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?


The Important Thing

June 29, 2012 at 11:09 pm | Posted in Content Area Literacy | 5 Comments

At the beginning of this course we challenged ourselves asking, “What are the critical components of literacy in the content areas?”

Now that we have reached the end of this course let’s reflect back on this same question.  Following the format of today’s read aloud The Important Book, by Margaret Wise Brown, how would you complete the statement:

The Important Thing About Content Area Literacy is that …

Puzzles as a form of Literacy?

June 12, 2012 at 11:42 pm | Posted in Content Area Literacy | 3 Comments

(By Jeremy Willard)

            Often times in math classes it is hard to get students interested in reading textbooks for content. Many students have a hard time with sitting down and actually reading for understanding, whether it is from lack of interest or confusion. Literacy is not just the act of sitting down and reading. Literacy has been described as the ability to read for knowledge, write coherently, and think critically about the written word. So in order to incorporate literacy into our math classes, there are many different strategies we can introduce to our students other than reading textbooks.

            A great article called, “From Puzzles to Literacy: Off the Beaten Path”, discusses how puzzles are a great form of literacy and why they should be introduced in many of our classrooms. In the article, Jen states that there is more than one path to literacy, and that’s a good thing because we all have different interests and abilities. I think this is a great point, especially since everyone learns a different way. Many students could be visual learners that learn better from looking at patterns and puzzles which will get them to a greater understanding of the concept. She later goes on to state that “puzzles tease us, make us laugh, challenge us, and surprise us. In short, they entertain us while leading us to our destination: literacy”. After reading this quote, it made me realize that there are many different forms of literacy and puzzles are a great way to introduce literacy in a math classroom. To a student in a math classroom, puzzles are associated with games and play, even though they require reading, understanding, and following instructions. Students can have fun with puzzles which is great because it gets them motivated and interested in the topic, but at the same time indulging in literacy. One final thought that Jen has to offer in this article is that building up to difficult puzzles will give students the stamina that is required in reading books. So we can see that puzzles can directly be associated with building children’s reading levels.

Another reason why puzzles can be such a great experience for students can be seen in the article by Samuel Liberty called “Why are Puzzles Good for your Brain?” Liberty states that performing mental exercises, such as puzzles, can help form new connections and increase long term mental-performance. Forming connections in math is a great way to get students motivated and interested in the unit you are trying to teach. Students enjoy puzzles because they feel that it is a break from learning, but actually it is the opposite according to Liberty. Puzzles can help with both memory retrieval and brain health by strengthening the connections between brain cells.

With all these benefits of puzzles, it is hard to argue that they would not be an important part of a math classroom. Literacy is more than just the act of reading textbooks and puzzles can be a great alternative of that. Puzzles can get your students interested in class lessons and also prepare them for the times you do need them to read that dreaded textbook.

99 Red Triangles

June 1, 2012 at 10:02 pm | Posted in Content Area Literacy | 3 Comments

(By Jessica D’Agostino)

How many triangles can you draw on a white board … fifteen, twenty, or even one hundred? Will this be enough to convince your students that every triangle on that board has an interior angle sum of 180 degrees? This would be great if every student thought, if one hundred triangles have an interior angle sum of 180 degrees, then all triangles will have an interior angle sum of 180 degrees. However, what about the student that raises their hand and says “what about the one hundred and one triangles; how do we know it will have an interior angle sum of 180 degrees?” In this scenario, the teacher has a huge problem! The teacher cannot fit one more triangle on the board, and showing a proof of Euclid’s interior angle theorem is just too complicated for a middle school student. It is here when technology becomes necessary. Through tools like Geogebra, a free mathematical program that allows the user to make an unlimited number of geometrical figures, students can create an infinite number of different triangles. This gives students the freedom to explore on their own the interior angle sum of a triangle; where they will find the interior sum of the infinite amount of triangles is 180 degrees.

Today’s students are growing up in a world where everything is done with technology. They are naturally equipped with the skills and understanding of new developments in technology, where most of today’s teachers are not. I believe this is where the controversy of using technology in the classroom lies. Many teachers do not understand or do not wish to understand the ever changing technology. However, this may be the key to reaching every student. Sir Ken Robinson, in a video by the RSA Animate group, tells us students today are living in the most stimulated time in history. Their attention is being pulled by computers, TVs, video games, and other technology, but we are punishing them for not being able to pay attention. The students are being punished for focusing on their technologies, rather than on the lectures being given by teacher. However, why would the student want to focus on lecture, when they respond so much better to technology? It is here where the struggle between students and teachers lies. In every aspect of each student’s life they have access to technology, except at school. By adding technology to our classrooms, we may be able to reach students on their own level just like they can be reached outside of the classroom. This then requires our teachers to be familiar with technology and the ways it can be affectively used in the classroom.

