Remember me as a passionate teacher of literacy

June 29, 2013 at 3:04 am | Posted in Content Area Literacy | 10 Comments

Two final thoughts —

(1) In class we have discussed memorable teachers and agreed that one commonality of our memorable teachers is that they were passionate. John F. Polojil states it this way:

Teaching is not a profession; it’s a passion. Without passion for your subject and a desire for your students to learn and be the best in the world, then we have failed as a teacher and failure is not an option.

As this particular course draws to a close, what do you now feel most passionate about regarding content area literacy?

(2) Educational reformer John Dewey said,

We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.

So keeping this in mind, please reflect on the following: In what specific way have you experienced the greatest change in your perception of content area literacy since the beginning of this course? As you reflect on this question, consider revisiting our anticipation guide completed on the first night of class. Ask yourself how this change in your thinking will impact you as a teacher of literacy and as a lifelong learner in terms of your own personal literacy.

Benefits and Drawbacks of Common Core Standards

June 2, 2013 at 6:39 pm | Posted in Content Area Literacy | 4 Comments

(Stephanie Thaler)

There is much debate over the changes from the current standards to the new common core standards. While these shifts all have potential benefits in literacy and education in a content area there are also some potential drawbacks.

The reading (Subjects Matter) mentioned that federal standards encourage teachers to teach a few topics in depth as opposed to many topics superficially. This is an idea that is often echoed in graduate level teaching courses. However previous state standards expected teachers to cover a wide array of material before the standardized test in June. These standardized tests were also designed in such a way that it favored those with a superficial understanding of topics and “deep-thinking” students often performed poorly and/or under “superficial-thinking” students on those tests ( According to Robert Rothman the new common core shifts promote this idea of teaching topics more in depth and promoting a deeper, more lasting understanding of the content. These shifts encourage teachers to only teach a few topics over the course of the year, instead of many (

The ELA/Literacy shifts also focus on introducing more nonfiction trade books, newspaper articles, journals and primary sources into the classroom to encourage a more interesting and relevant approach to content areas while improving the literacy of students. Looking at a science classroom the benefits of incorporating articles and research on the benefits of a topic as well as their downfalls can easily be seen, for example students reading articles both for and against nuclear power will be able to better make up their own mind about the controversy. In addition having students read the journals of Madame Curie or Charles Darwin, instead of giving them a pre-digested version, will help students to form their own conclusions and to connect to the scientists.  These primary sources will help students grapple with tough ideas and feel more connected to the material, which will hopefully lead to a deeper understanding.

Other shifts outline that students must bring in more text-cited sources into their writing. The benefits of the students incorporating more evidence into their writing to better make an argument can also easily be seen. There are two literacy shifts that deal specifically with using text-based responses to make claims (shift 4 and 5). In science it is very important to support your claims with credible evidence; however it is also important to push what has been done before further and to think outside the box. To wonder about things that haven’t been explored yet and to develop new theories and ideas that have no or few current resources to cite are fundamental in not only science, but mathematics, literature and the arts.

The change of standards to the common core seems to have both obvious benefits and potential drawbacks. In order for success with the previous standards teachers needed to instruct a wide array of topics superficially. The new standards encourage a deeper, more lasting, learning of the material by shifting the focus to a few key concepts and building off of them. There are also many potential benefits of bringing in outside reading sources into the classroom. This material may help to spark deep thought and debate, like in the example of nuclear power, or help students have a better understanding of how scientific theories such as evolution were developed by reading Darwin. While it is important for students to cite sources and back up their arguments with credible evidence it is also important for students to think creatively and pursue paths that do not already have pioneers or trailblazers. By disallowing students to make claims without already explored evidence to support them a concern is raised.  Will the common core rob students of their ability to think creatively by forcing them to only think about what can be cited from sources?

Will Common Core help our students succeed in literacy and mathematics?

