A few years ago, I participated in a book study group with my colleagues around building literacy skills. When it was suggested that we share this work and build a literacy skill set with classes like science, one person said,
“Well, 9th grade science doesn’t really use the textbook. I’ve talked to them, and it’s simply not enough time. They can choose to spend the period slogging through the words and the high-level text to finally understand the basic concept. Or, the period can be spent learning the basic concept in 20 minutes with a simple language text or video, and then delve into the content at a deeper level. And, the content is their goal.”
At this point, our conversation stalled: it was an Either/Or choice in the teachers’ minds. Either teach reading and decoding of text, or learn the content knowledge about cells, atoms, etc. That dilemma made, and still makes, perfect sense. It’s not like these teachers had been schooled in reading strategies, young adult literacy, or anything like it. They were content teachers.
Fast forward to today and the implementation of the Common Core. The thing is, that Common Core won’t allow the conversation to stall at the Either/Or impasse. In fact, the Common Core begins here. Because to Common Core, we are all reading teachers. And, if schools and teachers are going to meet this challenge, they will need to develop a common language about reading and build their content teachers’ capacity to teach literacy. This school-wide discussion is what I loved so much from Chris’ post last week about her school’s work to teach students about credibility and source authority.
Let’s delve deeper by taking a look at the Informational Text vs. Literary Text Ratio chart from the ELA standards document.
Often, there is a reaction of “what about the fiction” from the English teachers because reading is considered an English classroom task. So, doesn’t this mean that English class will now be full of informational text? But, what is often missed is the paragraph and footnote of the ELA CCSS page 5 that states: “The percentages on the table reflect the sum of student reading, not just reading in ELA settings.” In a 66 page document, who can blame us for gravitating towards the charts to make sense of it all? Let’s face it; we, as a society, love a good visual…consider the Infographic’s meteoric rise to fame.
Perhaps, you’ve noticed that paragraph and the footnote, too. But, like me, you’ve understood what it will mean to unpack the implication of those words? If we acknowledge that our ratio is indicative of an entire school day for our student then we must acknowledge that teachers, who have never seen themselves as reading teachers, will need our support. To be fair, I haven’t seen an unwillingness to accept this new challenge. What I have seen is a belief that they simply don’t know how to teach reading. While they can personally dissect a text about cell biology, they most likely couldn’t tell you how they dissected the text. It’s second-nature to them by now. Or, some might even tell you: “well, I’m not a reader”. How many times have we heard the reverse from English teachers: “well, I’m not really into math”?
To meet this challenge and not force a standoff between literacy skills and content knowledge, schools will need to develop a common language around decoding, analyzing, citing, and reading of a text because this is the first step to building confidence. Because if the only tool in our teacher’s back pocket is “read the sentence/paragraph/page over again, and pay more attention this time”, then we have lost before we have begun. And, if we don’t collaborate, we have set our English teachers up for failure, and perhaps a loss of literary discovery. And, the students, well, they will end up getting only about 20% of the exposure time to reading in any given day.
Common Core is not asking schools, or teachers, to reinvent the wheel. But, Common Core is asking that all educators consider themselves instructors of reading. Not experts, but confident instructors.
If the conversation hasn’t already started in your building consider these launching points into the conversation:
- Talk to your English department to find out what they are already teaching as practice for literacy. They probably already have some department wide or grade-level wide practices.
- Find your literacy expert(s) in the building or your expert text that will inform your decisions for the building.
- Ask your non-literacy content teachers: What do you need to feel confident as a literacy teacher? What do you need to feel confident that you can cover literacy and content in your classroom?
And, remember to start small. Something as simple as providing content teachers with an annotation protocol like this Talking to the Text Protocol (credit: Paige Folsom and Tamar Krames) can begin the work.
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