One area where technology may be useful is in content area literature. Since there is no way to guarantee every student reads at the same level, the textbook is not always an appropriate resource. Textbooks cater to one reading level, however, through technology teachers can use computers and the internet to find additional resources to cater to many different reading levels. Additionally, since textbook companies like Holt McDougal offer online support for their textbooks, students can now use their textbooks on their own time and receive help outside the classroom in the form of additional practice problems, additional lecture time, and practice quizzes. Without this technology, students are restricted to reading the textbooks and the limited number of practice problems at the end of each chapter.

It is apparent that technology can help students in many areas of our classroom, but does this mean our teachers will adapt to the ever-changing technological world and stay current with their students? Will teachers see technology as a greater distraction? Finally, will the gap between student focus on technology and student focus on lecture become even greater without teachers adapting to the current technological trends?

Bringing the Real World to the Classroom

June 1, 2012 at 9:55 pm | Posted in Content Area Literacy | 3 Comments

(By Greg Pfeil)

The integration of literacy within different content areas is a technique in education that has become increasingly popular in recent years.  This is caused by the fact that people are beginning to notice that literacy is a vital aspect of education, no matter what subject content is being taught.  This is especially true in mathematics classes, where the traditional viewpoint has always been that literacy is not related.  In order for students to truly gain an understanding of new content material, they must be able to understand what is being taught and make a connection to the material.  Making this connection with the new material must occur if the students are going to remember the content in a useful manner.  This is where traditional teachers have often struggled.  Many teachers are not able to help their students create a connection with the class material, and therefore their students are not able to transfer this knowledge to other school or real life situations in the future.  Just about all of us have taken math classes in which the teachers have the students read from a textbook and then perform practice problems based on this information, but are the students truly understanding the material?  What use does a textbook have if the students are unable to read it?

In her article “What is mathematical literacy”, math teacher, writer, and teacher trainer Erlina Ronda explains the importance of helping her students create a connection to the course material.  She writes:

“To be able to use mathematics to make well-founded judgment demands learning experiences that would engage students in problem solving and investigation as these would equip them to use mathematics to represent, communicate, and reason, to make decisions and to participate creatively and productively in the functioning of society.”

Shouldn’t this be the goal of education for teachers?  Every student within the classroom should be taught the information they need to become productive members of society once they have graduated.  Math has traditionally been a subject in which the textbook is followed very closely and the students are not presented with problems that are related to their lives.  I beleive this is a major issue with math classes and is something that needs to be changed throughout our country.  The material that is taught in math classes, or any other subjects, must be directed towards the student’s lives in order to ensure they gain a complete understanding.  One of the major issues I have seen in my own personal classroom experiences and observations is that some teachers do not take the time to understand their students, which means they will never be able to present the content in a way that will relate it to their student’s lives.

In her article “Math and Literacy: Not-So-Strange Bedfellows” Francesca Duffy explains a research project that was being conducted in Columbia, MO regarding literacy integration in two mathematics classrooms.  Duffy explains how literacy can help teachers understand their students when she writes:

 She also notes that the benefits of including writing in math classes can be “bigger than learning.”  For instance, the written work can help to build better relationships between the teacher and student, she says.  Her husband Ryan’s students sometimes used their writing to bring up situations they were struggling with in their personal lives.  This was a notable result, Jayme says since “math is usually a little less personal area of a curriculum.

So why is it that many teachers still tend to stick to the traditional style of teaching math and have not integrated literacy into their curriculum?  What processes or techniques should teachers use to ensure that we understand our student’s lives and help them create a useful connection to the material?  How can teachers implement these techniquest within the classroom while still ensuring that the subject material being taught is not hindered?

Zen and the Art of Teaching Science

June 1, 2012 at 5:05 pm | Posted in Content Area Literacy | 5 Comments

(By Dan Krill)

Watching Dan Meyer’s TED Talk about the problem with math textbooks’ methods of guiding students through formulas got me thinking about how I want to teach science. Not about how I want to manage a classroom, but how I really want to Teach Science.



Do I really want to make my robotic followers read textbooks, recite formulas, step through experiments, and then have their memories wiped clean by the end of the summer by weeks of swimming, running around, basking in the sun, and risking everything for that one kiss from the guy/girl of your dreams? There isn’t much comparison between the drudgery of school and the limitless fun of summer.