June 2, 2013 at 1:05 pm | Posted in Content Area Literacy | 4 Comments

(By Emily Bennett)

Common Core State Standards are here and there is nothing we can do about them but adapt our teaching styles and methods to include the material. Once you get past this, we can move into the more important idea: Does the common core help or hinder our students? According to a recent resolution passed by the Republican National Committee, the common Core is, “A national straightjacket on academic freedom and achievement.”

The Common Core standards are in place to try and set coherent standards on what children should know about math and English by various grades. These standards emphasize analytic reasoning.  The common core standards say that students should, “be challenged to solve rich, relevant problems that require effort and persistence”.  At first glace, this seems like a reasonable expectation for students.

Yet if we did a little further, we find that maybe the RNC is correct. As we learned in class, research states that children should spend 85% of their time at a reading level that they can comfortably read on their own and 15% of the time at a level where they need assistance. Children should not spend any time reading at a level that frustrates them.  The common core standards are saying that we need to give our students more difficult material to work through so that we can close the gap between what they know leaving high school and what they need to be college or career ready.  Many of our students, however, will find themselves reading at a level that frustrates them the majority of the time. This clearly goes against what the current research says.

In conclusion, it is unclear if the common core standards are going to be implemented successfully and result in student success.  What is clear is that there are strong opinions on both side of the coin regarding CCSS.


June 1, 2013 at 7:48 pm | Posted in Content Area Literacy | 3 Comments

(Alex Chambers)

We have discussed the difference in our reading styles depending on if we are reading for pleasure or for academics. But, what if we were to read books in a content area that is not a textbook. I’m talking about trade books. These are books that discuss a specific discipline in math, science, or technology, but do not present the information in the typical encyclopedia style, like a textbook does. I have a book like this in a previous class here at Fisher, by Michio Kaku, called Physics of the Future. This book presents lots of technical information in a very readable format. It was a joy to read.

So, what is the point? We have talked in class about how there needs to be supplemental reading apart from the textbook. There was a whole chapter devoted to this notion in our readings. This is where we can get outside information. There is content specific information that students can draw on from previous experiences, they would be learning from the book, so it wouldn’t be wasting the teachers time, and most importantly, it would be readable and enjoyable. There are many resources that list trade books that would be appropriate for adults.

There are also resources for students. However, they only exist in a specific way: as summer reading lists or summer reading programs. The only way that I could find trade books being used by students in my research was during the summer. Some of the summer reading programs were put on by local public libraries. Now, I’m not saying that teachers don’t use trade books at all within their curriculum, but I feel like they should be used more often. Also, I’m not thinking of this as designing a unit or semester around one trade book, but snippets of information relevant to what is currently happening in your classroom could be used.

All of this aligns with the CCSS as we are trying to being in more critical reading in our math and science classrooms. Trade books, along with trade magazines (Popular Science, Wired, etc.) and newspapers can all enhance the instruction that is happening in your classroom. Pulling one new article a week off the internet to share with your class is not that time consuming on the preparation end, but can lead to a wonderful discussion in class that can liven any boring topic.

Trade books! One more way to incorporate CCSS in your classroom!

Math in Current Events?

June 1, 2013 at 10:11 am | Posted in Content Area Literacy | 1 Comment

(Andrea Ingham)

Math is everywhere and we need to show our students this. At first glance, an article may not seem to be related to math, but if kids truly are becoming mathematicians, they should be able to find a place where math is used, even if it’s just numbers or statistics. This is also because the way we teach math does not give students the opportunity to see what math really is. To me math is finding patterns, posing questions, finding evidence to support hypotheses. With that being said, I came up with an idea for a possible weekly assignment for math students:

Ask the kids to check their local or national newspapers, magazines, or news’ stations websites for current news on something going on in either their community or the country. Sports articles are always great. Read the article and find at least one way to connect something in that article to math. Of course this isn’t going to always relate to the current curriculum or standards you are teaching, but it will help bring math to the students…maybe. These activities will help the students dissect the information in an article and therefore help them become better readers and readers with a purpose.

