections and deepen understanding (reread-confirm predictions-summarize-synthesize-reflect-question).

As content area literacy continues as part of each teachers lessons, our students will be able improve their interrelated skills that include reading, writing, speaking, viewing, listening and questioning. Educators, administrators, policymakers, and parents must collectively demand effective literacy programs in all content areas. In my opinion, as content area literacy becomes a common practice, our students should be able to receive quality instruction to help them think critically and face the challenges that will be prepare to them to productively survive our competitive global world.

As educators plan to integrate literacy into their content area, will there be sufficient time given to effectively maintain the higher level of skills required of students? Perhaps all future educators should be required to enroll in reading classes.



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  1. I was sitting in a Curriculum Council meeting and the discussion of the new common core learning standards was brough up. Secondary levels were discussing how they would be able to incorporate teaching the mechanics of writing and getting quality content out of a paper. As I sat there, I began thinking about this class, and I couldn’t help but think, how can you read a paper if it is not set in a logical and grammatically correct way? How can the content even be read well if it is not formatted properly. Teaching reading and writing is no longer just the job of the English teacher. Teachers need to provide their students with strategies to use within the classroom. This can be difficult when your primary focus is the content that you are teaching, but if you demonstrate ways to use these techniques, it should be come second nature to weave them throughout your content area. If you give a writing task, why not show students while you are handing out your assignment, how you might frame the essay, post, etc. to give them strategies on how to complete the task. Why not show students how you would break down an article and look for vocabulary? By breaking apart a reading and coding the text, are you taking anymore time away from teaching the content? No! You are deepening the students understanding and building connections in the content. All teachers should be required to learn effective strategies to learn with in the content areas. I agree with Courtney when she says that all future teachers should be able to take a reading class.

  2. I think that it would be highly beneficial for future educators to enroll in a literacy course. I think that colleges should design all education programs to incorporate at least one literacy course. Even though I was an elementary undergraduate student, I still benefited from another literacy course in graduate school. I think that the design of this course really gave me some more resources and strategies to use with students. After having a background in literacy from undergraduate work, I expanded on my knowledge and understanding of content area literacy. I can definitely see how this course is a benefit for content area teachers due to the fact that it is so informational and really concentrates on the important strategies and ideas that teachers will use in the classroom.
    I think that if all future teachers were required to take a course like this one, we would see an increase in reading abilities across the board. Most content area teachers just don’t know how to teach reading strategies. If they are given the opportunity to learn how to incorporate some strategies into their content area, the students would broaden their understanding of the content because they would be understanding what they are reading.
    I really enjoyed the outline of the course and loved how we learned about pre-reading, during reading, post reading and vocabulary strategies. It really allowed us to look at the core of reading and literacy in classrooms across the board. The strategies we learned will definitely be my take away from the course. Most of them I had never heard of before and being able to create my own and really show how I would use it in the classroom has broadened my understanding of content area literacy. I am leaving this course with more confidence in my ability to teach content area literacy and that in itself is enough reason why all future teachers should take a content area literacy course.

  3. To answer Courtney’s question about whether or not there will be enough time to effectively integrate content literacy within the content areas while still keeping the high level of skills required of students, I think that the answer is yes. When incorporating content area literacy, it is something that is done along with the normal teaching activities. It isn’t something that needs extra time added on to the daily lessons. Every single teacher requires students to at some point read something in their class. If, while they are reading, we can incorporate useful literacy strategies to make them better readers and writers, why not? I do also think that all educators should be enrolled in some kind of system to continue to further their knowledge of literacy and useful strategies, whether it be a class, support group or something else. A lot of school actually have reading groups in place, where they are required to read a text selected by the administrators. Each week, the group meets to discuss what they are reading about and how it can be used in their classrooms. This would be a great opportunity for teachers to engage in a group to further their literacy knowledge, and bounce ideas off one another. Talking to other teachers is always a great way to see what options they have tried and how they may have worked or not worked.

    Overall, this class has helped me to see that literacy is bigger than I ever thought it was. I think most people view literacy as a student’s ability to read, but forget that it also includes writing, comprehending, making meaning, speaking, listening, questioning and much more. Without sufficient literacy skills and the abilities to use all these skills, students will not be able to be successful in content area classes. This class also brought to my attention that content area teachers need to be just as concerned with their students’ literacy skills as elementary and reading teachers do. I really found this class very useful, and am leaving this class with a lot of great resources that I will definitely be able to use in the future. I think I am leaving this class feeling more prepared with the knowledge that I have learned than I did at the end of any other course I have taken.

  4. I feel that preparing teachers to be able to teach reading is important. I feel that colleges should design courses so that integrate reading strategies into the course. After all, isn’t that what as future teachers should be doing in our classrooms? We should practice what we preach. We want teachers to teach reading and content so shouldn’t college courses be designed to show future teachers how it can be done. We are told to demonstrate and model for our students so college courses should be doing the same. I think that if we are demanding our students to perform at high standards than colleges need to demand that the future teachers they are sending into the world are able to perform at high standards.

    A course like this one is a great way to help reach that idea. This course takes the time to show future teachers how content and literacy can be integrated. Subjects are never isolated and always connect with something else. Science, math, history, and literacy all connected in someway. Content and literacy go togehter just as peanut butter and jelly do.

  5. I do not think that it is necessarily a matter of time; I think it is more of a new way of teaching the content material. Literacy should be incorporated in everything. In order to learn a subject, you have to be able to read efficiently and make connections with that material. So if a student struggles with reading or comprehension or writing, they will not be able to learn the subject as effectively. With content area literacy, teachers would be teaching the subjects in a “literacy friendly” manner. At this point, it is the teacher’s responsibility to gage how each student understands the material from the lesson. Once the literacy strategies have been appropriately modeled by the teacher, students will be able to incorporate those strategies into the content. Therefore, they would be learning to be better readers and writers, but also be learning the content area. After the students have done the literacy strategies a few times, it will become a habit and literacy skills should eventually be improved.
    It is a good Idea to have teachers take some kind of literacy class, maybe not a reading class, but something that covers teaching effective literacy skills. When teachers are taught how to appropriately model literacy skills, they are able to incorporate this into teaching. Therefore, when students have to read a difficult text, integrate new information, or learn vocabulary, the teacher is able to break it apart and develop activities to deeper understanding.

  6. I think that it requires some time to incorporate literacy strategies into content areas but some topics lend themselves to strategies easier than others. Once a teacher figures out what strategies fit where they can use it in their lessons year after year. Instead of taking time away from teaching content the teachers should learn ways to incorporate it into the content so both are covered and in a meaningful way. On the topic of if all teachers should have literacy courses in their education, I think that is a great idea. This way they feel better prepared to incorporate literacy into their content area. I think content area teachers would appreciate a general literacy course to give them a toolbox of strategies. This course was a great class. I learned a lot and it was useful information. I wish I could have taken it as non-weekend class but it didn’t work out that way. The assignments were effective in learning how to use the strategies.

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