School can be better than what I described in the preceding paragraph, though. It doesn’t need to be mind-numbing and boring. It can be interesting, thought-provoking, and even entertaining. (Blasphemy! Bah! Humbug! School is not for entertaining our youth!)

Back to Dan Meyer. He inspired me to rethink how we approach problem solving. Why do textbook problems need to be spelled out at every turn? Why should we assume that the students are not smart enough to work through the problem themselves? Meyer takes most of the guts out of the example problems and boils it down to a real problem, like one that could be approached outside of school, in the home or at work or even on vacation. He rewrote the problem to be more like real life!

What if I were to write my own textbook, using Meyer’s treatment of these problems as a guide for understanding the Big Ideas? Would that help me Teach Science? The reason that Meyer’s talk intrigued me and burned this question into my mind is that, as Meyer puts it, we, the teacher and the textbook, are trying to be too helpful, and by being too helpful, we are not being helpful at all:

I encourage math teachers I talk to to use multimedia, because it brings the real world into your classroom in high resolution and full color; to encourage student intuition for that level playing field; to ask the shortest question you possibly can and let those more specific questions come out in conversation; to let students build the problem, because Einstein said so; and to finally, in total, just be less helpful, because the textbook is helping you in all the wrong ways: It’s buying you out of your obligation, for patient problem solving and math reasoning, to be less helpful. (Dan Meyer, TED Talk, 2010)

Therein lies the Zen of Teaching. Helping by not helping. Instructing by not guiding. Learning by thinking.

Now, about that Big Idea of making my own textbook. How do I do it? It shouldn’t take years of sitting at a desk and writing and writing and writing…. I don’t have to do it by myself. There is an enormous amount of resources on the Web to help devise curricula, texts, problems, examples, demonstrations, and explanations. Several websites and blogs, including Edudemic and MindShift, note a methodology of creating your own text that has three steps: Aggregation, Curation, and Creation.

Aggregation involves finding the resources and being able to access them in one place, such as a social bookmark website. Curation requires analyzing and collating the information gleaned from the Aggregation step, and utilizing an authoring tool to put together a coherent visual-textual document that addresses the Big Ideas. Lastly, all the information needs to be published to an easily accessible location such as a wiki or shared document.

Will this take a great deal of work? Initially, yes, just like putting together a curriculum for the entire school year, but it may be worth it, and putting Web 2.0 tools and the next wave of personalization of information to work for you could be invaluable, to both you and your students.

Chronosynclastic infundibulum

May 31, 2012 at 5:39 pm | Posted in Content Area Literacy | 3 Comments

(By Adem Evyapan)

Being in multiple places at once, that’s what comes to mind when I hear the word integration. It even makes more sense when discussing the word in regards to education. There has been a huge push for incorporating other subjects within other subjects, but what seems to elude educators these days is the ever so daunting concept of literacy. In theory it’s a pleasant and very intriguing concept. It makes perfect sense to take something so concrete and fundamental and incorporate it in other subjects. In practice it seems like a very difficult goal to achieve. With the limited teaching experience that I have, I can safely say that I have not seen the beginnings of integration take hold in the classroom. This idea could definitely change as time goes on and as I spend more time in the classroom. What tools can a teacher use to make integration of literacy more attainable? In Cecelia Brown’s article, Integrating Information Literacy into the Science Curriculum, she discusses the application of literacy in science. But is that enough to be true integration? Meijun Fan uses Whitehead’s philosophy of education to help define what integration actually means in her article titled, The Idea of Integrated Education, Whitehead explains it as, “…everything in this world is in some way connected with every other things in this world.”

With that being said, education can be explained in the same manner, that everything in education is connected to every other thing in education.  This brings a concern to mind as well as many questions. How can you measure whether or not integration of literacy in a science classroom is actually working? What needs to be present in a classroom before integration can occur or can it just occur spontaneously?

Shifts and Changes

May 19, 2012 at 12:59 am | Posted in Content Area Literacy | 5 Comments

The Common Core Standards require it.  Responsibility for students’ literacy (reading, writing, speaking, listening, and language) development is now a cross-disciplinary expectation.  What does this mean for content-area teachers?

In her article “Content Area Literacy: Beyond the Language Arts Classroom,” veteran teacher and literacy coach Debbie Shults writes

The classic math lesson includes repeated teacher demonstrations of problem solving with students copying the examples and going home to repeat the process. In response to the need to infuse literacy across curriculum, this process is changing…  Math teachers are recognizing that today’s students require active teaching strategies, infused with literacy practices that engage the learner and make learning relevant.”

