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Literacy in the Disciplines: What, Why, When, & How?. Elizabeth Birr Moje January 28, 2010. . . . Or . . . . Helping Youth Navigate from Everyday to Disciplinary Literacy Practices. Question 1. What is Disciplinary Literacy?. What is Disciplinary Literacy?.

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Literacy in the Disciplines: What, Why, When, & How?

Elizabeth Birr Moje

January 28, 2010

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. . . Or . . .

Helping Youth Navigate from Everyday to Disciplinary Literacy Practices

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Question 1

What is Disciplinary Literacy?

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What is Disciplinary Literacy?

Uncovering, teaching, and practicing the tools of knowledge production and critique, whether rooted in the disciplines or in everyday life.

“History is layered, and the teaching of it, like other subjects, involves not only a process of acquiring the stuff of the discipline but acquiring a particular rhetorical stance toward it.” (Leinhardt, 1994, p. 218)

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Discipline-Specific Literacy Teaching Practices/Strategies

  • How do members of your discipline use language (oral or written) on a daily basis?

  • What kinds of texts do they turn to or produce as part of their work?

    • Why and when do they turn to or produce such texts?

    • What do they do with texts when they use or produce them?

  • How are interactions with members of the discipline shaped (or even governed by) texts?

  • Who are the primary audiences for written work in your discipline?

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Discipline-Specific Literacy Teaching Practices/Strategies

  • What are the standards for warrant demanded by those audiences?

  • Are there words or phrases that are demanded by or taboo in your discipline?

  • Are there writing styles that are demanded by or taboo in your discipline?

  • What is unique about your discipline in terms of reading, writing, speaking, and listening?

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For example, historians . . .

  • Frame historical problems

  • Locate and use residues/evidence from past

  • Analyze and use evidence through interconnected practices of "sourcing, corroborating and contextualizing“

  • Determine significance of evidence and events

  • Look for patterns in welter of facts and events and "colligate“ to create a concept that imposes sense on that welter of events (e.g. “Renaissance”)

  • Periodize and/or use the periodization schemes of others

  • Read others’ historical accounts

  • Produce historical accounts

  • Present/publish historical accounts

(adapted from R. B. Bain, 2007)

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For example, mathematicians:

  • Ask natural questions” in a given mathematical context

  • Explore and experiment with the context

  • Represent the context and examine the representation

  • Look for organizing structure or pattern

  • Consult with colleagues orally or in the literature

  • Look for connections as a result of consultation

  • Seek proofs or disproofs

  • Follow opportunities

  • Write finished exposition of a proof

  • Analyze proofs (proof analysis)

  • Present/publish proofs

  • Use appropriate conventions to produce aesthetically pleasing results

(Adapted from H. Bass, 2007)

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What is the relationship between disciplinary and generic literacy?

  • Key “Generic” Literacy Skills/Strategies

    • Predicting

    • Previewing

    • Questioning

    • Monitoring

    • Visualizing

    • Summarizing

  • Most “strategy instruction” attempts to develop these strategies/skills in readers

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Discipline-Specific Literacy Teaching Practices/Strategies literacy?

  • Previewing like a historian

    • Who is the author?

    • When was this written?

    • What is the context?

  • Previewing like a biologist

    • What is the problem/phenomenon I’m studying?

    • What do I know about this phenomenon?

    • What do I predict/hypothesize about the phenomenon?

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Now it’s your turn . . . literacy?

  • Previewing like a mathematician?

    • ??

    • ??

  • Previewing like a literary theorist or textual critic?

    • ??

    • ??

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Differences across Content Areas: literacy?The Persuasive Essay

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Questions 2 and 3 literacy?

Why/when Disciplinary Literacy?

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Why Disciplinary Literacy? literacy?

  • Disciplinary slicing of middle school, high school, and university into subject-areas leads to:

    • Masking of the role that disciplinary practices play in knowledge production

    • Reification of disciplinary differences

    • Challenges to coherence for the learner

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Access and Opportunity literacy?

