Content area literacy has emerged as one of our highest priorities. Whereas the February Institute used to rotate between many topics, this intensive week of study now focuses exclusively on content area literacy. Several advanced sections at every summer institute spotlight this topic. Two books in Units of Study for Teaching Reading focus on nonfiction reading: Navigating Nonfiction in Narrative and Hybrid Texts and Navigating Fiction in Expository Texts. The organization leads almost a score of full-day workshops supporting content area literacy. These workshops support literacy in a host of different subjects, including math, social studies and science. In the K-2 grades, we emphasize the link between science and literacy, and in the upper elementary and middle school grades, we emphasize the link between social studies and literacy.
Our content area literacy work emphasizes a few aspects of the subject. We help teachers teach young readers to pay attention to texts’ underlying structure so they can more easily take in, synthesize, learn from and respond to large swaths of nonfiction texts. That is, once readers recognize a text structure, they can use that knowledge to structure their own reading, allowing parts of the text to take on greater significance and parts to fall away. For example, most expository texts have central ideas and supporting evidence aligned to those ideas. Readers can read with an eye for those central ideas as well as supporting specifics, and can glean outlines and summaries that become foundational to their thoughts about texts. In a similar fashion, story grammar can help readers synthesize and determine importance while reading narrative texts.
We also recognize that learning is an active process of linking new information to familiar concepts, and that learners need to construct knowledge. Writing provides learners with a means to link new knowledge with old, to categorize, analyze, link, and dissect, and this minds-on, interactive work constitutes learning. We help teachers use writing-to-learn (logs, quick writes, short research projects, opinion and informational writing) to support learning across all disciplines. We also help teachers teach students to draft and revise selected pieces of writing and to do this work in content-areas as well as within the writing workshop. Many teachers turn some social studies and science units into writing intensive units.
We support content area literacy through cycles of staff development in schools, through on-site workshops at schools, as well as through institutes and conference days at Teachers College.
Content area literacy is a big field, which includes a host of other topics of interest. For example, digital literacy assumes an especially important role. Students learn to use digital video tools to construct stories, and convey meaning, thereby engaging critical thinking and problem-solving skills in ways that motivate them to learn across content areas. Digital literacy requires students to analyze and apply information using the traditional skills of reading, writing, listening, speaking, evaluating, questioning, viewing, and communicating.
In the vast electronic world of the Internet, quickly finding content area resources can be difficult and overwhelming. That's why we have compiled a three-page list of Social Studies resources, complete with direct links to websites and brief descriptions of each resource. Our website features a bibliography of resources in Social Studies. Please download and enjoy this resource list. We hope you find it useful!
Then, too, the topic of supporting academic vocabulary falls under the umbrella of content area literacy. Last year, Pauline Gibbons visited the Project, leading several intensive days of study on this topic. This year, Ken Pransky is leading a day-long workshop on vocabulary, and academic vocabulary will be a part of that work. A team of staff developers from the Reading and Writing Project is working with a cadre of publishers to begin assembling a bibliography of leveled texts that we especially recommend on selected topics.