Disciplinary Literacy is MORE
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Disciplinary Literacy is MORE than Reading in the Content Areas. Carole Mullins, KDE English/LA Regional Content Specialist carole.mullins@education.ky.gov. Session Goals. To explain the concept of disciplinary literacy and the Common Core standards

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Disciplinary Literacy is MORE than Reading in the Content Areas

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Disciplinary Literacy is MORE than

Reading in the Content Areas

Carole Mullins, KDE

English/LA Regional Content Specialist


Session Goals

  • To explain the concept of disciplinary literacy and the Common Core standards

  • Give an overview of the KCAS reading/writing standards in all content areas

  • Activate thinking as to how all of this will translate into classroom practice within your district/school

What is meant by College and Career Readiness (CCR) Anchor Standards?

  • …the acquisition of the knowledge and skills a student needs to enroll and succeed in credit-bearing, first-year courses at a postsecondary institution (such as a two- or four-year college, trade school, or technical school) without the need for remediation. (ACT)

    The standards were built on this vision for every single student who graduates from high school.

What IS Disciplinary Literacy?

  • Disciplinary Literacy is defined by Shanahan and Shanahan (2008) as advanced literacy instruction embedded within content-areas.

  • Disciplinary Literacy instruction engages learners with content in ways that mirror what scientists and mathematicians do to inquire and gain understanding in their disciplines.

Disciplinary Literacy: CCSS Literacy Standards

Literary Fiction


Bio Science

Phy Science


Social Studies


Health Fitness


Intermediate Literacy

Disciplinary Literacy

Basic Literacy

Doug Buehl, Developing Readers in the Academic Disciplines, 2011, p.13

Common Core Standards Define Literacy in Content Areas

“While the English language arts classroom has often been seen as the proper site for literacy instruction, this document acknowledges that the responsibility for teaching such skills must also extend to other content areas.”


Some of the Shifts Demanded in ELA Standards

  • In elementary, focus more on informational texts—balance the reading of info and literary texts and vary the topics, making sure they are developmental

  • Work on Content Area Literacy—sharing it among ALL teachers

  • Attend to TEXT COMPLEXITY—discern ideas of more and more complex texts; “we should not be so dependent on leveled readers especially with struggling students” (Coleman)

  • Focus on TEXT DEPENDENT QUESTIONS – those that REQUIRE careful reading of the text (vs ‘text-free’—which rely on prior knowledge instead of the actual text)

  • Focus on WRITING –Argumentation with Evidence and Narrative Writing(to inform)


  • Mantra—we need students that “read like detectives and write like reporters” (Coleman)

    Karen Kidwell, Highly Effective Teaching, Learning and Assessment: 2011 KAAC Presentation

Writing Standard #1

Anchor Standard: W.CCR.1

Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and

relevant and sufficient evidence.

K-12 Progressions

Reading Standard #1

Anchor Standard: RL & RI.CCR.1

Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or

speaking to support conclusions

drawn from the text.

K-12 Progressions

Common Core Standards Create New Challenges

Unlike mathematics, secondary literacy is not a discipline. It is “homeless” in that it belongs to everyone and no one. Literacy is used in secondary classrooms, but it is not taught in a systematic way.

Two Major Problems

  • Significant numbers of students read so poorly that they are unlikely to have access to full participation in American society

  • Significant numbers of students who are deemed literate are not sufficiently literate to succeed in college or career

Some Solutions have been…

Enhancements to early literacy instruction

  • According to NAEP, there have been clear

    reading improvements among fourth-graders

    since 1992.

    And yet, middle school students are reading

    no better than then

    (and high school students appear to have fallen)

Some Solutions (con’t)

Avoiding Text

  • Since 1990 there have been content (knowledge)

    standards in history, science, mathematics,

    English language arts and teachers have found

    ways of getting info to students without texts

    (e.g., Powerpoint, video)

    But, ACT has found that the amount of text reading between 7th and 12th grades was the best preparation of later success

Some Solutions (con’t)

Reducing Text Difficulty

  • Low readability textbooks are a staple (educators have lowered readability levels of textbooks for more than 70 years)

  • Research has documented correlation between

    lowered textbook difficulty and lowered SAT


    ACT study found not only was amount of in class reading significant, but that this reading had to be implemented with hard text (not easy text)

“…ultimately, our students are expected to develop as competent readers, writers, and thinkers in all academic disciplines.”

“…ability to “read, write, and think in ways that are characteristic of discrete academic disciplines”

Developing Readers in the Academic Disciplines, Doug Buehl

Common Core You Tube Videos

Videos Produced by

James B. Hunt, Jr. Institute for Educational Leadership and Policy

And the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO)


Literacy in Other Disciplines: (3:61)



Teaching Literacy in the Disciplines and Teaching Disciplinary LiteracyTimothy and Cynthia Shanahan: University of Illinois at Chicagowww.shanahanonliteracy.com

  • Disciplinary Literacy

  • Disciplinary Reading Instruction

  • Emphasis on Informational Text

  • Emphasis on Challenging Text

  • Close Reading

“It Says” – “We Think” Activity

After reading the handout containing points made by the Shanahan and Shanahan:

  • Work with a small group and identify ONE important point from each category

  • Record your group’s thoughts about it in the appropriate box on the handout

  • When all groups are finished, share your thoughts with a group that chose a different point


  • Doug Buehl, Developing Readers in the Academic Disciplines, 2011

  • Karen Kidwell, Highly Effective Teaching, Learning and Assessment: 2011 KAAC Presentation

  • Timothy Shanahan and Cynthia Shanahan, Teaching Literacy in the Disciplines and Teaching Disciplinary Literacy 2011 SREB Presentation

  • Carnegie Corporation Reading in the Disciplineshttp://carnegie.org/fileadmin/Media/Publications/PDF/tta_Lee.pdf

  • Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy in History,/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects http://corestandards.org/assets/CCSSI_ELA%20Standards.pdf

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