Professional-development leader Danae’ Wirth’s Millmark Education post, echoes similar beliefs regarding science lessons.

Science is a natural venue to integrate English Language Arts (ELA) standards because of its high interest subject matter. Yet often our attempts at integrating literacy in science end up as reading and writing about science. This isn’t necessarily bad, but we can make the most out of both by understanding the focus of the instruction and how reading and writing can increase content understanding… True integration maintains the purpose of the focused instruction. Reading and writing in science should be incorporated throughout the science activity in a way that maintains the content focus while practicing ELA skills.

What are the critical components of literacy in the content areas?  How can literacy be authentically integrated across math, science, and technology curricula?  Given your content specialty, what changes do you anticipate in classroom instruction?

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.

Content Area Literacy

October 1, 2011 at 10:01 am | Posted in Content Area Literacy | 2 Comments

(authored by Amanda Adams)

Literacy is important in all subject areas. And I think subject area teachers feel as though literacy should be in the English/Reading classes. However, literacy in the content areas is just as important as literacy in the English classes. In content areas, students are exposed to a variety of different types of text and information. Students should learn hwo to read, write etc. using the text that is prevalent in the subject.

I stumbled across two articles that were interesting. One was titled “Content Literacy: Beyond the Language Arts Classroom” and the other was “Supporting Adolescent Literacy Across the Content Areas”. The first article deals with how content literacy in Math and the second article deals with the policies and practices behind supporting content area literacy.

In the first article the author states that,

Teachers across the entire curriculum spectrum are beginning to realize that they are responsible for producing learners who possess the literacy skills needed for the 21st century. They are realizing that literacy is the ability to comprehend all sorts of text, and helping students accomplish the goal of comprehension requires more than asking them to open a book and read the chapter

If students are aware of this ultimate goal for their students they need to create ways to pull literacy into their content area. The author goes on to say that “Teachers are teaching their students how to evaluate all types of information sources. Whether it’s hard text, electronic informational sources, MTV, or a documentary film, teachers are helping students to learn to think critically about the information they encounter.”

The author of the first article shares an example of how literacy can be infused into a math classroom. She explains that traditional math lessons are “repeated teacher demonstrations of problem solving with students copying examples and going home to repeat the process”. She suggests some changes that need to occur in order to fuse literacy into the math classroom. Here are her suggestions:

  • “Math teachers are developing their own classroom libraries”
  • “Use pre-reading strategies to help students get the most from their math book”
  • “Word walls help students learn the language of math”
  • “Design lessons that integrate multiple resources”
  • “Read, write and speak about math”

In the second article, the focus is more on the policy and practices behind supporting content literacy. The article starts with the quote “Reading is a different task when we read literature, science texts, historical analyses, newspapers, tax forms. This is why teaching students how to read the texts of academic disciplines is a key part of teaching them these disciplines” (Key Ideas of the Strategic Literacy Initiative, 2001). This quote really ties up my opening statements about how it is important to gain strategies for literacy in all content areas. Science text and math texts do not require the same strategies and skills and the texts in history or English.

The article goes on to say that “At the middle school and high school levels, literacy skills must become increasingliy sophisticated to meet more challenging academic expectations. The ability to transact meaning from academic text of different disciplines is often not directly taught, with the consequence of failure to comprehend those academic topics”. I strongly agree with this because when I was in school I don’t ever remember the teachers teaching me how to utilize the resources we were given. If you came across a term you did not understand you either looked it up (and did not understand the words in the definition) or skipped it. The one major skill I still remember learning, though, was using context clues. I think that was in elementary school. However, that technique does not work if you do not understand the text around it. The article raises some excellent questions.

After reading this article think about the following questions, that were asked.

  1. “Why now are educational practitioners and policymakers concerned about adolescent literacy now?”
  2. “What recent developments have taken place on the national and state levels?”
  3. “What would a successful approach to improving literacy include?”
  4. “What is the Adolescent Literacy Support Framework?”
  5. “How does the Framework address the needs of all students?”
  6. “What does adolescent literacy development look like at the adolescent level?”
  7. “How will adolescent literacy across the curriculum improve test scores?”
  8. “What doe educational leaders need to know?”

Given the changes we are experiencing now, how would some of the answers changes to the above questions? How would you change how you add literacy to your content area? What strategies might be helpful in ensuring that literacy is fused into your content?

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