As an example I picked this article from the YNN website. Here is one place I found math used in the article:

“While it’s estimated that more than 80 percent of Americans buckle up when they get in the car, many are still riding around without one.”

“In less than an hour at the checkpoint, one man was arrested for criminal possession of a controlled substance. Another man was issued an appearance ticket for unlawful possession of marijuana. Another man was ticketed for driving without a license.”

This is something students may care about. Especially high school students because most of them are learning to drive or already driving. The students can start asking questions about this article. Do they agree that 80% of Americans buckle up? Do a survey of the class. See if this hypothesis fits for that sample. You don’t have to actually make them do the survey, but they can at least pose the questions.

This may not be the most beneficial way to teach math, but it can be used as a supplement to the textbook what they are currently learning in class. It will help them keep up on current events in their community, maybe inspire them in some way to see what other people are doing and what is happening, “force” them to find their own real world connections to math, and help them develop their literacy skills.

This type of assignment may also be one that students will actually complete. It may be a way to actually get our students to read. On page 56 of our book, the authors claim that some of the readings students do in school should actually be selected by the students. They will probably have the background knowledge they need to understand the article if it’s one they picked. The book also says that kids have to read things they can read and that is non-negotiable. We also learned this in class that about 85% of the reading students do should be at their reading level. Since news articles are made for the general public to understand, they will probably be written at a reading level students can understand.

Yummy Math’s heading says “We provide teachers and students with mathematics relevant to our world today…” On their website they give teachers ideas of how to have mathematical discussions about things going on in the “real-world”. On here you could find ideas to give students to search for articles on.

The article Mathematics as Current Events found in a 1993 volume of The Mathematics Teacher discusses how specifically chosen current events can help answer the question “Does anyone actually use this math?” What do you think of these ideas? Do you think this is something you would use in your classroom? Do you think this would be a waste of your students’ time?

Video Game Literacy: A New Approach for Teaching Mathematics

June 1, 2013 at 7:34 am | Posted in Content Area Literacy | 3 Comments

(By Justin Ingerick)

The recent rise of technology both inside and outside the classroom has created many new opportunities for content teachers. Tools such as SmartBoards, graphing calculators, and personal computers have given students the ability to reach out and obtain information almost instantly. This implies that students today have many different mediums through which to experience literacy. In a mathematics classroom, it is often difficult to incorporate literacy due to the abstract nature of some topics. How can math teachers provide the necessary literacy experiences for their students without disengaging them from the content?

The simple (and somewhat controversial) answer is to incorporate video games into the math curriculum. Literacy skills can be developed through every aspect of a student’s life, even through the act of playing video games. According to Immaculee Harushimana’s article entitled Literacy through Gaming: The Influence of Videogames on the Writings of High School Freshman Males, the average teenager engages with video games for 52 minutes every day.  This statistic ranks among the highest percentages of student recreation. Indeed, many video games are riddled with text and stories that the player must read, interpret, and act upon accordingly. They are filled with literacy potential not only for teaching purposes, but also for developing relevant student connections to the real world.

Implementing video games into a math classroom can pose unique challenges. For example, some video games do not have any inherent teaching value or are not age-appropriate for the students. It is up to the teacher to decide which video games have the desired potential for learning. Also, not all students will be able to access certain games, which is a factor that the teacher must consider. Aside from these obstacles, games can generally be manipulated such that they supplement student literacy experiences. A perfect example of a computer game that has dozens of applications in a geometry classroom is Minecraft.  This open-world game is comprised of 1x1x1 meter blocks and the player uses different types of blocks to build structures and interact with the virtual world. How can this game benefit geometry students? One specific application is that the game has its own circuitry language (similar to electricity in real life, objects and blocks can receive input power signals and output them in a way the player chooses). A great activity involves a short lesson on introducing the circuitry language of the game and having students construct models for various actions (providing power to a set of street lights or opening a door from the push of a button, for example). An activity such as this would help students understand functions and how they can be applied to both video games and real life. This experience requires students to interpret a new language and build upon these skills, thus providing them with a new perspective on using literacy in mathematics.