Explicit attention to navigation across multiple discourse communities provides greater access to more young people

In the service of enhancing subject-matter learning (i.e., to develop deep subject-matter proficiency)

Builds critical literacy skills for an educated citizenry

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Question 4 literacy?

How to Teach Disciplinary Literacy?

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Four Areas of Work to Be Done literacy?

  • Disciplinary practices

  • Disciplinary Reading

  • Disciplinary Writing

  • Synthesizing Across Texts

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Academic Reading literacy?

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Text Analysis literacy?

Analysis of Nature of the Text:

  •  Structure and tone of this text?

    • Syntactic (i.e., sentence structure, organization) complexity

    • Semantic complexity

    • Cohesion

  • Organization and flow of ideas

  • Density of ideas

  • Key ideas or concepts

  • Key words or technical terms

  • Density of vocabulary

  • Texts within text?

  • Role of images, charts, or graphs

    • Reading demands of images

    • Reading demands in making meaning across the images, other forms, and print

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Text Analysis literacy?

Analysis of Relationship between Text and Reader:

  • Assumed knowledge

  • Challenges to an adult reader with relatively deep knowledge of this subject

  • Challenges to adolescent readers of this text

  • Necessary scaffolding

    • Scaffolding necessary for STRUGGLING readers?

  • Cultural, racial/ethnic, or gendered connections

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Text Analysis literacy?

Analyzing and Planning for Relationships Across Texts:

 How would you select other texts to accompany this one?

What connections might you imagine students making across texts?

What connections would you try to help students see across the texts?

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Vocabulary? literacy?

Conceptual defining

Vocabulary concept cards

Concept of Definition maps


Semantic Feature Analysis

Morphological analysis

Simple defining!

Text Structure?

Text structuring strategies

Graphic or relational organizing

Prior Knowledge?



Preview Guides

Advance Organizers



Anticipation/Reaction Guides


Lack of coherence?

Purpose setting

Graphic organizers

Comprehension monitoring


Disciplinary reading strategies?


Evaluating data warrant



Applying to investigations or activities

What do you need to address in the text and with your students?

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History Previewing Example: literacy?A Nation of Immigrants

  • If I told you to that we were reading a chapter from the book, A Nation of Immigrants, what do you expect it would be about?


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Academic Writing literacy?

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State Social Studies Writing Rubric literacy?


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Task Analysis literacy?

  • What does the task assume about youth and/or ask them to do as thinkers?

  • What do youth need to know to meet the task demands?

  • What kind of text does the task ask youth to produce?

  • What do we need to do instructionally to scaffold young people’s thinking before they even begin to write?

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Scientific Explanation Writing: An Iterative Practice literacy?

  • Examination of explanations written by others

  • Classroom-based, whole-group generation of rubric using models (i.e., comes from the students; see next slide)

  • Engagement in scientific investigations

  • Writing to explain one’s own investigations

  • Peer review (e.g., poster displays, museum walks)

  • Revision of explanations

  • New investigations, new explanations, more peer review

  • And the cycle continues . . . .

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Synthesis Journals literacy?

Primary Source 1

Primary Source 2

Analysis across texts (i.e., a history)

Primary Source 3

Primary Source 4

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1. What are the sources of this material? literacy?

2. What are the effects of this material in the air?

3. How much of this material is typically found in air?


Summarizing From and Synthesizing Across Texts: Questions Into Paragraphs

Driving Question: What affects the quality of air in my community?

Learning Set Question: Is material X a pollutant?

Sub-Questions Source 1Source 2Source 3 SUMMARY

Adapted from:

McLaughlin, E. M. (1986). QuIP: A writing strategy to improve comprehension of expository structure. The Reading Teacher.

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For more information . . . literacy?

Or see:

Head to the breakout sessions!