The evolution of content area reading
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The evolution of content area reading The concept of content area reading and learning has been around since the late 1800s

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The evolution of content area reading

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The evolution of content area reading


  • The concept of content area reading and learning has been around since the late 1800s

  • William Gray (1925) the then Dean of the College of Education at the University of Chicago provided the first formal perspective on the relationship between reading and other school subjects.

  • As a means of gaining information and pleasure, it [reading] is essential in every content subject, such as history, geography, arithmetic, science, and literature. In fact, rapid progress in these subjects depends in a large degree on the ability of pupils to read independently and intelligently. It follows that good teaching must provide for the improvement and refinement of the reading attitudes, habits, and skills that are needed in all school activities involving reading. (Gray, 1925)


  • 1900 – approximately 15.5 million students attending public schools

    0.5 million (3%) attended high school

  • 1992 – 47.9 million students attending K-12 schools

    27 % of those students were enrolled in grades 9-12

  • The mid 1900s saw an increase in the preparation of teachers in reading instruction, particularly content reading instruction at the secondary level.

  • Despite the recognition of the importance of content area reading and learning in the 1900s it continued to evolve slowly.

  • Not until the 1960s was it recommended that “the basic reading instruction offered to prospective elementary teachers be broadened to include content and instructional techniques appropriate fro intermediate and upper grades.” (Austin & Morrison, 1961).


  • Even today, the mantra “Every teacher is a teacher of reading,” is met with resistance.

  • “Many content area teachers see their primary responsibility as preparing young adolescent and teenagers in their subject area for high school and college, and they have difficulty accepting that they should have some responsibility for adolescents’ reading development. (Vacca, 2002).

  • In the past century, three major paradigms have contributed to the traditions and practices associated with content area reading instruction: the reading and study skills paradigm, the cognition and learning paradigm, and the social constructivist paradigm.


Reading and study skills model

  • 1900s through the 1960s.

  • During this time two lines of reading research were focused upon”

    1.the identification of reading and study skills associated with each of the content areas

    2.the effects of various instructional variables on the acquisition of reading and study skills.

  • Several studies conducted to determine the skills needed to read effectively in content area: Artely, 1944; Gray, 1924; McCallister 1930.

  • These studies concluded that while some skills are common to different subject areas, but some of these skills hold special relationships to achievement in each of the subject areas


Effects of various instructional variables on the acquisition of reading and study skills.

  • Research has been done on two fundamentally different instructional approaches:

    • A “direct” instructional approach, in which the teaching of reading and study skills is separate from the content classroom, based on the assumption of transfer to content areas

    • A “functional” instructional approach, in which the teaching of reading is embedded within the context of content learning using content course materials


  • Research conducted on functional approaches paved the way for the shift from a skills paradigm to a cognitive paradigm.

  • These studies lead to an emphasis on learning from text through the use of strategies such as graphic organizers, anticipation guides, and question generation strategies


Cognition and Learning

  • The shift from a reading and study skills paradigm to a cognition and learning paradigm became more noticeable in the 1970s and 1980s.

  • With this shift, reading research became increasingly multidisciplinary.

  • Within the cognition and learning paradigm, research related to schema theory, text structure, metacognition, and strategic learning has had a major impact on content area reading practices.

  • Today, reading research continues to be grounded solidly in cognitive learning theory, although some might argue that a social constructivist paradigmatic shift is currently underway. (Bean, 2000).


Social Constructivist Paradigm

  • A shift from a cognition and learning paradigm to a Social Constructivist paradigm has become noticeable in the 1990s (Bean 2000).

  • In a social constructivist paradigm, the experiences and vies of students and teachers within a classroom environment are at the forefront of learning and teaching in content classrooms (Vacca, 2002).

  • Teachers do not impart knowledge to their students. Instead, Knowledge is always under construction.


  • Social constructivist research is interested in such issues as the beliefs of students and teachers toward learning and teaching, the role of literature in content study, the connection between reading and talking and reading and writing.

  • Students learn with the text not from the text.

  • Students have much to contribute to their own learning as they negotiate meaning and socially constructed knowledge through learning situations that require discussion and writing.


The definition of literacy

  • This too has changed. No longer is the definition limited to the ability to read and write.

  • There have also been many kinds of literacies identified:

    • Functional

    • Informative

    • Cultural

    • Progressive

    • Critical

    • Adoloscent


  • Furthermore, not only do we now acknowledge different kinds of literacies we also acknowledge multiple literacies:

    • Informational

    • technological

    • Media

    • Musical literacy

    • Environmental

    • Emotional


Strategic readers

  • Activating relevant, prior knowledge (schema) before, during and after reading text

  • Creating visual and other sensory images from text during and after reading

  • Drawing inferences from text to form conclusions, make critical judgments, and create unique interpretations

  • Asking questions of themselves, the autheor,s and the texts they read

  • Determining the most important ideaas and themes in a text

  • Synthesizing what they read


Pearson and Duke (2000) identified strategies of effective readers

  • Good readers are active readers.

  • From the outset they have clear goals in mind for their reading. They constantly evaluate whether the text, and their reading of it, is meeting their goals.

  • Good readers typically look over the text before they read, noting such things as the structure of the text and text sections that might be most relevant to their reading goals

  • As they read, good readers frequently make predictions about their reading—what to read carefully, what to read quickly, what not to read, what to reread and so on.

  • Good readers construct, revise, and question the meanings they make as they read.

  • Good readers try to determine the meaning of unfamiliar words and concepts in the text, and they deal with inconsistencies or gaps as needed.

  • They draw from, compare, and integrate their prior knowledge with material in the text.


  • They think about the authors of the text, their style, beliefs, and intentions, historical milieu, and so on.

  • They monitor their understanding of the text, making adjustments in their reading as necessary.

  • They evaluate the text’s quality and value, and react to the text in a range of ways, both intellectually and emotionally.

  • Good readers read different kinds of text differently.

  • When reading narrative, good readers attend closely to the setting and characters.

  • When reading expository text, these readers frequently construct and revise summaries of what they have read.

  • For good readers, text processing occurs not only during “reading” as we have traditionally defined it, but also during short breaks taken during reading, even after the “reading” itself has ceased.

  • Comprehension is a consuming, continuous, and complex activity, but one that, for good readers, is both satisfying and productive.

  • Duke and Pearson, (2002).


The importance of comprehension to the reading process

  • One could argue if one is not able to understand or make sense of what one decodes they are not, in fact, reading.

  • Vacca and Vacca identify three levels of comprehension:

    • literal

    • interpretive

    • applied

  • Closing quote from Moje et al. from the 1999 positions statement.


  • Adolescents entering the adult world in the 21st century will read and write more than at any other time in human history. They will need advanced levels of literacy to perform their jobs, run their households, act as citizens, and conduct their personal lives. They will need literacy to cope with the flood of information they will find everywhere they turn. They will need literacy to feed their imaginations so they can cerate the world of the future. In a complex and sometimes even dangerous world, their ability to read willl be crucial. Continual instruction beyond the early grades is needed.

    Moore, Bean, Birdyshaw, & Rycik, 1999


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