Another useful game is called CodeSpells, which is a children’s game that teaches the player basic programming languages.  This is not limited to upper-level math or computer science courses; rather, students in high school math who learn about logic can benefit greatly from this game. It challenges students to learn a programming language, to make connections between the language and how technology becomes active, and even to create their own programs and see how the game is affected by their designs. This game is perfect for exposing students to different forms of literacy that use the English language, but are unique in their own complex ways.

So what makes these video games (as well as others) a good resource for teaching literacy in a mathematics classroom? In Video-Game Literacy: A Literacy of Expertise, Kurt Squire writes that, “One approach to fostering game literacy is to build educational programs where students develop game literacies through playing, studying, and designing games.”  Not only would students be able to play these games and learn new things about them, they would also study the structures and languages that are used. Once they have a good understanding of these concepts, they will be able to design their own applications in the game. Not only will students experience new forms of literacy in a math classroom, they will also see the relevance of mathematics in their daily lives. How does a video game programmer determine the trajectory of an object that a character throws? The programmer uses a parabolic curve in conjunction with the laws of physics to create the trajectory. Posing this question to students will prompt discussions and lead to real life applications.

Math is used in every aspect of video games and students will be able to make the real life connections and invest their ideas into the literacy experiences. Given the right video games, students will also be more motivated to complete an assignment that involves the art of gaming. For these reasons, the implementation of video games in a mathematics course will expand the literacy experiences of the students and ultimately maximize their learning potentials.

Wordy Word Problems

June 1, 2013 at 7:26 am | Posted in Content Area Literacy | 3 Comments

(Erin Weld)

When beginning the process of choosing a topic for this blog, I began by looking up the connection between literacy and mathematics. After reviewing multiple documents, it came to my attention that the main component connecting mathematics and literacy would be solving word problems. When thinking about this topic, may concerns come to mind: student’s ability to pull out pertinent information, understanding the actual question, and overall readability of the question? In an article by Swanson, she references the idea that in 1945 Polya devised a four step process to solving word problems. The four main steps that would be to gather the data and analyze it to understand the problem, devise a plan by making connections to previously solved problems, test the plan and finally look back to make sure the results effectively answer the questions.

A study was conducted and reported on by Nasarudin Abdullah1, Effandi Zakaria1 & Lilia Halim, where they assessed the effectiveness of a thinking strategy approach to solving mathematical word problems. This study focused on taking word problems and turning them into visual representations in order to gain insight into the question, and then subsequently solving the given problem. This study uses the following steps in order to picture the problem: visualization, arrangement, plan, calculate, check the solution.

There are obvious overlaps in these two different processes; do you believe that the similarities bring two methods together? Which method do you believe could be most effective? Which method do you believe your students will find most effective?

Reading in Math Class?

June 1, 2013 at 7:07 am | Posted in Content Area Literacy | 1 Comment

(Melissa Morale)

How many times as math teachers have we asked ourselves, “How can I make involve the important skills of literacy in my class and how important is it?” It is already very difficult to teach students who do not like math, do not wish to do homework, and are already having trouble with numbers, let alone adding words to them! Honestly, not every student likes math and not every student likes to read, but we as teachers, we need to make sure we are emphasizing the importance of it. Atif Kukaswadia mentions in his blog that mathematical literacy is a necessity skill for the 21st century. It is through literacy that students will be able to see how math plays a role in the world with new technology.

Given that the world is moving towards a knowledge based economy, the lack of mathematical literacy is a big concern. Now more than ever the ability to critically evaluate information presented to us to draw our own conclusions, rather than have someone tell us what they mean, is of the utmost importance.”

As mentioned in class, there are many new technologies such as tablets, notebooks, and phones that pull our students away from the basics of reading and doing math homework. So how can we make mathematical literacy enjoying and engaging to our students? A plus of the new technology is the Pinterest. It is a site where people all over can come together and share their ideas that they use either in their homes or in their classrooms. Searching for “math literacy” over fifty ideas will pop up. Also as mentioned in class, what happens when we have book that we think has nothing to do with math, such as a book about baseball? We need to put on our thinking caps, and be very creative because we need open minds and need to be aware of our student’s interest. The more we seem engaged by them, the more likely they will enjoy learning what we give them. We can get ideas from almost everywhere which makes it easier for us, but we just have to do a little more homework to get it done for our students.

Newspapers in Science and Math Class?

May 29, 2013 at 11:07 pm | Posted in Content Area Literacy | 2 Comments

(Rita Gupta)

A large part of literacy is the ability to read everyday things around us and make sense of them, for example the newspaper, a magazine, or a current book. According to the blog 1KnowledgeOnline, most newspapers are written at a high school level. Even what we would consider to be one of the easiest, TV Guide, appears to be written at a ninth grade level!

So, when we get students in our high school content classes that can’t read the textbook, by extension that means they can’t really read a newspaper either. By using newspapers in class, we can get students used to reading in that format and connecting to everyday events, while teaching literacy at the same time.  It is not too far of a leap to use a newspaper in a social studies class or an English class, but how to do it for science or math? As I researched this topic, I have come across some great ideas about how to get this to work and make sense in a science or math curriculum.

In an online article the authors, Ruth Jarman and Billy McClune list a number of different ways we can use the newspaper in science class by reading science-interest stories. By doing this, the authors state that newspapers

“… can be used to illustrate the ‘relevance’ of science, particularly in relation to topical and local issues.”

“…can be used to illustrate the ‘nature’ of science, particularly in relation to


“…can be used as a context for developing ‘general literacy’, particularly in

relation to skills and ideas associated with reading, research and communication”

“can be used as a context for developing ‘scientific literacy’, particularly in

relation to skills and ideas associated with critical thinking about science,

‘science for citizenship’ and lifelong learning”

If you add this to the fact that newspapers can be an actual source of scientific information, we have an ideal way to increase literacy, explore real life examples, and learn science at the same time. For example, if you are studying insects in science class, your class could read a recent article in the Democrat and Chronicle about the Emerald Ash Borer and its impact in Rochester. Start a discussion with your students as an introduction to the topic of insects, and easily bring relevance and local issues to the forefront of the class.

But what if your newspaper is not particularly scientific, or you are teaching math? Another website, 100 Ways to Use a Newspaper, lists explicit lessons that can be used in the classroom that can be culled from almost any newspaper at all, regardless of its content. These lessons include things like plotting daily temperatures on a graph, using football scores in math problems, and making pie charts from movie listings. The key here would be to use your imagination and creativity!

How would you use your imagination in math or science class to use a newspaper as a teaching tool? What sorts of articles or sections of the paper could you use to increase literacy in your content classroom?

The Keepers of Literacy

May 18, 2013 at 12:05 am | Posted in Content Area Literacy | 9 Comments

It is faulty reasoning to believe English Language Arts (ELA) teachers are the sole keepers of literacy.  College and Career Ready literacy in the fields of science and math require an understanding of the conventions of each discipline.  Who better to guide students through meeting the particular challenges of reading, writing, speaking, and listening in a particular content area, than those who already have expertise in those disciplines?  Dr. William Heller explains it this way:

…we must then ask who is best prepared to teach these skills. Who should teach students how to write a story proof to solve a math problem? Who should teach students how to dissect primary source documents to learn about a historical period? Who should teach students how to use experimental data to construct an argument about a scientific principle? Confining literacy skills to the ELA classroom makes about as much sense as allowing students to use wooden pencils only in wood shop.

 As you embark on becoming content area teachers entrusted with the shared responsibility of helping students develop lifelong literacy skills, consider both sides of the coin.   Which aspect of teaching content area literacy most intrigues you?  Which aspect most intimidates you?  Why?

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